Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Book Review: Confessions of a Reformission Rev

Recently, I just finished Mark Driscoll's book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. The book is incredible. It chronicles the life of Mars Hill from birth through planning for 10,000 people. The chapters are set up by growth milestones and each contains a healthy dose of Mark's gritty humor, sarcastic realism and bitting truth.

The chapter titles alone are worthy of a good laugh... my favorite is Jesus, would you please rapture the charasmatic lady who brings her tambourine to church or Jesus, our offering was $137 and I want to use it to buy bullets.

For any planter, this book is incredible insightful. Not only as a tool for missional church plants, but for it's incredible honest look at the life of a leader in the church. Mark's complete honesty, sometimes too complete, offers a healthy escape from books simply on ministry, by ministers. Driscoll takes you on the journey with him, feeling his pain and frustration and often laughing along the way.

The character trait that I love most about Mark, and is brought to the surface clearly in Confessions... is his righteous anger at churches who don't accomplish the mission that they were sent into this world for. All ministers would benefit from not only reading the book, but adopting his infectious worldview.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Four Motions- Part Four

Live Differently

Finally, we come to the end of our Four Motions. This motion, perhaps the most important, is the gospel distinctive. This motion tells us not only to invest in the little city God has placed us in, or to simply connect with people or even to help seek the positive transformation of our culture... but to do one more thing which makes all the others worthwhile. To give the big city it's "light on a hill".

Jesus commends us in his sermon on the mount not to "hide their light under a basket". Simply doing all of the things that would make a church missional without taking the time to actually live differently means that you have simply gotten off mission. Our students must show the people within their spheres of influence how a life lived in light of the gospel can actually make a difference. This distinctive will quite simply make or break our world. God has given us the mantle of responsibility. It has been given to the church alone, and if we do not accomplish it... no one will. And to do that, we must live our lives in a counter-cultural way.

We must draw together, as we draw others and ourselves closer to God. We must live differently, not so that we would brag to the world "this is our faithfulness" or that we might have the audacity to say to God "this is my part in my salvation" but that we would live differently so that our world might be infected with the "good infection" of the gospel.

Big Idea: Live in such a way as to not draw the wrath of God.
Bigger Idea: Live in such a way as to draw the world to God.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Four Motions- Part Three

Engage Relationally

Perhaps this is where the whole ball of wax falls apart. First, a definition. Engaging our world means that we don't retreat away from it. Remember Jeremiah 29? That whole idea. But engaging relationally is more than on an institutional basis. More than an address change for the Jews, God called them into the city to seek it's welfare. To serve.

You can't do that without investing yourself not only in the institution, but the people. Simply, engaging relationally is when Christians develop meaningful relationships with non-Christians. Some may call this relational evangelism... I think the world calls it just showing up. For students who are Christ followers, there is the propensity to shun those who aren't Christians, or to look down on them. When I was in school, the group of Christians ate together. Sat together. Walked together. Talked together. And... to no one else. If you weren't in the group, about the only time that you were talked to was a random day when they were handing out tracts.

It's time that we Christians learn how to show love. It's time we show up. Steve McCoy posted an article recently about this. He argued that we shouldn't say "love the sinner, hate the sin" without actually lifting one finger to show love to them. Some students need to be challenged to develop relationships with non-Christians, otherwise they will never be able to transform their culture. Really, this motion goes hand-in-hand with the fourth, Live Differently, which gives students a handle on how their conduct should reflect Christ. But there is no doubt, Christians should be in the process of developing relationships with non-Christians wherein the friend is given a glimpse of what their life could be like with Christ.

Big Idea: Students sharing Christ with others.
Bigger Idea: Students sharing Christ with others through meaningful relationships.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Four Motions- Part Two

Invest Wholeheartedly

In Jeremiah, the people of God were taken to Babylon during the exile. The plan of their captors was to exterminate them by way of assimilation. Hopefully, with enough exposure to Babylonian culture, and given enough time, the Jewish people would become like them. The Jewish people would lose their identity. Sound familiar? Sound like what has happened to Christianity and the culture?

At any rate, the Jewish people were left with three options. Option one, give in to it. Let their identity be washed away by embracing the new customs, traditions and religion of their captors. Which is the option that most 'Christians' have chosen. They call themselves Christians but they really don't live like it. Our schools are full of these type of people.

