A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry (review)

biblicaltheologyofyouthministry

Dr. Michael McGarry’s new book, “A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry,” is an important resource for the youth ministry community. He powerfully addresses the need for, and the importance of, youth ministry from a number of perspectives.

An experienced youth pastor, McGarry opens the book addressing one of the fundamental concerns many youth ministry veterans and experts have identified; the drop out rate from church is far too high when young people graduate from the youth ministry. We can’t just keep replicating the approaches and systems that have contributed to this problem.

McGarry writes, “the emphasis of this book is on presenting a clear and simple but thoroughly biblical framework for thinking about youth ministry as the church’s expression of partnership with the family for co-evangelizing and co-discipling the next generation.” (p.3)

Towards that end, he does something I have not seen done before; he works through the modern landscape of youth ministry, youth ministry in the Old Testament and New Testament, youth ministry in church history, the theology of youth ministry, and ultimately how this all connects to the family and the local church. For me, this systematic working through youth ministry in each of these contexts is what makes this book so important. He creates a backdrop of history and story that gives weight to his final chapters describing the important components of a healthy approach to youth ministry.

I love his quote, “Youth ministry is for adolescence, the family is for life, and the Church is for eternity.” (p.143) This theme is repeated throughout the book and plays a critical role in shaping a biblical theology of youth ministry.

At 164 pages, this is an easy read. While part of the Randall House Academic line, McGarry does a great job of balancing solid research and methodology with an approachable writing style making this a book for youth ministry professionals and volunteers alike. I highly recommend the book; it is definitely a must read for anyone who wants to see young people and families impacted for God.

Life, The Universe & Everything [science & faith resource]

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My second resource with YouthMin.org! I have to admit, this is one of my all time favorite teaching series that I’ve put together; it tackles science and faith. You can find it here. Here’s the description from YouthMin.org:

Life, the Universe & Everything is a three week message series that tackles some of the toughest questions. The issue of faith and science is one that the church has not had a great history with; it’s one of the main reasons young people give for leaving the faith after high school. Using some of the latest research, as well as quotes from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who, this series attempts to give students a new framework for reconciling faith and science, while at the same time exploring the core message of scripture.

  • Week One, “The Ultimate Question,” challenges students to consider whether we are asking the right questions of scripture when we address the topic of faith and science. This message also addresses the core purpose of scripture: to guide us to God.
  • Week Two, “Don’t Panic,” takes a deep look at Genesis 1, four different theories of origin, and how Christians can approach Genesis 1 in a way that honors God.
  • Week Three, “Mostly Harmless,” explores Genesis 2, the creation of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and what scripture teaches us about the nature of humanity and its origins.

This series draws heavily on current research and Biblical experts for guidance. It is not a series that advocates for one approach to interpretation (e.g., young earth, old earth, etc.), rather, it challenges listeners to a different path, one in which we can have unity in faith while having different approaches to questions regarding science.

Includes:

  • 3 Manuscripts
  • 3 PowerPoint presentations
  • 3 Handouts with discussion questions
  • Graphics package, including social media images

Zach, Caleb, and Micah’s Mission Reports

This past month three of my sons went on mission trips, two of them with me. Zach, my youngest, went with me to Belize, Caleb went to Kentucky, and Micah went with me to Bolivia! It was an amazing and exhausting month. This past Sunday, all of the teens reported on the mission trips; the above video is Zach, Caleb, and Micah’s report!

Obadiah: Where Do You Find Your Joy?

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My latest youth ministry resource is available on the Download Youth Ministry website (you can see what else is on the way here)! This is a one-shot lesson on the book of Obadiah. I had a lot of fun making this one; Obadiah is such a fascinating part of the Old Testament. You can purchase the resource here. Here’s the description:

Obadiah: Where Do You Find Your Joy?

This one-off message on Obadiah explores the history and relationship between the Israelites and the Edomites, challenging students to ask the question, “do I find my joy in my enemies’ suffering, or in their salvation?” Do we have the heart of God for the world around us, or would we prefer to see only those we like to know God?

