Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

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Let me begin by saying I really, really appreciate this book and applaud Brock for writing it and the good folk at The Youth Cartel for publishing it.

This book should be on the shelf of all youth workers in the U.S and I think Europe as well…but more on that later.

I have known Brock for a number of years and actually sat down with him over coffee (at the same Starbucks he meets his students)

He was very helpful during my decision and transition to leave youth ministry in the US and experiment with it here in France.

I remember Brock sharing about his call to Trinity Church in Greenwich and my honest wondering how he would make the transition from the glitz and glamour of youth ministry in Southern California to the challenging world of postmodernism and post-Christian world in the Northeast.  I had been serving as youth pastor for 10 years in the neighboring town of Bedford, NY and so understood full well the implications of postmodernism in society, the church, and especially with student ministry.

Many are called and few make it.

Brock transitioned well.  He gets it.

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You may not agree with everything he says in the book and I would bet it is because your ministry context is vastly different from his in the metro NYC über wealthy, highly intelligent and often antagonist culture riddled with cynicism, skepticism and secularism.

Because Brock is truly a practitioner of youth ministry, he unpacks the real issues facing today’s post-Christian teenagers better than anyone else I have read.  He really understands his context including the challenges facing the message of Christianity..or at least the image of Christianity.

You may think your environment is nothing like Brock’s and you may be correct...for now

Statistics and social experts correctly predicted that the Northeast of the United States would follow the trends in Europe.  This has already happened and will eventually sweep through the rest of the United States, hitting urban areas and both Coasts first before merging in the middle and …wait for it…actually impacting the “Bible Belt” of America’s heartland.

Whether you like it or not, we will be living in an ever-increasing post-Christian society.

Here in Europe, and especially in France, Christendom has long since evaporated and I would argue that for the best 25+ years students and churches have been experiencing what Brock describes is now happening in his area.

So, if you live in the Northeast, the first few chapters of the book you will understand because it is the reality in which you are serving. These chapters will be crucial for those trying to discern where society and culture is heading in the next 5-10 years.

For me, the chapter “The Way Forward: Response to a post-christian world” is paramount.

Brock argues that youth workers must embrace Christian relativism, embrace tolerance, embrace spirituality, embrace intellectualism, embrace mystery, embrace the miraculous and embrace answers.

Of course he unpacks each one with stories and strong theological arguments while remaining unwavering in his focus on Christ and passion to see students embrace and encounter Jesus.

In the chapter “A New of Mission”, Brock shares about moving away from an agenda of conversion to full engagement in the community. “We don’t serve to get people saved. We serve because we are saved.”

This indeed is a radical paradigm shift, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of God’s grace and blessing to the world in which we live.

In the chapter “A New Measurement for Success” Brock brilliantly and carefully attacks the numbers game of youth ministry in favor of relational and spiritual development as measures of a healthy youth ministry (and youth pastor) “My relationship with Jesus is my ministry”, and we are challenged and called to truly live out our faith with our students in honesty, transparency, authenticity and grace.

Brock Morgan has a challenging task and he approaches it as a missionary. Brock stands outside of the post-christian culture and observes as a missiologist and then delves into that world with optimism and hope.

From the stories I hear, God’s Spirit is truly moving among his church and youth ministry in Greenwich.

After finishing the book, a few questions linger.

I wonder if this approach is still valid for a society already gone through this shift away from Christianity.  Though hard to disagree with the movements in England, in France and other parts in Europe the history of the Church is so sullen people have lost faith. Whereas in the U.K and U.S, the church and state have not really been separated, a nation like France nationally split from the Church and makes it almost illegal to display one’s personal faith publicly.

I also wonder what youth ministry will look like as the next generation rises up in leadership, a generation itself raised in post-Christian values and worldview.

Around 10 years younger than Brock, I find myself actually on the cusp of a generational divide.  While others approach youth ministry from the vantage point of missiology, the time is coming when words like “progressive” and “post-modern” will define not only students but leaders as well.

What will faithfulness to God’s work in youth ministry need to look like for those who honestly question traditional beliefs and practices while embracing skepticism, tolerance, pluralism, inter-faith partnerships, social equality in all forms, and Biblical “openness”?

It is still to been seen how post-christian youth workers can embody a new kind of youth ministry.

