The Heart of Youth Ministry

23 04 2010

In contemporary youth ministry there are tons of resources and ideas (good, bad, and everywhere in between) for how to effectively reach and minister to students.  Networking with other youth pastors is great, getting ideas from books and websites is awesome, staying up to date with all the latest trends and technology is a must…

But today, I just want to ask you what is the core of your ministry? What is making your youth ministry’s heart beat? I hope that it is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are tons ideas out there to incorporate into your youth ministry by pastors and ministers who may or may not understand the Gospel. Sometimes people who don’t properly understand the Gospel do have good ideas that you can adapt for an outreach, program, or event.  Sometimes people who do properly understand the Gospel have bad ideas that you should run from! So this post isn’t about how to properly find and evaluate good and bad resources based on the Gospel, rather it’s about whether or not the Gospel is at the heart of your ministry.  Is everything you do centered around Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

What is the Gospel? I hope that you understand the Gospel clearly enough that you can articulate it in 60 seconds or less.  Obviously there are parts of the Gospel we could go into very deeply, studying tons of verses, that might take a long time to discuss.  However, the Gospel is simple enough for children to understand.  Here’s an outline of the Gospel: (the headings are used from Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel?)

God the Righteous Creator: Genesis 1 tells us this story.  God created the heavens and the earth and everything in the universe, including mankind. He is Holy, Righteous, Loving, Just, etc….

Man the Sinner: God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden the command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil… They disobeyed.  Since Adam was our representative his curse is our curse.  It’s not that we are born perfect and then mess up, we are born as sinners! (cf. Romans 5).  Romans 3 tells us that “None is Righteous…” and that on our own, none of us seek God.  The Bible is clear that mankind, left to itself, is in a hopeless condition.  Everything we do is sin, and unable to please God.  We overlook our own sin and make ourselves into our own idols.  We worship everything that is not God: money, sex, T.V., power, fame, etc… We are totally depraved, meaning that we are not always as sinful as we could be, but that every single fiber of our being is tainted by sin.

Jesus Christ the Savior:  God is a Holy God, unable to fellowship with Sin.  There did not HAVE to be a Way made for salvation. God, justly so, could have left us in our sin to punish us for all eternity.  Because of our Sin we deserve an eternity of judgement.  However, in His compassion and grace and mercy He decided to make a way by sending His Son to die on the Cross IN OUR PLACE.  Jesus is God the Son and was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus lived the perfect life and then died our death.  He was our substitute! He took the beating, lashes, and crucifixion that we deserved.  He died on the Cross in our place  (Is. 53:5-6).  Because of our Sin there had to be a perfect sacrifice to make atonement.  Jesus was that sacrifice.  Then, to exemplify His power over death, Hell, and the grave Jesus rose from the dead.  After 40 days He ascended to heaven to be with the Father and He is coming again soon in power and glory… (Romans 5 contrasts the first Adam and the second Adam- Christ). 

Our Response Faith and Repentance:  All this being said, what’s left? When God opens our eyes to the Gospel and the wonders of His infinite love, mercy and grace, it is our responsibility to respond with faith and repentance.  Jesus says “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), and in the book of Acts the Apostles say “repent and believe”. So what must we do? Repent and Believe! (respond in faith and repentance). Faith means that you trust Christ alone for your salvation. It means that you acknowledge you are totally dependant upon Him for your salvation and the final righteous verdict.  It is by His righteousness that you can stand before God completely justified.  Let us not forget that faith is also trusting Christ not only as the King of the Universe, but also King of our lives (Lordship Salvation).  Repentance is where you acknowledge your sin and turn from it!  Repentance is not just acknowledging your “sins”, i.e. “I lie”, “I think bad thoughts”, etc., but acknowledging your Sin! That to the very core you are a sinner in need of a Savior.  “Turning” from our sin implies asking God to forgive our Sin. When God saves the Bible tells us that we are a new creation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17) and that we will be known by our fruits (cf. Matt. 7:16).  The good fruit that flows out of our Salvation is not what saves us, but what Christ Himself produces in us. Now, as Christians we live for the King, awaiting His triumphant return.

