The Social Media Dilemma: Part One

I LOVE social media. I really do.

I use it daily, I use it to connect with old friends, see what my friends who are traveling are up to, I use it to promote this blog, use it to share my opinions on things, and I use it to keep in touch with people I don’t see often. Social media (especially Facebook) sure has its perks.

But, like any good thing, the abuse of it can lead to a major problem. Social media is not immune to its own problems….and it has quite a few when it is used to an extreme.

In the next two posts, Rob and I are going to be touching on the two big problems we see with social media when we begin to let it creep in to areas it really shouldn’t be. I (Tim) will be taking part one, and Rob will be taking part two. Onward to part 1.

What do I think is one of the biggest dangers of Facebook? The dreaded ‘like’ button. This little button says so much more than the word itself. This word ‘like’ also says approval, validation, popularity, cool, and pretty much any other word designed to inflate the self. When you get 30 likes on a status you can’t help but think “wow, I must be a popular guy”. You know how I know people think that? Because I think that.

The shift in our culture over the past decade regarding where we seek popularity has been immense. Specifically related to where and how we seek validation and approval. We used to seek most of our approval from actual human beings. These could include our peers, parents, immediate family, co-workers, or fans. But over the years we’ve shifted from people to digitized words and symbols. Now, we get our validation from how many people retweet our tweet, how many people ‘like’ our opinions, how many people share our photo, blog post (whoops), or self-made meme (so far no luck). We now view ourselves more highly when social media views us more highly.

Here’s the thing though, God has already approved of us. Yes, the one who designed every atom in our body, who knows us better than we know ourselves, has already approved us and validates us as lovely, brave and worth loving. The fact that Christ died on the cross to save a dying world from their own sin shows us that he approves of us. So much that He wants to set us up as co-heirs with His Son!

If we don’t find our approval from our Creator we will always be seeking our validation from somewhere else. For some it might not necessarily be social media, but for most that is where we seek it.

It’s a dead end.

A black hole.

And it’s not authentic.

It’s like eating junk food.

When we use social media as a validation tool, we essentially tell God that what he already says about us is not true. When we seek unhealthy approval from people, we become a slave to the cycle of thinking “man I hope people like this”.

God didn’t design us to live enslaved to other people and what they think of us, He designed us to live in freedom of who he says we already are.

Social media can be a great tool. In fact, you most likely found this post through Facebook or some other form of it. But when we use it to validate us as humans, as worthy, it falls short. Until you find it in the one who designed you, it will be an empty lifelong pursuit.

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Way to Drop the Ball, Phil

*Sigh*

That’s what I thought when I first heard about the “controversy” surrounding Phil Robertson. Also, for the sake of length I’m not going to explain what happened. Besides, every news outlet has covered it, you can read part of the interview he gave with GQ magazine almost anywhere.

Anyway, I can’t say I was exactly surprised when Christians all over the place went crazy hearing that Phil got suspended over the comments. I was however pretty disappointed with the way Christians decided to express their view (and outrage) over the suspension. There are a fewdifferent themes interwoven into this situation so I’m going to list them out and address them head on. Hopefully I can shed some light on this issue and why I’m pretty fed up with my own people who claim to follow a God who extends grace to all, but yet only show grace to their own.

1. The Free Speech Issue

Let’s nip this one in the bud fast. A&E suspending Phil is not a free speech infringement.

Viewing this from a strict viewpoint of rights and free speech, any employer should have the right to fire people for the language they use if they deem it inappropriate. We’ve had to let people go at my dad’s company because of the words they used, does this mean we were infringing on free speech? Of course not! People can say almost anything they want without the government infringing. This does not mean that there are no consequences for the words you use. If someone lumps bestiality, homosexuality, and fornication into one sentence then there might be some kickback.

