Wednesday, August 28, 2019

When Small Groups Grumble

As group members become comfortable with one another, it is only a matter of time until the spigot of personal opinions is opened. But what happens when the shared opinions take on the form of grumbling? From church politics, to the recent Sunday service sermon, to the food served at last week’s church barbecue, to anything else that the group has on their heart, how can a small group leader intervene before the negative conversation derails the entire meeting?

In Exodus 16, we see the Israelites navigating through the desert, shortly after they are rescued from the Egyptians in Chapter 14. It isn’t long before they begin to grumble and complain to Moses, saying “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (16:3). Shortly after this complaint, the Lord hears the Israelites and blesses them with bread from heaven and meat (16:12), giving them the strength and sustenance to continue onward.

Although this story is a powerful way to illustrate how God provides for our needs, we also mustn't take the scripture out of context by submitting to every grumble and complaint that arises within the group. In other words, the group leader is called to have the ability to prayerfully discern the reasons as to why the grumbling and complaining is occurring in the first place. Here in Exodus, we see that the Israelites had a legitimate need. In order for the group to successfully make it to the Promised Land, they needed assistance from the Lord for resources that they couldn't provide for themselves. Likewise, in order for the small group to successfully accomplish the goals that had been established at the outset of the group, perhaps the group leader may need to shift course and modify the group’s activities or curriculum to stay on target. 

But what if the grumbling and complaining doesn’t appear to be stemming from a legitimate need? Allow us to visit Philippians 2:12-16 to help us explore:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (NIV)

In other words, when Paul says that we will be able to boast about not laboring in vain, he is reminding us to keep the larger picture in mind. After the Israelites arrived in Canaan, the hunger and the forty years of eating manna was suddenly justified. If only the Israelites could have seen the bigger picture, perhaps they would have arrived in the Promised Land sooner.

Similarly, if only the small group members could see the amount of prayer and study that the church staff placed on the current sermon series, perhaps they would be more open-minded to what the Lord is sharing with them on Sundays. Or if only the small group members could see that the church barbecue connected five new believers and their families to the church, perhaps the menu choice for that day would not prevent them from coming to the next event. As a result, we are able to more quickly engage ourselves with what the Lord is doing when we intentionally choose to view ministry through a heavenly lens.

Within the context of a small group ministry, we are able to bring together individuals of varying degrees of spiritual maturity. Through their small group, engaging with the community of believers is one of the best ways for a new believer to sharpen their understanding of how the Kingdom operates. Small group leaders have the spiritual gifting and special skill set that allows them to step in and help their group members gain this perspective. And as a result, those involved with the church's small group ministry will be able to have a better understanding of when God speaks and where He is guiding His church.

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This blog has a focus on small groups, men's ministry, and youth ministry. Join us for the journey by subscribing and sharing this post!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Encouraging Youth to Serve

It is known that Jesus Christ calls us to conduct acts of service toward others. If you were to ask any student in the youth ministry as to if we should work out acts of service toward others in our lives, surely they would agree. But of all of the students that say we should do acts of service, how many actually do acts of service on a regular basis? 

One article from Pew Research Center cited a study where in order for someone to be deemed “highly involved” in the church, it meant that they attended service on a weekly basis and attended a small group at least once a month. What was fascinating was that the same study showed that only 20% of mainline Protestants were highly active in their church. And since we can deduce that there is a correlation between involvement at the church and actually serving in the church, it’s likely that the going rate of church members who serve is hovering around the same percentage.

Talking with the youth about what service is…that’s all good. But when engaging the youth on serving in the church, maybe we should first ask the question “Why should we conduct acts of service at all?” Take a moment to compare Luke 17:7-10 to Luke 12:35-40. In the first Scripture, Jesus says that we should consider ourselves to serve because we are simply just doing what we are called to do (we are unworthy servants). However, in the second Scripture, Jesus tells the parable of a master serving His own servants when he finds them in the midst of serving. Both ideas about serving are striking, yet somewhat opposite of each other.

Why would Jesus present this paradox to His disciples when talking about the topic of service? The Bible balances on the tightrope between these two concepts because God is not looking for a transactional relationship. If Christianity was a transactional religion, then everyone would do their 10 prayers and weekly community service project and be done with it for the rest of the week.

