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Christian Life, Relationships, young adults

Three Keys to Kingdom Community

November 14, 2016

 

 

It’s slightly mind-boggling to think that the Christian God, trinitarian, three-in-one, has been in eternal community. A couple weekends ago at Verge’s Midwest Leader Advance our focus was on developing kingdom community, the foundation of which is the God who created humanity in his image – crafted to function in connection with others of our kind.

As he nears his crucifixion Jesus shares much of significance with his twelve closest disciples in John 14-18, and there are some incredible, counter intuitive insights into what makes (or breaks) Kingdom community. During the first session of Leader Advance we spent some time in John 17:20-26 uncovering three of these keys. If you weren’t at Leader Advance hopefully this recap is helpful to you.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Kingdom Community Requires Receiving

“ I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity”

The foundation of everything in the Kingdom of God is the humility to receive the gift that the Father has given in Christ. Here in this prayer shortly before his murder, Jesus declares that “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” The glory that Jesus gives from his Father is the means of one-ness for those who follow him, but it requires that we be able to receive. We can’t have community if we insist on staying self-sufficient. It is the realization that we are deeply in need of our good God’s gifts that opens the doorway to deep relationships.

This principle plays out on a human level as well. Heaven’s kind of relationships cannot happen unless all who are a part of the community are willing to receive from all others. There’s no room for one-way streets. The richest community member must acknowledge that they have things to learn and receive from the poorest; the most mature believer that they can be taught by the newest.

Kingdom Community Requires Glory-Giving

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

Our God’s glory is incredibly counter intuitive. As He showed through the cross, it is in pouring out and giving of himself that God’s glory is most brilliant. His sacrificial love for the sake of others reveals the essence of his beauty, so much so that Jesus is able to say here that he has given his followers the same glory that the Father had given him.

Stop and think about that for a moment. How much of His glory did the Father give to the Son? All of it. Scripture makes clear that Jesus was God; that his glory was God’s glory. Here he is saying that he’s giving that same glory to his followers. In Jesus God gives his brilliance to his followers, “that they may be one.”

The biblical terms for glory, doksa and kabo both point to glory as the intrinsic worth or essence of a being. The Apostle Paul expands this term to apply to created beings as well as God himself in 1 Corinthians 15, saying,

“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” (v.40-41)

My friends, you have a kind of glory that’s been placed in you by God. It’s not enough for us to simply receive the glory that is given to us. As Jesus demonstrates, the glory of God is revealed in the giving. If we are to have Kingdom community we must become proficient at giving of the glory that we have been given. We must give of ourselves by sharing our stories in all their gritty detail, sharing our lives in the truest forms of discipleship, and sharing our authority and responsibility.

Kingdom Community Requires Knowing and Naming

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

According to Jesus when we know the name of the Father we are filled with the love that the Father has for the Son. Biblically, names has significant meaning and reveal much about the character of the one who is named. To know the name of someone is to know who they truly are – their character and identity.

The first question we must ask ourselves is, are we listening to Jesus as he continues to make known the Father to us? Are we hearing what he is speaking, or have we blocked ourselves off and begun to ignore the things about the Father that we find inconvenient, difficult, or uncomfortable? To the extent that we stop listening to Jesus making known the Father to us, we will be unable to receive or give the love that Jesus has for us.

The second question is, are we knowing and naming those who are in community with us? Do we know their stories and how God has created them? Are we naming them for who God is calling them to be, or simply content with how things are? The purpose of Jesus’ “making known” the Father’s name is “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” The knowing is meant to lead to a change in the knower’s life. If our communities are growing in knowledge about each other and God but not changing their lives, something is missing.

To have community we must know each other deeply and call (or name) each other to be who we truly are in Christ.

Three keys to kingdom community; receiving glory, giving glory, and knowing and naming. Each of these things are have been done by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit since eternity past. Now, through Christ, we are invited into the dance and can participate in the kind of community that God created humanity for. May we do so, and in doing so bring light to this lonely world.

