The Future of Youth Ministry Depends On This

Are you a time traveler. Do you live in the future and visit the past every time you go to church?

Many people do. I love the church, it’s first century church principles, but I don’t want to go back to sitting on the floor and eating falafel.

There are many time traveling Christians. They live in the 21st Century and flash back to the 1970’s, 80’s and even 90’s every Sunday and it’s killing the faith.

I used to complain about mega churches and now I’m a fan because at least they embrace technology and they believe the message is important enough and that people are important enough to do Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, and every new etc.

So many youth pastors, of my age (40 and above) have resisted technology, social media, etc. I’m not saying you have to do it but at east find a kid or a young adult who will document the journey of your ministry. I think we should also live out your faith publicly, online and off,  so other teens and people in your community can see how a faith life works even with it’s ups and down.

How important is the message? How important are your students? Enough to change? Enough to learn something new?

Our ability to change, adapt, and adopt will set the pace for  future generations. In fact, the future of our student’s faith depends on it.

 

 

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Don’t Be Surprised

Christians under daily punishment flourish all the more. This is the high rank to which God appointed them; and it is not permitted to seek exemption.  – Ignatius

Ignatius seemed  kind of obsessed with martyrdom, at least according  to his writings,  and being torn apart by wolves and such. Let’s us just stay I’m not as excited for martyrdom as he was. Nevertheless, I agree with the last part of this statement that comes from his Epistle to Diognetus.

We cannot seek exemption from times of persecution because exemption shall not be given. Yet, in our entitled society, exemption is the only thing many believers seek.

We pray things like”Why me Lord?”, “What did I do?”, “Whys is this happening to me.”, wen trouble comes to us.

Even the early Christians understood that exemption was a ridiculous thing

I John 3:13 says

Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

and

I Peter 4:12 says

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Ignatius saw persecution as a high rank given by God. Today we see trouble and suffering as something to be prayed away rather than accepted and prayerfully explored, and even pursued  as the Apostle Paul was

I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, Philippians 3:10

When I see Christians in Syria killed, I am saddened but not surprised.

When a church is bombed in Africa I am saddened but not surprised.

and when I see this stat

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year. – via Fox News

I am saddened, but not surprised.

If I have a choice between being persecuted or not being persecuted, I (in the flesh)  choose not to be persecuted, but if I am, I will  not be surprised by it. Will you?

 

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5 Options To Consider Before You Go Nuclear

In light of the United Airlines debacle, I thought we should talk about how we should respond to the occasional obstinate teenager without losing our minds and reputations.

If you’re not aware of the United Airlines incident, it’s simple, United Airlines flight was full, they needed passengers to voluntarily leave. When no one volunteered United used force to remove a passenger and it was a bad scene. Hello? People? Cell Phones? Documenting everything?

There were, sadly, too many times where I confused action and force.  Although I’ve never man-handled a kid, I’ve used force in different ways including yelling, arguing, and stand offs. None of the were great options.

Thankfully, through the years, I have learned some other options before choosing the “nuclear option” as way of getting your students to comply.

Incentivize

One of my first options is to make whatever I am asking a teen to do seem to be (or actually be) worth their while and in their best interest. Some might call this bribery but bribery is “I’ll give you this if you do that”. I see incentives as rewards for good behavior not bribery to do good behavior.

United Airlines tried to incentivize for people to give up their seats but to no avail. United has enough money, they could have given away much more and should have, to avoid the incident that took place. A youth workers budget is a bit more meager but that does not mean we can’t sweeten the pot a bit more.

Compromise

I have to admit that there were times when my requests were either unreasonable or sounded unreasonable to the teenager I was talking to. United had to get people off the flight because they overbooked the flight.

There are times when teens have to do what I say because, if they don’t, more trouble will ensue; but there are times when its o.k. to compromise instead of choosing a hill to die on.

Wait It Out

I was always too quick the draw to address a behavior issue. I wanted control and my authority to be accepted. I remember one time at camp I yelled at kids who rage quit during one of the competitions. I screamed “You have no character.” #IAmALoser

Thankfully, we worked it out later which means I apologized, he accepted and we moved on, but I wish I had simply waited on him to calm down before I addressed the issue. My yelling at him only escalated the situation and I regret that.