2. The Political Issue

I’m not surprised that of course party lines were drawn when this happened. It’s really a shame that someone’s view is so heavily linked to the assumption of their political leaning. I’m not surprised that conservatives all of the sudden came out in support of Phil’s free speech to say whatever he wants (they are not surprisingly silent on this issue when something is being said that they don’t agree with however), and I’m not surprised that liberals are all of the sudden insisting that someone being fired for their beliefs is not infringing on their free speech. Yet I bet if Phil was a homosexual, expressed his view for equality and got fired for that, there’d be an uproar from the liberal side. It’s frustrating to see that beliefs are not consistent, they are so often just driven by political leanings.

3. The Jesus Issue

This is what matters to me. I don’t care about free speech, political leanings, company profits nearly as much as I care about how Jesus handles himself and how as people who claim to follow Him we are called to be LIKE Him. We are called to be followers of Jesus ONLY.

I’m not approaching this issue from a political viewpoint. I don’t care about the conservative view point or liberal viewpoint nearly as much as I care about the view that Jesus has of people. I don’t care if it’s a double standard, just because someone else isn’t playing fair doesn’t mean that we who claim to follow the God of the universe start cheating too. The rules don’t change simply because other people (who don’t claim what we claim) don’t follow the “rules”. I don’t care how hypocritical, judgmental, or hateful other people are. It does not change who we as followers of Christ are called to be. Just read about the guy called Jesus who died on a cross after being tried unjustly and unfairly (what a double standard right?)

Here’s the bottom line; I don’t care if it’s a double standard, I don’t care if it’s not fair. As followers of Jesus we are called to speak kindly and with love to people. There are ways to express your convictions, to express the heart of God without compromising your beliefs and without marginalizing someone. A great example of that would be Jesus with the woman at the well. He didn’t come out and lump her sin in with bestiality, he didn’t tell her that sin “just ain’t logical” or anything like that. He met her where she was at, offered her FIRST living water and then told her to go and sin no more. Jesus doesn’t avoid sin, he overwhelms it with love and grace and she turns from it and lives forever changed because of Jesus.

I’m tired and exhausted from apparent “christians” who have no problem watching movies that involve premarital sex, who are silent on divorce in the church, who are silent on pornography, who are silent on the ridiculous amount of consumeristic tendencies our culture thrives on, who have no problem listening to music with sexual suggestive themes or watching music videos full of hypersexualization, who have no problem having a little too much to drink every now and then but then have the audacity to make sure we know the “truth”on homosexuality! In their minds they say “we MUST make sure people KNOW that WE believe homosexuality is SIN! is SIN!”

It gets old quick.

People all over the place need redeeming grace that Jesus offers them, we are the vessels with which Jesus shows it.

Why did Phil drop the ball? Because he had a chance to clearly articulate God’s heart for people. Instead He told the interviewer how a woman’s vagina has “more to offer” than a man’s anus (gee, thanks for the heads up bro), and that sin “just ain’t logical”. Way to drop the ball Phil, truly you showed Jesus to a a world desperate for answers.

If you like this post then share it!

-TW

Homosexual Marriage and the Church (What Are We Doing?!)

Note: This post is solely Tim Whitaker’s opinion.

Our nation is sharply divided over the idea of legalizing some form of homosexual marriage/union.  Well it’s time for Tim Whitaker to throw his view in to the mix.  I realize there are a lot of angles to approach the subject from.  Because of that, I’m going to try and keep my post focused on one angle.  Let’s face it, you could write a book on this issue, there are so many different ways to approach this subject.  I’m coming at it from the perspective of a Christ follower and what I really see in Scripture and how we as Christians are to handle the situation.  Do I have the only right way? No, I don’t think so, however one of the benefits of having a blog is that I can post my opinion on subjects.  So agree or disagree, read along.

