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?