A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry (review)

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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

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus resource

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My fifth resource with Download Youth Ministry! It’s a powerful parable challenging the listener to consider things of eternity versus the values of the world. You can find it here. Here’s the description from DYM:

Details: This parable, found in Luke 16:19-31, is thought provoking, forcing the reader to consider questions of heaven and hell, faith and sin, and who and what we value. Do we see those around us with God’s values or the world’s? Taking a deep look at Luke 16:19-31, this one-off message examines the parable of the rich man and Lazarus by first addressing who the audience was, cultural and historical significance to the story, and finally asking the questions, are we making the right choice with our first love? And what is our legacy when it comes to things of faith with our loved ones?

Appropriate for a youth ministry context and/or an adult worship service context.

Questions are included at the end of the manuscript for discussion immediately following the message or can be used for small groups.

This Resource Includes:
• Complete message manuscript (Word file)
• PowerPoint presentation file
• Student handout (fill-in-the-blank with discussion questions (blank and filled-in Word files)
• Graphics (jpeg files):
   – title slide
   – content slide
   – Instagram images

The Woman Caught in Adultery resource

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My fourth resource with Download Youth Ministry released recently; I really enjoyed putting this one together. The story of the woman caught in adultery has a lot more to it than we might realize at first glance. It’s powerful, convicting, and important for believers today. You can find it here. Here’s the description from Download Youth Ministry:

Editor Note: This product gets two things absolutely right: the unmerited grace of Jesus and what “take my yoke upon you” actually means. It’s well studied and well written.”

This is a one-off message centered on John 8:2-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, and the themes of judgment, grace, and forgiveness. This message takes a deep dive both into the culture of the day, as well as the call to think differently about how we approach the world around us.

Primary Bible Passages Used: John 8:2-11, Romans 8:38-39, Luke 4:16-21, Matthew 11:28-30

This Resource Includes:
• Complete message manuscript with suggested video illustration (Word file)
• PowerPoint presentation file
• Student handout (fill-in-the-blank) with discussion questions (Word file)
• Graphics (jpeg files)

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!

The Gospel of Ruth

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The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, by Carolyn Custis James, is a fascinating book. While I’ve always enjoyed the book of Ruth, I’ve never taken the time to do a deep dive into it’s message and narrative. Unsurprisingly, there is far more to this short book of the Old Testament than many would assume.

James does a powerful job of dispelling the mistaken ways we romanticize the story through our modern cultural bias and instead brings light to how the ancient writer and readers would have read the text. What comes through are incredible lessons in hesed, in seeing the dramatic ways in which Ruth broke with expectations, how Boaz and Ruth both serve as incredible examples of kindness way beyond what was expected or required. James’ comments on Naomi’s story’s connections to the book of Job were eye opening for me.

Walking with God takes us into a sea of possibilities that stretch our capacity for sacrifice and our imagination for obedience, reminding us there’s always more to following God than we think. (p. 102)

All that to say, I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely worth checking out. It’s fascinating to see how Ruth and Naomi pushed the cultural bounds and expectations. It’s amazing to learn about the response of Boaz and the community. This book really helps open the reader’s eyes to what God accomplishes and teaches through the book of Ruth.

Ethnos360 Victimizes Survivors of Abuse

In the early 90’s, I was a victim of abuse at an Ethnos360 boarding school. Over the past decade, the betrayal I have felt from the leadership of Ethnos360 has been far deeper than that of my abuser. Through their manipulation and misleading of former missionary kids (MK’s), rather than bringing healing, Ethnos360 has instead victimized the survivors of abuse entrusted to their care.

In 2012, Brian Shortmeier, the Director of Child Protection, and an NTM USA (now Ethnos360) Executive Board Member, wrote former mission kids, alerting us to what was called an “independent investigation process” led by IHART. Apparently the key word was “process.” Every missionary kid I have communicated with understood it the same as I did; that it was an independent, outside organization, contracted to investigate allegations in the same way that Ethnos360 had previously hired GRACE to investigate the Fanda boarding school run by Ethnos360.

I immediately reached out to IHART, not knowing it was actually a part of Ethnos360, to tell what I knew of abuse that happened to myself and others during my time at Tambo. I spoke with four investigators at length (all former detectives and police); I can only say good things about them. They were hired to travel the world, following up on every individual like myself that had come forward – my interactions with the investigators has me convinced of their desire to see justice happen. It was both painful and cathartic; I was shocked to find myself breaking down and sobbing as I gave the details of what I had witnessed and experienced during my time in Bolivia.

In a private Facebook group of other MK’s from Bolivia, I loudly affirmed to hundreds of my fellow MK’s that despite their mistrust of Ethnos360, they could trust IHART.

And then something completely unexpected happened. In November of 2014, an email was sent to MK’s who had participated in the investigation to let them know that Ethnos360 was removing Pat Hendrix as the lead of IHART and that Ethnos360 was placing one of their attorneys, Theresa Sidebotham, in charge instead. In what world is the client of an independent company allowed to get rid of the lead person and replace them with one of their lawyers? Had Ethnos360 been still working with GRACE, they would not have been able to get rid of Boz Tchividjian and replace him with a person of their choosing.

Ethnos360 was able to do this because IHART is Ethnos360. The “independent” process was not hired by Ethnos360; it was formed by Ethnos360. The trademark for the name IHART is registered and owned by Ethnos360.

After this came out, I was one of many that voiced my anger and feelings of being misled. The response in general from Ethnos360 was that we had somehow not paid attention enough, or misunderstood their use of the word “process.” I felt as though we were being patronized.

In an email conversation from February, 2015, between myself and Theresa Sidebotham, even she, who had been serving as one of Ethnos360’s lawyers through all of this before being appointed in charge of the IHART process, wrote; “I too misunderstood the structure of IHART initially, believing that it was Pat’s organization.” Clearly, not only did Ethnos360 not communicate the nature of IHART accurately to MK’s, even their own attorneys did not fully understand it. This intentional misleading happened in public communications as well in an effort to have the appearance of doing the right thing while retaining control and setting the narrative; in a 2013 interview a Chicago Tribune reporter was told that Ethnos360 “commissioned another agency to investigate similar claims in Bolivia, Panama and Brazil” after parting ways with GRACE. “Commissioned another agency” is not remotely an accurate description of the relationship between Ethnos360 and IHART.

For years I hoped for a positive outcome to these investigations. Instead, I have felt misled by the organization I trusted to do the right thing. I, and countless other missionary kids, were betrayed by Ethnos360’s process that led us to believe we were talking to an outside organization comparable to GRACE, only to find out that Ethnos360 had retained full control of the investigation and our stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, it came out in the ABWE report 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. And ultimately, rather than release the names of the abusers they have discovered, as every other organization in recent years has done, Ethnos360 continues to hide and protect the identities of the abusers, content that they are no longer in their organization, with no thought to the damage they may be causing elsewhere.

This is why the betrayal I feel from the leadership of Ethnos360 cuts far deeper than the abuse I suffered at Tambo. Abusers are sick. But the leadership of a large mission organization? They should “care for the least of these” (Matthew 25), not the risk to their bottom line. And they certainly shouldn’t protect themselves by leaving survivors of abuse feeling betrayed and used.