So, there’s the Good News! I know some of that would make a presentation a little longer than 60 seconds, but I felt there were a few things that you might have needed clarified.  For some of you reading this blog you might not be a Christian.  For the first time, God has opened your eyes to His truth.  If that’s you, what you’re left with, is the responsibility to respond to Him in repentance in faith.  It’s not some “magical” prayer or long process of using the right words and rituals.  Trust Christ.  Put your faith in Him as the King of kings (the God-man) who paid for your sin and died in your place.  Turn from your sin and your self in repentance by asking Him for forgiveness (cf. Rom. 10:9). God is merciful and mighty to save by His great Grace, but remember too, that God is just and will punish all sin.  For those who’ve been redeemed our price was paid on the Cross.  But for those with hard hearts who refuse to turn to Christ, God promises an eternity in Hell (the place He will carry out His righteous judgement), a place prepared for the Devil and his angels.

If you work in the ministry I hope that the Gospel is central to all that you do.  Does this mean we can’t ever have “fun” in youth ministry? NO WAY!  As Christians we experience life on this earth as no one else can (cf. John 10:9-10).  My point today, and challenge/encouragement is to make the Gospel central to everything you do.  It is the foundation upon which we build our ministries.  And anything “we build” is not really our doing anyway, but the work of Christ in and through us.

Hope you have some feedback…


Just do ministry like Jesus?

30 03 2010

Saw another article today that said if you want to know how to do ministry, just read the Gospels and do ministry like Jesus.

Now, I think I understand where the person is coming from, and on the surface that seems like such a Gospel centered statement. However, I want to quote a few lines from the book Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York and Bert Decker…

Frankly, we are never told to preach like Jesus and probably shouldn’t try.  While that sentence may shock and make you wonder why we would make such a strange statement, allow me to explain.  Certainly we should emulate many elements of Jesus’ preaching: His passion, his high view of Scripture, his confrontation and application, and his tendency to force a decision of acceptance or rejection.  But on the other hand, we must admit that Jesus, as the sovereign Creator of the universe, had intents, information, and abilities that we do not have.” (pg. 15)

So, my point here is that I think we should use the ministry of Jesus to set our foundation for ministry…BUT, we can’t be Jesus because we are fallen.

York and Decker go on to say (concerning the woman at the well) “Now, first of all, none of us can know such intimate details about the sins of people we just met, and even if we could, it probably would not be best to use such knowledge! After all, we are sinners just like they. Should we witness to others because Jesus witnessed? Absolutely! Should we follow his methodology? No! We can find certain elements in his witness that must be in ours, but we can also find elements that are the sole province of the Son of God and cannot be emulated.” (pg. 16)

The point is, we are called to be like Christ, not be Christ. There are two dangers in wanting to be Christ.  1st is even if you have the right motivations, you are setting yourself up for failure.  2nd You are setting yourself for a huge temptation to be like God, which just so happens to be the reason mankind fell (Gen. 3:5).

So where do we get our models for ministry? The Bible! I’m not saying we don’t use Scripture. Not only can we use the Bible, but we MUST use the Bible! My point is just to caution you to not fall prey to a works based mentality for ministry. In other words, “if i just do ministry just like Jesus, i’ll succeed.”  Trust Christ for direction, but don’t crucify yourself for your disciples…Your blood can’t save them.

Book Review: Christ-Centered Preaching

29 03 2010

Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

In his book, Christ-Centered Preaching, preacher and Seminary professor Bryan Chapell outlines a model for preaching expository sermons. Chapell’s work is biblically based as he both encourages and challenges preachers to preach as God intended “to save those who believe” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).  His book is an excellent resource for both young preachers (me!) and those desiring to be refreshed in their insight on what it takes to develop and preach effective, life changing messages from the Word of God.

