Be a Friend of Sinners

When Jesus invited Levi to follow him, everything changed. This tax collector was transformed by the savior’s call. In order to express his gratitude and love for Jesus, Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor. He’s so thankful for Jesus that he gathers all of his tax collector friends and other sinners to come recline with Jesus and his disciples. This quite the party! Here is Jesus the son of God eating and talking with the social outcasts—the sinners. The shock of this scene is difficult for us to fully understand in our culture. Reclining at someone’s table was a mark of friendship, intimacy, and love. It was the place of community, long conversations, and fellowship. It mattered who you ate with in Jesus day, similarly to how it matters which table you sat at in the high school Cafeteria. By eating with people you were identifying with them. No one wanted to eat with these tax collectors and sinners because it meant socially demeaning yourself to spend time with them. Yet, these are the sorts of people Jesus hung out with. He was a friend of sinners.

Jesus’ Evangelistic Strategy

It is here that we see Jesus’ mission strategy. It’s a complicated, super difficult strategy that takes years to master. It’s a strategy that all the church growth experts out there have yet to figure out yet as they develop new ministry program after new program. You ready to hear what Jesus’ missionary strategy was? He ate with people. That’s it. He ate dinner with people. His work of evangelism and discipleship always took place around the dinner table. As Jesus tells us in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking.” Meals are community creating events. Meals unite us with other people. Even today, food and drink connects people together. Why else to people gather at bars and restaurants? People go for community and fellowship. There is a reason everyone feels awkward eating alone in a restaurant. God has designed our meals to be times of connection and friendship with one another.

Now Christian’s are known for lots of things, but perhaps what we are best known for is our covered dish dinner. But, while most of our meals at church are with other Christians, look at the company Jesus kept at his meals! He eats with sinners and tax collectors! Now it is good for the body of Christ to come together and fellowship and eat together, but we have to ask the question, how have we strayed from Jesus’ own missions strategy? We’ve so secluded ourselves in the Christian bubble, that we only surround ourselves with Christians. In fact, we’ve intentionally designed our lives so that we have as little interaction with non Christians as possible. We do Bible studies where everyone there is a Christian. We swing the golf clubs with other Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian handymen, Christian dentists, Christian coaches… you get the point. All of our friends are Christians and the only people we eat with our Christians. We only eat with people who are like us—Christian.

The American Church Has Killed Off Evangelism

No wonder the American church fails in the task of evangelism—we aren’t friends with anyone who isn’t a Christian! Indeed, we design so much of our programs in the church to reinforce the Christian bubble. The church becomes the Smörgåsbord of programs and activities that lead to the cul-de-sac of the Christian bubble. We have Christian golf tournaments, Christian Senior Adult activities, Christian choirs, Christian basketball leagues, Christian baking clubs. Again, you get the point, and I’m aware that I’m striking at nerve at Forest Hills, because this is exactly they way we program, and I think it’s well intentioned, but severely misguided. We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ simple missional strategy of eating with sinners. We’ve swapped it out with hundreds of activity that all keep us busy but ineffective in reaching the world for Christ. So we can have a busy week at the church with activities, outings, and all the while never speaking once to someone who is not a Christian. I believe the American Church has unintentionally structured itself to kill off evangelism. After all you can not evangelize to non-Christians if you don’t know any non-Christians. Instead of mobilizing Christians to mission, the church has only entrapped them in the Christian bubble.

Eat With Sinners

So what would it look like for you and I to adopt Jesus’ mission strategy? What would it look like if our church began to declutter our programming to free you up to live like this? I hesitate to make such specific application lest I stumble across a sacred cow. So rather than critiquing church programming, I’d rather challenge you as an individual to live like Jesus. Do you want to be a more effective evangelist? Do you want to make an impact in the kingdom of God? What if I told you that you don’t need any formal training or certification and that its as easy as eating a cheese burger? Here is the challenge: eat one meal a week with somebody who isn’t a Christian.

We all have to eat anyway don’t we? On your lunch break at work, invite a co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord out eat with you. One evening invite your unbelieving neighbors over for dinner. Go grab a cup of coffee with a friend in your aerobics class who doesn’t know Jesus. It really is that simple. Be friends with non Christian people. You have to eat, so why not eat with other people who don’t know Jesus?

