Tag Archives: gospel

Why Youth Ministry Methodology Matters

After a 3-day Rooted Ministry conference in Dallas, I’ve been reading back through my notes and seriously want to share it all. Honestly, it probably will trickle out into this space. Two of the key note speakers this week were Scott Sauls and Jen Wilkin so if you are familiar with their teaching/writing you know why it was so good! Plus, workshops were led by Walt Mueller (founder & president of Center for Parent/Youth Understanding), pastors, practitioners and licensed counselors, like Sharon Hersh (author of 8 books on addiction, parenting, etc), all of whom specialize in the realm of teens. I learned so much from one workshop (my friend Alice’s) on Teen Stress and Anxiety I even typed up my notes in an email to someone.

To back up a bit, Rooted is a ministry seeking to transform the way youth ministry is done through educating, equipping and encouraging youth leaders across denominational lines with grace-driven and cross-centered content. I got acquainted with Rooted a couple years ago after my publisher suggested I reach out to Rooted founder Cameron Cole to endorse my first book. I did, and he did.

Since that time I have been a contributor to the Rooted blog and have traveled to multiple cities for Rooted related speaking events, including this recent conference. And now for the next three years I will be serving on the Rooted Steering Committee.

So why am I so passionate about Rooted?

Statistics tell us approximately 70% of kids who grow up in the church will leave the church upon college and adulthood. Did you get that? Sadly, this number is not inflated! I’ve written about that in the past here.

The reason for this stark reality stems from a lack of gospel teaching to our students. Instead of discipling them in how to read their Bibles as the one story about Jesus so they see his goodness and grace to them in light of their badness, we spoon feed them feel good nuggets, morality and law. We focus more on entertainment, fun and games then the hard truths of Scriptures and the inner working of their hearts. And along the way we lead them to believe Christianity is based on their good behavior not his. All reasons why I wrote Get Your Story Straight.

Instead we need to help teens see their need of a Savior, which includes seeing the depth of their sin. Sin is not just outer behavior, but the inner desires of our heart, the selfish motivations, the idolatry and misplaced identity. When we don’t go there we falsely assume we are pretty good and don’t see our deep need of rescue and redemption.

Therefore it is said, our view of God rises or falls proportionally to our view of sin. If we aren’t that bad, what Jesus did for us living the perfect life and dying on the cross isn’t that great. But to the extent we know our sinfulness, the greater our love for him will be.

To see how this plays out with youth ministry, imagine you have a student who grew up in the church and was primarily taught what to do (have a quiet time, go to church, be nice) and what not to do (don’t drink, have sex, look at pornography). The student followed the “laws” and everyone considered him a “good” Christian. Or, maybe the student didn’t obey, but hid his sin so everyone around thought he was a “good” Christian.

What happens when he goes off to college and messes up?

He is likely shocked by his sin and filled with shame. Phrases like, “How could you do that?” flood his mind as he beats himself up. Yet at the same time he secretly found the sinful behavior to be fun. He still resolves to do better or try harder next time, but he struggles to follow through. Each time he fails to live up to what he should do the more shame is heaped upon him. Eventually, like the friends who are freely enjoying not having to hide their sin anymore, the shame sends him running from the church. “How could God love someone like me?” is all he’s left with.

But now consider the the student rooted in the gospel of Christ. This student knows in her sin she can go boldly to the throne of grace. She’s been growing in this truth for years because she’s been taught to trace her behaviors down to the root to discern her heart. Therfore, she isn’t shocked by her sin and she knows but by grace our human default is sin. There is nothing within her that is worthy, but it is Jesus’ worth and work for her that makes her right. This student is able to live transparently and freely admit her sin without fear of condemnation because she knows He is strong where she is weak. And while she continues to be grieved by her sin, she knows she is always met by God’s unending accepatance and love. She longs to obey, not out of duty, but out of worship and praise. And she knows she needs to constantly hear the gospel preached (at church and being in the word) to reorient her mind back to the truth the selfie world she lives in seeks to distort.

Do you see the difference?

It makes sense to me why kids abandon the church. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What these kids are leaving is not true Christianity. But they don’t “get” that because the gospel has been so diluted or misconstrued.

Let’s teach our kids the gospel of who Jesus is for us, because it is the power to salvation. It is freedom from sin and shame. And we didn’t even talk about how only the true gospel speaks to suffering and serves as the only hope in this broken world.

I love what Rooted Ministry is doing because in helping youth leaders and parents of teens raise up teenagers who know and rest in Christ alone, these students, their future marriages, families, relationships and the church at large will be transformed. To God be the glory! Let’s steep our students in the Word about Christ. Let’s flip the statistics, as we at Rooted like to say!

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Sounding the Siren on the Teen Suicide and Mental Health Crisis

Last Saturday night my nephew went to his prom, as high school seniors all over the country are doing this month and have been looking forward to.  But for he and his group of friends to get dressed to go have fun at prom was no easy thing. In fact, there had been discussion about whether they should – or even could – make themselves go. The reason: just days before the unimaginable changed everything for their tight-knit small town community.

One of my nephew’s best friends, who should’ve been with them at prom, committed suicide. Today my nephew will be serving as a pall bearer.

When my brother-in-law called my husband with the tragic news, it was the second suicide within two days for us hear about. The day before a friend of mine in another city had shared with me about her son’s friend doing the same.

Teen suicide is on the rise.

Research shows from 1986 to 2014 suicide rates steadily declined, but in just the last three years it has jumped back up by a quarter. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rise is occuring within every age group under 75, and with both men and women. But the percent increase among young people is highest, especially girls between the ages of 10-14 (www.npr.org). Also noted: 90% of those who commit suicide had an underlying mental health issue.

