Thursday, July 2, 2020

Celebrating Our Freedom

The beginning of July marks a time of celebration for the United States of America. As we look back on our country’s history, it becomes easy to see that this is a special nation. Even today, there are areas of the world where one cannot protest, cannot voice their opinion, or cannot even go to a religious service without fearing for their life. We may be experiencing a tumultuous year, but this doesn’t mean that we forget to celebrate our freedom with our families, our churches, and our friends. Let us pause and reflect upon a prayer that David lays before God. Found in 2 Samuel 7:18-29, this excerpt of Scripture takes place immediately after David’s mistake of believing that he needed to build a temple for God in order to please Him.

18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human! 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
22 “How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God. 25 “And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.
27 “Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.”

Let us freely worship our Lord and place Him first and foremost in our lives. While we must do our part to fight for freedom and to fight for justice, true resolution won’t be achieved in the physical realm, but upon the battlefield of spiritual warfare. In other words, the devil who lies and deceives continuously will not be vanquished until God is invited to the battle. Let us give praise that Christ has already declared His victory. Let us be thankful that our freedom is not dependent on the works that we do for Him. Indeed, just as how David points out in verse 21, the Lord has chosen to bless us first because He has always loved us first. Let us rest in this truth before we speak and engage with others. We truly are blessed tremendously to live in this nation. Let us not forget this, lest we spurn the one who gave us such an incredible blessing to begin with. Thank you Lord! God bless America.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Revisiting Your Church's Vision for 2020

It’s surprising to think that we have arrived at the halfway mark of 2020; it feels like Covid-19 arrived on the scene just a short while ago. The entire world was impacted tremendously, and this year’s pandemic brought sudden changes to everyone’s lives. Not only were our daily routines quickly shaken up, but the plans and goals we all had on our minds during the month of January were suddenly overturned and left behind. With half of the year still to go, let us pause for a moment and reflect upon the 2020 vision that we had developed for our small group ministries such a short time ago.

Earlier this month, I found myself perusing Small Group Network’s pre-Covid resources, only to rediscover a Group Talk Podcast interview that discussed vision-casting with Steve Gladen (Click here for the link to this episode). Although I had listened to the interview when it was first published at the start of this year, the conversation now possessed a rather striking relevancy as I heard Steve’s words a second time through a Covid-19 lens. Here, let us explore a few key takeaways from the recorded conversation.

Vision and Goals are not the Same
Although the coronavirus may have derailed some of the plans that we had drafted at the start of the year, it is important to remember that a vision will operate more at the macro-level, while the church’s mission will operate more at the micro-level. Gladen explains within the interview that our goals are not the same as vision. Instead, goals act as “faith steps towards our vision” (emphasis mine). Should we miss our goals, it may be tempting to feel that we have failed our vision, but we must proceed with caution and not confuse the two. Gladen continues, explaining that in ministry, we will always encounter trauma, trouble and challenges along the way. To assist throughout the journey, our vision is like the North Star that helps in keeping us aligned with the plan that God had initially placed upon our hearts. Indeed, our vision is a calling or a movement that we are compelled to fulfill, where every decision made within the church contributes toward its success. A vision is an exciting, God-sized victory that we collectively aspire to achieve. In order for the members of our church to keep sight of it, we leaders are tasked to revisit the vision frequently. By doing this, we not only inspire our congregants to become more involved, but we also help to answer a question that each of them asks: “What is my role?”

Establish a Brain Trust
Have you invited godly people of differing opinions, strengths, and viewpoints into your leadership meetings? This Covid-19 season, we are all experiencing life in a way that is new to us. Even if we have been doing ministry for a decade or more, this year has likely caught us all off guard. As we continue to venture into unknown territory, it becomes important for us to be able to open our hearts and hear the needs and perspectives of various leaders within our communities. To get buy-in on implementing a vision, Gladen reminds us that we must do it relationally. He elaborates, explaining that “the stronger you are aligned in your vision, the stronger the people will take it on for you.” It is when we bounce ideas off of one another and have healthy dialogue that we are able to establish solidarity among the ranks and forge ahead.

A Season of Healing for Small Group Ministry
In the interview, Gladen notes that when a church has gone through a season of trauma, its vision moves toward the need for healing. With Covid-related deaths, mental health trials, loss of jobs, and also the events and protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, it can be easily argued that this year has in fact brought elements of trauma to the church community. With an entire world affected, church leaders can only do so much. In other words, the leadership team that is positioned at the helm of a church only possesses a finite amount of personal time, energy, resources, and giftings. In order for the church to be able to fulfill its God-sized ministry of healing, we are called to include as many church members as possible within the execution of its vision. It is here where a church’s small group ministry is essential and able to flourish. Whether you are launching online or in-person small groups this Fall, take special care to incorporate the elements of healing and fellowship into your church’s small group ministry vision. After such a tumultuous year, such an effort will certainly be welcomed and it can greatly assist in the re-entry strategy that your church will be implementing in the months that lie ahead.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Thursday, June 18, 2020

How to Launch Teens into Adulthood

Last month, Brett McKay’s “Art of Manliness” podcast published a fascinating interview that is an absolute must-listen for all youth ministry workers. While youth ministry wasn’t the focus of the interview, the conversation was exceptionally relevant and highly applicable to the struggles that our Millennials and Gen Z’ers are experiencing, including the difficulty for our youth to walk through the transition from adolescence into adulthood. Author of a book titled “Failure to Launch,” clinical psychologist Dr. Mark McConville PhD explains in his interview that there exists 3 tasks that an emerging adult has to master in order to successfully transition into adulthood. Let us unpack each of these and how they impact your youth ministry.

Most curious from Dr. McConville’s research is a prevalence for our youth to possess a “phobic avoidance of doing very simple administrative tasks.” Whether it be cleaning one’s room, keeping a job, or doing something as simple as scheduling a doctor’s appointment, our youth tend to display a militant resistance against the types of tasks that are common—and in some cases, even critical—for one’s ability to function within the coming years of adulthood. Dr. McConville shares insight from the field, explaining that his clients commonly express the fear they won’t be taken seriously within the areas of their lives that adults have historically managed on behalf of them. Perhaps this may hint at a point of view where Millennials and Gen Z’ers may feel that they were not comprehensively taught sufficient life skills by the previous generations. Another way to look at it may be likened to one’s ability to swim. Instead of taking instructor-led swimming classes that eases the person into the watersport, our students may feel like they are being metaphorically tossed into the deep end of life (whether they were ready or not). For the young adults who find themselves drowning in the real world and in need to be rescued, if becomes baffling and/or frustrating to be scolded by the older generations who accuse them for not trying hard enough.

