How to get a free copy of Relationships Unfiltered and partner with Andrew Root

Friends and fellow youth workers

Below is a note from a good friend of mine and excellant youth ministry thinker and resource Andrew Root. I have known Andy for a few years now, read all of his books, and had the privledge of attending the First Third conference and being a guest on his radio show.  He knows what he is talking about and his insights into teen culture, faith, and Christianity have both inspired and shaped my own ministry with my students.

From Andrew……

“Hello Youth Ministry friends, I’m sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading, but I have broken transmission to offer you an opportunity.

I wanted to get before you the chance to get a free copy of my book Relationships Unfiltered. As the new school year approaches and you think about volunteer leader meetings and trainings I would like to suggest you take a look at Relationships Unfiltered. It’s written just for this setting with discussion questions and chapters filled with illustrations and stories–but also promises to get you and your team thinking theologically about your core practice this coming school year: forming relationships with young people.

Here’s what I can do: If you’ll email me (aroot@luthersem.edu) I’ll send you a free copy of the book so you can look it over and decide if it would be of help to you and your volunteers.  If you’re interested in using it you can then go to Zondervan.com or Zondervan.com/ministry and type in the code 980752 in the “source code” box.  Starting August 1 this will give you a 40% discount on as many books as you’d like.

And I’ll also offer this, if you do use the book with your team, I’m willing to do a select number of skype or ichat conversations with you and your team after getting through the book.”

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I hope you will take him up on this offer, or at the least, look up his resources and see if they can be useful for your own personal development and ministry.  I have used this particular book with my leaders and it is extremely valuable for both full-time youth pastors and volunteer leaders.

Live appearance on Relationships Unfiltered-Episode 16

In this episode Andrew Root was kind enough to have me on as the guest as we chat about chapter 8 of his new book Relationships Unfiltered.

via Relationships Unfiltered-Episode 16, Chapter 8.

You can click on the link above to log on and listen in.  We would love to have you join in the conversation as we dialog about the shape of faithful place-sharing in relational youth ministry.

Postmodern youth ministry…a review

I first read Tony Jone’s book Postmodern Youth Ministry during my last year of undergrad studies. I realized quickly that it was a groundbreaking book for youth ministry, but I never fully realized at the time how important and influential this book would be.

I recently re-read the book and it shocked me to see just how relevant this book is for today’s youth ministry, and especially for tomorrow’s youth ministry. I still believe that for the most part, youth ministry culture has not fully caught up to what Tony was experiencing and writing about nearly a decade ago.  Looking back, this book was even more profound and prophetic than I had originally thought. Here in the northeast, we are very much witnessing the phenomone of postmodernity and its effects and influence on society, culture, worldviews, education, and religion.  I’m not convinced  other parts of the country have been struck with this reality, but they will in due time.

Tony’s opening thought “The day my world changed” was brilliant and true. In youth ministry, we cannot just claim that Jesus is Lord for everyone. In postmodern thought, that belief may be true for us, but cannot be an objective absolute truth for everyone.  Truth is relative and subjective, and this is visibly seen in today’s teens. (I realize that many will have major issues with the above statement. I am simply explaining the cultural realities surround postmodernity…whether you like them or not is another issue)

The first few chapters are a wonderful summary of what postmodernism is, how it came to be, and what its effects and influences are. Such ideas include that skepticism and cynicism rule the day, the argument that no text has an actual meaning because each reader imports meaning into the text; question everything; objectivity is out while subjectivity is in; never make lists; pluralism and tolerance are key; there is no Truth with a capital T..and ideas such as these.

Tony writes, “The students with whom we work were born into a culture in transition, and children born today are entering a thoroughly postmodern world. This is not to say that all students will adopt postmodern traits, but postmodernity will be the reigning school of thought, and postmodernity will be the reigning culture when our students arrive at college.”  Living in the northeast, I can vouch that this is true and failure to understand and acknowledge this will do much damage to churches and youth leaders.

Now, many might perceive the above characteristics to be negative and starkly opposed to the Bible and kingdom of God living…and to some extend I agree. However, postmodernism also brings with it some values that are highly biblical and kingdom of God minded.

Postmodern values:  experiential, spiritual, relative, communal, creative, environmental, global, holistic, authentic.

“Postmodernity may afford us the ability to recover some aspects of authentic Christianity.”

A missionary dives into culture headfirst and swims around, learning, perceiving and discerning.  A postmodern world demands that we admit that our contexts influence and shape us- that we be honest about our own subjectivity and we use those influences to benefit our communication of the gospel.  In my experience, in order to reach and effectivley ministey to postmodern students, one has to be a bit postmodern…or at least understand and appreciate it.  One’s aim cannot be to change or destroy postmodernism, but rather to work from within to bring about transformation within the system.

Tony implores youth leaders to shift toward authenticity. Our students want real, more than relevant. They don’t want worship services. they want worship experiences.

Students don’t want to be tricked into attending a meeting at someone’s house or a warehouse only to find out later that there’s a hidden agenda of saving their souls.  Andrew Root has written much about this issue of relationships vs. influence.

Additionally, students today are experiential, participatory, image-based and connective–everybody else is rational, passive, word-based, and highly individual.

Dan Kimball chimes in the discussion with saying, “the more blatantly spiritual our services and the harder we worship God, the more we will see postmodern youths connecting and responding to the gospel.”

Its not about watering down the message and creating seeking friendly environments.

Its also about a shift toward transcendence.

