Archive for the spiritual disciplines Category

.::Deference vs. Preference

Posted in church, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Teaching on August 31, 2015 by Walter

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

Modern Western Christianity has perhaps made its success by catering to congregants preferences as opposed to training them in deference. What I mean by this is that many churches have developed elaborate marketing schemes to attract new followers to their churches in the name of evangelism. They have developed tremendous programs to attract families with young children using churchshopping1_thumbnailbrightly painted hallways, puppets, and delicious snacks.  Others have developed sophisticated youth programs to attract teenagers with powerful camps, retreats, missions trips, lock-in and decked out youth rooms.  Some have developed tremendously produced worship services with excellent musicians, mood lighting, emotionalism and more to attract young adults with a contemporary sound.  Please do not hear me saying that any of these are bad.  Each one of these things are at best, neutral in their own right.

What I am speaking of is what this kind of programming has developed…extremely discerning consumers.

It is difficult to escape a consumer mentality in America as well as American Christianity.  People shop for churches.  It is somewhat insane that we have the term “church shopping.”  How in the world did we get to a system of church where people pick a church based on what it can do for them?  How many times have you heard someone say, “I didn’t get anything out of that” when talking about worship?

INSTEAD, how might we develop a mindset that communicates deference as a virtue as opposed to a sacrifice in our members? In other words, how might we help members understand that they will not always get things their way and that is a good thing?  How do we show them that while they might not like that, someone else in their church does?  How might we train them in the spiritual discipline of sacrifice for those around them?  I have a few quick ideas:

EXPECT MINISTRY:  I have a philosophy that once a person becomes a member of a church that they ought to be expected to find their ministry and get involved immediately.  It seems that in many churches I have been a part of that ministry is something we offer people to volunteer for rather than expect of them.  What if when a person commits to a church (places membership), someone from leadership sits down with them and says, “Okay, what ministry do you want to be a part of or start?”  I have found that those seasons that I have been involved in ministry, I am far less consumeristic than the seasons I have not been.  Let us find ways of letting out member’s hands get dirty with ministry.

TRAIN DEFERENCE:  One of the marks of discipleship is the ability to see the world from other’s point of view.  When we are able to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, we are able to more easily understand their differing preferences and have a healthy respect for that difference.  When I know “Why?” Sister Smith like to sing a certain hymn, the next time we sing that hymn, it has a deeper meaning for me.  We need to take time to train people in seeing the world from differing points of view.  This is one of the reasons that Scot McKnight speaks of the benefits of the parish system in some denominations.  When you are forced to go to a certain church based on your address, then you are generally put into a more diverse community than the homogenous churches that result from church shopping.  Let us diversify our faith communities theologically, politically, ethnically, racially, etc.

INTENTIONAL INTERGENERATIONAL GROUPS:  The more we get members together from differing demographics, the less we will be able to stereotype them.  It is in stereotyping that we generally dismiss people from that demographic far too easily.  The research I have been doing on adolescent perceptions has shown that adults far too easily dismiss adolescents based on perceptions of teens rather than actual relationships with teens.  Our church might do better by doing less segmenting based on age groups and developing more opportunities for different people to get together who wouldn’t usually spend time together.  Let us get people together who would not normally spend time together.


.:: A Prayer from Solitude for My Students

Posted in adolescence, disciplines, Prayer, spiritual disciplines, Theology with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Walter

One of the courses I teach is Spiritual Disciplines and a significant portion of that class is actually practicing the disciplines when it is feasible in class.  Today I got to share in practicing solitude with them as we dispersed across the green on campus and spent a hour in solitude on an amazing fall day.  Here is a prayer that I wrote for my students during this time:

My prayer for them is that they could be FULLY PRESENT with you God as we commune together in Solitude.

May the peace of Christ dwell in their hearts as they declutter their lives from the noise of the start of a busy week.

May they be taken to the dark parts of their souls and do the difficult work of self-reflection.

May they see you God in the delicate beauty of Autumn that is breaking through.

May their souls be still.

May they be taken from loneliness to intimacy as they experience Your Presence.

May the warmth of the Autumn sun be a gift and reminder of Your Grace.

Father, they are so busy-they had tremendous amounts of stress bearing down upon them–please come near to them in this time.

Give HOPE to those struggling with classes, grades, homework.

Give PEACE to those with problems with family, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates.

Give HEALING to those with health issues and medical problems.

Give RELEASE to those with financial struggles, job schedule issues, and those who need just another hour in their day.

As they encounter Your Presence in solitude whisper into their souls that You are Fully Present with them.

