Archive for category: Ministry (Page 2)

Biblical Illiteracy and the Canaanites

31 Jul
July 31, 2017

USA Today recently reported that the Bible was proven incorrect through genetic research that revealed descendants of the Canaanites still existed in spite of what they reported was the Bible’s “claim” that they were exterminated.

The article is fascinating and frustrating. On the one hand, the genetic research is incredibly interesting; it is fascinating to see where the descendants of the Canaanites ended up. Especially given, as the article correctly points out, how little we have in the way of historical records about them.

HOWEVER.

The reporter didn’t do his homework. The verse cited, Deuteronomy 20:17, does not claim the Canaanites are destroyed. Instead, it is a command to wipe them out – one which the Bible clearly points out the Jewish people, under the command of Joshua, did not follow. The story of the walls of Jericho gets the most press with the narrative recorded in Joshua 6. In that instance, they did kill and destroy everything following a dramatic story of marching, trumpets, yelling, and walls collapsing.

But just a few chapters later, a different type of story is recorded. In Joshua 9, the story of the Gibeonites is described. They were Canaanites as well who managed to trick Joshua and the others into thinking they were from far away. Scripture notes that Joshua did not go to the Lord about it, but instead agreed to a treaty and made a promise to not wipe them out. When they realized the deception, that they were actually from nearby and one of the cities they were to wipe out, Joshua honored his promise and did not wipe them out. In fact, the story ends with this comment:

“So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.” (Joshua 9:26-27)

So, to sum up, not only does the Bible NOT claim that the Canaanites were totally destroyed; at the time of its writing, it notes their continued existence. Which ultimately points to the importance of carefully researching scripture before jumping to conclusions.

Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?”

14 Jul
July 14, 2017

What-Is-the-Bible 2Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything, is both insightful and maddening. Bell has always intrigued me; he’s an incredible communicator with an often times unique perspective on the Bible. His goal with this latest book is to convey all of the excitement, passion, and thrills that come with reading the Bible – something he observes (correctly) that so many miss.

Bell does a great job of paying attention to the Jewish culture, both during Christ’s time and during the times the Old Testament books were written, as well as the Roman culture and other ancient middle eastern cultures and religions. He eloquently paints a picture of the connecting threads throughout all of scripture pointing to an exciting message from God. I loved his observations about Abraham’s covenant with God, the struggle Jonah went through, as well as the writing styles and priorities of ancient writers. I also thought his notes on how modern day Americans process and interpret scripture through our cultural lens conflicts so often without us even realizing it with the culture and writing styles of those who wrote these books so long ago.

But Bell is also maddening.

I feel so pretentious for even writing this, but his books have grown increasingly intellectually lazy. He makes bold claims about meanings of words, culture, theories, and explanations – and footnotes none of it. He doesn’t cite anything! Even half of the scriptures he quotes he does without even giving a reference; and the other half of the time he only mentions the book and maybe the chapter. I found myself doing keyword searches to try and find what verse he was quoting and what translation it was to find the context because of his tendency to prooftext and play fast and loose with his scripture quotes. Some of his theories I was able to find in commentaries, however, they tended to be alternate understandings of a passage’s interpretation rejected by most scholars.

His theology on salvation, revealed in his book Love Wins, returns in the third section of this book. Because of his conviction that ultimately all are saved regardless of their faith in this life, the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death and resurrection is at the very least minimized in this book if not removed all together. He contends that the sacrificial system at large, and therefore the perspective of interpreting Christ’s death through that lens, is purely a human creation made in response to pagan sacrificial systems. His chapter on whether or not scripture is authoritative was also troubling to me; while he believes scripture does have authority, he seems to view it as equal to a number of other sources, which is a dangerous approach at best. From his perspective, he is genuinely advocating for scripture’s authority; and his love of the Bible comes through on every page of the book, however, in his assertion of a variety of other authoritative sources he ultimately both reduces scripture’s power and opens the door recklessly putting faith anywhere and everywhere.

Ultimately, I was fascinated by the book, but because of his pattern of making claims without citing evidence or sources, his loose use of scripture, and his reckless theology when it comes to salvation and authority, it’s not one I would recommend to others. He’s given me a lot to think about, and he does bring the scriptures to life in a way that few can do – but unless the reader is well versed in scripture and theology, it becomes too easy to accept the dangerous theology sprinkled throughout the book.

