Visions from the Vincents

July 15, 2008

Student Life 2008

Filed under: Youth — Joshua @ 2:18 am
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Louie Giglio

This past week 11 of us set off for Student Life at the Beach with LouieGiglio and Christ Tomlin.  The camps theme was “The Way” with the theme verse being Acts 19:23—“About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.” We had an excellent experience and I believe we met with God.  My hope is that the time that we spent together will prove fruitful.  I challenged the congregation and the students with six practical ways to encourage growth after the weekend.  Three take aim at the congregation as a whole and three are particularly focused on the youth.

Where to go from here?
Church
1.    Pray for particular youth by name.  The way is hard and narrow that leads to life, and youth need other Christians who are willing to get involved in their lives on a relational level so they can know how to pray intelligibly for them.
2.    Invest in a youth with more than financial investments.  Get to know them.  Speak truth informed from the Bible into their lives.  Get involved.  Young adults are facing big issues and they have big questions. It is going to take more than a playstation 3 to address the questions and problems they are grappling with.
3.    Know the Way yourself.  You can’t speak truth into a students life it you do not know the truth yourself.  It is hard to apply God’s timeless truth in time and space.  We need lay theologians who are equipped and ready to speak to difficult issues.  If you are not prepared, you could give a student poor advice that will result in life long consequences.  If you are prepared, you could help send him down the narrow path and through the narrow gate.
Youth
4.    Practice the spiritual disciplines, including coming to church.  Your parents might not come to church.  They may be unfaithful.  In fact, you may be more faithful than they are.  But, one day it will be you standing before Christ and giving an account for the breath that God has given you.  What will you say?
5.    Remember Ashley and be an agent of conviction in your parents life.  Louie shared the story of a girl who was converted by the faithful testimony of a Christian room mate she called Fruitcake.  Three months after her conversion she died in an automobile accident.  Because of the radical change in her life over those three months, the day after her funeral, her atheist father, told Louie that he didn’t believe in God but that he wanted to speak to the man that had spoken to his daughter and led her to dynamically change her life. In gentleness and love encourage them in the gospel.  Live in such away that parents are convicted that they need to be more faithful to God and others.
6.    Live big on the narrow road.   Louie encouraged students to have a big idea for how God can use them to make Jesus famous.  I would simply echo these sentiments and encourage students to live for God’s renown.

June 26, 2008

Holding Hands Holding Hearts

Filed under: Books,Youth — Joshua @ 6:43 pm
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Holding Hands Holding Hearts (H4) by Richard and Sharon Phillips is perhaps the best book on dating I have read.

The basic gist of the book
The Phillips say, “Our challenge is to think biblically about an activity that isn’t in the Bible” (12).  The biblical approach that they present–dating is an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace–stands in stark contrast to that which, even, many Christians hold–dating is the pursuit of romance and meeting emotional needs.  Too often, the Christian’s understanding of dating is shaped more by the world than Scripture.  The beauty of the approach found in Holding Hands Holding Hearts is its simplicity.  Dating is more that holding hands, and more than seeking to manipulate situations into mere self-gratification.  Dating involves holding hearts, and taking responsibility for the present and future spiritual condition of the individual. The main point of this book is that Christians need to freshly apply the gospel to relationships between men and women.  The Phillips flesh this out in two parts.

Part 1: A Biblical view of dating and relationships
In the first part, the authors explore the three-act-drama: God’s design in creation, the relationship fallen through sin, and the relationship redeemed by God’s grace.  Instead of beginning with dating and trying to work towards marriage, this book begins with the biblical principles of a healthy marriage (as seen in the primordial garden of Genesis 2) and works backwards to describe a healthy biblical dating relationship, because the foundations for a healthy, godly marriage begin while dating (cf. 13).  They list three dynamics in particular.

Three dynamics bind couples together. H4 draws three dynamics that bind couples together from Genesis 2: commitment, intimacy, and interdependence.  These helpfully display the trajectory of a relationship that seeks to be faithful to the Lordship of Christ and to love your neighbor as yourself.  These three should increase with codependency as the relationship evolves.

