Woodstock Students Internship

WoodstockStudents logo - w topWe want to raise up the next generation of gospel-centered student ministry leaders and place them in significant student ministry positions around the world. We are looking for men and women who have a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a heart for students, and a love for the local church to serve as interns in the student ministry at First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA. Is that you or someone you know?

We believe student ministry should be about four things: gospel, relational, disciple, missional. We want to raise up students who are grounded in the gospel through all of the Scriptures and for all of life. We want truth to be communicated in the context of healthy relationships among students, leaders, families, and the lost. We want to make disciples who are following after Jesus and making more disciples. We want our students and leaders to live on a mission to make the gospel known and give God glory in every facet of life and to the ends of the earth.

As an intern, you will have the opportunity to minister on school campuses, lead discipleship groups, teach Sunday school, plan events, participate in mission trips, prepare worship services, connect with students, work with media, function as part of a team, and speak to hundreds. You will be coached by the First Baptist Woodstock staff, attend conferences, develop tools for ministry, read good books, gain invaluable experience, and be launched into significant ministry for the future. This is a full-time paid internship that lasts for one to two years and we provide housing. We have interns for both the middle and high school ministries.

Are you interested? We are looking for those who have a call to ministry, are presently involved in ministry, and have graduated at least high school but preferably college or seminary. Click on the link below to find out more and to fill out the application. Mail it to the address on the application or email it to Pastor Brian at brian.jennings@fbcw.net.

Student Ministry Intern Information and Application

If you still have questions about Woodstock Students, check us out at www.woodstockstudents.com.

You can also check us out on instagram and twitter @WoodstockSM, on YouTube and our Facebook page.

If this is something you want to be a part of, fill out the application, send it in, and we’ll go from there! If you have additional questions not answered in the packet, please email us. If God leads, we would love to have you as part of the team at Woodstock Students!

Have More Fun and Less Stress in Preaching!

bad-church-signs-hell1Preaching is one of the most glorious and frustrating tasks in ministry. It feels great to invest in the preparation of a message, deliver it with confidence and clarity, and witness God apply it to the lives of listeners. It also feels a lot less than great to struggle in the preparation of a message, deliver it with fear and fumbling, and wish you could run and hide after it’s all said and done.

Preaching is physically depleting; you speak energetically and animatedly for a long time. It’s emotionally draining; you pour yourself out and the needs of others in. It’s spiritually demanding; you must remain close to and speak for God. It’s mentally difficult; you need to explain, illustrate, and apply Scripture correctly and effectively. It’s personally daunting; your ministry hangs on communication and you’re constantly evaluated.

How do we preach so God is glorified, listeners are edified, and we aren’t terrified? How do we finish a message feeling good and not feeling like sending a resume to the postal service? I’ve finished a lot of messages less than satisfied. Here are six culprits I’ve identified in my preaching that can give me a strong desire to hide in the closet after a message.

Forcing the Bible into my own framework. I have a great message I want to communicate so I cram it into an unsuspecting passage. When the main point(s) of my message is NOT the main point(s) of the biblical author I’m headed for trouble; even if my point is implied in the text or based on godly wisdom. I spend more time away from the Bible, trying to connect my point to it, filling up space with my wisdom, and justifying my authority instead of resting on Scripture’s authority.

Fearing man and not God. I want to impress people. I want their praise. I want to appease critics. I want to avoid offense. I want more and better opportunities. I want visitors to come back, perpetually upset members to recant, and particular sinners to repent. Because of pride, I make man bigger than I make God and worry more about people reflecting my glory back to me than reflecting God’s glory back to Him.

Failing to balance and prune the message. When people lose interest in the message, it’s often because I failed to effectively illustrate and apply the biblical text. I exposit and exegete so long I leave my less biblically fit listeners in the dust. Other times I am overconfident in my content and ability; failing to prune what is unnecessary. As the message drags on and loads up on information, everyone is worn out including me.

Forgetting God’s ongoing work in my life. I forget I’m not preaching by accident. The Holy Spirit has been at work in my life preparing me and my listeners. My sanctification has come a long way but still has a long way to go. My ministry is bigger than my preaching. While it may be the most visible, it is not the only fruit of my ministry. I must deliver my message with a humble confidence in who God is and what He is doing in and through me.

Feeling other concerns and distractions. Yogi Berra famously said, “90 percent of the game is half mental.” I think he meant focus and concentration were crucial to baseball. They are even more crucial to preaching. When distractions from the worship service, church, people, circumstances, and life cloud my mind the message gets lost in the fog.