I’ve failed at this a lot personally over the course of my life, and I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve done my best to keep my lunches booked during the work week. It often means that we have to budget extra in our family budget for restaurant eating, but so much of my ministry is done over conversations with other men over a meal. It is there in those deep conversations with mouths full that encouragement is lavished, admonishment is given, and evangelism happens. So the challenge this morning is simple—who is one person you can invite to a meal this week who doesn’t know Jesus? In your community groups tonight, share the name of that person with your group for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. Work it into the rhythm of your life that you eat with other people, particularly with those who do not know Jesus.

Reevaluate Your Priorities

This may mean you need to re-evaluate your weekly calendar. Most of us are sinfully too busy. We pack our calendars so full with activity that we don’t have time to be intentional in building relationships with non believers. You may have to say no to some other commitments so that you can encounter new people on a regular basis. Use your hobby as a bridge to relationship. Love golfing? Join a group of guys and go golfing with them on Saturday. Love knitting? Join a sowing group in town and meet new friends and share your testimony with them. Love working out? Meet some people at the gym and invite someone out to coffee after your morning workout. Love basketball? Invite your co-worker over to your house to watch the game on Friday night. You get the picture. Evangelism isn’t always just going door to door. Though there is nothing wrong with doing that, but often the most effective evangelistic opportunities we have come through the trust of personal relationship. Be hospitable, friendly, and welcoming to all people. Build friendships with those who don’t know Jesus and through those friendships live out and share the Gospel. Missions isn’t an event and it isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be. It’s simply every day Christians doing every day things with Gospel intentionality.

As you are intentional with the Gospel and build those friendships with non Christians, the Spirit will work in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation to open hearts and provide you plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be like Jesus. Be a friend of sinners.

Why My Wife Just Retired

DSC 0037 edited 1 My wife just retired.  At least that's what we jokingly tell each other.  As of last week Kaitlyn (my wife) quit her job in order to become a full-time Mom.  We live in a day and age where stay at home moms are becoming rare.  Part of this is because materialism so often rules the home.  Kaitlyn staying home to be a Mom is not a smart financial move on our part, that's for sure!  So why is she staying home?

We made this decision because of some deep Biblical convictions we hold on manhood, womanhood, and parenting.  I'm going to share our reasons with you, but I want you to take caution to my words.  I am not commanding that everyone needs to imitate us.  Not every Mom is able to stay at home (ex. single moms).  However, many Christians fail to examine the Scriptures carefully enough to see how they speak concerning home and family.  Christians must lay themselves bare before the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal sin and places where we need correction.  In our decisions, that is what Kaitlyn and I have done our best to do by the grace  of God.

Since this is a blog post and not a book, there will be no way that I will be able to provide compelling Biblical arguments for each of these reasons in just a short blog post.  However for more reading I would recommend this website and this book if you want more of the Scriptural arguments.

The Husband is the Provider

We see in the Scriptures that one of the main responsibilities of the husband is to be the provider. God has given this responsibility to the husband, not the wife.  We see this most clearly in Genesis 3:17-19, the curse Man is under due to sin.  "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" (v.19).  It is the husbands job to make sure there is food on the table, the bills are paid, and his families' needs are met.

In my experience, many Christian husbands fail at this.  They pass on their curse to their wives and force them to work in order to maintain their current lifestyle.  I can't tell you how many Christian moms I've talked to who wish they could stay home and raise the children but their husbands will not let them.  Men, this is a failure on our part to be the providers of our family.  This means that when finances gets tight, it is the husband who picks up extra hours or a second job.  The husband must provide for the needs (not necessarily the wants) of his family.

For Kaitlyn and I, putting this Biblical principle into practice in our life was pretty obvious, though not easy.  This means that I am responsible for the finances of my family.  I will make sure their is money for food and it is my role in the family to make sure there is.  I'm not going to lie to you, this decision will be costly for us.  Our budget will be very tight (after all I live on a Youth Pastor's salary!).  No more movies together or eating out at restaurants, but the basic needs for our family will be met by me. Biblically we believe, the Husband is the provider.