That book has yet to be written……

Announcement time….

After serving at my current church for almost a full decade, my wife and I have agreed to accept a position with the American Church in Paris…..France.

The American Church in Paris

The American Church in Paris is the first American church established outside the United States. It started in 1814, and the present site – located on 65 Quai d’Orsay 75007, Paris, France – dates to 1930.

It started in 1814, when it was officially chartered and the first sanctuary was built in 1857. At this stage, the American Church was an interdenominational fellowship, for all those adhering to the historic Christian tradition as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed. It served both the expatriate American community, and a wide variety of English-speaking people from different countries and denominational backgrounds.

I will be sharing more about the present context, mission, vision, values of the church and what my role will be there.

There are many factors that went into our decision (and also went into our situation of moving on), and I intend to share our journey over the next few weeks.  What has been a very difficult and confusing time for us over the past few months has turned into a wonderful opportunity. While extremely sad and heartbroken to have to be leaving a church family and student ministry that has become my home since 2002, I am excited to embark on this new journey and partner with an incredible church.

 

Week 2: Jesus

Last week was week 2 of our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith.

For recaps of the previous weeks and why we are doing this series, please check out the previous posts.

The theme for this week was Jesus.  Again, not an easy topic to do in one evening.  In the past, I have actually taught entire semesters on Jesus, and on other occasions taught one month-long series.

About 2 years ago, rather than teaching a series based on the chronological and “major” events of Jesus’ life, we focused on providing our students with an intensive and profound look at who Jesus was, what he has done, and how then can interact with him.

Based on the chapter “Reculturing Education” from A New Kind of Youth Ministry here was our outline:

Truth 1: The Deity of Jesus

Week 1: The Divine Names of Jesus

Week 2: The Divine Attributes of Jesus

Week 3:  The Divine Works of Jesus

Truth 2: The Humanity of Jesus

Week 4: The Incarnation of Jesus

Week 5: The Character of Jesus

Week 6: The Priorities of Jesus

Truth 3: The Ministry of Jesus

Week 7:  The Teaching of Jesus

Week 8:  The Miracles of Jesus

Week 9: The Atonement of Jesus

Truth 4: Our interactions with Jesus

Week 10: Praying with and to Jesus

Week 11: Abiding In Jesus

Week 12: Participating in the Suffering of Jesus

Week 13: Following Jesus Every Day

I find amazing embrace, engagement, and transformation in taking this approach with our students, so I kept this in mind in preparation for this one evening

Flashback: When I taught this series on theology almost 8 years ago, my entire focus was not on engaging students with the life and presence of Jesus.  I did not care as much about seeing them spiritually formed and transformed as I did with convincing them their need for Christ’s salvation.

My main focus was on a clear presentation of substitutionary propitiatory atonement.  Jesus Christ on the cross in his crucifixion or sacrifice fulfilled the wrath and indignation of God. The crucifixion or sacrifice of Christ conciliated (or appeased) God, who would otherwise be offended by human sin and would demand penalty for it.

Naturally, the main goals in this kind of approach was convincing students of their sin, convicting them of their need for help, convincing them in the reality of punishment and eternal damnation and then offering them a solution.  In some ways, it is very much a sales pitch.  Now, you may firmly believe in the idea and the need for others to want and have it, but nonetheless, you still must spend time and energy selling them on that as well.

*disclaimer: I do not necessarily think this is wrong or inherently bad and do still see a need for this message. Generally around Easter time we have this discussion.

Today:

As mentioned from last week, I am attempt to include more of our leaders in the actual teaching time and group discussions as well and am trying to work hard to create environments and opportunities towards that end.

My theme and focus was on helping our students understand the mystery of Christ and the beauty of who he was and is.

1) I had one of our volunteers, Mary, offer a communal pray for our group and invited the presence of Jesus in our midst to quite our hearts and minds, guide us into truth and unity, and fill our spirits with his love.

2) We first did a brief recap from the following week, led by our students’ recollection of theme, content, and activities

3) We began introducing the night’s theme by showing this video, as a way of clearing up common misconceptions about who Jesus was not.