Postmodern youth ministry strives to promote students to feel they are entering sacred space when they walk into the room.

By taking this approach (which in many ways is contrast to the seeker sensitive mega church model), students get the strong impression that they are taking part in something unique, sacred, and eternally significant when they come to youth group.

I remember my years at Gordon College.  Every Sunday night our chapel turned into Catacombs, and we worship through icons (images), ancient hymns, silence and meditation all by candlelight.  These were incredible moments of touching the transcant and encounting the mysterious Divine.  Especially in the busyness of finals and athletic and social life, I needed these evenings to refresh my soul.

Every year, for the past eight years, I have been attnending the Youth Specialatiies National Youth Workers Convention.  Most years, they would transform spaces in the convention center to make a prayer room, labyrinth, and offer Vesper services.  Having not come from a faith tradition that promotes these, at first I was skeptical.  But having experienced the sacred, it has truly transformed my worship.

And now, with my own students, we bring in many comtemplative practices and create sacred space.   Some of our biggest “outreach” evenings will be for our prayers stations and spirituality spaces.  Students want to tap into their spirituality.  We should be open and willing to provide environments for them to do this in a Christ centered way.

Postmodern youth ministry also shifts the emphasis on evangelism

Tony writes, “In the postmodern context, it could be said that we ought to first evangelize experientially and teach the content of the faith later.  After all, Jesus says to his disciples Follow me!- not, Do you accept me as your personal lord and Savior?

“In modern Youth ministry, reductionism showed in our proclivity to purchase a program or curriculum, or take our kids to a really hyped up rally rather than do the long, hard work of building relationships and sharing Christ over time.”

Postmodern YM stresses the importance for a long-term discipleship. seeing it as a journey, and not a one-time close the deal event of conversion.  For too long, youth pastors have been counting conversions rather than counting conversations.  Coversatiions take time and devolope into relationships.  Relationships bring about community and transformation..which lines up more to the biblical example we have.

Teaching is re-imagined as well.

Instead of scripted talks and didactic teachings every week, Tony argues that we must facilitate discussion and dialogue.

We don’t need to try to convince or prove certain truths to students.

Rather, we can invite this pre-Christian student to experience the truth of Scripture by inviting him or her into the life of our community.  I have written about this shift. To read more see the link below.

Shift from facts to experience/encounter

“As pre-Christian students experience biblical love, and as they’re exposed to the stories of Scripture, the Bible will begin to take on “truth value” for them, and after time they will find the Bible is indeed a metanarrative into which every human being’s story in written.”

Postmodern YM allows students to first Belong to our community, then Behave by participating, and allowed time and grace as they come to Believe.

By comparision, traditional youth ministry often required the right Beliefs and Behavior before students could really Belong.  And we wondered why we weren’t making a different in the community and reaching unchurched teens!

Tony provides a great section about the web of belief and evangelism and how apologetics have been done in culturally appropriate ways that need to be done differently in a world which absolute, foundational truth is being overthrown.  How this works itself out is still in flux, but I do believe the way (method) and content (message ) of our apologetics and evangelism must change when doing ministry to postmodern teens.  I will attempt to write about this specifically at a later time.

In a postmodern world, we must exhibit authenticity and integrity as we teach students the essential truths of the faith.  If we oversimplify things, they will be blown away when they go into college or the working world and find that life and faith are not as simple as we lead them to believe. Better that they’re confronted with the rigorous complexities of faith now, in a community of faith where they can ask questions and work through spiritual dilemmas

Chris Folmsbee and Barefoot Ministry offer a great model for this approach:

Simplicity- Complexity- Perplexity- Humility.

For too long, youth ministry has intentionally tried to keep students in the Simplicity category by providing a simple faith and really not allowing much room (or time) for questions and doubts. We shied away from difficult passages and stories and offered cliche and trivial Bible answers to really tough questions and situations are students faced.  And then, they go offer to college and, in light of knew knowledge and experiences, everything they grew up learning seems to simple to be believable anymore.  Has this happened to anyone?

One of my favorite sections of the book contains a great chapter entitled The How of Discipleship

Tony shares his plan for catecissms and the spritual formation (education + trasnformation0

Re-reading this chapter causes me to rethink my plan for spiritual formation and to strive to teach not only bible, but history, doctrine, ethics, etc…

Included in Tony’s plan were the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, the sacraments, early church history, Old Test, New Test, Worship, Prayer, Missions and Outreach, denomicational distinctives…all combined within a structure of service, community, and hands on experiences.  Imagine restructuring your Sunday Am “Sunday school” (a.k.a babysitting and online curriculum) and have a real purpose and plan in place.

“Every church has to find a regular method to disciple its students appropriate to its local culture, its denominational heritage, and the congregation.”

At my church, I am currently in coversation about doing just this which the possibility of offering either a 6-month or 10-month class for all incoming freshman and a similar type of thing for outgoing seniors.

We would also combine such ancient practices such as lectio divina, the labyrinth, the spiritual disciplines, etc..

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, but I have thanked Tony for pushing me towards this thinking.

The last section of the book discusses relooking at how we view (and talk about) the Bible.

Doug Pagit’s voice is heard in the pages when he writes,  “The Bible is the nonfiction storybook of God’s interaction with his people.  It’s the lens through which we look at the world- not simply the object we study.”

J. Heinrich Arnold writes, “You will never be able to prove- even to yourself, that Jesus exists. Belief must be an inner experience.  As long as you try to prove the object of your belief intellectually, your efforts will stand in the way of such an experience.”

