Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Snorkeling & Worship,

A few weeks ago, Karen and I had a snorkeling adventure like no other.  We went snorkeling right off the beaches in St. Marten, St. Thomas USVI and Nassau, Bahamas.  At one point, at Couki Beach, I was snorkeling right over scuba divers below me.  For a long time, I followed them, straining to see what they were discovering about 25 feet below me. To go snorkeling, all you need is a mask, a snorkel, fins and some clear water with a view. To go deeper, there is more training and equipment... Karen and I are completely content to snorkel. There’s no big commitment, just us tooling around with our flippers looking at the colorful fish hoping our backs don’t get sunburned, which I am still pealing from...  But, what if there is something even more beautiful that lies deeper and farther than we can see from the top? What if there is an entire world under the ocean, the vastness of which we cannot comprehend? What if we’re missing something so much more amazing because we are snorkeling on the surface?
If we had diving gear, we would not be restricted to the length of our snorkel. We would instead be able to dive down into the deep, swim with awe inspiring ocean life and experience the view of magnificent coral reefs and countless treasures of the sea that would probably take our breath away... But I would not know.  As a snorkeler, I have seen incredible views, but by staying on the surface, I can only assume that there is more.  But for those who have donned a wet suit and tank and caught a glimpse of what lies much farther beneath, they are driven to return, time and time again. I have been told that once you get a taste for what the experience of diving can be, nothing less will cut it. 

 I had a thought... What if we looked at worship in a similar way?  For over 30 years I have helped develop Youth Group Worship Bands and been part of Church Worship Teams.  If you think about it, the act of leading worship songs is kind of easy, in the same sense that snorkeling is easy.   Anyone can learn how to do it. All you need is to play an instrument and/or carry a tune. While it is a beautiful experience, it really does not take a great deal of effort for one who is gifted.  Leading worship songs and being a lead worshiper are not the same, however. Being a lead worshiper is a calling from God that comes with the anointing to do what He has called you to. There is a weightiness that comes with it. It carries a responsibility.  This mantle of Lead Worshiper demands to be stewarded well. What if, like those who invest in training so they can go diving, Lead Worshipers invested some time and energy into obtaining some formal training in worship leadership? What if we found a mature, godly worship leader or pastor to mentor us? What if, like the diver who carefully inspects his gear before jumping off the boat, lead worshipers took the job seriously and were intentional about every aspect of choosing songs, building a set, rehearsing the band, leading, discipling those in the band?  More important, if no one showed up for a worship service, would we worship none the less?  With the same passion and desire for pleasing God with our song?  Or would we just be satisfied with getting the tune just right.

Lead Worshipers have the privilege of creating an atmosphere where people can engage personally and corporately with the God of the Universe. If we approach it lightly, as if with only a snorkel, we will stay at the surface level of simply leading worship songs. We will miss so much more of what God intended for worship between the Creator and the created one to be.  If we truly understood that, we might just find ourselves discovering a rich, vast, awe inspiring wonder that we have never known before. And when we do, we will never be the same.  Snorkeling and Worship, I like them both very much... What is down deep?  God created a world of people that want to go there.  We can not lead any further than we go ourselves.  Going deep will require that "I" go deep and do what it takes to enjoy what God has placed there to enjoy.  Then I will not be satisfied until I have brought others to the experience of only pleasing God with my Worship.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RE-Post: ReInventing Youth Ministry

Alvin Reid wrote a blog recently that one of my Youth Leaders ran across and shared with me. A reminder of our focus: 1. God, 2. the gospel, 3. the goal: disciples and 4. the gathering: connect youth to the church. Our ARBC Student ministry goal: 1. Fall in Love with Jesus (KNOW), 2. Learn how to handle God's Word (OWN), and 3. Discover/have a ministry (KNOWN).  Thanks for the reminder, Alvin.

Reinventing Student Ministry (by Alvin Reid)

Last fall I had participated in the ReInventing Youth Ministry Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The conference focused on what has become apparent to many who work with students: student ministry in the Western Church needs an intervention that leads to a reinvention.

