Wake Up Call to the Church 3: Confront Our Idols

November 20, 2014 Category :Blog| Leadership| Missional| Movements| Revival and Awakening| Student Ministry 0

Study past awakenings and you will see leaders confront the idols of their time:

Wesley confronted slavery in England. Edwards confronted a stripped-down gospel in New England. Spener confronted a spiritually dead Lutheranism.

Today we have an insidious shadow-Christianity we must confront: it’s called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a behavior-modification, me-centered, God-is-distant religious perspective that, according to the largest study of youth and religion in U.S. history (NSYR), permeates our churches far more than we dare to admit. It creates a Christian subculture that pacifies rather than purifies and a discipleship that, to use the terms of my friend Richard Ross, makes Jesus a Mascot instead of our Master.

Once again I look to Dean for her compelling commentary: “Here is where the NSYR drops a bombshell on American churches. Why do teenagers practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Not because they have misunderstood what we have taught them in church. They practice it because this is what we have taught them in church. In fact, American teenagers are barometers of a major theological shift taking place in the United States. Smith and Denton observe: ‘Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth.’ To be sure, churches neither intend nor acknowledge this religious position, despite its considerable appeal. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is a low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at ‘meeting my needs’ and ‘making me happy’ rather than bending my life into a pattern of love and obedience to God.”

What are the implications for revival for which man of us pray, given movements typically grow through zealous participants from the younger generation? Dean offers a warning:

“If teenagers lack an articulate faith, maybe it is because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation. Maybe teenagers’ inability to talk about religion is not because the church inspires a faith too deep for words, but because the God-story that we tell is too vapid to merit more than a superficial vocabulary.”

We should replace Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with Gospel-Driven Theism centered on the Atonement of Christ and placed in the narrative of the work of God throughout the Scriptures and in history. Students learn trigonometry in school; they can learn theology in church. They have watched a movement of change in culture on issues like gay marriage; they can learn the accounts of God-movies that have changed nations.

Read the history of revival movements. Leaders preached the gospel with power and passion. Lives were radically changed. Why? Because nothing mattered more than Christ and His mission.

What matters more to your students? The college they hope to attend or the Christ to whom they are fully surrendered? The career they seek for fulfillment or the cause that can change lives for the gospel? The relationship with that boy or girl, or a walk with Christ that surpasses any other?

If we will see a movement of God, I’m convinced it will manifest a shocking (to us) devotion to Christ in a generation of younger adults. I just hope our church kids won’t miss it.

Quotes from Dean, Kenda Creasy (2010-06-12). Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wake Up Call to the Church 2: Wonder-Lost Youth

November 19, 2014 Category :Blog| Leadership| Missional| Movements| Revival and Awakening| Student Ministry 0

Some 40 years ago a lot of young people––thought not all or even the majority, to be fair––became passionate about Jesus. I saw it with my own eyes. I’m convinced we have a generation of young people and now young adults who want something more real than “reality” TV. They want a life-changing relationship with Jesus, not rhetoric to that effect. But I fear our student ministries are designed to produced the results we are getting, which sells short the amazing potential in the generation God has given us to lead. Read the Acts and see how many times words like “amazed,” “filled with wonder,” astonished,” or “marveled” were used. Students today get more marvel from an Avengers movie than from the church. We have lost the wonder of a glorious God and an amazing gospel, and this has filtered down to students.

Too many in the church––parents, pastors, leaders––have a perspective on youth that is shaped far more by MTV than reality. Without rehearsing all the historical factors leading to the rise of Adolescence (Google it), Dean rightly notes that “age-stratification of American society (which allowed advertisers to target youth as a ‘market’) created the crucible in which the American ‘teenager’—a post–World War II youth with free time and disposable income—was born.” She continues:

“Most young Americans eschew the title of ‘adult’ until their late twenties or early thirties. We have learned to accept twenty-one as the ‘new sixteen.’ Today, adolescence functions as a lifestyle as well as a life stage, a state of consciousness as well as a period of life that young people can and often do prolong, with the full cooperation of American culture.”

And how has the church responded to this cultural megashift? Doubtlessly influenced by adolescent culture, “churches seem to have offered teenagers a kind of ‘diner theology’: a bargain religion, cheap but satisfying, whose gods require little in the way of fidelity or sacrifice,” Dean writes. Her observation of the impact of the general way churches have intersected faith into the lives of youth is scathing and accurate: “The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on ‘folks like us’—which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all.”

I prefer to focus on the many signs of God at work in youth who are hungry for God today. But too many of us think we are doing fine while a younger generation matures into a world for which they are little prepared spiritually. The doubly disturbing fact of this is that these are the very people who could be catalytic to spiritual awakening. But rather than being confronted with a glorious God, they are too often sung to sleep with a mediocre Christian lullaby.

