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Culture, Evangelism, Verge, young adults

Creation on Mission

December 14, 2015

Missionaries to countries where another language is spoken must, inevitably, learn the language or languish in incredible ineffectiveness. In order to disciple people to and in Christ, you have to speak a language they understand.

So what do we do when the young adults, college students, and teenagers that we are trying to make disciples among don’t speak our language any more? How do we communicate when the people we’re ministering to don’t understand us?

Several years ago the National Study for Youth and Religion found that most teenagers (now young adults) are “incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs, and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives.” Not only do the majority of young adults not know how to express their faith, many also simply don’t speak the language of faith at all or are operating on vastly different definitions than most ministry leaders.

It’s not just young adults. The language of western culture is shifting increasingly away from the religious. Biblical literacy is swiftly decreasing, both within and without the church walls. How are we to communicate the gospel to those who don’t speak the language that the church has trained us to speak?

Creation Speaks

In Psalm 19 David writes;

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

(Psalm 19:1-2, ESV)

Somehow the skies are communicating God’s glory across cultural and language barriers without any problem. While many with decades of ministry experience are using language that’s increasingly insular and incomprehensible to the majority of millennials and the wider culture, creation is making moment-by-moment proclamation of the glory of God.

Hard Facts

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath lay out a framework for communicating ideas in ways that gives them “sticking” power. The third principle they lay out as critical for stickiness is concreteness. They state that, “Trying to teach an abstract idea without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air.“ (115)

The problem with much of our evangelism and mission is that we start with abstract ideas that many have little to no concrete foundations for. What exactly does “saved” mean? Why should I care if Jesus “died as a sacrifice for my sins”? What exactly does justification mean? Does it even matter?

Read the rest of this post at the Verge Ministries blog.

 

 

 

Commentary, Culture, Leadership, Threshingfloor, Verge, young adults

8 Things Learned in 8 Years of Young Adult Ministry

October 27, 2015

This fall, perhaps more than any previous, has gotten me thinking over the past. Threshingfloor celebrated five years of ministry to young adults in the Fargo-Moorhead area a couple months ago. In just over a month I turn 27. It was over eight years ago that I started ministering to young adults as we moved our little college-age/young adult Bible study from our church in Baxter to downtown Brainerd and watched it grow to something amazing. Since then I’ve done dorm-room Bible studies, spent countless hours developing leadership teams, discipling all manner of people, and launching disciple-making communities.

A few days ago as I thought back over the years, I noted down a long list of the things I’ve learned that might be helpful for others to know. After an hour or so of sifting and boiling things down, I’ve narrowed it down to 8 things, one for each year I’ve been working among young adults. Here they are.

  1. Deep community beats amazing production. Every time.

I can pull my iPhone out of my pocket and watch any show or movie I want at any time, contact people almost anywhere in the world, or enjoy any of the tens of thousands of incredibly well-produced apps that are available to every other American with a smart phone. Young adults don’t need (or, in many cases, even want) a great production or another event. Our hearts long for deep community where people truly know each other, engage with the hard issues in life, and work together to make the world a better place.

2. Always try new things.

One of the best ways to keep young adults engaged is to try constantly be trying something new. Better yet, let them try something new. Whether it’s a new “experimental” style of Sunday school, launching a new service, starting a new community in a different part of town, or simply a different take on a section of scripture, most young adults are quick to get on board with something that’s new. Take advantage of that.

3. Have high expectations and make them clear.

As you invite young adults to join in and take leadership roles (or any role), make it clear that your expectations for them are high. Make it clear means telling them face-to-face what you expect and repeating it frequently. For those in leadership roles it’s best to have them sign some sort of agreement so that they know what’s expected of them and when. By putting the bar high you’ll inspire many to reach levels they didn’t even know they could. I’ve been consistently impressed with the amount of time, energy, and passion that our leaders – all of whom are volunteers – put into their communities and disciple-making. Having the expectations spelled out explicitly also gives a platform to have the hard conversations when people aren’t meeting them.

