An Open Letter to Parents

Dear parent of a teenager,

Hey there. It’s me, the Youth Minister at your local church. I just wanted to take a few minutes and share some thoughts with you about your student. I know that no two people will ever see things entirely the same way, but as one who works with students on a regular basis, I just wanted to say a few words that might encourage you and help you with your teenager.

Before you get the idea that this is an “us versus them” sort of letter, let me first say I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. I know that at the very core, we all want the very best for your student. I know that you are working hard, trying to balance family obligations and work commitments, and doing your best to mentor and love your student. Keep that up! The amount of influence you have in the life of your student is remarkable, so leverage that wisely.

If you’d allow me, I would love to share some thoughts with you as we partner together to encourage your student in their walk with Christ.

First, let me encourage you to stay involved in every aspect of your student’s life. I often hear parents say that they don’t want to convey to their student that they don’t trust them. May I say lovingly that your job as a parent is not to trust your student, but to raise them.  As a parent of three boys, I know how easy it is to let them do their own thing, to not worry about what they are watching, what friends they are spending time with, and the way they are behaving around others.  It takes hard work to stay involved, vigilant, and watchful.  But time is short, so invest the time, put in the hard work, and guide and mentor them.  Trusting them comes later.

Secondly, let me encourage you to be a student of your student.  Your teen is navigating a gauntlet of trials, temptations, social networks, interactions, pressures, and more.  Be aware of your student’s struggles, their strengths, and the areas where they need more encouragement.  Study them, stay informed, and know what they are facing.  It does not make you more “righteous” that you have no clue what Snapchat or Kik is, or that you don’t know what your student is posting on Instagram or Facebook.  And furthermore, let me just say that if you don’t have some sort of filters or accountability software on your student’s phone, tablet, and computer, you are playing with fire.  Stay informed, and know your student better than the social networks do.

Probably the most important thing I would challenge you with is to avoid being “friends” with your student.  I see a lot of parents who want to be “best buddies” with their teen, and I implore you not to fall into that trap.  Should you have a loving, playful, deep relationship with your student?  Of course.  But your student needs you to set boundaries, to clearly delineate right and wrong, to set an example, and to train and equip them.  The LAST thing they need is more friends.  Check their social networks, they already have 1,000.  Be their parent – that’s most important.

Finally, let me encourage you to use whatever resources you have available to guide your student spiritually.  There are hundreds of great books, blogs, devotionals for families, video series, local churches, family small groups, and even youth ministries out there than can help you as you seek to help your student grow spiritually.  Tap into anything and everything you can so that your student sees how important their spiritual well-being is to you.  Among those resources is me, your local Youth Minister.  In me you will find your biggest fan, a person that knows students, and a prayer warrior who can encourage you all the way.

Most of all, know that I’m with you, I’m rooting for you, and I’m praying for you, your student, and your family.  I want nothing more in life than for your student to know the joy, the hope, and the peace that comes from knowing Christ.  If I can partner with you in making that happen, or reinforcing the truth of God’s Word that you are already instilling, then let’s go for it!  We’re in this together.  I’m excited about what God is doing in the life of your student, and I know you are going to play a huge role in how God shapes them.  Thanks for trusting me as we partner together!

In Christ,
Your Youth Minister

Instagram Won't Kill Your Ministry, But Something Much Worse Will.

Many of you have read Daniel Beckworth‘s  post “Instagram Will Kill Your Ministry” over at Youthministry.com. If you haven’t,  please make sure to read his post before you read mine.

First and foremost, I agree with the points Daniel makes, except for the part about kicking puppies, maybe kicking cats would of been much more appropriate. All joking aside, I appreciate what Daniel has brought to the table and how we should be more aware of the pictures we are posting up on Instagram. I, like many of you, have an Instagram and post pictures of my students.  I not only post  group pictures, but also pictures of an individual student, male or female, with only myself. I have no issue with this and think using Instagram for youth ministry purposes can be a great thing.