Just Listen

Usually, the teen’s issue I am addressing is never the issue. If a student is being obstinate, there’s a reason for it and it’s not always the reason they tell me. So, what to do?

I Just listen. I listen for voice inflection, emotion, and content. Is the student more mad than sad? Or vice versa? Do I know the students background and is this issue to do with that? Taking

Listening to teens and discerning, in the moment, gives us some clues on how to address the blow up or the challenge that teen is presenting to you or the group. Me yelling gets me no where and further away from the reason  this teen is having an issue.

Raise the Bar

I do this mostly with guys, but it’s effective. If I know the student well, I just tell them, “I expect more from you.”. Normally this get the guy thinking about his example in front of others. This tactic at least allows me an open to why the student is behaving the way they are.

If I do not know the student well, I tell them, “Hey man, super glad you’re here, but we have a high standard on this trip and that behavior is just not going to cut it.” I say this with an even tone and allow the student to respond anyway they like and then I respond from there looking of any connecting points.

Hopefully, this puts a few more tools in your conflict resolution toolbox.

What are your favorite tactics for de-escalting a problem?

 

 

 

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Movie Review: My Case For The Case For Christ

 

I just got back from watching The Case For Christ. I read the book, ok, read is a strong word; I glanced really hard though the book when it first came out in 1998. It’s a very good reference book for getting the conversation started about the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

If you know me, you know I do not look favorably on Christian movies. I review only the good ones (which are few)  because my mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, shut your mouth. I hold to that today.

You can guys then, because you are reading this, know I have something favorable to say about the movie. Not only do I have something favorable to say about the movie, but I declare The Case For Christ the third best movie ever made about Christ; behind The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson and Silence by Martin Scorsese.

What did I love about this movie so much? Let me count the ways.

First, the movie seems to take place  in the late 70’s early 80’s based on the Tootsie Pop commercial and Kansas’ Carry On My Wayward Son. That’s all a plus since I grew up in the seventies.

There were times I felt like I was watching This Is Us especially when the show focuses on Jack Pearson in the early years. Also a plus. And yes, this movie made me teary eyed too.

If you’re not familiar with the story, this movie is based on the true story of journalist and atheist Lee Strobel as he struggles to deal with his wife’s conversion to Christianity.  But, unlike other Christian movies, this movie is not preachy, heavy handed, or cheesy as it follows the journey of Lee Strobel from atheist to believer.

This movie is well directed and well paced. Jon Gunn who has written for other Christian movies such as Mercy Streets and directed My Date With Drew starring Drew Barrymore. Gunn does a superb job of weaving not one but three story lines throughout the movie and they mesh perfectly.

There are some family side bars, like Lee’s relationship with his father, but even that adds to the movie versus being a distraction.

The tone, the realism, and the feel of the movie made me forget I was watching a “Christian” movie and, for me, that should be the point. There’s no sappy, over the top endings (I’m looking at you Facing the Giants). Gunn has made a movie that actually makes sense and is well crafted from beginning to end.

I also love the “experts” Strobel meets throughout the movie, including a cameo by Faye Dunaway. These characters were not goofy intellectuals or far fetched truth speakers to make the movie work. Each of the experts Strobel visited, were thoughtful and reasonable voices. None of these experts tried to convert Strobel, they only shared with him the facts, most of which he did not want to hear.

One of the biggest reasons this movie separates itself from it’s cheesy counterparts is the acting. Mike Vogel (Cloverfield)  as Lee Strobel  kills it. I believed every step of his journey.  In the movie, Strobel struggles with his marriage, with drinking, with working too much, you know, a real person.

Vogel doesn’t over commit, but  keeps a steady pass throughout the movie and  shows what a real marriage looks like when the person you married changes, even if it’s for the better. The film is filled with conversations I could see real couples having about their faith or lack of it.