Let me get one thing clear right off the bat for my more conservative readers; I think homosexuality is contrary to God’s design.  There you go, I said it.  I think the Bible is pretty clear on this issue.  If we take the Genesis creation account literally, then we clearly see that God’s design since day one was for heterosexual marriage.  That being said, homosexuality is simply another symptom of a bigger problem, sin in the world.  Now, if you’re reading this and you are a homosexual hopefully you’re not ready to throw stones at me.  Sure I think that the lifestyle of homosexuality is wrong, but there are two things to keep in mind.  1. I think getting drunk is wrong, and I have and know plenty of friends who love to party.  They know right where I stand on the issue and we are still good friends.  Just because two people disagree on an issue doesn’t mean that I think that they are somehow less human.  2.  You have a freedom to live your life how you choose.  This is clear in Scripture, that if you’re not a Christian, or a follower of Christ, that it is completely unfair for us to put our beliefs on to you.  God gave Adam and Eve a choice and Paul writes over and over to be concerned with matters of the church, not of the world.

But enough of that, I want to get down to the nitty gritty.  This whole marriage debate is discouraging.  It’s discouraging to see how many Christians are ready to take up arms because a secular nation that they live in is considering giving homosexual couples the same benefits in our nation as heterosexual couples.   Yes, I said secular nation because contrary to popular belief, America is not God’s chosen nation, America is not a “christian” nation, America is a nation governed by a constitution and bill of rights, not by a Bible.  How can someone who claim to be a follower of Christ say such things?  Because it’s true.   The Bible is not a book that is supposed to be used to govern, it’s meant to speak to the individual and to the Church.  I can’t stress this enough.  Regardless if people live in sin, throwing the book at them doesn’t change their hearts! Only Christ does.

Speaking of sin, if there is one big gaping problem with the way Christians are treating this issue it’s this: We are blind to the heterosexual fornication, murder, and hosts of other things that are also immoral that America has either legalized, culturally supports, or allows that is equally against God’s moral law.  This is the irony of it all. We live in a culture that is full of people who live lives contrary to the way Jesus taught us to live and then we act shocked and surprised when things like this come up.    Paul planted a Church in Corinth, one of the most vile cities of the time and do you see paul writing letters to people outside the Church? Do you think Paul stood on a soapbox and made sure people knew that Corinth was a vile city that was going to be destroyed by the wrath of God one day?  No of course not, instead Paul instructs the CHURCH on how to live.  This is key to understand, the Bible is written to believers, to people are inside the faith.   Just like the Jewish Law applied to the Jews, the Bible (especially the New Testament) is written to God’s Church, to God’s called out ones.  Are we called to evangelize? Of course we are! But we have to ask ourselves this important question: Do we want people to know that they are wrong and we are right, or are we trying to introduce people to the person of Jesus?  If our motive is to show people Jesus and who He is and how He changes our lives, then how we express that will look much different than some of the ways I’m seeing.

I don’t know where this mindset of guilty by association came about, but it’s completely contrary to the life of Jesus.  Jesus was heavily associated with the culturally immoral of His time. He offered them restored and full life, some rejected, some accepted, either way Jesus was there with, what that society deemed, as the most immoral of all.

Look, here’s my bottom line, if homosexual marriage becomes legal, so what?  Does that change your mission here on earth as a Christ follower?  If you meet two people are legally married who are of the same sex, are they somehow beyond the saving grace of our Lord? No, they are not, so why are we treating them like they are?   The devil is tricky indeed, while we Christians are obsessing about this particular issue, millions of babies are being aborted, marriages are being torn apart by infidelity, our culture worships at the alter of money and stuff, teen suicide is at an all time high, military PTSD is at an all time high, but yes let’s rally behind the issue of two people who want the same rights in our nation that other people get.  Right or wrong, it’s not our job to tell people how to live! Remember, we are the ones in a foreign land, we are the ones who are just passing through.  People, wether it’s legal or not, are going to live how they want to live and we change hearts by personally showing them Jesus, not by legislating one part of God’s law in to a nation.  Last time we turned England into a Christian theocracy it got so corrupt that secularism was born.

Some of you might be saying that I just don’t want to stand up for the truth of God’s word to which I will leave you with a very popular Scripture verse.

