Thursday, December 13, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Avoiding Moralism in Interpreting and Teaching God’s Word

In our last installment on godly family life we discussed the ways to effectively weave the Word of God into the fabric of our home.  One big issue that we touched on but did not unpack was this:  How do we see and savor and teach Jesus and his saving work on the cross from everywhere in the Bible?  An example shows us the challenge that we will face. 

Take the story of David and Goliath.  If your experience is similar to mine, you heard the application of this story go something like this: “We all have giants in our lives.  And just as David through his faith conquered his giant, so you too can trust God to conquer them in your life.”  What’s the problem with that interpretation?  Well, to use a phrase: right truth, wrong text.  Is it true that God can give us the faith to conquer the struggles in our life?  Yes.  How we do that is another discussion.  But is that the point of David and Goliath, or is there something more profound, more significant?  Is it not more significant that David was the representative of his people, and fought the battle of God’s people on their behalf against the representative of God’s enemies?  Is it not a microcosm of the same story that’s been going on since Genesis 3:15 - that there would be war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent?  It’s amazing to see the parallel between the prophecy – that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan– and that David literally did this to Goliath!  Is not David showing us what Jesus would come and accomplish  - the war we could not win that David’s greater Son would win on our behalf?  Now, given all that, it is still true that David’s faith was great, coming to the giant in the name of the Lord of Israel, and insofar as he shows us his greater Son, we too are to trust in God as David did.   You might hear that interpretation and think, “that’s great David, but it sounds like you’re saying that I shouldn’t make very specific applications of these stories to my life.  Nothing could be further from my point.  The question is not whether we specifically apply God’s Word, but how we effectively apply it.   To simply say that we too can slay our own giants is moralism: a good bit of wisdom or tip for living (which we could hear in any Jewish synagogue because it makes no mention of Jesus!), but it is both profoundly shortsighted AND does not give us the Gospel – the power of God both to save us and to truly build us up in faith through Jesus’ work on the cross.  The moralistic way provides only empty hope for change.  But specifically applying God’s Word through the lens of the cross holds out the hope for true transformation.  So how do we avoid the pothole of moralism in applying the Bible?  At the heart of it is this:

Know that Jesus IS in every part of Scripture, because he is both the author and the subject of the Bible.  Jesus himself declares this on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection:

Luke 24:25-27  25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus gives them a lesson on how to interpret their Old Testament!  And what is the lesson?  He says “The things concerning himself.”  But what things?  Peter tells us that the Old Testament testifies to the fact that Jesus would come to suffer for sin and rise from the dead:

1 Peter 1:10-11  10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,  11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

So what should we be asking when we teach any Bible story (Old OR New Testament)?  We should ask: How does this urge us to love and grasp more deeply the Gospel and its implications in my life?  Back to our example of David and Goliath.  How does this story drive us to the cross?  We know that David was a man after God’s heart, but he was still a sinner like all of us.  To hold David up as an example without a recognition of his sin is to say this:  “David was faithful.  So be like David.”  There are two problems with this.  First, is David really the one with whom we should find our direct connection in the story?  Aren’t we actually much less like David (who stood in the gap for His people) and much more like the rest of Israel who were weak and frozen with fear?  If we’re honest, we are the struggling soldiers who need a deliverer.  Second, we don’t want to say categorically that we should be like David, because David was an adulterer and a murderer and he needed a redeemer also!  David is held up as an historical picture (sometimes called a type) of Christ and his work, and God recorded these events from redemptive history to show us aspects of Jesus who would represent us and save us.  As David stood in the gap for Israel, so Jesus would take on the world, the flesh and the devil (our great enemies).  As David defeated the giant and won freedom from the prospect of slavery to the Philistines, so Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death.  In this way the Bible is primarily about Jesus, not David and not us.   We can have true freedom from sin not just from seeking to be faithful like David was, but by running to the cross where freedom was actually accomplished for us. 

            But don’t think that the lives of the ancients have no particular application to us in terms of how we live.  It’s not that we don’t learn from David’s faithfulness.  The New Testament tells us to follow their example, both negatively:

1 Corinthians 10:6-11   6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

And positively, on the heels of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….

