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!

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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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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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Ruled by Machines? The Church’s Love of Technology

Calvin-worship-TVI want to challenge an assumption – that all technology is good and should be uncritically embraced by the church.

In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists discovered a way to clone dinosaurs using DNA found inside fossilized mosquitoes. They turned this discovery into a theme park based on their new creations. In a tour of the park, mathematician Ian Malcolm – played by Jeff Goldblum – remarks:

“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

While the church’s uncritical use of technology won’t result in giant lizards snacking on humans as it did in Jurassic Park, the same critique leveled by Malcolm against the scientists could be leveled at the church. In our American love affair with technology we simply don’t pause in our rush to adapt every new advance to our lives and the church.

Is replacing physical Bibles with Bible apps always a good idea? Will a generation that only types Bible references into a search bar understand the context as well as generations who turned its pages? How are worship services changed by video screens ever increasing in size, clarity and centrality? Are congregations taught by a video preacher worse, the same, or better than those with a flesh and blood preacher? Is something lost or gained when giving is done online instead of as part of the liturgy? Can lights, sound, and production reach the point of distraction or is more always better? Does the use of technology to connect the church to the culture become so successful that the church only feels like an extension of that culture?

Just asking these questions can be dangerous. One might be labeled a “dinosaur”, lampooned as “irrelevant”, or accused of not caring about “reaching people.” Two weeks ago Matthew Barrett at The Gospel Coalition questioned the wisdom of bringing an iPad into the pulpit. It generated 226 comments that contained such ire you would think he suggested women should only wear dresses. He was accused of bibliolatry, legalism, and setting back the church.

Yet, how did we end up in a place where it’s okay to question the Bible’s teachings but not the medium through which we communicate those teachings? Have we unwittingly embraced America’s technology idolatry? In our culture, we trade in our phone for a newer one every few months, take on debt to finance our flatter and wider television, and calm our toddlers with Sesame Street on the tablet. We are in trouble when worship services, churches, and Christian lives become about adapting God to technology instead of the other way around.

In 2005, Passion Conferences hosted a gathering of over ten thousand college students in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there for the final night of the conference which featured a late night worship service, one of the centerpieces of which was a giant LED wall that had the capability to display bright, stunning images and split into four moving parts. It was an awe-inspiring addition to the worship. However, the next morning at the closing session, speaker Louie Giglio made this confession:

All of a sudden I realized from the Spirit of God that I’m enthralled by the wall. I’m just in awe of it. I’m almost worshiping the wall. I turned around and walked under the stands and said, ‘Jesus, wall or no wall, I’m worshiping you. I am not interested in something that’s moving and how big it is. I love it and its helping me and encouraging my soul, but I think for a minute there I was more interested in it than I am in You.’

Could this same thing be playing out in our hearts week after week? Could it be the reason we are so unwilling to question the use of technology in the church? Is Jesus winning this struggle for affection in our hearts or is our Samsung Galaxy?

We need the courage to let our theology drive our technology. We need the courage to ask questions about the way we use it. Is what we gain in adding technology greater than what we lose?  Does using a particular device help us treasure Christ and see His glory more clearly or does it make the church more consumer-driven and individualistic? When David and the Israelites were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, they used a cart instead of poles carried by four men to transport it. This was more technologically advanced and more convenient, but it also failed to honor God. When someone asks why we choose to use a certain piece of technology our answer should not be “because we can” but should flow out of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to do all to the glory of God.

I love using projectors to display song lyrics for worship. I think what we gain in artistic expression (Ex. 35:30-33) and in accessibility to the congregation (1 Cor. 14) overcome the loss of singing multiple parts and seeing on one page the unfolding arc of the hymn. I use a Bible and not an iPad when I preach because I fear my listeners may miss out on the depth of the biblical context (Acts 20:27, Jn. 10:35) if they follow my example and view only a few verses on a smartphone (2 Pet. 3:16). You might do differently. That’s fine; these decisions are not Bible imperatives. But know why you do – biblically, theologically, and for the glory of God. Don’t be so quick to rush ahead with what you “can” do that you fail to think about what you “should” do. It will shape not only you but the fruit you seek to grow for King Jesus.

