Archive for April, 2013
Moreover, even the oracles are not only words put by God into the prophet’s mouth (Jer. 1:9), but also words carefully shaped and reshaped to convey a total message. The word of God with which these words are identified is, ultimately, the final message of the book as a whole (Andrew G. Shead in A Mouth Full of Fire: The Words of God in the Words of Jeremiah, 52.)
Interesting, I am still unsatisfied with the large gap between text critical approaches between the OT and the NT. Should varying quantities (and qualities) of manuscripts create such vast differences in approach to TC in the two testaments?
E.g., the traditional approach to NTTC focuses on the original text; the majority approach to OTTC focuses on the final form of the text received into the canon. These are vastly different approaches.
This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.
However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.
We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.
- The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
- Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
- Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.
I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.
Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.
Today, after meeting with a dear friend from my days at Dallas Theological Seminary, I picked up a copy of More Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek by David W. Baker & Elaine A. Heath with Morven Baker. Obviously, I am only one page beyond the introduction, but I think I am going to enjoy this book! Each daily reading begins with a title, a prayer, and a short passage from both the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) and the Greek Scriptures (NT).
Today’s reading was from Genesis 1:1-2 and John 1:1-2. As I was stumbling over the Hebrew text, I saw something to which I have not given attention in the past. In Genesis 1:2, there seems to be a parallelism between these two statements:
And darkness [was] over the face of the deep,
And Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters [translation mine].
In the past, I have always heard and mostly assumed that the “darkness” was a sort of evil presence. Now, I know that “the deep” and “the waters [of the sea]” can at times communicate the concept of an eerie evil lurking below beyond human vision. However, I am now not certain that “darkness” in Genesis 1:2 is a reference to evil. Rather, just the opposite, I think it may be a reference to the divine presence of the Spirit of God.
There are other places in Scripture where this particular Hebrew term for “darkness” is found to surround the presence of God. For example, HALOT references Deuteronomy 5:23 and 2 Samuel 22:12. The Deuteronomy passage reads,
And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders [ESV].
2 Samuel 22:12 reads,
He made darkness around him his canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water [ESV].
Now, HALOT specifically places the Genesis 1:2 in the category of “cosmic darkness” along with the use of the term in places like Genesis 1:4, 18; Psalm 104:20; and 139:11. However, if there is indeed a parallel connection between “the deep” and “the waters,” may there also be a connection between “darkness” and “Holy Spirit”?
The term was employed in Deuteronomy when Moses reviews the contents and giving of the Decalogue. Israel is called to remember the glorious and great presence of God that consumed the mountain. Out of the darkness (5:23), the voice of God came and delivered the law. In 2 Samuel, the term is again employed, but this time in a song of David “on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (2 Samuel 22:1). In verses 2-4, David proclaims the strength of the deliverance of God. Then, he goes on to describe the terrible calamity in which he found himself (vv. 5-6). It was as if he drowning in the sea because death was tugging him under. Death seemed inevitable. But then, David cries out to the Lord out of his distress, and the LORD hears David from his temple (v. 7)! Now, verses 8-16 paint a majestic, jaw-dropping, glory-shot of the descent of the LORD to deliver David from death. It is in the midst of this description of the LORD that the term for “darkness” is used in 22:12. The sight, the sound, the feel, the internal stripping away to bareness that the Lord’s presence causes upon the whole of creation is overwhelming. He will deliver David, and David’s enemies will cower in the presence of his God. It is an amazing scene.
Thus, let’s return to Genesis 1:2, and consider afresh “the darkness [that was] over the face of the deep.” Could it be that we have here a reference to great and glorious presence of God who will subdue the deep by the power of his word and the majesty of his presence? The idea of the “dark” presence of the Lord should create within us a reverence for his transcendence, a proper fear for his immense power, and an embrace of the power of his word.
May God be blessed today.