As I considered what Daniel was writing, I believe there is something much deeper than Daniel’s issues at hand. Instagram, or any other social media, won’t get you fired from youth ministry. Social media falls under those grey areas in the bible, since no such thing was even conceived as possible at the time. Yet, I treat social media in light of 1 Timothy 4:4;

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

It’s funny to think of Instagram as holy; but the truth is, how we use it to glorify God is what makes it holy. We have this amazing ability to use all of God’s creations to bring people closer to him, and we should be willing to figure out how to use all the tools God has given us in a glorifying way.

So with that said, what can get you fired? Bad judgement. If you keep making poor choices with the tools God has given you, expect to experience a backlash. If all you are doing is taking pictures with one particular boy or girl, expect people to start wondering about your relationship with them, which could lead to your termination.

However, if you’re taking pictures with multiple students, or individuals with guys or girls, than people will see the love you spread to others and won’t wonder about your motives. This is why it is important to have guidelines for yourself, your volunteers, your students, and your ministry so that you can protect yourself and others. We may have major guidelines, but sometimes little things, like pictures, are forgotten about. If you don’t have guidelines for the pictures you post up, I encourage you to make some. Here are some questions to ask ourselves when we are taking pictures:

  • How is this picture representing myself, my students, the student ministry, the church, and Christ?
  • How many pictures have I taken with this particular individual or group?
  • Am I favoring one student or group over the other?
  • What can I do to encourage students to take the proper pictures of themselves and each other?

In the end, make good judgment calls when you’re ministering to your students and their families. Have open discussions with your student’s parents and your volunteer team on what they believe is appropriate for all social media outlets. When everyone knows what your guidelines are when it comes to social media, texting, pictures, volunteers, etc., then you can minister without fear of someone believing your motives are impure. Have fun with Instagram, and take lots of pictures to show the world how amazing our God is!

What are your guidelines for social media?

Do you believe it is appropriate to use Instagram in youth ministry?

Instagram Won't Kill Your Ministry, But Something Much Worse Will.

Many of you have read Daniel Beckworth‘s  post “Instagram Will Kill Your Ministry” over at Youthministry.com. If you haven’t,  please make sure to read his post before you read mine.

First and foremost, I agree with the points Daniel makes, except for the part about kicking puppies, maybe kicking cats would of been much more appropriate. All joking aside, I appreciate what Daniel has brought to the table and how we should be more aware of the pictures we are posting up on Instagram. I, like many of you, have an Instagram and post pictures of my students.  I not only post  group pictures, but also pictures of an individual student, male or female, with only myself. I have no issue with this and think using Instagram for youth ministry purposes can be a great thing.

As I considered what Daniel was writing, I believe there is something much deeper than Daniel’s issues at hand. Instagram, or any other social media, won’t get you fired from youth ministry. Social media falls under those grey areas in the bible, since no such thing was even conceived as possible at the time. Yet, I treat social media in light of 1 Timothy 4:4;

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

It’s funny to think of Instagram as holy; but the truth is, how we use it to glorify God is what makes it holy. We have this amazing ability to use all of God’s creations to bring people closer to him, and we should be willing to figure out how to use all the tools God has given us in a glorifying way.

So with that said, what can get you fired? Bad judgement. If you keep making poor choices with the tools God has given you, expect to experience a backlash. If all you are doing is taking pictures with one particular boy or girl, expect people to start wondering about your relationship with them, which could lead to your termination.

However, if you’re taking pictures with multiple students, or individuals with guys or girls, than people will see the love you spread to others and won’t wonder about your motives. This is why it is important to have guidelines for yourself, your volunteers, your students, and your ministry so that you can protect yourself and others. We may have major guidelines, but sometimes little things, like pictures, are forgotten about. If you don’t have guidelines for the pictures you post up, I encourage you to make some. Here are some questions to ask ourselves when we are taking pictures:

  • How is this picture representing myself, my students, the student ministry, the church, and Christ?
  • How many pictures have I taken with this particular individual or group?
  • Am I favoring one student or group over the other?
  • What can I do to encourage students to take the proper pictures of themselves and each other?

