Gap Year

There are some dismal, scary statistics out there regarding the lack of "sticky faith," or faith that lasts, among our Christian young people today.  By and large the data overwhelmingly suggests that youth ministries and churches are failing at encouraging and cultivating a faith that lasts.  If you have yet to come across these studies, and what I've said above is "news to you," here are some books to add to your reading list:
Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean
Sticky Faith by Chap Clark and Kara Powell
Souls in Transition by Christian Smith
You Lost Me by David Kinnaman
These are not easy reads, nor are they fun and inspiring.  The data is sad, and sorta scary.  If what these studies suggest is true, we need to wake up and make some changes.  I'm encouraged by the conversations I hear in churches and amongst youth workers who are taking these studies seriously, but I'm wondering what other ideas are out there...Is there hope that we can turn the trends in the other direction and put our energy and efforts into ministries that will cultivate lasting faith in the lives of the young people with which God has entrusted us?  Will we be honest about ministries and programs of which we are a part that desperately need to be changed or ended?  In the world of youth ministry, "That's the way we've always done," just isn't cutting any more.

I have an idea.  It's not a fix, not fool proof, and not the end all be all.  It's an idea.  It's something that could address this concern for some students, and it has to do with the concept of a "Gap Year."  A Gap Year takes place between high school graduation and college studies, and is not a new idea.  Let's face it, some of, if not most of, our students are not immediately ready for college or "real life" after high school.  And apparently they aren't prepared and equipped for life after youth group either.

The Evangelical Covenant Church used to have a solution of sorts for this; it was called Covenant Bible College, and it was successful for many years serving students on 3 campuses.  Unfortunately, as you may have deciphered, these campuses are all closed.  What can we offer students today?


A People of Fascination

“God would save the world through fascination, by setting up an alternative society on the margins of the empire for the world to come and see what a society of love looks like.”
-Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President

Are we, the people of God in the world today, a people of fascination?  Are we even interesting, remotely relevant, or somewhat important to our communities?  I'm not asking these questions of our worship services, programs, or preaching, I'm wondering whether we, as the people of God, are living lives that reflect God in us.  Are we fascinating?  Are we interesting, inspiring, encouraging, resilient, faithful, loyal, people of integrity?  

I'm wrestling with this personally.  Have I risked anything for the Gospel?  In what ways am I fascinating, interesting, encouraging, and making a difference for Christ in my community?  I try to do this through the influence I have in coaching.  Because I coach in the public school, my influence is mostly subtle and almost entirely through my actions alone, but I believe Jesus is working.  

I have a desire, however, to pursue this idea further.  Where else can I be fascinating, or can I be pointing people to the God of fascination?  

Here's where I'm going with all this:  I would contend that the reason we're not as fascinating as we once were, is that we've lost our imagination, or ability to be creative.  Our ideas have dried up or are stuck in a foregone time.  We fight culture wars to preserve what once was.  We argue, "Well, we've never done it that way before!"  Or, we look to the culture around us and try to spiritualize good ideas already in existence.  We aren't using the brains our ever so creative Creator gave us!

I'm reading a book that is both challenging and encouraging me to think up new thoughts about Church.  Specifically, I'm reading a book that is teaching me how to think up new thoughts; that is, how to create a culture of imagination and fascination within the Church.  The book, Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Desginer, by C. McNair Wilson.  What a book it is!  I recommend reading it if you have ever been frustrated with brainstorming gone nowhere or planning sessions that are all planning with zero implementation.  I'm challenged to both create and participate in a place where creativity and curiosity is encouraged, and particularly in youth ministry, I think this could be HUGE!

I hope you'll consider grabbing this book.  I also hope you'll consider using your imagination and God-given creativity to examine, brainstorm, and launch some big ideas in your context.  Let us once again become a people of fascination, that the whole world would take notice and be pointed to God, the Creator of all things.


Me 3

Have you ever heard the saying, "Me 3"?  It's a catchy little thing reminding Christians to put God 1st, others 2nd, and me 3rd.  The idea of putting others first, looking to the interests of others, and refusing selfish desires is all over the Bible.  We are a people called to love other people above ourselves because we serve and follow a Savior who modeled this very thing.  As Paul said, "Who being in very nature God...made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant."  Jesus is our model for the "Me 3" attitude.

Check out this video before reading on...

While I watched this video I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for something.  Can you guess it?  What would it be?  I kept waiting for the reporter to say something like, "Tom is a Christian!"  I kept waiting for the "Good Samaritan" to say he does this because of his faith.  But there's no mention of faith in this story.  This man is putting the "Me 3" idea to work because of his concern and care that others were treated like he was treated years ago.  Hmmmmmm.  Seems like a biblical concept to me!