Dr. McConville notes that once an individual turns 18, a sudden bombardment of available options and opportunities can cause an increase in anxiety within the emerging young adult. A reason for this may be that they think they have to do it on their own or that they feel they need to have a perfect plan in place before making a move on bigger life decisions. Should both of these concerns be present, it becomes a concoction that causes paralysis towards the pursuit of societal relevance. To help battle against this, Dr. McConville recommends that we share portions of our journey and the stumbling blocks we encountered along the way. By being vulnerable, we humanize the process of entering adulthood and help towards making the concept of “adulting” more accessible. Dr. McConville continues, explaining that launching into adulthood is not like traveling on a highway into their future, but instead like ascending a climbing-wall that has different ledges to grasp along the way. In other words, we as youth ministers can help our teens understand that much of life is working through the challenges and obstacles as we encounter them. Rather than precisely mapping our entire journey ahead of time, we simply just begin the journey and then proceed to shift our feet and hands from the vantage point of each moment that the climbing-wall of life provides to us.

Dr. McConville defines the process of becoming more relational as “developing relationships that in some way are instrumental to [their] own process of growing up.” He explains that by walking alongside the individual and working together to achieve a goal, mentorship helps our youth to not only find their way around the world, but also to help them build confidence in themselves. By walking alongside our students, we deshame the process of learning while also effectively dismantling any insecurities that our youth may have. Host Brett McKay notes in the interview that as the teen grows older, the relationship between them and their parents needs to become less vertical and more horizontal. Similarly, through sincerity and authenticity, a youth minister is one of the best individuals to help convey to a teen that they are needed by the community. Instead of just telling a teen what to do or how to live, a youth minister can become consultative in two movements: first, by offering students opportunities to conduct ministry; and second, by walking alongside their students and helping them to achieve the goal at hand. During the interview, Dr. McConville asks, “In a nutshell, how do we create a necessity that the youth will respond to, by adjusting [and] by creatively solving a problem? That’s the mystery of motivation…to create a system of necessity.” Youth ministry is one of the very best areas in a teen’s life where this is possible. To help your church in building such a system of necessity, order your copy of Youth Empowered today and learn more about how you can establish a student-led youth ministry that challenges and empowers your students to own their faith and confidently pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Monday, June 8, 2020

George Floyd Protests and Youth Ministry

The recent death of George Floyd has ignited a wave of protests surrounding law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans. The passionate outcry and quantity of protests we are witnessing is proof that our whole country is demanding that changes take place. Not only do racially motivated crimes go against the very fabric of what our nation’s laws have been built upon, they are an evil stain in our world that runs in complete opposition to the advancement of the kingdom of God. But how do we as a Church navigate this minefield of social discourse, and, more specifically, how do we engage our students within the context of our current affairs?

The Call for Christ-like Love
While our Christian principles compel us to raise awareness of social injustice and to protest for change, we nonetheless remain called to do these things through the lens of Christ’s unconditional love for one another. Yes, Black Lives (absolutely!) Matter. Yes, we must have equal treatment under the law. Yes, there are racial tensions that must be addressed and we must work together to stamp out the evil of racism that is still found within areas of our country. Yet it pains us all to watch a resolution to our societal anguish slipping further away as black entrepreneurs’ businesses continue to be destroyed, as grocery stores in black neighborhoods continue to be looted, and as black officers continue to have bricks thrown at them. In our passionate conquest to instill change as quickly as possible, we have saturated the campfire logs of somber discourse with numerous cans of lighter fluid before striking the match. Let us help the next generation keep sight of the biblical ideal of Christ-like love. As youth ministers, we can help our students understand that while we must protest to escape the shackles of evil, we must not protest with a degree of recklessness that inevitably leads our society back into the devil’s fiendishly deceptive grasp. Indeed, only the real and tangible love of Christ can successfully dissuade our youth from the allure of extremist tribalism.

Beginning with the Bible
The Bible clearly portrays the righteous indignation of the Lord when His people are either treated unjustly or when His people unjustly treat others. Although the first chapter of Isaiah was not written with Western civilization in mind, it is nevertheless striking to read this excerpt of Scripture through the lens of today. However, we must proceed with caution. While it is tempting to see only our adversaries within the events outlined in this text, the reality is that God did not call just one subset of Israelites to repent; He called an entire nation to repentance. When we all fall at the foot of God’s throne alongside one another as fellow sinners, we relinquish our urge to preside as judge over any other person. As a result, we submit and return the role of judge to the only individual who does have a perfect sense of judgment: Jesus Christ. By reminding ourselves that we too are sinners who do not deserve the grace of God, Paul’s exhortation becomes exceedingly relevant as we interact with one another: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). Our youth are watching how we address others on social media and in the streets. Do our words of exhortation ooze with humility and Christ-like love? Or do our diatribes sound more like words of reproach that clang like an ear-piercing cymbal?

Our Youth Have a Voice
Amid the Covid-19 social distancing mandates, our youth are trying to make sense of a global-minded culture that is heavily burdened by political discord. Yet even in such an environment, our younger generations refuse to be defeatist or to idly stand by. One thing that these protests have shown us is that our youth have recognized that they have a voice and that they want to use it to help bring positive change to our world. As youth ministers, our role is not to suppress them, but instead to guide them and mentor them. It is for this reason that youth ministry is beginning to experience transformation within the church. Instead of merely being another classroom, it is evolving into a training ground for students to learn how they can use their faith to transform the world around them. Rather than merely telling them how to be a light that represents Jesus in their lives, we are now being called to minister alongside our students and empower them to positively impact their world. Embracing the race relations conversation with your students is a good start, but it is merely the beginning. Have you asked your students how the church can help them to effectively minister to their schools and communities in the area of race relations? You may be surprised at what they have in mind. The truth is that our students today are more in control than ever when it comes to determining what they receive and what they can contribute. A church that refuses to acknowledge the reality of this is a church that shamefully underestimates the spiritual horsepower that a youth ministry can possess.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Power of a Student’s Testimony

Earlier last month we started a series of articles focused on youth ministry through the lens of the recently published “Influencer Report,” a study from company Morning Consult that analyzes how Millennials and Gen Z use social media to gather information from well-known "influencer" personalities. Last week we discussed the ability of today’s youth to become micro-influencers within their digital world. This week, let us dive deeper into this topic, unpacking one of the ways that a youth ministry can build off of the students’ ability to be micro-influencers: their testimony.

