definitionsSome phrases or words or topics are commonly used in the Church:

  • “We need to grow spiritually
  • “We want to make sure everyone is being discipled…”
  • “We need to train people in evangelism
  • Spiritual disciplines are important for every Christian”

But using these phrases often doesn’t mean people actually understand what we’re talking about.  People might be able to use the terms in the right context and in the right ways, but if asked to define these things most would have a hard time doing so.  Well, I’ve realized more than ever we have to make sure these types of things are defined clearly and simply.  If not, all we do is train people in Christianese – a language we use that nobody really understands.

So, I thought I would do is provide the definitions I use in our church.  You might already have your own definitions that are concise and effective.  If that’s you, then maybe mine can just be something you compare/contrast yours with.  If you don’t have these defined concisely, I would recommend doing so immediately.  Leadership requires us to be clear.

The first word or phrase I will define in this series is: spiritual growth.

This phrase is tossed around a lot, but nobody really knows what we mean.  So I have defined it.  It may not be a perfect definitions, but I believe we can say we have grown spiritually

if the time it takes us to read scripture and embrace it is less than it used to be. 

This definition does a number of things other than just providing a definition:

  1.  It leans on Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 that says the goal of our teaching people about him and his ways is obedience.  We cannot feel like we’ve grown spiritually simply because we can regurgitate scripture.  Reading the bible makes us Christian as much as reading People Magazine makes us a celebrity.
  2. Implies that we need to be growing in our understanding of scripture.
  3. It insinuates actions need to be taken after reading.

How do you feel about that definition?  See any holes in it?  Any other benefits you see it having?  If you have defined it for yourself and ministry, please share it so we can all learn.

Really enjoyed this simple spoken word video from Sol Rexius about the Bible. Really good stuff in there, might make a good bumper video or transition in a service. They’re using it to promote the upcoming Rock Solid Bible, which looks promising too. Get your students in the Word!

JG



A rut I was in early in ministry was to seek out the books that were trendy instead of choosing the books I should actually have been reading at the time.

Now I think all reading is good development – you could even read the Hunger Games and it could help your ministry and stretch your mind. But I think we have to be careful not to chase after the trendy books (Christian and secular alike) when the best stuff we should be reading sits idle on the shelf or gathers digital dust at the bottom of our Kindle.

I appreciate the larger conversation that takes place in Christianity when someone stirs the pot with a book that all of us our reading – but my encouragement to you today is to make sure you crack open that book that will really help you.

So what should you be reading? My first thought was to push you toward a few books that I would consider must-reads, even classics in youth ministry. But instead of doing that … I think you already know your next book.

So put down that latest-and-greatest book from whoever the hot author is right now and pick up the title you should be reading. An incredible you is waiting at the end of the book!

JG

NewThru30: The New Testament in 60 Seconds from Elevation Church on Vimeo.

NewThru30: The Old Testament in 60 Seconds from Elevation Church on Vimeo.

I Tweeted last night that we were continuing The Book series (40 Days in the Word Campaign) in our high school ministry by teaching a New Testament survey in 30 minutes. My friend Terrace shot me a couple videos from Elevation Church that would fit perfectly if you want to do this series or a similar one in the future!

JG



Tonight a dear friend of mine said that he will be pay me $1,000 if I lose 20 pounds in one year. I need carrots. This is a nice carrot.

I am fascinated by the effective use of incentives (carrots) that parents use to motivate their teenagers. I’ve heard of cash for grades, clothes for good behavior and even a new car for remaining a virgin throughout high school. I asked several of my high school friends about carrots and many of them receive all kinds of perks if they follow through on the activities that their parents value the most. So I asked, “should parents give carrots to teenagers for attending church, reading the bible or serving the less fortunate?” I could tell by looking at their faces that they were uneasy with this one.

I’m willing to bet you that if you took a look around the children’s ministry at your church you will find carrots galore! If you show up on Sunday you get a star on the chart or if you memorize the verse of the week you may get a tootsie roll. These are not trivial tokens! Imagine giving some smarties to a 2nd grade boy but not his four buddies seated near him or the over achieving girl who didn’t get an attendance star because she was out-of-town visiting her grandma. DRAMA!