 

 

 

Christian Life, young adults

Young Adult, Work Hard

October 24, 2016

 

 

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
Proverbs 12:11

 

The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
2 Timothy 2:6

 

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

 

If Jesus is your Lord you don’t get to come home to entertainment and leave dishes undone, your apartment a mess, your car piled with fast food garbage, and the like.

With a world of entertainment available to us at the push of a button or a few clicks of the mouse, it’s incredibly easy to coast through life doing the bare minimum amount of work. This is especially true for young adults in the stage of life where you’re living on your own, unmarried, without kids, and without any significant responsibilities. It’s so simple to work a job that pays the bills, come home each day and spend the evening (or afternoon or morning, depending on what your work shift is) watching tv or playing video games or fiddling around on some social media outlet.

I want to declare that if you’re a follower of Jesus that must not be your method of life.

Those who don’t work don’t eat

Paul’s word to the Thessalonians are harsh to our American ears. “Keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us…’The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” Apparently to the apostle idleness is as significant a sin as adultery, since he also tells the Corinthians to do treat an adulterous person in a similar way (1 Cor. 5).

This ought to be a challenge to us, my friends. Are our lives marked by idleness? Do we spend more time relaxing and being entertained than we do being productive and serving others? There is a time for rest, but don’t forget that God set aside one day for sabbath and six days for work. As the wise writer of Proverbs declared, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.” (12:11)
This truth goes beyond the physical reality. Though in his letter to the Thessalonians Paul is addressing people who are benefitting by eating physical food without working for it, the principle stands in a spiritual sense as well. Those who don’t “work their land” spiritually won’t eat and will have malnourished spirits. Those who sit by and expect others to provide the food for their spiritual selves will not grow.

Work like Jesus

Let’s stop chasing fantasies in movies, novels, and video games and instead be the hardworking farmer who follows the Master into the fields daily to sow, water, and reap. I want us, my brothers and sisters in Christ who are still young, to be able to say with the Apostle, “we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.”

Young adult, work hard. Let your life be a model for those who come after you. Work like Jesus, who gave his life to the labor that the Father had placed before him. Your reward will be riches that go far beyond this life and far outweigh the momentary pleasure of spending every evening being entertained.

 

 

Christian Life, Relationships, young adults

Security Devices

September 27, 2016

 

 

 

Have you noticed how we use our phones as escape routes from uncomfortable situations? In a conversation with someone new there’s an awkward pause, so you whip out your phone to check time/weather/facebook/texts. You’re walking down the hallway and have to pass someone you don’t really feel like talking with, so you pull out your phone and keep your head down, safe knowing that you have an excuse for not interacting. You’re at a party and not sure who to talk to, so you find a quiet corner, pull out your phone, and start scrolling through some social media feed, immediately feeling safely insulated from loneliness.

When our phones become security devices and means of escaping the uncomfortable, they’re taking on a role that Jesus is meant to play in our lives. To the extent that we do that, we’re making our phones into little electronic gods, worshipping them for the way they protect us by devoting our attention to them. Let’s not do that. I’ve written before about the danger of finding security in anything other than Jesus, so I won’t re-hash that point here.

But that’s not the only problem with going to our phones as a means of escape. On top of subtly allowing our phones to become gods, using an electronic device as a means of escape from human connection is making a huge statement about what is valuable to us. When we choose a comfortable, digitally-mediated world of social media over the opportunity for direct human connection we’re declaring that we don’t value the person in front of us. We’re declaring that our comfort is more valuable than another person’s God-imaged humanity. That we will gain more from our phone than we would from them.

Let’s not be people who turn to our security devices at the least sign of awkwardness or discomfort. Instead let’s press into conversations, honoring one another by giving each other our full focus. If you’re in a large group gathering and left standing by yourself, rather than turning to your phone look for someone else who’s by themselves and go connect with them. If you’re in a conversation and there’s an awkward silence don’t check the time – instead smile, remind yourself that quiet is ok, and compliment the other person about something small.