The Power of Reviews
Buying a product online can be a serious commitment. Whether its clothes, tech gadgets, make-up, games, or even health and wellness items, we conduct hours of research to see if the product is for us. Yet, regardless of how good the seller promotes the specifications of the item, we’ve got to check out the product reviews. The product looks good, but does it work? Is it enjoyable? Has it made a difference in their life? If there are any challenges they have had with it, we would like to know about them. True, the number of 5 star reviews is certainly important to consider, but this metric alone isn’t always enough to make us pull out the wallet. Before taking the plunge, we do a quick scroll through the comment section to see how many of the “You need to buy this!” or “this truly changed my life” reviews have been posted. At some point along the comment feed, the reviews help us get off the fence and commit one way or the other (As an aside, if you’re looking for a good laugh, check out the product reviews for this banana slicer. You won’t be disappointed).

The Power of Testimony
Just like product reviews, a person’s testimony of their encounter with Christ can be extremely powerful. In fact, it always has been and always will be the most powerful style of evangelism the Church can put into practice. The reason for this is because a testimony is someone’s personal experience that is told from their perspective. The story is theirs and no one can take it away from them, regardless of how much the opposition may argue. It is here where secularism fails to refute the power of Jesus Christ, for there are too many testimonies of individuals shackled by sin who were suddenly transformed and born anew. Since today’s youth is engaging their world through the experiences of their peers, a testimony from a fellow student can be one of the most effective forms of ministry that your church can possibly utilize.

Youth Ministry and Testimonies
It is here where you as a youth minister can hand a microphone (or the church’s social media account) over to a student and allow them to be a micro-influencer through the power of their testimony. Naturally, such a suggestion brings with it the need to practice care and caution. Even though students can share some of the most powerful testimonies surrounding their spiritual struggles, we would not want to set students up for failure or create a scenario where information is shared that should not have been. The youth ministry leadership team and the parents should guide and mentor the student through the process of speaking on any topics that may be deemed as sensitive. Ideally, the student should be far enough away from the experience to objectively speak on the matter, but close enough to it to be able to be powerfully relevant to the other students within the youth ministry. Discernment is a must, and communicating this with the student and their parents can help ease concerns (while also allowing the Spirit to move at His own pace).

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Youth Ministry of Micro-Influencers

Earlier this month, we kicked off a new Focusing on Jesus series that will be discussing youth ministry through the lens of a recent study on youth and young adults called “The Influencer Report: Engaging Gen Z and Millennials.” Published by Morning Consult, the market research and data intelligence company surveyed over 2,000 13-38 year-olds and reported some fascinating observations from their findings. Be sure to bring along a friend or two by forwarding this to your youth ministers and/or youth pastor, as this will be a series of articles they won’t want to miss.

Last week we discussed “Authenticity is the Key Trait People Want,” which was one of the five key takeaways that the Influencer Report begins with. This week, we will explore another one of the five takeaways, namely “The potential micro-influencer market is massive.”

The Dawn of Micro-Influencers
In the first week of our series, we learned what an influencer was, but what is a micro-influencer? In a nutshell, a micro-influencer is an influencer with fewer followers. Whether the individual is striving to become an influencer or if they are an average social media user who is casually sharing something with their small network of friends, micro-influencers have a unique effectiveness in marketing that advertisements can scarcely compete with. It’s essentially the ancient practice of affiliate marketing, where friends tell friends about something cool they’ve found or a product they need to buy. We all have become trained to immediately scroll past an ad, however our attention is held when someone we follow shares a product or story we care about. Micro-influencers do just that, where they can reach the individuals who are usually unreachable under normal marketing conditions.

A Very Willing Youth
Two exciting observations taken from the Influencer Report show: (1) 54% of youth would become an influencer, given the opportunity; and (2) 86% are willing to post sponsored content for money. In other words, our youth are exceedingly willing to be micro-influencers and they want to share in the viral success of something (even more so if it benefits them). What this means for youth ministry is that it’s not that we need to convince our students to be active on social media for the benefit of the kingdom of God, they’re ready and willing. No, instead, it’s that we need to give them a reason and an opportunity to do so. They have the ability to reach those who are unreachable to the church. But do they have a reason to reach them or a community they can trust to help take care of their friends? If we as a church do not provide a framework for which our youth have enough freedom to become micro-influencers in the church, they will naturally become micro-influencers in other arenas.

A Shift in Ministry Mindset
How can we build such a framework? The short answer to this is that our students must be handed the reins of the youth ministry. Extending ownership to our youth will inspire excitement and pride in what they are building. As a result, students will naturally become micro-influencers. The days of a single leader effectively ruling at the helm of a ministry are fading away. While it may have been able to generate results in past decades, this leadership style is quickly losing its relevancy in today’s youth landscape. The church must explore a new approach. While sharing leadership may be recognized as the future of ministry, it is ironically a return to Christianity’s roots, where this was essentially how the faith thrived during its earliest centuries. To find out more information on how to make this shift occur, be sure to order a copy of Youth Empowered today for you and your youth ministers.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Student’s Need for an Authentic Youth Minister

Last week, we kicked off a new Focusing on Jesus series that will be discussing youth ministry through the lens of a recent study on youth and young adults called “The Influencer Report: Engaging Gen Z and Millennials.” Published by Morning Consult, the market research and data intelligence company surveyed over 2,000 13-38 year-olds and reported some fascinating observations from their findings. Be sure to bring along a friend or two by forwarding this to your youth ministers and/or youth pastor, as this will be a series of articles they won’t want to miss.

Last week we discussed “Influencers are More Trusted as Spokespeople than Celebrities,” which was one of the five key takeaways that the Influencer Report begins with. This week, we will explore another one of the five takeaways, namely “Authenticity is the Key Trait People Want.”