We read the Bible with our own lens that are fashioned by our surroundings. To try and say that we come to the text objectivity is self-deceptive.

In postmodern youth ministry, instead of trying to defend or prove the Bible (especially to the postmodern mind where objective Truth simply doesn’t exist), we must reclaim the Bible as narrative.

Tell stories.

A great job description for future youth workers could read something like this.

Youth pastors: Brings the Bible to life for students.

We do this so they can fully enter into the story and then have their lives changed and transformed by the story, kind of like that 80′s movie The Never Ending Story

What if  everything we did as youth workers was focussed on the goal that we might be conformed to Christ’s image!  No more measurements based on numbers or size of budget of staff.  And our annual review, the senior pastor would ask, Are you and your students being conformed to the image of Christ?

That is ultimately the goal of postmodern youth ministry.  The goals is the same (or should be) of all types of youth ministry.  The difference resides in who we are trying to reach, acknowledging that the realities of postmodernity necessitate that how we do it and what we say change and adapt to the culture…adapting for the result of transformation!

In conclusion….

Tony is attempting to do this in a postmodern context. In many ways, he is a missiologist and practical theologian.

If you do not understand postmodernity, you may not understand what Tony is trying to do.  If you are thoroughly emerged in a modern mindset and worldview (and no one is claiming that to be bad mind you), then you may in fact question and disagree with Tony on many levels.

Personally, I am glad that people like Tony Jones has a passion to reach a particular people with the gospel of Jesus.
Though his methods and message may be different than where many of us have come from and feel comfortable, it needs to be that way in order for a genuine and culturally approcatiate encounter with God to take place in the hearts and lives of postmodern students.

I am glad to hear that Tony is desiring to get back involved in youth ministry on some level whether speaking, teaching, or hopefully some more writing. (I personally think his heart has always been there)

As a final side note:  One of the great aspects of this book is that Tony was among the first to include commentaries infused within his content.  Authors such as Brian McLaren, Mike Yaconelli, Kara Powell, Dan Kimball, Mark Driscoll, Leonard Sweet, and others offer their opinions, critiques, and unbiased views on Tony’s thoughts.

Emerging youth pastors unite

Below is a recent post from my friend Jeremy Zach.  Youth Pastor gone mad

He lives and serves out in CA and also is the founder of a new, innovative, and progressive training resource for youth pastors.  ReYouthpastor

We have been in dialog and discussion over the past few months about the emerging trends of contextual youth ministry, as well as our common frustrations with the current trend of traditional models and approaches.  We are like-minded and share a similar passion and vision for the future of youth ministry and for the hope of spiritual formation of students (especially postmodern and “unchurched”).

We also believe there are many, many more like-minded youth pastors and youth leaders out there.

This is the post and perspective of Jeremy Zach, one of the many emerging voices….

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My youth pastor blogging friend Dan Haugh over at www.emergingyouth.wordpress.com and I have been talking about somehow uniting  progressive youth pastors across the web.

Obviously, there is a stark polarity in the brands and breeds of youth pastor bloggers.  It is not rocket science detecting what youth pastors are pressing the envelope and what youth pastors don’t have a clue.  In my assessment the progressive youth pastor population is slim.  My point is that there are very few youth pastor 3.0.

The problem is:  the youth pastor 3.0 doesn’t have healthy outlets and networks where they can contribute ideas without getting called a heretic, an emotional basket case, and an outcast.  The youth pastor 3.0 needs spaces and platforms.  Of course, we have blogging which literally turns into a brutal UFC fight and only leaves the youth pastor 3.0 more pissed off with some blood on his/her knuckles.  Trust me, I am talking from a lot of youth pastor blogger brawling experience.

Even though I like pretending to be a tough guy on the web, there needs to be arenas and avenues for unchurched youth pastors to play and articulate their heretical ideas about youth ministry.

Possible steps to obtaining a youth pastor 3.0/emerging web network:

1.  Assemble youth pastor affinity networks all across the web that represents the geological landscape of the USA youth ministry.

-  I really like what firstthird.org is doing.  I really wish I could go and be apart of that, but times are tough.  Firstthird is a dialogue, at Luther Seminary with Dr. Root and Dr. Kenda Dean,about theology in youth ministry.

2.  Identify and clarify who are the youth pastors 3.0 blogging on the web

-  I wrote what I think are the themes of a new emerging 3.0 youth pastors here and here .  Here is a brief list of:  average youth ministry dudes and dudettes that I think get it:

http://www.adamlehman.us/wordpress/

http://emergingyouth.wordpress.com/

http://mattcleaver.com/

http://www.rethinkingyouthministry.com/

http://www.jakebouma.com/

http://www.jonjolly.com/

http://ministryallies.com/

http://pomomusings.com/

Feel free to make any recommendations…..

3.  Brainstorms what a web network would look like for emerging youth pastors.  There has to be more out there….

Back to Dan…..

We would love to hear from you and continue to progress this discussion in the months to come.  The future is bright so its time to unite (hope you like my feeble attempt at cheesy cliches!)

My top 5 list for youth workers

As I meet new youth workers in my area, I am often asked the question “What books or resources do you recommend?”  My thoughts have changed over the years, but having read most youth ministry books out there, I have come to some decisions.  Granted, every youth worker is different and so is every context .  These are the five books I would recommend a new youth worker read and, in fact, I have given this list to my former interns who are now in full-time youth ministry.