In all of this let’s turn first to Jesus, the only one who truly gives security and peace and power to connect with one another. Don’t replace him with a 4-inch LCD screen.

 

 

 

Discipleship, Leadership, Threshingfloor, young adults

Six tips for leading a great DNA group

September 16, 2016

 

 

 

Within Threshingfloor we have structured things to call people towards living as disciples of Jesus in all of life. We’ve called this structure the four spaces – the spaces being, 1) day-to-day life, 2) DNA groups, 3) Communities, and 4) All-Community Gatherings. DNA groups play a crucial role in delving into the intensive discipleship that helps us apply the Gospel to the hard parts of our life. By connecting regularly with 3-5 people of the same gender with the intent of learning together, dealing with sin, and growing in faith, DNA feeds into both day-to-day life and strengthens the larger community.

As we move out of summer and into fall there are DNA groups starting up for the first time, picking up after taking the summer off, or renewing their focus. If you’re leading (or thinking about leading) a DNA group, here are six tips for leading it well.

 

Set the expectations

Don’t pass this thing off as casual – set high expectations. If there’s reading or homework, make it clear that people need to do it before showing up. Insist that the DNA group is high priority on the schedule, not just a show-up-when-it’s-convenient event. If you want to go deep with your group everyone needs to be committed and know what’s expected of them.

Worth noting under this heading – a DNA group isn’t just a Bible study. It’s aimed toward multiplication. Make it explicit that you expect the people who are in the group to, at some point within the next year, launch out and start their own DNA group.

 

Keep things simple

If you want to multiply, let your structure be something that anyone can remember. Whether it’s a specific curriculum such as the Gospel DNA, or a study of a book of scripture, build in simple, memorable rhythms that are done each meeting. After several meetings, start passing off leadership of meetings to help others build skills.

 

Ask hard questions

Don’t settle for surface answers. Ask hard question – hard to answer because they require thinking AND hard to answer because they expose emotions/thoughts/faulty operating systems. When someone answers, ask follow-up questions on their answers. If you’re studying a section of scripture and someone answers with a “Well, I think that…” kind of statement, ask them where they see that in text. Doing so will help emphasize that God’s truth is more important than our ideas. There are some great tips for questioning at Michael Hyatt’s blog here.

 

Get at the heart matter

Help people identify what lies they’re believing and what stories they’re telling themselves that don’t align with God’s story. Dealing with the heart matter is what works – not changing actions. Here’s a couple examples of how this might look

  • A girl in the group struggles with anxiety. A surface-level focus tries to get her to stop being anxious. Heart-matter focus digs into what stories she’s telling herself about who God is (or isn’t) and who she is (or isn’t). Those stories feed that anxiety. Help her align the stories she’s telling herself with the true Gospel story of God.
  • A guy is in a relationship that’s leading him towards sin. Surface-focus tries to get him to just cut out the relationship but doesn’t deal with why it was there in the first place. Heart focus delves into the why, working to uncover what he was trying to find in that relationship and what lies he’s believing about God and about himself.

Follow the Spirit’s lead

Pray as you prepare for DNA. Pray as you’re on your way to the DNA meeting. Pray with the DNA group. Not the kind of prayer that’s just talking to God, instead build in space for asking God questions and listening for the answer. When the Spirit speaks, whether it’s through an inner prompting, another person’s words, or the scripture, act accordingly. Sometimes this means stepping outside of your normal groove. It might mean that while you’re praying to start DNA group you feel prompted to stop and talk with people at the table next to you in the restaurant where you’re meeting. It might mean that you’ve spent hours preparing for this week’s discussion and on the drive there God prompts you to change subjects. Go with it. Follow the Spirit’s lead.