Starting in middle school and especially in high school ministry you see a transfer from carrot encouragement to the focus on consequences. Where a kid once got candy for coming to church, now he can’t play in the praise band if he doesn’t have adequate attendance. It is this very mindset that propels we youth ministers to focus more on what Dallas Willard calls “sin management” instead of authentic discipleship. I am fully aware that God has consequences for his children, but I don’t see that He uses consequences as His primary motivation. Having said that, I’m not convinced that I see the use of “carrots” as a means for spiritual growth, except for………

The Kingdom Carrot-
Is the promise of a new heaven and new earth or eternal life enough for a 16-year-old? Should we focus more on passages like John 10:10 describing the abundant life as a means to spiritually motivate young people? I may have more questions than I do answers about this post, but doesn’t the Promised Land seem to be a decent carrot to encourage tired, thirsty people to follow God? There is also a good question that some folks on my team brought up about the difference between a salvific carrot and a Christian leadership carrot, but I digress.

Matthew 6:19-24 is a classic Jesus response about the ultimate carrot and how distracting earthly possessions can be. It is no coincidence that Jesus ends by saying we can’t serve two masters in reference to money, which might give us some insight on the dangers of certain types of spiritual carrots. While I confess to you that I needed the $1,000 to lose weight, I pray that for you and I, the Kingdom carrot will be enough.

Nate Stratman is the Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, CO.

Was thinking this week about the “most importants” in youth ministry and came up with 3 things that every youth worker must strive to master. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized these are to some degree unattainable, but what we still must strive for every day. Here’s what I think youth workers must master – add yours or an observation in the comments:

God’s Word
Central to our ministry is the Word of God. It must be read, studied and poured over – a hunger for the Word has to be central to our ministry and heart. The only problem is that it can quickly become an elusive or altogether forgotten goal for us to hit. Too many youth workers, myself included, at times struggle to consistently spend time researching and studying the Bible, much less hold a fierce command of it. If you are going to have longevity in youth ministry, we have to be centered in His Word.

People
People are at the very heart of what we do every day in youth ministry. Volunteers, staff, students, elders, parents – all play a critical role in youth ministry. You will never master interpersonal relationships, but you have to work at them every day. People are nuanced and complicated, each has to be handled appropriately and with love. People will continue to challenge you every day of ministry. And just when you think you have everyone figured out, expect a curveball.

Humility
You have to be humble to make it in youth ministry. Students have an incredible talent to sniff out the least bit of inauthenticity. Being grounded in the Word and having a heart for people is what will remind us of our place in God’s kingdom. It isn’t our ministry, it is His ministry. It isn’t our work, it is the Spirit’s work. We get the privilege of leading, and ultimately serving what He is doing. What an honor that is – which makes it all the more frustrating when our ego gets in the way. You must do battle with pride every day and serve with a humble heart.

What else do we as youth workers need to master, but never will?

JG



So, I’m putting together my sermon for church and I just needed to share. We live in a society that’s all about consumption. We are so concerned with what we eat, what we buy, who sees us (or who we see) and what our overall status is. Facebook has taken over to the point that people believe status updates as ultimate truth. It’s hilarious and sad at the same time.

I’m wondering at this point “what consumes me?” My Bible says it should be Jesus — my life should be about Him; His plans and dreams and hopes. This has nothing to do with being a pastor; it has everything to do with being a follower of Christ. God isn’t looking for Sunday Christians…I actually believe those are the devil’s favorite people. They are content and satisfied. They aren’t growing in their faith, they are serving and ministering; they are merely punching a religious clock called attendance. Satan is worried about the people who are consumed by God.

I have so many options as an American for what I will allow to consume me. It could be sports or Hollywood. Money or clothing. Eating at fancy restaurants, attending the proper parties or just being a perfect dad. However, as the Bible says in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” My feelings and emotions can betray me all too easily. I must decide to be consumed by the truth of God’s Word.

Hebrews 13:8 tells me that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is nothing that the world or society can offer me that matches that claim. Jesus is eternal, God’s Word is eternal, His truth is eternal and He invites me into a life of eternity. When I decide to be consumed by God then I find myself trusting Him when there is more month than money. I lean on Him when disciplining my children or counseling a church member or leading worship. See, when I am consumed by God I no longer have to worry about other things. It’s not that they aren’t important, and this isn’t a license to be irresponsible, but when my heart, my thoughts, my life are consumed by God then I KNOW that He is taking care of the rest. Worry and stress are gone, strife and anger are gone; peace and abundant life become the rule and not the exception.

So, this all sounds wonderful and happy, but really? Consumed by God — you mean like every part of my being — my soul, my body, my mind and my spirit?? Yep, that’s what my Bible says. Unfortunately, I must confess that I have a long way to go in this area…I find myself consumed with sports, I look forward to football games more than church at times. I fret over my kids and worry about finances and stress about my role as a husband, dad, pastor, friend, etc. But I know where I want to be — consumed by God. I want to be able to stand strong on His foundation even if the world around me is crumbling.