So not only can we learn from the faith of David, we must. You may say, “David didn’t you just contradict yourself?”  I’ve been known to do that, but in this case I don’t think so.   It’s one thing to say “David was faithful, just be like David.”  But it’s quite another to see how David’s life points us to the only One who was truly faithful where we failed.  Thus by the power of God’s forgiveness through Christ alone we can be “Imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).  Then our strength to obey comes from Jesus’ finished work, not because of the bare example of David.  David’s strength to obey came as he grasped the mercy of God for his own forgiveness.  We learn from and imitate David insofar as we seek mercy from God as David did.  Anything else is an anvil on our back, trying and working in the power of the flesh. 

Let me conclude by saying this: The Bible is the revelation of a glorious person:  the Lord Jesus.  Let me encourage you as you study the Bible and teach it in your home to seek Jesus in Scriptures at every turn, and let every story, every truth cause us to run to the cross to be washed from sin and strengthened for life.  May God bless our study of His Book!

Pastor David

Friday, November 30, 2012

Justin Bieber, Tim Keller, and Apocalyptic Romance.

Several months ago Justin Bieber released a song entitled “As long as you Love Me.”  The song got as high as  # 15 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and the official music video posted on YouTube has over 88 million views.  That’s right, 88 million.  Needless to say, the song was popular, and my guess would be that a high percentage of teens, especially teen girls, could sing you the lyrics and have seen the music video.   I do not normally watch music videos (or listen to Bieber’s music for that matter), but after hearing the song on the radio I was intrigued, and because I personally know several die hard “Bieberites,” I decided to check it out.   

The video itself was provocative, but to be fair, it is probably no more provocative than the video’s that other pop stars are making these days.  At the beginning of the video, Bieber is confronted by his girlfriend’s father and told to get out of her life.  As the video progresses, it flashes between previous memories and make-out scenes between the two as they make plans to run away together.  At the end of the video, which was a bit surprising, the father catches them, beats Bieber up, and leaves with his daughter.  Although much could be said about the video itself, what caught my attention were the lyrics.  The chorus goes like this:
As long as you love me
We could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke
As long as you love me
I'll be your platinum, I'll be your silver, I'll be your gold
As long as you love, love, love, love me (love me)
As long as you love, love, love, love me (love me)

At one point in the song, rapper big Sean chimes in, presumably representing Bieber’s attitude towards his girlfriend, “I don’t know if this makes sense, but you’re my hallelujah.”  These lyrics caught my attention because they offer such a clear example of the message that our culture is aggressively communicating, especially to our teens, about what relationships ought to be like.  Tim Keller, in Counterfeit Gods, refers to this view of relationships as “Apocalyptic Romance.”[1]  According to Keller, apocalyptic romance occurs when two people look to “sex and romance to give us the transcendence and sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God.”  Or, to use Bieber’s song, apocalyptic romance says to the significant other:  “You’re my Hallelujah.”   Keller continues, “We maintain the fantasy that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed.”  Of course, that is a lie.  “No lover, no human being, is qualified for that role.  No one can live up to that.  The inevitable result is bitter disillusionment.”  

         The point of all this is not to suggest that we should avoid listening to Justin Bieber, or other such pop artists.  As Christians, we are not called to remove ourselves from the world.  Rather, we are called to not be conformed to the world.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2).  (Plus, if I did suggest such a thing, we might have a High School riot on our hands at NCPC! I won’t name anyone to protect the guilty).  As Christians we are called to engage pop music, as with all culture, with biblical discernment.  We can listen to secular music, but we must be careful not to passively receive the worldview that it communicates.  And when we hear a song like “As long as you love me,” we must remind ourselves, and our children, how the Gospel brings real hope where “Apocalyptic Romance” inevitably fails.   No single person, not even the best in the world, can be our “platinum, silver, and gold.”  Only Christ can satisfy us in that way.

[1] Keller himself borrows this term from Ernest Becker’s book, The Denial of Death

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Feeding on the Word Together

There is little doubt that the Word of God is at the center of godly family life.  If we truly believe that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), then there is no getting around it: if we want to see our children come to faith, we ought to be strategic in our family life and patterns in order to maximize their exposure to God’s Word. 

