This past Sunday at Colossae I taught on the life of David. It was part of our “Ancient Biographies” series we’re doing this summer. A lot of people know a couple of stories about David and surely know he was a king, but most don’t really know much about his life. So, I decided to walk through it…with a point, of course.
We know God said David was a “man after His own heart.” David is held up as THE faithful king of all the kings and is esteemed in numerous ways throughout the scriptures. But he was also a mess. He lied to the priest at Nob, resulting in his death. He sought revenge with Nabal, seeking to kill him. And, he proved himself to be an adulterous murder as seen in the story with Bethsheba.
So, an obvious question is how can he be deemed “faithful” and a man after God’s own heart?
This question arises because we wrongly think of being a faithful person as being a perfect person. But here was my point: the moment we confuse faithfulness with perfection is the moment we sign up for a miserable life drowned out by shame and guilt. We will never be perfect, but we can be faithful. And David provided a great example for us to follow:
First, he desired to do God’s will (Psalm 40:8). This heart desire is something all believers have because of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 1:6 tells us that God will one day complete the work He has begun in us…so in the meantime, in our hearts, we want to please God.
Secondly, when we don’t, we need to be quick to repent. David models this in Psalm 51 after being confronted by Nathan regarding his relationship with Bethsheba. He totally comes clean, articulating the truth of his wrongdoings and relies fully upon God to cleanse him from these things.
Thirdly, after repenting, we need to be quick to receive God’s grace. Often times we don’t and it results in us shrinking back from God, the people of God and the mission of God. In Psalm 51 David receives grace and moves forward in ministry – “teaching transgressors…”
I desire to please God in everything I do. I know I won’t be perfect in implementing those desires, so I try to be quick to repent. I want to be fully honest with God with how I sinned and the consequences my sin brought. AFter this, I seek to be quick to receive God’s grace and forgiveness and move forward in the ministry he has for me – whatever that might be. And, this pattern of life will one day result in my life being faithful, not perfect.
5. From Telling to Shaping
As Christians we are seeking to have a biblical worldview. By that I mean we desire to view the world through the eyes of Scripture. We are trying to view things the way God does. Our doctrinal statements, classes, small groups and sermons in one way or another tell our worldview. But these things don’t necessarily shape the worldview of others.
College-age people are in midst of developing a worldview of their own. And even if they’ve been around the church for a while they don’t necessarily have a biblical worldview. This shift might seem a little less drastic than others, but consider being intentional about shaping the worldview of others more than telling them your own.
There are some very practical things I do to help in this, but one thing I always seek to do is compare what a particular passage is saying with the American norm in that area. For instance, in Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now, comparing that to the American norm is clearly a conflict. In fact so much so we have a hard time understanding what Jesus is even saying. This is because it’s a clash of worldviews. As American’s we place an extremely high value on family and can hardly grasp why Jesus wouldn’t do the same. But in order to grasp what Jesus is saying we have to view the things of the world, including family, the way he does. Then, and only then, will this passage make sense. My point is clearly not to write a commentary on this passage, but rather to show how the way we view the world drastically affects our understanding of Scripture.
When you teach, consider seeking to shape a biblical worldview in people rather than simply teaching them yours. Bring out passages like this and talk about the differences of perspective. Discuss different ways of viewing this passage and get people thinking about the perspective of Jesus when he makes this statement and compare that to the American norm. Does he not value family? Or, is there a perspective he has that we seem to miss? By asking these types of questions and discussing passages like this we can begin being a part of helping people shape a worldview of their own.
And, by the way, it also makes our time together intriguing for the college-age mind. It stretches them. It forces them to think more deeply. Perhaps most importantly, they’re not bored by a sermon that gives them three simple points that they don’t have to think about. Instead they are being pushed intellectually and practically.
*This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch.
4. From Giving to Equipping
Our traditional approach to teaching has been that the preacher does a ton of study in a passage of Scripture, formulates conclusions on that passage using Bible study methods, thinks about how the passage applies to the lives of those who will listen to the message, and then packages the message into approximately 30 minutes. It’s thought through and concise. I think the time spent in preparing for a message is necessary–when we give a message we ought to know the passage and have already thought through it well.
But what about everyone else? Should they not be able to think through it as well?
Way too often people sit in our churches and hear conclusions based on someone else’s study of Scripture. Yet they go home with no idea of how to study it for themselves. They are given a message discussing Scripture, but not necessarily equipped to get truth out of Scripture on their own.