Forgiveness and Abuse

07 Jul
July 7, 2017

forgiveness

Back in May I did a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 and the call to Christians to forgive one another. If I’m honest, it was one of the more difficult sermons I’ve ever done. The first half was easy; the message of Colossians is pretty clear – but it is not a simple one to live out and my struggle is that too often sermons on forgiveness come across as too simplistic. God told us to do it, so just do it. And for many of the offenses in life, that is simple enough. But what about the deeper wounds? The scars that are still painful years or decades later? So I spoke about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a student at a boarding school for missionary kids in the early nineties. The years long process of navigating forgiveness and healing that I pursued in my early twenties.

You can listen to the sermon here; we had some technical issues so there is no video from that week. It’s the May 7th, 2017, sermon entitled “Out with the Old, In with the New, Part 2.” You can also find it on iTunes.

My notes are below; they are shortened versions of what I actually said, and in places probably only make sense to me:

Unshakeable | Out with the Old, In with the New (part two) Col. 3:12-17 | May 7, 2017

We are working are way through Colossians, the letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. Epaphras founded church in Colosse, when a dangerous heresy erupted in the church, he made the journey to Rome to get Paul’s help and advice.

  • COLOSSIAN HERESY:
  • God/spiritual is good, matter is evil. This translated to either sin or extremely legalistic lifestyles trying to control the flesh.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) (read the passage)

Do you see the end goal in this section of the letter? Unity. Paul is challenging them to recognize that in Christ, a body of believers should demonstrate a divinely powered unity to each other and the world around them. But how does he get there?

“THEREFORE”

Paul has been beating the drum of spiritual maturity, of unity, of being a new creation in Christ throughout Colossians.

Chapter 2 – zeros in on legalism, the demands of following all sorts of rules.

Colossians 2:22-23

22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Chapter 3 continues this thought …

Colossians 3:1-3

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Last week Nate focused on 3:8-11; where Paul tells the Colossian Christians to stop interacting with each other in the ways of the world; anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, to stop lying to one another – if we have put on this new self, this new life, if we are becoming like Christs, then that should not mark how we treat anyone, let alone members of the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:12-14

The fundamental attitude is bearing with each other and forgiving one another. For Paul, this is the natural outgrowth of the previous five virtues.

The ‘bearing with each other’ is funny; normally it has a negative connotation, but the Greek here indicates a positive meaning. He’s acknowledging that the body of believers in Colossians are a wildly different group. We saw that in verse 11 last week:

Colossians 3:11

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

He’s saying, you are an incredibly diverse group … but Christ in us erases that. As Christ changes our hearts to be like His, these differences disappear; we bear with each other in a joyful way. WE are a diverse group! We have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different politics, different views on so many things – and yet, because of Christ we find ourselves here, worshipping together in spite of our differences!

Natural result of all these virtues, in spite of us being imperfect, sinful people – is that we will forgive each other and pursue unity.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgive = charizomai (Greek); means forgiving others as an act of grace, freely offered, often not ‘deserved.’

This is a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. This idea that because we have been forgiven by God, our natural response should be to forgive others.

Matthew 18:21-35 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Peter asks how many times should we forgive, 7 times?

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

10,000 bags of gold; 100 silver coins

  1. 33: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

British lottery winner. The reality of what he had won had not sunk in yet.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We are to forgive as God forgave us.

  • Paul is essentially saying that it is utterly inappropriate for one who knows the joy and release of being forgiven to refuse to share that blessing with another.
  • Perhaps more significantly, it is incredibly presumptuous to refuse to forgive someone who Christ Himself has already forgiven.

What is it to forgive? To stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop wanting revenge/payback, to release them of whatever it is you may feel they owe you – however small or big. It’s not pretending it never happened, it’s letting it go, releasing its hold on you. It is an act of grace, given regardless of whether or not they deserve it.

In some cases, forgiveness is an easy grace to extend;

  • To those who apologize
  • The offense was minor, a simple misunderstanding
  • When we are self aware enough to recognize we are overreacting

Sometimes forgiveness is far more difficult;

  • 27 years ago moved to Tambo
  • Graduated 24 years ago, spent next several years filled with rage at even the thought of what went on there.
  • Reached out for help in my early twenties, about two decades ago.
  • I chose to forgive. Does not mean I condone what they did, does not mean I will pretend it didn’t happen, does not mean that they are pardoned from real world consequences to their actions, it does not mean that I have to allow them to hurt me again – but I released its hold on me.
  • Did not happen overnight. I had to choose to forgive over and over, until gradually, it became more natural.
  • This past Christmas, two and a half decades after the fact, after a five/six year investigation, the mission finally acknowledged and gave a hollow apology to me. The decision to forgive happens over and over.