Commitment “involves an increasing exclusivity in terms of relationships with others; it means giving time to the relationship; and it involves a growing attention to the needs of each other” (32).  Commitment begins low and so should expectations for time and exclusivity.  In other words, “their obligation is little higher than that toward any other brother or sister in Christ” (33).  This progresses and increases steadily until the two are married.  If commitment doesn’t grow, neither will the relationship.

Concerning intimacy, they say, “Men and women are made to fit together for the most intimate ministry one to another–spiritually, emotionally, and physically” (34).  This is both beautiful and profound.  But, it is for this reason that H4 claims, “the breaking of these bonds does so much damage” (34).  The connection between intimacy and commitment is as follows: “one is foolish to expose the secrets of his or her heart to someone who has not made a tangible commitment to faithfulness” (35).  So, intimacy should follow commitment.

Interdependence is the final dynamic.  This involves the fact the idea that they man and woman are not “just two people doing their own thing” (35).  This means that marriage is about more that cohabitation.  Couples must be able to work together for the glory of God.  As relationships grow, all three dynamics should grow.  With this foundation laid they move on to offering some practical guidance.

Page 85 offers a list of 7 suggestions as to what submission and respect look like for a woman in a dating relationship.  This can be quite dicey given that dating is not marriage.  The Philips helpfully council a woman as to what that progression of intimacy commitment, and interdependence looks like before moving on to considerations of practice in part 2.

Part 2: Biblical Wisdom for Dating and Relationships
This second part considers the practical topics of attraction, first dates, commitment, and growing from dating to marriage, and struggling with contentment as a single person.  Chapter 5 challenges men to reevaluate what kind of beauty they are looking for.  They should seek the kind of beauty that God values.  Interestingly, this book doesn’t get to the first date until chapter 6.  From this point on, wisdom flows freely on the practicalities of dating in light of the gospel.  Some helpful examples include:
•    Page 115 considers the ideal situation in which the man would approach her father for consent, advice, and oversight.  On 116, a number of ideas are given to protect the woman’s heart.  Given a fallen world, they suggest that, if the father is absent physically (or otherwise), the woman should seek counsel from a pastor or a trustworthy friend.
•    Chapter 6 addresses issues like where to go on a first date, how to dress, and even when to call the girl back after the first date.
•    Page 155 provides 5 questions a couple should ask before engagement.
•    Page 160 contains a list of 5 essential matters a couple should talk about, pray about, and strive together for if they are hoping to be happily married.
•    H4 clearly articulates the dangers of dating a non-Christian, the particular sinful proclivities of men and women that result from the fall, how a man should lead the relationship in light of God’s intended purposes for marriage and how a woman is to faithfully live our her God-intended purposes.
•    Chapter 9 addresses how not to be dating.  In other words, they acknowledge that thinking through dating naturally leads some to be discouraged over not being in a relationship, and that dating isn’t a gift for everyone.  Instead, for many, it is a great trial.  The Phillips’s gentle counsel to those who hate being single carries the gospel specifically to their situation and challenges them to fight sinful desires that exist outside of relationships.

Hot thoughts to consider
This book flows steady with wisdom on dating in light of revelation in such a way that purifies a Christians vision of dating like fire purifies metal.

H4 applies the gospel to dating. “It is only as a man and woman come in faith before the cross of Jesus and find themselves restored to God that their own relationship can be redeemed from the guilt and the power of sin.  We find the ability to love one another rather than using one another to meet our needs and desires…In Christ, the Christian finds the ability to leave selfish manipulative relationships for a relationship that is empowered by the love that flows from the cross” (55).  H4 intends to say that just because the Bible doesn’t use the word “dating” doesn’t mean that it is a realm that stands outside of the Lordship of Christ.  In fact, Scripture actually has a lot to say about the relationship between a man and woman.  It is a theme that is central to the storyline of redemptive history.  H4 shows that the Bible has an answer for why relationships, including dating, are so messed up; sin!  The first part is actually a reflection on the effects of the gospel—God, man, Christ, Response—on marriage and dating.  The authors spend much of this book showing how the gospel can be applied as a redemptive tool for relationships. First, marriage is looked at prior to the fall.  Next, the effects of the fall on marriage are considered.  Finally, the work of Christ and its meaning for marriage and, thus dating, are considered.  So, it applies what the main message of the Bible has to say to this timely topic.  They say, “This is the glory of Christianity: that we are saved not just from our sin but also to the blessings for which God first created us and now has redeemed us through the blood of his only Son” (53).  This means that we can share in the blessings intended for man and woman by and through the power of the gospel!