College-age people are no exception. Consider shifting your focus from giving the conclusions of your own study to equipping others to draw their own conclusions. You can still teach a passage of Scripture but as you do, share about how you came to that conclusion. Share about your study process, tell them what stood out to you and why it did. There are all kinds of resources available on basic Bible study methods you can refer to, but letting people into your personal process can be even more effective. If you are going to help guide people toward Christ-likeness they must be able to go to Scripture and study it themselves. Shifting your focus from giving information to equipping others to get it for themselves is what’s needed.
*This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch.
3. From Behavioral to Spiritual Focus
James 1:22 issues a command to believers to be doers of the word, not only hearers of it. The book of James issues a huge challenge to us as believers: we have to do something with what we know. This is an extremely important aspect of our faith. The last thing the Church needs is a bunch of people calling themselves “Christian” and not doing anything about it in the world.
But in some ways we’ve become out of balance, at times placing too much focus on behavior and missing what actually produces the behavior. Jesus confronts the Pharisee’s in Matthew 22:37-39 when He says their greatest command is to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind. He quoted a passage of scripture from Deuteronomy chapter 6–one that these people knew very well. They knew it inside and out, had it on the doorposts of their homes and even wore this section of Scripture around their arms and foreheads when they prayed. But they missed something–it’s called the point. They knew the information, but lost the heart. The Pharisees were good moral church going people who did all the right things. But there was a need for something deeper and this is where Jesus confronts them on multiple occasions. (For example see Matthew 23:23-36.)
I love the insight 1 Thessalonians 1:3 gives us on this issue. The apostle Paul is writing to people in the Thessalonian church and says he remembers their “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the Greek language, the emphasis is clearly on the faith, love, and hope of Paul’s audience. In fact, the way Paul structures his sentence stresses that these three qualities produce their work, labor, and endurance. The NIV version uses different terms like “prompted” and “inspired” for reading purposes, but the literal meaning in Greek is “produced.” His readers’ spirituality was producing outward action, not vice versa. Outward actions are simply markers of spiritual condition. We can try to get people to move in a behavioral direction, but to truly be effective we have to go much deeper. We must develop people’s faith, love, and hope. And when we do, the outward actions take care of themselves (Matthew 23:25-26).
Consider talking about spiritual truths without giving behavioral application. I know that may be difficult at first because it’s not typically our approach, but try having people think and pray through the application points for themselves. Force them to think through these things beyond the all-too-typical “Sunday school answers.” Make sure they don’t just regurgitate what they’ve heard growing up, but instead are really thinking through it for themselves.
**This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch.
This is part 2 of a series. If you missed the first post, click here.
From Indoctrinating to Imparting Wisdom
Indoctrination is a fancy way of saying we teach people what we believe from an information standpoint–and at times even tell them how to apply that information to their lives. Church leaders have traditionally been good at giving good and concise information through classes, small group studies and sermons. But imparting wisdom is different.
If indoctrination is giving information, imparting wisdom is showing how that information is lived out. An indoctrinated person knows information, a wise person is deeply committed to living out what they know. In College Ministry 101 I shared about a guy in my college ministry named James. He was a great kid, well-liked by most. We were sitting down for coffee one day, and he told me straight out that he was bored with God and with church. He wasn’t bitter or frustrated; he was genuinely bored. I asked him why he thought he was bored, and he simply responded, “I’m just sick of going to church.”
Eventually, James explained that his entire Christian life revolved around the church campus where Bible studies were held and church events hosted. He was saturated by church culture and knew a lot of biblical information. He went from one Bible study or gathering to the next, and eventually he got bored–who wouldn’t? At the same time, he was living his life by his own rules. He wasn’t living an outlandish lifestyle, but he wasn’t living a Christ-like life either.
At the end of our conversation, I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re right–your life is boring. Your problem is that you’re a smart guy and you know a lot of information, but you don’t obey any of it.” Just so you know, I’m not always that forward with people, but our relationship warranted it, and he needed to hear it. I went on even further, “I wonder if it would be so boring if you started living out what you know–if you were able to say you knew things from experience, rather than just regurgitating what you’ve been told?” He was a little taken aback, but he understood what I was saying.