(There are other non Youth Ministry books I highly recommend as far as theology, personal and spiritual development, church ministry, etc…, but this list is primarily about progressive and innovative youth ministry ideas, philosophies, and content that I have personally found to be the most helpful and inspirational in my situation)

I have posted a page on my blog with a more complete list of recommended books, but I chose to keep this list limited to five so not to overwhelm someone.  All of the books are fairly short and easy reads, and my advise is to read one book a month and really digest it.  After six months, you should have a good understanding of new models and thoughts for an every-changing youth ministry)

Each book speaks into different aspects of youth ministry including relational approaches, spiritual development, philosophical/theological perspectives, cultural/worldview changes and implications, and new ministry models.  I have written some reviews of these, which you can find by searching the blog, and intend to have a review written on each book shortly.

In no particular order:

A New Kind of Youth Ministry- Chris Folmsbee

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An excellent book about re-culturing forms and structure of traditional youth ministry models such as evangelism, disciple ship, leadership, missions, etc..

“A New Kind of Youth Ministry should be the handbook for a generation of forward-thinking youth workers.” – Tony Jones

Youth Ministry 3.0- Mark Oestreicher

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Marko realizes that the way we have been doing things is already not working. This book looks back historical to the major shifts in youth ministry while attempting to create a third way- new approach in ministering contextually and cross-culturally to new generations of students.

“This book will inspire, equip, and challenge you with an extremely thoughtful and realistic approach to youth ministry for the 3.0 orbs we find ourselves in.” -Chris Folmsbee

Postmodern Youth Ministry- Tony Jones

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Probably the first book published that researched the effects of postmodernity on students and attempted to re-think what youth ministry needed to look like.  Eight years after publication, it is still probably the best book out there on the issues and countless people are finding encouragement as they realize the inevitable influence on postmodernity in their own contexts.

Presence-Centered Youth Ministry- Mike King

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This book sets the bar for creating a theological and historical foundation for God’s presence in youth ministry.  The book shows how classic disciplines, symbols, and practices can shape the worldviews, virtues, and habits of young people today.    “If Brother Lawrence had been a youth pastor, this book would have been his favorite resource.” - Kendra Dean

Relationships Unfiltered- Andrew Root

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Andrew Root challenges youth workers to reconsider our motives for relational youth ministry and begin to consider simply being with and dong life alongside teenagers with no agenda other than to love them right where they are, by place sharing.  “Relationships Unfiltered is the single most important youth ministry book in a generation. ” -Tony Jones

a youth pastor’s impressions from the presidential inauguration

(this video was created for my class on Teen Spirituality for parents last spring, but it fits in every well. Listen to  Obama’s famous ‘yes we can” speech and also notice the written words)

Where were you when President Obama was sworn in?  I am sure that years from now we will all remember this moment. It truly marks an historic occasion for our nation and possibly the world, and perhaps is a sign of things to come for those of us in ministry.

Now, whether you woke up the day after the inauguration with hope and renewed enthusiasm, or if you woke up in complete disbelief and despair, may indicate whether you voted for Obama or not.

I am not much of a political analyst, but I do believe that no matter who you voted for or what your particular political beliefs may be, now is the time to support and pray for our new leader.

After listening to many of the debates over the past few months, watching the elections, and now taking a few hours on Tuesday to watch the inauguration of the first African American president, I have observed a few things that may or may not impact ministry in the future.

1. We are truly living in unprecedented and changing times.

During the presidential election, one of the CNN correspondents keenly observed that the face of American culture is transitioning to a much more moderate to liberal position.  Obama was able to sway the popular vote in many suburbs that have previously been Republican.

One political analyst remarked, “Barack Obama does not transcend race, rather we are living in a post-race America.”  In many ways America is becoming post-race, post-denominational, and post-Christian. The things that used to divide us are becoming fewer and fewer…and I am not so sure that is a bad thing.

Personally, I believe that over the next 5-15 years, the shift from red to blue will sweep across the nation. Some may argue against that and others may weep at America’s “moral degradation and ethical demise”.  However, it should be note the higher % of Catholics and evangelical Christians who voted for Obama and the growing shift toward the blue by the next generation of Christians.

Obama noted in inauguration speech that America is made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists. Yet, if we all strive for peace, we may be united as one.

Emergents reveal is this kind of talk, thinking that if we can just get by religions barriers, we could actually accomplish something good. Diversity is accepted and embraced in this new political regime and perhaps it should be in ministry as well…of course to a certain extent. But I am convince that for too long we have leaned much too far in the other direction. Those of other religions, lifestyles, and even political viewpoints have been shunned by many “Christian” and evangelical ministries and…yes youth pastors.

2. Barack is striving towards peace and prosperity…and so should our ministries.

I have heard two very contrasting views from members of seemingly opposite Christian views.

On the one hand, emergents view this as living out the words of Jesus and having God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It is a prayer that God’s people would be a blessing to all nations and that together, the world would be healed and restored.  Obama’s rhetoric speaks with optimistic  hope and passion that this may become a reality..at least within America.

On the other hand, some fundamental Christians will say (and I am not joking) that the book of Revelation speaks of the an-Christ doing just these things by ushering in a reign of peace, unity, and prosperity. And then of course, things only go downhill from there.

So which is it?

3. Our nation is becoming more diverse and tolerant.

There does seem to be great diversity and tolerance now, certainly along racial lines (good) and across religious lines (we shall see)

I suppose that Christians need to act more like Jesus than the judgmental Pharisees.

