The Following


 

I am a sucker for any TV series that has anything to do with solving crime, adventure, behavior analysis, or has political overtones.  Some of my favorite shows over the years have been 24, Law & Order, and Criminal Minds.  These shows get your mind and heart racing.  Shows like this have also allowed me to get a unique perspective on human nature.  They tend to show the consequences of how sinful the human heart is and how if it goes unchecked terrible things can happen.  This winter there has been a new show that has really caught my attention.  That show is The Following.

 

The Following is a show that is centered on a serial killer and a group of people that he has convinced to act as “acolytes” and continue killing for him while he is locked up.  It is amazing the dynamic tension that they have created between the killer and his “following”.  These followers are completely loyal to John Carroll and will even die for him if the occasion presents itself.  As the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) tries to pinpoint the next move of these followers, they try to get inside the head of the killer who is in a Maximum Security Prison.  One of the FBI agents is brought out of retirement to shed light on this killer since he was the one who captured him 8 years ago.  They think if they can understand the mind of this killer they might be able to predict the next move of his followers.  As I watched this show, I could not help but think about how this contrasts with how the world views the church and Christians.

 

The world has developed this view of Christ based on the behavior of His followers.  They assume that if the followers of Christ act in a particular way then Jesus must be the same way.  I can see how they might think that way.  If the world only hears what we as followers are against, they never really know what we are for.  The world has developed a skewed few of the one we follow.  We as followers do a poor job carrying out the mission that was left for us to undertake.  In order to be a good follower, we must get a clear picture of the message and mission that must be carried out and not waver from that mission.  We must be willing to give ourselves fully over to the mission of the one we follow without any regard for our own need and well-being.  In this show, these followers will do what ever it takes to make sure the mission is carried out.  No obstacle is too big for them to overcome  in order to get this message out.  The other concept that really struck me is that they wanted to make sure that the one they follow knew their devotion and how much they believed in the mission.  In one episode a follower wanted make sure that “Joe” knew he did everything he could do to make things work.  He wanted  Joe to know he did his best.  When he felt that he had completed his mission, although he really failed, he killed himself rather than live with the knowledge that he had failed the one he followed.  It seems like the acolytes that the killer has found to follow him have almost had their souls invaded and are so drawn to him that  they cannot help but be obedient to him.  What would the world look like if every believer followed Christ with such reckless abandon?

 

When we hear the call to follow Christ, it is more than just a physical or mental decision to follow him.  In Matthew 4:19, we see that when Jesus called his disciples it was a request to come and follow a Rabbi and teacher.  In the Jewish culture, young men would study the law and the prophets.   Then periodically have interviews with Rabbis to see if they had what it took to be Disciples.  There were several stages that a young man would go through to see if he had “the right stuff”.  If he pasted the test, he would follow the Rabbi and take on his “yoke” or teaching.  If he did not pass the test, he would be encouraged to take on the trade of his father.  The fisherman that Jesus called on that shore in Galilee had failed the test.  They were working in the trade of their fathers.  So when the Rabbi came by and said, “Follow Me”, they left all to follow.  They realized that he saw “the right stuff” within them.  This was a physical following.  Peter would later be called to an inward following.

 

In John 20:22, we see the resurrected Jesus talking with His disciples and giving them a blessed gift.  He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  This was a down payment of what was going to happen at Pentecost.  They were sealed and filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment, just as we are the moment we commit our lives to Christ.  When the Holy Spirit was given to them it was an invasion of the soul.  It invaded the very core of their being.  An invasion is a military offensive consisting of all, or large parts of the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively entering territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or reestablishing control or authority over a territory, forcing the partition of a country, altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government, or a combination thereof.   An invasion can be the cause of a war, be used, as a part of a larger strategy to end a war, or it can constitute an entire war in itself.  Due to the large scale of the operations associated with invasions, they are usually strategic in planning and execution.  This invasion ended the war between God and man.  God strategically planned this invasion before the foundations of the world were created.  We have been liberated from the power and bondage of sin.  Our relationship has been restored.