It’s interesting but it was easier to do this 18 months ago when my world was crumbling. It’s amazing how betrayal and despair can drive us to the throne of God — but the key is am I consumed by Him when my skies are blue? That’s a bit more trickier because I can start to grow in a confidence and assurance that isn’t based on God, simply because life is smooth. So, what consumes me? Well, I know the answer that I am aiming for (God) and I know the reality I am facing (everything else). There is a tension between faith and reality, between right and wrong, between surrendering to God and indulging my selfishness. Thankfully, it’s a journey and although the path is rocky at times, I can tell that I’m heading in the right direction!

What consumes you?

Mike Dobes is the high school and college age pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Camarillo, CA. He is happily married with 5 amazing kids, loves sports and the beach and is blessed to be in ministry. Check out his blog for more!

I want my students to like me! I really do. I hope to gain the trust, confidence, and “right” to speak into the lives of my students about important spiritual matters, but I realize that doesn’t come free. Hanging out with them at Sonic after school, going to eat chicken rings with them at their school lunches (how in the world does chicken become rings?), attending their choir concerts, talent shows, band recitals, and athletics events are all ways that I can show my students that I care about my relationship with them. Depending on the depth of those relationships and the number of students in my ministry, I could spend countless hours growing these relationships. It costs a lot of time for me to show my students that I truly care about their lives.

But is that enough? Is it enough for me to care about the lives of my students and have them be aware of it? Allow me to answer my own question…that depends on what I believe God has actually called me to do. All of those activities may be enough if God has called me to be a mentor or to develop moral people. You mean to tell me that you can sacrifice all of those hours outside of your “office hours”, away from your family, listening to some pretty amateur band music, and cheering on your freshman boys in a basketball game that ends in 14-12, and that still may not be enough. The problem is that God has called us to guide our students spiritually, not simply influence their life. God has called us to pastor/shepherd our students’ spirits. To guide their spirit means much more than spending quality time with them. Don’t get me wrong, quality time is important and necessary, it’s just not enough.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Psalm 19:7 Our students’ souls need constant revival. That revival cannot come from our relationship with them; they need spiritual revival and growth that is only found in His revealed Self, found in his Word. Shepherding our students requires us to understand and completely surrender to the fact that their relationship with God is infinitely more important than their relationship with me. They don’t NEED to know me, they NEED to know God. Their relationship with God is not found in the number of hours that you spend during a given week developing a relationship with your students; it is found in the number of hours that your students spend in their Bible learning about their God. The way for them to know God is to know his Word. Knowing God leads to life transformation and revival.

Let’s face it, how many of your students maintain a close relationship with you five years after they leave your ministry? Statistics (a student pastor’s worst nightmare) suggest that many of our students not only dissolve their relationship with their student pastor after leaving the student ministry, they dissolve their entire relationship with God. The purpose of this article is not to figure out all of the dynamics at work that explain that trend, however it points back to the foundational question, what is enough? The key to developing students that are more likely to maintain their relationship with the Lord is to develop Bible-hungry students through a Bible-hungry student ministry.

A Bible-hungry student ministry cannot exist without a Bible-hungry student pastor. I know there are thousands of things that compete for your time. There are always notes to write, emails to send, students to disciple, and meetings to attend; however, a student pastor’s time with the Lord in his Word is critical. The model that you set for your students is determined by what you value. Make sure to set a high value on your daily consumption of God’s Word. “More desirable than gold, than much fine gold. Sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10

Expository teaching ensures that a student’s relationship with God through his Word is emphasized as greater than a student’s relationship with their student pastor. Simply put, expository teaching is the careful drawing out of the exact meaning of a passage in its original context leading to contemporary application. Instead of brainstorming a topic and finding a passage that speaks to what you are attempting to communicate, expository teaching uses the text of the Scripture to drive the series of lessons. By allowing the text to drive the series of lessons you are allowing God to speak using the structure of his Word, not your creativity to think up topics that the students need to hear. This type of teaching also teaches your students to learn to study the Bible for themselves. Just like you would not encourage your students to flip open to a random verse and apply it without studying its context, don’t model that wrong behavior in your method of teaching!

“God’s Word is vital in developing an on-going relationship with Him.” Don’t just tell it to your students, model it for them.

Tony Richmond is the High School/College Student Pastor at First Baptist Church Keller.