6. You Gave Them Hand-Me Downs
Today’s response to Marc5Solas on the “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave the Church” allows me to – once again and more fully – use one of my favorite last names belonging to a past theologian . . . Schleiermacher. SCCCHHHHLLLEEEIIEEERRRRRMMMAAAACCCCHHHHHEEEERRRR! If you’ve been in the SSM for any amount of time, then you know how much I like to say Schleiermacher. Unfortunately, I loathe Schleiermacher’s theology. In Church History as the Enlightenment and Reason began to take the lead in people’s thinking and as the Church suffered from the mortar blasts of Modernism, Friedrich Schleiermacher stepped up in attempt to rescue the Church and Christianity. As Michael Patton and Tim Kimberly of The Credo House have said, when anyone claims to “save the Church” or “rescue Christianity,” turn and run the other way. Jesus is just fine as the Head of the Church, thank you very much. In his response to Modernism, Schleiermacher single-handedly moved the Church away from its historic, corporate creeds and doctrines of the apostles on to an embrace of an immeasurable, personal and internal feeling of dependence upon God. The Credo House gentlemen in their Church History Boot Camp DVD Series suggests an illustrative comparison between Schleiermacher’s claim that we need not get rid of Christianity to the same reason we need not get rid of Christmas Celebrations – don’t you like all of the festivities around Christmas? All the family? All the meals? All the presents? All the decorating? All of the get-togethers? All the children’s choirs? We can’t get rid of Christmas! Christmas makes us feel good. We need Christmas. We need the stories about Jesus; they make Christmas special. You need not believe those doctrines about the virgin birth, God becoming a man, etc. Those are just fables designed to create in us a feeling of dependence upon God. They are not real; they are not historical.
As the Church embraced Schleiermachian theology (and it largely does still today), it headed down the slippery slope of making the feelings within the self the final authority concerning truth. Marc5Solas claims that we have given our kids “hand-me downs” of a particular kind. Namely, we – the adults and the teachers – have followed Schleiermacher’s liberal theology of turning the Christian faith into a purely subjective, independently personal, self-fulfilling, good-feeling seeking religion. Some other comments by The Credo House fellows are helpful here:
You must know Schleiermacher in order to get your neighbors.
With one swift move . . . he disconnected the head from the heart.
Schleiermacher himself said,
You reject the dogmas and propositions of religion. . . . Religion does not need them; it is only human reflection on the content of our religious feelings or affections. . . . Do you say that you cannot accept miracles, revelation, inspiration? You are right; we are children no longer; the time for fairy-tales is past.
Thus, Marc is right when he claims that the Church at large has been attempting to pass on a “feeling” about God to the next generation, hoping that they will “feel” it too. But we are asking ourselves, to what extent have we at Scofield in the Student Ministry (even in the Children’s Ministry) passed on hand-me downs to our kids? Parents? I’m not sure about you. How are you discipling your kids to experience (i.e., to know, to feel, and to submit to) God? Do you immediately jump into a description that is primarily “feeling” oriented? Then, you are a child of Schleiermacher trying to create another child of Schleiermacher :-). Stop it. Feelings are fine in our faith, but only so long as they flow and trickle down from biblical truth. When our children want to know God, we must point them to four sources and trust that their feelings will be shaped appropriately as the Holy Spirit works. I’m not saying ignore or neglect emotions – we are human beings – but emotions must be controlled, just as the thinking and the will must be controlled by the Holy Spirit. So, here are four sources for helping a kid to believe and experience God rightly:
- The Holy Scriptures – help them to learn the Scriptures. Help them to discover God in his word. Look to the God-breathed writings of the apostles and the prophets. “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
- The gospel of Jesus Christ – of course the gospel is in the Scriptures, but what I mean specifically here is that you can help your kid grow by teaching them the good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, his current ministry as our high priest, and his second coming. Is your kid suffering through something, show them what the apostles taught/wrote about the Lord Jesus’ suffering and how God brought good and later highly exulted Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit – now by turning your kid to the Holy Spirit, I am not suggesting the warm fuzzies that you sometimes feel on the inside. Don’t reduce the Holy Spirit to the warm fuzzies. He’s a bit more . . . like He is God for heaven’s sake. As I mentioned before, we must practice belief in the ministry of the Holy Spirit as we are told by the apostles in the Holy Scriptures. What does the New Testament teach us about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church and its members? A lot is the answer. Mainly, the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and glorifies him to us and teaches us about him and about life in him. The Holy Spirit has an aim to make you into the image of Christ (Romans 8:26-29). He seeks to gift you for service and God’s glory. He seeks to produce certain fruit in the Christian. There is no such thing as a Holy Spirit-less Christian.
- The leadership of your local church (a.k.a. Elders/Pastors) – don’t forget that the Lord Jesus blesses the local church with pastors and teachers and more. Need help discipling your kid in the real Christian faith? Get them to church. Encourage your student’s participation in as many discipleship activities as possible in the local church.