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-17

Notice here that Paul points everything to individual and the devil.  I don’t see any of these weapons that Paul describes meant to be used against people, I don’t see Paul saying “Our struggle is against immoral people! ATTACK!”  In fact in 1 Corinthians 5 he says quite the opposite: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

I’ll tell you what, why don’t we put the kind of effort we put in to stopping the homosexual agenda (an outside the Church issue) in to helping the millions of men in the Church addicted to pornography, or helping the Church lower it’s staggering divorce numbers, or infidelity in the Church? I could go on and on.  We have many things we can focus on ourselves with before we go about casting judgement on the world.  Judging the world is not our job, it’s God’s.

-TW

Why God Is Not Number One In My life

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my good friend Jerry that changed my relationship with Jesus.  It was about 6 years ago now where Jerry described a conversation he had with Jesus in his car while driving that changed the way he loved God.  Jerry told me that as he was driving, the Lord brought to mind Matthew 22:37-40 which reads “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment.39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

As Jerry was talking to Jesus about this particular scripture, Jesus brought up this idea of loving Him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jerry responded with “yes Lord, I’ll love you with my heart, soul, mind, and strength but what about other people? I should love them too right?” with which Christ responded “No, just love me”.  “What about my family?” said Jerry, Christ responded with the same answer.  “How about the Church? I should love your bride” Jerry once again asked only to be told “No, just love me”.  This perplexed Jerry for sometime and as he was wrestling with this it finally clicked.  Jerry realized that his own love was flawed, that he couldn’t love perfectly on his own.  Christ then said these profound words to him; “When you love me with everything you have, you can’t love anything with your own love, instead I will show you how to love.”  When Jerry explained this to me my world was rocked forever.

 

We often hear things like “make Christ number one in your life” and while I understand the point, I think it’s a terrible thing to say.  When you have a number one in your life, you’re bound to have a number 2,3,4 etc.  This creates a mentality in our heads that if we do our daily devotions, pray often, and make Christ number one (Whatever that means) then we can have our personal time, time that we can do whatever we want in other times in our life.  When we compartmentalize Jesus (even if it’s the number one compartment) that means that there are other compartments where Christ is not in our life.   This is not the way to be thinking about our relationship with Christ.

 

When Jesus answered the Pharisees in Matthew He is not only quoting the Torah, He is also summing up what it means to follow Christ in one statement.  When He tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and says right after that this is the first and greatest commandment, what He is saying is that everything, our whole life, flows out of this.   If our whole essence is not committed to loving the Lord and engaging in that relationship then we are missing out on what a relationship with Christ looks like.   In that command, every part of what makes us human is covered.  God is telling us to give everything over to Him, not just the number one slot.

 

It makes sense, because like you, I know I am flawed, I know that my love isn’t perfect, and that whenever I try and love people, things, or anything else on my own strength I either do a really bad job or whatever I’m trying to love becomes more like an obsession and that becomes my new god.  When we love Christ with everything we have, He then shows us how to love things properly in our life.  We can’t miss this because it is the foundation that our beliefs must flow out of.  If we miss this foundation then what happens is that we become rigid and robotic in our relationship.  If your relationship with Christ only happens on mornings when you read your Bible and pray then you’re missing the heart of what Christ came to do.  In the Torah it was prophesied that God would come down to us, that He would bridge the gap between Him and us.  They called His name Immanuel meaning God with us.  This is the beauty of the Christian faith, it offers God with us, all the time, right now.

 

There is nothing wrong, in fact it is healthy, to have a rhythm with God.  My mom is in that Bible every morning without fail.  I think this is a very good, healthy practice to participate in.  My concern however, is when it stops there.  I have had the mentality of “I did my devotions today, so I’m good!”.  When we do that we rob ourselves of things that God wants to bring to our attention that day, we miss out on the on-going conversation God desires to have with us.