Option two, move out. Simply live outside the city. Create a Jewish subculture that ignored the pagans in the city. Their idea, led by a false prophet, was that given enough time, the heathen culture would destroy itself (and rightly so, they are heathen after all!). This is the option that many Christians have chosen as well. They listen to their own music, shop at their own stores, hang out with only the Christians and the rest of the 'lost' people (who would probably be bad influences after all) are simply ignored.

God, in Jeremiah 29, chooses Option three. Option three: Invest Wholeheartedly. He tells them to move into the city, build houses, build businesses, build families and to pray and seek the welfare of the city- yeah, the city that was holding them captive. This is what must happen for our youth to take their schools for Christ. They must invest themselves in the actual institution of their school. Not to blend in to it, so that no one knows they are a Christian (the betrayal of Motion Four) or to separate themselves so that they don't really even know any non-Christians in any real way (the betrayal of Motion Three). They must seek to be influences of good, Christ-centered change. This means they seek positions in student government, clubs, sports and in their academics so that they might be strategic for Christ.

Big Idea: Teaching your youth to live in such a way as to not cause a scene at school.
Bigger Idea: Teaching your youth to live in such a way as to make their world a better place.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Four Motions- Part One

Love Passionately

All of the motions are slight turns from normal ways of thinking about youth ministry or some aspect of it. The first, Love Passionately, deals with the motivations for evangelism/missional living. It's one thing to guilt a student into helping put on a rock concert to reach other youth with a gospel message (which you deliver by the way). It's another thing all together to have students praying for and seeking the betterment of fellow students and faculty, through service, love and honestly transparent relationship with kids who don't know the words to "Open the Eyes of My Heart". Most youth groups have problems that stem from not loving. They gossip because they do not love. They degrade because they do not love. They are apathetic because they do not love. They don't form relationships because they do not love. They look down over the nose of legalism at the "heathens" because they do not love. But the problem isn't the listology that most youth pastors feed their kids. Don't gossip or Jesus will hate you! (Okay, exaggeration). The answer is to teach them how to love.

If you want your students to make a difference. If you want them to have the heart of Christ for their school, you can't simply teach them how to use an Evangecube and call it a day. We must roll our sleeves up and do some real work, teaching our students how to love for and seek the welfare of their fellow students.

Big Idea: Getting youth to reach other youth because Christ called them to do it.
Bigger Idea: Getting youth to reach other youth because they love them.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


We have more to come on the Four Motions, but I'd like to take a moment and discuss the restorative nature of Project 29 and Missional Theology in nature.

If you know Calvinism, you think TULIP. The 'T' of which stands for 'total depravity'. Those who run with the evangelicals may recognize total depravity for the 'A' in their ABC's of faith. 'A: Admit that you are a sinner'. The Bible however, does not begin with total depravity, or sinful nature of man. It begins with God's goodness, holiness and perfect creation.

The Bible ends with the restoration of a world order that resembles the first. From a garden to a city, with a garden in the center. The nature of the Bible is restorative. (This is the base argument of those who are annihilationist but we don't embrace that).

As such, we must recognize the restorative nature of our mission. Just like Nehemiah was concerned with rebuilding the wall and the city, we must concern ourselves with not just building a city, but rebuilding a city. This may mean a few things.

1. We look to established churches. For some, church planting is the answer to that which perils American culture. I understand that we need church plants. In fact, we need many more churches planted than what we do. Our time, money and energy as churches should be on building a healthy church which can reproduce itself through church planting, not only build a bigger sanctuary. But we must not forget the established churches. They are a sleeping giant! The amount of energy it takes to wake the giant is potentially prohibitive, I understand. But the amount of resources that the giant sits on is simply far too great for us to ignore.

2. We look to different leaders. As far as I am concerned, there are only four things I look for in leaders (other than a shared scriptural/cultural worldview). They must be passionate, skilled, teachable and humble. Those four things alone are all a person needs. Their passion will drive them to be great, and make God's name great. Their skill is God's transitory gift that allows them to accomplish it. Their teachability will ensure that they are lifelong learners and keep them on the cutting edge. And their humbleness will keep them from becoming too headstrong. We cannot simply look to those who have certain denominational or cultural backgrounds (bible college, seminary, etc.) but must look within our own spheres of influence to awaken the leader in some without those. Bottom line: if I looked for the people with the best resumes I'd be ignoring God's ability to use anyone; including myself.