 

Later Jesus restores Peter by asking him a series of questions to check Peter’s motives.  Earlier in the Book of John, Peter vowed to give his life to follow Christ, but later denied him.  Peter was quick to commit the flesh to something that it was not capable of.  After Peter and been broken and come to the end of himself, he realized that apart from Christ he could do nothing.  Now after the Holy Spirit was given and Peter was restored, we see Jesus give a command that he also gives to us today.  In John, 21:19, we see Jesus command Peter saying, “Follow Me”.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, we cannot truly follow Christ.  We must inwardly be broken and surrender daily to the Spirit in order to fully follow Christ.  We must allow ourselves to be invaded by the Holy Spirit.  If you have not yet surrendered to Christ, let 2013 be “the year of invasion”.  May Christ invade all that you endeavor in the coming year.  Let the invasion begin and follow the one and true savior Jesus Christ.

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Small Group: The Velcro of Student Ministry


In Sticky Church, the author points out the role Small Groups play in integrating visitors in to life of your Student Ministry.  Small Groups are the main way people get plugged into the local church.  He uses a term “Velcroed for Growth”.   Velcroed for Growth was an idea that I really identified with.  We need to help people get plugged in and connected.  They must be grounded and connected or “velcroed” into the life of the church to experience true spiritual growth.  Church growth should not be our goal; it is a by-product.  Our strategy must come together in the prayer of agreement, unify around God’s heart of compassion, and engage our city with a message of Christ’s love that met people’s needs.   And that will result in converts.   Converts will then be discipled, and the Youth Ministry and church will become more authentic and experience growth.  People aren’t attracted to preaching personalities or church buildings or church programs. They are attracted to a people who demonstrate love and care for others, people who have a clear sense of purpose and convictions worth dying for.

The importance of Small Groups really is where true growth and maturity occur.  Small Groups must be a vital part of our student ministry.  It can be a place where students can get connected to the body of Christ.  When it comes to small groups, smaller is better.  It provides for intimacy and the ability to build safe environments for people to open up.  Also we need to empower small group leaders to be shepherds and not chaperones.  Those leaders need to shepherd the flock that they have been given.  They need to invest in the lives of those students and families.

I must have a burden to reach the lost and truly seek to help students find the transforming power of Christ.  I think for small groups to be effective the right people need to be in those groups.  Everybody might not be the right fit for that group.  We need think of our small groups as a bus.  A bus is headed in a particular direction.  Not everyone needs or wants to get on that bus.  It might not be going where they need to go.  We need to help our people find the right bus that is taking them in a direction of spiritual growth that is best for them.  Once we get them on the right bus, we need to help them find the right seat.  That seat would be a place of service within the group.  The longer they are in the group and understand who God created them to be, the easier it will be for them to find that seat.  We must be strategic in this process if want our small groups to become cohesive.

Each small group will have its own DNA.  It will naturally surface as people join the group.  We need to provide the structure, or skeleton, but the group will determine how that the group gets fleshed out.  We need give our small groups the flexibility to meet the varied needs of our congregations.

Time is the one commodity that we can never get more of.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  We need to capitalize on the time we have our people’s attention.  Our Student Small Groups used to meet on Sunday Nights.  We only had about 5 or 6 attend each week.  We found out that most of our students are busy Sunday Nights.  Also 90% of our Student Ministry is made up of unchurched students.  So we changed our format on Wed. Nights to include Small Groups.  We already had a large number of students attending on Wed Nights due to our van ministry that picks up students at the schools.  So we changed our format to capitalize on the students we had.  It has been great.  Our students are opening up and our ministry is growing in quantity and in spiritual depth.

I think that this is so important.  Purpose defines function. I believe each group should have a primary and secondary purpose.  Our church has Sunday School and its primary purpose discipleship and fellowship is secondary one.  We also have small groups which primary purpose is fellowship and discipleship is a secondary function.

In our Student Ministry, we must place an importance on having as many entry points as possible for a person to plug into the life of the church.  This can be very taxing on leadership.  In order to create these entries points and close escape routes, we must be sensitive to the needs of our people and have qualified leaders ready to step up and lead these new groups.

Splitting a group has never caused growth in and of itself.  In order for growth to occur, we must strategically look at how we start new groups.  One thing that we plan to implement is an apprentice model.  We will a have a co-teacher in each class that will be mentored by the teacher.  When the Small Group gets to 15 people, it is understood that the co-teacher will start a new group and 5 people from that existing group will join the new group to facilitate this process.  We hope to have this in place by September.  This seems better than just splitting a class and hoping for growth.

