The fast God chooses…

My heart this week is broken over strife in my denomination, the Episcopal Church. My old church (my first when I became a Christian in college) has left our denomination as of Monday, and allegations of all sorts are being thrown around. I do not wish to comment on the issue, as the main player on each “side” (oh, how that word pains me; God forgive us) I count as a friend and mentor. I do not wish to downplay the claims of each party, for they are serious and need to be discussed. But no matter the outcome, I believe God’s heart is grieved at such strife.

I read a thoughtful sermon on a Disciples of Christ minister’s blog that she preached this past Sunday. Both the Scripture and the sermon have been medicine for my soul today. The author’s name is Rachel, and the post can be found on her blog. Please read it and the passage (Isaiah 58:1-12).

Equipping the Saints

Yesterday in a class on Christian Leadership, we discussed how to recruit, equip, and deploy volunteers for ministry in the local church. Our guest presenter, Polly Lott (who is on the administrative staff at Denver Seminary), introduced and undergirded the discussion with Ephesians 4:11-16. I was grateful for her instruction, because she made clear that this is not just about getting people to help carry the load in ministry. From this text, she made the case that it is not just expedient to utilize volunteers in ministry, it is a biblical mandate. Why is it a mandate? Because it is the job of the leaders in the church to equip Christians to do ministry. In many churches, the maxim is repeated that “twenty percent of the people to eighty percent of the work.” If this is true, than in many ways eighty percent of the people in our churches are unemployed! Yet we seem to be okay with this. An important part of spiritual formation is discovering how has created us for ministry to others, and then dedicating ourselves to this task. For the vast majority of people, this ministry is done within or in addition to what we might consider “secular” careers. Yet there is nothing secular about dedicating oneself to ministry within the context of everyday life or about giving one’s time, talent, and treasure the the building up of the Church when he or she already puts in forty hours at a job. It is a holy endeavor.

For those of us who are called at the present to vocational ministry (because all Christians should be engaged in “full-time” ministry, whether at their job or in the Church), perhaps there is a prideful part of us that enjoys doing most of the work. Perhaps it makes us feel important, or at the very least gives us job security. This pride is hurting our flocks. No matter the context, all Christian leaders should be finding ways to equip those we lead for ministry. This is a difficult and messy task, and I am just beginning to figure this out myself. I pray that I strive to equip the youth I serve in my church and community and my fellow coworkers on our youth ministry team to minister in the ways God has gifted them.

This Blog

I’ve had this blog for a little over a year now, but I never really got into the habit of writing much. But, I now desire to be more in digital conversation with others about certain issues, and so here we go again.

Pick and Choose

For a little over a year or so, my daily devotions have been guided by the Daily Office found in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The Daily Office is a two year lectionary which goes through most of the Old Testament (minus the psalms) once and most of the New Testament twice every two years. It also cycles through all 150 psalms every seven weeks. I enjoy using the Daily office because it is a good help in making sure I read a wide range of Scripture throughout the year and its selections are usually very appropriate to the church calendar (we are about to enter the season of Advent on the church calendar).

The Daily Office does not cover the whole Bible; I’ve noticed in the Old Testament, many of the Levitical laws or geneologies are omitted. These are important to be learned about, to be sure, but I can see how two or three weeks of trying to meditate on the geneologies of 1 Chronicles 1-9 could overwhelm a person who simply wants to get his or her day off on the right foot by spending some time in the Word or in a morning prayer service.

The BCP leaves out some passages in its Daily Office for more reasons than just ease of use. Today’s (Friday, proper 29, year one) reading from 1 Peter begins at 3:13 whereas yesterday’s reading finished with 2:25. Which twelve verses were missing? It is the pasage in which Peter tells the wives in his audience to accept the authority of their husbands and tells the husbands to show consideration for their wives as the “weaker vessel.” It is a difficult passage to be sure, one that ought to be interpreted with all care and reverence for the Word. But it is the Word nonetheless, though some may find it such an annoyance that they wish Peter never wrote the words at all (apparently the editors at Church Publishing in New York wished this). I love my church dearly. But my allegiance remains with the Word made flesh if the Word and my church are ever in conflict. The Episcopal Church (USA) is experiencing much debate over the issue of sexuality. If you want to know the real divisive point, however, look to the Word. Some in our church regard the Word as authoritative. Others set limits on its authority. The latter approach builds a church based on convenience and usually tries to stay away from making anyone uncomfortable. The former takes its cues from the unchanging Word and at times makes many (including myself) quite uncomfortable. Let us be a Church that builds upon the foundation of Christ Jesus our Lord, the Word made flesh.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are twelve neglected verses in James over which I need to puzzle.

Lamenting on Thanksgiving?

As I write this, the clock reads 12:00am and indicates that it is a new day: Thanksgiving Day, to be exact. Yet on my mind is the subject of lamenting.