Why share that? Because I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m preaching. We live in a world full of sin and failure. Large percentages of our country have been wronged, abused, assaulted in horrible ways – yes, much of the conflict that happens in a church body can be forgiven through simple steps, but there are other times where it is critical to bring in stronger help, to process and walk through the pain that was inflicted.

Sometimes we can forgive simply through prayer and going to the person.

Sometimes to forgive, we need to enlist the help of others, and recognize that it will be a daily process of committing to that decision.

Junia: The First Woman Apostle review

06 Jul
July 6, 2017

juniaDr. Eldon Epp, a professor of Biblical literature, has put together a thorough and well researched case for the existence of a woman apostle in scripture in his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle. The verse in question?

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7, NIV.

The debate originally centered around the name Junia; is it a woman’s name (Junia) or a man’s name (Junias)? The issue was largely uncontested until two hundred years ago when two scholars, separately, came to the conclusion that the verse clearly points to this individual being an apostle, therefore it must be a man, making it imposible for this Greek name to be translated in a female form. They proposed that the actual name was Junias, a male rendering of the Greek, a theory that was quickly accepted throughout the church and Bible translations were updated to reflect it. However, in recent decades it has become clear that there is no such male name in the Greek, while Junia, the female form, was in fact a common woman’s name through every class of society (slave, poor, wealthy, royalty). Consequently, in recent years Bibles have been corrected to reflect this feminine spelling. At this point, the debate has shifted to question whether or not Junia was an apostle, or simply known to the apostles.

Epp uses his expertise in ancient literature to trace the use of this name and language through every major grouping of Greek texts we have from over the centuries as well as how these texts were understood to make the case that Junia was both understood to be a woman from the beginning, and recognized as an apostle. To say he is thorough in his exploration is an understatement. Making the case for the name being feminine is far easier now than it was fifty years ago; it is widely accepted now in Christian scholarship to be the case.

From there, Epp then tackles the issue of whether or not Junia was recognized as an apostle, or simply known to the apostles. Much of his argument centers on the contention that until the last few decades, this was never even a question; from the time of Chrysotom the two individuals mentioned in this verse were universally accepted to be apostles. Paul does not use the title lightly, and through an examination of the original Greek, Epp makes the case that while there may be some lack of clarity in the English, there was no uncertainty in the Greek. So much so, that it was not even questioned until recently when it became clear that the name Junia was in fact feminine, leading him to conclude that rather than allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves, complementarian theologians are instead rewording the intent of scripture to match their own theology. He cites C.E.B Cranfield’s assertion that this approach is “mere conventional prejudice” (Kindle location 738).

Overall, it is a fascinating exploration of controversial topic. Published by Fortress Press, it is an academic book and not a light read. So much so that a third of the book is footnotes and bibliography. Epp is systematic and thorough in his approach, with each of the ten chapters focused on a different aspect of his case for Junia being a woman apostle. Consequently, there is some repetition as he reiterates different pieces of evidence in support of each point he makes; on the positive side, this allows each chapter to stand on its own, but it does get somewhat repetitive at times. Regardless of one’s opinion on the translation of Romans 16:7, Epp’s book is a strong entry into the discussion.

Us Versus Us review

01 Jul
July 1, 2017

us versus usAndrew Marin’s Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community is a powerful examination of the relationship between the LGBT community and the church. Based on extensive research and surveys – the largest of its type – administered by his organization, The Marin Foundation, Marin presents startling and convicting results. The big result? 86% of the LGBT community were raised in faith communities, leading to the title of the book; Marin contends that for too long the debate on sexuality has been framed as an “us versus them” approach, when the reality is that most of us originated in the same place – it is actually and “us versus us” debate, which has only resulted in damage.

Each chapter is committed to examining the major findings of the research; beyond the 86% statistic, he also found that 54% of those in the LGBT community left their faith communities by the age of 18, 76% are open to returning to faith and its practices, 36% of the LGBT community continue to pursue faith beyond the age of 18, 80% regularly pray regardless of faith association (or lack thereof), and finally, he examines the impact of coming out on religiosity.

