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Christian Living Good News

Beyond Proclaiming Christ

Where We’ve Been

In the 1940s Billy Graham became one of Youth for Christ’s first full-time evangelists. In post-World War II America, he took to the airwaves and spoke at rallies around the world. Thousands responded. And, in some ways, modern-day evangelicalism was born.

Back then the Bible was taught in schools. It was a regular part of the curriculum for high school students to memorize John 3 or Romans 8 as part of their Bible classes. Church attendance was way up, too. Culturally, America was much more Christian than it is today.

The roots of most of what we call “evangelism” today are tied to this heritage. It’s all built on the premise that most Americans have a working knowledge of the Bible, that they believe in God. and look at the world through a somewhat Christian worldview. I’ve never attended a evangelistic rally, youth event or church service where the Gospel was presented, or anything in between that didn’t have these as working assumptions.

In proclamation evangelism the role of the speaker is to connect the dots in people’s heads. They’ve heard of God. They know who He is. They have read parts of the Bible. They’ve attended church in the past so are comfortable with the format. The speaker and evangelistic rally really puts it all together and creates an emotional, religious experience, and then calls them home.

I’m not going to say that the proclamational evangelistic rally doesn’t work anymore. But if you attend one today you’ll see that most of the people who go aren’t regular Joe’s– they are Christians who came to see a Christian band but are willing to hang out to hear the speaker. And for some of those perhaps the proclamational-style is what they need so they respond?

But take someone completely unchurched? Say, a neighbor whose parents didn’t take them to church and they think Christianity is a crock? Or, like the Average Joe in America believes that if they are a good person they’ll be OK in the end. It’s too weird for them. I know because I’ve done it. A bunch. And I’ve had to go back and apologize one-too-many-times to the point where I’d never invite another friend.

It’s not that I don’t believe, as an evangelical, that I need to share my faith. It’s that I think that for the people in my life the proclamational gospel message should be replaced with a methodology that reflects today’s culture– one that is three generations removed from the Bible being taught in schools and 50% of Americans attending church each Sunday morning.

Here’s what I’ve learned

We live in a post-Christian world. We live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is one of several religions on every block. (Go ahead, walk down your block and ask all of your neighbors what religion they’d ascribe to. I dare you.)

And every day another person, claiming to be a Christian, is deemed newsworthy because they have defrauded people, or gotten away with child molestation, or supported some right-wing cause in the name of God. For skeptics or self-proclaimed agnostics or leavers or  even members of other faiths… each of these reinforces a stereotype or an idea that Christians are ____.

They simply don’t know any Christians who are legit, like you.

The Age of Living the Gospel

In a post-Christian world you are going to have to live the Gospel before your friends, family, and neighbors to the point where you are asked, “What is it about the way you live that I can have?” Or “I don’t know any other Christians like you. What makes you different than what I see on TV?

Within pluralism, experience trumps information. Experiencing the Gospel through a neighbor’s goodness, kindness, grace, and love cuts through the stereotypes and defies logic’s last stand. It’s not that information isn’t important. It’s that information isn’t trusted until the source is trust and that trust is validated through experience.

You see, it’s not that I don’t proclaim Christ. It’s that I let my very life do the talking.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~ Jesus said this in Matthew 5:16

We now live in a world where the person with the microphone and the big crowd is less trusted than the guy who mows his lawn every Saturday morning. You are legit while the person on the platform is a potential suspect.

In a post-Christian world, people will hear Good News only after they’ve experienced Good News from you.

The challenge for you is this: Do you have the guts to live a life that reflects Christ? 

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Photo credits: Billy Graham in the 1940s Youth for Christ Peoria, Jack Ryan mowing lawns by Liam Ryan via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Categories
hmm... thoughts

Caught between two religions

If you are a fan of storytelling, and chances are good that you are, you need to subscribe to the Moth podcast. The Moth is a non-profit organization dedicated to the art of live storytelling. They put on live storytelling events where members of the audience get a few minutes to tell a story, live and without notes, on a theme. The best stories make it onto the podcast. It’s 13 minutes I look forward to downloading each week.

The story I’m linking below is poignant for a couple of reasons. First, it’s great storytelling. Jen pulls you in. Second, because the content of her story is just a little too close to home for a lot of my friends. Jen is caught between two worlds, Evangelical Christianity and selling Mary Kay. In the end she isn’t sure which one she is selling anymore.

1. The Moth Podcast- Jen Lee - Targeted     

(Note to RSS readers – you can come to the site and listen to the audio)

As a communicator, storytelling is one of the things I wish I were a lot better at than I am. I’d kill to have a group of friends who regularly got together and practiced telling stories. Some ground rules, some themes, and some live audience feedback to refine the craft. Because ultimately, we need to tell stories that matter!