Instead, it might help for our youth to understand that serving is more like being a part of a team. God wants us to be a part of the winning team, and being a part of such a team means that we become active and engaged servants. Just like if the student was to play on a basketball team, the expectation is that they would collect rebounds, pass the ball to their teammates, and help each other make baskets. If you don’t do these things for your teammates, then you’re not playing basketball, you’re just watching it! Likewise, being on God’s team means that we get in the game and do the things that the coach (Jesus) tells us that we need to do in order to be a part of the experience. The best thing about it is that this team for the Kingdom of God doesn’t last for only a two-hour game…it lasts for the entire span of eternity.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Youth and the Image of God

Jesus’s last moments with His disciples are some of the most powerful and sobering moments during His ministry on Earth. While these moments are recorded throughout all four of the Gospels, the book of John in particular places the Last Supper in Chapters 13 through 17. By the time we get to Chapter 17, two notable things have already occurred: first, Jesus has asked His disciples to love one another as He has loved them (for there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends); and second, He has told the disciples who the Holy Spirit is and that He is arriving soon.

After these powerful statements are made by Jesus, we arrive at John 17:21 where on behalf of those who believe in Him, He asks God “that they may all be one.” While this is an incredible statement for the larger church, it is especially powerful for the youth ministry of today.

Referring back to Genesis 1:27, the Bible says that we were made in the image of God. When we have a desire to connect with others, to share lives with one another, or to love one another, it’s not that hard to see why. After all, we were made in the image of a God who exemplifies perfect relationship and oneness within the Trinity. In other words, God was in relationship before the universe and humans were even created. And what makes John 17:21 so powerful is that Jesus says we have the ability to experience a level of relationship with others that exhibits characteristics similar to the Trinity.

Especially prevalent in today’s youth culture, the emptiness that students may be feeling in the soul is commonly referred to as a God-sized hole in our heart, because the only person that can possibly fill such a void is God Himself. Should we attempt to fill it with the finite and other short-term moments of happiness, we will forever find ourselves disappointed and lost. After all, our craving for joy will never be satisfied by a quick fix of happiness, and as we all know from Solomon, overstimulation inevitably turns into numbness (Ecclesiastes 2:1).  Indeed, the only way we no longer feel purposelessness, no longer feel shame, and no longer feel lost is by receiving the gift of eternal salvation that the Lord has given to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Accepting the gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice helps us understand better the principle that we are made in the image of God, and realizing that we are made in the image of God adds to the desire to genuinely connect with others. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we lay down our lives for our friends. As a result, engaging in relationship with one another becomes a natural outgrowth of our lives. While secular individuals may be able to build noteworthy friendships, they are not based on the example of unconditional love that Jesus calls us to. This applies especially for our youth in cases where a digital connection is mistaken for genuine relationship. In the youth ministry of today, it becomes critical for the church to help students understand this nuance. After all, it is only because of God that we can build relationships with others that stand through the trials of this life, because only God Himself has already conquered such trials.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Students: The Digital Apostles of Youth Ministry

With students being on the frontlines of social media, they are in the midst of trending apps, hashtags, memes, and videos far more quickly than any of the youth leaders could ever be. To help fill the time, students may find themselves spending hours each day on their favorite apps if they aren’t yet working. The realm of social media is continuously transforming at such a rapid pace that the top social media apps of today will most likely be obsolete within the next few years. Instead of focusing on the exact details of how students can run a youth ministry’s social media, it may be more beneficial to simply provide a framework through which they can operate under.

In terms of creativity, content, and shared responsibility among its members, a youth-led social media team requires a level of trust that leaders extend to students. While this wouldn’t mean giving carte blanch to the students to tweet or post anything that comes across their hearts, youth ministry leaders must submit to the reality that this is a realm where they are not the experts. Thus, a balance is to be maintained between the creativity of the students and the guidance of the leaders. With a bit of mentorship and structure, this team is able to effectively reach an extremely captive audience and create an identity that is vibrant and active outside of the church walls.

While an organization’s successful social media accounts look and feel organic in many ways, the management of its social ministry portfolio is anything but. To be effective, the team must identify the app(s) that they would like to utilize and then develop a set schedule on which to post. Since some apps have restrictions on the length of characters and/or the length of videos, it may be easier to create content that fits within the most restrictive of the social media apps. From there, the team can just publish the same video or post to all of their other social media platforms without needing to recreate any of their original work (there even exists some apps that publish your content to all linked social media accounts at a future scheduled time and date).