In the end, make good judgment calls when you’re ministering to your students and their families. Have open discussions with your student’s parents and your volunteer team on what they believe is appropriate for all social media outlets. When everyone knows what your guidelines are when it comes to social media, texting, pictures, volunteers, etc., then you can minister without fear of someone believing your motives are impure. Have fun with Instagram, and take lots of pictures to show the world how amazing our God is!

What are your guidelines for social media?

Do you believe it is appropriate to use Instagram in youth ministry?

Can a Woman be a Youth Pastor?

I have grown up in the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination of Christianity that has more conservative and traditional views of leadership.  I was always told that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, it was my responsibility to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  However, I saw no women leading in my church to provide this example.  The SBC states in The Baptist Faith and Message, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The SBC is very specific that women are not allowed to pastor, based on verses that say women are not allowed to have authority over men. However, it says nothing about youth pastor.

When many within my church convicted me and convinced me that youth ministry was my vocational calling, I was confused.  I thought that women couldn’t do it because I hadn’t seen it, yet those with the same theology were affirming it.  So I sought it out for myself.  Here’s what I came up with.

Biblically

1 Timothy 2:11-12, perhaps the strongest argument for women not pastoring, says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”  I would like to briefly exegete this for you, but of course I encourage you to look at it for yourself.  There is one command in this passage—“Let a woman learn with all submissiveness.”  “Woman” can mean a woman of any age, but 92/221 times it means specifically “wife.”  “Learn” means to learn by use and practice; to be in the habit of.  “Quietly” does not mean quiet in speech, but humble in spirit; it is one who does not bossily meddle with the affairs of others.  As you may know, women have problems with this, ha!  “Submissiveness” means obedience and meekness.  In verse 22, “to exercise authority” has a very dark connotation: one who kills another with his own hands, one who acts on his own authority, an absolute master, or to exercise dominion.  It is only used once in the Bible, in this passage.  It is very interesting that Paul uses authenteō instead of didaskō, which he usually uses when talking about teaching.  We can turn to other classical literature and we see that 67% of the time, the term is used very negatively as well.  Therefore one can tell that Paul isn’t commanding women not to have any authority over men, but to not have an undue authority.  Once again, Paul uses the same word for “silence” meaning humility.  So altogether, the verses read, “Let a woman learn by practice in humble obedience.  I do not permit women to teach heresy or to be in manipulative authority, but she is to be humble.” Paul isn’t prohibiting women from leading, but encouraging women to learn and avoid being deceived. “Learn” is an active kind of learning that implies action, yet Paul reminds women to do it in humility.

I hate the argument “well maybe he was just talking to their culture and not ours,” because it can often cheapen Scripture.  Yet, if we were to literally enforce this entire chapter in our culture as we have traditionally enforced these few verses, let’s think about this:  A few verses before Paul commands women to dress modestly, yet no one in the church condemns me for my braided hair or my signature pearl earrings.  If verses literally stand the cultural test of time, then we have a lot to change.  The cultural context is clear: There were many teachers in the early church who were deceiving Christians and convincing them of false teachings.  Paul wanted to make sure that women, who weren’t being educated like men, weren’t teaching if they weren’t equipped to.  It would make sense that he commands them to actively learn.

The passage must also be looked within the context of Paul’s teachings as a whole.  Paul consistently said that in Christ, there is no distinction between gender, race, or socioeconomic status (Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Colossians 3:11). Paul acknowledged the importance of many women in his ministry.  The Bible has tons of women serving in important roles as teachers and leaders:  Miriam, a prophet (Exodus 15); Deborah, a nation’s leader and judge (Judges 4-5); Esther, an advocate for the Jews (Esther); Priscilla, a teacher (Acts 18:18-26, Romans 1:3); Lydia, Chloe, and Nympha, leaders of the church (Acts 16:13-15, 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 4:15); Phoebe, a deaconess (Romans 16:1); Junia, an apostle (Romans 16:7); Philip’s daughters and other women prophets (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5); etc.