 

 

This conversation happens best when we realize that God doesn’t just want the number one spot in our lives, He wants our whole life.  He wants all of our love not just certain parts.  When we do that, we can’t love anything on our own.  Not our spouse, not our job, not our passions, not our kids, nothing, and this is the way God wants it. Because when we have nothing left to give, He shows us how to love through Him.  God is the author of love, and when we ask the author how to best do what He created, He shows us how to do it perfectly.

 

To sum it up, when we compartmentalize God, even if it’s the number one compartment, it’s still not what God wants.  He wants all of us, He wants every part of us so He can show us how to live the way we were designed to live.  This is the beauty of Matthew 22:37, it breaks through all of our stuff and hits right to the core of who we are.  Christ didn’t say “the most important thing you should is God, then you can love other things”, He goes way to the extreme telling us to love God with everything in our being, and when we do that, we have no love to give anyone else, God then begins to rebuild our flawed practice of love and shows us how to love everything through Him, with only a love He can give.

 

-TW

Denominations: A kingdom divided cannot stand.

Picture a mirror. Now picture that mirror with thousands of little cracks in it. Cracks that distort your reflection as look at yourself. This is what denominations do to the body of Christ. Extreme statement? Maybe, but Christ’s prayer was that we (His Church) were one as He and the Father were one. I think we dropped the ball on that.

There are thousands of denominations inside Christianity with their own set of of beliefs, principles, practices, and emphasis. They all like to think that they have church figured out more than the other denominations.

Here’s the glaring problem, we have made denominations walls that cut us off from other parts of the Church. Oh, disclaimer, when I say Church I’m not talking about your local Church body, I’m talking about THE Church, the big picture Church, the Church that we are all apart of. Anyway, as I was saying denominations have become walls, dividers, that have not joined us together but have segregated us. We are comfortable working with people who are inside our denomination, but working with Christians (your other brothers and sisters) outside your denomination? Now I’m just talking crazy. Here’s the crazy part, Christ, if he were here today would be heartbroken at how divided we are.

We have this mentality in the Church that our local Church we are a part of (or for most of us, attend) is the only Church that has it right. We are convinced that the only church body that matters is ours, or our parent/sister/brother/aunt/cousin church (meaning the other churches in our comfortable little circle that we say we partner with about once a year for something). I don’t understand it. I’m convinced that the Church is the only organization that not only is divided, but is literally cut off from itself. This is the kind of thing Paul warns the Corinthians about.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-21 ESV)

Paul hits it out of the park. If you’re a leader in a local Church reading this blog then take that Scripture to heart. Our identity is Christ, not our denomination, not our programs, or our ministries, or anything else. Our identity as a Christian is Christ! We ALL have the same identity, so why are we so DIVIDED! Forgive my use of capital letters, I am just so fired up that we can claim to be Christians and yet over look these parts of Scripture, or worse, we can take a section like I just posted and apply it only to our local Church that we serve in. Notice how Paul says we are in one Spirit baptized in one body, not a local body, not an individual body, one body. Do not apply this scripture only to your expression of the Church, Paul is talking big picture here.

Can we as Christians have different views on some issues? Absolutely. But should these things divide us as deep as they have? Absolutely not. It is in direct conflict with the heart of Christ. (See John 17).

Rob (the other writer for this blog) and I have some stark differences. In fact they are so stark that we probably won’t be planting a church together anytime soon. But these differences do nothing to sever our relationship as brothers in the same Kingdom worshipping the same God. We eat together, we share views together, we talk and hangout, we have great times together and we still have different views on things inside the faith.

America doesn’t need more church buildings, it doesn’t need more expressions of the local church, it needs a united Church. In New Jersey there are roughly 3 church buildings every square mile. We have plenty of church buildings, but a kingdom divided can’t stand. Until we are willing to bridge the denominational divide, we will continue to stifle Church growth, but more importantly we are stifling the growth of the Kingdom of God. We fight over things that are sometimes so ridiculous, our cultures look at it and says “seriously?”

What’s my solution? Here are a few.