Categories
youth ministry

My Kids Aren’t Your Target Audience

Imagine the freedom of hearing this one phrase.

A parent affirming a youth pastor by saying, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

What would happen if parents stepped into their role and discipled their teenage children, and at the same time affirmed the church’s youth pastor by saying, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

Game changer.

G-A-M-E-C-H-A-N-G-E-R

The reason so many youth workers feel like babysitters or cruise directors is that they are regarded as such by many people in the pews. (And sadly, by their bosses and governing boards who see them as a way to attract or keep parents of teenagers.) The attitude is… “Well, we give money to the church which funds this persons salary and the program they run so we should allow the expert to pour into my kid and I’ll just step back, get the most for my money.

This makes some logical sense because its visible. But it is missing the point, missiologically and ecclesiologically.

Modern church youth ministry, as a movement, sprung out of parachurch ministries like Young Life and Youth for Christ in the 1950s-1960s who stepped up to answer the call the church would not… reach lost teenagers. It was primarily a method of evangelism. And it operated well outside of the walls of a church because the methods often used to get students interested in the Gospel freaked churchgoing adults out.

In the 1960s and 1970s churches woke up a bit and started hiring youth workers of their own. (Lots were former YFC and Young Life staff) And all of a sudden the vocation of youth pastor started to shift from something that looked like a missionary to something that looked like a pastor.

As things have morphed over the years many youth ministries focus has shifted from non-church teenagers to almost entirely church kids. Youth ministry has gone from being mostly about evangelism to mostly being about discipling church kids with an evangelism strategy which boils down to, “Bring a friend.

That’s a bad thing! And as I’ve said over and over again… we’re reaching a decreasing amount of the population with this strategy. Some try to dismiss me by claiming I’m just deconstructing. I’m not deconstructing, I’m calling the church to recognize her strategic failure and change!

Personal Example

I’ve always known this to be true. (That my churches job wasn’t to reach my kids, but to reach the lost.) But I suppose economic realities and race make it obvious enough for my dense mind to notice now that we go to a mission-styled church.

I don’t want my church reaching my kids. If I sit in on my churches kids ministry program and it is targeted at my kids I know something is wrong. Why? We’re a mission church in a neighborhood where 75% of the people don’t speak English in their home and even more are not from the U.S.A..

My kids aren’t the reason my staff raises support! I know this and I celebrate it. I’m pleased that my tithe doesn’t help create a ministry paradigm designed to disciple my kids. Why? That’s my job!

Their job is to reach the neighborhood!

Why is acknowledging this important?

  1. It changes my attitude from entitlement to supporting the mission of the church.
  2. It clarifies expectations.

Your Role as Parents

If you are like me, a Christian parent, your role is vital. Deuteronomy 6 is abundantly clear. A life with Jesus isn’t reserved for the temple. You’re to talk about God in all that you do, everywhere you go, and in your own home. You are to impress on your children that your faith is real. If you want your kids to believe in God it is up to you. If you leave it to your church to do you have failed as a parent. (If your church is telling you it is their job tell them they are wrong, they need to hear it.)

Your tithe is an offering to God not a ticket to entitlement to church programs. While it is our role to oversee and make sure that the church is not misappropriating funds– It is hardly an offering to God if it has strings attached to it which stipulate that the church will create programs to entertain and disciple your children.

Imagine

Imagine the freedom it would create to your church staff if you uttered this simple phrase, “My kids aren’t your target audience. Reach the lost.

Go ahead, try it.

Categories
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The New Four Spiritual Laws

new-4-spiritual-laws

In 1965, Bill Bright wrote the tract Four Spiritual Laws. It’s hard for us to believe this, but in its day it was a powerful and releavant tool for explaining the Gospel to people. In an America in where religious education was part of the public school education, it was based on a presupposition that God exists, that Jesus’ story is real and true, and that every person sinned.

Four Spiritual Laws was a tool that helped millions people, largely teens and young adults, connect the dots between what they knew to be true in their own lives, that they mess up, that they know there is a God but they don’t know if they can have a relationship with Him. And what they learned/memorized in grade school and high school.

Remember, up until 1964, children in America didn’t just pray in school, they were taught the story of God in the Bible, memorized Scripture, and were taught the tenants of the Protestant faith. Bill Bright was genius to create this tool that connected those dots!

The 1964 Supreme Court decision which cemented the abstract idea that the original founders of the United States wanted a literal separation between church and state amplified the culture wars between Evangelicals and “the world” that we see today. What started in 1964 in abstraction became a gulf of culture within a decade which made tools like Four Spiritual Laws irrelevant.

Obviously, those presuppositions are long gone in America today. Today, children in the church don’t grow up memorizing Scripture. Today, schools do not teach children about a monotheistic God. Today, schools are afraid to refer to Jesus Christ as a person in history for fear that a parent would cry “seperation of church and state!