H4 is incarnational in its approach. Far from being so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, the Phillips provide a model that considers the cultural context in which our younger people find themselves.  For example, they say, “Dating is essentially a twentieth-century invention” (12).  But, instead of jettisoning the whole project and hiding under a rock, they say, “it is nonetheless something that most of us can’t simply kiss goodbye” (12)—which could be a bit of joshing.  They conclude, “Under anything like typical circumstances, an adult man ought to be married. Given the way things are today, he probably needs to date someone.  And it also means that when he dates, it should be with an eye toward marriage” (21).  So, they focus not so much on what you call dating, but how you think about dating and the practical outworking of those thoughts in light of the gospel.  An example from above is the need of counsel in a woman’s life when considering a relationship with a man.  Ideally, that would be her father.  Given this fallen world, the Philips suggest thinking outside the box for wise counselors who can speak truth into the girls life and provide protection.

How the best could be better
I have already said that this is the best book on dating I have read.  The only potential drawback I see with this book concerns a vision for what dating looks like for those younger than college.  To be fair, the authors prepare you for this in the second line of the “Preface” saying, “It is geared especially toward single adults rather than to teenagers” (p. 9).  This book makes an assumption at the onset that “readers possess the maturity to enter into marriage” and that it is thus inappropriate for teenagers.  Given the detailed and helpful thoughts of this work, a chapter on the implications would be an asset to the numerous parents and ministers seeking to help teenagers consider relationships with the opposite sex in a more biblical way.  Then again, maybe its silence regarding the subject says something all together more powerful than words could communicate.

Conclusion
If you are single, read this book!  A flood of helpful thoughts contained in this book will help you make the decisions that will effect the rest you life, especially the one that will shape the rest of your life more than almost any other—marriage.  If you are currently dating someone, make reading this book a priority for you and your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Use it to educate and transform your relationship.  It is almost sinful for you not to read this book.  If you are the parent of a youth, encourage him, or her, as much as possible to read this work.  It may not be geared for them, but it certainly will prepare them for where they are going.  If you are a married person, it is valuable as well.  Because it begins with a model of marriage and then displays dating in light of working towards a healthy marriage, it offers a great deal of counsel for those who are married.  I just read the book for a second time and was freshly reminded of my own shortcomings and need to repent.  So, in short please read this book!  I am confident that it will reveal fresh venues for you to experience the grace and peace of God in your life.

(more…)

March 11, 2008

Youth Ministry: Where do we begin?

Filed under: Youth — Joshua @ 6:44 pm
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Jordan asked some helpful questions concerning youth ministry. As stated before, I think the role of parents is crucial. Here are some other thoughts that I believe will be helpful in thinking through how to minister to youth.

Where Scripture is Silent
Conservative evangelical circles these days discuss in great detail what a church should look like in light of the first century church. Some long to be a New Testament (NT) church. I think they mean more like the church of Philippi than the church of Corinth, but the point is clear. Many believe, as do I, that Scripture speaks to how God’s people should live together and order themselves. Everything the church does should be in response to the Word of God. Therefore, I would suggest that churches organize their youth ministries according to the principles set down by the Apostles in the New Testament. Wait a minute! Does the New Testament speak to Youth Ministry (YM hereafter)? Unfortunately, it does not. What then should we do? Should we sell the youth ministry for spare parts?

Where the Statistics Look Bleak
You may ask, “Why change a good thing?” Recent studies by the Barna Group, Lifeway, Fuller Seminary, and others have shown that the prodigiously increasing rate of attrition concerning students who entered their freshman year at college as Christians, yet abandoned the church by their sophomore year is startling. In 1945, 65% of students entering their freshman year as Christians remained in the church thereafter. By 2005 this percentage has fallen to 3%-5%. Something must be done.

