Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children to Go On for God

The books are flying off the presses in seemingly endless numbers; and frankly, I’m sick of hearing the statistics about the young adults who are dropping out of church. I know, I know – I listed many of those statistics and quoted a great of the research about this trend in my last book. But, please keep reading… 

I want to start hearing about the kids who stayed in church. I want to hear the stories of Christian kids who grow up and go on for God. I want to hear about the successes of Godly, Christian parents who are proactively working with the church’s youth leaders to develop strong, stable, and mature Christ-followers who as young adults decide to stay engaged in the church.  
 
I know many of these young adults who are absolutely committed to Christ and His claims on their lives. Some of them are currently in college, others are in the military or work force, and many of them are currently living productive live as God-honoring adults.  
 
So, what can Christian parents do to help their children to grow up and go on for God? I’m convinced that we must look to the Scriptures for the answers! In the pages of the New Testament we are told the stories of some young people who grew up before our eyes (so to speak) in the Biblical narrative and who continued to live for God long into their adult lives. One of those young men was Timothy. We meet him in Acts 16 as a young man growing up in church and we read his story throughout the Epistles, including Paul’s last letter to him in 2 Timothy. There are many things in the Bible that we can learn about Timothy, but for the sake of this quick post let’s talk a look at some of the things his parents (especially his mother, Eunice - see 2 Timothy 1:5) did right. 
 
It’s important to note that parenting is never a formula or a recipe. It doesn’t work to frivolously think that a few quick ideas lead to spiritual success with our kids. However, if we look at the sweeping principles that seemed to guide this family, we can take away some very practical advice for raising our own kids for God today.
 
 
 
 
A Consistent Lifestyle – 2 Timothy 1:5

Probably the most obvious thing that this family did right was Eunice’s and Lois’ consistent or genuine walk with God. The Bible calls theirs an “unfeigned” (KJV) or un-faked faith! Timothy’s mom and grandmother demonstrated a genuine relationship with God – and it impacted Timothy. Notice in verse 5 that Timothy also demonstrated a genuine faith. He grew up and went on for God – and that’s what we want from our kids, too.

Communication of God’s Word – 2 Timothy 3:15

The second thing this family did right was that they made it a priority to communicate Biblical truth. Notice that from his earliest days, Timothy learned the Scriptures. The next two verses (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17) reveal that this strategy was much more than a rote memorization of the Text. He also learned that Biblical principles are “profitable” for life and that these principles lead to true spiritual maturity. 
 
Collaboration with the Church - Acts 16:1-3

There’s another key element to their strategy that is worth identifying and that is their cooperation with the church to help develop Timothy’s faith. Acts 16 identifies him as a “disciple”, who as a young man already had a good testimony with the other believers. He also was personally selected by the Apostle Paul to go along on this missionary journey. The text expounds on the purpose of their ministry, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (NIV)” Obviously, the church was a priority to young Timothy. He grew up in church and committed himself to a church-based ministry.

Concern for People and Culture - Acts 16:3

The Acts 16 passage also presents an interesting scenario of Timothy’s circumcision even though his was a Greek (see verse 1). He perhaps was willing to submit to this spiritual and cultural ritual due to the cross-cultural background in his own family. This somewhat dysfunctional family environment undoubtedly produced a heart-felt concern for other people and a genuine sensitivity for others.

Commitment to Ministry - Acts 16:1-4

The final positive thing I’d like to identify from this family was their dedication to God’s work. They were willing to allow their son to follow Paul along on this journey. Without any visible hesitation on anyone’s part, Timothy joined the missionary team and set off on what was the beginning of his call to vocational ministry.

Timothy was a young man who grew up and went on for God. The narrative of Scripture points out some identifiable things that helped in this process. Perhaps there is practical wisdom here for today’s Christian families to implement into the fabric of raising their own kids.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some Reasons Why Youth Ministry Might Fail –


Our kids are leaving the church!
 

We’ve all heard the statistics. The number one time people walk away from active involvement in church and their own personal walk with God is following their years in high school.
A wealth of research is out there that provides the proof for this alarming trend, and there are almost as many voices blaming youth ministry for this epidemic. There may be certain common denominators within some churches that lead to the mass departure of young people following high school graduation.
Here are some of my observations based upon my almost 40 years of active involvement in youth ministry:
1.       Activity-Based Youth Ministry. If a church’s youth ministry is built upon programs and a variety of seemingly unrelated activities, your graduates will probably walk away after they graduate from high school. Young adults can and will find their entertainment elsewhere. The appeal of amusement parts and all-nighters fades fairly quickly.