We’ve been thinking about aspects of godly family life in this column for the past couple of months.  So far we’ve explored how praying together and singing God’s praise together are ways in which we can disciple our children in God’s grace. What are some ways to feed our children on the Word?  Let me suggest just a few practical things that we’ve found helpful:

1.     Don’t expect too little from your kids.  This is one of the first potholes of which to be aware.  There is no doubt that I’ve expected too much from them at times when we sit down for family worship.  As a pastor I’ve been way too tempted to expect them to digest larger portions of the Word than they are developmentally equipped to process.  We need to understand their age and capabilities, and my wife is much better at choosing a manageable amount for them.   However we can easily make the mistake of assuming that they just can’t comprehend biblical truths until they are older.  But the Bible is their book too!  There are big concepts to be sure, but I’ve been regularly amazed at what my children can not only pick up, but actually retain and comprehend. 

2.     Schedule regular time where the family gathers around the Word.  This is difficult in a world that lures us away from throne of grace and the kitchen table with sports, music, dance, basket weaving, etc.  Every family has to make their own decisions on the amount of time spent on those enjoyable and often profitable endeavors, but use this simple guideline to help:  Put family worship somewhere in the daily schedule first as a non-negotiable activity.  The time of day will be different for everyone.  But if we don’t do this well ahead of time, other things will crowd the Word out of our daily routines. 

3.     Plan for this time.  This time where the family gathers around the Word of God needs some planning to be effective.   How much you study and what you do with this time depends on the age and spiritual maturity of your children.  If you’ve never done it before and your children are young, there are several different resources to help, including The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland, or The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos.  While these are great resources, don’t neglect simply opening up God’s Word and retelling the great stories of the Bible yourself!  I cannot tell you how valuable it has been for us to read through one of the Gospels or the book of Genesis together as a family.   When your children are young you will need to plan ahead of time to decide if there will be will be specific portions to pass over until they are older.  Grab hold of as many of the great stories as you can!  Above all, show them Jesus from every text Scripture (How do we do this?  This will be the subject of next month’s article).  Of course this means that we as parents need to be fed by the Word on our own so we can give it to our children.  Someone once said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish yourself.”  We must be students of God’s Word, letting it sink deep into us so we can pass it on to our children!

4.     Work on memorizing the Scriptures regularly. We’ve found that the whole family truly benefits from memorizing a portion of Scripture together.  We’ve marveled at how our children have been able to memorize Psalm 8, Psalm 23 Psalm 121 and the Christmas story from Luke 2 to name a few.  Try working on Bible memory at the breakfast table - It’s a great way to begin the day! 

5.     Let the Word be a part of daily routines.  These formal times of biblical training ought to be the foundation for a family life that is suffused with the Scriptures.  One of the big challenges we’ve faced is weaving the biblical truths we’re learning into the fabric of daily routines and not talking about the Bible only at “Bible time.”   Once when we were working on memorizing Psalm 121:1 it helped us have a platform to encourage one of our children in trusting God when struggling with shyness at school.  We talked that morning about seeking God’s strength:  “I lift my eyes up to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.”  What a great encouragement to a child who needs God’s strength to step out in faith!  The biggest challenge (and the biggest need we have) is applying the Word of God to the moments of life. 

There are many more things we could say about this subject, but space is limited.  If you’re not in the habit of opening the Word with your family, why not start tonight? Grab the sermon outline, the kids bulletin, or your children’s Sunday School handouts from Sunday and use them as guides to get started.   Above all, ask God to work the Word of God into the hearts of your entire family.  May God bless your time in His Word!
Pastor David 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Singing God’s Praise as a Family

I first realized the power of singing to help disciple my children one day several years ago when I was having a conversation with Emily, our oldest daughter.  I made brief mention of Jesus’ words “Let your light shine before men…”  She picked up on it and said oh yeah, Dad it goes like this:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

As she recited this verse I was astonished, not because she was able to recite the verse, but because we had not taught it to her! I asked her:  “Emily where did you learn that verse?”  Her answer?  “It’s a song we heard in the car Daddy!” We have a wonderful music CD made up entirely of Scripture songs for kids.  I have since become convinced that singing is one of the most powerful discipleship tools for our children (not to mention adults!).  She had committed a powerful verse to memory because it had been set to a beautiful tune, and as a result the Word was hidden in her heart. How I love it when I periodically hear my kids singing the words of the Bible! 

