Sermon: Love

This is the sermon I referenced a couple of days ago in a post on whether we as followers of Jesus are really known by our love. Take a look if you’re so inclined:

“Deep Love”_Aug. 12, 2012 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

Three Signs You Aren’t Preaching the Bible in Youth Ministry

James McDonald has a great post over at The Resurgence on “5 Things We Do Today Instead of Preach the Word.” As I read the list, it struck me that “preaching the Word” isn’t exactly something that youth ministry is known for. In fact, I’ve been guilty of every one of McDonald’s five points (Entertain, Share, Woo, Intellectualize, and Abbreviate) when speaking to the teenagers I serve.

So, what does it mean to “preach the Bible” as youth workers?

Does it mean we can’t be funny? I don’t think so; some of the best Bible-centric youth ministry speakers I’ve known have also been very, very funny. One mistake we can make as youth workers is to assume that hilarious stories, impactful movie clips used as illustrations, or even great drama means that we aren’t preaching out of the Bible. The problem is that we can allow these elements to replace the Bible in our “talks” or sermons. But where’s the line? What’s the difference between using a great illustration and allowing it to replace the Bible when we speak to teenagers? Using McDonald’s list as inspiration, here are three signs that the Bible–and therefore Jesus–isn’t front-and-center in your teaching:

1) Your sermon is more inspired by a movie clip (or other illustration) than a passage in the Bible. Let me confess that I have done this before, and am embarrassed by it. I’ve watched a movie that included a really meaningful scene and built a whole youth group around it. Hopefully, I tied it back to Jesus and the Bible, but I wasn’t teaching out of the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with a great clip as an illustration, but a good preacher preaches out of conviction from his or her own study of the Word, not because there’s a great movie clip that “the kids will love.”

2) When you teach on a particular topic, you come to a conclusion on the topic and find Bible passages to support your conclusion. I don’t see anything wrong with topical teaching (although just for fun, you should just try to walk verse-by-verse through a book in the Bible with your students for a few months or so). However, it’s easy when teaching topically to know before you sit down to prepare your lesson or sermon where you will end before you even open up the Bible. Even if it seems like a no-brainer, you shouldn’t short-change the Bible study portion of your preparation. Your conclusions on the topic might not change, but in your time digging into the Bible on that topic, the Holy Spirit might prompt you to touch on something you’ve never seen before, or perhaps give you more of a shepherd’s heart for the teenagers who are struggling with that particular issue.

3) You never teach on anything that comes out of your personal devotional study of the Bible. Many teachers and preachers fall into the trap of reading the Bible and only thinking of how they could teach that passage, and not how to apply it to their own life. But the other extreme is to never let the fire that God lights under you during your own devotional study to bleed over to your teaching. At least every now and again, you should read something in the Bible that hits you so hard, you just have to share it with the teenagers you speak to on a regular basis.

QUESTION: What would you add to this list?

Sermon: Deep Hope

I’m fortunate enough to be able to preach in our worship services a couple of Sundays this month. This past weekend I preached out of 1 John 2:28-3:2, if you’re so inclined to watch it. Our creative team helped out with an interactive element that I thought turned out really cool. Check it out:

“Deep Hope”_Aug. 5, 2012 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.

Sermon from a Japanese Pastor

This past weekend, we had the blessing of hearing Pastor Masahiro Okita from Japan preach at all of our English-speaking services, via translation. One of the missionaries in Japan we support as a church works closely with Pastor Okita, and it was very cool to hear him share how God has been working in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011. What was very interesting (and sobering) is how Pastor Okita described pre-earthquake Christianity in Japan: churches from different denominations and traditions did not work together much, and Japanese culture–including the Japanese church–was obsessed with success and material things. Take a half an hour to watch the sermon or listen to it during your workout, and hear how God used the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to unite the Church and open many doors for the Gospel:

Video Of the Week: Mark Driscoll on Servants and Critics

Mark Driscoll explains the difference between a critic and a servant:

Chances are, as you watched the sermon clip you were able to think of one or two people in your church, or perhaps in your ministry, who you would classify as a critic rather than a servant. Here’s my question to you: in your church, do you respond to issues or problems you notice as a servant, or as a critic?

Great Apologetics Resources

Credit: Creative Commons (Ethan Lofton)

Note: This post is a companion piece to a guest post I’m contributing to that will post tomorrow. Update: You can read the post here.

Christian Apologetics (the logical defense of biblical Christianity) is a huge passion of mine, and I think it’s important to include apologetics in our regular rotation of teaching as youth workers. However, it can be tough to know where to start. Below is a list of apologetics resources that I’ve made use of over the years. It’s certainly not a complete list, but simply the resources I think would be most helpful for youth workers. If there are some you’ve found useful that aren’t listed, please leave a comment to tell others about additional resources.