What a Youth Ministry Should Guard Against
Before you do something rash, stop for just a minute and let’s think through this issue. Although, a Youth Pastor (YP) can hinder the gospel purposes for the church as presented in the NT, a YM that fences itself with certain principles, and focuses on the right ends can be faithful and fruitful. To accomplish this, YM should begin with what it is and what it is not. Though it is unintentional, many YPs do more harm than good for Christ’s Bride the church. A majority of YPs begin the conversation of YM with the YM, rather than beginning it with the church. The YM is not the church. If your approach grounds itself in trying to create a YM in a theological vacuum, then you have just become a magician, causing something to appear out of nothing, leaving all those who watch scratching their heads and asking, “Where did that come from?” While creativity is valuable, the church isn’t called to be creative as much as it is called to be obedient to revealed truth. Christians should begin with the church, and then constructively consider what a YM should and should not do. Perhaps, some of these will prove more obvious than others. But, the main point is that a YM should be integrated into the church. The more a YM distances itself from actively using its gifts in the church collectively, the more the YM distances itself from faithful obedience to the Word of God. Let’s begin with eight things a YM and YP should ordinarily steer clear of. I say ordinarily, because we live in a world that is fallen. In a perfect world, your youth ministry wouldn’t need a list, and you would have freedom to lead people in all of the directions we deemed best. As we all know, this world isn’t that place. Again, eight things a YM and YP should ordinarily avoid.

1. The YM is not a para-church organization working alongside or with the local church.
2. The YM is not separate from the congregation like a second church that shares a building. Although as many youth as will come are welcome, a youth cannot be a members of the YM without being a member of the church.
3. The YM should not practice ordinances apart from the rest of the Church.
4. The YM should not ordinarily grow in a manner disproportionate to the church congregation. This is not to say that you want to stunt spiritual or numerical growth, but it is to say that this shouldn’t be the goal of youth ministry.
5. The YM should not be an environment all together different from the church collectively. The YM shouldn’t see itself as a place where they can do all the things the older, boring adults will not allow them to do such as play the music they prefer. Though they may play different music and sing different songs, it shouldn’t be viewed as though relevance is equivalent to value before God.
6. The YM should not meet separately from the church during regularly scheduled meetings (i.e. Sunday morning, Sunday night, etc.)
7. The YP is not a substitute for the Pastor(s) of the church; he is a fully acknowledged pastor (this is an ideal or goal but perhaps not always possible).
8. The YP is not ordinarily a substitute for the spiritual role of the parents of the youth. Some spiritual orphans do need this though.

The Main Point: Teach the Value of the Local Church
This initial list serves to begin the conversation on the boundaries one should set up to begin a ministry of the church. It is easy for a YM to fold into itself and away from the church. Thus, it is possible for youth to prefer only to attend youth functions and only sit with youth in church, and only visit other youth. Let us not ignore the exhortation of James to image God by not showing partiality—even concerning age. Hopefully, this list clearly displays the potential pitfalls of YM. Churches should be encouraged to seek to set up these boundaries to emphasize the value of the local church as a whole to Youth. Part of communicating this vision is avoiding using language that confuses youth into thinking that their youth group is a substitute for the real thing.

Use Youth Ministry for all it’s Worth
We began this essay with the question, “Should churches sell the YM for spare parts?” You may be surprised by my answer in light of the conversation to this point. I actually think YMs can actually be an asset to the body of Christ! To this point, I have eight areas in which I think YM can be helpful.

1. The evangelism of youth.
2. The encouragement of family worship in families with youth.
3. The exhortation of obedience to parents.
4. The care of literal and spiritual orphans.
5. The integration of youth into the church.
6. The development of relationships with other Christian youth.
7. The preparation of youth for making the transition into adulthood.
8. Teaching Doctrine.