3. We expect more from our teens. The biggest lie that the world have ever fed us is that all teens are supposed to be rebellious. Another is that their attention span is 22 minutes long. Or that they are in a place in life where 'they need to be fed before they can make disciples'. Or that they won't understand or don't need to know theology. I wonder when youth ministry will grow up... our teens can reprogram a computer, learn a new video game (and beat it) in a day, ace their AP Bio exam, remember all their friends phone numbers, have time for school and sports and job and family and friends (but not for church). They can do more than they are being fed from a culture that has taught them to be apathetic. We must awaken them from their slumber.

I hope these help. More on the Four Motions to come.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Little City

There have been two churches that have been of great influence to me. One is Westpoint Fellowship Church. The other is Mars Hill Church.

The second, led by pastor Mark Driscoll, is in the process of getting down on paper, after year ten, some core values and unique distictives. The thought that they keep coming back to, he says, is that they are to be "the city within the city". That Seattle is their big city, and those of Mars Hill are the little city. The idea is that the little city would seek to transform with love the greater city until the greater city worships the Jesus of the Bible.

Now, for youth ministry, this has unique application. This because every day we send our students to "big, little cities" called high schools. And within those little cities are even smaller, almost extinct cities of high school Christians. So how does the little city transform the big city?

I think that key to this are four motions. Four things that every student must not simply know (which is why I don't call them truths) but must live out in the daily as things that that their entire being revolves around.

The first is that they must LOVE PASSIONATELY. Most high schoolers have a healthy disdain for school, teachers and at least half the student body. For the longest time we've been telling them to win over these others with the message of Jesus Christ, all the time assuming that they share at least some concern for them. But, often if anything the only evangelistic motivation isn't the love that a Christian student has for another non-Christian student, but a sense of obligation and duty, perhaps even guilt, that they must "evangelize" them. What if our students loved passionately their school?

The second is that they must INVEST WHOLEHEARTEDLY. They must not only love their city, but act out of that love by investing themselvs in it. By 'it' I do not yet mean the people of the school (that comes next, and is seperate) but the actual institution itself. They must seek positions in student leadership, wether it be through government, clubs, sports, activities or academics. They must seek out positions where they can be stragetic for Christ. They must invest themselves in the school as Jeremiah asks those in Babylon to pray for the peace of the city. The goal of a Christian student in a high school should be that by the time he or she graduates they have been a part of something that has made their school a better place to be. What if our students invested themselves in their school so deeply that if Jesus came back, the school shuts down?

The third, like the second, is that they ENGAGE RELATIONALLY. This is a little different in that we have moved from the good of the institution to the good of the people. In particular, this means that we are doing are jobs so that our students understand the value of community. And not just 'community' in the 'lets go sit at the Christian table for lunch today' but community in the sense of 'let's go sit at the table where my friends are'. We must do that which all youth pastors are afraid to do... teach Christian Liberty. We must teach them how to be Christians in a high school without a WWJD bracelet. What if our students, instead of retreating from culture, engaged it?

The final motion is that they LIVE DIFFERENTLY. Central to the idea of a 'little city, big city' is that life in the little city is different. Love, sex, money, power, friendships, vocation, use of time and much more is done differently by those who are of the little city. We don't just invest ourselves and engage our culture that we would lose it all by not being able to show that we are different because of Christ, and Him crucified. The idea behind this is the prophetic imagination. We must give the school a picture of what their life would look like with Christ in it. What if our students lived differently, not as a way of showmanship, but as a witness to the hope that Christ offers?

So there they are. The four motions that I believe are central values of those in the little city. More to come... see you soon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Elitism vs. Reductionism

While preparing for our weekly study time with the children, I noticed something in our curriculum. We were talking about what we can do in order to live a life that God finds pleasing. And the material prompted me to display a list of ten virtues, everything from reading your Bible, praying, loving others, sharing Jesus, giving, worship, service and even listening to Christian music among others.

I wonder, how do we walk the line between being elitist and being reductionistic. Elitism might prompt me to dive deeper than what any 4th grader could go to explain that the "listology" appearing to be given can really only hinder our relationship God unless we truly live out of the knowledge that though I do these ten things, I do them out of sheer delight and never duty. And, that doing them out of duty robs me of their inherent value so that doing them out of delight is the only way that they can every be fully understood and enjoyed.

