youth ministry

You aren’t going to change

On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan

Researchers found that only 28 percent of biology teachers consistently follow the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology. At the other extreme, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism, and spend at least an hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.

That leaves what the authors call “the cautious 60 percent,” who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives. In various ways, they compromise.

Read the rest

Here’s the kicker to the article: (read carefully)

But Dr. Moore is doubtful that more education is the answer. “These courses aren’t reaching the creationists,” he said. “They already know what evolution is. They were biology majors, or former biology students. They just reject what we told them.

No doubt this article will make a lot of Christians chuckle. As a whole we aren’t big fans of evolution, nor are we fans of the compulsory indoctrination of children to the theory.

In truth– we should cringe at what this reveals about our condition in youth ministry. We do the same thing.

Just like schools can’t get biology teachers to teach evolution the way the government requires, we often refuse to change the ways we minister to students. Just like America’s biology teachers, we can read study after study or attend seminar after seminar… but we are ultimately going to teach the way we want to teach using methods we want to use. To quote the article, “They just reject what we told them.

If it was good enough to reach us, it must be good enough to reach today’s teenagers. Right? Wrong.

Truth + human behavior = no change

  • I could overwhelm you with evidence that your communication methods are ineffective. And you wouldn’t change.
  • I could show you longitudinal research proving that your programs don’t deepen a students walk with Jesus. And you wouldn’t change.
  • I could prove, from your own experience, that other methods of teaching Biblical truth could deeply impact your students. And you would not change.
  • I could show you study after study that shows that the way you do youth ministry reaches a decreasing percentage of students in your population. And you wouldn’t change.
  • I could point you to studies which show how certain types of strategies affect long-term change while others seem like they affect long-term change but ultimately don’t. And you wouldn’t change.

That’s not how change works. You and I don’t change for rational reasons. We say we do. But we don’t.

You can’t expect change from people who won’t acknowledge their failure.

Some of you will read that list above and say… “But if you showed me that evidence, I’d change.” No– you probably wouldn’t. You might say you will. But if I come back to you in six months you’d fill my time with excuses.

  • This is a big organization, it takes time to turn the Titanic. (True, but it sank in just a few hours.)
  • I couldn’t convince leadership to make any of those changes. (Um, and they call you a leader?)
  • We already had a plan when we learned those things, but we are planning on implementing them this summer. (Really? I bet if the internet broke in your building you’d get it fixed today.)
  • I want to do things differently but we run this ministry as a team. (Consensus is the way to go. Just ask the federal government how that’s working for them.)

Change is intrinsic. That’s why extrinsic evidence is often a waste of brain cells.

You won’t change who you minister to until something changes in your heart. You won’t change how your programs work until something changes inside of you. Your behavior won’t change until you take the time to internalize who you are, what you believe, why you do this, and count the cost of change.

Take a moment to read this from Alcoholics Anonymous. They deal with the same problem every day. Change starts inside of you!

Each of us in youth ministry is faced with the same challenge. We are called by God to help adults form meaningful connections with adolescents. And we are called to go and reach students with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Will we continue to do things the way we have always done them and watch the church reach 8% of the population. 7%, 5%, 2%… 1%. Or will we snap out of our trance, look in the mirror, and make the changes in ourselves needed to reverse that trend?

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Church Leadership Good News

Cultural Engagement Strategy


Photo by Stuart Boreham via Flickr (Creative Commons)


Have you ever opened your eyes underwater? You know, without goggles?


All of the underwater world is a blur. Sure, you can see stuff but you can only see things nearby and its nothing like what you see on a National Geographic special.

Then someone hands you a set of goggles and you go back underwater. It’s an entirely different experience. If you are shallow enough and the water is clear, you can see the bottom. You can see fish and rocks and plant life.

The difference is quick and obvious.

This is the same experience I feel that most people in full-time church ministry go through. They are underwater in the culture they live in without goggles on.

Most churches are failing to reach the culture because they lack a strategy to engage the culture they live in.

The staff needs goggles so they can actually see what is happening, not just 5 feet in front of their face and fuzzy, but all the way to the bottom!

Any ministry professional can do the math. Add up the amount of people who are actually attending the churches in their community, divide it by the population and you can see that the Gospel is not winning. In most communities you’ll find less than 10% of the population goes to any church more than once a month. In the most reached communities you’ll find about 30%. (Go ahead, spend the 30 minutes to do so with your zip code if you don’t believe me.)

That’s an F for the church. The church is underwater in the culture it is supposed to thrive in. Jesus calls us to reach the whole world (100%) with the message of the Gospel and we’re at 3%-30%. Not awesome.

