Tag Archives: youth ministry

How to use What does it Mean to be a Christian? in Discipleship

I remember teaching the story of Joseph at a church-based after school program for Junior and Senior High students. When I told them that his brothers sold him into slavery, many of them were genuinely surprised. For them, the story was new and exciting. For me, it was a wake-up call that I could not assume these student would have a basic understand of Christianity I so often took for granted.

What the students thought they knew of Christianity was often skewed, or so incomplete to be unhelpful. They didn’t know how to connect the dots between the gospel and the Christian life, and many had no connection to a local church, or any understanding of why it would be at all important.

In this, and other ministry contexts, I began to see the need to have a ready outline of the Christian faith, something that would present the gospel and the call of salvation clearly, without a lot of religious jargon, that would connect salvation to the life of the Christian and the life of the church. I wrote What Does it Mean to be a Christian? as an attempt to draw out such an outline. It’s an outline, not exhaustive, but complete enough for new and deeper information to be incorporated into the unified cloth of the faith.

In my church context, I have used the content of this book in two specific ways:

  • Introduce teenagers with limited knowledge of Christianity to the basics of the faith
  • Prepare adults to take the step of believer’s baptism

What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? is split into three parts, and outlines the following topics:

Part 1: Salvation

  • The unified story of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Rescue, Completion
  • The character of God: His Divine and Moral attributes
  • Mankind: Made in the image of God, yet slaves to sin, and in need of God’s rescue
  • Salvation: The gift of God and the call to repentance

Part 2: The Christian Life

  • New life in Jesus through the Spirit: Freedom from sin, freedom to serve
  • The greatest commandment: Love God and love neighbor
  • The Spiritual disciplines: Bible reading, Prayer, Church attendance
  • Embracing the “weirdness” of Christianity, being salt and light

Part 3: The church

  • The nature of the Church: An outline of the theology of the church
  • Baptism and Communion: Essential symbols for a distinctive community
  • The relationship between the Church and the World
  • A call to participate in a local, Bible believing, church

How a ministry leader could use What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?

  • Form an outline for further curriculum development
  • Supplemental reading material for classes giving the basics of the Christian faith
  • A resource to provide to those curious about Christianity
  • A resource for new believers to grow in their faith
  • Preparatory reading for teenagers and adults preparing for baptism

Two more essential notes for ministry leaders:

  • What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? addresses sexuality when discussing the Christian life. It is in no way explicit, but it is probably not appropriate for younger kids.
  • If you’re a ministry leader interested in using this book and have questions, or want to know about a group rate, email me at steve@wpbiblefellowship.org. I would be happy to provide copies of this book at cost ($2.15/book + shipping) to anyone using it in a ministry context.

Available on Amazon

(Paperback) (Kindle)


Book Review: Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views

youthminMy first thought when I saw the title of this book: “I didn’t even know there were five distinct views, what could they possibly be?” Here they are, in a nutshell:

The Gospel Advancing View by Greg Stier: This view focuses on evangelism, on saving the lost. Stier believes that discipleship happens when the mission (the Great Commission, the “Cause”) is at the forefront.

The Reformed View by Brian Cosby: This view attempts to apply consistently Reformed beliefs and practices to Youth Ministry. This includes an emphasis on faithfulness instead of “success” and a emphasis on the “means of grace”: the Word, prayer, and sacraments, as the primary drivers for youth ministry.

The Adoption View by Chap Clark: Clark believes that we have erred and become too individualistic in our view of discipleship and need to focus, instead, on building up the body of Christ. This view emphasizes the need for churches to “adopt” children into “family” of God by including them more deeply within the broader church.

The Ecclesial View by Fernando Arzola: Like the Adoption view, the Ecclesial view focuses on the Church. Where the adoption view emphasizes the local church congregation, the ecclesial view focuses on the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” church. It emphasizes connecting youth with the historic church.

The D6 View by Ron Hunter: “D6” stands for Deuteronomy 6. This view argues that it’s God’s design that parents should play the primary role in discipling their children and that the church’s job is to lay the theological foundation, equip the parents for their work, and come along side the parents in a supporting role. The D6 model also emphasizes having and integrated approach to children, youth, young adult, and family ministry where ministry leaders work towards a common goal.

Analysis: In my initial estimation, the Adoption view and the D6 view made the strongest case for being the overarching philosophy for youth ministry. The others are important to keep in mind as well, though, and could provide necessary correctives when things get out of balance.

I’m curious, which of these types of youth groups did you grow up with? What worked and what didn’t?

Book Review: Firsthand by Ryan and Josh Shook

I was raised in a Christian home with wonderful Christian parents and was part of a small but faithful church. But at some point in my spiritual journey it was necessary for me to “make my faith my own”, to move from a second-hand faith based primarily on what I had simply learned from my parents, to a first-hand faith which arose out of a period of struggle and doubt. For me, this happened in my Middle School and High School years so that I was pretty settled by the time I reached college. For Ryan and Josh shook, this movement to first-hand faith from second-hand faith worked itself out during their college years.

Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own encourages young believers to take this journey of faith and it gives them the roadmap for finding the way to first-hand faith. Along the way the Shook brothers encourage believers to acknowledge their emptiness, get honest about their doubts and struggles, and abandon legalistic “rule following” in place of true heart change. They also encourage young believers to move outside of their comfort zone and become part of a community of first-hand believers.

Firsthand doesn’t advocate abandoning the faith of your upbringing, but owning it as your own. In my case, and in the case of the Shook’s, the content of second-hand faith didn’t really change, but my attitude toward that faith did.

Firsthand is a book of basics and seasoned believers will probably want to pass on it. That said, it’s a book I would love to put in the hands of a teenager or college student who would be willing to read it, especially someone who is going through their own crisis of faith (or who has become complacent in a second-hand faith). This is a journey most kids who grew up in Christian homes will go through and it is a deeply rewarding for those willing to persevere through it.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

QOTD: Is it OK to try to convert someone to your faith?