This Resource Includes:

• Complete message manuscript (Word file)
• PowerPoint presentation file
• Student handout (Word file)
• Message graphics (jpeg files)

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age (review)

Disruptive Witness Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age

I recently finished Alan Noble’s “Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.” Noble’s goal in writing the book is to challenge the reader to a deeper, more disruptive (to the culture around us) faith, freed from the distractions of the technology and culture we are immersed in. I found the following passage particularly powerful:

We can adopt thin beliefs about almost anything. Perhaps you become deeply convicted about the plight of Syrian refugees after the US president callously calls for them to be banned. His words strike you as offensive, inhumane, and cruel. And while you may still harbor some unspoken suspicions about Middle Easterners after 9/11, this issue feels like the perfect opportunity to show your goodwill. The next time you see a meme showing refugee children with a superimposed verse about caring for the “least of these,” you decide not only to like it but to share it with your friends. This signals what your stance is on the issue and maybe something about your personal character, your open-mindedness and concern for foreigners. An argument breaks out on your post, with some of your distant relatives and old high school friends arguing over whether Islam is a religion of peace and whether “moderate Muslims” exist. You jump in to defend your position, citing lines of argument that you’ve picked up from other viral images or a John Oliver clip you watched on YouTube. You care about this issue passionately. There is a tremendous moral urgency to your writing, and you are even willing to anger and lose friends over your stance—a stance you adopted fifteen minutes prior, after seeing a compelling viral image on Facebook. Meanwhile, the foundation of your belief goes unquestioned. (p.45)

When he’s calling out these kinds of thin beliefs, the ways we allow ourselves to be distracted, disconnected – Noble really hits his stride. His challenge to live a life of faith that brings a witness to the world around us is a strong one. I found those parts of the book deeply compelling. In other parts, he critiques contemporary worship services, expresses his dissatisfaction with Vacation Bible School, and other modern attempts to bridge culture and faith. I wasn’t convinced that he was right that these approaches are wrong – just that they don’t resonate with him and his pursuit of God, and even found myself somewhat frustrated with his conclusions in those areas.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. Having said that, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me; parts I loved, parts I found frustrating.

Ethnos360 (New Tribes Mission) Continues to Protect Abusers

Images/signatures from the report packet I was issued by Ethnos360/New Tribes Mission regarding abuse at Tambo.

According to Ethnos360, I was physically and emotionally abused by Al Lotz as a fifteen year old at Ethnos360’s (formerly named New Tribes Mission) boarding school in Bolivia. After two and a half decades, and years of investigation, the mission has found a “preponderance of evidence” to support this allegation, however, they would prefer that we keep this uncomfortable truth confidential. In fact, the confidentiality extends to the extent that they will not reveal to me what they have done with this information, other than to tell me they have responded in some way.

I find this hard to believe. After decades of hiding abuse, I am expected to simply trust that they have now responded appropriately and I do not need the details. Somehow, Ethnos360 and my abuser get to know all that happened to me, but it is not necessary for me to know how they responded to him. I know I was only one of many victims of his from just my few years at Tambo; some of my friends suffered far worse. Yet more than half a decade after I disclosed my abuse, and more than two years after the investigation was concluded, he continues to serve as the Senior Vice President of Surge International, a mission dedicated to children’s ministry through soccer. Did Ethnos360 truly do all they could to notify authorities and organizations what they had discovered about his abusive past?

More alarming, there are at least 41 such alleged abusers out there that Ethnos360 continues to refuse to name despite collecting a “preponderance of evidence,” putting countless potential new victims at risk each day.

Over the last decade, as stories of abuse in various boarding schools from many mission organizations have come to light, Ethnos360 did make the right decision to begin investigating allegations of abuse in their mission schools. So far, they have investigated five of their many boarding schools, and have issued reports for each:

  • Fanda, Senegal; this investigation was led by GRACE, an independent investigation team. They discovered through their investigation 12 abusers, who they named and gave information about the nature of their crimes in the report they issued.
  • Vianopolis, Brazil; this investigation was led by IHART, a “process” later revealed to be under the umbrella of Ethnos360, in spite of being described as independent. The Vianopolis report was compiled under the leadership of Pat Hendrix, former director of IHART, and named 6 abusers and a brief description of the categories of abuse committed.
  • Panama; this investigation was led by IHART, initially under Pat Hendrix, and then by Theresa Sidebotham, an Ethnos360 lawyer who they transitioned to this role partway through the investigation. The report issued about Panama acknowledged 10 abusers with a preponderance of evidence, as well as 10 additional alleged abusers that did not have a preponderance of evidence to support an allegation. However, this report marked a change in approach; no longer would Ethnos360 name the abusers or alleged abusers.
  • Tambo, Bolivia; this report was issued by IHART, under the leadership of Theresa Sidebotham, December, 2016. Through their investigations they found a preponderance of evidence identifying 31 different abusers. Also mentioned in the report was that there were additional alleged offenders that they could not find a preponderance of evidence regarding (in other words, no witnesses to support the allegations of the victims), however, the number of alleged abusers was not identified, and again, no names were released.
  • Paraguay; I was shocked to discover that IHART completed an investigation, under the leadership of Theresa Sidebotham, into the Paraguay field this past December. My shock is due to the fact that I was an MK from the Bolivia and Paraguayan mission fields and was never notified that such an investigation was taking place. My parents were actually transferred to Paraguay to replace a man who was discovered to be molesting Manjui children (he was returned to the States with no notice to the Paraguayan government, whose citizens he had been molesting, or American authorities). This investigation marked another change in Ethnos360’s processes; they would no longer notify former missionary kids of investigations, and they would no longer make the summary report public. Consequently, it is unknown how many abusers they identified, and how many alleged abusers there are that they could not find a preponderance of evidence to support an allegation.