This leads us to another powerful element of godly family life:  singing God’s praises.  One thing I learned as a youth pastor – the kids who did not grow up in homes where they regularly sang songs of worship to the Lord were often the kids who struggled to worship God through song later in life.  Parents, we need to begin now showing them that singing praise is not just something for Sunday morning worship; it is part of the ebb and flow of daily life as a disciple of Jesus.  During the trials of Martin Luther’s life, it was often in those dark and difficult moments of the Reformation that he would say to his friend Philip Melancthon:  “Come Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm.” We can teach our children that all of the circumstances of life are opportunities to sing of God’s greatness and power – in times of trial we can sing Psalm 46 “God is our refuge and our strength.”  When we are worried about the future, we sing “I will cast my cares on you; I will rest within your arms, knowing I am safe from harm.”  When we become keenly aware of our sin because of something we’ve said or done, it is fitting to cry out to God:  “Not the labors of my hands, can fulfill Thy laws demands.”  When we are filled with wonder at God’s goodness, we can sing “Glorious and mighty…you’re awesome in beauty!” 

You might say, “Ok David, you have an unfair advantage because you have a singing wife!”  While that is a great blessing, don’t think that you have to carry a tune to foster a love for singing in your home.  We use CD’s to help lead us in praise all the time.  We put them on while driving in the car, at home while doing chores, and sometimes during our family worship too.  I love to put on such music while driving the kids to school or while we drive to church on Sunday as it helps us focus as we start the day.  If you struggle with singing, there are many great resources out there to help, and I’ll list a few of them at the end of this article.

The apostle Paul tells us that singing is something we do to teach each other:

Colossians 3:16  6 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Did you notice how music is actually a tool for discipleship?  As the word dwells richly in us while we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts there is something powerful that happens: we are teaching and admonishing one another.  One is positive and one is negative.  The Greek word translated “teaching” means to instruct someone in the course they should follow.  To “admonish” is to warn someone who is on the wrong course.  And Paul says that scripturally grounded singing is a means to do those two things.   So our instruction is not just from teaching Bible stories; it is from singing God’s truth into each other’s lives. 

As I said in our previous article on family prayer, I want to share with you how we are striving (albeit imperfectly) to foster patterns of godly family life so we can learn together to disciple our children.  Practically speaking, when it comes to our family worship time we spend a few minutes each evening singing some of these great songs.  We still sing songs they learned during vacation Bible school!  But we also teach them songs we sing on Sundays. This is particularly helpful in enabling them to participate in worship on the Lord’s Day.  Look for the worship email that comes to your inbox on Thursdays to see what we’re singing in worship.  We teach songs through call and response – we sing a phrase and they repeat it until they have it memorized (with a little time each day, a song can be memorized in a matter of days).   As kids learn to read, the process of learning songs gets much easier.  If you’re not comfortable using call and response, you can say the phrase before you all sing it together.  This translates well into the worship services on Sunday; we’ve taught our pre-reading kids to sing by whispering phrases of a song into their ear as we’re singing.  This encourages them to try to sing, and eventually they will pick the song up with repetition. 

Take some time this week to sing with your kids – start small with songs you know and love and it will get easier the more you do it.  May God bless us as we train young worshippers! 

Here are a few resources for good kids music: (we sing much of their music in worship) (some of our favorites for VBS and Sunday nights)  (more VBS music!)
Hide ‘Em in Your Heart - A great CD with Scripture songs by Steve Green found here:
The Trinity Hymnal (Every home should have one!)
Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs: Volume 1and 2 –Great CDs available through the PCA at under teacher and parent resources, worship and child rearing.

“Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation day to day.” (Psalm 96:2)

A fellow worship trainer,
Pastor David

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Developing Godly Family Life: Family Prayer (Revisited)

Fall is in full swing!  With some sadness I let the air out of our beach toys and look for a place to hang our body boards.  Although I’m still hoping to get us to the beach more before it actually gets cold, the new schedule has us running around as a family again.  I’ve been concerned about how we will fit everything in to our days and weeks, especially time to seek the Lord together as a family (and individually!).  Back in the beginning of 2009 I published several articles in our newsletter on what it means to develop godly family life.  As we begin a new fall season with school beginning, ministry schedules ramping up, and life generally getting crazy, I recently pulled these articles out and read them again to remind myself of the basics of devotion to Jesus.  I’d like to put them out there again to you in an updated form over the next few months.  Some of you may remember these, and like me perhaps you need to refresh on these essentials.  Or you may be new to NCPC in the last few years. Either way, these articles are designed to encourage you in fostering rich biblical patterns of home life that promote godliness.  This is not easy in our culture!  So let’s struggle together through this and ask God to give us grace in establishing patterns based on truth.  The first issue I’d like to start with is prayer. 
Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