1. Make every effort to connect with other local churches in your immediate area. Invite the pastors to lunch and talk about how to be more unified and then actually do things together with your congregations. For instance, what if the Churches in your area organized a park cleanup day? Or what if the Churches in your area went to the mayor’s office and asked what you could all do together to serve the community.

2. Take a week off from your Church service and go worship the same God with another local church body in your immediate area. I recommend doing this often. Not only does it give your pastor, worship band, and other people who help run the Sunday morning service a break, it starts to bridge the gap between local Churches. After all you are trying to reach the SAME community, why the heck would you not talk to each other?

If we are to be followers of the teachings of Christ, if we are to have His heart, then uniting the Church must be a top priority. But we are a prideful bunch, we don’t like to change and conform to someone’s [inferior] view. We don’t like to admit that we were wrong. We’d much rather be comfortable with our circle of believers, then to get uncomfortable and have some difficult conversations with other believers.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)

You. Are. Church.

If I sound like a broken record too bad. Ok that sounds mean.

I realize that sometimes my posts might come across as redundant, but when it comes to the Church, to the body of Christ, nothing (besides the work of Christ) can be more important. After all Christ believes in His bride. He gave His life for it, He established it, and He entrusted us with His message of redemption, grace, and restoration. This is why I’m always talking about the Church. This is why I’m so passionate about keeping the heart and mission of His body at the center, and not our politics, events, and red tape that sometimes we accidentally make the focus.

I’ve been thinking for years now about what it is exactly a lot of people who profess to be part of the Church miss. No, it’s not salvation, but I think it’s an understanding of what they are a part of. It seems too often we are too caught up in the Sunday morning meeting and we forget that the Church is not the sunday morning service but it is the people that come together to meet with each other and celebrate what The Lord has done and is continuing to do. Church is people. It is you and I. You. Are. Church. That is what this post is about. Recognizing your identity and walking in it 24/7.

Changing the format of “church”, changing the name, changing the way we’ve always done things, is not the answer to getting the body to recognize and walk in its identity and calling. In fact when the a local body recognizes its identity as the hands and feet of Christ, the Sunday morning service and other common Church functions are compliments. They are very good things that we must not throw out but must maintain. However, We must begin to teach and instruct the body on what they are participating in. This to me is one of the big things we sometimes miss. We assume that the people know that the Church is not a building or just a sunday morning meeting. But people assume that all the time. On top of that, sometimes we send mixed signals. Let me give you can example.

I was at a church service sometime ago. The pastor walked on to the stage and says “Are you excited to be in the house of God” to which the congregation gave an enthusiastic yes! The pastor said this at least 3-4 times during the coarse of his sermon. At the very end however he said “how many of you know the Church is not a building, but it’s people” to which the congregation responded by raising their hands (in this case the majority). This made me think “well which is it? Is the Church the building or is it the people?” This is a very confusing thing to hear (especially when people are not very familiar with church). It frustrates me greatly to hear people say things like welcome to the house of God, because according to scripture God dwells in people. We are the temple that the Spirit of God dwells in and when we make statements like “welcome to the house of God” we lead people to assume that we are talking about the building we are in.

I use this example because I think at some point the majority of sunday morning attendees have heard this phrase thrown out from the stage and it is simply not accurate. In my view it does more damage because it instills the idea that Church is a place we go to on Sunday morning as opposed to the view that Church is a body of people who are representations of Christ in their life, they meet together on Sunday mornings to celebrate Christ and His work. See the difference?

True Identity. That is my solution to this problem. If we being to teach the Church what there true identity is I think we can revitalize a sometimes stagnant Church. I mean let’s be honest the Church is in some ways very active, and in other ways very dormant. We are getting more and more outside of our four walls, this is a very good thing, but in a rush to get people out the door we’ve sometimes missed instructing them on their identity. God’s answer to brokenness in the world is the Church. The Church is the hope of the world. I am so convinced of this because I have seen the Church be the hope of the world. I watched when hurricane Sandy hit Christians volunteering their time to help families rebuild their homes. Local Church bodies that owned a building opened it up for people who had no place to go. I get to read stories of the Church (people) working in third world countries to stop human trafficking. The Church, the body of Christ is the hope of the world because we are Christ in the flesh. As Paul says, we are His hands and His feet, we are little Christs’ (Christians) representing the heart of Christ when he lived among us.