Vogel is not carrying this by himself. Erika Christensen (Parenthood, Flight Plan) plays Leslie Strobel and she does an excellent job of partying a hurt, confused wife trying to understand her faith and save her marriage.

Leslie finds Christ after her daughter is saved from choking by a nurse (Alfie) played by L. Scott Caldwell (The Fugitive, Gridiron Gang). Leslie’s conversion sets up the tension for the rest of the movie as Strobel tries to debunk the faith she has found.

I felt the struggle between Lee and Leslie. I felt the anger of Lee towards his father. I felt the desperation of a marriage that was crumbling. I felt the light in Lee’s eyes as he came to the conclusion so many people have after  examining the Christian faith for themselves.

Maybe the best compliment I can give this movie is that going in, I thought it would only make me think and instead it made me feel. Here’s to more Christ-centered movies that make me do both.

 

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Why Pentecostals Should Celebrate Lent

I have not always been Pentecostal. In fact, I did not choose to be Pentecostal,  it sort of chose me. I was a resistance, skeptical, former Catholic who found himself at a protestant Bible College seeking God.

I received the gift of the Holy Spirit in a church off campus and it was not a smooth thing. God and I had a struggle going on. I didn’t want to go to the front to be prayed for so I said, “God, if you want me have this, you can give it me right here.” And, by God’s grace, he worked with me and blessed me with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

I was raised in the Catholic Church for 17 years. Needless to say, this experience was quite new.. Before you start thinking that I started jumping pews or running around the church, I did none of those things. I simply received and then smiled at how good God was to me.

Now, having been a Pentecostal youth pastor in some capacity for the past 26 years, old habits die hard. Lent is, and has been, one of my favorite times of the year. I used to love the colors in the church, the ashes on Ash Wednesday, and a whole church effort to get to know Jesus better. I carry this tradition on in my own life though I do not attend a Catholic church.

Pentecostals can be funny about the practices of other faiths, but I am here to tell you that Lent is not a Catholic practice or a Methodist practice, it’s a Christian practice.  If you’re a pentecostal and not familiar with what Lent is, here is a brief definition from umc.org

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

I know Pentecostals love fasts, such as the Daniel Fast, because we like to fast at the beginning of the year to get things rolling. We like the sound of ‘calling a fast” because it sounds super holy and super Jewish. Beyond these trivial reasons, Pentecostals should embrace Lent for other reasons.

First, we should embrace repentance. Although our sins are forgiven and we  enjoy every blessing in heaven and under heaven, we must take time to mourn for not only our sins but the sins of our nation. Our repentance may not be for our grievous sins of commission, but rather our sins of omission.

Second, Lent allows us to identify ourselves with the life and heart of Jesus. Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for a time of prayer and preparation. We should take advantage of these 40 days to prepare ourselves to celebrate the greatest event in history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In addition to preparing our hearts for the cornerstone of the Christian faith, we should also prepare ourselves for the mission God has for us, to bring the message of “He is risen” into every corner of our communities and our world.

Lastly, Lent is not about not receiving or asking anything of God,  but about acknowledging what has already done and for the grace to receive it. Lent allows us come to God not with open hands, but open hearts. Lent allows us to humbly come to Jesus and say thank you for loving me, thank you for dying for me, thank you for taking on my sins, my struggles, and my shame.

Let me close with some wise words from St. Teresa of Calcutta,

“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.” — Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Lent allows God to love us more fully so our hearts will be open to loving others more graciously.

If you are Pentecostal, consider looking at Lent in a different light and lean into  the sacrifice and surrender that Lent affords us.

This Lenten season, Christ our Savior awaits with outstretched arms to hold us, love us, and secure us.  Let us come humbly and enjoy His presence.

 

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Join The Quiet Resistance

I have been resisting for years.

Resisting authority

Resisting conformity.

Resisting average.

Lately, I’ve seen the resistance going on in our world and I am not resisting the cause, I am resisting the mode of resisting.

I am resisting hatred.

I am resisting negativity.

I am resisting piling on.

I am resisting flash in the pan protests in favor of quietly protesting every day, my way. I daily resist, Apathy, Negativity, Laziness, and Bullying.