Resources for youth workers wanting to learn more about apologetics
Know Why You Believe by Paul Little. This is probably the best ground-level book on apologetics I’ve ever read. If you’ve never before studied apologetics, start with this book. You can also read my short review of the book here.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Probably the most important area of apologetics is showing that Jesus is who the Bible says he is, and that he came to Earth as God in the flesh, that he died for our sins on the cross and rose again three days later. This book gives evidence for those things in (mostly) plain language.

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Doug Groothuis. This one’s not for the faint of heart at over 750 dense pages. But if you want to really dig into apologetics, this book needs to be on your shelf and marked up on a regular basis.

Veritas Forum ( This website has hundreds of great in-depth talks and debates held on college campuses. If you’ve got an hour or so and you want to learn about a particular topic (such as whether the gospels are historically accurate), just search for your topic and pull up the audio or video.

Helpful websites for leaders and students
Veritas Forum (I know, it’s already listed, but it’s worth mentioning again). This is a great website with tons of articles and videos on just about every area of Christian apologetics. The best part is the resources are divided into three categories: introductory, intermediate, and advanced, so students and leaders can start where they feel comfortable, and go deeper when they’re ready.

Apologetics Curriculum
TrueU DVD Curriculum. So far TrueU has two sets of curricula, Does God Exist? and Is the Bible Reliable? These are more for older high school students, but in general, this should be used with students who want to learn because of the high level of material. Essentially, each session is a 30-45 minute college-level lecture, but it is anything but boring. Two of our small groups have used TrueU and really enjoyed it.

Note: TrueU is the only apologetics curriculum I’ve used, so I can’t speak to any other teaching resources. Generally, when I teach on apologetics I write my own lessons. If you’ve used any resources with students that have worked well, I’d love to know about them.

Question: What resources would you recommend to youth workers desiring to teach students apologetics?

Video of the Week: Andy Stanley on Christian vs. Disciple

I’ve been following Andy Stanley’s latest sermon series, “Christian” he’s preaching at North Point Community Church. It’s a really good series where he helps people take a second look at what it means to be a “Christian.” Here’s a good clip from the first week, and I think it really relates to youth ministry:

Now, consider what you tell teenagers it means to be a “Christian” in your church and youth ministry. Is how you’re leading them, is your definition of being a “Christian” based on following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus, or is it based on something else entirely?

YouthWorker Journal: Teaching as Jesus Taught

I wrote a short article for this month’s (March/April 2012) Preaching and Teaching issue of YouthWorker Journal on “Teaching as Jesus Taught: How to Engage and Inspire Teens.” Since I love teaching and preaching and am always trying to learn how to do a better job speaking to teenagers, it was a fun article to work on, and the whole issue offers great advice on preaching and teaching from youth workers who are tons more experienced at this stuff than I am. Here’s an excerpt of my article:

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching is His parables or stories, which make up roughly a third of His teaching. By teaching using stories, we engage teenagers in a way that cannot happen during an information dump.

Jesus could have told His followers, “God loves you a lot, and it’s really important to Him to save you and get you back.” That’s a true statement, but it doesn’t pack a lot of punch. Instead, Jesus tells three compelling stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. From Jesus, we learn how to teach in a way that shows who God is and what His kingdom is like–without them actually realizing they’re teaching.

A longer, expanded companion piece was also published at here.

I loved Jay Sedwick’s advice in his article on connecting with kids’ various learning styles. Since I tend to be a math-oriented this-is-how-it-is lecturer, this was especially helpful:

Third, your preferred learning style directly influences the way you teach. You most often will select learning activities that you enjoy and would prefer doing if you were the student. Take some risks by choosing learning activities aimed at the other three styles. You may be holding your students back by not allowing them to shine.

While we’re on the topic, one of the best books I’ve read on speaking to teenagers is (aptly named) Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages by Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins. It definitely doesn’t go in-depth in terms of philosophy of teaching and preaching, but it’s packed with a ton of great practical advice on preparing and delivering talks and sermons.

Question: What’s your best advice to a new youth worker who wants a few tips on speaking to teenagers?

Sermon: Faith when things are desperate

I had a good time preaching this past weekend on 2 Chronicles 32:1-22. It was a tough subject, and hopefully I didn’t offer any cookie-cutter responses (such as, “Have faith; things will get better!”).

“Desperation”_Feb. 5, 2012 from The Heights Community on Vimeo.