Monday, March 31, 2008

"What Impacted You the Most?"

Wendi Swartz is one of our awesome youth ministry volunteers. Wendi emailed the following question of some former members of our youth ministry, "What impacted you the most going through our ministry?" Here are a few of the responses:
  • I would say that the relationships have impacted me the most in our ministry; especially my small group. I've learned a lot through these but most importantly, I've had Christian fellowship and people who genuinely care about me and who I can be totally honest with. I don't think that there is anywhere else that I have been able to have that kind of experience - it has been so meaningful in my life. -- Maria
  • The stories they told and the advice they gave. -- Chelsea
  • The good fellowship and strong Christian friends. -- Joanna
  • Challenge and mission trips impacted me the most. The fellowship built within the youth group impacted me the most. I like it when people share testimonies and create accountability relationships. -- Bonnie
  • The thing that impacted me the most was probably the fellowship. There are a lot of youth groups out there that have good speakers and plenty of ideas for improvement but they lack the friendships and "hang out" time that seem to bring everything together. -- Evan
  • I think just the way the leaders are so personal... and want to talk to me one on one. It really made an impact on me that they do care about where I am at spiritually and will help me in any way i need it. -- Kelsey
  • The people. The leaders, my small group leaders, the teachers, the guys and girls in ministry team to look up to when younger, the community and friendships built, the leaders who would spend time to hang out with you over their same age friends. But even cooler is that all those people and relationships were centered around a common uniting Faith. So the people/relationships. Yep. -- Kyle
  • The things that impacted me the most were my relationships with the leaders and other peers there. The other things that i found to be very important was the depth of the material being presented to me and the creativity of our youth group as a whole. -- Mike
  • My small group leader, small group, missions trips. -- Bri

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bart Ehrman

You've got to download this video of the beginning minutes of Bart Ehrman's lecture at Stanford and show it to your church youth. I showed the video to our High School group this morning. They were stunned. Use it as a discussion starter. (use the free programs KeepVid and VLC media player).
If you go to your local bookstore's religion section you will certainly find a title by Bart Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was a former floor-mate of mine at Moody Bible Institute. Now Bart seems to enjoy dissuading people from faith in God. Among his more popular works is Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.
Biblical scholar Ben Witherington gives a recent review of Bart's most recent book, God's Problem.
William Lane Craig has a transcript of his debate with Bart.
You'll also see Bart on TV from time to time as the guest Biblical scholar who knows a lot of stuff.
I think he's popular, in part, because of his evangelical roots; having fallen from the faith. The press loves to do an 'in-your-face' to right wing Christians.
Oh...I thought 2 things were funny in the video:
1. The guy that introduces Bart calls him Dr. Ehrrmaan (pronouncing his name in with a German accent; we would have mocked him at MBI for that).
2. Bart has this wicked laugh when he tells the story of his class of Christian students.
How did Bart lose his faith? Maybe he got hung up on the problem of evil and his research into textual criticism sealed the deal. I don't know.
I didn't know Bart that well at Moody's even though his room was next to mine. He was super smart. I get sad when I think of him and his students and his future. I hope it's okay with him that I pray for him from time to time; wanting the best for him.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


You know me, I don’t usually get too hyped about political stuff. I try to understand both sides of the argument. But Obama leaves me a bit frayed around the edges.

I’ve observed several aspects of Obama’s church controversy:

1. First of all, the issue itself is a bit of a red herring. There are bigger issues to talk about nationally than Obama’s pastor. The conservatives drone on about issues like this but no one is asking the candidates the hard questions: What about the unchecked irresponsible spending by both parties? The budget deficit? Social Security? Alternative sources of fuel? Defending the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves? Our nation’s moral collapse? Etc.

2. Obama vilified the American church in a recent speech by saying that “the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning”. But snoop around on the web site of Obama's home church. His church, Trinity United Church of Christ, projects itself as all Black. It is exclusively Afro-centric. Anyone without roots in Africa would not be enticed to attend there. Your see, they are “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian”. Actually, I’m mostly okay with that. Churches should bring the gospel to the people groups in their area that they are called by God to reach. But Trinity needs to wonder if they aren’t being too exclusive against whites and open to charges of racism.

3. Rumor has it that Trinity UCC’s theology of preference is Liberation Theology. In keeping with the UCC denomination, their statement of faith is lame. But since Obama is so doggedly loyal to this church’s pastor I’m getting a clearer impression that Obama’s socialist leanings are very consistent with Liberation Theology.

4. So what about Obama’s dedication to his pastor who publicly chastises, “G_ _ D_ _ _ _ America!” Obama says that this quote was from a collection of Pastor Wright’s worst sermon moments. Maybe that's true. But my concern is with a presidential candidate who continues to align himself closely with a church and a pastor who are FOCUSED on liberation. In particular, liberation from the evil of America’s ‘domination’ of the black race and of all the oppressed peoples of the world. Pastor Wright's anger resembles that of Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez, who called George Bush “Satan” at the UN. Interestingly, Liberation Theology is widely popular in South America. Now it's one thing for a South American dictator to hold these views. It is another matter when an American presidential candidate holds these views.