Quotes from Dean, Kenda Creasy (2010-06-12). Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Kindle Locations 235-238). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

A Wake-Up Call for the Church 1: Next Gen Realities

November 18, 2014 Category :Blog| Leadership| Missional| Movements| Student Ministry 0

Today I spent time with SBC evangelism leaders talking about reaching people in our time. The next generation came up––including our inability generally to reach them and our need to give much greater focus on the coming generation. After all, even the most cursory study of historic God-movements––revivals, missionary and church planting movements, social justice initiatives, etc––reveals the vital role of young adults in their birth and spread. Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was essentially a youth movement.

I’m convinced our greatest hope for the church today may be at the same time our greatest challenge: to awaken a generation of young people desensitized by the digital world, frazzled by broken homes, and disenchanted with much of the Christianity they see. I have much hope for this generation of youth. I have far less optimism about a lot that’s going on in various next-gen ministries these days. For a little research-based perspective on where we are:

“The National Study of Youth and Religion reveals a theological fault line running underneath American churches: an adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world. It is hard to read the data from the NSYR without the impression that many American congregations (not to mention teenagers themselves) are ‘almost Christian’—but perhaps not fully, at least not in terms of theology or practice.”

I concur with this opinion stated by Kenda Dean in Almost Christian. It’s a reason I’m so passionate about our need for a genuinely God-directed movement to awaken the church to the gospel and the power and glory of God.

Dean continues painfully:

“After two and a half centuries of shacking up with ‘the American dream,’ churches have perfected a dicey codependence between consumer-driven therapeutic individualism and religious pragmatism. These theological proxies gnaw, termite-like, at our identity as the Body of Christ, eroding our ability to recognize that Jesus’ life of self-giving love directly challenges the American gospel of self-fulfillment and self-actualization. Young people in contemporary culture prosper by following the latter. Yet Christian identity . . . requires the former . . . . American young people are unwittingly being formed into an imposter faith that poses as Christianity, but that in fact lacks the holy desire and missional clarity necessary for Christian discipleship. . . .  At issue is our ability, and our willingness, to remember our identity as the Body of Christ, and to heed Christ’s call to love him and love others as his representatives in the world.”

A semireligious “Christianity” will not captivate a generation. But a radically surrendered faith will. If we will impact this generation, it will start with the church demonstrating a passionate faith that changes all of life. A path-of-least-resistance Christianity will not win them.

Quotes from Dean, Kenda Creasy (2010-06-12). Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. Italics added.

Are You Stuck? Get a New View

November 15, 2014 Category :Blog 0

Many of you know I have been battling some pretty significant issues with my lower back in recent months. A couple of weeks ago I finally had a back surgeon explain my complex MRI report. After we finished (it was not pretty) I rejoiced just to be able to walk! Without boring you with the details, he and I agreed that the best way to enjoy life and fulfill my calling would be to focus on what I can do and avoid the things that make my back inflamed.

All of us face similar issues. We have physical limitations, educational limitations, financial limitations, etc. But more than this, we all have much available to us we can use for the glory of God. Paul noted his weaknesses and limitations, but he continually focused on his calling. When he spoke to the elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20, he noted that the Holy Spirit testified that chains awaited him.

Chains would qualify as a serious limitation.

Yet we know that Paul used his chains as a means to proclaim the gospel rather than to sulk with this particular limitation (see Philippians 1). His circumstance became for Paul an opportunity.

Truth is, the only change I have to make for my back regarding the ministry to which God has called me is this: speak and preach from a stool. Standing for long hurts–a lot. So I sit (after all, Jesus sat down to teach!), and I go about ministry like I always have. Beyond that, the only limitation has to do with consideration of international travel, which can be difficult. But I can do everything God called me to do, limitation or not.

I now see this minor limitation as a great blessing from God with many residual blessings: it has caused me to slow down, making me evaluate my busy life and hone in on what God has truly called me to do. You can be very busy and actually be less productive. I am far less frenetic and far more at peace. I am far less strung out and thus far more useful. This limitation will in fact cause me to have a longer, more effective ministry to God’s glory.

What do you face just now that you see as a limitation on your life and service to God? Could it be people you deal with regularly? Something physical, or financial, or emotional? What if you saw that limitation as a gift from God to help you serve Him with greater focus and tenacity?

I ask my students to draw a coffee cup. I would ask you, but you are on your device or computer and I am sure you won’t stop to do so. But picture a coffee cup. You see it from the side, right? Everyone draws a cup from the side. But if you drew one looking down at it from above, that too would be a coffee cup. Sometimes our problem has nothing to do with our circumstance and everything to do with how we see God’s Providence at work in that circumstance.

Don’t get stuck because of a limitation. Give it to a limitless God and see Him use even that for His glory.