So why can't we grasp this?  Why is it so hard for us to regularly put the "me 3" attitude into practice?  My recent posts have centered on this very idea, "What if Christians lived as Jesus taught us to live and became identified as a 'me 3' people; a people know by their love for others?"  


What can we learn from this man's story?  What are we missing?  Why do I remain so selfish when God has been so self-less with me?

"They'll know we are Christians by our LOVE."

Not by our bumper stickers.  Not by our t-shirts.  Not by our ability to memorize Scripture or perform miraculous signs.  Not by our morality or rule following.  The world will know we are Christians by our love.  Will we give ourselves, and others, enough grace to follow through on Jesus' command to love as he loved us?


Truth Telling

I have a degree in History.  This, you might think, it worthless and silly considering I never considered a career in teaching with this degree!  If I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd choose History every time.  I learned a lot about critical thinking and analysis as a History major.  I'll never forget these words from one of my profs:
"Just because someone says something, doesn't make it true."
Simple enough, right?  "Just because someone says something, doesn't make it true."  As I read through the post-election articles, reflections, and musings, I can't help but be reminded of this statement: "Just because someone says something doesn't make it true."  Just because we are told something about a political candidate, doesn't make it true.  Do some fact checking.  Do some research.  Learn.  Read.  Listen.  Check out FactCheck.org to see what is truth, half-truth, and flat out bull.  It's sad that fact checking sites need to exist, but I wonder, how many people even care?  I believe we would believe almost anything if the right person says it.  Why?  Fear.


The Election and Technology

If you were like me, you were both horrified and mystified by your Facebook and Twitter feed Tuesday night as the world closely followed the Presidential Election.  The rhetoric and emotion I witnessed by supporters of both sides was fierce.  There were those who promised to move to Canada if Obama was elected.  I even saw a few more enlightened folks, those who realized Canada isn't a conservative playground, threaten a move to Russia or other far away places.  And there were those who were simply saddened by election results; saddened by the weakening of our morals, our values, our heritage as a free people.  There were nasty exchanges between people of opposing views.  There were flame wars that erupted at the mere mention of the words Obamacare, taxes, small business, gay marriage, or the national debt.  I don't think I need to tell you, reader, just how heated and divided we are.

Okay.  Enough about that.  This isn't a post about politics.  It's about technology.  As you might be able to predict, a good percentage of those whom I follow on Twitter and my Facebook friends are Christians.  And Christians  on both side of the political aisle had a lot to say about this election.  And it wasn't all pretty.  In fact, most of it was sort of sad.  At least, it made me sad.  It spoke of hopes erased, dashed, destroyed for one side, and hope restored and fortified for the other.  And we choose to communicate these sentiments through Facebook.  We choose to communicate these fierce emotions through social media.


Jesus and Tables

"Tables can create societies; tables can also divide societies."
-Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed

While teaching through the Jesus Creed in our high school Sunday school class this year, I came to chapter 4, "The Jesus Creed as A Table."  The quote above stuck.  As in Jesus' day, tables can be unifying and dividing; tables can be places of wonderful inclusion and/or intensional exclusion.  Tables, it turns out, have a lot to say.

Two examples with which most of us can relate.  We are in the holiday season.  Starbucks reminds me of this fact as I order my Thanksgiving Blend coffee which is placed in a Christmas cup.  The holidays are full of tables.  Eating is a big deal during the holidays.  Who is usually invited and present at your holiday table?  Who is absent?  Tables communicate who's in and who's out, who's welcome and who's not.  If you need further proof, check out a school cafeteria during lunch.  Here, maybe more than any other place in our society, can one see the truth of the statement above, "Tables can create societies; tables can also divide societies."  It can be really ugly in the school lunch room!  Tables have a lot to say.


How Should We Love?

Follow up from last post, "How Are We Known?," where I reflected on Brennan Manning's observation - well, I guess Jesus' command really - that Christians will be recognized by their love for others.  In reality, I think we're more often known or characterized by those things we stand against.

The post begs the question, "If love is to be the one thing that makes a Christian identifiable, what should we do to show love to others?"

Now, I realize there are a lot of ways to show the love of Christ to the world, but for this post I want to specifically reflect again on Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God, to help us see that it doesn't have to be that hard.  If you look back at the previous post, you'll see that Manning said, "You are going to leave people feeling a little better or a little worse.  You’re going to affirm them or deprive them, but there’ll be no neutral exchange."

So about these exchanges, how do we make sure we leave people feeling better; how do we affirm people?