For years, Marin has powerfully advocated for building bridges instead of walls in the conversation between the church and the LGBT community. He writes that “we have allowed the people comprising the conversation to be characterized by caricature” (Kindle location 128), pointing out that we define positions and camps, focusing the conversation on opposition. Instead, he advocates for “the lost art of loving in disagreement” (Kindle location 135).

What do we do with these results? For Marin, the answer seems obvious. The pattern for many churches in America has been incredibly painful for those in and out of the congregation; somehow we have not been able to emulate Christ’s approach, which in His divine perfection somehow combined His sinless reputation with the ability to have sinners flock to Him. Throughout the gospels Christ avoided closed door conversations; when people asked him yes/no questions in an effort to nail down where He stood, He answered with parables, with stories, with questions of His own. The result? Instead of shutting down the conversation He continued the dialogue and built bridges.

Do I agree with all of Marin’s conclusions? Not necessarily; we differ on the interpretation of some of the data. But the work he and his team have done is essential. Every pastor/church leader should read this book. It is a powerful insight into a group often dehumanized and vilified by churches in America, and the longing for community and spiritual hunger present there.

Understanding Gender Dysphoria review

31 May
May 31, 2017

mark 2Dr. Mark Yarhouse, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Regent University, has put together a solid resource for leaders and those wanting to know more about Gender Dysphoria, or transgenderism, in his book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. There are very few issues in my experience as a pastor as misunderstood as this topic, and in that misunderstanding, tremendous damage and hurt has been and will continue to be caused.

Yarhouse does a tremendous job of explaining the nature of gender dysphoria, as well the different theories surrounding the causes and treatment of gender dysphoria, and the pros and cons of each. He also explains his own approach as a psychologist and his rationale. Because the research is still in early stages regarding the ramifications for the different treatment approaches, he personally advocates taking the least invasive approach that can resolve the dysphoria; which in practicality means different approaches for each individual. I won’t try to summarize his content here; I would never be able to do it justice.

One of the strengths of Yarhouse’s book for those in ministry is his careful and well thought out Christian perspective and connections to scripture paired with his deep knowledge as a psychologist and his practical experience. He has done the research and it shows. By shedding light on this topic and confronting many of the wrong perceptions and faulty ideas, his book is both beneficial and a call to many in the church to rethink their assumptions. One particularly jarring quote from his book really hit home for me;

“What most people who are gender dysphoric find in the church is rejection and shame – the feeling that there is something fundamentally flawed in them, that the flaw is their fault (back to willful disobedience) and that if others knew about their gender incongruence, they too would reject them.” (Kindle location 946)

Yarhouse’s book is timely. As such a hot button topic, it is a relevant work for anyone who wants to grow in their understanding rather than allow news headlines and Facebook rants shape their opinions. As the church, this is an area where we need to grow in our love and empathy, and I think Yarhouse helps point in a direction that accomplishes that. I have personally read a number of resources and articles in my own pursuit of understanding, and his work is the first to really help address that need for me. He has clearly done his homework, supports his assertions with the research, yet writes in a way that is approachable and understandable. Definitely worth checking out.

Life Without Ed review

19 May
May 19, 2017

life without edLife Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, by Jenni Schaefer, is a powerful book detailing the author’s struggle with recovery. What makes the tenth anniversary edition particularly interesting to read is that she has added additional thoughts. Where she originally wondered if she would ever truly beat her eating disorder, ten years later, she is able to proudly declare her full recovery and offer hope through her experience to others that it is attainable.

While she does write about the methods she used to pursue recovery, the real strength in her book are her inner narratives. Like many who fight eating disorders, she personified her disorder as Ed, the inner voice driving her to devastating self image and decisions regarding health. As she documents the inner conversations, the struggle between her eating disorder’s views on her image, how she should live, what success looks like, and the reality of the destruction it was waging on her health. She writes that “eating disorders are about constant self-criticism, loss of self-esteem, and unrelenting perfectionism” (Kindle location 433). Seeing the constant, overwhelming presence of these thoughts in all interactions and aspects of life, begin to help the reader to understand the impact an eating disorder can have on an individual.

Her co-author, Thom Rutledge, is a psychotherapist and brings authority to the methods and approaches discussed in the book through Jenni’s experience. Having said that, my impression is that this book is not so much about communicating approaches to counsel those pursuing recovery – it is far too complex an issue with far too many variations for someone to be equipped to that degree from this book. Instead, this book is an essential tool on two fronts; for the individual struggling with an eating disorder it helps them to see they are not alone and there is hope. They will see their struggles, their thoughts, and story echoed in Jenni’s struggle, thoughts, and story. And secondly, for the family member or caring friend of someone dealing with an eating disorder; it is an essential look into what this experience is like and is a great resource in helping build understanding, or at the very least, how better to be supportive.