Where is the distinction then?  Why are women allowed to be Sunday School teachers or Children’s Ministers, but not Youth Ministers?  What is the difference?  If you want to argue that women can teach, but not be the main leader: Female youth pastors aren’t running the whole church; there is still someone presiding over her.  If you want to argue that adolescent teenage boys are men and that’s why a woman can’t teach over them, then we need to figure out the distinguishing characteristics between a child in Sunday School and a man in “big church.”  Our culture has added adolescence, and the Bible doesn’t address it.  So how can we assume that the Bible states a particular gender is supposed to serve that role?

Culturally

I strongly believe that culture needs to be considered when choosing leaders.  There are cultures around the world that have female-dominant leaders.  If we were to evangelize in those countries and try to set up churches there, we should not expect for our Westernized church to fit their culture.  It would not work, it would be too uncomfortable, and people wouldn’t want to join such a weird religion.  In America we have women becoming CEOs of major companies, making influential speeches at national political conventions, and being named as some of the most influential people in the world.  Yet, our church does not reflect our culture—we are still very male-dominated in major leadership roles.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; I think our culture needs strong men as leaders.  We are plagued by examples of men who are abusive or absent, and I strongly believe we need stronger men in our churches.  In fact, culturally and Biblically, I personally think the head of the church needs to be a man (see, I’m not a total feminist!).

Traditionally, a male youth leader has made sense: he was the head pastor of the group.  But youth ministry isn’t so much pastor-centered as it was initially, it is volunteer-centered.  Youth ministry is moving more towards discipleship-centered small groups.  Each discipleship group has either its same gender discipling them or a male-female team.  I love this.  Therefore I personally think that the main leader of the program does not matter—either a male or a woman can efficiently lead a program.  And culturally, it makes sense.

But maybe it doesn’t make sense for your culture.  If you are in a more conservative culture, why stir up the pot and have leaders in your church who don’t fit your culture?  When I worked in small town Missouri, I was actually very surprised that I was hired in an SBC church.  Yet I made sense for their culture because they were very discipleship and fellowship-centered and as a woman I have some natural giftings for that sort of thing.

Hormonally

As for the argument that a female cannot complete the role because of her extra estrogen: A female’s estrogen is a gift.  God made men and women in his image, and women reflect God’s more empathetic and caring side.  It’s inarguable that men and women are different and bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table.  We need strong protective leaders just as much as we need empathetic nurturing ones.  Women can get overemotional at times; trust me, there have been times when I have struggled.  I have taken comments too personally, over-invested, and have (yes) cried in youth group before.  But those aren’t completely negative things.  What these qualities show is God’s nurturing, empathetic, gracious side of Him.  God takes our sin too personally, he invests in us even when we don’t invest back, and we are constantly breaking His heart.  Men have beautiful “weaknesses” too—men can be aggressive, tough on their disciples, and can harden in times when people hurt them.  This show’s God’s more judicial and strong side of his character.  Men and women need each other in order to provide a more perfect picture of who God is, and this picture is needed when leading teenagers.  Teenagers need both male and female role models to lead them.

Practically

If I minister to teenagers, am I really going against God’s will?  Can God possibly believe that I am sinning when I minister the Gospel?  I have a lot of issue with this.  Having a relationship with God is not about doing x, y, and z.  It’s about a heart that seeks to serve Him.  In Christ, we are free.  How can God send me away for sending so many to Him?

 

I originally wrote this post 6 months ago and put it off because this is essentially my identity that I’m arguing for. I know that I will receive a lot of flack for this post, so I ask that you create discourse in the comments and not dissension   Remember that I’m not saying that women can be the head of the church, but the head of a youth ministry program. I want to create a culture of youth ministry that has men and women working together to minister to our student Saints.  

9 Ways to Always be on Mission

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately focused on the mission of the church, the mission of our Youth Ministry, and gaining more traction for influence for Jesus in the communities we have been entrusted with. Here’s 9 super simple ways that God showed me, mostly from Galatians 6, on how to stay on mission and always be on mission.