But how united can Christians and Muslims actually be?

I do think it is time we Christians learned from our past mistakes (crusades!),

and started reaching out in love, hope, and faith to those not yet Christ followers.

Perhaps they never will be.

Perhaps they will always stay our bitter enemies

but you know what Jesus said about your enemies….

4. Our nation’s leadership is getting younger.

Barack is a very young president and though he lacks the experience of someone older, his charisma, passion, and enthusiastic zeal for change in contagious with the “emerging” generation.

Forever in this country (and in church leadership), youth has been largely ignored. But I have a feeling that is going to change. Hey even the Pittsburgh Steeler’s coach is now the youngest coach to ever make it to the Superbowl (and he also happens to be African American)

Companies, sports teams, and governmental offices are looking for younger and ambitious people hoping for change.  Sounds like your typical youth pastor!

Perhaps churches will get on board with these changing times and start actually valuing the opinion of their youth pastors, rather than just sticking them in some basement to babysit students.

Perhaps God is speaking through the next generation…before we grew too old.

Perhaps our time is now!

Our time to voice out for the emerging generation and have our opinions heard and matter.

What does this all mean for youth ministry?

For starters, I hope that youth ministries will be taken more seriously in the near future. As young ministers, God has given us a voice, ambition, and a vision for hope and change. All we need is the right platform.

And more than ever, we must start to realize that we are helping develop the future leaders of our nation and our world..and for some of them that could start fairly soon.  It will probably happen closer to their 30′s than their 60′s like in times past.

Also, perhaps we should have more students in our programs who are post-Christian and perhaps part of another religion. As our nation grows more diverse and (hopefully) united, maybe our communities could do the same. And what better place for that to start than in the church and our youth ministries!

True these “different” students may influence the group?

But couldn’t the group influence them?

I think youth ministries in the past have been known by what we are not and who we are not

rather than what we are becoming. A new community of humans changed by Jesus and living out the story of God in our day.

As President Obama exclaimed, we cannot stand for “anything goes” anymore.

We need accountability and we need to stand up for what is true and just.

But I am becoming more convinced that we must also stand up and work towards peace, reconciliation, and a hopeful and hope-filled eschatology.

*As the video portrayed (which you really should watch if you have not yet)

In this ever changing environment, the lines are getting fuzzy for adolescents.

right vs. wrong

who’s in and who’s out

spiritual vs. christian

religious vs. atheist

But maybe some of this is a good thing.

Maybe we as youth pastors need to start looking beyond the differences and start looking toward the similarities.

After all, we claim we believe the origins stories from Genesis.

God created all of his children is his image?

Yes the Fall did occur and we see that in every aspect of life.

But a hope-filled viewed is determined to look at people through the Designer’s eyes. Not what these students have become, but what they were intended to be and could yet become.

As the lines get fuzzier and come towards a center, perhaps a more accurate picture will be displayed…that of a human being, created in the image of a God who loves them and who desperately wants a relationship with them.

In final retrospect of the election…

Rather than trying to fight against the coming tide (which some may attempt to do), I believe we must acknowledge where we are heading in America.  Our nation is following in the footsteps of our birth parents…the European nations and is thrusting forward into postmodernity.

Take the North East for instance. If the general culture is moving away from certain ideologies, “modern” worldviews, and modes of thought, what shall become of the church if it holds ground?

Now, I am not advocating for compromise, but for a shift in the way the church sees itself and its place in society.

I hope that we can try to see what God is doing in our county and how He might be already at work to bring about some of these positive changes…and try to get on board.

Listen, if our faith is not strong enough to remain and grow within postmodernity, then how strong was it really? The amazing thing about our faith is that it has always been able to morph, adopt, and adapt to changing times.

So, as we enter into this new period of history, let us pray for wisdom, and seek to partner with God as he continues to bring restoration, redemption, justice, and reconciliation to our society and world.

If we advocate first for a change of worldview, principles, ideologies, beliefs, and practices, than that requires a  great deal of change before a student can even belong or fit in with a youth group!

If we stick to that philosophy, I am not sure there will be very many students left in the North East (and eventually America) who will actually fit in as they are.  Perhaps Belonging must come first and Belief will follow.

As the great songwriter Bob Dylan once sang, “The times…they are a-changing”

Will youth pastors embrace the changing times and partner with God or will we hold fast and fight against the evils of “liberalism” and postmodernity and wait until God does something about it?

Which option is more proactive?

Which is more hopeful?

Which will seek to bring the gospel of Jesus to more people?

In closing…

Now, I realize that our new president stands on some ethical principles that I personally do not agree with. Yet, many of his views and beliefs resonate with me and I believe are kingdom principles.  Reformed health care, taking care of the poor and needy, educating those in need, asking for accountability for our actions and decisions, being a good steward of our money, promoting equality and unity across all lines, not showing favoritism to the wealthy and elite, etc..

You will find these in the life and teachings of Christ and these also have been a trademark of churches (and mission trips) for a long time. If our nation is truly in a time of crisis, than we need God’s kingdom to reign here more than ever. American has truly become a “mission field”, so let’s join together (ideally churches and our government) to bring about much needed change.

I don’t know about you, but I watched the 2009 presidential inauguration with great excitement and hope. I don’t know what the future holds, but I choose to be optimistic and see how God may already be at work in our nation to bring about his purposes.

Looking at it the other way around (that our nation is slowly going to hell in a hand basket) is depressing to me. Now, it may very well be true, but if it is I am going to fight with every last breath to bring this place back to God’s original intent.