Jenni’s story is an important one, and her added reflections ten years later only add to its power. I certainly recommend it to anyone impacting by eating disorders – which honestly, at this point in our culture, is everyone – whether they realize it or not. We all are connected to someone battling this issue.

Thoughts on Graduating

18 May
May 18, 2017

graduation blog

September, 2013, when I began my first classes, I looked at the list of 31 classes that I would have to complete for a total of 93 credits and genuinely thought it was an impossibly overwhelming task. Last Saturday, after a hectic week of submitting final papers and assignments, I was awarded a Master of Divinity, with an emphasis in Pastoral Counseling. It went by fast, it felt like an eternity.

Being a full time student, working, and having a family would have been impossible without Heather’s support. Being a student affected the whole family. The ‘yes’ to school meant saying ‘no’ to a thousand other things. It’s why the whole family was so excited to go to the graduation and see this chapter conclude!

Speaking of which, graduation was a zoo! With President Trump as the commencement speaker at Liberty University, their normal graduation attendance of around 30,000 graduates and attendees nearly doubled to more than 50,000. They actually tore down a building to erect additional temporary grandstands for the larger crowd. Contrary to some media reports, which have taken a couple comments out of context, his speech was a good, traditional commencement speech. He didn’t talk about himself, or politics, and instead focused on the stories of two men in attendance; a hall of fame football player who had fought and beat cancer twice (whose daughter was a graduate), and a former vice president of the university who had survived the death march of World War II, and after returning home at only 88 lbs, was told he wouldn’t live to the age 40, is now 98 years old. He praised their tenacity and will to overcome great odds and used that as a challenge to all of the graduates to use their finished educations to push forward in making a difference.

The degree awarding ceremony happened later that afternoon; I graduated from Liberty’s School of Divinity which took place at the original Thomas Road Church. It was my favorite part of the day. Hearing from the Seminary professors, receiving my (symbolic – the real one will arrive in the mail) degree, celebrating with family and friends. It was a fun way to end the experience.

The process has been a good one for me. The classes, the readings, the demands by the professors, have all impacted me in more ways than I anticipated. My approach to sermon preparation and preaching has changed significantly. My thoughts on teaching and planning lessons has grown. The classes on all of the different aspects of leading a church, as well as the studies in pastoral counseling, have all given me a much deeper toolbox for ministry at my church. For any of my peers wondering about whether or not they should go after further education in ministry, I would strongly encourage them to do so!

The Lost World of Adam and Eve

04 Jan
January 4, 2017

lost world of adam and eveJohn Walton followed up his book, The Lost World of Genesis One (my review is here), with The Lost World of Adam and Eve, an exploration of Genesis 2-3 and human origins. Walton is the professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (he had a similar position at Moody Bible Institute previously) and a widely recognized expert on Genesis. I found his first book fascinating; this was one was certainly as well, but also quite provocative in its proposals.

He spends the first few chapters summarizing the thesis of his first book; articulating both the critical need for understanding the culture and ancient writings from the time period Genesis was written, as well as his theories reconciling science and faith in such a way that they can complement one another rather than be at odds. From there he builds a series of propositions regarding Genesis 2-3 and the origins of humanity. He builds off the idea that Adam and Eve are both literal individuals as well as archetypal, he makes the case that the description and creation of the Garden of Eden was language that describes sacred space, or a temple, and therefore Adam and Eve functioned in a priestly role for a possibly already existing humanity from which they were called. Ultimately, God’s creation was about order, an order that Adam and Eve disrupted by eating the fruit and essentially positioning themselves as gods (much like Satan looking at God’s throne and believing He could take it), with Christ’s eventual arrival about restoring order to creation.

While Walton clarifies he is not necessarily espousing this view (a safe statement for a professor at Wheaton), he does argue that there is room to believe what he proposes without compromising scripture or faith. For me, the most provocative proposals regarded Adam and Eve serving in priestly roles together (not one over the other), as well as the idea that humanity had already come into existence over time, from which Adam and Eve were called out of it (as Abraham was called out of humanity to father the Jewish race, and Jesus was called/sent to bring order). He writes, “just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special, strange, demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation” (p. 177).