2.       Program-Based Youth Ministry. Another reason why high school graduates walk away from regular involvement in church is if the youth group has been characterized by the structure of a “boxed” youth program. These canned approaches are, in fact, designed to be terminal program, with a specific and publicized ending point. There tends to be one final step or one top award to earn. The students finish the program and they’re done.

3.       Personality-Based Youth Ministry. A common indictment of many church youth ministries is the tendency to center the ministry around the strong personality of an energetic and magnetic youth leader. Strong personalities may attract impressionable high school students, and it seems to make sense for churches to do that – until the inevitable transition between personalities. If the students are attracted to the presence of one strong personality, it will be very difficult for them to transition into the church as a whole without the involvement of another equally-strong personality.

4.       Narcissism-Based Youth Ministry. Akin to the “activity-based” model is a narcissistic approach where churches seek to entertain teenagers by providing everything they want. If the kids want to go skiing, they go on ski trips. If the kids want to go swimming; they take them to the beach. This approach will ultimately produce self-absorbed and self-centered graduates who believe the church is all them.

5.       Generationally-Based Youth Ministry. I absolutely believe that a ministry that totally separates its’ youth from the overall life of the church is making a big mistake. In the long run this hurts students because they do not develop significant and long-lasting relationships with a number of influential adults which is imperative for teens to ultimately transition into the life of the church.
      This article is taken from my new book Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church – available in print or e-book at www.bookstore.overboardministries.com. Other resources (PowerPoint slides, video, bibliography, and Bible studies) about this subject are available on my book web site at: www.intergenerationalyouthministry.com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM TEENAGERS . . .

Remember Robert Fulghum’s little book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? This bestseller presented what the author called “uncommon thoughts on common things.” His thoughts included such wisdom as “Share everything. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. Flush. Take a nap every afternoon. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.”

Several years ago I heard a takeoff on Fulghum’s list titled, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Noah's Ark”. It included such advice as “Don't miss the boat. Remember that we are all in the same boat. Plan ahead; it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark. Stay fit; when you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big. Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done. Build your future on high ground. For safety's sake, travel in pairs. Speed isn't always an advantage; the snails were on board with the cheetahs. When you're stressed, float awhile. Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic, by professionals. No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.”
With apologies to Robert Fulghum, I have realized that “everything I need to know I learned from teenagers.” So, here is what I have learned from teenagers during my years in youth ministry.
1.      My ideas don’t always work.
I actually learned this lesson very early on in my ministry. The lesson came the first time one of my “great ideas” bombed. I thought it was a great idea. I worked hard on it and . . . it was a bust. I was expecting forty, fifty, maybe even sixty teenagers; three showed up. I sent all of my volunteer youth workers home, and I took the three kids to McDonald’s for milkshakes. Years later, one of those kids told me that that night was the thing he remembered most about anything the youth group ever did. That experience taught me that building relationships with kids is a whole lot more important than programs or activities.
2.      God is in control.
I don’t always know why difficult things happen, but I have learned that God does have a reason for why He allows those things to happen and that He is totally sovereign and omnipotent. Even after the tragedies of multiple school shootings, I have seen teenagers rally around the truth and comfort of the Word of God and share that truth with others in very real and meaningful ways.
3.      God is faithful.
On Thanksgiving morning the first year that I was a youth pastor, I received a phone call from a girl in our group. She told me that her mom had just shot and killed her dad. It was first-degree, premeditated murder. The kids called the police, called the funeral home--and then called me. What do you say at a time like that? Bible college and seminary hadn’t given me those kinds of answers. But I could share that God is faithful and that He would show Himself to be strong in their behalf. I have learned that I often don’t have all the answers, but I do know that God is faithful.
4.      God changes people’s lives.
Teenagers have taught me that God is still in the business of changing people’s lives. I have seen the grace of God at work in the lives of pregnant girls, drug addicts, con artists, and violent criminals. Some kids in my youth groups stole cars, committed assults and armed robbery, and even attempted murder. And I have seen God change those kids into servants who were ultimately used by God to accomplish great things for Him. I guess the most valuable lesson anyone can learn from working with teenagers is to appreciate the grace of God at work in the lives of kids.