Finding identity in preaching and not the gospel. According to Ephesians 2, I was a dead slave of sinful desires and a child of wrath. But God, because of His great love, made me alive in Christ so I might know the riches of His grace for eternity. I did not earn this identity, it was a gift. When I’m a great preacher and lives are changed I add nothing to my identity in Christ. When I’m a sorry preacher and I can’t wait to get out of the building I have subtracted nothing from my identity in Christ. If I fail to rest in Jesus, preaching becomes a plea for validation, approval, and significance. If I rest in Jesus, I am free to make preaching all about the glory of God and the beauty of the gospel.

Ultimately, God can take our weakest messages and use them for His glory and let our best messages fall on deaf ears. Preaching depends on Him. And yes, some crowds are tough, spiritual warfare is real, and some things are beyond our control. We can’t manipulate our way to success. Yet, I’ve found if I stay true to the Bible, cultivate a fear of God, balance and prune the message, remember the bigger picture of God’s ongoing work, stay away from distractions, and seek my identity in the gospel my messages are much more fun. Hopefully these observations I’ve made of myself will be beneficial (I especially hope you enjoyed the alliteration in my main points). God help us bear the weight of preaching with the power and grace only He provides!

-Brian

Sports, Ponies & Humanity’s Quest for Community

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image2559459For centuries, most humans found community in fixed and enduring institutions, organizations, and groups. Strong communities were formed through family, religion, tradition, professional, ethnic and national identity. These communities remained relatively fixed and shaped the identities and destinies of their members.

Not so much anymore. Now the individual endlessly customizes, changes, and rearranges their life to fit their personal preference, deciding for themselves who they are and what they want to do. As a result, Millennials are abandoning traditional sources of community like a sinking ships. Half of all babies born to millennials are out of wedlock . Thirty percent now claim no religious preference. They expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Just under half claim to be patriotic persons.

Community based in God, family or country may be fading but the yearning for community is alive and well. Even as many choose not to identify with a religion, plenty are identifying with a team. Just half a century ago only 30% of Americans considered themselves sports fans. By 2012, the number had risen to above 60%. Sports feeds the hunger for community by uniting thousands of people across gender, class, and racial lines. We watch the games and buy the apparel to be accepted and then talk about our teams using pronouns like “we”, “us”, and “our.” Academics Chris Beneke and Arthur Remillard explain the phenomenon in an essay for The Washington Post,

“Modern sports stadiums function much like great cathedrals once did, bringing communities together and focusing their collective energy. This summer, the Archdiocese of New York is expected to outline plans to close or merge some of its 368 parishes; 26 Catholic schools in the archdiocese have ceased operation. By contrast, the city and the state of New Jersey spent hundreds of millions to build new baseball and football stadiums.”

Or consider the phenomenon of My Little Pony, a 22 minute cartoon promoting colorful toys for preteen girls that draws 12 million viewers, has 92,000 followers on Twitter and 815,000 on Facebook. The mantra of the show is that “friendship is magic” and it tells the story of six ponies whose friendship is the superpower that makes the world safe. This picture of community is contagious. It is estimated there are 7 to 12.4 million people in the United States who identify as “bronies” – a name that is a combination of “bro” and “pony” adopted by adult male fans of the show. These fans are typically college educated and between the ages of 15 and 35. They create artwork, post in forums, write fan fiction, wear “cutie marks”, attend conventions (8,000 attended BronyCon in Baltimore in 2013), and do charitable work. The show’s creator, Lauren Faust, explained to New York Magazine that “Friendship is Magic” came from her first real experience of friendship as a teenager:

When I made those friends, they were so precious to me. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the appeal of the show. When you take a look at the Bronies, they’re probably the odder kids in their school. They’re not typical. They must have caught on to that message under the surface of My Little Pony: that friendship means we’re all being ourselves and we’re all accepting of one another.

Humans hunger to be themselves and be accepted by a community. Whether that community is the Big Blue Nation of Kentucky basketball or BronyCon.

Yet our modern idea of community is contradictory. We want all the benefits of real, authentic, enduring community enjoyed by humans for centuries but on the terms of the individual; it cannot be too restrictive, time consuming, or dogmatic. We want community to make us better people while we cry foul every time it intrudes into our personal space. We want it to give us powerful emotional bonds while we remain noncommittal, options open. We want it to be meaningful and significant while we abandon ancient doctrines for slogans and trends. The community our culture wants ultimately doesn’t exist and the attempt to attain it will leave us empty and unsatisfied.