Influencers are Authentic
In last week’s article, we discussed the difference between influencers and celebrities, and how your church can benefit when the youth ministry adopts social media strategies that are similar to what influencers also use. But what makes influencers so special and why do our students follow them? The Influencer Report states that “88% say it’s important for influencers to be authentic and genuinely care about their interests.” In other words, it is more than simply agreeing upon a shared interest. Indeed, the influencer engages with their viewers and builds a genuine relationship with them. When fashion vlogger Zoella asks her viewers to be her “second opinion” for trying on outfits during her latest “haul” video, or when popular gamer Ninja interacts with his “stream chat” in real-time, the viewers find themselves genuinely immersed in the experience as they become a contributor to the conversation between influencer and audience.

Relational Truth
Just as how we see influencers interacting with their audience in the secular realm, there can be similarities in how youth ministers can interact with their students. Students today are hungry for truth. But it is not simply truth from a factual standpoint that they are seeking; it is a truth that must be conveyed through relational means. This can be referred to as “relational truth” (not to be confused with “relative truth”). In a world with an abundance of experts and technology, youth are not lacking access to information. Instead, they lack the level of relational connectivity from which the truthful information is derived. Ministering to students today is more than simply conveying Christian information. Indeed, the youth pastor is called to engage with their students and build genuine relationships with them by inviting them into the experience of conducting ministry together. If there is anything the Church can learn from influencers of today’s social media, it’s that ministry is no longer operated from a one-directional approach. Immersion and involvement is the goal for our youth, and relational truth is the vehicle (More on this topic can be found in my book, Youth Empowered).

Authenticity Requires Vulnerability
Another observation taken from the Influencer Report is that an influencer’s authenticity is of more importance than their knowledge on the topic matter.  When working inside or outside of youth ministry, vulnerability is a powerful tool that can help embody authenticity and also empower others to become involved. While discernment remains key to knowing what to say and how to say it, our youth need to know that you’re on their side. They need to know that you will fight alongside them on the battlefield of spiritual warfare, rather than shout advice from the top of a hill a mile away. They need to know you’ve got their back, and that they can have your back, too, if you’re willing to let them into your heart.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Youth Ministry and the Influencer Report

Late last year, Market Research & Data Intelligence company Morning Consult surveyed over 2,000 13-38 year-olds and published a study called “The Influencer Report: Engaging Gen Z and Millennials.” Not only is it a very relevant and timely publication, but here at Focusing on Jesus we will be spending time this summer in exploring the Influencer Report through the lens of youth ministry within the church. I invite you to join me for the journey and to bring along a friend or two by forwarding this to your youth ministers and/or youth pastor, as this will be a series of articles they won’t want to miss.

One of the five key takeaways that the Influencer Report opens with is that “Influencers are More Trusted as Spokespeople than Celebrities.”  Today, we will consider how this element is applicable to your church’s youth ministry:

What is an Influencer?
Social media influencers are typically regarded as individuals who are recognized in having an authoritative voice within a specific content area. Generally speaking, these well-known individuals maintain a social media presence that frequently engages their fan base and they mainly become successful through the production of creative content that stands out from the crowd. Celebrities on the other hand typically find their success not through a consistent engagement with fans, but through the successful completion of projects, events, competitions, or other milestones. Not many fans would notice if celebrities aren’t on social media for weeks, whereas the absence of a high profile social media influencer may be noticeable within 24 hours.

While being an influencer hasn’t always been married to the upkeep of a social media presence, it is a necessary reality in the midst of our technology-driven world. We trust individuals more as we build a relationship with them and we build relationships with individuals as we spend more time with them. Since it is no secret that today’s youth spend a startling amount of time on social media, it is easy to see why we are called to go to our youth and interact with them on the social media platforms that they reside on.

Youth Pastor: Influencer or Celebrity?
Engaging with their students may be what determines if a youth pastor is acting with a celebrity or influencer mentality. For example, does your youth pastor connect with and minister to their students on social media throughout the week? While a broadcasted weekly youth service is wonderful, a youth ministry doesn’t stand out in a student’s social media feed if it relies solely on this type of outreach. If this is the only method used by the youth pastor to connect with their students, they are exhibiting characteristics of a celebrity youth pastor who tries to build their ministry through event-like youth services. However, creatively interacting with their students in a consistent manner through direct messages, goofy snapchats, frequent spontaneous livestreams, quick texts, supplemental resources, or even thoughtful small group discussions can help towards transitioning the youth pastor from celebrity to influencer mentality.

Trust is the Key
Encouraging students to trust their youth leader(s) and youth pastor is key. Until they know our desire to become better acquainted or how much we care about them, students may be cautious about freely extending their trust. Such barriers can be gently chipped away through time that is spent together. If looking to build additional trust with your students, consider utilizing the principles of social media influencers, where frequent touchpoints are incorporated within the student-pastor relationship.  

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Fear Not, God's Resources are En Route

Fear can be a powerful emotion. Fear can cause us to stop in our tracks from moving forward, or it can be a motivating force that inspires us to lead and take action. It is said that the Bible unapologetically explores the entire gamut of human emotions, and fear is no exception to this. But what can we do when we encounter fear? Let us refer to examples found in Scripture to see not only what Moses, David, and the disciples did, but also the Lord’s actions within each of their respective situations.

Following the scene of the burning bush in Exodus 3, God outlines the calling that He has for Moses. After giving excuses in 3:11, 3:13, 4:1, and 4:10, Moses tries one last time to dodge his assignment and asks the Lord to send someone else to help rescue the people of God from the clutches of Pharaoh. Not missing a beat, God responds in 4:14 by saying, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.” Moses was afraid of his circumstances and he was convinced that he was not able to fulfill the task at hand with the skill set he possessed. Nevertheless, God helped Moses overcome his circumstances by recruiting Aaron, who ended up using his strengths to help Moses succeed in the journey that lay ahead.

in 1 Chronicles 13, we see David and the people of Israel moving the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. In 13:9-10, a man named Uzzah places his hand upon the ark to steady it, and perishes as a result of touching the ark. Here we see David becomes fearful of the incredible power of God, and from this point onward he understands that the transportation of the ark is to be deeply respected. He places it in a temporary location until the Levites are able to secure the ark and escort it the remainder of the way (15:13-15).

The death of Jesus was an earth-shattering experience for the disciples. After all, the teacher who they believed was the Messiah had been killed right before their eyes. In John 20:19, we see the disciples are hiding due to their fear of the Jewish leaders. Only something as profoundly miraculous as Jesus being resurrected to life could have transformed the devastated hearts of the disciples, reshaping them into passionate ambassadors of the gospel. Indeed, it was here that a visit from the resurrected Jesus successfully rekindled the faith of the disciples and started to prepare them for the arrival of the coming Holy Spirit.