Which brings me to my last question, how is our teaching at Scofield with regard to passing on a substantial, biblical, historical Christian faith to our kids? Well, I may need you to tell me :-). My comments here would be much like my assessment in the previous response. Our content is solid, biblical, in continuity with the orthodox Christian faith of all times. Yet, I think we need to be less aimless in our plan. A little more focused on the beginning point, the finish line, and everything in between necessary to do our best in disciple making.
7. You Sent Them Out Unarmed
As mentioned in my response to number 8, I think we do a fairly good job with regard to imparting quality doctrinal teaching and biblical literacy to our students. They study the Bible in our student ministry. They study doctrine in our student ministry. However, I think that Marc (the author) errs a bit too much if he indeed thinks that catechesis is THE solution. Catechesis or some sort of intentional discipleship is necessary to any ministry for growing believers; however, I am discovering more and more that a young person also needs to experience God in the spiritual life. I am not speaking of the Schleiermachian feeling based liberal theology that has birthed this hip nuance youth workers now call Moral Therapeutic Deism. What I am saying is that our young people need both to know the Triune God and to meet with the Triune God. He or she needs both instruction about God and his doings as well as to fellowship with him through spiritual disciplines and the life of the church. Personally, I sense that our student ministry is at the beginning of entering into a kind of discipleship that seeks to direct students to know God well and to experience his presence too. Here, there is an embrace of both catechesis and the spiritual life.
Now, I sense that our student ministry has some weaknesses too that we need to strengthen. First, while we dive deeply into the biblical text and doctrine every semester, I feel that the way in which I go about selecting biblical books to teach, theological themes to explore, or doctrines to learn is a bit aimless. This is what I am saying, I have six years with a student, 7th grade through 12th grade. Instead of a somewhat spontaneous selection of teaching content, I would like to see a discipleship plan or map for the whole six years . . . maybe even a couple of maps. The book Sustainable Youth Ministry speaks about the importance of developing a long-term teaching plan. This has been something that I have not yet implemented in our student ministry, but which I need to implement. I don’t want to totally remove spontaneity from the teaching curriculum of the youth ministry – come on, it IS youth ministry – but a plan or a map would give general direction for the six years of discipleship that we have with any given student. What do you think? We have six years with a student. What should be THE things that we cover, knowing that we will have Communities of Bible Study on Sunday mornings, Sunday Night Connect (our evening meeting), and Summer Small Groups, as well as at least 6 weekend retreats? This would be wonderful for our leadership team to help me think through. Second, we must continue to couple the knowledge of God and the experience of God hand-in-hand as a student ministry. I want our students experiencing God by answered prayer. I want them to fast and deepen their hunger for God. I want them to practice silence so that they listen to God in his word and to listen, as well as test, their own hearts and minds. I want them to practice personal bible study. I want them to be faithful in the sacraments of the church. I want them to participate in evangelism, real evangelism, where you actually share the gospel of Jesus Christ. So at Scofield, we are arming our students, but we can still do better. It isn’t simply a matter of them not being ignorant or biblical illiterate – which are not okay either – but it is also experiencing what we know about God to be true in our lives.
8. They Get Smart
I don’t agree with Marc here. Our youth group doesn’t dance around difficult questions. We embrace them, discuss them, argue from historic, orthodox Christian teaching, and attempt to humbly admit it when we must embrace mystery and trust God with things. We’ve talked, not directly, but about the ideas in the Epicurus quote. God is both willing and able to prevent evil. Has he not sent his Son to experience the full blow of evil? Does he not seek to unite believers with his Son by the Spirit in the fellowship of suffering? Is he not patiently waiting for all evil persons to repent and turn to him, before he finally and fully judges evil when the cup of his righteous wrath spills over and pours out every last drop? From where did evil come? From pride and disloyalty from within humans? How was it found in humans whom God created? It was enticed by the evil one, the Deceiver and Adversary of God. How was evil found in Satan? From pride and disloyalty from within the angel whom God made? Did God then make Satan evil? No, God tempts no one, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13). What then? God created angels and human as good, and he alone is righteous to determine what is good. In this mystery, it seems that what was good to him was to create beings with a will initially free to be loyal or disloyal, prideful or humble, worshipers or idolaters. However, when the angels and the humans were enticed by their own wills to turn from God; they irrevocably found themselves bound in slavery to evil that leads to death apart from God. Therefore, God must have in eternity past desired for us to know him as the one who is both merciful and judge. For because of evil’s presence, he redeems and judges. The Trinity must have desired to be known through the story of redemption. We talk about such things in our youth group.