One of the things we’re trying to weave into the fabric of our home life is family prayer.  As a father of three, I’m feeling the burden to foster a lifestyle of Godward dependence in all of us (and I’m at the top of the family list of those who struggle on this score).  One of the chief ways that dependence is expressed is through prayer, particularly as Paul says in Philippians 4:6 “In everything by prayer and supplication…”  So we are trying to train our children to pray about any and every situation.  I want them to know that Jesus wants to have a relationship with them where he speaks (in the Word) and they speak (in prayer).  But my desire is twofold:  I want them to hear their Dad and Mom praying for them, and I want them to develop a lifestyle of praying to God themselves.  Let’s think about each for a moment.

Parents, your children need to hear YOU pouring out your heart before God, laying before Him the concerns in your life (at least the ones appropriate for little ears).  They need to hear you confess your sin, particularly when you’ve sinned against them (how will they learn how to repent of anger, worry, impatience, coveting etc. if you do not model repentance before them?). They need to hear you plead for more grace, ask for sufficient mercy for every trial and perhaps most important, they need to hear you plead with God on their behalf.  What a deep spiritual impression it will have on them to hear Daddy pray:  “Lord pour out the gift of faith and repentance on Emily, Kaitlin and Caleb. Incline their hearts toward you so that they might love you will all their might.  Keep them from sin and Satan.  Make them mighty warriors for your kingdom!”    Our children will learn to pray (or not!) by the patterns of their parents.  If you do not pray out loud in their hearing, they will not have the sense that it is important, and eventually they may sense that YOU are not depending on God because they don’t know that mommy and daddy speak to Him. 

But here is the overlap with my second strategy for family prayer:  they not only need to hear you pray, but it is in this very act that you will lead them and teach them how to pray themselves. Set aside some time each day to lead your children (at whatever age!) in prayer.  This may seem odd, but I don’t think it is ever too late to begin.  Particularly with young children, it is vital to help them know how to express themselves.  Pray a phrase at a time and have them repeat it.  As they grow more comfortable and able to speak, gradually lengthen the phrases and add richness to the language of prayer.  What you will gradually see is your children wanting to try it more on their own, and pretty soon you’ve gone from a coach to a guide to a counselor in the area of prayer. And YES this means you must foster the richness of your own prayer life.  How? Open your Bible to your favorite Psalm and pray God’s word back to him.  Ask Donna Pipkin for her five-finger prayer resource. Teach kids to go through the stages of adoring God: “Lord you are more beautiful than________.”  Giving thanks:  “Lord thank you for ________.”  And confessing sin:  “Lord forgive me for _____________.”   Lead them through these before asking Him for things or praying on behalf of others.

Make no mistake: the spiritual benefits will become evident as you persevere in this area.  One thing we see is that our kids don’t have reticence about praying out loud in front of other people, because they do it regularly at home.  But the major spiritual benefit of developing the habit of prayer came out recently.  Just this week as Emily and Kaitlin awoke for the first day of school, they were both filled with anxiety.  In their room by themselves they spoke about their nervousness as they began a new year at a new school with so many unknowns before them.  What did they do?  Emily grabbed her Bible, opened it and read aloud from Genesis (where Abraham rescues Lot), and then they prayed together that God would give them strength to face these new challenges.  (Picture Dad beaming at this moment….)  They related this to me at breakfast, and I couldn’t help praising God for HIS WORK (not mine or Priscilla’s) in their hearts. Don’t misunderstand me; I know that their dependence on God was a direct result of God’s Holy Spirit working in their hearts.  God blessed them with a desire to depend on Him in prayer!  They knew where to turn in time of struggle, and that only comes from Him. 

But God also uses means: you as a parent can lead them to the fountain daily as you pray with and for them about anything and everything.  (“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” 1 Cor. 3:6). It doesn’t have to be an hour of prayer.  It could be a simple prayer in the car before you drop them off.  Or a prayer as you sit at breakfast, or in the evening before bed.  In fact, brief but regular prayer patterns may indeed teach them that prayer is a conversation with God that can and should happen continuously throughout the day. 

Let me encourage you this week to develop or bolster patterns of prayer in your family life. In a world of self-sufficient people, let’s foster Godward dependence on our knees as we pray with and for our kids.