4. Prepare to be disappointed but don’t lose hope.

Of course, it doesn’t always go how you want it to. People will inevitably fall short, stumble back into sin for the fortieth time, or act like twelve year olds who aren’t getting their way. Prepare your heart to be disappointed in a way that keeps you from losing hope. It’s ok to be frustrated at people’s slowness (Jesus was!), to be tired of dealing with the same issues, and to long for something more. Just don’t lose hope. God is always working, even in the midst of apparent failure.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit

How do we know God’s working, even in those times of disappointment? Because he’s sent his Holy Spirit. Rather than clamping down and trying to control the difficult situations and people, throw yourself into prayer and trust that the Holy Spirit can work in young adult’s hearts too.

Time and again I’ve been ready to write someone off as too stubborn or just scrap the ministry and start over. The Holy Spirit has always intervened in those moments, working transformation in my heart and the hearts of those around me. Trust him.

6. Teach, demonstrate, and coach.

The postmodern wants no teaching because it’s too authoritarian. The professional wants no demonstration because it’s too time consuming. The attender wants no coaching because it’s too invasive. Jesus, however, clearly demonstrates all three all throughout his discipleship of the twelve.

Take the time to teach your people, but make sure that you’re actually demonstrating what you teach. Don’t teach on evangelism if you’re not going to go out and demonstrate what evangelism looks like. Don’t do a study on prayer if you’re not going to demonstrate prayer in your own life. Then after demonstration, coach your people until they are able to do what you’ve demonstrated. Don’t move on to the next subject until the teaching has become living.

7. Knowledge doesn’t cause change.

Coaching is so important. In a world where information abounds it’s becoming increasingly clear that knowing more about something doesn’t always change you. A six month curriculum on financial responsibility doesn’t guarantee that the attendees will use their money wisely. It’s in the doing – in the developing of new habits and practices – that the life change comes. Focus on and celebrate obedience more than understanding.

8. Vision matters more than rules.

In a back alley near downtown Fargo, in angular, hasty letters someone spray-painted, “I follow dreams, not rules.” That phrase captures the heart of most young adults today. They are ready and willing to leave their job, city, and even their friends and family if their hearts are captured by a vision. They’re willing to change their habits if they catch a glimpse of what life on the other side looks like.

Rather than emphasizing rules and “thou shalt”s, paint pictures of what life will be on the other side. Rather than hammering, “you need to read your Bible more,” declare and demonstrate the joy of connecting daily with the Creator. Instead of bludgeoning people towards purity, give them a vision of the joy and freedom of walking in step with God’s plan.

 

 

Those are eight of the many, many things I’ve learned in my eight plus years working with teens and young adults. Did any of them resonate with you? What have you learned in your time working with millennials? Share it in the comments!

Journal, Ministry Update, Threshingfloor, Verge

Ministry Update – 06/02/2015

June 2, 2015

It’s been an eventful couple weeks for Kelly and I. Two weeks ago I came home from work to Kelly lying on the bed in some serious pain. After talking for a few minutes we decided to take her to the emergency room. A good thing we did too, since it turned out that she had appendicitis. It made for a late night, but Kelly had surgery that night to remove her appendix before it burst.

We were blessed with a surgeon who knew exactly what he was doing. The operation took barely 30 minutes, and Kelly was back home by 10AM the next day. Sadly, the recovery time meant that we wouldn’t be able to go to the wedding we had been planning on going to in Montana on Memorial Day weekend. But God, in his amazing way, had something better.

As a result of our staying in Fargo we were able to spend Sunday evening with several of our apartment neighbors who we’ve been praying for since moving in. They’re a rough crowd and exactly the kind of people that Jesus love to associated with. We got to spend an evening with them, pray for one of the guys’ back and leg pain, and heard some of their stories. It’s so refreshing to be with people who don’t know Jesus and see just how much he can transform someone’s life.