I want to see God’s handiwork and presence saturated all around me and even in the policies and structures of our newly elected government.

I will do my part, and who knows, maybe together will we truly see change.

With God’s help…yes we can!

And whether you are a Democratic or Republican, voted for Obama or not, I hope you choose like I have to now support our new President with prayer during this time of transition and new beginnings.

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Linus was right…lessons learned from a Charlie Brown Christmas

Recently I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Keep the X in Xmas”, mocking the saying “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

During the past 1oo years or so, Christmas has developed more and more into a holiday of over abundance and less and less as the season to remember and reflect the birth of our Savior.

I fear that our society has lost the true meaning of Christmas long ago, and although we as Christians believe, I wonder how much of our lives reflect the culture more than the Christ. Our nation is more concerned about how to pay for Christmas, then how to reflect upon it and prepare for it!

How can we truly get Christ back into Christmas?

Each year I struggle with remaining focused on the true meaning and significance of Christmas. In the midst of the holiday chaos, when we can be so busy doing things for others, we often neglect the more important thing, being with the incarnate Christ…the Word of God made flesh…Jesus!

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So, this Christmas, while we will still go to the malls, attend parties, travel to see family, write cards, bake cookies (or if you are like me, eat cookies!), let us spend time each day focusing on our Savior. Even during these seemingly mundane things, Christ is present. He desires to be fully present in your life no matter what…and that is one of the greatest presents we could ever receive!

As you listen to Christmas carols, focus on the truth and beauty of the words. As you buy and wrap gifts, remember the greatest gift ever given to humanity. As you visit family, reflect on what it means to be a part of God’s family. And as you enjoy meals together, be thankful that in Christ, God has made a way for communion, relationships, and fellowship with Him and others.

He came to bring peace, hope, reconciliation, and restoration to all of mankind. That is the good news (gospel) of Christmas and we certainly should rejoice, celebrate, and proclaim that to everyone!

So, let the good news of Jesus permeate your hearts and lives this Christmas season.

As you make room for Him in your lives, allow the true meaning and message of Christmas be on display in your life. Let your words, character, attitude and actions reflect Jesus’ teachings and mission. Let love, kindness, justice, compassion, generosity, and peace flow into and out of us this month.

And lastly, hold lightly onto your possessions so that they do not possess you. High tightly onto people, especially the least ones in whom we meet Christ now. Remember that we are not what we acquire or accomplish as much as what we have received from God.

“The deepest joys come not from the money we earn, the friends we surround ourselves with, or the results we achieve. Rather we are who God made us to be in His infinite love. We are the gifts we are given.”

– Advent Meditations from Henri Nouwen

The commercialism of Xmas

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santaclauseworshippingbabyjesus

I’m not sure which image is more alarming to me.

I think in America we have replaced Jesus with Santa in very real and concrete ways.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Santa. I actually had a big crush on him (so to speak) when I was a kid.  And the historic Saint Nick seemed to be a great guy and probably a solid follower of Jesus.

However, here in America (and I assume elsewhere as well), we have trivialized and commercialized this once sacred holiday and occasion.

Right after Thanksgiving, department stores and radio stations begin advertising for Christmas. We spend so much time and money getting gifts (and then trying to figure out how to pay for them in the months to come.)

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Here is one of those infamous Youth Ministry stories…

I remember the first Christmas I was at my church, I brought a handful of students (mostly middle school girls) to the mall before Christmas time. I figured this would be a fun way to spend time together and buy gifts for family and friends. One eleven year old girl was given $300 dollars for the mall trip (yeah, our area is on the wealthy side)

But here is where it got interesting.

When we all met back up to leave, there she was with both tiny arms full of shopping bags.

Yet, a look of shame and embarrassment was plastered on her face as she realized that she forgot to get anything for her family.

She had gone to the mall with money to spend for others and had spent it all on herself!

What an image of how our culture has immortalized the giver of presents (Santa and his little elves)

We love to get stuff, and while giving can feel good, getting sure feels a whole lot better…especially if it is a new Iphone or PS3!

So, this year we have transformed our annual mall trip.

A few weeks ago we decided to sponsor a needy family from our community. Both parents were recently let go due to the bad economy. We asked them if our youth group could help provide a Christmas this year. They graciously supplied us with some wish lists for their four children.

So, our students signed up to purchase the various gifts and now our mall trip is the time and place to go and get those gifts for this family.  So, a large reason for us to even go is not for ourselves, but rather to bless a family in need and to be reminded about the true meaning of Christmas.

Christ came to give his life to us and we are called to do the same for others. And Christmas time is the perfect season to give back our time, money, and kindness.

We have also slightly modified our parties as well.

This year at our annual Youth Group Christmas party, in addition to each student bringing a wrapped gift for our gift swap, everyone brought a grocery bag full of canned goods for our local pantry (North Westchester Community Center of Katonah)

Through word and action (and by example) we are hoping to transform our students’ experience of Christmas and get them focused on the “other”.

Imagine having today’s teens willingly go without 1 or 2 gifts to make sure that a family in our area can experience a joyous Christmas!

Yes, the trappings and temptations will still exist but what I have found is that rather than trying to buck the system and not allow the consumerism and commercialism to enter the holiday, use the platforms and systems of our society and transform them into something new.

Malls will still exist. Movies, music, parties, and wish lists as well.