Perhaps a goal of four to five posts a week is a great start, ranging from the detailed to the silly. This may initially seem like a lot, but simply looking at any public figure or large organization on social media today portrays an active account that consistently engages the community and posts content on a daily basis. If our youth are on social media every single day, and if the church wants to interact with its youth Monday through Saturday, then the church must go to where the youth are. 

Indeed, this area of youth ministry may very well be one of the areas of reaching the unchurched youth that has the highest potential. And since our youth are always the experts on technology, they are some of the very best candidates to be representing the youth ministry online. Just like how the apostles went to other nations, just like how they used the language of their target audience, just like how they lived among the individuals that they ministered to, and just like how they became all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), the church cannot ignore social media any longer if they want to reach the unchurched youth. While studies are still being conducted to show the effects of social media on teens, the prominence of this medium is undeniable, and this team could arguably be one of the very best evangelism tools that youth ministry has in today’s era.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Revival is Not a Pipe Dream

“The Church must first repent, then the world will break! The Church must first weep; then our altars will be filled with weeping penitents.” ~Leonard Ravenhill

It’s been said that the last words of a dying church is “We’ve always done it this way.” While this striking statement fuels the need to be creative within the church, there’s a danger to being creative just for the sake of creativity. When the church comes to a belief that a jamming music set or a flag football night is what’s going to keep the guys coming, then there may be something missing. Sure, these things may attract a handful of guys for a few nights, but revival doesn’t last for one night. Indeed, revival is a sustained presence of the Spirit throughout a community or a nation that impacts the everyday lives of those within the community; revival creates groundbreaking change in the lifestyle of the individuals that come in contact with the movement; revival is undeniable and unshakable once it gains traction.

The shift that occurs is so significant that it can only be from the Lord. Revival historian J. Edwin Orr explains on the Revival of Wales in 1904-1905: “Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves signifying that there were no cases of murder, assault, rape or robbery or the like to consider. The police became unemployed in many districts. Stoppages occurred in coal mines, not due to unpleasantness between management and workers, but because so many foul-mouthed miners became converted and stopped using foul language that the horses which hauled the coal trucks in the mines could no longer understand what was being said to them.” The Korean Pyongyang Revival of 1907 began with 600 men that had initially gathered for a class, with well over a thousand assembling for public meetings in the evenings. Authors Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom share more: “After the initial night of confession and prayer, several succeeding nights followed in a similar pattern. It is reported that the local police heard about individuals confessing their crimes and so dispatched a member of the force to come and take notes for possible prosecution; in carrying out this assignment, the policeman was himself converted. Other conversions took place. But the main impact was to deepen the faith of those who were already in the churches and who were inspired afresh for dedicated lives of consecrated service.”

Revival is not some pipe dream that happens only on the other side of the world. While the Jesus Movement here in the States during the 60’s and 70’s may have been a more recent revival-like era of Christianity, the most powerful example of modern Western revival came from the emergence of Pentecostalism, which is arguably the fastest growing denomination of Christianity in the world today. According to Noll and Nystrom, a common theme of revival is that it is “necessary to have a substantial body of believers already in place who are longing for revival.” In other words, in order for revival to occur, there must be a desire for revival; but in order for revival to be desired, the community needs to be engaged with the church; and in order for the community to be engaged with the church, then the church must build relationships with those outside of the church.

So why does revival require men? Because frankly, women have already got it together when it comes to building relationships. How often have you heard of a case where the wife doesn’t want to pursue the Lord when the husband is on fire and genuinely engaging the Kingdom of God in a heartfelt way? Perhaps there are a few examples, however any pastor can attest that there are woefully many more scenarios of the husband hanging behind at the house and sleeping through Sunday services. While the last seven posts in this blog covered a variety of topics, the very best way to start the process of getting men involved is to befriend a guy, get to know him, and invite him to join a small group to get connected with other men. Apart from the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing quicker that can transform the heart of a man outside of him building relationships with other godly men.

Thank you all for journeying with us on the topic of revival. I pray that the last two months of our journey through this topic will inspire your church to develop methods that allow men to build relationships with one another. I pray that the Lord blesses your household, your church, and your community so that all aspects of your life experience a supernatural revival and awakening that is powered by the Spirit of God.

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