Circumstances have the potential to strike fear in our hearts. In each of the aforementioned scenarios, the individuals were unsure of how they could resolve the issue at hand. As a result, they stood rooted in their fear, unable to move forward. Yet even in the midst of fear, the Lord provided resources for each situation. For Moses, God positioned Aaron to perfectly fill in the gaps that Moses said he couldn’t address. For David, the Lord made available the Levites who were perfectly suited to be caretakers of the Ark of the Covenant and who could safely transport it back to Jerusalem. For the disciples, Jesus visited them personally so that His presence might breathe life back into His followers’ faith. Whether fear is being stirred in your heart from this Covid-19 season or from other circumstances that are occurring in your life, be encouraged. Through the Scriptures, the Lord has shown time after time that He will provide the required resources we need at the perfect time in order to address the challenges we encounter in our lives. To God be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

6 Ways to do Prayer During Online Small Groups (Part 2)

Learning to pray as a new believer can be similar to a young child learning how to speak. When our son was 2 years old, he would repeat back a word after my wife and I said it. For him, it was his way of confirming to us that he understood the word. He may not have understood all of the uses of the word, but at least he was understanding the application of the particular word within that particular moment. Just as a toddler first understands individual words, a new believer begins to understand individual verses and succinct prayers. And similar to how a toddler learns to speak in full sentences with proper grammar, Christians gradually learn to apply overarching biblical truths to everyday life through prayer and meditation.

As we grow in our prayer lives with the Lord, we communicate to Him that we understand biblical principles (especially within the context of the circumstances that we are experiencing). From here, continued communication in prayer can convey a readiness to receive more of God through the Holy Spirit. Not only can a small group help solidify this process for new believers, but it can also generate opportunities for mature believers to discover new truths that the Lord is wanting to reveal to us. Indeed, we never stop learning about the infinite nature of God.

Last week, we explored Leader Prayer, Praying over a Single Word, and Intercessory Prayer. This week, let us unpack 3 more ways you can do prayer during your online small groups that are meeting.

Neighbor prayer
My personal favorite method of prayer within small groups, Neighbor Prayer is when each person prays over the person next to them, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Once everyone has given their prayer request, the group leader announces the direction that group members will face in order to pray over the person next to them. In the case of online groups, the leader can assign each person, making sure that everyone has someone praying over them and is also praying over someone else.

Breakout prayer
Typically utilized for groups of 6 or more, Breakout Prayer splits up larger numbers of individuals into smaller groups, thereby allowing more group members to become involved during prayer time. Depending on the time remaining within the meeting, the leader can split up the larger group into sizes of 3-6 individuals (The more individuals per group, the more time needed for the group to pray). Not only does this method allow the group to focus on the prayer requests of each individual member, it also gives each person the opportunity to gain more experience and grow more skilled in praying over another individual. To learn more about how to utilize the Breakout Room functionality within Zoom, click here.

Praying Scripture
Sometimes when we read Scripture, we do so out of intellectual pursuit, rather than out of a desire to rest in the presence of Jesus’ love. However, praying through the Scriptures allows us to set aside our own agenda and calls us to be more open and attentive to God. A simple form of the exercise is to read the Scriptures and respond by meditating in an organic manner (rather than a timed/scheduled manner). Another form of praying Scripture is lectio divina, where the group reads through the selected verses in 4 different meditative movements, focusing on a different perspective each time (reading, reflecting, responding, and resting). Instead of coming to the Lord with a premade list of appeals, practicing the method of Praying Scripture can be refreshing when the group is able to simply open the Bible and let the Lord guide them through the Spirit. When we pray the Scriptures, we can know with absolute confidence that we are speaking words that please the Lord (after all, He is the author of them!).

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

6 Ways to do Prayer During Online Small Groups (Part 1)

Whether through times of celebration, times of lament, or anywhere in between, prayer is essential to the Christian life, and engaging in this vital spiritual discipline allows us to spend time with our Lord and build a deeper relationship with Him. Over two weeks, let us unpack 6 different ways you can do prayer during your online small groups (3 will be reviewed each week).

Leader prayer
Just as we see in John 17 when Jesus prays over His disciples, Leader Prayer is when the group leader is the individual who prays over the group. Some group leaders may use this method too sparingly, arguing that a small group is the best opportunity to train up church members in becoming comfortable with the practice of leading prayer. On the other end of the spectrum, some group leaders may use this method too frequently, out of a fear of scaring some of their group members who may not be ready to lead the group in prayer. Naturally, the best recommendation is found to be in the middle of the road. If the group is short on time or if the group members are feeling spiritually burdened that particular week, perhaps it may be beneficial for the group leader to pray over the group. A balanced strategy I have often used in the past is when I open the group meeting in prayer and then invite other group members to close the group in prayer.

Praying Over a Single Word
If interested in trying something new with the group, Praying Over a Single Word can be a method of prayer that, when used strategically, can become very powerful. After taking a moment for reflection, each person types one word and sends it as a private message to the group leader (Most online meeting software programs allow for direct/private messaging within the meeting). This single word is actually a prayer request, and only God and the person who wrote it knows what that word represents and why the person is submitting it as a prayer request. From here, the group leader then assigns each word to different members while ensuring that each member does not receive their own word (If instead you are feeling more Spirit-led, offer each word to the group and allow the group members to volunteer themselves for one of the words as you read each aloud). Although unique, this method of prayer offers two benefits: first, this exercise grows our spiritual muscles and challenges us to think outside of the cliché go-to phrases that we typically use during prayer; second, the anonymity of the prayer requests help prevent any assumption or bias from entering the prayer, which can help increase the chance of powerful encounters with the Spirit.