The analogy I used before about the bus also applies here.  We have our Small Group Leaders on the bus.  They believe in Small Groups and want to serve.  Now we have to find them the right seat on the bus.  We have to help them understand their S.H.A.P.E. and then place them in a place where that can serve out of the way they were shaped.  S.H.A.P.E. stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality, and Experience.  All these areas will help us to put people in places of service where they can serve out of passion rather that obligation.

Training is important.  I believe that training meetings are great, but training on the job is also very valuable.  To walk with a leader through a difficult or uncomfortable situation is invaluable.  We also meet with our Small Group Leaders each week for debriefing, prayer, bible study, and training.  It has proved to the highlight of the week for our leaders. They walk away more encouraged and equipped, which helps them feel more confident as they work with our students.

For Small Groups to work, they must fit the demographic of those you plan to reach.  It varies from church to church and community to community.  In order to make our ministry effective, we plan to reach out to many different students.

In order to be effective as Student Ministers, we must approach how we do ministry in the same way a missionary does.  We must know and understand the culture of the people we are trying to reach.  I believe that understanding youth culture is very important.  Culture changes so fast now.  New fashion, music, and technology change every 5 years according to Barna.  We need to be able to keep up with the changes. and help parents stay on top of what is occurring in their student’s life.

I believe that the church is a cultural repository.  It needs to be a place that speaks to its culture.  But many churches have missed the mark.  The church as a whole has underestimated the power of culture and its influence on religion.  Many students feel as if they have to step out of their culture in order to go to church.  They feel as if they have stepped back in time.  We need to bring the church into the 21st century.  We need to appeal to a generation that is looking for a place to experience God, and know that He is relevant enough to meet their needs.

Unshackled


Have you ever been put in a situation that is beyond your control?  In Matthew 6:25-30, Jesus calls us to a life of simplicity.  We are called to be free in Christ.  All He asks us to do is follow Him.  Why do the very things that set us free hold us hostage?

Throughout the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul, we see a recurring theme of sin being compared to chains or shackles.  I never really saw the significance of this analogy until I worked at a correctional facility.  Shackles, or Fetters used in many Old Testament passages, refer to forged pieces of iron that were put around the feet of prisoners.  They were usually connected by a small chain.  Shackles were intended to immobilize a prisoner by restricting his movement.  It was a method used by guards to control prisoners and provide security to the community.  This method of control is still in use today.  Modern shackles resemble a large pair of large handcuffs that are placed on the ankles and are connected by a small chain.  They are often attached to a set of handcuffs that are connected to a waist chain.  This restraint system is effective and tamper resistant if applied properly.  Shackles are meant to be placed snug on the ankles.  Once the prisoner begins to walk it becomes painful as the Achilles Tendon begins to flex.  It can be quite painful.  If the shackles are not double locked, they will tighten with each step causing the grip of shackles to increase.  So what does this have to do with sin?  Why did Paul use this term to refer to sin’s grasp on us?  This choice of phrasing was not by accident.

Paul intentionally chose this illustration to help his readers see the power that sin has over us and the importance of what Christ did to break the shackles of sin in our lives.  From the Garden of Eden to this very day, Sin has been Satan’s way to trip us up and even enslave us to a way of life that is contrary to what God had intended.  Sin, like shackles, can grip our lives and limit the direction of our lives.  The more we try to fight sin in the flesh, the tighter its grip becomes.  It is impossible for us to break free on our own.

Inmates get on a cycle that seems impossible to break.  They come to jail for some small crime and they are put in shackles.  They do their time and then are released.  For a moment they are freed from their shackles.  The problem is that shackles, like sin, are designed to be put on and taken off.  We choose to sin thus allowing those shackles to be placed on us.  At times it seems like the more we try not to sin, the more we do.  It is a cycle.  Paul even said that the things he wants to do he can’t and the things that he did not want to do he found himself doing.  The Psalmist in Psalm 2 talks about shackles being broken.  The only way to render shackles useless is to break them.  We are unable to do this on our own. We must rely on Christ to break the shackles of sin in our lives and set us free.