The Wife is to be Homeward in Orientation

We see in the Scriptures that the wife is to be homeward in orientation.  We see this in the Scriptures in Genesis 3:16 and in passages like Proverbs 31.  Homeward in Orientation does not forbid a woman to work outside the home (we see this in Proverbs 31).  However, it does mean that the priority for a wife and mother should be running the home.  Outside work should not distract her from her primary tasks as wife and mother.  The Bible teaches that the most valuable thing a wife and mother can do is to give her life in bringing up the next generation in the Lord.  Although the wife's role is equal in worth to the husbands, it is different.

One of the reasons I decided to marry Kaitlyn is because she desired to be homeward in orientation.  Over and over again she would tell me that her divine calling in life was to be a wife and mother.  I praise God for her that she is so willing to give up a career to give all her energy to me and my children.  It truly is her joy to be obedient in the Scriptures in this area and I praise God for her and hold her out as an example for other Christian women to imitate.  I'm currently trying to convince her to write a guest blog post describing her own perspective on this issue! Hopefully that will be coming very soon. Stay tuned! (You can subscribe to make sure you don't miss an update)

The Goal of Parenting is Discipleship

"Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children  of one's youth" (Psalm 127:3-4).  This Psalm has been instrumental in my personal understanding of parenting.  You see children are a reward and a blessing, not a curse and a burden.  To have children is the most precious gift and having a quiver full is a good thing! You see, the goal of parenting is discipleship.  Parents raise up their children in the Scriptures, teaching and modeling the Gospel, and then send them out to change the world.  By doing this parents are just like a warrior plunging godly, Christ-centered arrows into the darkness of the culture.  We discovered and believe that the most important thing Kaitlyn and I can do with our lives is disciple the next generation.  No other labor will exceed us or out last us like the labor of parenting.  Discipling our children is one of the greatest and lasting legacies we can achieve.

After examine these Scriptural truths, Kaitlyn and I could not help but joyfully "retire" her from the work force so that she could spend her life on the most eternally significant of tasks: the discipleship of the next generation.  We could not be more excited about this decision and we will trust the Lord every step of the way!  Although we don't expect every Christian home to imitate us, but we pray that more Christians will make their family decisions in light of God's Word.

 

5 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Can be Dangerous

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As a Student Pastor, I've spent a lot of time reading, studying, and doing youth ministry.  I've been doing this for several years now.  While I have been in the trenches of youth ministry, I have seen some huge potential dangerous in the youth ministry culture in America.  These dangers are real dangers that might even be found in your youth group.  To be honest, I see some of these dangers in my own.  Take an honest look  at five reasons why youth ministry can be dangerous:

1. Youth Ministry can cause Parents to Outsource Discipleship to Paid Professionals

Discipleship is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian Moms and Dads.  Youth Ministry, originally created to be an evangelistic outreach to non-Christian teens has quickly become the new norm for discipling teens of Christian parents in the church.  Many Parents have the idea that if I just send my kid to youth group, then I am doing my job as a Christian parent.  However, nothing could be further than the truth.  The one who God will hold for the discipleship of your child is you.  God will hold Dads and Moms accountable for how they disciple their children. We have created a culture in our churches where we outsource discipleship to paid "Youth Ministry Professionals" and let them do all the work in discipling our children.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  You can't delegate discipling your teens to someone else, when it is God who expects you to do it. 

Many Youth Ministries try to disciple students without the involvement of the parents.  In fact, I have heard some youth pastors claim that parental involvement is a bad thing.  More than ever youth pastors need to see themselves as "Family Pastors" not "Youth Pastors".  A Youth Pastor must aim to disciple the whole family, not just the students.  Youth Ministries should aim to train parents to disciple their children for the glory of God.  Youth Pastor, if you are going to create lasting disciples, you need Godly parents who have been trained to take the lead on discipleship, and not just outsource it to you.