Intercessory Prayer
Earlier this year, I mentioned an individual I know who had been blessed by a small group practicing Intercessory Prayer. Even though this person found Christ while alone in his apartment, he later discovered from one of his new Christian friends that there was a small group prayer meeting taking place at the same hour that he encountered the Lord, and that at this prayer meeting there was an entire room of people praying specifically for him! While the Holy Spirit may not move this quickly every time there is a prayer meeting, intercessory prayer nevertheless is powerful when we as a church body call upon the Lord and pray with a unified heart over another individual. Not only can it help us appeal directly to the Lord within the spiritual realm, but it can also positively impact our outward actions towards the individual when we interact with them in the physical realm.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

3 Online Ideas for Doing Youth Ministry During Covid-19

During the pandemic season of Covid-19, how are your youth faring? Have youth ministers at your church gotten the chance to interact with students at a personal level? A few weeks ago we explored different methods to reach out to online group members, but what about youth ministry? Video calls are excellent to schedule, however using social media to minister to today’s youth demands an approach that is both organic and conversational. Because of this, one of the most impactful methods to use when connecting with the youth can be through a livestream. Between the two of these, let’s explore three ways to make the most out of your youth ministry’s video calls and/or social media livestreams.

The Panel
Who said online service has to be the same old sermon? “The Panel” is a type of online service where students anonymously text in their questions to a phone number that is made available to them (either in advance, or on the spot). Free phone numbers can be created by Google Voice, and it becomes a cinch to generate a digital phone number and begin receiving text messages through Google’s free downloadable app. By giving them the ability to submit questions anonymously, students are allowed to be vulnerable and to ask the questions that really matter to them. Your next youth service on dating or pornography may end up being one of the most engaging services you’ve ever held by allowing your youth to steer the direction of the conversation. “The Panel” can be done on Zoom, Instagram, or TikTok. Even though we addressed why your youth ministry needs to be on TikTok last week, Instagram would actually be the most ideal platform to choose for this type of youth service. By utilizing the “Go Live with a Friend” feature, the youth pastor can invite different youth ministers each week to help answer the submitted questions.

Online Lock-In
Your students are already up at 3am playing games or browsing their social media, so why not commit to staying up with them for one night? While few (if any) students will stay with you throughout the entirety of the whole lock-in, the goal of such an event is instead to make connections with students. The internet truly is our students’ domain. Instead of forcing the students to bend the knee to the church’s calendar, a bold event such as this shows that the youth ministry is willing to be there for their students on their time.

Similar to the marketing principles of in-person ministry, larger events require larger advertising. Promote the event weeks ahead and give teasers for what the students can expect; give them suggested windows of time to attend if they want to play a certain game or talk about a certain topic; finally, include your youth ministers to lead and oversee portions of the lock-in so that the event can have more variety and creativity.

Zoom shines through as the ideal platform to host such an event, since meetings can last up to 24 hours with a basic paid account. To take it a step further, be creative and conduct shorter TikTok and Instagram live streams during the lock-in to funnel even more students to the ongoing Zoom lock-in call. A word of caution, however: Zoombombing is a very real and harmful nuisance, where students are at risk of being exposed to pornographic images and other offensive content. It is vital for strategies and contingency plans to be drafted to prevent such an event from derailing your entire evening (Here is a great article on how to prevent Zoombombing from occurring to your Zoom meeting).

Youth Takeover
It’s an expectation to see a youth pastor go live and try to engage students on social media. But a fellow student? Now you’ve captured their attention even more. In my book Youth Empowered, a section is included on how to launch a student-led “Social Media Empower Team.” The goal of such a team is to extend leadership to qualified students who are passionate about spreading the Gospel through the use of social media. Under the mentorship and guidance of an Empower Team Leader, a team of students can take turns conducting various “Youth Takeovers” on the social media accounts that your youth ministry possesses, hosting and/or posting Christian-centric content that is respectful, fun, and creative. To find out more on Empower Teams, click here to learn more about Youth Empowered.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Reason Your Youth Ministry Needs to Be On TikTok

With the digital landscape of youth ministry constantly shifting at lightning fast speed, it can become hard to determine where we can focus our time and energy in a manner that allows us to keep up with our students. We quickly fall behind on the latest memes and hashtags, only to arrive at the moment that the newest social media trend begins. But what about social media platforms? Does your youth ministry currently utilize social media to engage your students (especially during Covid-19)? Let’s unpack this further and explore why it is now time to seriously consider creating a youth ministry account for TikTok.

Gen Z and Social Media
YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok are the three primary social media platforms for Gen Z in the year of 2020. It’s no surprise that YouTube remains a top competitor, for any individual that arrives at an internet video these days is likely to be watching content that is hosted by the website giant. However, this social media platform is typically one-directional, where content is posted and interaction is restricted to the comments section of the posted video. Snapchat remains to be an excellent direct messaging app, however discernment is required whenever using an app to message students directly (Since our discussion here is catered more toward engaging students as groups, this post will not be addressing the use and/or cautionary recommendations of using Snapchat). Finally, while TikTok is a relatively new contender to the realm of social media, it has quickly identified itself as the primary platform that next gen students are using to explore their digital world.

What to Keep, What to Scrap
Are you as surprised as I was on how fast Gen Z has shifted within social media platform use? Here are four free graphs that are downloadable from research company Statista, which show age group mapped across the usage of four popular platforms: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Does this mean that youth pastors should discontinue using Facebook? To Gen Z, Facebook (upper right graph) is essentially a dead platform. A youth ministry that has no Facebook presence today would likely receive few complaints. What is a surprising observation, however, is that Instagram (lower left graph) is now showing a strikingly similar trend. While the platform still holds a strong following among Millennials, the shockingly steep gap between Gen Z and Millennial usage of the Instagram platform speaks volumes. Does this mean that your youth ministry should discontinue use of Instagram? Not necessarily. Even though Gen Z is not on Instagram, posting your youth ministry content to this platform will remain to be an excellent way to keep in touch with parents of students for the next five to ten years.

Why TikTok?
So does this mean that youth pastors and youth leaders need to be on TikTok? Unless something occurs to drastically change these metrics in the near future, the data currently says yes. After all, why would a fisherman go to waters where there are no fish? It wouldn’t make sense in that scenario, and neither does it here for your youth ministry. If your church is attempting to reach the lost and is striving to spread the gospel to a wider audience of students, then Instagram is not where they are. And even if your students have an Instagram account, they are likely checking it at the end of the evening when they are already tired from spending two (or more) hours scrolling through their other social media platforms. Jesus deserves better. The Good News is content that is worthy of their feeds, and your youth ministry is called to be a part of a student’s prime hours of screen time.