It’s no wonder why…

  • Christian colleges and seminaries focus little on engaging culture. I’ve visited a fair number of them and most of their students describe their campuses as a bubble. (Meaning they don’t engage the community around them very well.)
  • Churches are notoriously insulated from culture.
  • Churches tend to hire people who have spent the vast majority of their adult life either in a Christian college, a seminary, or the local church. All places which are notoriously bad at engaging with culture.

The result is an “us vs. them” mentality. It’s a simpletons philosophy of cultural engagement.

And it isn’t working.

I once visited a church that had the following truism painted in big letters on the wall of their foyer. “Through you we have access to every single person in our community.

That is true. But if we aren’t teaching people how to engage with those people in a meaningful way it’s empty access.

I believe that people working at churches across the country and around the world are good people. They are in ministry because they want to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. (e.g. The right reason for being in ministry.)

I believe that the vast majority of people who are frustrated in their ministry calling are frustrated because they feel stuck… a ministry life isn’t what they thought it was… and that frustration will be eased if they stop focusing their time on running programs for people who come to church and start focusing their time on reaching people who don’t come to church.

5 Steps to Creating a Cultural Engagement Strategy for Your Church

  1. (observe) Lock your church staff out of the office for a week and each of them visit 10 parishioners at their places of work. (More on this idea)
  2. (engage) Implement 3 of these 10 ways your church can be good news to the closest public school to your church office.
  3. (engage) Implement 3 of these 10 ways your church can be good news to the neighborhood your church building is in.
  4. (strategy) Schedule a 2 day off-site retreat with your entire staff and leadership team to share what you’ve learned in items 1-3, and create a strategy which continues to foster engagement between members of the church and the community the church ministers in. (Cover my travel and I will facilitate this retreat for free, if your church will commit to doing items 1-3 beforehand.)
  5. (implementation) Take whatever steps are necessary to become a church wholly focused (Maybe possessed is the right word?) on meaningfully engaging the needs of your churches immediate area for the sake of the Gospel prevailing.

Before people will hear Good News you have to become a church which is Good News.

Books Church Leadership Funny Stuff

C.S. Lewis is to Christians What…

C.S. Lewis, famous dead man

C.S. Lewis is to Christians what McDonalds is to American children. C.S. Lewis is to Christians what beer pong is to college students. C.S. Lewis is to Christians what Dave Ramsey is to those who suck with money.

I first heard of C.S. Lewis in 6th grade. Lori, the girl who sat behind me and I had a crush on, read the Chronicles of Narnia. Every day during our free time she ignored me so she could read these books. I was trying to impress this girl with my witty humor and dashing 6th grade looks and these silly books were getting in the way.

From there, I never heard him referred to until college. He was never referred to in an English or literature class. As a freshmen at Moody Bible Institute I got exposed to the cult of Lewis. My roommate had the full set of weathered and dog-eared Narnia books. He claimed he re-read them every year. In classes, people referenced him in nearly every speech and practice sermon. I took a literature class where a professor read from a Lewis book with a quivering voice before reverently closing the book and clearing her throat. I heard story after story from people who had profound experiences with Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters.

On and on it went. Through college it just seemed to get more intense. After college the child-like fascination I saw as a student mushroomed into something more bizarre as I stepped into church leadership.

Here’s what I’ve learned from being in the church 18 years…

  • American Christians have a love affair with C.S. Lewis.
  • We quote him like he’s a 4th member of the trinity. Lewis is that authoritative in most Christian circles.
  • A C.S. Lewis quote book might as well be the 67 book of the Bible in most preachers hands. Not sure how to move a point? Quote Lewis!
  • I’d be willing to bet that on any given Sunday in America there are more references to C.S. Lewis in sermons than there are references to the Old Testament. Do a study… my money is on Lewis.

As you can tell, I’m a little tired of Clives. (OK, a lot) I’m happy for those who have had profound experiences through his words. It is really cool to me that his books have meaning to so many people. I’m not a hater. I don’t hate Lewis. I’ve read Lewis’ stuff. (How do you think I graduated from Moody?) I just don’t revere his work as magical. I think he’s OK, but mediocre compared to authors of his era.

But lets keep Lewis in perspective. He is not God. His words are not to be more revered than Scripture. His words shouldn’t be quoted as if they are Scripture. I think he’d probably be ashamed of how highly he is revered in some Christian circles. Let’s call it what it is… idolatry.

A dose of reality for fans

C.S. Lewis is not the great literary genius Christians claim him to be. Comparing him to his contemporaries reveals it. Is he of greater literary significance than any of these?

I could go on. I went through some lists of the top authors/books of the 20th century… you won’t find Lewis in any top 20 list. Random House doesn’t even have a Lewis book in the top 100 of either their editors or readers selections.

But the point is simple: There’s a lot of hero worship of C.S. Lewis going on.

Knock it off.