2. Youth Ministry can be a breading ground for Moralism devoid of the Gospel

Moralism is a constant danger in youth and children's ministries.  Many students leave well intentioned churches and youth ministries burned out on moralism.  They have heard the list of dos and don'ts and they are tired of it.  They've been taught not to have sex, not to get drunk, and not to lie, cheat, or steal.  They have been taught moralism without grace.  They have been taught Law without the Gospel. More than ever, we need youth ministries and youth pastors who will preach the Gospel into the lives of their students.  Students need to hear the Gospel and need Godly leaders who can help apply its truth to their lives.  Youth Pastors much always teach holiness, but it must always be understood in response to the Gospel, not in the place of it.  

3. Youth Ministry can Disconnect Students from the Rest of the Body

I love Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks about the body of Christ.  Did you ever notice how many bodies Paul talks about in this passage?  Are their two?  Nope, just one.  A local church is one body, not two, not three, not four.  One of the greatest dangers of age segregated ministry, including youth ministry, is that we unhealthily divide the local church into multiple bodies of Christ.  A tendency in Youth Ministry is to alienate the students from the rest of the church.  As a youth ministries we have our own room, our own building, and our own services.  I've seen many youth ministries operate like a separate church within a church.  This is a unhealthy and Biblical way to do youth ministry.  As the body of Christ, we need each other, and this means we need a multi-generational approach to ministry.  

I love the ministry that is described in Titus 2. Older men are discipling younger men.  Older Woman are discipling younger women.  If we want Titus 2 to happen in our congregation than we must tear down this wall of division between youth ministry and the rest of the church.  Rather than creating a separate youth sub culture within our church, why not be the bridge to bring all generations together for the health of the body and for the advancement of the Gospel.  

4. Youth Ministry can become a "Safe Alternative" rather than Missional Training  

Youth Ministry becomes a "safe alternative" for students.  Rather than teaching students how to missionary engage with the world, we encourage them to leave their busy schedules and pick up the busy schedule of youth ministry.  However, busyness doesn't necessarily mean godliness.  Many youth ministries have activities that compete The authors from the book Creature of the Word write this about youth ministry:

All three of us serves in student ministry at one point in our ministries; therefore, we know that many churches put pressure on student leaders and ministries to "keep the kids busy" with a myriad of programs, events, and activities.  The motivation is to provide constant alternatives for students so that they are helped in avoiding the trappings of the world.  But busyness is not next to godliness.  Students don't need their social calendars planned; they need their hearts continually transformed. (pg.148) 

They would later write, "when the focus becomes the events or the activities rather than Jesus, the only thing that is changed is the calendar."  So often this turns into an entertainment model of ministry, devoid of the transforming power of the Gospel.  So often the trip to the theme park or the concert or the bowling ally become the focus of the youth ministry rather than the Gospel.  Youth Pastors  and ministries must see themselves as Gospel equippers not just alternative safe entertainment for teens.  

5. Youth Ministry has Proven Inconsistent at Making Long Term Disciples of Jesus

One of the great critiques of Youth Ministry the past few decades is that Youth Ministry has failed in producing long term disciples of Jesus.  Statistically, this has proven true time and time again.  This indicates that something about the current direction of youth ministry is failing in its purpose to produce disciples.  I believe some of these dangers listed in this blog are a reason why youth ministry is floundering in producing life long disciples of Jesus.  Many other leaders in Youth Ministry are beginning to recognize that as well.  Wayne Rice, one of the founding members of Youth Specialties said this:

We got what we wanted.  We turned youth ministry into the toy department of the church.  Churches now hire professionals to lead youth ministry.  We go relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep. (Cited)

In Youth Ministry we need are renewed focus on teaching our students the entirety of the Scriptures.  We need to give them the Gospel first and foremost.  Although Youth Ministry does have some potentially dangerous problems, I still believe that it can be used powerfully to disciple and train students.  As a fellow Youth Pastor, I have seen some these dangerous even in my own youth group.  However, we must remember that because we love these students, sometimes we must give them what they need and not what they want.  What they need more than anything is the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Let's proclaim it to them!

What are some dangers that you have seen in youth ministry? How can we correct these dangers in the life of our churches?  Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!