Where there is opportunity for the Gospel to be shared, we are called to go as apostles and evangelists. We must go where the people are, and our youth are no exception. Yes, learning new social platforms is challenging and can be frustrating. But if we refuse to establish a presence where our youth spend a large amount of their time, we are allowing Jesus to be placed on the back-burner of a student’s life when we do not adopt new and innovative technology. We must not neglect this principle now during Covid-19 or in fact during any other time, lest we sentence ourselves to continuously preach into the digital echo chambers of dying social media platforms.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Why Online Groups, During Unprecedented Times

“Unprecedented times” has become the standard phrase to describe the world of today. But fear not. While the devil has a history of using sickness and isolation as weapons against the kingdom of God, his methods are inevitably defeated every time he comes into contact with the person of Jesus Christ. It is because of this fact that we possess a hope that stands upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus. True, we may be living in unprecedented times. But with unprecedented times comes the opportunity for the Church to respond by mobilizing and conducting ministry in unprecedented ways.

A Season of Change
The speed in which one may turn a boat is directly correlated to the size of the vessel. A fishing boat can make quick and precise turns, while a cruise liner requires a significantly larger amount of time to make a wide turn. The larger Church can be likened to the size of a cruise liner, where making large changes requires more energy and time. While Covid-19 slowly gained traction, the Church remained optimistic that it would be able to ride the wave of the virus without the need to change any existing cultural precedents. However, at this time we are confident that this is no longer a short period of inconvenience, but rather a season of change that we must now fully engage.

Online Mobilization
With many churches approaching their 4th week of streaming their Sunday services, this week has become the precise week in which the Church is called to fully embrace the mobilization of its online small group ministry. Indeed, congregants who may have brushed aside online groups a month ago may now be open to the concept to help combat the pangs of self-isolation. Simply looking at Psalm 133 may assist us in understanding why. David proclaims in this tiny 3-verse psalm, How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (NIV). In other words, true fellowship is the best of Earth intersecting with the best of heaven. It’s an experience as potent and close to God as was the ordination of the very first high priest, Aaron. It’s the very best representation of our relationship that we can have with the Lord, utilizing the best metaphors that our earthly minds can possibly comprehend. Without fellowship with one another, we lose the closest thing we have with God, save for our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Need for Online Groups Now
We are made in the image of God, and God perfectly embodies fellowship within the Trinity. The soul cannot be deprived of fellowship for prolonged periods of time, for God did not create us for this purpose. Even the Lord would not want to exist in this manner, and the only time He ever chose to experience this state of being was when He sacrificed His Son on the cross. We must remind ourselves of the finished work of Jesus at the cross. Never should we feel trapped to live in isolation, for Jesus took on this burden so that we would not have to!

Pastors, utilize your message this week to bring your church together and fully embrace the opportunity to meet online. Bill Donahue, author of Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, explains that “there is always enormous correlation between what the person on the platform does and what everyone else in the church will do.” The tone and optimism in which church staff promote online groups during these critical weeks will directly affect the perception of online groups within the congregation. Now is the time for church leadership to help guide the community through this season of change and embrace the next generation of online ministry.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

6 Ways to Communicate During COVID-19 With Your Small Group Members

The Covid-19 virus has vastly changed the landscape of the church. In response to the stay-at-home mandates that are being issued, churches across the world have quickly been adapting and transitioning into online ministry. With the decrease of in-person interaction comes the incredible opportunity for a church’s small group ministry to thrive by using technology to help fill the gap. During these unprecedented times, the community looks to the response of the church and its lay leaders to assist in processing the events of national crises. Indeed, this is an incredible time for small groups to shine and help foster a sense of community that ministers to the spiritual needs of the community (even if through digital means!). Let us visit 6 different ways a group leader can reach out to their group members during this season of social distancing.

Online Meeting (Using  Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.)
Since face-to-face is not an available choice for small groups to make at this time, the next best option for an online church is to have groups meet through video call. Programs like Skype and Google Hangout have the great benefit of being free to use. However, since each attendee is required to create their own account and since each person would need to be on the friends list before the meeting begins, this may be a less-than-ideal option for inviting guests and/or individuals in the group that are not as tech-savvy. Instead, programs like Zoom have recently been identified as a more user friendly option where individuals do not need to have an account created beforehand. To attend, all they need to have is a link that is shared by the meeting organizer. From there, the meeting is able to be run from the browser (on a desktop computer) or through a free, easily downloadable app (on a mobile device). To help cut down on costs, some churches have taken on the role of scheduling meetings for their group leaders from a centralized account (The free version only allows meetings to last up to 40 minutes). Click here for more information on how to schedule a Zoom meeting for you and your group.

Facebook Group
An oldie but a goodie, this method has once again become highly relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Facebook Groups, watch parties can be set up to encourage the group to watch their church’s online service together and be able to chat with one another throughout the length of the service. While the group reads a devotional through the week, members can post their comments on the Facebook Group page to keep the conversation going until the group’s next meeting.

Marco Polo
While Snapchat has certainly maintained a respectable amount of influence in the world of video messaging, its inability to retain a chat history makes the app less likely of a choice for small group members to use when communicating with one another. Recently, an app called Marco Polo has arrived on the scene and it allows groups to not only send video messages to one another, but also to retain the chat history. This app can be a great way for the group to send encouraging video messages to one another, or to share funny moments from within the home during this quarantine season.

Group Text
The most effective method for immediate communication, group text remains ideal to help spread the word on important news. In addition to the urgent “group is starting late” or “watch party is starting now on Facebook!” messages, group text can be an effective method to send a brief uplifting Bible verse, a prayer request, or a quick word of encouragement to the group.

In the wake of today’s need to connect through online meetings and other social media portals, the method of emailing the group may temporarily take a backseat to the other methods mentioned. While typically utilized for conveying important information that would be too large for a text message, email is also a great way to connect at an individual level with members of the group. A wellness check can be the perfect personal touch for group members to know that their group leader cares about them on a personal basis, and the format of an email can provide a group member the time and space they may need in order to talk through the spiritual needs that they and their family may have at this time.

Phone Call
While the previously mentioned methods assist greatly in effectively communicating with the entire group, none of these methods say “I care about you” more than the simple act of picking up the phone to call and ask how someone is doing. Calling someone on the phone helps convey that they are important to you, and that you want to take time out of your day just to spend time with them. Not only is this an impactful way to connect with members on a personal level, it may be the only way to connect with some members of the older generations who are not experienced in using technology to meet online.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

A Short Guide to Leading an Online Group

This week we will be taking a break from our deep dive into Scripture and will instead shift focus to building community amidst the immediate need of Coronavirus preparedness. During unprecedented times like these, the community looks to the response of church staff and its lay leaders to assist in processing the events of national crises. Indeed, this is our opportunity to shine as a church and rally together and help foster a sense of community that ministers to the spiritual needs of the flock (despite social distancing!).