Conclusion
One may ask—and they have—which of these could not be achieved by simply folding the YM into the church and getting rid of the YM. I would be fine with a church not having an YM. Scripture doesn’t necessitate the provision of a YM or YP, but both can be a huge asset in thinking through these areas, especially in a larger church. On the other hand, Scripture nowhere prohibits a YM or YP. Paul says, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22).” More individuals come to Christ between their teenage years and early twenties than any other age. Therefore, it would behoove the church to place a concentrated effort on the development and evangelization of youth. Much more could be said, but this was meant to be far shorter than it has already become. I invite any helpful criticism concerning these matters and would also appreciate any further positives or negatives you would propose.

February 21, 2008

The Great Recession of Our Youth

Filed under: Youth — Joshua @ 2:32 pm

Economic Recession
A recent article by MSNBC Senior Producer, John Shoen, traces the current emphasis of presidential hopefuls on the economy as an indicator of increasing national fear over the financial status of the United States. Shoen points to specific factors that stimulate this angst—rising energy costs and unemployment along with a fall in housing values. Economic fear is real. It taps into the way that God made us. For men, financial difficulty intimidates our natural drive to provide for and protect our families. For women, it calls into question their ability to nurture and nest. The church should never make light of the stress and strain of economic recession.

Spiritual Recession
Unfortunately, many professed Christian homes, are more affected by the ebb and flow of the economy, both local and national, than they are by the spiritual condition of the youth in their own homes. At our church, we pray that this is not the case. The findings of number recent studies will serve as a gut check for where our priorities are as the church. The recession of our youth seems to be even more severe—and surely more significant—than the economic recession we now face. According to Glen Schultz of Kingdom Education, and the SBC Council on the Family, we are loosing between 75 and 88 percent of our youth by the end of their freshman year of college. Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times recently bellowed similar warnings saying, “Only 4 percent of teenagers will be ‘Bible-believing Christians’ as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.” The Barna Group fleshes that 4 percent out saying, “the percentage of teens who are evangelicals – i.e., those who are not only born again but also believe in the accuracy of the Bible, personal responsibility to evangelize, believe in salvation by grace alone, and possess orthodox biblical views on God, Jesus and Satan – have declined from 10% in 1995 to just 4% today. This demise is attributable to growing numbers of teenagers who accept moral relativism and pluralistic theology as their faith foundation. This decline parallels a similar drop among adults: 12% were evangelicals in 1994, but just 5% fit the criteria today.” The word staggering comes to mind. Your children and grandchildren are at great spiritual risk and need to have the Word of God poured into them. Further statistics show, that the way that churches have been ministering to their youth may not be so fruitful. In fact, the presence of a well-liked youth minister proved to provide no advantage to a youth remaining in church after their freshman year of college.

Parent Driven Youth Ministry
Studies also show that some youth do have an advantage—an old fashioned one. Youth in homes where the father goes to church and disciples his children are 80 percent more likely to remain in the church after their freshman year of college. Similar studies show that the mother’s spirituality has proven to be an added benefit to their child’s walk with Christ. The most powerful tool to combat this prodigious attrition of our youth from churches is the life and doctrine of their parents. In other words, fathers and mothers who go to church and have conversations with their youth about who Jesus is and what he means to their lives receive the reward of children who are much more likely to spend eternity in heaven with them. This is by no means a new thought. Exodus 20:12 commands children to obey their parents. The result is that their “day will be long in the land.” The land represented God with his people. So, early in Scripture the significance of the role of parents in children’s lives is highlighted. Paul actually quotes this same text in Ephesians 6:2-3. In 6:4, he says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and Instruction of the Lord.” Numerous other texts support the God given role of the parent in teaching their children. For these reasons, our church encourages youth ministry that isn’t simply geared towards youth in isolation. Instead, we are advocating a parent driven model of youth ministry. We hope that our parents will see youth events as opportunities for them to spend time growing their youth spiritually. Therefore, we strongly encourage youth and their parents to come to all “youth” events. If the parents can’t come, then we strongly encourage them to talk to your youth about what they talk about at these events. In other words, we need to be a people that are just as interested in the spiritual lives of our youth as we are in our bank accounts. Some day all of the gadgets and gizmos that we give our children will perish, but what will happen to their souls? My great hope for our youth is the same as my hope for all of our members—that they see and value Jesus Christ as the one true King who is far more valuable than anything this world pretends to offer.

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