-Brian

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Mother’s Day: Not Just for Mothers Anymore

momTraditionally, many churches go to great lengths to recognize moms on Mother’s Day.  It is a great day, but can isolate the barren, those who have lost children, single women, and those whose children have abandoned God and their parents. In your congregation this Sunday, many women will sit next to you in the pew, heavy with these quiet realities.  What about these women? Is there room for them on this special day?

Regarding philosophy of children, we are working with a broad spectrum complete with two extremes. As a I write, abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is on trial for the murder of four babies, one adult woman and hundreds of counts of illegal abortions over the last ten years in his “house of horrors” located in Philadelphia. Americans are postponing parenthood longer than ever before to work, travel and live. Simultaneously, there is a revival and reclaiming of parenthood among evangelicals, praise God. Christian couples are more actively pursuing parenthood both naturally and through adoption. Even in this goodness, however, there is an extreme.

Some Christians don’t consider you a true parent until you birth four children in as many years. The argument has moved past birth control and on to, “Is there a reason for a woman to ever quit bearing children?” Others relentlessly chase after parenthood in hot (sometimes idolatrous) pursuit, believing life without kids would be impossible. Just as they have become inconveniences for our world, have children become ultimate for Christians?

Children truly are a blessing and inheritance from the Lord as the Psalmist wrote. However, the reality is not everyone will be a biological parent. Paul wrote the Corinthian church and told them he wished everyone was single; this path, if done in a Christ-like manner, leads to childlessness. Bareness is a recurring theme throughout Scripture and the Lord does not always choose to reverse it. If children are ultimate for Christians, how can God allow this?

In his book This Momentary Marriage, John Piper writes: “The purpose of marriage is not merely to add more bodies to the planet. The point is to increase the number of followers of Jesus on the planet.” His statement is affirmed by Christ Himself. In a speech to His disciples, Jesus said,

 “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”- Mark 10:29-30.

Here, in acknowledging that we are called away from even our children to serve Him, Jesus affirms that the gospel message transcends parenthood. It is ultimate, not children. Regardless of whether or not we are gifted with biological children, God has called every Christian to the task of spiritual parent as they make disciples.   Toward the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul made this request: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well (16:13).” Paul recognizes the value of his spiritual mother and honors her in his letter.

Mother’s Day is a good celebration, lest we forget to include every mother. Christian woman, whatever you state this Mother’s Day – whether a van full of car seats, college tuition bills on your desk or a house all to yourself- God has called you to be a spiritual mother to someone. Maybe the kindergartners you teach Monday through Friday. Maybe some teen girls who sit on the back pew of your church. Maybe the woman in the cubicle next to you. Ask God to equip you for this task and embrace it. Church member, encourage mothers this Sunday…all of them.

-Emily

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Has Youth Ministry Really Failed?

There is an emergency in the church. Youth are graduating from high school and dropping the church faster than CBS dropped Charlie Sheen. And it’s not just a few; it’s quite nearly all of them – depending on who you ask. Josh McDowell claims 69% of teens are leaving church after high school. Dave Wheaton says it’s 50%. George Barna claims 67%. Glenn Schultz sets the mark at 75% and Ron Luce at 88%. Meanwhile, there are 50,000 less baptisms of teenagers per year in the Southern Baptist Convention than there were in 1971. This has led many to argue that youth ministry in the church has failed. A recent internet documentary entitled “Divided” pits modern youth ministry against experts who claim it is not only flawed but unbiblical and pagan. Books, conferences, bloggers, and speakers are beating on youth ministry with the angst of Ralphie attacking Scut Farkas in A Christmas Story. Has youth ministry failed? Let’s examine it from the perspective of the statistics and the Scriptures.

I have to admit, those statistics are scary. I’ve even used them in sermons and studies to frighten parents and deacons to focus on teenagers. But the statistics don’t agree. One expert claims 88% are leaving the church while another claims 50%. Which is it? Furthermore, who do these statistics measure? Evangelicals? Catholics? Mainline denominations?  Does it include liberal churches that have abandoned the gospel or independent fundamentalist churches that live in a compound?