1. Know the State of those around you.

2. Correct those around you who get off course, with gentleness, but staying true to the mission.

3. Carry each other’s burdens.

4. Be burdened by what burden’s God.

5. Carry your own load.

6. Share even the smallest victories.

7. Know what you are sowing.

8. Know what an opportunity looks like, and know what isn’t an actual opportunity.

9. Remind yourself daily that you do all things for the Lord.

Each one of these has been sticking with me as each one holds it’s own challenge, but the one that I have probably focused on the most as of late is to Share even the smallest victories.

I shared with our students this past week that we can often times make it seem like only the big victories are worth celebrating, but even looking at organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous or the like, celebrating baby steps is a huge part of their strategy. I challenged my students to share the smallest victories they have with each other and their small group leader, and I’m challenging our leaders to do the same. If someone has never read the Bible in consecutive days, I want to know when they do so I can celebrate that.

Because for me, as I think on this, I can’t think of a better way to be reminded of the mission than celebrating every step that gets us there.

So I’d love it in the comments if you would share a small victory you’ve had this week, so we can all celebrate together.

Being Too "Heavy" With Students

Tomorrow I will be wrapping up my first series at my new church called “Response.” It is a series that I created, loosely based on the first four chapters of Matt Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel. I discuss God’s sovereignty, our sin, the work of Christ on the cross, and what our response should be to all of this.

I am going to be honest; I really wrestled with whether or not I should have this as my first lesson in my new church. We talk about sin and hell a lot. I discuss the idea that ultimately God doesn’t need our worship or even us, and we need to humble ourselves from being the center of our universes. I discuss that while God doesn’t need us, he wants us; but because of our sin we deserve conscious, eternal torment in Hell administered by God’s wrath.

Yeah… it is heavy.

I go on to talk about the good news that Jesus absorbs the wrath of God for us by taking the punishment we deserve; that when we say we are “saved;” we are saved from the wrath of God being poured out on us. I discuss that if Grace is getting the opposite of what we deserve, then Jesus got the opposite of what he deserved by being crushed by the Father for our redemption. Tomorrow I am going to talk about how there are only two ways to respond to hearing a message like this: Either repent and believe and be a follower of Jesus; or, be dense towards the truth, reject God’s free gift, and continue being an enemy of God sprinting to Hell.

Though I 100% believe everything I just said, there is still a small amount of fear that comes up in my heart, because teaching on Hell and God’s wrath isn’t a good way to pump up numbers in a youth ministry. We are told to teach the heavier things in small groups, where it can be controlled and people can push back without feeling awkward. But, talking to students about the reality of Hell, sin, and how we deserve God’s righteous wrath right out the gate in this new ministry position? I second-guessed myself.

Do students need to hear this? Right now? What if they leave before giving me a chance because of my message? What if they don’t find me funny or relatable? What if my ministry wont grow because of this? Do I want to be characterized as the angry Cuban guy with the beard that talks about Hell?

These questions were real and I thought about them. But then I read Acts 2:14-36.  Let’s just say this isn’t Peter’s most seeker-sensitive sermon.

He unapologetically discusses that Jesus is God (verse 22). He points out that the crushing of Jesus is by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (verse 23). And not once, but twice he mentions that they crucified him (verse 23 & 36). This sermon by Peter is rich with theology and is heavy on conviction. So how did the people react to such a heavy sermon?

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41 ESV)

It cut the hearts of those who heard and they were told to “repent and believe”. The good news about preaching the Gospel, whether it is to students or to adults, is that it is God who changes the hearts of men, not how articulate you are or how careful you are with your words. The truth is what will change the heart of our students.

And as for my fear about the youth group not growing after these messages: According to Peter’s sermon, “3,000 souls” were saved that day. I am not saying my youth group will multiply to that number, but I am confident that the Gospel saves people and if the Lord saw fit to grow my ministry, it can grow through the preaching of the Gospel and not by my awesomeness.

Be bold tomorrow, or this weekend, or whenever you meet with your students. Don’t shy away from the heavy stuff. Contextualize the message to reach the students but be consistent with the truth. Students want authenticity and honesty. They may reject the message, but don’t take it personally. That is a battle between their souls and Jesus. Don’t give up. Keep dishing the out the meat. If the Lord sees fit to soften their hearts, they will appreciate your diligence to not watering it down for them.