QOTD (Question of the Day) Introduction: This blog series reviews questions asked to teenagers as part of the NSYR study as documented in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These questions relate to “seeker attitudes” among American Teenagers. I am also using these discussion questions to engage the kids in our After School program at a deeper level.

Question: Is it OK to try to convert someone to your faith?

“… the slight majority of American teens, 54 percent… believe it is okay for people to try to convert others. A large minority of teens, by comparison, 43 percent, believe that when it comes to proselytizing, everyone should just leave everyone else alone.”

My brief answer:

It would be legitimate to simply say “yes, because the Bible says so” followed by a series f biblical references. This is a worthy endeavor but one I will not undertake at this time.

Instead, I would like to address three objections. (1) Trying to convert someone is coercive. (2) Trying to convert someone is mean. (3) Trying to convert someone is arrogant.

Trying to convert someone is coercive: The crusades, the thirty years war, and other instances of attempts at coercive conversion are a sad historical reality. However, we need not equate evangelism with the crusades. To do such a thing is a fallacy. There are many non-coercive ways to appeal to someone to convert. At this point, it might be helpful to make a distinction between “evangelism” (simply sharing the good news of Jesus) and “proselytizing” (a word with for more negative connotation). Henceforth I will be speaking of evangelism.

Trying to convert someone is mean: Religious conversion typically includes the concept of a change of mind – I thought the wrong way before, now I must change my mind to think/believe the right way. This is seen as mean. One student said it like this: “My friend is a Muslim. He grew up in a Muslim family. I don’t want to talk about religion with him because I don’t want to lose him as a friend.” In other words, simply having a religious conversation would be, by definition, mean.

This is an understandable position, and one with which I can certainly relate, but at a deeper level it strikes me as odd that we only seem to apply this logic to religious discussions. In nearly every other area of life it’s not automatically mean to disagree. We need to find a way to have meaningful discussions about important matters and still do so in a gracious way. Also, we need to stop viewing all religious conversations where there might be conflict as wrong by definition.

Trying to convert someone is arrogant: I think we apply that logic to religious discussions because we form a distinction between “real real” and “faith real” (a topic which came up in an earlier QOTD). In the “faith real” it’s impossible to make claims of truth, at least universally binding truth. It’s all just opinion. To make a universal claim out of a personal opinion is the height of arrogance.

But what if all truth was “real truth”? What if religious truth was the most important truth of all? What if we took seriously Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” If that we true (and I believe it is) than it is not only OK for us to share our faith (and yes, in a way that tries to convince) but in fact, an imperative.

QOTD: Do you have to go to church to be truly spiritual?

QOTD (Question of the Day) Introduction: This blog series reviews questions asked to teenagers as part of the NSYR study as documented in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These questions relate to “seeker attitudes” among American Teenagers. I am also using these discussion questions to engage the kids in our After School program at a deeper level.

Question: Do you need to be involved in a religious congregation to be truly religious and spiritual?

“Here the majority of American teens swings back to the more individualistic position: two-things say believers do not need to be involved in congregations to be spiritual and religious; only one-third say that they do.” (Soul Searching)

My Brief Answer:

First, we need to answer the question, “What does it mean to be truly religious and spiritual?” This could mean a few things. It could mean, “right with God (saved)?” It could mean, “fully obedient?

If they mean “right with God” then the answer is No. It’s No, because only one thing is required to be right with God: faith in His Son Jesus Christ. To add anything to that list, no matter how good a thing, is legalism. I’m a big fan of being part of a church, but it doesn’t contribute to your salvation.

However, if they mean “fully obedient” then I would say Yes. I say this for a few reasons.

  • A head without a body is as bad as a body without a head: Kevin DeYoung made this point in Why We Love the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is the body of Christ. It’s always bad news when you have the body without the head (a church without Christ). But it’s just as bad if you have a head without a body (or an invisible body). The Body of Christ was always meant to be a visible and serving witness to Christ in the world.
  • A severed limb isn’t good for anything: In this body, every part has a role to play. That means you. You are needed. You are needed to build others up. But you have to be present (or at least involved) to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Disengagement leads to disobedience: Read my Advice for College Students.

What if you are unable to participate in a religious congregation?

Certainly there are those individuals who are unable to actually attend a church on a regular basis. In our church we call them “shut-ins.” Although they don’t come to church they continue to participate in the religious community in other ways. Various members of our congregation go to visit them and give them updates on church life. They continue to participate through prayer. They are not present, but they participate. I am extremely thankful for the shut-ins in our church. They are a blessing to all of us. There are occasions where church attendance is not possible. However, for the vast majority of us, it’s not about possibility it is about priority. Sometimes we say, “I couldn’t go” when we really mean “I didn’t really want to go.” Do your best to understand the difference.

What do you think? Have I gone too far? Not far enough? What are other reasons why church participation is essential?

Your teen wants to go to church more, not less.

One of the more surprising findings from the National Study on Youth and Religion as reported in the book Soul Searching is that, as a whole, teens report that they want to attend religious service more often than they are currently attending.

“U.S. teens as a group profess to want to attend religious services not less, but actually more than they currently do. Some of this difference could be mere wishful thinking, with the effect of making teens feel better about themselves… On the other hand, at least some of the teens we interviewed did report uncooperative parents and transportation problems preventing them from attending religious services more often than they did.” (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers)

My recent experience matches this finding. Not long ago, one family in our church has gone out of their way to invite teens from our after school program to our morning services and, a bit to my surprise, they’ve been coming, and coming back. There is a spiritual hunger in teens we sometimes underestimate.