6 Reasons to Teach Church History to Your Students

I went on a rant a couple weeks ago. I was reading though my Twitter timeline and started thinking about how much we need to discuss and know Church History today. When I was in Bible College I took Church History expecting to white-knuckle though a boring semester. Dr. Parsons opened my eyes to a new love and passion that I never knew I had. Church History is amazing! I wondered at the end of that semester how come I never knew of these awesome men and women of our faith.

Before the class started I couldn’t tell you the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. I just never heard about them. I never heard about the great stories of the Church Councils. Like how Santa was real and slapped a heretic in his face. I mean, that is crazy right? Or the example of Augustine who after 30+ years of living in sin and for himself he give his life to the Lord and has since influenced so much of Christian Theology and Western thinking. I don’t think I ever heard a lesson on any person or event in church history earlier than Jim Elliot. I certainly have never heard a message on church history in youth group.

So I took a risk. I taught on Church History in my youth group. It went amazing!

Here are 6 reasons I taught my students Church History and I think you should too:

  1. Church History teaches our students that Christianity is historic. Millions of people over 2000 years have been studying, believing, and dealing with many of the same issues they are going through and wrestling with today. That should comfort your students that they are not the first Christian ever to deal with a certain issue..
  2. Church History teaches our students about the heresies of the past that have already been dealt with, so we don’t make the same mistakes again. So many heresies that are being propagated today are recycled thoughts from 1500 years ago. There were church councils that dealt with weighty issues and wrestled with the scriptures to find what the Bible actually says on the issue. We should learn from the errors of the past so we don’t make the same mistake again.
  3. Church History teaches us that what we believe is worth defending. Studying the martyrs who risked their lives empowers our students to be bold about their faith and stand up for what they really believe in. People risked their lives for the truth. People died proclaiming the gospel. This is emboldening for our students.
  4. Church History should humble our students. Jonathan Edwards entered Yale at the age of 12. Charles Spurgeon didn’t go to college but managed to start his own Pastor’s College. We have brilliant men and women in our history. People who God has allowed us to be able to study and learn from. In our entitled society it is probably a good habit to read and learn from men and women who can school us and bring us back a couple pegs.
  5. Church History teaches us that God can use imperfect people for his perfect purpose. Martin Luther said racist stuff towards the end of his life and Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. These are things we shouldn’t shove under the rug. We should show our students that God can use incredibly flawed individuals for his glory. That is very good news for us.
  6. Most of the men had epic beards. As Spurgeon said: “Growing a beard is a habit most natural, Scriptural, manly and beneficial.” Seriously, beards are amazing!

Four Epic Dudes

I did a series called Four Epic Dudes. It was a study on the life and ministry of Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon. My students came in not knowing much about these men and they left with a new appreciation for Church History and the people who paved the way to where we are today. You can purchase this series in the YouthMin Market Place. I won’t lie, this was a bit different from most of my past series. Lots of research and reading went into it. However, my soul has been enriched after doing it and refreshing my own mind on the works by these men and their lives as an example for me has been very beneficial.

If anything, study church history for yourself. If you want a book to get you started on studying church history for yourself, read Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. That was my textbook in college and it has been a great resource ever since. Also, read “Lectures to my Students” by Charles Spurgeon. Every pastor should have this on their shelves. It is just an amazing book!

The Gospel and Youth Ministry | Part 4

Here’s a rundown of where we’ve been so far!

In this post, we’ll finish up the other three key factors of the Gospel message…here we go!

 

THE GOSPEL IMPUTES RIGHTEOUSNESS.

As we said last post, the Gospel justifies and atones for sin.  The other half of the interaction that leads to humanity’s transformation is that the righteousness of Christ being imputed to those who believe. The term imputed means given into one’s identity. It is not merely that the righteousness of Christ covers or influences those who believe, but through the union with Christ, it becomes an identity marker of those who believe. Believers are, as Paul tells the church in Corinth, “in” Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). Salvation for believers comes through having our sins justified, but equally through unity with Christ. The gift of salvation is in and of itself the gift of Christ and unity with Him. The union created through salvation is the substance of salvation. As mentioned before, the Gospel message gives the promise that believers become a new creation. A believer unites with Christ and the sin receives atonement (when the sin rightly attributed to humankind is attributed to and paid for by Christ), and at the same time, the sinner receives the righteousness only rightly attributed to Jesus Christ (Phil 3:9).