However, my concern about our students going forward is not that some professor will make them feel intelligent because we have failed to do so. We give our students a lot to chew on, sometimes purposefully too much for sake of awareness. My concern is that many of our students have not either experienced evil in a life altering way, nor have they yet embraced the gospel to the extent that they will be able to interpret evil and fellowship with Christ in the midst of evil, nor have they yet developed the insight or possibly have not taken their fellowship with the saints deep enough in the local church so as to come to realize that the body of believers with whom they meet every week knows the grief of evil well, many of whom continue to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer. Despite our best efforts, some teens continue to perceive the local church as some kind of social club, which it is not, rather than a corporate fellowship with Christ and with one another as worshipers through both days of trouble and days of celebration. You can know about evil and all the philosophical debates, and yada, yada, but your real theology shows up when you experience evil.
Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—9. They Never Attended Church To Begin With
9. They Never Attended Church To Begin With
Again, I love this quote from the author,
From a Noah’s Ark themed nursery, to jumbotron summer-campish kids church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, many evangelical youth have been coddled in a not-quite-church, but not-quite-world hothouse. They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank.
He’s right. When I hired our Senior High Director (J. Ryan Bowen) back in 2008, one of the things we knew needed to change, in light of the gospel and in light of the biblical teaching about the Church, was the experience of our young people in the larger local church life and worship.
We inherited a youth ministry that was not always mindful that the local church is an expression of one church body, young and old, infants and mature ones in the faith, worshiping, believing, and serving God together. Sure, there is a place for specialized discipleship, but there is a far superior place for corporate discipleship and worship. We have taken steps and maintained them in order to push our teens out into the larger local body at Scofield – several teens now participate in the worship service; many attend the Scofield Church Prayer Meeting; one of our seniors recently led an adult evangelism team during our Easter Evangelism Outreach. Youth are encouraged to take our local church’s membership class. We don’t meet separately when there are special church-wide activities – we do this on purpose. We gave up our Sunday morning time in the Amphitheater (i.e., one of our meeting rooms) so that El Buen Pastor (a Latino congregation that shares the building) could continue to worship in that space on Sunday mornings without too much disruption, and in order to help the whole church embrace the Scofield Church Prayer Meeting, we moved to a Sunday Night meeting – the embrace of temporary inconvenience for the sake and health of the whole body.
These purposeful decisions on behalf of our student ministry leadership are good. As I was assessing this particular area of the student ministry recently, our Senior Pastor, Jeff VanGoethem, said to me,
I think you have done a great job in not having a big separation, I think our kids feel part of the larger church, etc.
I sense that we are moving toward this – especially for the student who is a consistent attender or member of Scofield. However, we have more work to do as we prepare students for the adult life in the local church when they fully and finally leave youth group. For example, our student participation in the Prayer Meeting is lower than I would like. Prayer Meeting, I think, is sort of viewed as something for the adults to do. Not so. It is something for Scofield Christians to do – young and old praying together in worship and for one another. I believe a stronger embrace of this by our teens and their parents will immensely help the students when they go away to college or away for a career and find themselves as young adults in the church, who cannot go back into youth group, but who must move forward into fellowship, prayer, service, worship, and evangelism with adults.
10. The Church Is Relevant
I do like this statement by the author,
You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
Maybe I am a little blinded because I am an insider at Scofield, but I don’t think we struggle much with being Relevant; that is, we don’t try very hard to be Relevant. I have heard out of the mouth of our Worship Pastor, Daniel Jordan, that the goal of our worship ministry at Scofield is not to become slaves to one particular generation’s preference or experience of worshiping God. Instead, we are part of a global, ancient, culturally diverse movement of worshipers, who have always worshiped the one, true God. Our worship should reflect our connection to the past, our experience of God in the present, and our hope for the future.
If our youth ministry was too worried about Relevance with regard to our meeting areas, the Garage would have been remodeled into a hipster coffee bar, with X Games activities throughout instead of foosball tables, air hockey, and a chalkboard. Now don’t get me wrong, the Garage (i.e., one of our meeting rooms at Scofield) is cool, but it’s like late 90’s early 2000’s cool if we are dating it on the “Trendy Calendar.” Now, there is nothing wrong with remodeling rooms or buildings for better aesthetics and accessibility, but there is something wrong if we obsess over such things. Our weekly meetings have historically and will continue to be (if I have anything to do with it) primarily focused on biblical teaching. Sometimes, we spend up to an hour teaching the Bible on Sunday evenings. The time spent in the Scriptures is one of the author’s criticisms about most youth ministries. One student, who moved away sometime ago, has struggled in his new youth ministry because of the minimal focused on in-depth biblical instruction.