The best thing about Chapell’s work, and the reason it should be read by those beginning a lifelong ministry of preaching and those desiring to get back to a biblical model of preaching, is that it is unapologetically centered on the Word of God.  He gives practical tips on how to construct introductions, conclusions, and transistions, but everything is grounded in the Word. Basically, the book gives great explanation on why to use the Word and how to use the Word in preaching. 

Another thing that Chapell does well is to almost provide a “theology” of illustrations.  Explanation of the text is a biblical thing for preachers, but Chapell argues that in addition to that, so is illustration. Illustrations are more than just humor or time fillers but actually “expand and deepen [listener’s] understanding of a text” (p. 178). Chapell makes the case that illustrations are a vital tool for exposition, and then as he does with introductions and conclusions, provides practical advice on how to find and use good illustrations in sermons.  Preachers desiring to preach as God would have them preach must remember that “sermons too full of illustrations choke credibility; sermons too lacking in illustrations strangle goodwill” (p. 201). Along with illustrations, Chapell even provides many of his own preparation suggestions for outlining messages that will be a good resource to any preacher.

The only caution I would give about the book is to make sure that you do not think of sermon preparation as only “scientific”.  This is not Chapell’s intent, but if you were to just skim the book you may think it’s all about our work and not the Holy Spirit’s. Chapell is just emphasizing our need to be good stewards of sermon preparation.  He even states, “sermons succeed when the Holy Spirit works beyond human craft to perform his purposes” (p. 265).

So, all that to say, if you have the time, read this book! And, if you are new to preaching, make time and read this book! God bless…

Proper Perspectives will shift Priorities

19 03 2010

I get the opportunity to preach this Sunday at my church, FBC, DeWitt. While I’m still in the process of putting in some final preparation, here’s the gist of the message.

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

I know I’ve blogged on this text a couple times before so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here.  In just these three verses John explains to his readers the foundations for proper Christian priorities:

1. A Proper Perspective of God (v. 15)- i.e. the priority in the Christian’s life should be God above all else, and the text explains that those who are unable to do so do not have “the love of the Father”. (i have a blog already on my interpretation of that phrase).

2. A proper perspective of the world (v. 16-17a)- i.e. the Christian should not be involved in the evil of this world because it is directly opposed to God AND the Christian must be Kingdom focused instead of earthly focused because the world is passing away! The devil is the prince of this world and I believe there is correlation here between this text and the Fall in Genesis 3.

3. A proper perspective of salvation (v. 17)- Salvation is what enables Christians to do the will of God and inherit eternal life.  The Christian does the will of the Father, because he believes in His Son Jesus Christ (I’ve also blogged about this “Whoever believes or whoever does”).

The whole point of the message is that if we as Christians have the right perspectives on these things, then it will result in us having the right priorities.  In other words, God, His will, and His Kingdom will take precedent over things of less importance.  This text is less about “don’t do this sin, don’t do that sin” and more about changing our whole focus and attitude towards how we live here in this world.  If we take care of the inner problem (our focus and attitude towards sin and this world) then we won’t even have to deal with the “don’ts” because we will desire to be Kingdom focused Christians. 

To put it another way, I think many preachers may preach this passage of Scripture in a way that really focuses on putting down partying, drinking, seeing bad movies, drugs, sex, driving too fast, cussing, etc. etc.  These sins are grievous and directly opposed to God, but I think the passage is less about attacking these “outer sins” and more about attacking our inner perspectives on God, the world, and Salvation.  The point is, when God changes our perspectives, these worldly things will no longer be an issue for us. Not only that, but little things that we don’t like to call “sins” will also be taken care of- like putting our own priorities over the Kingdom…

Hope all that makes sense! Would love to see some of your thoughts…

I couldn’t put all my thoughts on here because I still want people to come hear the sermon on Sunday! God bless!

Church Covenant?

16 02 2010

In most Southern Baptist Churches in some corner of the building or posted on the fellowship hall is the Church Covenant. 