 

THE GOSPEL IS NOT EARNED.

The message of the Gospel is not hope attributed to individuals on the basis of merit. It is, by definition, a gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9). Humankind has a propensity and inner desire to attempt to earn or deserve salvation; grace does not come naturally. However, Scripture is clear that the hope found in the Gospel comes through faith alone, not by human effort (Gal 2:15-16, Rom 8:3-4). Should the fruit of the Gospel be attainable by human effort, that would leave room for pride, arrogance, and boasting to grow. However, as it is void of human effort or initiation, it is also void of human glory (Rom 5:1-2, Gal 6:13-14).

 

THE GOSPEL RECONCILES CREATION.

Genesis 3 presents the fundamental problem of broken relationships as a direct result of humankind’s willing and open rebellion against God.

  • Genesis 3:7 // Broken relationships with man and self.
  • Genesis 3:8-10 // Broken relationships with man and God.
  • Genesis 3:12 // Broken relationships with man and others.
  • Genesis 3:17 // Broken relationships with man and nature.

Though nature is still functioning in open rebellion, the message of the Gospel is that God lays down the life of His son in order to reconcile, or make right, His relationship with humankind (Rom 5:10-11). Through His death, humankind’s justification, and His righteousness, believers are able to be presented before the divine God, His wrath abated, as holy and blameless (Col 1:21-22). Not only is humankind reconciled, reconciliation is found in relation to creation as well, as it longs to be restored through the hope of Christ (Rom 8:20-22).

 

In the next post in this series, we’ll tie all the factors together that define the Gospel and talk about the implications on our students and our ministries.  In the final post, we’ll look at how the Gospel, Baptism, and our students interact.

The Gospel and Youth Ministry | Part 4

Here’s a rundown of where we’ve been so far!

In this post, we’ll finish up the other three key factors of the Gospel message…here we go!

 

THE GOSPEL IMPUTES RIGHTEOUSNESS.

As we said last post, the Gospel justifies and atones for sin.  The other half of the interaction that leads to humanity’s transformation is that the righteousness of Christ being imputed to those who believe. The term imputed means given into one’s identity. It is not merely that the righteousness of Christ covers or influences those who believe, but through the union with Christ, it becomes an identity marker of those who believe. Believers are, as Paul tells the church in Corinth, “in” Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). Salvation for believers comes through having our sins justified, but equally through unity with Christ. The gift of salvation is in and of itself the gift of Christ and unity with Him. The union created through salvation is the substance of salvation. As mentioned before, the Gospel message gives the promise that believers become a new creation. A believer unites with Christ and the sin receives atonement (when the sin rightly attributed to humankind is attributed to and paid for by Christ), and at the same time, the sinner receives the righteousness only rightly attributed to Jesus Christ (Phil 3:9).

 

THE GOSPEL IS NOT EARNED.

The message of the Gospel is not hope attributed to individuals on the basis of merit. It is, by definition, a gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9). Humankind has a propensity and inner desire to attempt to earn or deserve salvation; grace does not come naturally. However, Scripture is clear that the hope found in the Gospel comes through faith alone, not by human effort (Gal 2:15-16, Rom 8:3-4). Should the fruit of the Gospel be attainable by human effort, that would leave room for pride, arrogance, and boasting to grow. However, as it is void of human effort or initiation, it is also void of human glory (Rom 5:1-2, Gal 6:13-14).

 

THE GOSPEL RECONCILES CREATION.

Genesis 3 presents the fundamental problem of broken relationships as a direct result of humankind’s willing and open rebellion against God.

  • Genesis 3:7 // Broken relationships with man and self.
  • Genesis 3:8-10 // Broken relationships with man and God.
  • Genesis 3:12 // Broken relationships with man and others.
  • Genesis 3:17 // Broken relationships with man and nature.

Though nature is still functioning in open rebellion, the message of the Gospel is that God lays down the life of His son in order to reconcile, or make right, His relationship with humankind (Rom 5:10-11). Through His death, humankind’s justification, and His righteousness, believers are able to be presented before the divine God, His wrath abated, as holy and blameless (Col 1:21-22). Not only is humankind reconciled, reconciliation is found in relation to creation as well, as it longs to be restored through the hope of Christ (Rom 8:20-22).