As an author and speaker on teen topics, and a parent of one who has struggled with an eating disorder and depression, mental health issues and their far-reaching effects is something I’ve become more keenly aware of in the last few years. All mental health issues have been on the rise.

Many factors are at play, but I think the connection to the increase of social media during this same time period plays a huge part. Behind the scenes (and screens) teens are consumed by comparison and struggling under enormous pressure. Pressure to be seen as perfect -to be perfect- in every realm.  Failure to measure up, whether by self-imposed or external standards, leads to great insecurity, self-hatred and shame that can quickly spiral downward.  Without meaning to oversimplify or negate other causes, the fact more teens and college students than ever before are struggling with depression and anxiety goes hand in hand.

This heartbreaking reality should serve as a big red flag to the church, parents of teens, and those who work with teens. While I do not presume to know or speak to the reasons behind the aformentioned suicides, “events that produce feelings of failure or loss, such as getting in trouble, having an argument, breaking up with a partner, or receiving a bad grade on a test” are reasons listed on healthychildren.org that lead teens to make the rash decision to take their own life. And I would add that looking at life through a selfie grid is what blinds them – and all the rest of us – to the hope of the One who looks upon us with compassion, showers us with forgiveness and grace, and promises to make all things new.

As the church and as parents, we can do alot of prevention simply by helping our kids look outside of self and pointing them to the One who measured up perfectly for them*.  Christ did everything necessary to achieve God’s perfect standard for us. And he gave us this identity when he went to the cross bearing our sin and failures in exchange for his perfect performance. So when our kids mess up they need the grid of the gospel to see who Jesus is for them. When our kids feel hopeless or less than, they need the grid of the gospel to see the One who promises hope and a future in a life centered on him – not self.

I know this is easier said than believed. Only God can open eyes and hearts to accept his goodness and grace. But he tells us in his word that in the gospel is the power for salvation and to transform lives. It is the healing balm our souls need to hear, over and over again. So when we talk to our teens and walk alongside those in our circles, let’s not be okay with just keeping conversation on the surface. Let’s dig deeper so we know how to apply the gospel truth to specific areas of their lives. Let’s also help them see we “get” it because we too forget who Jesus is for us and we too need the gospel to penetrate our hearts. And above all, let’s pray for a generation of young people who desperately need to see the glories of who Jesus is for them and to know he is with them.

Suicide and mental health struggles do not have the final word. At the cross Christ triumphed once and for all over sin and Satan to set us free. This is our great hope as we persevere in this life, looking to him as the author and the finisher of our faith.

* Additional article on talking to your teens, click here.                  Suicide resource book for the church: here.

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The True Love Warrior

This has been an interesting year of politics and culture. While I have mostly refrained from publicly engaging in the hot button issues and other current events, it is not because I lack strong opinions. I did, however, lack the proper time to develop thoughtful, educated responses so I never felt like it was right to stick my neck out unless I had something of substance to add to all the rhetoric.  Much of what is written and said in the media, blogs and on social media is so emotionally charged it only serves to preach to the choir of whichever side the article slants, and I never want to write just for people who think like me.

But what I have been pondering over, been mystified by and most saddened about this year is the diminishing belief in absolute truth by those who identify as believers in Christ.

Truth has been redefined and the authority of Scripture no longer broadly accepted. Instead of God’s Word ruling our hearts and informing our governing laws (even with a separation of church and state) self-truths now dictate. In this post-modern culture, the majority see individuals determining their own truth as a good and necessary step in the right direction. But “to each his own” is leading to a society more centered on self than ever before.

The fact non-Christians reject the Word of God as truth is not surprising. It’s that so many Christians are now embracing the same worldview. Yes, at any given moment both the believer and non-believer “trade the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the created instead of the Creator himself…”  But for the believer, with the indwelling influence of the Spirit, a struggle leading to conviction and ultimately repentance should accompany sin. When it doesn’t, when guilt and the acknowledgment of sin is no longer present, and a proclaimed believer justifies and becomes okay with living, thinking and acting contrary to God’s word, truth has been reframed.

Because of this shift among said believers, the church is no longer a light on the hill. Where we are called to influence the world with truth and light, we have instead been molded in it’s image. And now as if we are god, we have tried to remake Christianity according to what we think love and acceptance should look like.

Christianity is about love and acceptance; it’s why Jesus came.  But Christianity cannot be separated from truth. Jesus, the Word of God, is Truth. His Truth: the Light of the world.

Never once did Jesus water down his message of truth to be more loving and accepting, and yet those living contrary to his word flocked to him and believed. Throughout the gospels we see sinners saved by grace because they heard the truth of who Jesus is for them and knew they needed what he offered. His righteousness given to the guilty as a gift. Grace. Acceptance on the basis of his perfect life, not their right living. Grace. Lives transformed because he first loved them. Grace.

He was the True Love Warrior. The One who came to conquer sin, death and the devil because he loves sinners. The One who gives true life and holds us tight.

True love is never separated from truth, and apart from truth how can anyone see life cannot be found in self, but only in the One who gave himself up to make God’s love known to the world?

The truth of God’s word toned down will never be the gift of life. So my prayer this New Year is Christians would see as sin our acceptance of a worldview not centered on the truth of God’s word.  And when we do may we, the Church universal, be light and life to a world set on self. A safe and welcoming friend to sinners just like us who need to hear about the grace and mercy of our Savior.

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