Following that funny clip I played an old Johnny Cash song called “It was Jesus” from his Love, God, Murder album

\”It was Jesus\”- Johnny Cash

4) Another volunteer (who happens to be my wife and very gifted in engaging students in interactive learning) lead the opening activity.  She divided the group into 2 and had each smaller group go into separate rooms.  One group was given a picture of a body on construction paper and asked to come up with words, images, or ideas showing the humanity of Jesus.  How do we know that Jesus was Human?

The other group was tasked with a similar proposition of coming up with how we know Jesus was divine.

This lasted for about 10 minutes and each group came back into the room and placed their sheet on the wall and explained how they arrived at their conclusions.

It was interesting to see which group had an easier time at first.  Can you guess which one?

About 5 minutes into the assignment, the “humanity” group had the sheet practically full, while the “divinity” one had probably 4 words written down.

I had a youth leader, Becky, help out each group by giving them a few verses to aid in their thinking and conversations

Group 1 (Humanity) Matt 8:24, Matt 21:18, Mark 3:5, John 11:35, John 11:36, John 12:27

Group 2 (Divinity) Matt 1:21, Luke 1:31-32, 1 Thess 1:10, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8

You probably cannot see from the images but here were a few of their discoveries:

Humanity:  he was born, he felt pain, he bled and died, he was tempted, he slept, he was hunger and thirsty, he felt human emotions such as fear, sadness, joy, anger

Divinity: his “I AM” sayings, various divine titles given to him (Son of God, Son of Man, image of God, etc..), his was sinless, he performed miracles, he was raised from the dead, he appeared after his resurrection, he pre-existence as the “Word” of God, forgave sins, had moments of omnipotence and omniscience

When both groups came back in we create a Venn diagram and had a really good discussion about which qualities, characteristics and attributes intersect with both natures (human and divine)

Examples were Love, Grace, Compassion, Community, Justice, Miracles

Christ represents the fullness and completion of what humanity can be.

As Millard Erickson writes in Christian Theology, “instead of asking Is Jesus as human as we are? we might better ask, Are we as human Jesus? For the type of human nature that each of us possesses is not pure human nature.  The true humanity created by God has in our case been corrupted and spoiled…Jesus is not only as human as we are; he is more human.  Our humanity is not a standard by which we are to measure his.  His humanity, true and unadulterated, is the standard by which we are to be measured.”

Some key points are:

Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us

Jesus manifests the true nature of humanity

Jesus can be our example

Human nature is good

God is not totally transcendent

5)  I chose 2 students to read the following passages:

John 1:1-14

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

A second student read these words about Christ found in Colossians 1:15-20

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christ being divine meant that he is also fully God and can forgive us, redeem us, and restore our nature and relationship with God. We can and should worship him as God, as our risen and eternal Savior.

There is a mystery surrounding the dual natures of Christ.  100% human and 100% divine seem to add up to an incomprehensible 200%!

However, students (especially in postmodernity) understand and accept the existence of paradox in life and faith.

6) We concluded our corporate time together by asking who is Jesus to me?

I showed this clip about the identity of Christ.

7)  Another leader, Jenny, invited our students to grab notebooks and pens and write a letter to a friend explaining who Jesus was to them.  This hopefully served as a good time for personal reflection on both their intellectual beliefs about Jesus, and their spiritual affirmations and experience of Jesus

ie. what Jesus actually means to them and who he is in their life

During these minutes we played two songs in the background:

Jesus Messiah- Chris Tomlin

We Love you Jesus- Shane and Shane

8)  A college student, Josh, then read the poem “One Solitary Life”, which still concludes the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular program each year in NYC

One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty-three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

9)  Josh then concluded with a prayer found in the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee

“Jesus, thank you.

Jesus. you are the Christ.

Jesus, you are the Messiah.

Jesus, you are the Anointed One.

Jesus, you are our Prophet.

Jesus, you are our Priest

Jesus, you are our King.

Jesus, you are the reason we have a relationship with God.

Jesus, thank you.”

10)  For the last 30-45 minutes we generally break up into 4 small groups.  Depending on the night and the theme, sometimes we have guys and girls together and sometimes we divide.  Here are the questions given to our leaders, serving simply as a starting point for discussion and thought.

Small Group Questions:

What is still confusing or hard to understand about Jesus?

Do you believe in Paradox?  How might that apply to faith in Jesus?