 

In the next post in this series, we’ll tie all the factors together that define the Gospel and talk about the implications on our students and our ministries.  In the final post, we’ll look at how the Gospel, Baptism, and our students interact.

Why The Gospel?

Part 2 of a Gospel and Students Series.

This is not necessarily a fun post to write, but before we’re able to talk about the Gospel, we have to understand WHY we (and our students) need it.  This post is taken from a position paper on the Gospel, hence some of the more academic language.

 


 

Though commonly used within the church, there is often ambiguity as to what truly defines “Gospel.” At its most basic, the Gospel is a message of hope. However, before you can define the word or idea of the Gospel, you must first address why a gospel is even necessary. What about individuals, or more accurately, humankind as a whole requires there to be good news? The need centers around two primary elements: the open rebellion of humanity and the righteous wrath of God. 

 

OUR REBELLION. Whether you interpret Genesis as being literal or allegorical, it contains the familiar story that establishes humankind as broken and depraved. In Paul’s view, “shalom” was God’s original intent, not sin and rebellion (Rom 8:19-23). After completing creation, the Creator gave humankind free reign of the world, with one caveat, a single warning to be heeded (Gen. 2:15-17). Later, Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and delighted in the very thing God warned against (Gen. 3:6). By their choice, Adam and Eve chose creation over the creator, resulting in sin and death entering the world and broken relationships with self, God, others, and creation (Gen. 3:14-19). Through Adam and Eve’s actions and humanity’s ancestry, sin and death enter the world in the lives of all humankind (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 5:12-17, 1 Cor. 15:21-22, Eph. 2:3). Humankind is now, by very nature, living in open rebellion. Death is introduced in Genesis, but atonement is also foreshadowed. By the death of one animal, the shame of all humanity is covered (Gen. 3:21).

Humankind’s rebellion, both communal and individual, is not limited to ancestry, it is also found in individual actions. As Thomas Schreiner mentions in “Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ”, sin as an action is not founded in ignorance, but in idolatry (1). Sin is a willing decision to worship anything aside from God. It is humanity’s natural propensity and open rebellion against the Creator (Rom 8:7). Mirroring Adam and Eve’s original sin, Paul poses that humankind’s sin is choosing creation over Creator – ultimately resulting from a failure to trust in the goodness of God (Rom. 1:20-25). God has revealed himself to humankind and made known His glory, but humankind still willingly, through ancestry and action, chooses creation over creator, living in open rebellion.

 

HIS WRATH. As D.A. Carson emphasizes in his lecture from ETS 2009, the wrath of God is often ignored in reflections upon the Gospel (2). Sin as open rebellion results in God’s righteous wrath. Wrath is seen widely throughout the Old Testament, commonly associated with the charges given by the OT Prophets to the people of Israel for ignoring their covenant with God. It also, occasionally, applies to other nations as they rebel against God, His rule, or His people (Exod 15:5-7, Amos 1:2-2:5). Wrath is not confined to the OT, however. Just as in the Old Testament, God’s New Testament people rebel and sin as an affront to God and His covenant. As a direct result of humankind’s rebellion against God, His wrath grows like a dammed river (Rom 1:18, 2:5-8). Paul’s portrayal of God’s wrath in Romans does not seem to be a result of some emotional instability from a two-faced deity, but rather a cause and effect due to continued wayward choices by a rebellious people.

Rebellion incurs a cost that must be paid, and God’s righteous wrath must be satisfied.

This is why humankind needs good news. Humankind lives in open rebellion that, by its very nature, cannot be overcome. Even through the law of the Old Testament, it is impossible to appease God’s wrath and reconcile humankind’s relationship with the Creator (Rom 3:10-20). Because of this, the Gospel is needed…because of this, the Gospel is embraced.

(1) Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: a Pauline Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006), 106.

(2) D.A. Carson, “The Changing (Changeless?) Face of Evangelicalism” (mp3 audio file of lecture, ETS Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA).

 


 

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR STUDENTS AND OUR MINISTRY?

Until we are able to create an awareness of where they are right now, apart from Christ, there is no need for salvation. I’m not advocating fire and brimstone, but I am saying to be cautious of how you present the Gospel. My entire teenage life, I assumed that sin was just forgotten, not paid.  I knew in my head it was paid, but no one really walked me through the severity of my sins and the debt they really incurred.