I could also go into our events and other activities, but I won’t. Let me just say that I feel like even our larger events flow more out of “the family” and “the tradition” that we have here at Scofield more than out of some attempt to be Relevant to every young person. Now, let me say this. Just because the things that I mentioned above don’t necessarily reflect a “Quest for Relevance” does NOT mean that deep, deep down in our hearts as a community there isn’t a desire to be more Relevant, and perhaps even sometimes a jealousy of others who may have the finances or resources to give the appearance of heightened Relevance. Lord, test our hearts; keep us from the sins of jealousy and envy. Lastly, let’s be careful about ALWAYS throwing Relevancy under the bus. Everyone at some level seeks to be Relevant. Shoot, in our day, to say something like, “I’m fleeing Relevance!” automatically makes you Relevant! However, thankfully, there is a biblical model and approach to Relevance. Consider the sermons of the book of Acts. They are always contextualized for preaching the gospel to particular audiences. Just think of Paul in Athens in Acts 17. Consider when the Apostle Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). So, may God help our ministry to seek the Holy Spirit and how he might have us proclaim the truth about Jesus to all people everywhere without forsaking who we are.
Assessing the Author’s Intro
I kind of hit on this in the previous post, but not entirely. First, I agree with and share the author’s “love for the church” and his desire . . .
. . . to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.
However, I am always a bit skeptical of building a “what’s wrong with the Church” article based upon the rantings of those who have left the Church. I’d rather ask those who are faithful to the Church about our weaknesses. There is a wonderful little book that we read in our counseling curriculum at DTS called The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. In brief, the author (also my professor) explains that oftentimes what people tell us in conversation or in a counseling setting is the “Text of Their Lives.” It’s the surface. But below the surface is the “Subtext of Their Lives.” It’s the real thing that’s actually causing the situations, feelings, thinking, and circumstances. The problem is that the Subtext is hidden, stuffed, locked away, forgotten, neglected, or perhaps even something about which we haven’t even considered. Tapping into the Subtext almost always reveals an issue with the individual’s relationship with the Triune God. Almost always. This isn’t to say that genuine pain, hurt, or neglect wasn’t experienced, but it is to say how have you worshiped through and interpreted your experiences in light of your relationship with God? He loves the Church; do you? So, I push back a little here.
The next series of posts here at LevelPaths will consist of responses to Marc5Solas recent blog post entitled “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church, which you can read here: http://marc5solas.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/. A fellow youth worker directed me to Marc’s blog in March. I sat on it for a little while before I began responding to its introduction and its 10 points in our Scofield Student Ministry Facebook group page. I thought it would be helpful to myself, and potentially to other youth leaders and parents, if I responded on my blog too. Let me offer a few qualifications. I have not read all of the nearly 1,000 comments in response to Marc’s blog post, but kudos to him for getting us talking. Secondly, I am speaking largely out of my personal experience as a pastor engaged in youth ministry at Scofield Memorial Church. At times, I’ll speak outside of my context, but I am largely speaking out of my own context and then making applications on a broader scale to youth ministries in conservative, evangelical local churches.
With that said, here is my introduction to the topic. The next post will examine Marc’s intro to his article.
I would say that these 10 things have definitely been weaknesses in the evangelical church’s ministry to young people. The other accompanying (and perhaps more severe) problem is the appetite of young people (and old people) themselves. There is very little hunger for God within. TBH, and this will be painful, if you were to ask me how many of our youth group members hunger for God, the list would be fearfully short. Now, there are many coming to our youth group meetings regularly and many coming on trips or to events, but how many hunger for God?
So what do we do? Well, our job as church leaders has to be to pray and to do the things that create a hunger for God—no matter the ministry changes required. This is painful in the group because it effects the appetites that our students have been used to satisfying. In other words, we have to change the menu of their consumption in the student ministry. It must seek to nurture hunger for God.
Students need to fast and pray. They need to occasionally give up the things that typically satisfy their appetites (food, socializing, media, phones, video games, etc.) and pray for their slavery to these things to be broken and replaced by a hunger for God.
These are my initial thoughts. I write this with a heavy heart as I think of some of my own students, some of them “stars of the youth group,” who are no longer walking with God. I could provide you with a list, a list that makes me weep. Young person, is your hunger for God going to carry you into faithfulness and endurance after high school? Maybe you need to test yourself by such passages as 2 Corinthians 13:5; Hebrews 12:15-17; Deuteronomy 29:18-19. At Scofield, the whole church is being called to a commitment to fasting with the hope of a hunger for God to be ignited. O how we need to hunger for God.