In total, Ethnos360 has identified so far – that they will acknowledge, with a preponderance of evidence, 59 child abusers, as well as an undisclosed number of alleged abusers (this does not include Paraguay as they have not released those numbers). Of these 59 abusers; men and women who beat children so severely they are physically scarred to this day, missionaries under the charge of Ethnos360 who raped, molested, threatened, shamed and humiliated children, they have named 18 from the first two investigations. They know of 41 child abusers from Panama and Bolivia, men and women that they have collected the evidence and have done their due diligence to back themselves up in this claim were they ever to be challenged in court by these abusers (they would never sue for libel/slander, because it would force Ethnos360 to produce all of their evidence, evidence that would be horrific for them to have in the public record), and do not feel that it is appropriate for former students, parents, new neighbors, churches they currently attend or ministries they are a part of, to be aware of the danger they represent. They do not feel it is appropriate to name these abusers, information that would empower other victims they may still be silent to come forward and find healing, to discover they are not the only ones who had their lives devastated by these criminals masquerading as missionaries.

I genuinely believe Ethnos360 began this process of investigation into darkness of their boarding school history with the right intentions of bringing these awful truths to light. They have flown investigators around the world to collect the stories and spent years looking into allegations. My speculation is that, to the Executive Board’s shock, they have discovered that the abuse was far more horrific and widespread than they ever imagined and their fear of becoming vulnerable as an institution has led them to make these final steps in such a tragically wrong direction. Rather than giving the victims the validation and healing they so deserve, they have instead chosen the path of continuing to hide and protect the abusers, and ultimately themselves. It came out when ABWE released their report prepared by Pii, and independent investigation organization regarding abuse in their mission that leadership in Ethnos360 gave them advice to avoid truly independent investigation groups so they could “control the information” (p. 254), advice ABWE wisely chose not to follow. This desperate attempt to control and contain the stories of victims is only increasing the frustration and hurt of those who have been wronged; the vulnerability they fear that would come through exposure is actually the stance that would bring healing, both to the victims and the organization. They need to follow the example of other organizations’ boarding schools, such as The Key School, who just issued their report and publicly named the abusers discovered just the other week. It is the only way to put the victims first; Ethnos360’s current course only protects abusers.

They cannot continue to be silent. There are abusers they have identified currently serving in ministries, living next to schools, working with children. How many more have been, and will continue to be, victimized by their decision to keep this information to themselves?

Song of Songs series available now!

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Over the last year or so I’ve been creating youth ministry resources for the Download Youth Ministry website; they’re starting to trickle out (you can see what else is on the way here)! The first one to be published is a three week teaching series on the Song of Songs! I had a lot of fun working on this one; hopefully it can be a strong resource for other youth ministries. You can purchase the resource here. Here’s the description:

Song of Songs is a three-week series taking a close look at the Bible’s most explicit book. It’s not just erotic poetry, though; it communicates powerful messages about God’s view of love, sex, and wisdom. Over the centuries, Song of Songs has been a controversial yet important book with important lessons for young people.

Week 1 – “Solomon”
Series kickoff on the Song of Songs with a closer look at the life of Solomon and how God uses Song of Songs to powerfully communicate what God intends love and sexuality to be; a beautiful thing that couples enjoy, builds marriages, and builds families.

Week 2 – “Love”
The series continues with a closer look at chapter 1 and exploring the use of the word “love” throughout the book, emphasizing the three Hebrew words that are translated as “love” and what that tells us about God’s heart for the marriage relationship.

Week 3 – “Wisdom”
The series concludes with a look at a reoccurring phrase throughout the book of Song of Songs; a challenge to “not awaken love until the time is right.” Through a closer look at chapter 2, as well as passages from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, students will be challenged to have wisdom when it comes to love, friendship, and sex in a culture that points them in a different direction.

While the series includes comments based on current scholarly research portraying Song of Songs as a collection of poetry collected by Solomon (some written by him, others collected by him), for teachers who hold to a traditional view that Song of Songs is one poem written entirely by Solomon, it is possible to teach the series from that perspective without changing the lessons or main teaching points.

This Resource Includes:
• 3 message manuscripts
• 3 PowerPoint presentations
• 3 fill-in-the-blank handouts
• Title and Blank graphics (jpg)