Women in Youth Ministry: My Story

I broke the youth minister mold, and I am admittedly proud of it.  I’m young, I’m single, I’m female.  Yet at about 23, I’ve already had multiple internships in churches of differing sizes and served as the youth minister in a small, Southern Baptist Church for two years.  I’ve surprised myself, surprised others, and have come a long way in a short time.

Growing up SBC, I wasn’t sure about a woman’s role in the church. I heard all these sermons about spreading the Gospel, yet I didn’t see many women who were serving in leadership positions.  In middle school, my youth minister was a female, but she left and a male took over the group.  All of my friends’ churches had male leaders.  When I was called to ministry at 17 years old, it was the conviction within the members of my church that pushed me to embrace the opportunity.  Yet, although everyone saw my calling, it was hard to place me in a role.

I recently graduated from an SBC university with degrees in Youth Ministry and Theology.  Surprisingly all of my ministry professors embraced women in ministry; however there were no female professors within the college of ministry/theology.  Most of the other women in the ministry program did not feel called to the church setting, but a camp or unchurched setting; so I was pretty unique in that.  The church I ministered in was also in the town, and it was well-known throughout my colleagues and professors who I was and what I did.  My male colleagues never challenged my role in the local church, yet voiced their opinions about the ability for a woman to be in ministry in classes of which I was not present.  The most ignorant comments usually came from people who were just meeting me and weren’t within the ministry college: “Women can do that now?!”

When I first got the position at that church as a real, legit “Youth Minister”, I didn’t have feelings of excitement, but overwhelmed.  I had theological convictions, but no examples of women who had “made it” to be a woman in youth ministry.  I knew women could be youth ministers, but I wasn’t convinced they could in my church.  These thoughts were the pins and needles I walked on throughout my two years at this small church.  At larger events, I wouldn’t talk for more than ten minutes for fear that someone would consider me “preaching.”  I had trouble finding a male volunteer to disciple the males in my youth group one-on-one.  I was afraid of over-stepping boundaries because I was a woman.  And why?  Because I had no examples of how to do ministry as a woman, just the assurance that I could.

I sought out an online network of ministers.  I grew encouraged by women who have been doing youth ministry for as long as I have been alive, and also grew with noobs like myself.  Yet there still weren’t a lot of women in these communities; this may be representative of the youth ministry community (especially with similar theological dispositions as mine), representative of women like me who were afraid to speak up, or representative of women who have time to network on top of other things (like raising families).

On my university campus I was an officer for a national organization dedicated to educating and discipling a generation of ministers.  I also intentionally developed relationships with women in the college of ministry/theology, offering a support and model of a woman who “made it” (even in an SBC church!).  This was my baby—I found my voice and became a role model for women in ministry.  This is where I found the ability to be a woman in ministry—a bold leader who embraces her spiritual gift of teaching and womanly gifting of exhortation for the Kingdom of God.

What do I personally want?  I want the stereotypes to end.  I don’t fit the current mold—I’m not athletic, I don’t own TOMS, and my guitar skills are mediocre at best.  And just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t control my PMS and I’m too emotional to give hard truth to people (anyone who knows me can tell you I’m a truth-puncher).  I want people to look at me and not see a little girl wanting to play church, but a woman who is passionate about ministry and is theologically and practically trained.  I want people to stop thinking that because I’m not married, every aspect of my life needs to be devoted to the church and I need to be willing to step in for “extra tasks”.  I don’t want people to expect me to stop ministering when I actually do marry and have children.  And when I do decide to have children, I want a church staff to not find another minister just because I need a pregnancy leave.  I want church staffs to take me seriously, not as “the girl on staff,” but the Youth PASTOR.  I want to be paid the same as a man would in my position, because I’ve worked for it just as hard, if not harder because of the gender-persecution I have overcome.  I want to “preach” and not “share,” and maybe even in “big church” once in a while.  I want churches to quit asking me how I relate to teenage boys, when they don’t ask men how they relate to teenage girls.  More than anything, I want people to understand my Biblical and cultural convictions that women can be leaders within the local church.

I know that I haven’t experienced everything there is to see in ministry.  I’m sure I will see more discrimination.  But even more, I will see a generation of women rising up and embracing opportunities for leading within the Church.  I want to be a part of the generation of youth ministers (both male and female) that don’t just teach theologically that a woman can take part in ministry, but show practically so that women won’t be afraid of leading.