But so does the Spirit of Jesus to use those very things to open eyes, touch hearts, and transform lives. We have found that the majority of students still celebrate Christmas and are very open to hearing more about the true significance of the season.

Heck, even the Grinch realized that it was more than just bells, whistles, and bows.

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

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on Postmodernism

On ministering in the postmodern world…an essay

Postmodernism is a real development that has changed the way humans think, reflect, behave, and interact with each other. Whether recent philosophers birthed this movement, or whether philosophy prophetically spoke about the inevitability of postmodernism is certainly up for debate. However, what is not up for discussion is whether or not postmodernism is real, influential, and important for the church to understand. Postmodern thought has already impacted the western world, especially in such places as Europe, major urban centers in Africa and Asia, and along the east and west coasts of the United States. This influence can be easily noticed in educational systems, architecture, science, linguistics and other fields such as sociology and anthropology. People are changing. Human beings continue to evolve and progress in their knowledge and ability to reflect and think. Postmoderns, simply put, have a much different worldview and perspective on life than then those trained and influenced by modern thought. Subjects such as truth, objectivity, propositions, form, function, and authority have forged a gap between these two generations. We are now in, as many scholars and philosophers would say, a major paradigm shift with profound implications for humanity. And yet, the church seems to be poorly equipped to deal with this change.

The Emerging church movement represents a response to the growing tide of postmodernism in the western world. Whether this movement simply mirrors the radical attempt of evangelicalism in the 1950’s or brings about long-term shifts such as the Reformation…only time will tell.

This introduction needs to be made in order to reflect upon my involvement and response to postmodernism. I see these changes happening and see the failed attempts of Christianity in the recent past. Postmodernism cannot be ignored, nor can it be condemned. For, if in fact, the dawn of postmodernism is fast approaching, the church of today must learn to minister within postmodernism, or there will be no church of tomorrow. The church must respond to the changes and demands of globalization. Postmodernism helps define how to live in the tension; live in the paradox of real life.

The emerging church in the midst of postmodernism, is attempting to find an alternative (third way) between secularism and liberalism to the left and fundamentalism and ethnocentrism to the right. While complex, messy and uncertain, it seems to be the most authentic approach to ministering to, with, and as a postmodern.

I grew up in the Northeast of the United States in a well educated and financially secure community. Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I was trained to either ignore or reject any form of postmodern thought. This new type of thinking questioned the ability to know anything concretely or absolutely; it praised contextualism and relativism; it valued doubt and deconstructionalism. Needless to say, these were issues the church did not want to respond to, and so the church held firm to its views and frowned upon those who questioned anything. But I quickly learned for myself that questioning is necessary, and doubt can be a good thing. Of course there is risk involved in such an approach, but nothing worth believing in is null of risk.

Growing up in New England, the only alternative to conservative evangelicalism was an extreme form of liberalism. This stream of Christianity used historical/critical analysis to deconstruct the biblical text…and its message. It also demythologized the story and discredited all of the miracles in the biblical narrative. To liberals, the message of Jesus was more important than the factual history of him. To me, these were very skeptical people who simply could not believe in mystery or paradoxes. I saw this as a complete lack of faith in the supernatural or spiritual. However, I always appreciated the belief that somehow, the “gospel” that Jesus preached was more than simply a one-way ticket to heaven. Liberal Christians in my area were extremely involved in social action and justice. They seemed to ‘live the faith” with more conviction and passion than many of my church members. While we were holding massive rallies and trying to convert people, they were feeding the poor, caring for the environment, and trying to make “this” world a better place to live. And somehow that resonated with me. It seemed to me that’s what Jesus meant when he prayed that God’s kingdom would come “on earth as it is in heaven”. Of course, I could never share these views for risk of scorn and excommunication (not literally I think). There seemed to be no place for a doubtful and yet hopeful, skeptical and yet faithful, theologically liberal and yet culturally conservative type of Christian.

Attending a reformed Christian college actually marked the beginning of my journey navigating the unchartered waters between conservative evangelicalism and liberalism. Systematic theology just wasn’t cutting it. The professors laid out this neatly packaged box of beliefs about God, and while I could follow their reasoning and logic, something about nailing down and cementing the concept of God didn’t sit well with me. In other classes, we would spend hours dissecting the Bible as if in a laboratory in hopes of fully understanding even the smallest nuances and literary devices of each participle. These students would literally spend hours and hours each week delving into the text. In contrast, I wanted to spend time with people and love them as Jesus did.

For some reason, and I know this is an outrageous generalization, it seemed to me that the more time people spent time mastering the text and mastering their understanding of God, the less like Jesus they became. They would become more judgmental, angry, removed from society, less tolerant of others, more critical, more likely to condemn, and less likely to love and forgive. But then again… I could have been wrong. I appreciate the emergent hermeneutic of humility and uncertainty. As we humble ourselves to the unknown greatness and mystery of God, we allow the text of Scripture to master us and open the way for God to work in and through us in new life-giving ways.

I started to read more about what Jesus actually taught and how he lived, and it really didn’t translate to the version of evangelicalism I was familiar with. In fact, the more I read the gospels, the more similarities I witnessed between many prominent evangelical leaders and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees in the first century were very concerned about maintaining their religious traditions and protecting the holiness of God. They established rules upon rules to protect God’s laws from being violated and often spoke about the anger and wrath of God upon people who didn’t follow their ways. Then Jesus came on the scene and really upset these religious leaders. He spent time with the outcasts of society and embraced them rather than judging them. He spoke about the radical love of God, and seemed much more concerned about restoration and reconciliation than upholding religious traditions. In fact he claimed that the Pharisees got it wrong by focusing on the letter of the law rather than the love of law.