Fighting the good fight with you –

Pastor David

Friday, August 24, 2012

What is successful youth ministry # 5 - Multi- Generational Discipleship.

In the last post on youth ministry, I observed that by God’s command and design, parents are called to be the primary “youth pastors” of their children.  When this God ordained foundation of youth ministry is minimized or ignored, regardless of how well intentioned it might be, it can only result in harm to our youth.  There is no doubt in my mind that this minimizing of the parents role has been a primary factor in leading to the current crisis in youth ministry.  Biblical Youth ministry must begin with the family. 

However, the fact that parents have the primary responsibility to disciple and train their children does not mean that they have the only responsibility.  The broader church has an important role to play in the discipleship of her youth as well.  In this post, I introduce the second key foundation of youth ministry: Multi-generational Discipleship.  

Let me begin with a question. How important to your spiritual growth is the larger body of Christ?  Or to put it another way, what role does the larger body of Christ play in your sanctification?  Scripture indicates that our relationships with the larger body of Christ is of vital importance.  Consider the following Scripture passages:
  • Proverbs 13:20 - “Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise...”     
  •  Heb 3:12 - “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, so that you will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” 
  •  Heb 10:24 - “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 
  • Gal 6:1 - “Brothers, if any of you caught in transgression you who are spiritual should restore him...
  • Heb 13:7 - “Remember your leaders, consider their outcome and way of life, imitate their faith. “
All of us need older, wiser, more mature saints to speak into our lives as we grow in Christian maturity.  We need our brothers and sisters to gently restore us when we are caught in sin, to model for us faithful walking with the Lord through good times and bad, to help us apply God’s word to our everyday lives and decisions, and to comfort us with the promises of God which have comforted them.  How impoverished would we be spiritually if we had no relationships with or access to other brothers and sisters in Christ?   This reality, which is true for Christian adults, is also true for Christian youth.  They also need to be connected with older, wiser, and more mature members of the body of Christ.  They also must walk with the wise, that they might become wise.  They also must have friends and mentors whose way of life they can consider, and whose faith they can imitate.

            In Titus 2 the Apostle Paul indicates his expectation that multi-generational discipleship will be present in the church.  He sets forth the principle that the older men and women in the congregation have responsibility for, and play a vital role in, the discipleship of the younger generation. 

 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.  Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.  (Tit 2: 2-6)
This is a picture of personal, multi-generational, discipleship.  It is important to note that what Paul requires in this passage cannot be accomplished simply by having older youth mentor younger youth.  A 17 year old girl cannot train or model for a 14 year old what it means to be a godly wife and mother.  It actually takes a wife and mother to do that.  Similarly, an 18 year old boy cannot adequately train or model for a 15 year old how the Gospel empowers the constant fight against the world, flesh, and devil.  It takes a godly man.  

            What are the implications of this second core foundation for youth ministry?  I will list just one, namely that a primary focus of youth ministry must be to connect youth to the larger body of Christ.  There are a variety of different ways this can happen, but it must be a priority. There is a serious problem of isolation in much youth ministry today.  Many churches, in a well-meant attempt to reach youth, have created a completely separate youth culture, complete with a separate pastor, building, events, small groups, church service, missions trip, etc.,   The result of this segregation is that the youth of the church effectively become a separate congregation.  Little, if any, participation with adults is expected or encouraged.  Multi-generational relationships are not formed.  Worse, adults in the church begin to think that they do not have a responsibility towards the youth, because “that’s the youth pastor’s responsibility.” The problem with this approach, of course, is that (just like us) youth will grow spiritually when they are connected to the larger body of Christ, not removed from it.  

Thus, a biblically based youth ministry focuses on exposing youth, not merely to Christian teaching, but also to Christian men and women.  If youth only build meaningful connections to the youth group, and not to the larger church, then a key foundation of God’s design for youth ministry is being missed.  And again, this can only be to the detriment of the youth. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Parent As Youth Pastor

“Doing youth ministry without parents is like driving a car without the engine.” -  Mark Devries[1]

It’s no secret anymore, youth ministry is in a state of crisis.  Polls of recent years report over and over the dire percentages of youth who leave the church after high school.  Whatever the exact percentage actually is, what seems clear enough is that more young people are choosing to leave the church than choosing to stay.[2]  The million dollar question is, of course, “Why is this happening?”  And while there are certainly multiple factors involved in this mass exodus, I believe that a primary contributing factor is the loss of emphasis on the central role of the parent in the spiritual nurture of their children.  Much of the youth ministry done in recent decades seems to have forgotten that parents are commanded to be, and by God’s design will necessarily be, the primary youth pastors for their children - for better or for worse.  And when the central role of the parents is neglected, a major deviation from God’s design for youth ministry has taken place that can only be harmful for youth in the long term.      