In order to keep this blog fairly short and readable I don’t have time or space to go into all the details of a church covenant other than to say this: I do think it’s biblical for people to write out what they believe and hold one another accountable for their actions.  Obviously a covenant should be based solely on the Bible. To read more about covenants in detail please CLICK HERE.

The main thing I wanted to write about today was this: Did you even realize that your church has a covenant? Do you even know what it says? You see a covenant helps us to keep one another accountable by expressing what it is that a church believes and how a church expects it’s members to live.  It’s not a “legalistic” tool, but rather it is to be used for the type of discipline Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18. CLICK HERE for what a typical SBC Church Covenant says.

When we join a local body of believers shouldn’t we know what it believes? Don’t get a Covenant and a Constitution confused (see one of the links above).  Pastors and other ministers: Are you helping your congregation know what the church expects from them? Of course we should say: “Read the Bible”. But a Covenant helps us write out what the Bible says about our conduct in a shorter, “easier to remember” statement.  There are many SBC churches in the Reformed movement that have covenants that the church recites together before the Lord’s Supper.  In this way, each member can be reminded of what the church expects from them.

Another important reason for a church covenant, as alluded to above, is for use in church discipline.  If you want to bring discipline (for the purpose of reconciliation) against a member who is always gossiping, it is much easier if he or she has already signed a church covenant agreeing to keep certain standards in their walk.

Anyway, please email or comment below for more discussion.  I am interested in other people’s take on this issue… Also, please visit the 9Marks site (the first link above) because they write much better than I do and it will give you some more insight to the history and biblical basis for church covenants…

How we do family worship

9 02 2010

This blog is not about ‘why’ we do family worship in our home, but how.  I hope that everyone reading this understands the biblical foundation for family worship found in Scripture. As mentioned in previous blogs, Deut. 6:5-7 clearly states that parents are responsible for teaching their children about the Lord and His commands.

First of all, I want to say that we do not have the perfect model; nor are we perfect in our current framework of family worship.  There are still things that we’d like to imporve on, but what we’ve started is a foundation for family worship in the home that we plan on lasting the rest of our lives.

We do our worship in the evenings right after supper.  This usually happens about 4-5 days out of the week, but sometimes can be only a few if we have to be gone several nights.  I want to take a side note here and say that families need to get back to eating supper together.  Make it goal in the near future to eat together at least 3 nights out of the week for starters.  I know families are busier and busier but the dinner table is a place we can laugh, cry, and bond together as a family.  Some of us don’t understand the value of family dinners because we didn’t grow up eating supper as a family.  If this describes you, I highly recomend that you start encouraging your family to eat supper together on a regular basis.  The time shared is truly invaluable!  This doesn’t mean you have to do family worship right after supper… This just happens to be the best time for us because we are all together (and we aren’t what you would call “morning people”!).  Also, even if you don’t do family worship after dinner, still make it a priority to cut out some of the extracurricular activities that are preventing your family from eating supper together.

Ok so, right after dinner we’ll clean off the table and then I’ll read a passage of Scripture.  We were reading through Bradyn’s Children’s Bible, but we haven’t been the last several weeks.  If you have smaller children a children’s illustrated Bible really does come in handy!  Lately, I’ve just been reading passages of Scripture that God has laid on my heart.  I try to balance Old Testament and New Testament readings.  Honestly, a reading plan would be better, and we are going to try and work on that in the future!

After I read the Bible I’ll aske a couple of simple questions.  Bradyn’s only 2 and Caleb is 4 months, so I know they aren’t technically “learning” but it does help build a foundation for how we will do things in the future.  Occasionally, Steph and I will discuss things from the reading on an adult level with each other.  After the reading and questions, we’ll sing.  We have an older Baptist Hymnal, but don’t use it every time.  I have a guitar, but we don’t use it every time either.  For about a year we’ve been really wearing out Jesus Loves Me! But it is important to sing different songs and I would encourage you to get a hymnal or other song book to help you sing with your family.