The church can be the answer. Not by conforming to culture’s design by stripping away doctrine, softening commands, and fluffing up worship, but by being the kind of community God gave us in the New Testament. A community that changes people because it has the audacity to intrude into life and tackle sin and suffering (Galatians 6:1-2). A community with strong bonds because it meets regularly for worship, encouragement, and service (Heb. 10:22-25) despite the costs. A community with eternal significance because it is united by enduring and revealed truth from God (Isaiah 40:8) rather than trends or products.

Many won’t accept the church because it’s not on their terms. Yet for those left empty by the culture’s version of community, the church can become salvation – not just from sin and death but from meaningless, anonymous isolation.

Community in the church doesn’t magically happen alongside of programming and a busy calendar. Many have turned to sports and internet for community because churches have failed to be what God has called them to be. Yet if the church has a passion and plan to get people into gospel community the world may see that “friendship is magic” can’t compete with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It may see that sharing a favorite team is small potatoes compared to sharing membership in the Kingdom of God.

The gospel is the best hope for a culture seeking out community in plastic toys and rubber balls. Are our churches working hard to build gospel-centered community that points the world to Jesus?

-Brian

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New Study Questions Religious Kids’ Grasp on Reality, but Should It?

childwonderThe 1999 Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, left many fans of the original trilogy scratching their heads. But as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks was, perhaps the most unsettling part of the movie was how it stripped away the mystery of “The Force.” In the first Star Wars movie (1977), Obi-Wan Kenobi explains:

…the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together…. A Jedi can feel the force flowing through him.

In The Phantom Menace, another Jedi Master reveals – through a blood test – that the force is actually caused by microscopic organisms called Midi-Chlorians which reside in living cells. There’s really no mystery about who is strong in the force. The same test that measures cholesterol can tell if a person has the chemistry to raise an X-Wing Fighter out of a swamp. In other words, the real menace of the first Star Wars prequel is that it kills the mystery and awe that existed long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Enter a new study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science. According to a Huffington Post article, the study claims “young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.” It went on to describe how researchers had come to their conclusion:

Researchers presented 5- and 6-year-old children from both public and parochial schools with three different types of stories — religious, fantastical and realistic –- in an effort to gauge how well they could identify narratives with impossible elements as fictional.

The study found that, of the 66 participants, children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school were significantly less able than secular children to identify supernatural elements, such as talking animals, as fictional.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but 66 participants? It sounds like these researchers went to two classrooms in an afternoon and decided to publish a paper on it. To claim all children who grow up with religious teaching may confuse fact and fiction based on 66 five and six year olds seems a stretch.

But let’s say the study is accurate. This would only concern us if we buy into two unwarranted and unproven assumptions.

First, that materialistic naturalism is true. Or to put it another way, there is nothing real beyond what we can measure with our senses and science. Commenting on this study, Yale professor of psychology Paul Bloom said, “The problem with certain religious beliefs isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.” So there you have it. The problem isn’t that young children might believe a fantastic story but that they might believe the wrong fantastic story; a religious one instead of a naturalistic, scientific one. But if one doesn’t arrogantly presume religious claims to be false, there is no reason to be concerned.

Second, that one of the goals of our progress is to strip the world of a five year old of its awe and mystery. Going back to Star Wars, the introduction of Midi-Chlorians ruined the concept of “The Force” for many fans because it took the fantastic, untamable energy that bound the galaxy together and made it ordinary and measurable. Is that what we want to do to our children? Suck the wonder out of the world ‘cause science says it ain’t so? And if it’s not what we want to do, then why does this study even matter? Is the measure of a healthy five year old that he knows miracles don’t happen or that he laughs, runs, and plays while imagining adventures with dragons?

Eventually our children will grow up and have to face the harsh realities of the world. But it is fantastic awe and wonder that that makes the world better. C.S. Lewis once answered the objection that children should not be told fairy tales in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by saying:.

Fairy stories do awaken desires in children, but most often it’s not a desire for the fairy world itself. Most children don’t really want there to be dragons in modern England. Instead, the desire is for “they know not what.” This desire for “something beyond” does not empty the real world, but actually gives it new depths. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”**

If religious stories and fairy tales do connect with the desires of children for “something beyond” why is that bad? As they grow older they will be able to determine for themselves the truth of these stories. In the meantime, let them live in the wonder and mystery. As Albert Einstein said,

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

If all true art and science comes from the experience of the mysterious then we should spend less time studying children’s ability to define reality and more time letting them stand in awe and wonder. They may be on to something in the world that dreary, hardened, adult researchers have silenced long ago.