Something remarkable happened at the conference. One of the founders of the largest student ministry organizations in my lifetime, Wayne Rice of Youth Specialties, made a confession: “We got what we wanted. We turned youth ministry into the toy department of the church. Churches now hire professionals to lead youth ministry. We got relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep.”
Why do so many students finish high school and drop out (actually many drop out when they get their drivers license)? Because we created a youth ministry culture that taught them to do so. We have not equipped students to be adults, who understand the gospel and live as missionaries. We created a “cool” subculture where they could be treated like the center of the universe and given a bunch of stuff, but not enough Jesus, Scripture, or character.

To his credit, Wayne Rice then argued for three changes:
1. Turn student ministry back over to the church. Youth pastors should be seeking to work themselves out of a job as they help youth become incorporated into the life of the church.
2. We can no longer ignore the role of the parents.
3. We can offer them nothing better than the gospel

I agree with Wayne Rice. We need a new paradigm. I want to offer my thoughts on what that paradigm should emphasize:

First, God. We need a new vision of God, His vastness, His power, His love and justice. If your students have a lot better grasp on who you are as the student pastor than who God is as the mighty creator of the universe who sustains the world by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:4), you have a problem. We need student pastors, national and parachurch leaders who are better at theology than at new ideas. Wayne noted that the founders of Young Life said it is a sin to make Christianity boring. Agreed. And it is a greater sin to make Christianity silly, which is what has happened. We must exalt a great God and give focus to His Word.

Second, the gospel. We have taken the good news of the gospel and taken it off the headlines of our ministries where it should be and put it in the advice column part of our youth groups. We pull the gospel out to give advice rather than showing students how Jesus is the hero of all of Scripture, all of life, all the parts of their lives, and how the gospel makes sense of everything. Let me remind you that in newspapers, advice columns are next to the cartoons. And that is what we do with the gospel, putting it next to an ipod giveaway instead of showcasing it always as the main event, the one thing that is constantly newsworthy in your ministry. We need a radical, Christocentric transformation, understanding the gospel is for salvation AND sanctification, for saved and unsaved alike. This Jesus cares for the broken and rebukes the self-righteous: He is the children-loving, disciple-calling, leper-healing, Pharisee-rebuking, humble child born and ultimately the reigning Lord Jesus.

Third, the goal. I believe the goal of student ministry is to develop disciples who see the world as missionaries and live as missionaries. The goal is not to have a great event and have a lot of buzz. This means we do less student ministry that is based on the lowest common denominator. It means you score success in long-term disciples. It means to help students to grow and to develop their own plan for gospel impact now. If you help individual students to develop a plan for gospel advance in the context of your local church you, will in fact help them to hear from God and be confident in their planning and thus to be better prepared about college, career, and all of life.

Fourth, the gathering. Connect to the whole church, across generations. The generation of teens today is not only the largest, it is also the most fatherless. We must connect students to the larger church and not function as a parachurch ministry within a church building. Students need older believers in their lives. We need a Titus 2 revolution where older men teach younger guys and older women teach younger ladies.

Over the past generation culture has reinvented the teenager into a formidable marketing segment of our population. Perhaps student ministry can help to shape them into something much more significant

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Growth really is optional....

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in Him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” - John 15:5

There are multiple languages in our culture today. Music, business, agriculture and athletics are all languages that many in our society speak fluently. Reaching people in any language that we speak should be our goal as Christians. Building bridges of love to connect people with God and others is really what our life should be about.

For about 30 years I have coached kids, teenagers and adults in multiple areas from basketball to football and most things in between. This is an opportunity to connect with people in an incredible way. The Bible is filled with the athletic model for life. The clearest observation of knowledgeable coaches however, is their frustration with those they instruct. This holds true with our Christ-walk.

We all have to age and mature physically, but growth and spiritual maturity are optional. We can listen to accomplished coaches explain their winning offensive philosophies, but if we don't try to implement changes in our own lives we will get the same results we have always had. Similarly this is true spiritually. We can go to church, read our Bibles, do our devotions, even an occasional mission project, but if we don't apply what we learn to our own life, does it do us any good?

UN-fruitfulness should not be an option for us as Christians. As a coach/pastor, I owe it to my "team" to commit myself to continual improvement and growth. Athletes/Christians whom I influence have the same responsibility as well. It is time to make a decision to grow and thrive in Him.

"God, fill them with all hope, joy and peace that they may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit..." Romans 15:13