The last thing we do after 1-2 (sometimes 3-5!) songs is pray.  We don’t just pray a generic “bless our family” prayer.  Instead we try to pray according to the passage of Scripture that we just read.  For example, 2 Peter 1:21 was in our reading the other night, and we thanked God for His inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

This whole process takes about 10-15 minutes! I think so many people don’t do family worship because they are worried about time frame… In the future we may plan on taking longer as we introduce more “involved” questions and even Catechism (similar to the Westminster Catechism) but still the whole thing doesn’t have to last longer than 15-20 minutes at the most.  Obviously don’t be looking at the clock ready to shut it down if kids are asking questions, but also don’t feel you have to give up your whole evening either.

So that’s basically it… The whole process of the Nelson Family Worship time.  My challenge to you is to just start.  Even if you can only plan on doing it 1 day every week right now, that’s fine.  Just begin.  If your kids are older it may take some getting used to, but still we must adhere to the biblical model of family discipleship.  Maybe you don’t have kids yet or they’ve already left home. In that case I would still challenge you to have a similar form of worship time in your home.  If you dont’ have kids yet, this is a great way to lay a foundation for one of the ways you will help raise godly children.  Think about this:

If we can’t worship in the home, how can we worship during church services?

Let Your Leaders Lead

8 02 2010

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”   – Hebrews 13:17

We live in a culture that rejects authority.  Our children naturally reject the authority of their parents.  Parents and other adults naturally reject the authority of others in their life (i.e. government positions, etc.)  What’s alarming today is that this rejection of authority also carries over into the church.

Many people may not realize that God has actually established authority within the church.  In  1 Timothy and Titus (as well as in a few other places) Paul uses the Greek word “episkopos” to refer to what we call a “Pastor”.  This word is usually translated as “overseer” and carries the general connotation of one who is in charge.

Time and again I hear people say things like “That pastor is just trying to run things around here.”  They mean this in a negative way, but really according to Scripture, that’s what the pastor is supposed to be doing!  I obviously don’t mean that the pastor is to be overbearing, or use his authority negatively, but the word of God says that pastors “will have to give an account” for their actions because they have been called by God to keep “watch over your souls.”  I honestly believe that many churches would be in better shape if they trusted their pastor more.  This is not to take away from the pastor’s responsibility to listen to and love his flock.  The pastor will also be wise to take counsel from some of the members of the church regarding certain matters.  But, honestly, how many flocks of sheep have you seen controlling their shepherd? So many churches have it backwards and actually feel like the pastor is under their authority, when in fact, he is under the authority of God.

Remember too that this verse is a direct command.  In fact it contains two imperatives: Obey and submit.  It’s not just suggested that church members obey and submit to leadership in the church, it’s actually commanded in Scripture. 

So to keep this short there is twofold application.  #1 church members must remember that pastors have been appointed over them by God to equip them for the work of the ministry and to keep watch over their souls.  This applies by not running down the pastor to other members of the church and especially outsiders.  This applies by listening to the pastor instead of just discrediting him because he is too young or too old or too black or too white, or too whatever.  This applies by serving God, by serving alongside your pastor in work for the Kingdom.  This applies by church members acknowledging that to not submit and disobey is a sin (obviously if the pastor is saying something against the Word, this command is lifted).  And finally, this applies by church members acknowledging that they were not put into the church just so they could critique the preacher!  God will critique your pastor and work on His heart to make the changes needed…#2 Leaders should remember to serve with joy and not groaning.  This applies by not running down your church.  This applies by understanding the privilege and responsibility you have as a leader and using it for the honor and glory of God. This applies by leading in such a way that your followers can follow you!

God’s church is a beautiful establishment.  He has set it up in a perfect way (even if it is filled with imperfect people!).  Let’s get back to a biblical model for ecclesiology, which begins by letting God’s leaders lead us.