Following Christ should be a life of simplicity and freedom, but we have made it so complex.  Pray that God will help you break the shackles in your life.  My prayer is that we would be able to focus on the day at hand as we follow Christ and not miss Him in the midst of the busyness and details.  He says that if we have the right relationship with him we will be truly free.  If we walk in the truth and light we will “Be Free Indeed”.  In order for this to happen we must do what he called His disciples to do which is to “Simply Follow”.  Daily consecrate your life and your days to follow Christ on the path of the simple.

The Incarnation: Jesus (God in Flesh)


The church has portrayed Jesus a type of spiritual “Superman” that came to rescue us from our sins.  I believe this is a distorted view of what Christ came to do.   The history of the incarnation and the struggle that the early Church Fathers had over this issue seemed to divide them on how to describe the incarnation.  Some believed that Jesus’ divinity and humanity were separate and never affected the other.  Others believed that they kind of worked together as if Jesus was like Superman.  His humanity was like Clark Kent and His Divinity was that of a super hero.   The way we view the incarnation will have a great influence on how we approach youth ministry.

A proper view of the incarnation will allow us to share that Jesus did not come to give us a “gift”, but to be there “for us”.  The incarnation will allow us to share with students the true hope that Jesus offers.  By God choosing to come “in the flesh”, we have a Savior who understands us.  He will be there when we need Him.  If we act as if God is this great benefactor that does great things for us, we will have a skewed perspective of what God is trying to do in our lives.  God is not just “doing things” for us.  God is “for” us.

Student Ministry is the perfect arena in which to practice Incarnational Ministry.  Jesus’ ministry gave us insight into how we should approach our culture with the message of renewal and restoration.  All Youth Ministry is local.  We need to ask ourselves, “How can I be an expert on the local youth culture?”  As a Student Minister, I must bridge the gap between Biblical culture and local youth culture.  Jesus was great at this.  He used common everyday language and situations to communicate God’s love to the people He came into contact with.  His message was presented differently depending on the individual He was speaking with.  We must learn how to construct Local Theologies.  We need to figure out how to best communicate the love of Christ to our culture. 

The history of the incarnation plays a vital role in helping us understand who Jesus is.  It helps us to see that Jesus is more than just a person to call on in times of trouble.  He is God in the flesh.  He is a person who understands us.  We can truly say that Jesus “gets me”.  He knows my thoughts, my needs, and my dreams.  He is not just a problem solver.  When we understand the incarnation, then we can see the power of the cross revealed.  We see a God who came in the flesh to show us how to live, how to die to our sins, and how to be raised to walk in His righteousness. The incarnation transcends cultural boundaries. Students want to be understood.  They are looking for a place to belong.  They want someone to understand them and identify with their struggles.  We can help them see that the incarnate Christ is that person.  If we become an extension of Christ’s life, we can impact this generation in a mighty way.  By investing our lives in students, just a Christ invested in the disciples, we will see much change. 

In John 1, we see that “Jesus dwelt among us”.  He became a part of the culture. He was “one of us”.  We must have the same mindset.  Paul encourages us in Philippians 2:5-11 to have the same attitude as Christ, which means we must live out the Gospel before the people that we have been entrusted with.  The Holy Spirit allows us to be the “incarnate” representative of Christ on earth.  We will have the same spirit and mind of Christ if we tap into the power and guidance that the Holy Spirit offers.

We must keep the BIG picture in mind.  We have to put people before programs. We cannot underestimate the power of presence.  Just being available and listening to students share the successes and failures in their life; we will make a great impact.  Remember, we are a model of relational ministry.

We need to be real and authentic with our students and leaders.  Jesus was able to do this very well.  His disciples saw Him in His full glory on the Mount of Transfiguration and in His brokenness in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Authenticity is really at the heart of the incarnation.  When Jesus was baptized and the Father spoke His affirmation over His son by saying “in whom I am well pleased”, we see who Jesus really was.  His divine nature and human nature were transparent for all to see.  All we have to do is look.  His miracles testified to his deity while his sorrow and brokenness in the Garden displayed His humanity.