What do these statistics mean? There is a difference between raw data and the interpretation of that data. Many in the Southern Baptist Convention have lamented the decline in teenage baptisms and have assumed it is because we are failing to reach teens. But could effective children’s ministries be reaching teens before they’re teens? Could the thoughtless dunking of “converts” who prayed a prayer be giving way to more theologically rigorous discipleship? Could changing American culture which is more pluralistic and hostile to Christian faith be responsible? A problem with youth ministry is only one possible cause among many.

Consider the findings of Christian Smith, sociologist at Notre Dame, who completed one of the most comprehensive studies of religiosity among teenagers of our time:

“Nor do our findings support the idea that the coming of emerging adulthood entails an overall massive decline in religion… What we have found instead is…a little more than half of emerging adults remain quite stable in their levels of religious commitment and practice or lack thereof.  A certain portion of highly religious teenagers remains highly religious as emerging adults, as do significant groups of moderately religious and not very religious teenagers.”

He also observes the trend over the past decades:

“Most emerging adults have since 1972 either remained stable in their levels of religiousness or have actually increased somewhat.”

The situation may not be as dire as is commonly claimed, nor is it worse since the advent of youth ministry. Here are two things worth considering. First, the transition from teenager to emerging adult is difficult and involves a great deal of self-discovery. We should not be surprised some of our youth will experience a decline in their faith during these years. However, many churches are full of young couples and singles who, after experiencing a decline in faith, discover it matters to them and re-engage the church. Second, if youth ministry must make every child a devoted, life-long follower of Christ to not be labeled a “failure”, then it has an unachievable goal. Even the best churches cannot turn everyone who walks through the doors into an unwavering believer for life. We desire all of our teens to follow Christ, but that is never promised in Scripture and Jesus taught that those who receive the same gospel will respond to it differently (Matt. 13). I am still waiting to see if churches who have done away with youth ministry are reaching more teens for Christ.

Much has been made of the lack of youth ministry in the Scriptures. This is not a problem unless you hold to a strong regulative principle (that we can only do what Scripture specifically prescribes). Sunday school, small groups, Wednesday services, publishing books, blogging, conferences, church buildings, associate pastors, sound systems, Christmas celebrations, and pianos aren’t in the Bible either yet few are bothered by our use of these. The passage at the center of debate is Deuteronomy 6:

6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6 teaches parents are responsible to disciple their children to love and obey the Lord. This is all it teaches. Moses does not tell churches how to deal with teenagers. He does not say parents are the only ones to disciple children. It is worth noting that in Hebrew culture a child became an adult at 12 years old. To claim a 16 year old should only be discipled by a parent is to take this passage, mix it with American culture (which sets the age of adulthood at 18) and apply it in a way the text does not require. Was Jesus wrong to take his disciples – some were teens – out of the home? Was Eli wrong to take Samuel from Hannah and Elkanah and raise him in the house of the Lord? Jesus called the church to make disciples of everyone (Matt. 28:19-20); not just those who pass a culturally defined age.

Youth ministry has made mistakes over the decades. We now know:

Youth ministry does not replace the ministry of parents; parents are primarily responsible to disciple their children. Youth ministry should support and encourage parents in their task. Ministries that viewed parents as a problem or left them out were wrong.

Youth ministry founded upon games, pizza, theme parks, and short devotions is foolish. Our task is to make disciples, not to be cool and gather huge crowds. Sure there are a few ministries that spend their time having pointless fun, but many have matured into teaching the Word to a unique segment of the church’s population.

Youth ministry cannot be conducted apart from the church. Some youth ministries become cool churches in themselves so that when youth graduated they have nowhere to go; the rest of the church was foreign. Many now integrate with the church so teens are ready to transition into effective and committed members.

How do we face the challenge of youth leaving the church after they graduate from high school? We equip and exhort parents to take seriously the task of discipling their children and come alongside them with effective youth ministries. We teach students the Bible and the doctrines of the faith, seeking to disciple them to passionately follow Christ. We prepare them for a lifetime of service in the church so when they graduate they are ready. When I went to a large public university, I discovered the students who were still following Christ had been part of strong youth ministries. This was not a coincidence, but evidence that when we take seriously the His call, God may use us to make disciples whether they’re 60 or 16 years old.  If we can avoid the extremes of throwing out youth ministry or turning it into glorified baby-sitting then we can create something God can use for His glory.

-Brian

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