I have also witnessed that within evangelicalism has existed a militant notion of advancing the Kingdom of God. Certainly this was the case during the Crusades, but even today the prevalent mentality among most Christians is an “us vs. them” mindset. You can see this reflected in the titles of sermons, articles and books such as the Battle for Faith or the War on Truth and motivation slogans such as “increasing His kingdom” and “advancing the gospel”. Of course this is widely agreed upon and advocated because the main purpose of Christians is to win as many people as possible to their beliefs before they die. Once again, the gospel simply becomes to save as many souls as possible and using whatever means necessary.

There is a difference in theology and approach between advancing the kingdom on the one hand, and partnering with God in his activity in the world on the other. The emerging church is seeking to be missional and incarnational and to find a common ground between these two notions. The essence of the gospel cannot, no should not, be easily boiled down. Even within Jesus’ teachings there existed a dualism between this world and some other world; between the here and now and the future. Postmoderns really care about what is happening here on earth and in the complexities of daily life and relationships.

I believe the church must minister with postmoderns. For right now, postmoderns are considered a separate tribe of people. Missiologists are attempting to contextualize the gospel in order to minister to these educated, wealthy, (mostly white) Westerners. I am not convinced however that people so influenced by modern thought will be able to understand and articulate within postmodernity. It is possible though that if missionaries try to understand the cultural, philosophical, and linguistic differences and learn to appreciate them, they might be able to succeed. However, from a personal experience, “missionaries” to the North East never faired too well, especially if they were not Red Sox fans! People in New England can always tell an outsider. If that person makes a real effort to speak our language, learn our culture, history and customs, and disown the Yankees, he or she may stand a chance. Longevity always helps as well.

Therefore, it is possible to minister to the postmodern generation. I see the evangelical church (hopefully) attempting to minister “with” the postmodern generation. Even now, this “emergent” church movement is considered a minority stream within the broader context of Christianity, much like Eastern orthodoxy. Of course, there are many Christian leaders who simply will not acknowledge “Emergent” as Christian, and I am fairly confident that in the future such people will become the new fundamentalists. This is because I believe that the emergent movement may in fact change the face of Christianity as we know it. Of course, I doubt the term “emergent” will last forever, but I do think that this necessary deconstruction of evangelical beliefs, doctrines, and institutionalism will have far-reaching impact.

Even now, the Evangelical Manifesto was recently written, and has embraced many facets of the “emergent” movement. If this manifesto were written ten years ago, it would be radically different. I can envision evangelicalism embracing postmodern thought in many ways including the uncertainty of “absolute” belief, the duality of God’s kingdom, the command of stewardship of the earth, a renewed focus on the spirituality of the physical, and an increased awareness for missional living and social action and justice. This current generation of western Christians is embracing the emerging church, because this conversation is speaking into the realities of life as we know it to be. It embraces the messiness and uncertainty of life, values relationships and authenticity, and seeks to follow in the way of Jesus.

Moreover, though clearly not primarily a generational movement, people between the ages of 15-40 all across the western world make up the postmodern generation. If the church does not minister to, with, and as postmoderns, little will be done to bring the future generations into the Christian faith. Ministering in a postmodern age will require of someone to be a missiologist, sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, linguist, historian, Biblical scholar, and contextual theologian. But then again, authentically following in the footsteps of Jesus may do just as well!

Although not fully complete, nor adequately descriptive, there are a number of characteristics that unite emerging churches.

Here are nine core practices of emerging churches that I resonate with, and believe are necessary features of churches hoping to minister in the postmodern world.

  • Identifying with Jesus
  • Transforming secular space
  • Living as community
  • Welcoming the stranger
  • Serving with generosity
  • Participating as producers (creating culture)
  • Creating as created beings
  • Leading as a body
  • Merging ancient and contemporary

I end my essay admitting that I consider myself one of the few, the proud, the…”Emergents”. I can speak the language, relate, and understand my generation because I am part of this generation. I understand the difficulties in coming to faith; yet also understand the deep longing for intimacy with God and relationships with others. I want to have hope in a good destiny after I die (eternal life), yet am not content with waiting around for that future day and seeing my world around me fall into despair. I want to make a difference in the world, and that cry from my heart is also the cry of this generation. And I truly believe that God hopes for the same.

If the God of Christianity is an anger-bent and intolerant being who is waiting for the earth to get bad enough to destroy it so he can then send most people into eternal torture, then I have a very hard time wanting to love and live for a God like that. However, if God is truly compassionate, kind, and loving in his nature and character, and desires for the salvation of all, than that’s a different story. If the message of Jesus when he first came to earth was good and if will be good news when he comes back, and if God desires the restoration and reconciliation of all things, than that is a God I can and want to partner with. If Christianity is simply about obtaining fire insurance so that we don’t end up in hell, then it seems to be a very limited belief system that completely downplays our entire existence here on earth. If however, God is still active and at work here on earth in preparation of the life to come, that gives me hope and much more of a purpose here on earth.

I subscribe to this “fuller understanding of the gospel”, not taking away or subtracting, but adding a new, deeper, and richer meaning. The church is not here for us. We are the church and the church is here for the world. This is the eschatology of hope. This is the emerging church. This is why I desire to minister as a postmodern, with postmoderns, and to the postmodern generation.