I am in favor of protest. People should act on their convictions. A Protest without love though is not a protest, it’s an angry mob. Love has to go out to those we care for and for the ones against whom we are protesting. One without the other is  just pitchforks and torches afraid of the angry monster.

I want to live a lifestyle of resistance. My life is a protest, but you’ll never see my resistance on a t-shirt,  a banner, or a sign. You will not see it on the news. You will see it in 10,20,30 years in the lives I impact as, one by one, I encourage the people around me to resist

Authority with respect.

Conformity with creativity.

Average with excellence.

I guess some things never change. Join me.

 

 

 

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5 Reasons Christians Should See The Movie Silence

 

This is a spoiler free overview of the movie Silence by Martin Scorcese.  If you are a youth pastor, I do not recommend taking the whole youth group to see this movie. This is not God’s Not Dead. This movie is a deep and powerful film about the journey of faith. It is 2 hour and 45 minutes long and most teens will check out in first 30.

This is a great movie for deep thinking kids who are mature in and want to talk about their faith. I recommend this for older students, juniors through college and career.

Gripping Story

The movie is taken from the 1966 book by  Shusaku Endo and is the true story of Christians being persecuted in Japan.

Two priests (Garfield and Driver) go to Japan to see if their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira has given up his faith. The two priests discover, that despite the persecution of Christians there is an under ground church of sorts. Without priests to guide them, the villagers they meet have makeshift baptisms and gather for prayers, but there is no one to hear their confessions and to absolve them of sin.

The villagers are a character in this movie. Their faithfulness and determination in the face of death are inspiring and heart breaking.

Fantastic Acting 

The author John Grisham recently said on a podcast that he spends more time developing the villains in his books than anyone else because villains make the story.  The is truth. I hated the “villains” in Silence, not just because they tortured people, but because they were emotionally and psychologically cruel.

The two main antagonists in the film are a character called The Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, played by Japanese actor Issei Ogata. The Inquisitor’s  job is to out Christians from among the Japanese people and get them to apostatize (deny Jesus).

The second “villain” is even worse, the translator between the Father Rodriguez and the Inquisitor played by Tadanobu Asano. His words drip with honey and poison, trying to undermine Father Rodriquez’s faith. I squirmed when he would speak and almost said aloud, “Shut your mouth!” several times.

Our protagonists Adam Drive and Andrew Garfield are fantastic and believable. These young priests go to do God’s work in Japan and face unimaginable horrors. Both Driver and Garfield deliver and my heart bled for them as I remembered the fervor of my faith when I was a teenager. I rooted for these guys and my faith in them never wavered.

Andrew Garfield, in my opinion,  pushed his acting ability to the brink in this movie. As a priest, He struggled with his faith to the point of insanity and at times you felt he had truly gone mad. Andrew gave a great interview of how he prepared for the part of Father Rodriquez and that his great surprise was how easy it was to fall in love with Jesus.

I cannot leave out Liam Neeson who plays Cristóvão Ferreira. Although his screen time is short, it is no less powerful. You forget what a great actor Liam is until he doesn’t have a gun in his hand and then he delivers in spades.

If there are not at least four actor and supporting actor Oscar nods for Silence, I don’t know what movie the voters were watching.

Complex Spiritual Material

The story begins with a simple mission, find Father Ferreira and see if he is alive and if he is “lost”, apostatized. This is a Scorsese film and nothing is simple about any of his films. As in many of Scorses films he leaves us to draw our own conclusion about characters and the subject matter.

As I watched the movie I kept thinking I knew what silence meant, and like Father Rodriquez, I felt I was going mad every time another layer of the onion was pulled off.

This movie is was as much a journey of my own faith at it is was of Father Rodriquez and Father Franciso’s faith.  The layers of what my own faith means to me, is pulled away, reshuffled, and put back in place.

I don’t mean this in a heretical way or that my theological views were upset, but rather that I will dug deeper into what it means to have faith in God beyond any Christian trope or platitude I had been taught, seen or experienced, and this is a good thing.