What does Jesus Humanity Reveal to Us?  How can it help us?

What does Jesus’ Divnity Reveal to us?  How can it help us?

Describe how you have experienced the reality of Jesus in your life?

*During the next 4 weeks for our Confirmation group, we will get more in-depth on the subject of Jesus and be looking at the following questions: (These are taken from the Re:Form Confirmation program from Sparkhouse)

a) Was Jesus of Nazareth God?

b) Did Jesus know he was God?

c) If Jesus was God why did he have to die?

d) Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

e) Why did Jesus get baptized?

f) Is believing in Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?

Next Week:  Holy Spirit

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.

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

Shift #7: From Facts to Experience/Encounter

“It is circumstances, not ideas, that change people.” author and Catholic priest Richard Rohr

Possibly the most significant way we can help youth notice their experiences with God is by helping them engage in real life; in real-life situations (out of the church and class room). We can then ask  them the eye-opening question- “How is God present here?

I once heard this statement:  “Facts don’t change people.  Experiences change people.”

Now, thinking back to the  Gospels and the book of Acts and the beginnings of the early church, you realize that it was individual’s encounters with the person of Jesus that transformed their life, not necessarily what they believed about him.  In fact, on more than once occasion Jesus healed someone and/or brought deliverance and restoration prior to any theological assent regarding his identity.

Here is a great story taken from the Gospel of John and serves as only one of many like it.

John 9

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10“How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded.

11He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.15Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

17Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19“Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

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What is apparent from this story is that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, pin him down, and squeeze him into a particular theological box.  The blind man probably figured that Jesus was a prophet of some kind and perhaps gave his specific answer out of fear of the Pharisees.  Or perhaps, he really didn’t have many facts or beliefs about this man called Jesus, but he certainly knew what he just experienced. He was literally blind and now he could see, and this man named Jesus healed him!

I think in youth ministry what often happens is that we try to get students to believe certain things about Jesus before we really enable them to encounter him.  Maybe the encounter is what must predicate the belief.

In Youth Ministry 3.0, Marko uses a great analogy of a train to illustrate the difference of progression towards faith, and (ultimately) the importance of fact vs. faith.

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Marko argues that in the past, facts could drive the engine of personal belief.  These “facts” would lead to a faith that was based upon those “facts”.  Experience could be helpful, but often not necessary and often declared they would get in way of true and authentic faith.  Now I understand what the writer of Hebrews says, 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.”

It is true that if God were to audibly speak or perform wonders and signs all the time in front of my students, it would not take a deep faith to believe in him.  So, the less amount of experiences we have, the potential is there to develop a stronger type of faith. However, a faith built solely upon facts may not be standing on solid ground.

Here is why.

Which “facts” are included as essential and who makes that call?  What if some beliefs or ideas that were considered “facts” a few generations ago are no longer held in the same light as they once were?

Imagine building a faith on the “fact” that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe?  Oh wait, most Christians did that a few centuries ago and excommunicated those who believed otherwise as heretics.

What if we are building our faith today on facts that may or may not be credible? What happens when one of those ideas comes crashing down?  In this book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell uses the analogy of building your faith just based upon facts and likens it to building a wall of bricks.

Two things occur when Christians do this:

1) We spend a whole lot of time defending our wall, protecting it from bricks that do not belong, and trying to keep people outside (that’s what walls do)

2)  We open up the possibility of the entire wall crumbling down if one of the bricks happens to be pulled out or damaged. (kind of like that game Jenga)

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Now, here is what I am not saying…Facts do not matter. They do. They are important . They are essential,

The apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 14:12-14

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

So clearly, a faith built upon myths or false ideas that cannot be historical and factually proven is not going to last.  There would be no real power in that kind of faith.  The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is essential according to the apostles, as is his divinity and humanity.

One of the earlier statements of “facts” and theology believed by the early church was this:

6Who, being in very nature  God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.     -Philippians 2

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   – Colossians 1:15-20

These appear to be some of the earliest doctrines recorded in Scripture and clearly what we can, and should, build our beliefs upon.   Beyond these, I am just not sure what exactly is essential and what is not, and therefore constructing and communicating a faith built or driven by a whole host of “facts” can become potentially dangerous.

