Monday, February 26, 2007

How Should The Church Respond To The Exodus Of Our Youth? Part 4

What's On The Menu?

Have you heard any of these things lately: "Teens have a short attention span and can only listen for 15 minutes"; "Teens need discussion groups not sermons"; "We have to make the Bible relevant to our teens"; "We must used modern media to connect with youth"; "teens can't sit through plenary church services"; "we have to find out what teens are thinking about and teach on those topics."

In just 6 years of youth ministry I have heard all of these things and many other things like these. So how do these things impact my ministry? They don't! Why not? Am I just a maverick who won't listen to anyone and things he has it all figured out? I hope not. I believe that I am only doing what I have been called to do. I am called to "preach the word" (2 Tim 4:2). There is nothing wrong with using modern technology and using appropriate language that communicates with youth, but none of these should replace the straightforward teaching of God's word. Right now preaching the word happens to be out of season, particularly in youth ministry, but that does not change my calling. Last post we looked at the first biblical principle that guides any discipleship ministry:

1. The church should be God centered and not man centered.

Here is a second biblical principle to guide us:

2. God has not commanded us to preach to felt needs. He has commanded us to preach His Word.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.NASB95

We don't have to go looking for new material because we have been given the material already. We, like Paul, have been entrusted with the gospel.

2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.NASB95

How does a pastor know that he is a a workman that doesn't need to be ashamed? If he accurately handles the word of truth.

2 Timothy 4:2-5 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.NASB95

No matter if people want us to preach the word or not is the only thing that we should be doing! In other words we should ignore requests for something else.

1 Timothy 4:11-16 Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.NASB95

Now what is important in these verses? The teaching of God's word. It is pretty simple really: read it, teach it, live it, read it, teach it, live it!

1 Timothy 6:20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—NASB95

How much would be left in our evangelical youth ministries if we cut out "worldly and empty chatter"?

The ironic thing about all of this is that I have found that just teaching the Bible in a straightforward way is not only the right thing to do biblically but it is also effective. God generally blesses a ministry centered on His word. I am not a mega youth ministry pastor. I have never seen explosive numerical growth. However, by God's grace, as much as I have endeavored to faithfully preach the word we have seen steady spiritually growth amongst our teens. God's word has produced true conversion in a number of teens, and God's word has produced spiritual growth in number of teens. One of the most encouraging things so far is that those who are genuinely impacted by the word are not flash in the pan Christians. Instead they continue to grow and stay with the church! Praise the Lord! May He continue to add His blessing to His word!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Should The Church Respond To The Exodus Of Our Youth? Part 3

The Conservative Voice Online recently posted and article about Britney Spears entitled "Britney Spears Backslid." In the article Grant Swank chronicles Britney's journey from Southern Baptist to Kabala to nothing to Judaism. Look at how he describes her church experience and her exit:

Britney Spears was reared in the Kentwood, LA Southern Baptist Church where "Jesus saves" is preached weekly. Her parents are James Parnell Spears, a building contractor, and Lynne Irene Bridges, a former grade school teacher.
Brought up Southern Baptist means Britney was reared in a fundamentalist environment — biblical morality, Scripture memorization, Sunday school. More: weekly attendance at worship, chaperoned youth activities, public services closing with invitations to accept Jesus as Savior. And still more: prayer meetings, Bible-carrying worshipers, plainly understood evangelistic preaching, and expectations that members live "separate from the world. "But Britney backslid.

I am not going to question Britney's former church and evaluate whether they could have done more or not. Britney made her choice to leave the church. However, I will question the terminology that Swank uses. He says that Britney backslid. Backsliding is a term that is often used in Christian circles of a Christian turning away from Christ and sliding back in to sin and worldliness. The problem is that there is no such thing, biblically speaking, as a backslidden Christian. There are just Christians and non-Christians. It is clear from looking and Britney's life that she is a non-Christian. How can I say that? Because I believe Jesus when he said:

John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.NASB95

If Britney was ever a true Christian then she would be bearing fruit because Christ would be living in her through the Holy Spirit, but she does not bear the fruit of a Christian. At one time Britney made a big deal about being a virgin and being moral, but evidently it was only external and did not come form her heart.

This is a huge issue that we need to deal with in our churches and youth groups. It is easy to manipulate teens and see them get caught up in the excitement of events or the groups or all sorts of things, but do they really have a heart for God? What is it that produces a heart for God? Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.NASB95 This is why it is the word and not the world that needs to be central in our youth ministries.

Let's go back and look again at #1 in the list of biblical principles that we looked at last post.

1. The church should be God centered and not man centered. Even youth groups should be God centered and not youth centered. This is why we call our youth group a youth ministry. Human need is not the central purpose of the church. The central purpose is God’s glory.

I have found that in youth ministry I have often been encouraged to focus on the particular issues that our teens are facing. I don't have a problem with addressing key topics from time to time. However, I do feel that a steady stream of topical messages focusing on teen issues encourages teens to become myopic or self focused. The real question for both older adults and young adults (teenagers) is what God wants to say to me, not what do I think I need from God. The Bible is unmistakably God centered and not man centered. Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1:5-6 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.NASB95

This text tells us that God's sovereign work of salvation has a purpose: the praise of the glory of His grace. In other words our salvation is to cause us to focus on God and His grace and not on ourselves. It couldn't be clearer then Paul puts it in 1 Cor. 10:31:

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.NASB95

Even in the minutest details of life the glory of God is to drive what we do. When we are structuring our youth ministries are we concerned with doing the things that bring the most glory to God, or are we more concerned with what will please our youth and attract more to come? We can sure impress teens by wowing them with our programs, but only God and His God-centered word can awaken with in them a true heart of worship through the gift of faith.

If the glory of God is to be central to and permeate all that we do then the Word of God must be central to and permeate all that we do because God reveals His glory through His word.