For the past four months or so God’s been increasing the tension in my spirit about the fact that though Threshingfloor has created some amazing communities and seen people who are believers grow deeper in their faith and a couple people seeking Jesus join us on a regular basis, we haven’t seen significant movement of people encountering Christ and faith for the first time. I’ve been spending significant amounts of time in prayer on this topic. I want to see our communities come to the place where they are packed full of people who aren’t Christians but are getting drawn to Christ by his love displayed through us.

It’s because of that desire and those prayers that I’m excited for the changes coming to Threshingfloor this summer. Our communities are shifting their strategies in order to go deeper and further in disciple making. Our community will be breaking from our normal gatherings and spending the summer hosting a grill out every Wednesday night as a place for people to connect with community and encounter the kingdom of God. The other Threshingfloor community will be spending the summer learning and equipping each other, using the Story of God to go deeper in the Gospel in preparation for making disciples among international students once school starts back up in the fall.

One of our Threshingfloor Communities

One of our Threshingfloor Communities

Things are on the move for Verge as well. This coming weekend we’ll be gathering all the Verge staff from across the country in the Brainerd area for a weekend to pray, play, plan, and learn together. It’s going to be a critical weekend for us, all the more since our team so rarely gets to be together in one place for an extended period.

On top of that we’re preparing to launch a new Leader Community – an awesome space for ministry leaders to connect and equip each other – in the Twin Cities, discussing partnerships with churches in Glyndon and Park Rapids and several other communities in the Midwest, and preparing for the Leader Advance retreat this fall.

There’s a lot happening, and within it all I’m pressing towards completing the process of fundraising for my position with Verge/Threshingfloor. At $950/month of support, we’re practically 1/4 of the way to fully supported, and halfway to the point where I will be able to move into full time ministry. Continue laboring with us in prayer that God would provide full support by the end of July!

You can also join us in praying:

  • The God would lead me (Ben) to a couple new guys to disciple deeply
  • Opportunities to demonstrate God’s love and grace to our apartment neighbors
  • That our community’s summer grill outs would draw 20 new people to Christ
  • That Threshingfloor would multiply to three communities this fall
  • Opportunities for Verge to serve disciple-makers in Iowa and the western Dakotas
  • Connections for Verge to help increase disciple-making at Community College and noncollege cities and towns in the Midwest.
  • Wisdom and skill for leading a ministry team that’s spread across multiple states

Kelly and I can’t express our gratitude enough to each of you who are helping make it possible for us to move forward in making disciples among young adults in the Midwest. We literally wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without your spiritual and financial support. Such a huge blessing to have friends and family who are willing to invest in us! We want to stay deeply connected to each one of you. If you want to chat, hear more stories about what God is doing, visit us here in Fargo, or have us come and visit you, let us know! In case you don’t have it, my contact information is;

ben@verge28.org
@thefallout

Journal, Ministry Update, Threshingfloor, Verge

Ministry Update – 5/04/15

May 4, 2015

A lot has happened in the last week within Verge and Threshingfloor, so I wanted to give you all a brief update. Here’s what’s been going on.

Verge

Last week was a huge step towards accomplishing Verge’s Phase 2 vision. We’ve officially established a presence in the Twin Cities with a new networking partner and a new ministry partner. We’ll release specific details soon, but that means that we’re now working towards launching a Leader Community – one of our key vehicles for networking, educating, and equipping ministry leaders – in the Twin Cities area by end of summer.

One of the things that has me most excited about some of these new connections and conversations that are currently taking place with churches and ministry leaders around the region is the amazing variety of denominational, theological, and even racial backgrounds that we’re getting to talk with. They each have a huge passion for young adults. Regardless of differences, they’re all asking the same questions, expressing the same desires, and all eagerly desiring to see young adults discipled to and in Jesus in powerful ways.