I reflected a lot on this last night and this morning. As I look at our last four senior classes, most of them are still walking with God. If I go back five years, that class is struggling. While many of these former students and many of our current students are “striving” to walk with God, my question in the previous post is who among you has a hunger for God? This is a different question. Obviously this is true for a non-Christian, but even the Christian can find himself or herself in a period of dryness in which his/her inner appetites are being satisfied by things – and very good things mind you – other than God. I’ll post more in this later.
I am using strong language to you students because this article and my comments are mostly of the nature of a warning. A warning comes from an observation of things that could be symptomatic of a deep pattern that could eventually lead to devastating spiritual consequences. The book of Hebrews is filled with warnings to Christians. It is the job of a pastor to warn the sheep of the dangers ahead. This is what I am doing. I hope you catch the spirit of my warnings.
So with that said, how may one assess whether or not he or she has a hunger for God? Let me back up even further, from where does a hunger for God come? This hunger is not something humanly manufactured, but rather it is divinely imparted. The Spirit of God in us creates a hunger for God. Now, there are many things that may nurture a hunger for God – local church life, fellowship with Christians, Bible reading, prayer, etc. However, those things that may nurture a hunger for God are NOT the things that CREATE a hunger for God. The Spirit of God alone is able to CREATE a hunger for God. For example, yesterday, I got in my car, put on my sunglasses, put in a Lecrae CD, and drove to my youth ministry office at Scofield. Not too far along my way, the Spirit of God said to me, “Rex you are not a Christian because you listen to Lecrae.” Then, he said, “Rex you are not a Christian because you are a youth pastor at Scofield, or because you have a degree from DTS.” Finally, he said, “Rex you are a Christian because I have set apart Christ in your heart as your Lord and Savior. Rex, you are a Christian because I made you one in Christ.” I promptly turned my music off, and turned my heart to the Lord Jesus and worshiped for awhile.
It is the Spirit of God who regenerates us and awakens us to eternal life in Jesus Christ. Further, we may assess our hunger for God by testing our alignment with the aims of the Spirit of God. If he is the source of a hunger for God – and I believe the Bible points us to him – then we may compare his hungers/aims/appetites with our own hungers/aims/appetites, and at least gain some idea of the work of the Spirit in our lives, which is the mark of a true Christian. There is much that could be said here about the aims of the Spirit, but I’ll limit it to three under which I think we may fit everything else we might say. Here they are: (1) The Spirit aims to teach the Christian the truth about Jesus Christ, his faithful life, his death that brings pardon and liberty, and the power of his resurrection (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 12:3). (2) The Spirit of God aims to conform the Christian to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:9-11, 26-29). (3) The Spirit aims to build the Body of Christ into a holy place where God dwells and where God is present and where God is worshiped (Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-16).
So, how do we know if we are hungry for God? One way to test our hunger may be to test our alignment with the hungers/aims of the Spirit of God. Because if he is indeed in us, then we should expect to find his hungers in us. What if we don’t have an appetite for the aims of the Spirit? Well then, it would seem that one of two things are true: (1) Maybe you never had the Spirit of God, which means that you are not a Christian. There is no such thing as a Spirit-less Christian. It is the Spirit that awakens you to Christ. So maybe you have been a part of the life of the church for years, but you never received the Holy Spirit who truly leads us to Christ. What do you do? Seek God for the Spirit of God and for the Spirit to reveal Christ to you and to create the above hungers in you. Just ask. God is good. He isn’t stingy. He’s not somehow dangling a bait our in front of you that you cannot reach. Listen to the word of God here: “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Ask God for the Spirit and receive Jesus. (2) Maybe you have the Spirit of God, but at some point you turned away from the Lord, and you have replaced the Spirit’s aims with aims/hungers of your own. This is called grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) or quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). The danger of this is what we read about in Deuteronomy 29:18-19. One who was once a worshiper with a hunger for God, turns from God, and becomes an idolater. When we go down this road, we grieve the Spirit who’s aims are so very different for us. We put out the fire for Jesus that he is seeking to ignite in us. You are numbered among the people of God; you are a Christian, but you have subjected the Spirit of God to your flesh instead of subjecting your flesh to the Spirit of God. This ends my warning to students. Next post will critically examine our student ministry in light of Marc5Solas’ article. Feel free to comment, converse, question, etc. Love you all dearly.