Spiritual Grit & Suicide

spiritual gritSome thought provoking words on suicide from Rick Lawrence in his book, Spiritual Grit:

We live in the most affluent society in the history of the world, and one deadly (and counterintuitive) side effect of affluence is suicide. A 2012 study by the U.S. government found that the richer the neighborhood, the higher the risk of suicide. Arizona State psychology professor Suniya Luthar studies resilience in teenagers, and her work reveals that affluent kids are among the most emotionally distressed in America. “These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” she says, but there’s “contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.”

If we have the means to make life easier for our kids, we will extract hardship from their path as often as it seems reasonable. It’s just the way things work. And when we systematically make things easier for our kids, they don’t develop the perseverance they need to keep moving through their inevitable seasons of disappointment, conflict, and depression. Spiritual grit is not merely a catalyst fueling our determined response to challenges, setbacks, and opportunities in our lives—it’s a core strength that can mean the difference between life and death. (Kindle location 3261, chapter 7)

We prioritize so many things; tutoring for school, camps for sports, special classes for SAT prep. But what do we do to prioritize faith development? To help young people develop a long lasting faith that will serve them in all areas of life? How are we developing spiritual grit in our own lives, modeling to the young people around us the importance of this?

Highs and Lows of Ministry

MAD Man 2009

This photo was taken almost ten years ago on a service weekend in Philadelphia. I stumbled across it last week; it has a lot of emotions tied up in it.

It was a fun moment. I love Rocky, I loved getting my picture at the statue, loved having fun with these students, loved seeing them serve. I was their new youth pastor and excited about the future.

A few years ago I attended the funeral for one of them. A few weeks ago, I performed a wedding for one, and a week ago I officiated at the funeral for another. One of the best moments followed by one of the worst moments.

Ministry is full of joy and heartbreak. A long youth ministry tenure only heightens that. It is a gift to involved in people’s lives, to be invited into their best and worst moments. It is energizing and exhausting. It’s often times overwhelming, but I’m thankful for the calling.

Ten Years at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church

Melissa and Zach pulled off a massive surprise for Heather and I at the fall retreat this year; we had no idea they had been collecting videos, notes and pictures from current and former students and leaders to put together a video (see above) and a memory book to honor our ten years at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church (August 24th marked the official ten years since I had started). It’s not often that I am that caught off guard or speechless!

All that to say, I really, REALLY appreciate everyone who contributed to it and a huge thank you to Melissa and Zach for making it happen!

Life, The Universe & Everything

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We just concluded a series a couple weeks ago in our Sunday morning high school group that I had a lot of fun putting together. Over the course of three weeks we tackled the question of faith and science. For me, there was a basic, underlying purpose to the series as a whole; we know that, depending on the survey, something like 60-80% of young people disappear from the church when they finish high school. We also know that the number one reason given for this is over the issue of science and faith; that for many young people, their church’s present it as an either/or scenario, that you can only choose one. And when they see compelling evidence for scientific claims that conflict with what their church’s taught them growing up, they feel like they don’t have a choice. My goal was to help reframe the question, to give students room to reconcile faith and science without dictating a ‘right’ answer.

I’m a nerd, so yes, I lifted the title, and the weekly titles, from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I also used Doctor Who and A Wrinkle in Time as well. More importantly, I drew on a LOT of theologians who have done far better work on this topic than I ever could to help shape the content. Here’s what the three weeks looked like (click the title to hear the audio):

  • The Ultimate Question: We kicked off the series by wrestling with the question of whether or not we are asking the right questions when it comes to faith and science. What is the ultimate purpose of scripture? Does our cultural values give us unexpected bias while we read these ancient documents?
  • Don’t Panic: We continued the series by taking a closer look at different theories of origins, ancient cultural values and beliefs, and Genesis 1. Is it possible to have different beliefs regarding origins and still honor God? How would the ancients have understood the first chapter of Genesis, and how should that inform our reading of it? Whatever you do, don’t panic!
  • Mostly Harmless: We concluded the series by comparing the creation narratives of humanity in Genesis 1 and 2. How do we explain the dramatically different order of creation found in these opening chapters of the Bible? In exploring how the ancients would have understood the Hebrew terminology used in both accounts, reconciling the two accounts is possible.

Anyway, it was a fun series to work on … and I’m hoping to continue to refine and adjust the content in the years to come.