Threshingfloor

After the exciting news of two new ministries partnering with Verge, I got to spend a great weekend with several of the Threshingfloor community leaders in a cabin in the woods, praying and seeking what God has for our communities for the rest of 2015.

IMG_4508

Part of the TF leader crew

We had some great conversation, got to relax together, and laid out specific action plans for our communities to accomplish in the next six months or so. A sampling of the things that our different communities will be doing includes;

  • 2 days of fasting and prayer each month
  • Increase the practice of hospitality by inviting international students into homes
  • Change the schedule of community gatherings so that the people in the community have time to go out and do ministry
  • Identify new apprentice leaders

To name just a few.

I love that we’re not stuck in the way we’ve been doing things, and that our leaders are more than ready to make any changes that will make us more effective at developing a network of disciples and discipling communities. That flexibility is critical in reaching the ever-shifting reality of culture.

 

 

All in all it’s been an encouraging week or so. As I sit here on this Monday morning and look out over the fast-approaching summer and dream about what God will do, I believe it’s going to be amazing.

We’re praying that God would continue to increase the movement that he’s beginning. I truly believe the last five years of Verge ministry is just the start, and I feel the same way about the last 4 1/2 years of Threshingfloor. There’s massive things that are coming in the next 6 months. I want to be ready for it. Join me in praying toward all that God has for us, both in Fargo and in the larger Midwest Region!

Journal, Ministry Update, Threshingfloor, Verge

Ministry Update – 4/14/2015

April 14, 2015

Let’s call this a level-set of what’s currently going on in Kelly and I’s lives and ministries. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’m going to start incorporating ministry updates into my regular mix of musings and devotional material here on the blog. Since there’s quite a bit currently taking place it made sense to me to start with a post that runs down the list and will hopefully give each of you some insight into what we’re devoting our days and nights to.

Threshingfloor Communities

This coming August will be the five year anniversary of Threshingfloor Communities. Crazy. We’ve gone from five college students meeting in a freezing basement to two communities totally about 40 people. I lead one community here at our apartment working to jump-start our network of disciples and discipling communities, and Nate and Paul (both awesome dudes) lead the other community that’s reaching international students at NDSU.

Our leadership team is sitting right around 10 people, counting community leaders and apprentice leaders. We’ll all be taking a weekend at the end of April to get away to hang out, pray, and brainstorm as a team. We’ve set out a few goals to pray and work towards this spring and summer – 10+ people coming to Christ for the first time directly through the ministry of people within TF and connecting with a discipling community, two additional communities, and 75% of the people presently in our communities getting deeper connected by taking part in DNA groups.

We’re on track to reach the two additional communities by the end of summer and we’ve seen some awesome stuff happen as people have gone deeper in their faith through DNA groups. Honestly though, I feel like we’re struggling in getting traction on seeing people come to Christ. Maybe it’s that we’re too inward focused, or maybe it’s that the structures and systems we’ve defaulted to due to mostly being people raised in churches aren’t attractive to non-believers. Whatever the case is, we’re going to shift whatever we need to in order to see people encounter the glorious grace of our savior!

Verge Ministries

Verge ministries does awesome work, and, to my knowledge, a ministry that no one else in America is doing. Headed up by Andy Abramson since their inception 5 year ago (several months before Threshingfloor began it’s infancy stages) they’ve worked to serve and equip churches, communities, and campuses in discipling young adults and college students. Verge comes alongside existing ministries to help them build, deepen, and multiply; helps new ministries launch and sustain; sets up networks so that people leading ministries can connect and work together; and works to educate people on the needs and opportunities among young adults for the Gospel.

Andy approached me about 8 months ago and asked if I would come on staff as their Midwest Regional Director to oversee the 10+ ministries they’re currently working with in the region. After a few months of prayer, discussion, and seeking the opinion of many people both Kelly and I respect, it became clear that going on staff with Verge was the next step God was calling us to take.