Looking at the Four Spiritual Laws themselves, I don’t know if we would describe the four tenants of them in the same way. At the core this is the evangelical faith– hasn’t changed a bit. God loves you and wants a relationship with you. Your sin separate you from that relationship. Jesus Christ, by taking on your sin at the cross of Calvary made it possible to for you to know God anyway. By putting your faith in Jesus you can have a relationship with God and begin a new life in Him. Seriously, that’s not changed.

But methods have. Walking up to someone and asking if you can hand them or read them a tract is flat out offensive. (If you know people doing this in America, feel free to smack them.)

So have the secondary things in Four Spiritual Laws. People who come to Jesus do so for today as much as tomorrow. The Gospel we preach today isn’t just about eternal life, its about righting wrongs, bringing wholeness, restoration, and justice to today.

And so I am left to wonder. If Bill Bright were to write Four Spiritual Laws today, what would it look like? What form would it take? How would he capture the obvious from culture to connect the dots? What are common things we all believe in America which point us to a relationship with Jesus?

Categories
Church Leadership

How come?

I was reading a couple ministry blogs this morning who were talking about worship services they either produce or visited. I don’t need to link to them as they are easy enough to find.

Now that we go to a church with zero theatrics… and new people still come, and people still worship, and people still experience faith for the first time, and people still get connected, and people still give, and people are ever happy with our service!

It made me wonder… how come people always want to do more with their worship services and not less?

Why don’t bloggers brag about using one less camera man? One less drummer? One less actor? One less video screen? One less smoke machine? One less lighting board?

Why is more noteworthy and less not?

Why does over-the-top = excellence in worship?

I have my theories as to why this happens in America, England, and Australia but few other places in the world. But I’ll just ask my friends… why is this so? Am I the only one who is annoyed by the logic that more = blessing, less = curse in the church? Am I the only one that finds massive theatrical production odd for “church?” Am I the only one who wonders how odd it must be for visitors to walk into a theater fit for a broadway production of Rent?

Categories
hmm... thoughts

Lies of Youth Ministry, part 2

The second lie of youth ministry is that it is all about discipleship. This is a lie which starts with bad hermeneutics, continues with training built around selective theology, and is encouraged by inward looking church leaders.

Here’s how this lie plays out. Most youth ministers are wholly focused on building the size of their program. If they work for a church, having a large and busy youth program means that they can justify their salary and spend their time thinking about ways to add more programs to make their programs bigger and busier. If they work for a parachurch it’s even simpler as givers like to see numbers… as in the United States big numbers mean you are significant so “hundreds” sounds so much more significant  than “tens.”

The thinking of both is backwards because we think that if we disciple a lot of people, we will grow. And, if you are in a church context the busier you keep the church kids the more “discipleship” you are seen as doing from the bosses and parents perspective.

In fact, as I was trained, discipleship predicates evangelism. To state the lie more clearly, most youth ministries training programs teach that in order to reach more people we have to focus on training those you have. And some of the training I’ve received suggest 2-3 years of discipleship before you try to reach a single person.

Two quick theological points for this lie.

#1 Check out the parable of the lost sheep. When you do ministry in a community with “lost sheep” (meaning students who haven’t heard the gospel) do you think you should focus your attention on “the 99?” I think youth ministry should be focused primarily on evangelism and reaching the lost and secondarily mentoring the found. A lot of my fellow youth workers like to mention that Jesus only had a small discipleship group of 12. But let’s not forget that he had 12 disciples while reaching, feeding, and performing miracles to the multitudes.

#2 In a single sitting, read Acts 2-4. Go ahead. I’ll wait. So what did you see? I saw that the leaders didn’t wait for 2-3 years while new believers were being discipled. They were compelled by the urgency of the gospel! In fact, they discipled while reaching multitudes. The more institutional the church gets the less people they reach. So while many youth workers build programs, they miss thousands of opportunities to be on the front lines at their schools reaching lost kids day-by-day.

You see, if youth ministry is all about discipleship, it never would have gotten started in the first place! The reason parachurch youth ministry got rolling in the 40s-60s was because the “church” thought Jesus’s salvation was for the church kids.

Youth workers (paid, volunteer, expert, rookies) don’t get caught in the lie of reaching the found and being satisfied with the lost finding you. Coddling the apathetic, baysitting the saved, and entertaining the church’s youth is not why we do youth ministry. We do youth ministry to reach the lost!

And we disciple our church kids best by being Christ-like in our walk with Jesus. Read Acts 2-4 again... it’s a two-fold plan for discipleship, isn’t it?

Church leaders: Wanna see your church grow? Try reaching people without a program. Get out of the office and start serving IN your community instead of serving OUTSIDE of your community.

Part one: The 10% Rule

Part two: It’s about discipleship

Part three: You have to have a youth pastor