Ultimately, part of Walton’s motivation in attempting to reconcile faith and scientific evidence is the reality that one of the more cited reasons for young people and adults leaving faith is feeling forced to chose between science and God. He closes his book with this thought: “Think, then, of our children and grandchildren. When they come home from college having accepted some scientific understanding about human origins that we do not find persuasive, are we going to denounce them, disinherit them and drive them from the doors of our homes and churches? Or are we going to suggest to them that there may be a way to interpret Scripture faithfully that will allow them to hold on to both science and faith? Can we believe that such a path does not represent a compromise that dilutes the faith but rather one that opens new doors to understanding that the next generation may find essential even though we find ourselves paralyzed on the threshold?  Let us pray together that we can chart a path of faithfulness and stop the hemorrhaging.” (p. 210)

Overall, Walton’s book is packed with insights, thoughts, ideas and concepts that I will be wrestling with for a while. His expertise on ancient near eastern culture and literature is fascinating. While some of his ideas are more controversial than others, he definitely challenges the reader to look at Genesis, creation, and Adam and Eve with new perspectives. The book is both intellectually challenging as well as approachable to the casual reader. Definitely something worth reading and exploring.

Unintentional Arrogance

02 Jan
January 2, 2017

unintentional arrogance

I was listening to Mark Matlock’s “Transforming Conversations: Using Research from Barna’s State of Youth Ministry Report” session from the National Youth Worker’s Convention the other day and wanted to respond to part of it. Essentially, Barna and Youth Specialties did a massive survey on youth ministry in America, producing a lot of valuable data for youth workers and churches to process and discuss; you can find the research here. In his session at the convention, Matlock highlighted some of the data, including the topic of what obstacles youth workers face in youth ministry.

To reveal my own bias, before hearing the results, my immediate response to the question of my greatest obstacle in youth ministry is my own busyness.

According to the survey, the top two obstacles reported by youth workers were (1) the busyness of youth (74% said this) and (2) 34% reported lack of parent interest (respondents could put more than one obstacle). It is significant that student busyness was far and away the highest reported obstacle.

Further complicating the conversation was the survey responses from parents regarding the busyness of their children: 11% felt their teens are way too busy, 58% feel the balance is good, and 31% believe their children need more to do.

At this point Matlock opened up the conversation to the youth workers in the room to comment on the disparity between 74% of youth workers believing students are too busy, and 89% of parents feeling kids are at the right balance or actually need more to do. There were a number of different thoughts; some felt parents needed to be educated on the busyness of their kids, perhaps parents are not in healthy balance so cannot see that their kids are not either, etc. One person suggested that youth ministries are running too many programs so kids are picking and choosing, as opposed to them actually being too busy. Matlock suggested that perhaps some youth workers blame busyness because it puts the fault of lack of involvement outside their control; it’s the fault of families and other circumstances, rather than the youth worker not giving them something they value enough to participate in.

For me, it was frustrating to hear some of the responses. Sometimes I feel like we as youth workers can be unintentionally arrogant, genuinely believing we know more about what’s best for someone else’s child(ren). Yes, there are things students talk to us about that they don’t tell their parents; while it may make me uncomfortable at times to know that my fifteen year old may go to someone else about something instead of me, I remember my own discomfort with bringing up some topics with my parents as a teenager and so I try to surround him with Christian adults I respect and trust to be positive influences and role models for him. In the same way, some of their teens come to me; but it would be incredibly arrogant of me to believe that my limited interactions with their child compared to their lifetime of daily involvement would leave me knowing more than them, only that I may have a different perspective with limited insights.

Kids make time for things they value and are excited about. Parents prioritize that involvement when they know the important enough details far enough in advance to plan for it. Rather than looking to things outside of our control to blame poor response on (busyness of teens, lack of parent interest), we should be constantly evaluating and changing our approaches and programming in response to the rapidly changing youth culture. Further, this type of blame only builds invisible walls of disconnect instead of bridges with parents. One of the values I have constantly told my team is that we should never have to guilt or manipulate kids into coming to something, and we definitely should not have to be spending excessive amounts of time trying to talk them into participating – if they’re not excited about it, than we’re doing something wrong, not them. Maybe our schedule is overcrowded, maybe we’ve picked the wrong hook, the wrong date (yeah, the time I inadvertently scheduled a retreat on homecoming weekend – that’s not them loving school more than Jesus, that’s me creating an unnecessary conflict of interest), or the wrong content.