My job will be to help coach current ministry partners and sites, develop a deeper network of relationships, and basically do whatever I can to help see the young adults and college students across ND, SD, MN, and IA encounter Jesus in ever-deeper ways. I’ll be travelling throughout the region to meet with ministry leaders, hosting Leader Communities (there’s one coming up this weekend in the Brainerd area), and working with the Verge national team to do the annual Leader Advance conference.

There’s a huge need for the church to press into discipling young adults. The majority I encounter are, at best, indifferent towards their faith. Many think of Christianity as hateful and judgmental (though most of them are interested in Jesus in some way).

My day-to-day work with Verge at the moment consists of meeting our existing ministry leaders, working to raise the $4000/mo of funding that will enable me to provide for Kelly and I while doing full-time ministry (you can donate at the Verge website), and working to identify where Verge can serve and help lift up more ministries to young adults. We’re particularly targeting non-college and community-college cities and towns, as well as the western Dakotas and Iowa.

Personally

On a personal level and beyond “official” ministry stuff, I’m working part time at arvato as an Execution Readiness Project Manager (that means I train new employees and plan for new product/system launches and policy changes) three days a week. Kelly is working full time at Old Lutheran doing graphic design. We’re living in a three bedroom apartment in southern Fargo. Andrew, one of the guys I’ve been discipling for a few years now, is living with us.

Life is full and time races by, but we love what we do. It’s so awesome to get to see people grow in their depth of love for Jesus, break free from sins, anxieties, depression, and other bondages that have held them for years; to see lonely people become part of the Jesus family; and to have a marriage that is truly a partnership in doing Christ’s work.

It gets to be a lot on some days though, and we greatly appreciate the prayers of those of you who are praying for us. We would be honored if you would consider joining our official intercessory prayer team and want to receive email and text updates on urgent prayer issues. Please only sign up if you’re actually going to commit to serious prayer.

A couple specific things that we’d appreciate prayer for at this moment are:

  • The Threshingfloor goals mentioned earlier – 10+ people coming to Christ, 2 new communities by the end of summer.
  • $2,000 of funding raised by the end of April, $4000 by the end of June.
  • Energy, joy, and satisfaction in life for Kelly and I
  • A couple people that Kelly and I can connect with on a deep relational level who will encourage and inspire us in life, marriage, and ministry
  • The Verge Leader Community taking place this coming Saturday. Pray for unity, an environment of love and honesty, and huge encouragement for every leader who attends

Thank You

Thanks for reading this lengthy update! Things are moving forward and I’m so glad to have you along for the journey.

Grace and Peace,

Ben

Journal, Ministry Update, Threshingfloor, Verge

Ministry Update – 4/13/15

April 13, 2015

As of a little over a month ago I officially came on board as the Midwest Regional Director with Verge Ministries, working to help a bunch of awesome ministries reach the tens of thousands of young adults and college students that are scattered across ND, SD, MN, and IA. Both Kelly and I are hugely excited about this new season in our lives and how God is going to use it to grow both us and Verge, a ministry that we’ve been closely connected with for several years now through Threshingfloor and our friendship with Andy and Jenn Abramson.

We’re stepping out as missionaries to our own generation, and I truly believe God has some huge stuff awaiting in the future. Because of our move to operating as missionaries and my step into “vocational” ministry I’ll be transitioning this blog, which has historically been mostly poetry, devotional, and theological content to be more of a ministry journal so that those who are a part of Kelly and I’s support team can track along with us, Verge, and Threshingfloor. For those of you who have been following the blog for awhile, don’t worry too much – I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to resist continuing with the devotional and theological goods.

I’ll be posting at least twice a week, so check back regularly if you want to follow along on our ministry journey of following Jesus wherever he leads. In a day or two I’ll be posting a longer update on the specifics of what’s going on in our lives now and where we’re headed in the next couple months. There’s some big plans for Threshingfloor, some exciting meetings for Verge, and all sorts of craziness that I can’t wait to share!