Meet Generation Z

generation z“Meet Generation Z,” by James Emory White, is a book primarily focused on helping readers understand Generation Z (young people born between the years 1995-2010), as well as give some insight on how the church can better minister to them. Of course, the challenge to any such work on a generation that spans young children through current college students is that research findings are still early, and tend to be focused more on the older end of the generation – we just can’t survey eight year olds the way we can older teens and college age young adults.

The strength of this book is the first third of the book, labeled part one (the book is divided into two parts); White’s summary and exploration of what the research is telling us about Generation Z. He explores the impact on a generation that has grown up with an exposure to technology like no other generation, views on race, their sexual fluidity, and the reality of being a generation that has grown up in a post-Christian culture. It’s critical for older generations to recognize the realities that are shaping young people and the fact that none of us have experienced a childhood like they have. I may have been a teen, but I do not know what it is like for my children to be teens in 2018 America.

Part two frustrated me somewhat. White details his church’s approach to ministry to Generation Z, which is good and has some great practical ideas. But there are also times where he comes across as blaming Generation Z for some of the challenges they present; the reality is, though, they are the product of the culture that has produced them. Their lack of Biblical knowledge, or views on sexuality, are not some sort of generational agenda – it’s simply opportunities for us to learn in grow in our approaches. He also includes the transcripts of three sermons he gave at his church as examples of ways to teach to Generation Z on topics relevant to them; one on gay marriage, one on spirituality, and one on the topic of why we should believe in God. As someone who spends the bulk of his time working with Generation Z, while these are topics they care about – the sermons were more how I would approach it with the congregation as a whole, not as a lesson geared towards teens.

For me, the real value to the book is in the first third; part two is a mixed bag to me. Having said that, there is not much out there on Generation Z and this is a good first step. It’s definitely good for church leaders to check out, but it has limitations.

MinistryDownloads

ministrydownloads

MinistryDownloads is a great all-around resource site for those in ministry I recently stumbled across! I feel like there has been a real shift in how churches are resourced over the last decade; instead of a handful of large companies being the only real resources out there with expensive materials, often times with pricing staggered to the size of the church, there has been a real rise in online, digital resources with incredibly low costs that stay the same regardless of church size. Instead of paying anywhere from $30-$120 for a four week curriculum, these kinds of sites provide similar resources for $8-$12. How? By removing a lot of the layers between the content creator and the resource customer.

This is GOOD for churches. I love being able to see the ministry budget I’m entrusted with go farther. MinistryDownloads is one of those sites; with resources for children’s ministry, youth ministry, small groups, and sermon resources for pastors, it is a great all-around resource site. There are a number of free resources available on the site in addition to all of the solid materials for sale (starting at $3 and going up from there depending on the size of the resource). They’ve also started a new subscription service called All-Access; for just $17 a month, subscribers can download whatever they want, as much as they want. It’s a really great deal; and a solid resource that can be shared with multiple ministry areas in the church. Definitely worth checking out!

2018 Winter Retreat Recap

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This past weekend was my tenth (!!!) winter retreat with Brandywine Valley Baptist Church; it was definitely one of the better ones! We had a great time. I actually went into the weekend a little worried; the weather was so mild in the weeks building up to the trip that there was no snow on the ground and the frozen pond … wasn’t frozen enough to play on.

So we changed it up. Saturday morning the group went on a hike to the top of a nearby hill, which they were surprised by how much they loved doing. That afternoon we went to an indoor water park; always a big hit in the middle of winter. Our theme for the weekend was “Run.” We had some fun with the children playing signs in our region that bear a striking resemblance to our intern, Zach, pointing out that they aren’t “no running” signs, but rather, alerts that someone IS running. That for us, those signs are now a reminder that we are running after Christ. We even made stickers and shirts to give out as reminders and prizes, which were a big hit.

zach sign

Over the course of the weekend we had three messages; Melissa kicked off the weekend, Pastor Nate spoke Saturday night, and I wrapped it up on Sunday. You can find the messages on our podcast on iTunes, or listen to them with these links:

All in all, it was a really fun weekend. The messages really seemed to flow together and the teens seem to resonate with what they were hearing. It was the largest turnout we have ever had – we literally ran out of beds and maxed the place out! And no injuries! If you want, you can check out the photos on our Facebook page.