I can not express this idea enough. Our view of the word Church must be greatly expanded. Not only is the Church a group of people that meet on Sunday morning, they are a living body that exists even when the doors are shut.

If you are a Christian, congratulations you are Church. When you leave Sunday morning service guess what? You’re still Church. When you’re at work on Monday you are Church and you represent Christ in that work environment. I could go on and on, but you get my point. And let’s face it, I’ve said this stuff before and I won’t stop saying this because it is so crucial to the world and to Christianity.

Let me put it this way. Roughly 75% of Americans identify as Christians. If we could get all of them to realize their identity in Christ, that they are the hands and feet of God, the Church, that they can change the world for good, wouldn’t that be amazing? I won’t stop preaching this message of the potential in the Church. It’s what’s on my heart and it can literally change the world, it can solve poverty, it can solve hunger, it can bring hope to the hopeless, restoration to the broken, life to the dead, and true love to the world. The Church is what Christ established, it is the hope of the world. I won’t watch it be squandered and caught up in red tape, church politics, meaningless splits, denominations that won’t work with each other because of “belief differences” and other things that ultimately do nothing to encourage followers of Christ to walk in their identity 24/7.

Youth Group: Who’s Idea Was This? (Part 1)

I have many good friends who are youth pastors. This post is not about bashing them, or anyone else who has been called to work with youth. This post is about looking at what’s happening in our youth groups in churches and how we need to adjust quickly to save the next generation coming up behind me. I want to make this clear because we should be looking for solutions, not pointing fingers. But before we get to solutions, we need to address the problems. So, here we go.

Most (not all) youth groups are run the same way. Usually, the youth group meets once a week outside of the Sunday morning service. They meet in a room that is designed to be visually attractive to youth. Video games, tv’s, ping pong, music, couches, posters, things like this usually adorn the room in an attempt to make the youth feel like the Church understands them, that the Church is reaching out to them on their terms. For the first half hour to hour, everyone just hangs out. Sometimes music is blaring in the background and the place takes on more of a party atmosphere. After that, the worship band usually comes on and plays a bunch of high energy songs (sometimes accompanied by a full blown light show), with kids jumping around and singing as loud as they can. The band will end with a slower song, one that is more emotionally gripping while the speaker makes his way to the stage, after a half hour sermon about something “relevant to them” (Usually a topical, watered down message), the pastor dismisses the group and it’s back to loud music and video games, occasionally they throw in pizza. Parents then come by and pick up their kids, and repeat the process the following week.

Clearly, there are more aspects to a youth group than just the once a week meeting. Missions trips, events to theme parks or big Christian youth rallies are also part of the youth group. But for the sake of this post I’ll be focusing my energy on the youth group service. Also, I most definitely generalized my take on what happens in youth groups. Not all youth groups run this way, but most do. Most run with a format similar to what I just described.

I bring this up because we are doing something wrong. How do I know this? Because according to the Voddie Bauchman author of Family Driven Faith, 80% of youth walk away from the church by the second year of college. Here are some other statistics courtesy of the Barna Group

A Barna survey focused on finding out how teens beliefs differ from their parents found that:

63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths.
51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.
65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity.

Let those numbers sink in. They should be cold water on your face (especially if you work with youth in the Church). What we are doing, is not working.

And why would it? Let’s face it, a lot of times our youth groups look like glorified baby sitting clubs. Devoid of parents (in fact a lot of times parents are encouraged to let their teens participate in church functions separately), devoid of solid Biblical training, devoid of intimate discipleship and mentorship. It’s no wonder our youth groups are failing.