Lamenting has been on my mind since I heard a chapel message given by a professor of mine on the biblical view of lamenting (http://www.denverseminary.edu/worship/media, 9/26/05). He spoke eloquently on the appropriateness of and even the need for lamentation at certain times in life. What was especially significant to me was that he gave us the opportunity at the end of his message to publicly lament. I lamented the loss of my father, something rarely even speak about with my friends.

Now I find myself preparing a sermon on Psalm 22 for a homiletics class. Psalm 22 begins with the line Jesus quoted as he hung on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Many see this psalm and quickly note how it has been seen as an emotional prediction of Jesus’ death on the cross (prediction because it was written before Jesus came to this earth). The Holy Spirit may well have intended this when he inspired David as he wrote this song. But we must not overlook that the psalm, in its historical context, was a lamentation given by David.

What place do we give lamenting in the Church? Do we allow for expressions of sadness, depression, hopelessness, and despair? Have we lost the ability of grieve? To grieve does not mean to give up. To admit feelings of hopelessness does not mean that there is no hope. Lament and hope are not exclusive. Indeed, even David found reason to hope in Psalm 22. In vv. 19-21 he makes his plea to his God. He then finds hope in God’s saving power. It is not a false hope, empty words to placate his fear. No, David’s hope is borne out of suffering, and though all around has fallen, he clings to that hope.

In working with youth, I must remember to give them permission and space to lament. I must remind them that our God is a God who cares. We live in a fallen, broken world, and there is much that breaks God’s heart, and it should break our hearts as well. God will hear our complaints, he will hear our pleas, and he will give us reason to hope. For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. And this is certainly something to be thankful for.

Entry Number One

I suppose it should be appropriate if my first entry addressed what I hope to be the area of discussion on this blog. I am a follower of Jesus and a pastor to youth (teens) and their families. One primary passion of mine is to care for the youth and their families in my church and community. I very much love the youth I work with and enjoy the blessing of sharing my life with them and the blessing of them sharing their life with me. I pray earnestly that they come to know the one true and living God and his Son Jesus Christ, who almost two thousand years ago lived on our planet, died for our sins, and was resurrected in bodily form as the first fruits of those who will also rise with him, trusting in his sacrifice for our salvation. I pray also that they would live their lives serving God, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide their lives on this Earth.

The primary aim of this blog is to foster discussion and theological pondering on the area of Christian ministry called youth ministry. In American society, teenagers have come to be very distanced from other generations. Patricia Hersch in A Tribe Apart (Ballantine Books, 1998) documents one community’s experience of this very well. In general, teenagers in the 21st century are more disconnected from their parents (and other family members) than teenagers in the 20th century. This is due to a variety of reasons not the least of which are higher divorce rates and an increasing number of parents devoting too much time to their careers (and less to their families) in order to provide for themselves and their families a needlessly high standard of living.

Do churches and youth ministries add to this separation by creating ministries where youth worship God and learn about the Christian faith very much separated from the rest of the church? I would say so. To say that all churches and youth ministries do this would over-generalize matters. However, I believe that youth ministries tend to separate youth from the rest of the body of Christ. My church and the ministry I lead is no exception; I often wonder if I am doing the youth and their families a disservice by offering so many events and programs exclusively for the youth. We must be careful to note that many of these events have advantages. Youth group meetings allow students to socialize with their peers in a setting where following Christ is encouraged and where they worship and learn about their God. In addition, adolescents have distinct needs, and ministries can better meet these needs by specifically focusing on youth. My argument is that if we focus only on the youth, we will further contribute to the separation of American youth culture from the rest of our culture.

Should we then bag the whole idea of youth ministry? No. However, youth ministry as a vocation needs focus on raising up strong, mature Christians rather than encouraging youth to form their own Christian youth culture that is separate from the rest of the body of Christ. I suggest that we can do this by ministering to a student as well as his or her family. The family ought to be a child’s first church, and parents typically have far more influence on their child than a youth minister ever will, for better or for worse. A youth ministry ought to nurture the faith of the whole family, which will nurture the faith of the student. This is not always possible, but it should be the goal when it is possible. In addition, youth should be considered full members of the body of Christ. Youth ministers are all too often considered to be a sort of bridge from the adult portion of the church to the youth. Youth should have a place in the church where they are allowed to act their age and their youth is celebrated. However, their gifts and contributions to the Church should be recognized in their church communities beyond the youth ministry at those churches. This requires vision not only on the part of the youth pastor, but on the part of the entire church leadership as well.

As we minister to youth and their families, let us not forget that the youth we serve will one day, Lord willing, grow into mature adults. We will serve them better if we strive to develop ministries which minister to youth in the context in which they live rather than creating mini-churches comprised entirely of youth and cut off from the rest of the body of Christ.