5. Consequently, I’m beginning to suspect that Obama aligns himself with the failed socialist agenda of the past 100 years. And I bet Obama wants to speed up the forced redistribution of national and global wealth from the White House. But the problem is that socialism threatens to kill the goose that is laying the golden egg. Obama should highlight Christian individual responsibility and seek to level the playing field of opportunity so that the poor have a chance to succeed. He should seek to raise the moral and legal standards in countries who are struggling; so that they can improve themselves. Societies who turn a blind eye to corruption and whose courts are ineffective or unjust will never progress. All the money in the world will not rescue an unrighteous society. America and Western Europe should take note as well. If "righteousness exalts a nation", then what does unrighteousness do to a nation?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Postmodernism is a Myth Devised by Frustrated Youth Pastors"

Christian apologist William Lane Craig said something like this at a recent conference, "Post-modernism is a Myth Devised by Frustrated Youth Pastors". I would suspect that Dr. Craig is referring to the Emergent Village folks; Jones, Paggitt, et al. Craig says that the EV folks have misdiagnosed our culture. Craig contends that we have not entered a post-modern culture; rather, we are thoroughly modern. Now more than ever, he insists, we need to provide rational arguments for the Christian faith. We need not resort to vague narratives and stories. Craig should know. He picks debates at packed university venues around the world.

Since I think that 'Billy' is the bomb (Dr. Craig's wife affectionately calls him Billy), I have to sit up and take notice when he makes such a bold statement.

To my best recollection, Craig also indicated that rationalistic, enlightenment hope is alive and well.

I had suspected that Craig's view is a truer assessment of Western culture than the broad label 'post-modern'. We worship science. Like Napolean Dynamite's brother, Kip, we love technology, and we expect medical advancements to save our lives. Inventions have enriched our lives and good old-fashioned Enlightenment empiricism is even applied to the Church (church growth movement?).

I'm not a philosopher, but I think Craig is onto something here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For Laughs

Other people post some funny stuff on their blogs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Beta Version of a Ministry and Evangelism Training Model (part 2)

Now, take these ideas (Service and Contribution) from my last post a step further. Consider Service and Contribution as root elements of a unifying approach for evangelism.
I think everyone is struggling with how to train students to evangelize other students. Our students can be easily labeled as intolerant when they talk about Jesus. Few of them feel effective. Some YP's are literally throwing the old methods out the window (see a great article Tossing Aside the Tract: Why Just About Everything I Learned About Evangelism is Wrong). But once we are tossing out the old models of evangelism as increasingly irrelevant, what do we replace them with? Like others, I've recognized this problem with traditional witnessing methods for years and I've fiddled with my evangelism training models; going so far as to use Brian McLaren's, More Ready Than You Realize (gasp!).
So, assuming that a student is first Living an authentic life in Christ; his next steps toward evangelism can be to Serve the needs of others and then to Contribute by ultimately giving them the message of the Good News.
But I'd like to add one more component. I've noticed that most effective evangelists in our ministry Invite others to our gatherings, and they usually Invite them to follow Jesus too. I don't think that an Invitation necessarily comes before or after any of the other three components of Live, Serve, Contribute So, I'll just throw it at the end.
Now I'll be playing with this 4-step model of evangelism: Live, Serve, Contribute, Invite.
Sonlife ministries' acronym of Live, Love, Lead sums this up too. But "Love" is too generic of a word to be useful. And "Lead" sounds manipulative.
Anyway...I'll be testing this out.

Beta Version of a Ministry and Evangelism Training Model (part 1)

A youth pastor comrade (Jim Newberry) recently told me that he refashioned his ministry team of students around the theme of "Contribution". He said that he wanted them to find ways to Contribute to the Kingdom work of Christ, by giving spiritual input to others, or by serving in the church nursery, or by leading a game for Jr. get the idea.
I think 'Contribution' can be a sensible unifying theme and qualification for this important group of responsive students. By "unifying theme" I mean, "What one thing unifies this mismatched bundle of kids?" and, "Where do I want to lead them?" and, "How can I honor the leadership training examples of Jesus and Paul while also honoring the individuality of these willing teens?"
'Contribution' also sets a bar or standard that qualifies a student to be a member of our ministry team. This year I asked my ministry team students to take on at least one weekly ministry responsibility. I helped to place them based on their gifts. Most students want to Contribute but they don't feel they have the permission or empowerment to do so. Some are leading peer Bible studies. Others are mentoring middle schoolers. It's all good. Now when we gather we can discuss how their ministries are going and how they can sharpen them. They are a tad bit hungrier for ministry principles since they are actually doing ministry.
Add to this idea of Contribution some recent, but not too original, thinking of mine about Serving. I am convinced that our first spiritual inroads into peoples' hearts rest in simply proving we care for them by discovering their needs and Serving them, helping them. Henri Nouwen cracks this idea open in his FANTASTIC little books The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, among others.
The next step is to translate Serve and Contribute into an approach for evangelism. I'll split here and pick this up in my next post.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Birthday Card for Dad

St. Patrick's Day is my dad's birthday. It's relatively easy to pick out a meaningful card for dad.
Is it as easy for others to pick out a card for me? Maybe that's why I have to remind everyone of my Birthday!? hmmm.
Happy Birthday, Pops.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Don't Let Someone Rent Space in Your Head"

I met a dear African American brother, and new pastor/friend Ed, at a meeting last week in San Antonio. As we were killing time on the river walk and the Alamo, we found that we needed directions back to the van. Ed walked over to one of San Antonio's "finest" police officers to get directions. As we headed off toward the van, Ed casually mentioned to me that the officer had made a snide remark laced with racist overtones. After curtly giving Ed his directions, the officer asked snottily, "Anything Else?"
Now, if an officer would say that to me, a white guy, I would dismiss him as a jerk. But when the same thing is said in Texas to a person of color, he's a racist jerk at best. I wanted to go back and insert that guy's night stick...
Before I get too cranked up about this, you need to know that Ed was very cool about it. He shared his encounter with me more out of surprise than spite. As you can imagine, this episode launched me into asking a ton of questions about Ed's feelings and how commonly this occurs, etc.
I asked Ed, "How do you keep things like that from getting to you. Ed's reply was, "I tell my people (in my congregation) 'Don't let people rent space in your head."
Who "rents space" in your head? Why don't you give them an eviction notice?