Look, I’ll be blunt. The Church in this regard decided to compete with the world for the hearts of the youth. We decided to make our youth meetings full of fluff, emotional feelings, and games. We traded that for sound teaching, discipleship, mentorship, and training on how to defend their faith. So many youth really don’t even understand what they believe (See above statistics) and it’s a major problem.

We must rethink how we approach youth ministry. Because we are missing them. They are coming out mostly unchanged, and no different from the culture around them. And how can we expect them to be different when we take cultures approach to youth and apply it in our churches? I think we really misunderstand teenagers. We think that they want to be fed light hearted things. We assume that they don’t have questions that are tough, and we think that if we get too theological that we will lose their ear. This can’t be further from the truth, if done in a relational way. We live in a culture where many, many teens are growing up without a mom or a dad. Teens are hurting, they are looking for someone older to reach out to them and just listen to them. Contrary to popular belief, teens do look up to their parents, and teens do desire mentorship from not only their piers but also from people older than them (I’m talking to you people in your mid 20’s).

So what’s the solution? Well there is no one solution, depending on your local church it will look different. I do have one particular example in mind for a solution however, and I’ll share it with you.

I had a great opportunity to work with an amazing youth group last year. Contrary to the popular way of doing youth group, this youth pastor was much more interested in getting his teenagers to open up and discuss hard things that they are going through. Essentially, he wanted them to feel safe during youth group. So he ditched the typical youth format. Instead of meeting in a youth room they met in his apartment, instead of leading the youth by himself, he recruited 10 people in their 20’s and early 30’s, instead of flashy services, they met in a small living room with some snacks. Instead of video games there was conversation. Instead of people pairing off, there was one group, functioning together. I think we were all a little worried about how the teens would react to this change. I’m happy to say that not only were the youth more than thrilled, often begging us to not end the discussion time, our youth group exploded in a matter of weeks. Soon they were bringing their friends and we were cramming 50 people in to a tiny living room. What was our secret? Relational mentorship. You know, how Jesus modeled His life for us. I was blown away at how open these teens were, and how honest they were. They had genuine questions that often lead us in to deep water. The trinity, how to love their friends who lived lifestyles they disagreed with, how to love people who were bullying them, how to respect their parents, how do we know the Bible is true. These weren’t things that the leaders were bringing up, these were things the teens were bringing up! By the way, let me also mention that the ratio to leaders and students was roughly 1 leader to every 3 students. This was key in building solid relationships with the youth. One guy can’t handle an entire youth group, it takes a team that devotes their time to relationally engaging them.

Ravi Zacharias said “In our modern day philosophies of church growth we are unhealthily preoccupied with programs and I suggest to you programs are always a secondary to people. God prepared a person before he implemented a program, we create a program and then find a person”. We have done this to youth groups and we are reaping the consequences. We have taken reaching youth and turned it in to a formula, we have turned it in to a program, and we missed the youth in the process. We are sometimes so concerned with making sure that our program runs smooth that we haven’t taken the time to even examine if the program works! It doesn’t.

I can’t tell you how many people I know that I’ve met recently or that I’ve grown up with that were at one time, active youth group participants and have walked away from the faith. Our common way of having youth group is mostly not working, and anyone who I have met that loved their youth group always tells me that it was because of a deep relationship that got them through. I have yet to hear someone tell me that because of the youth group program, their life was changed. I hear instead, that because of someone reaching out to them, being their friend and mentor on a personal level, that they came to know Jesus in a more relational and intimate way.

Jesus discipled not by going through a curriculum, or by teaching his disciples the 3 steps to a better life. But by living life with them, and teaching them in life, having discussions with them, eating a meal with them, and physically teaching them the ways of the Kingdom. If we want to reclaim the next generation we have to take the time to invest in to them. One hour, once a week, with a static format, is not going to cut it.

In part 2, I’m going to be addressing the parents role in this. Thanks for reading!
-TW