Incarnational Ministry is what every believer is called to.  We are the body of Christ.  We are an extension of His saving grace.  We must be willing to step outside of our comfort zone, and “dwell” with those who need to experience the incarnate.

 

 

Power: An Unseen Commodity or Position of Influence


It is interesting to see how power is a commodity that is very valuable in a church body. Everybody wants it, but very few know how to use it to leverage the mission of God within a given community.  Instead they use it to leverage a hidden agenda or program that they want to see happen.  If you really think about it, it almost mirrors what takes place in our government in the US Congress.  Each person drives their agenda and has lobbyist to publicize and promote that agenda.  All the while a community and the world are dying apart from a relationship with Christ.  I had a Senior Pastor tell me one time that if I did not learn how to navigate the politics of a local church that I would not last long in ministry.  I told him that the day I got into politics in the church I would find something else to do.  I have not accepted a call to give my life to set of political ideas or hidden agendas.  I am called to take the gospel to the masses with no strings attached.  I pray as I continue in ministry that the power plays that come up along the way will reveal themselves and I will be able to handle them with the grace and wisdom of Christ.

As a leader, we must have a strategic purpose and invest in the people we lead, in turn creating future leadersJesus acted with a strategic purpose.  He wanted to create a dynamic, multiplying movement capable of evangelizing the world.  He chose to reveal the gospel first to the Jewish people.  Many rejected Him, but there were some who embraced Him as Messiah.  He used the disciples who were Jewish to help spread the gospel.  Jesus had a heart for the Gentiles as well.  On several occasions during His earthly ministry he reached out to Gentiles.  From the woman at the well to the Roman Centurion, He proved that the salvation He would bring through His death, burial, and resurrection was for all people.  Jesus chose to focus on a few believers and empower them to take His message and purpose to all the earth.  He wanted to reproduce His character in them so that they might be witnesses not only with their words, but also with their lives.  He also wanted them to reproduce the structure He had established.  Through the disciples, the church was formed.  The church was to be structured so that believers would be filled with the character of Christ.

Staffing must fit the church’s overall mission and vision. This is key to having the right people on board for growth.  In Student Ministry, it would benefit us to develop more into a Multi Divisional Model that would allow more people to be involved in the leadership of the ministry.  I would like for students to be more involved in leadership positions and take ownership over a particular Ministry Team that fits within their Spiritual Gifts and Personality.  We all know of students who are a part of our Student Ministry that are not members of our church.  Their families are not even attending our church.  I would like to see a deacon / elder assigned to the “unchurched” students in an attempt to allow that deacon an open door into the family that might help get that family involved in the church.  This would provide one more touch point for that family to be connected to the church.  These families expect the Student Pastor to contact them because I am the Student Pastor, but the more people who are involved in the life of that family, the more impact we can have on the spiritual development of that family.

A well-planned budget will allow the church to be a good steward of the money that its members give for the ongoing mission on that local body of believers.  As Ministers of the Gospel, we are entrusted with the sacred duty of using the money given to God through the local body wisely.  By planning, we can use those gifts to advance the gospel in the community and the world

A Student Pastor must lead from the front and be the “example” of Christ-like leadership within the Student Ministry and the Church.  Christianity is far more than a system they have been taught or a set of teachings to believe. Luther believed that the church isn’t a place to participate in programs. He believed the community is the church. And their Christ-like, compassionate life lived before those around them continued to perpetuate God’s transformational movement. Additionally, those they influence also sense the opportunity and commitment to pass on this legacy to the next generation because it has been engrained within them from you and your band of Christ followers. They have been taught and mentored that their gift to the next generation is the instilling of a Christ like way of life into their own children through their own model of Christ likeness.

Is a move of God like this possible?  I believe he wants to bring his Body – his transformed followers of Christ – together in prayer, in unity, and in the power of his Spirit to minister to the spiritual, physical, and relational needs of others in a cradle-to-grave strategy. God has not called Christians to engage in a cultural war simply to protect and preserve a moral way of life. God has called us to be “a transforming salt” and “an attractive light” to the world; to bring hope and healing to a needy world. Jesus said our light is “like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16, NLT).  We must not only view the church through the lens of scripture, but also view it through the lens of the larger community in which it is planted.

 

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