Personal Growth

I took a long walk after this movie to contemplate many of the issues it brought up. As Christians in a land of freedom, there isn’t much we can relate to in this movie. No one has asked us to step on the face of Jesus and asked use to renounce our faith. This makes asking the question, “What would I do?” far to simplistic. We have no idea what we do or what justifications we would make and that is where the movie challenges us to grow.

Faith in America is taken for granted. We think someone posting something ugly on the internet about Christianity or about Jesus is persecution. We think red cups and green cups at Christmas time is persecution. Are we crazy?

This movie was a re-awkening of how easy believers have it in America. I wept, openly during this movie for those who paid the price for their faith and some of those were tears were of self pity that I was not there take my stand with them.

Watch the movie and then thank God you weren’t there, because none of us  can tell what the outcome of our faith would have been. And maybe it is best, under those circumstances, we do not know what we would have chosen.

So Many Illustrations

If you are a youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, or small group leader, it will be a temptation to cheapen this movie and pull some kind of stunt to get kids to respond as part of a message.  I would caution you not to do that because it will not have the effect you thought.

This movie is about deep questions not cheap stunts. Prayerfully consider how you might use this film to deepen someone’s faith for the future rather than trying to get them to make a short term decision.

There is a character in this movie that was not a villain, but I “hated” him none the less because he reminded me of me first and so many teens and adults I have ministered to over the years second.

Kichijiro, played by Yôsuke Kubozuka, is the character who leads our priests to Japan. His back story unfolds early in the movie and you have such high hopes for him and then, slowly, you are disgusted by him because there is so much of him in us.

Kichijiro reminds me of the naked disciple who followed Jesus after his arrest Mark 14:51– 52 but his clothes are ripped off again, and again.

The last hour of the film is about breaking Father Rodriguez. Each Christian they capture is stood in front of a  fumi-e, a small square image of Christ and is asked to step on it to renounce their faith. You will find yourself standing there asking yourself, “Would I or wouldn’t I?”.

The movie is more nuanced than simply stepping on a picture of Jesus,  so I would ask you not to run off and  lay a picture of Jesus on the floor asking students to line up and step on it or not. Without the context of the movie this type of illustration will fall flat and deny your kids from asking deeper questions.

There is a line in the movie that you could feed your kids, it is spoken by the devilish interpreter who says of stepping on the image of Jesus, “It s just a formality.” That’s something to dig into.

Thankfully the movie is out on blue ray and available for you to watch in all it’s splendor.

Let me know if you saw the movie and what you though of it.

 

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My Top Christian Albums of 2016

 

You might wonder how I pick my albums of the year. Like most lists, my list subjective.  I do had a few questions I have to answer in order for an album to make my list.

  1. Can I listen to it the whole way through?
  2. Does it cover a non-conventional topics?
  3. Does it get my juices flowing?
  4. Is it lyrically challenging? (Word choice, metaphors, story driven, etc.)
  5. Is it spiritually challenging or thought provoking?

True, not all of these  albums meet all of theses standards but they do meet at least 3 out of 5, and that’s good enough for me.

Crowder – American Prodigal

Skillet – Unleashed

Trip Lee – The Waiting Room

Need To Breathe – Hard To Love

We Are Messengers – Self-Titled

Viktory – Tomorrow Came

Unspoken – Follow Through (Deluxe)

Wolves at the Gate – Types and Shadows

Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be No Where

Da’ Truth – It’s Complicated

Michael Sweet – One Sided War

Bi-Frost Artists – Lamentations: Simple Songs of Lament and Hope

Dogs of Peace – Heel

Matthew Parker – Adventure

What am I missing?  Leave me your suggestion(s) below.

 

 

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My Top Songs Of 2016

 

I listen to predominately Christian/Gospel music so my list reflects that; but some groups on here do not identity as a Christian band so they are listed as well. These songs just hit me the right way and stuck with me. Some artists have two songs which may mean they make my albums of the year list.

It was a very good year for music. What did you listen to?

Check out the show I do, on Youtube, about Christian Music and how you can use it in your ministry.

 

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