Seek obedience, not knowledge

Structure your DNA in a way that it presses people to live out what they’ve learned. Hold people accountable to applying what you’ve discussed. I’ve found one of the best ways to do this is to end each meeting by asking the questions, ‘What is God saying to you?” and “What are you going to do about it?” Have each person answer the first question, then take a moment to each pray silently and ask God what he wants you to do. Each person should share their action plan – a specific thing or things that they will do before the next meeting to apply what God is teaching them. Start each meeting by asking people to report in 2 minutes or less whether or not they completed their action plans.

 

 

Following these six tips, especially number five, will help you lead a DNA group that leads to powerful discipleship and lives transformed by Jesus. My prayer for this fall is that our DNA groups would become places where people encounter God in ways they never have before, discovering freedom and joy that they thought was impossible. By the grace of God, it will be so.

 

 

 

Commentary, Spiritual Growth, young adults

To You, Young Man

August 24, 2016

 

 

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
– 1 John 2:14

 

You Are Strong

Young man, you have been given physical strength and energy. You can handle pushing yourself. Don’t waste that energy and strength on video games and entertainment. Don’t waste your strength on pursuing and impressing women (or, worse yet, forcing yourself on women). Instead look to Jesus who used his strength to serve, love, and bear the burden of his Father’s honor.

You also have mental strength and fortitude. Push your mind to learn and grow now while you are young so that it has capacity as you grow older. Engage with deep issues, don’t avoid them. Read. Write. Think. Jesus “grew in stature with men and God.” You do the same. You are strong.

The Word of God Lives in You

Paul says that physical training is of some value, but training for godliness is eternally valuable (1 Tim 4:8). Your strength is good, but it must be directed towards an eternally valuable end. Train yourself for godliness by cultivating the word of God that lives in you.

Soak in passages of scripture, yes, but most importantly let Jesus, the living Word, abide in you and you in him. Stop focusing so much on the fact that you need to read your Bible more. Instead, trust that the Word (Jesus) has indwelt you through his Spirit. He lives in you. What more do you need?

If Christ and his Spirit live in you, you have knowledge of God’s word and will. You don’t need to be passive and act as if you don’t have anything to contribute. Be humble, yes, and learn from your elders, but also be bold. In Psalm 119 David says that he had more understanding than all his councilors because he meditated on God’s law. Be that guy.

The Word lives. This isn’t some dead knowledge. It is a living force that will compel you to obey and move in faith. It lives in you; a foreign power has taken up residence within you. Submit to it.

You Have Overcome

You are strong. The Word abides in you. As a result have and will overcome the evil one. Your overcoming is so sure that John had to put it in past tense. Because Jesus defeated sin and Satan, you too overcome the evil one.

You, young man, get to walk around in victory over Satan. You get to laugh at his attempts and attacks. His deceits and temptations have already been overcome. He doesn’t get to have any power in your life.

That overcoming doesn’t stop with your life though, just like Jesus’ defeat of Satan didn’t just result in freedom for him personally. In the power of Jesus you can help others overcome the demonic forces in their own lives. Step out boldly. Take risks and you’ll see the kingdom of God break in and overcome beautiful ways.

You, young men, have great potential in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. The Apostle John thought so. I think so. I write to you because I want you to step into the full reality of that potential. Don’t settle for being anything less than you are. You are strong. You have the word of God living in you. You are an overcomer. Live that today.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Culture, Evangelism, young adults

Five ways to bear witness in a post-Christian culture

December 28, 2015

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

  • 1 Peter 2:11-25

 

In the last generation and a half Western culture’s opinion of Christianity has shifted from generally positive to downright terroristic. Christians have gone from being seen as nice people to being characterized primarily as dogmatic bigots, sexually backward traditionalists, and ignorant conservatives. The backlash from four hundred plus years of Christendom is coming full force, and as others have noted (See here and here for a couple insightful articles along these lines) we need to set aside our assumptions of being a majority with significant cultural clout and learn to live into the role of exiles and a minority.