Arminianism and Youth Ministry

[To see the companion post that goes with this article and presents a different viewpoint, visit: Calvinism and Student Ministry]

My fellow YouthMin.org contributor Frank Gil hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “What you believe about how Christ saves his people will affect how you worship and live.”  He springboards from there and shares how his view of God, particularly Calvinism, has shaped his ministry from top to bottom.

It is absolutely true that Youth Ministry is not just about knowing great games, having the perfect pizza to student ratio formula, or being able to wrangle a few unsuspecting volunteers into the lock-in that will nearly kill them.  Youth Ministry is…MINISTRY.  That means, at its very core, Youth Ministry is about pointing people, mainly students, toward a life-altering relationship with Christ.  This means the most important aspects of ministry SHOULD be teaching, mentoring, and discipleship.  All of these key ingredients MUST be driven by a sound theological base and clear understanding of doctrine.  If not, students will be confused, disillusioned, and leave with more questions than they had before they came.  I would argue that Youth Ministers need to be extremely prepared doctrinally, because many times, students will ask questions that adults are too comfortable to ask.

With that said, it is important to realize that almost all of us come from a slightly different perspective, worldview, and even theological background.  Frank specifically mentioned Calvinism as his theological tilt.  I, however, happen to be a zero-point Calvinist.  I used a picture of Calvin as a dartboard in college (just kidding, it was Tom Selleck).  I grew up in the Christian Church / Churches of Christ.  I studied at Taylor University under 5-point Calvinists, but found their views of many passages in the Scriptures to be inconsistent with mine.  I was much more at home where I finished my schooling – at Johnson University in Knooxville, TN.

Through many years, lots of reading, and the occasional “debate,” I have a clear and consistent theology that directs and guides everything I do and say in ministry.  Despite the fact I come from a different perspective, Frank and I are colleagues, friends, and co-laborers in Christ.  And I respect that he has a method to the madness.  While this is not an anti-Calvin or anti-Frank post, I did want to mention a few key tenets of my theology that direct my ministry.

1.  God is Creator, all-powerful, and to be praised.
Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”  And of course, we are reminded that Creation is the most powerful vessel through which God conveys His greatness.  Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…”  This truth is vitally important in Youth Ministry, because students are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their identity.  By focusing on God as Creator, it is a simple and yet invaluable transition to the fact that THEY are a perfect Creation of God, unique and beautiful, and designed for His glory.  I believe this is the foundation upon which ministry to students must build.

2.  It is God who saves, but He gives us the freedom to choose.
You’re thinking about that Calvin dartboard again, aren’t you?  Free will is central to the way we do ministry in my church.  We believe strongly in 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  While God graciously and lovingly sent His Son to die for us, I believe it is completely possible for someone to hear that message, understand it, and choose to walk away from it.  While God does 99 percent of the work of salvation, there is still a part of the process where we must choose Him.  Because of this, we offer students the opportunity to respond to the Gospel every week.  In the words of Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”

3.  Baptism is a part of the plan of salvation.
This is a basic part of Restoration Movement doctrine, and is probably the most distinct element to our denomination.  I won’t go into an entire diatribe about why I believe wholeheartedly in this, but will devote one question to it.  If Jesus did it, then commanded it, the apostles practiced it, the authors of the New Testament recorded it, and the hearers of the Gospel in Acts responded by doing it, is it possible that it’s more than just a sign of obedience?  We believe a student is sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of Redemption when baptism is complete (see Acts 2:37-38).  For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on this.  We encourage students to pursue it, to ask questions about it, to study it, and when they are buried with Christ, we celebrate like CRAZY!

4.  Holiness is vital.
If you ask a Calvinist about a man who has been saved and then rejects God, they will argue they were never saved to begin with.  I would argue that they walked away from their salvation (see Hebrews 6:4-6).  Funny how we are both saying the same thing – that the person needs Christ.  Holiness is a crucial part of the Christian walk, and we work hard to communicate that to our students.  Matthew 5:48 says simply, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  And Hebrews 10:26-31 is some of the most straightforward holiness stuff in the New Testament.  God expects a lot from His people as they reflect Him to the world.  Yes, His grace is vast, but students need to know that the expectation is high, and that God values integrity.

These are just a few of the key ingredients in our theological youth ministry.  Yours are probably different, which is totally okay.  But what are your key beliefs about God that drive you and your ministry?