Or, I could simply reduce the gospel down to a list of things that God wants us to do to "follow Him and live a life that is pleasing to Him." And in doing so, I'd absolutely neuter the gospel of all it's worth because I am so flawed that unless I rely on his grace these lists are nothing but hindrances to me.

Perhaps I read too much into the material. And in the end, I tried, probably unsuccessfully, to easily explain that trying to put together lists of things that please God is a good starting point but sometimes very tricky so we must remember that it is our faith alone which saves us. But yet I wonder, can what is taught to our children and our youth be as theologically rock solid as the best of adult teaching or are we doomed forever to fall of one side of the horse. Either elitism (here is the gospel of Christ, sorry you can't understand it) or reductionism (here is the gospel of Christ, so watered down it ceases to be the gospel of Christ). Is there a way to have theologically rock solid teaching and teaching materials that aren't elitist or reductionistic?

If not, there should be....

Questioning Youth Ministry

When my wife and I first came back to Wesley Chapel/Zephyrhills, we did so because we felt called to the youth of the city. Heck, we had just graduated a year before. We couldn't help but be close to this. We had no idea what it would entail, but we knew one simple thing: That churches had watered down youth ministry.

It was all about gimmicks and bad theology; "what can we do to get the kids in?". And, once they were in, the gospel was reduced to little more than a list of things not to do. Even those youth minister who would say "it's not about a religion, it's about a relationship" had no way to articulate it without sounding like a legalist. It seemed like all that youth were being taught by churches was either one of two things.

One, you're a bad person and all that God wants you to do is the exact opposite of whatever you're currently thinking would be a good idea. Or, all that you need to learn is how to do everything you do in a different way (i.e., "Kids, music is good... as long as it's performed by Jeremy Camp). Either way that it was articulated, at it's center was man; not God and His glory. Don't do this.... do that... is all the talk of a man-centered theology wherein my good works buy me my salvation. Or, that my works are my "I.D." into this Christian club. This is like Participatory Redemption which says "My actions make me a part of this group which make me a Christian." I could go on and on about what I didn't think youth ministry should be about, but when we first moved, had no idea about what it should be about.

But over the past few months, what's being called Missional Theology and a couple friends from Orlando have begun to transform the way that I think about youth ministry. In regard to Missional Theology: there have been some crazy articulations of this type of theology, but it's reincarnation under such great Bible teachers like Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and others is amazing! And as for my friends in Orlando, Jim Collins and Jason Dukes at Westpoint Fellowship Church, they have helped me to detox from the idea of 'church' as an institution or a building and to see it as people living for God, in the daily of life.... 24/7.

To absolutely butcher the idea behind Missional Theology, it's that we must do two things. We must both contend and contextualize the gospel. So, we must contend for the truth and accuracy of what God says. And, we must say it in a relevant way to our culture. What's more, the focus behind churches that have adopted this way of thinking isn't "let's create our own Christian alternative to life" but rather "let's be a counter-cultural force in our world". Most youth groups thrive in the contending, or die in the contextualizing, but never realize how to be the church in daily life (contextualizing) while being the church of Jesus Christ (contending).

But rather than telling our teens that they need to simply be different, have only Christian friends, listen to only Christian music, go only to church... (in other words the "listology" that is fed to most youth by well-intentioned ministers) what if we told them to invest themselves in their worlds, particularly their schools? What if we told them to seek positions in student government to exalt Christ? What if we told them to make non-Christians friends? What if we told them to not to seclude themselves from their world but to engage in it? What if we went from simply telling them not to have sex, but teaching them to live that example for others? What if we equipped them to lead Bible studies on their campus'? What if we trusted them to live on mission for Christ, not compromising the gospel and yet engaging their culture where it's at? What if our youth made it their mission to make their schools a better place? What if Christian students were so heavily invested in their school that if Jesus came back to get them the school would cease to function?

What if our students lead our teachers to Christ?

Instead of telling our youth to retreat... what if we armed them to engage! That would mean that ministers would stop focusing on how to have a better mid-week program and start focusing on how to train the real stars, the missionaries to mini-cities of thousands of non-Christians. Our focus would move from doing church to being church! Could our nation be changed? Would our high schools, and in turn our colleges, and our nation be changed and turn back to God?

If we began to question youth ministry, what would we find?