Rather than teaching more information, consider shifting your focus to helping people be deeply committed to what they already know. Teaching college-age people is about encouraging deep commitment to simple truths much more than complex discussion or giving more information. I’m not suggesting you abandon teaching new information nor would I say we shouldn’t talk about the deeper concepts of faith. I’m simply suggesting a shift in focus to intentionally focusing on helping people embrace truth in their life to the point where they feel and experience all the pressures of living it out. Why would we give more information if those we’re giving it to aren’t living out what we’ve already given!? It’s through experience of living out truth that wisdom is gained.
It may not surprise you at this point that I would suggest that connecting college-age people with older maturing adults is one of the best ways to do this. We need to connect them with people who actually live out their beliefs in life and preferably people that have been doing so for some time. So, by concentrating on connecting college-age people to the lives of people in your church you can do more than give them a sense of belonging in the church. You can also be meeting their most immediate needs of faith development by imparting wisdom through the life experience of others.
**This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch
When we are teaching children about God we need to be fairly black and white in our approach. Their minds are limited when it comes to abstract abilities, so we have to be very literal in our teaching. We have to avoid gray areas.
But college-age people are different.
This is why I’ve found that shifting our approach to teaching in five specific ways greatly increases our effectiveness with college-age people. So I want to walk through these [over the coming week or so] and give you some thoughts as to the importance of each shift.
1. From Conclusions to Assumptions
Every church has some kind of doctrinal statement. This is basically a list of all the conclusions the church has come to in regards to major theological issues. In the church we typically teach these conclusions fairly well. We teach messages on them, we have classes, and the major issues are usually peppered throughout small group discussion, class material, and Sunday morning sermons. Kids consequently grow up learning what we believe, but it’s typically our conclusions they come away with. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons college-age people walk away from the church after graduating high school. Their leaving with our conclusions, not their own personal faith.
Junior high and high school ministries of course are seeking to help in this, but even then we can fall into a rut of simply teaching our conclusions. If we want them to have their own faith, at some point we’ll need to help them understand the assumptions we embrace that lead to the conclusions we hold so dearly.
For instance, I personally believe in the Deity of Christ–Christ is God in the flesh. I can point to various passages that lead me to believe this. I have clearly concluded in my own belief that God came to the earth as a human being named Jesus. But there is a lot I assume that allows me to come to that conclusion. I first have to assume there is a God. I have to assume that the Scriptures I’m reading are in fact His words. I have to assume that the version I’m reading is accurate. And I’m assuming a person named Jesus actually lived on the earth.
My point is that I cannot come to the conclusion I did without first assuming all these things to be true. And, it’s helping people think through the assumptions that eventually allows them to personally embrace our conclusions as their own.
Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is in ways, but not as much as you might think. Just begin to think about shifting your focus a little. Instead of just teaching conclusions and showing people in the Bible where you get them from, begin helping people think through the assumptions behind the conclusions by asking questions. Forcing people to think through these is a great way of engaging their minds and also helping them formulate a faith of their own.
You can ask a group of people if they believe Jesus is God. If they respond positively, you can simply ask them why they believe that. Typically they know the conclusion, but if you ask them why you’ll likely see them squirm a little. If they respond with something like, “The Bible says so.” You can push back by asking, “Ok, give me three places the Bible says that.” To put this as simply as I can, instead of just articulating theological conclusions, we can force people to process through these things at a much deeper level by asking the why questions.
**This is an exert from College Ministry From Scratch.
“Slipping through the cracks” is a clichÃ© term used for many things, but unfortunately it’s all too familiar in our churches. Mostly it’s come to define what happens to many kids as they transition out of high school youth ministry.
Ministries intentionally reaching college-age people cannot solve the entire issue, but the lack of them certainly contributes to the drop-off during this transition. Most churches have yet to embrace a ministry specifically to this life stage, leaving them without guidance and often feeling unwanted and detached. They don’t fit in our traditional ideas of student ministry anymore, and they certainly don’t feel like adults.
Means vs. End
The evaluation of whether or not a high school ministry is successful must include how it helps students transition into adulthood. Without embracing this idea, we hinder the growth and maturity of our young people.
Once our kids graduate from high school ministries, many disconnect. Yet our actions scream, “We don’t care about you anymore! You don’t belong in our church! You’re not important enough for us to address your life stage issues!” Of course we would never say that and our heart certainly doesn’t feel that way, but our actions seem to be speaking louder than either.
Is the point of our high school ministry to get students to come, or is it a small part of the life long discipleship process of individuals? Is our high school ministry the end, or is it a means to a greater end? For both questions I hope…[read more]