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. –Psalm 78:3-4

Brian

**paraphrased by Jon Rigney in the article “Three Objections to Fairy Tales and C.S. Lewis’ Response” posted at Desiring God (http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/three-objections-to-fairy-tales-and-c-s-lewiss-response)

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Climate Change: Everybody Needs an Apocalpyse

climate-changeBrian Williams sounded the alarm about a new U.N. climate report on NBC’s Nightly News this week, stating that “Unless the world changes course quickly and dramatically, the fundamental systems that support human civilization are at risk.” He was flanked on each side by images of forest fires, floods, and mudslides. The story moved to NBC’s chief environmental correspondent, Anne Thompson, who was standing in New Jersey where super-storm Sandy had blown through. She warned that coastal communities could soon disappear, beginning a montage of scary images with warnings of deadlier storm surges, hotter fires, and shrinking glaciers. Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton Geosciences and International Affairs explained that everyone who lives in cities, along coasts, or who eats wheat or corn is in trouble. To make matters worse, the ocean is becoming more acidic, killing coral reefs and the shellfish industry. There will be more droughts, hotter summers, and no one will escape the consequences.

It gave me a bit of a flashback. Not to my last trip to the recycling bin, but to Sunday school when I first learned about the end of the world. There I learned God’s judgment would fall on all who did not change course quickly and dramatically. Wars and natural disasters would sweep through the world, everyone would receive the mark of the beast, and no one would escape the consequences.

Everybody needs an apocalypse. Humanity seems to be hardwired for judgment. We know our conduct has been less than admirable and should earn some epic consequences. As Revelation 11:18 says:

The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.

Look at the popularity of recent dystopian series and movies like Divergent, The Hunger Games, Oblivion, Elysium, the Walking Dead, etc. We seem to know our actions will create a less than satisfying future.

But what happens when you have a secular worldview? When religion with its supernatural prophecies is pushed out or to the periphery? You still need an apocalypse. And that is why our culture needs climate change. As President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address, “The debate is settled, climate change is a fact.”

Yet as Charles Krauthammer points out in his column “The Myth of Settled Science,” the facts of climate change are not so simple. There has been no change in global temperature in 15 years according to Britain’s national weather service. The climate change models predicted a wet California, not a dry one like we have today. Superstorm Sandy, the poster child for climate-driven storms, is largely unimpressive compared to past hurricanes to hit New York; three caused damage to the state in 1954 alone. 2013 saw the fewest Atlantic hurricanes in 30 years. Arctic ice was supposed to disappear by 2013 but experienced a 60% increase that same year.

I’m not affirming or denying man-made climate change. As Christians, we are called to take care of the planet regardless of the temperature. The point is that despite complex and often contradictory evidence, proponents of climate change will accept no debate; like a religious believer who refuses to entertain the prospect that Jesus isn’t returning or their loved ones aren’t reincarnating.

Climate change is a story that gives meaning to the lives of secular people. The story goes something like this – we were created by blind nature, have sinned by polluting that nature, and if we fail to repent we will bring about the end of the world in a judgment of super storms, droughts, fires, heat, and floods leading to starvation, wars, and death. This story gives meaning to otherwise purposeless lives. One can save the planet and the future by turning off lights, conserving water, recycling, driving a Prius, eating organic, reducing carbon footprints, composting trash, and voting for environmentally-minded politicians. Just as each minor action in a religious believer’s life has meaning because of God’s judgment, so each minor action to fight climate change has meaning because of nature’s judgment.

If we didn’t have climate change we’d probably have to invent it. That’s why, after the failure of past climate change models, scientists simply create new ones with slightly adjusted horrors. It’s eerily similar to the failure of various Christian dates and scenarios of the apocalypse from the 16th century Anabaptists to Harold Camping’s 2011 prediction of Jesus’ return. Judgment is hardwired into us all as Paul writes in Romans 2:15

[Gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.

The law written on our hearts accuses us but the slow fade of religious influence in the West has left us without recourse. We need judgment and we need a way to appease it. The NBC Nightly News report was not about degrees Celsius, inches of ice, or levels of acidity as much as it was about a story – a story of humanity’s environmental sin against a judgmental planet that will result in terrible consequences if we do not repent and live differently. In a secular age, this is might be the best religion our culture can preach.

-Brian

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Your Worship Service is Not the Super Bowl

Chargers Seahawks FootballThe freezing forecast for Super Bowl 2014 is less than favorable for players, ticket holders and media. No doubt there will be abundant commentary throughout, noting the devotion of fans, bundled and camped in their seats for hours. It’s the perfect opportunity for pastors to highlight the commitment of sports fans in contrast with the lesser commitment of congregants to worship God in warm, dry sanctuaries for only an hour. Some might even draw comparisons between the amount of cheering and clapping, hinting that God deserves more enthusiasm than the Broncos.