And you know that’s true when we see our high school students enter college and told that many of these “facts” don’t exist (whether true or not).  We watch as their faith begins to crumble under the weight of doubt and uncertainty.  Now, we can try to give them new books on apologetics and thus begins a battle for their minds- beliefs about something and someone.

But…. if their hearts are already won because of their personal experience with the transforming and freeing power of Jesus…well that is a different story.

Back to the illustration of the train.  If experience/encounter lead the way, these cannot be easily discredited. One of the so-called ideals of postmodernity is that personal experience is everything. You will hear statements such as this, “Well that may be true for you, but this is what is true for me.”  Now this can be both a blessing and curse at the same time. Traditional apologetics don’t work in this scenario very often.  Sure, you will have exceptions, but it is very hard to “prove your point” to someone from a purely intellectual and rationalistic approach.

You can say 2+2 =4 and someone can say, “I see how you can come to belief that, but for me that equation does not work”.

Right or wrong, this is our generation of students. We can try to change them back into older worldviews, but we will spend energy fighting a losing battle and over time frustration will set in like trying to swim upstream against the current.    They have been taught (not modeled) a faith based mostly upon facts, and often these facts can be and should be questioned.  Some “facts” are Biblically based, while many are more products of culture and particular western worldviews than anything else.

What if God is calling us to reach students where they are at? (whether we understand or agree with the way they see life)

What if youth leaders focus on bringing students into a relationship with the person of Jesus. These “God-experiences” can broaden their perspectives on the spiritual,  and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, can lead to a personal faith.  This personal faith can and should lead to a desire to know more about the person of Jesus (which is built upon a core set of beliefs and “facts”).  Again, these are important, but maybe not what needs to drive our approach anymore.

Students still have questions that need to be answered. But for this generation, these questions are no longer about the credibility of the Bible and manuscripts, etc..  Sure some historical questions will arise from Dan Brown books and they can and should be addressed, but the issues students question have more to do with heart-felt concerns than purely academic or intellectual curiosity.

They are asking questions such:

Why does God allow suffering in the world?

How could a loving God send people to Hell?

Why isn’t Christianity more inclusive?

How can one religion be “right” and the others “wrong”?

Why have so many wars been fought in the name of God?

I am grateful for new approaches in apologetics such as Tim Keller who uses human reason and questions and uses these legitimate questions and concerns to point people to the reality and truth of God.

Generally, I have steered away from traditional apologetics, believing that Christ needs to be promoted more than defended. One author of the book iLead writes, “thoughtful apologetics are essential for reaching post-Christian, American teens.”   For starters, postmodern students are all about personal experience. call it what you want, but it is not going to change.  So if you want factual knowledge and evidence that demands a verdict to really appeal, you are going to have to start looking at some other generation.

I suppose arguments such as those advocated by Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, and Ravi Zacharias are beneficial for students thinking about truth, philosophy, and the like.  However, in my experience, most teens are drawn to the experience and encounter of Christ.  As the author later states, “until our teens can see that Christ quenches their souls’ spiritual thirst more than the world, they will always pursue idols to their own harm.”  Therefore, as youth leaders we must unapologetically promote Jesus and allow His very life and nature to be on display in and through us.  To me, that is the living Word of God in action.

What drives and motivates students today?

Not facts. Not anymore.

They are bombarded with facts.  It is experiences that they want.  That appears to be the way this generation of students understand, process, and relate to life.

Who can blame them for wanting a concrete encounter with the transcendant God and not just a bunch of ancient ideas and texts, that (in reality) speak very little into their cultural context at first glance.

Today’s youth  long for and embrace experience.  They dream and desire deep encounter; with one another and with the transcendant and spiritual.

Isn’t that what Jesus offered?

His followers knew him. They met him. They encountered him and he changed their life.

Students believe what they see, feel, hear, taste, and touch.  They believe what they experience.

I believe that our God is one who wants us to experience him. To taste and see that the Lord is good.

As culture, society, and students evolve and change, let’s shift our approach from facts to experience and encounter; towards introducing our students to this person who can open their eyes, heal their brokenness, restore them to God, and give them a hope and a future.

The train is moving.  Will we be watching it pass, shoveling coal in the back, or at the controls excited for the adventure?

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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.