This is especially true for millennials, young adults, and the following generations who will (and do) live in the midst of this quickly-coalescing anti-Christian culture., The book of 1st Peter will become an increasingly valuable Biblical guidebook for how to live in light of exile and how to bear witness to Christ in a world that has little to no positive associations with Christianity.

In 1 Peter 2 the apostle lays out a strange strategy for bearing witness to Christ in exile. In contrast with the common evangelism tactics used over the last fifty years or so, Peter’s strategy doesn’t have much to do with cold-calls, getting people to acknowledge their sinfulness, or preaching on street corners. Honestly it doesn’t have much to do with speaking at all; it has everything to do with living a kind of life that brings up questions. Here’s what Peter calls the people he’s writing to to do in order to bear witness:

1. Stop sinning

In verse 11 he writes, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” How can a believer bear witness to the power and glory of the Gospel of Christ in a post-Christian culture? By removing the sin from their lives. Cut out lust and pornography, lying and manipulation, self-praise and laziness and the world around you will begin to wonder what the source of your transformation is.

2. Do good

It’s not enough to stop doing bad things. Instead, we must “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”Our lives should overflow with good deeds – from helping a new neighbor move in to congratulating a coworker on their success to giving generously of our finances. Our lives should be so full of good deeds that other people can’t help but be impressed.

3. Submit to authority (even bad ones)

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” Oh how hard this presses against our American tendency to assert our right to overthrow unjust and ungodly authority! We’re quick to fill Facebook feeds with articles insulting Obama and calling for the reform of American government, but does that truly reflect the character of Christ who submitted silently to the questioning of Pilate and bore stoically the utterly unjust weight of the cross?

The world, post-Christian or otherwise, knows well how to buck the authorities they dislike. What will bring questions and bear witness to patient faith in God is not mainly civil disobedience and moral outrage; it is submitting, for the Lord’s sake, to even unjust human authorities. (Disagree? Comment below.)

4. Honor everyone

“Show proper respect to everyone…fear God, honor the emperor.” Not only are we to submit to even evil authority, we are to honor everyone. Everyone here means – you guessed it – everyone.

Christian, do you know how to honor homosexuals? Are you equipped to honor, regardless of their policy on immigration/taxes/social security/ISIS/gender norms, the next President of our country? Will you be prepared to honor your boss when they fire you simply for being a Christian or will you take to social media and release your righteous, fully justified indignation? Trevin Wax has some wise words about honor and social media. (http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/11/25/does-your-facebook-rant-honor-everyone/) We followers of Jesus should be known for the way we are fair and honorable towards those who we disagree with and dislike.

In my personal opinion this practice of honoring everyone may be the most powerful tool for bearing witness to Christ in a post-Christian culture. We need to learn how to leverage it.

5. Love other believers

Peter commands us to honor everyone, but to “love the family of believers.” Echoing Jesus’ command in John 13, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Peter echoes that indeed, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Love goes above and beyond honor. Where honor can be done solely on the outside, bowing externally while the inside is raging, love demands a peculiar level of affection. Love covers over differences and focuses on the good of the other. Love ignores petty divisions and searches out common ground on which to stand. If we want to reach young adults and millennials and a post-Christian world, love must be the tone of every conversation and interaction we have with other Christians. Petty divisions be damned, love be all.

 

As I look out over the collapse of Christendom I see a world of opportunity. I see a generation of young adults who are hungry for true spirituality and who are eager for purpose in life. in the midst of our culture’s is increasing opposition to Christianity we have a massive opportunity to help them correctly redefine what it means to follow Jesus. It is as we “live such good lives among the pagans” that we will bear witness and be the re-writers of those definitions.

Let’s begin to live that kind of life and “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” As we do so we will begin to see the fruit of true conversions and discipleship take place. Truly, there is no other way.

 

 

 

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!