We live in a day and age where technology has allowed our church to continue building relationships through the power of online groups. I pray that this brief “spark-notes” version of online group preparation may be able to bless you and your groups in the coming weeks!

What software should I use?
  • Since both are free, Skype or Google Hangouts are generally recommended, although if you are comfortable in using other conference software tools (and if you have access to them), then please feel free to use your preferred program instead.
    • For Skype:
      • You may install this program on your computer or install the app on your phone.
      • However, there is a browser-version of Skype where the program does not need to be installed.
      • One important thing to note is that a Skype account must be made in order to log in.
    • For Google Hangouts:
      • There is no need to install the program on your computer, as it is browser-based.
      • If you choose to use Google Hangouts on your phone, there is an App that is available to download for free.
      • One important thing to note is that a Google account must be made in order to use this video conferencing feature.
    • For both Google and Skype, a few important notes:
      • Unless you have a large group, the max number of participants should not affect your ability to use the tool. Skype has a max of 50 for a video call, while Google Hangouts has a max of 25.
      • You have to be connected and on each other’s friends list before the video call takes place (So it’s good to work together at adding individuals to your friends list in advance of the day of your meeting so as not to scramble, last minute).
Things to Remember as an Online Group Leader
  • Folks will be late, just like face-to-face groups. Give grace!
  • Let your group members get used to using mute/unmute functionality of their microphones to help eliminate background noise.
  • The group is run just like an in-person group, where:
    • The leader takes care to welcome everyone.
    • Quick intro conversation takes place.
    • Typical small talk takes place, if any.
    • Group members are encouraged to take turns at answering the questions and discussing the evening’s content with one another.
    • The group is wrapped up with prayer.

How to be a good Online Group Participator
  • It’s best to participate in a private room at home where distractions are minimal (or where it is less likely for others to enter the room that we may be in).
  • We all have adorable children and pets, however child and pet care should be arranged to prevent moments like these, just as we would when going to attend a face-to-face meeting with our groups.
  • Be sure to eat before or after the group (Eating on camera is awkward and it just goes downhill from there if we forget to mute the microphone while chewing).
  • Multitasking prevents us from being in the moment and picking up on what the Spirit is attempting to accomplish during your meeting (Emails and social media updates on the Coronavirus can wait!).
  • Try to sit at a desk or table instead of a sofa or bed (Having the computer on our laps can cause us to be distractions to others as we shift in our seats and continuously enter and exit the frame).
  • If you must leave your seat for an emergency break, please mute your microphone before stepping away from your computer. Even if you don’t have a mic on your person, your mic still picks up sounds (even from the next room over).
  • Try to be in a room that is well-lit, but not seated directly in front of windows (The sunlight creates a glare and makes your image appear darker on the computer camera).

As an additional note, now is the perfect time to invite non-believers into your online group! Let us not forget that those who are not a part of a church group may be in a season of life where they are possibly the most receptive to the gospel than they have ever been. Prayerfully consider who in your friends list would be great to invite!

May the Lord abundantly bless your time with your group as you meet online! Let us pray with boldness that this virus is vanquished quickly. Let us give God glory, as we live in an age with the technology to address the spiritual needs in connecting with one another and the medical advancements to address the physical needs of our bodies. Stay safe, and God bless you!

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Investing in the Eternal

The World and Its Desires Pass Away
1 John 2:15-17 “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
One of the tensions that is commonly alluded to throughout the Bible is the tension between the eternal and the temporal. When reading our Scripture here from 1 John, we have a natural tendency to point out the principle of not loving the things of the world that do not come from the Father. While this practice is great and will yield blessing, let us not skip over the latter portion of the verse that explains why we should not love the things of the world. While we may be blessed in the temporal realm for not loving the things of this world, it is more important for us to understand that the reason for this is actually due to the eternal benefits: the things of this world pass away, whereas what comes from the Father remains eternal.

The Danger of Squandering Our Resources
Proverbs 29:3 “To keep company with prostitutes is to squander one’s substance.”
While this verse is easily understood if taken literally, the metaphorical interpretation is just as pertinent. Frequently in Scripture, the Bible uses the concept of prostitution as a literary device to make a striking correlation between humanity’s actions and spiritual infidelity. “Keeping company” implies that we are engaging with the individual(s) on a frequent basis. The usage of the term “prostitutes” implies that we are wooing the individual(s) with “gifts” and expecting to receive something in return. Ezekiel 16:1-34 can be a good example of this use of metaphor, and here we also see that the giving of “gifts” need not be restricted to just monetary advances. In other words, who are we keeping company with in such a way where we are squandering the precious “gifts” of our time, money, emotions, or our presence?

This isn’t referring to friendship where two parties give freely to one another without an obligatory transaction of services or goods. Nor is this referring to evangelism or ministering to the lost, where one party selflessly gives to another in the name of Jesus Christ without expecting anything in return. This is even different from casting your pearls before swine, for swine neither have use for your pearls nor find value in them (Matthew 7:6). Instead, Proverbs’ usage of the term “prostitutes” implies that these entities in our lives knowingly take advantage of our resources while also helping us sin in the process. Such resources and gifts effectively become “squandered” because they are not being sown in a soil that returns anything for the purpose of the kingdom of God.

Investing in the Eternal
Do we have a love so strong for the things of this world that we are willing to keep company with metaphorical prostitutes in order to seek out our temporal preferences and pleasures? Do we love our job so much that we ignore our family and squander excessive amounts of our time at the office to receive a corporate perk? Do we love adult entertainment and ignore our spouse when we squander our emotional intimacy on the tempting glow of our phones and TV sets? Or do we love our social status so much that we ignore the relationships we can build in the church and squander our time with other acquaintances just to keep up appearances? Allow us to make modifications to our spiritual portfolio and intentionally focus on investing in the eternal. Jesus is quite clear on this principle when He encourages us to store up treasures in heaven instead of focusing on the things that rust or rot or fade away on this earth (Matthew 6:19-21). Allow us to invest in the only stock that always increases in eternal value, regardless of what occurs in the spiritual marketplace of the temporal: stock in Jesus Christ.

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