In order to start righting the ship, churches must first of all re-embrace the responsibility given to parents by God to be the front line “youth pastor” for their children.  In the Old Testament, the priests had the general responsibility to teach all of the people the Word of God, but parents were given a special responsibility to teach their children.  Moses commanded the people of Israel “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9).  The same principal is in the New Testament.  Pastors have the general responsibility to preach and teach God’s word to God’s people (including the youth), but the only command regarding the training and discipling of children is given directly to parents: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).  This does not necessarily mean that there is no place for a church to have a “youth ministry” apart from parents, but it does mean that youth ministry must be built on this central foundation.  Proverbs 22:6 states “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This proverb is not a universal promise that every child who is trained by his parents will grow up to be a Christian, but it is a general principal that God has given for us to live by.  Generally speaking, God uses the means of Godly parents who prayerfully and diligently seek to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” to convert them.   God has designed the home, not the youth group, to be the spiritual nursery where the Christian faith is taught and modeled to children from their earliest years.  

Secondarily, parents and churches must embrace a more sober estimation of what youth ministry actually accomplishes.  Part of what has created the current crisis in youth ministry is that churches have assumed that the youth pastor and youth programs are more important than they really are.  Again, this is not to say that there is no place for a youth pastor, youth group, or youth programs.  When these things are Biblically grounded they can be a real blessing to youth. The reality is, however, that in most cases the overall influence of a youth pastor and youth group on a child will be insignificant when compared to that of the parents.   “It’s time for a reality check,” says Mark Devries, “Youth ministries, in and of themselves, have limited power to produce lasting change in young people’s lives.”[3]  As case in point, let me use myself as an example.  One of my priorities is to spend as much time as I can with the church youth each week.  On a good week, a week that I am able to see a specific youth in several different venues, I may be able to spend 6-8 hours with him or her, although most of that time is in a group setting.  On other weeks, the only personal interaction I may have with them is at Church on Sunday morning and a text or facebook message during the week.  I pray that God will bless the time that I have with them, but I know that it is not enough. 

Parents, by contrast, spend every day with their children.  For 18 years they live life with them:  waking, eating, sleeping, praying, playing, laughing, crying, arguing, and the list goes on.   As a result, parents know their children like no other adult will ever know them, and they will have more influence on them for spiritual good or ill than any other adult ever can.  Thomas Manton, writing in the 17th century, called on the “Heads of Families” to recognize this special influence:    

How much the serious endeavors of godly parents and masters might contribute to an early seasoning the tender years of such as are under their inspection, is abundantly evident, not only from their special influence upon them, in respect of their authority over them, interest in them, continual presence with them, and frequent opportunities of being helpful to them; but also from the sad effects which, by woeful experience, we find to be the fruit of the omission of this duty.”[4]
If a child has a negligent youth pastor, Godly parents will easily counter his influence.  But if a child has negligent parents, very rarely will a youth pastor be able to overturn the “sad effects” of which Manton speaks.  Jonathan Edwards put it boldly: “…Family education and order are some of the chief means of grace.  If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.  If these are duly maintained, all other means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful.”[5]    

Thus, if we are going to stem the tide of youth leaving the church, I believe a key component is a fresh awareness of the centrality of the parents for youth ministry. Parents are the church’s primary youth pastors, and a central place in youth ministry today must be given to helping parents embrace that privilege and responsibility, and equipping them to do it.  Youth ministry has a valid and important supporting role to the parents, but it must never become a substitute.  Our youth are too important to allow that to happen. 

Note: This blog was originally posted by the White Horse Inn.

[1] Mark Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1994), 85.
[2]  This is not an isolated report, the Southern Baptist convention in a 2002 Report on Family Life reported that 88% of children in evangelical homes leave church at the age of eighteen. 
[3] Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, 78.
[5] As quoted in Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, 85.