Christians are certainly guilty of worshipping lesser gods. Sporting events are one of the easiest to pick on because of the similarities shared with worship services (a few leading many to celebrate a mutual love). It’s possible, however, that this comparison has run its course.

The enthusiasm at sporting events is easy to understand. You are gathered with thousands of people who share an affinity for a team and game to enjoy a singular event. There’s music, cheers and the possibility of victory. Win or lose, everyone goes home and life goes on. We do not live our lives under the umbrella of sports. We don’t spend time contemplating how our decisions impact our devotion to them. We do not study the lives of players and coaches, searching for direction and wisdom. We do not truly love them with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We don’t look to sports for meaning and purpose; we look to them for enjoyment.

I’ve heard several pastors, worship leaders and speakers rebuke Christians for loving sports more than Jesus because their reserved worship countenance was no match for their mayhem at Friday’s game.  I sometimes sense the temptation in my own heart to turn and glare at the hollow, bored faces during worship and scold them for their apathy. Are they listening to the lyrics? Do they realize how blessed they are to gather freely and worship the risen Christ? In spite of this, I fear that soliciting amens, claps and smiles yields confusion and fakeness. Here are six reasons why worship doesn’t look like a sporting event:

Not everyone understands. I sat behind a woman at a football game once who spent the entire time looking at her phone. I heard her husband say things like, “Now that is the end zone.” She never cheered once. Why? She didn’t understand football. Worship services are filled with non-Christians and some Christians who have forgotten the gospel. They are present and singing (have been for years), but they don’t really get the cross. They don’t truly understand their sinfulness, God’s character and His gift of salvation. They aren’t going to be outwardly excited because they have no reason to be.

Some people are sad. A woman shared with me that two weeks after her husband of 40 years died, she walked into worship and the pastor asked, “Where’s that smile? Aren’t you glad to be here?”It stung. Sanctuaries are filled with the sick, abused, divorced, addicted, abandoned, mourning, infertile and many other hurts. However, sadness isn’t always personal. Tim Keller once said Christianity makes you a sadder person; as we mature in Christ, everything that makes God sad (worldwide tragedy, sin and consequences) will sadden us. These realities do not stop on Sunday. The saddest people can have joy in Christ and worship God without excitement. Sometimes, a joyful noise is a tear hitting a lapel.

There’s more than one worship expression. It’s difficult to claim worship must always include visible enthusiasm because the Bible never commands it. Scripture is full of different worship expressions.  Sometimes people are silent and turned away from God’s face; other times they are kneeling before Him and crying. Others are dancing, singing and shouting. Elevating one visible response over another is irresponsible. Worship is expressed many ways.

The Bible describes corporate worship. Paul took great care explaining rightful worship to the Corinthians. When his instructions are boiled down, he had one basic message: there is right, orderly way to worship God corporately. Must a worship service match the energy of a sporting event? Paul didn’t say one way or another.  His instructions do not forbid exuberant worship, but they do not demand it. The Psalms describe both jovial and reverent worship, but do not command either.

God is holy. God has zero sin, I have lots of it and I sometimes fail to confess it prior to Sunday. If God reveals my sin alongside His holiness, I will not be excited about it. I will be broken. My worship activity will reflect this. I will not throw Him the casual cheers I gave my team a day earlier. I will most likely worship silently with reverent fear. The Israelites feared God’s presence would kill someone if they entered it wrongfully. Even though we have the benefit of a torn veil, we must think on how we march through it.  

God is complex. The story of God and His redemption isn’t one dimensional like sports (“We win and Satan loses!”). Christians do not worship God only because Jesus died and rose again. The previous week’s happenings may cause us to focus on God’s power and provision. Other times, our Bible study may force us to wrestle with difficult truths about God’s sovereignty. Hymns and sermons inspire worship, reminding us of temptation, eternity, a forgotten aspect of God’s character, etc. The Christian will worship God for different reasons in different ways, depending on what God is doing in their circumstances, hearts and minds.

Our actions in a worship service are different than those at a football game because our objectives are different. We attend sporting events to enjoy them; it is okay to jump, yell and cheer. We attend worship services to know and worship God. Sometimes, there will be cheering. Other times, there will be silence.  My point is not that Christians should never be visibly excited in worship. My point is Christians can rightly worship God without visible excitement as our culture measures it.

If you’re sanctuary doesn’t look like a stadium, no need to worry. There’s probably more worship taking place than meets the eye. Truth over time planted in the hearts of Christians will yield authentic worship, expressed authentically. There will be tears, stillness, raised hands, bowed heads, giant grins, soft voices and loud shouts. Instead of wishing your church was more excited, exalt the One who inspires eternal excitement (and it’s not Peyton Manning).

-Emily

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