Theo and YM Audio Files

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2014 by Walter

There are many who have requested the MP3s of the general session and break out sessions from Lipscomb University’s Youth Ministry Conference, “Theology & Youth Ministry.”(Links below)  It was a great day where over 130 youth workers, students, and church leaders gathered to wrestle with the large idea of “Why?” Theology demands that we ask “WHY?” of all we do in our ministry.  Please set aside March 3, 2015 for our next conference—We will give more details soon on this.

It was great getting to hear from the following speakers:

Andrew Root, PhD.

Andrew-Root-BIOPhoto-1Andrew Root, PhD (Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Olson Baalson Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. He is the author of The Relational Pastor (IVP, 2013) as well as a four book series with Zondervan called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry (titles include Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, and Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry).  He is also the author of the 2012 Christianity Today Book of Merit award for The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (with Kenda Creasy Dean, IVP, 2011).   Andy has worked in congregations, parachurch ministries, and social service programs. He lives in St. Paul with his wife Kara, two children, Owen and Maisy, and their two dogs. When not reading, writing, or teaching, Andy spends far too much time watching TV and movies.

Lauren Smelser White

LaurenLauren holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English from Harding and Abilene Christian Universities (respectively); she also has a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University, where she is currently a third-year doctoral student in Theological Studies and a Fellow in Theology and Practice. Her work focuses on the intersections of systematic theology and literary theory so as to think critically about the overlap of scriptural interpretation, spiritual formation, and revelation. Practically speaking, she is interested in resourcing the Christian tradition and imagination to aid conservative Christians in developing renewed yet scripturally-faithful understandings of religious pluralism, gender roles, and relations with secular culture. Lauren and her husband Jason are excitedly anticipating the birth of their first child, a girl, in early May.


Chris Gonzalez, PhD @FajitaBoy  

ChrisChris Gonzalez is the husband of one wife, the father of two teens and is a believer in all youth. His career has taken a winding path through teaching 7th grade English in public schools, youth ministry in a local church, and marriage and family therapy in a small non-profit – with the common thread being engagement with youth. He did his doctoral studies in Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota studying Positive Youth Development. His current research project is to study Positive Youth Development with former child slaves in Ghana. His current position is director of the Marriage and Family Therapy masters program at Lipscomb University.

George Goldman, PhD @goldmange

GEGeorge has taught in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb since 1998 and currently serves as the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Bible. George has a Ph.D. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, an M.Div. from Harding Graduate School and an M.A. and B.A. from Lipscomb. He is a part-time campus minister at Vanderbilt, and often teaches Bible classes at the Otter Creek Church of Christ. George is married to Wendy and they have two daughters, Shannon (16) and Lauren (14), and one son Nathan (5).



.::Liturgy:Ritual as Adolescent Faith Formation

Posted in adolescence, church, Liturgy, Ministry, rant, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry on May 14, 2012 by Walter

I grew up Catholic and the ritual of liturgy sometimes bored me, but many times it fascinated me, it educated me and it comforted me. I remember being bored many times by the repetitive nature of liturgy . . . saying the same thing week after week. This is only natural for a middle school kid who was fidgeting in an uncomfortable pew and a more uncomfortable polyester three piece light blue suit struggle just to stay awake, much less pay attention.

However, there were times when I caught a glimpse of the Divine. Those moments when the liturgy pointed to the Mystery of Faith. It was during those seasons where I understood at a rudimentary level that there was something Holy happening. . . that this was not just another week where we were repeating the same thing over and over. It was as if someone had poked me in my side between the 5th and 6th ribs and whispered intently in my ear, “Pay attention, this is important.” And I listened like I had never listened before. I may not have fully comprehended it. I may not have understood all the language. But I undoubtedly knew God was there.

It is through ritual and liturgy that we encounter the Divine in the ordinary.

Many years later, one Christmas Eve, I was watching Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s on television when my wife noticed that I was reciting the liturgy alongside Pope John Paul II. Somewhere in my adolescence, the words of the Mass had somehow become part of me. I took extreme comfort in this. In that moment I recognized another dynamic of my participation in The Church.

What does this have to do with Youth Ministry?

I spend a great deal of time in our introductory ministry courses exposing our students to the wonder and mystery and need for liturgy in the life of our churches. I let them peek over the wall to the other side of the Christian Tradition in order to get a glimpse of formal liturgy. We discuss how we all have liturgy, some more formal than others. We have three songs and a prayer, others have The Book of Common Prayer. We have potlucks & friend days, others have Ash Wednesday & Advent. We sometimes speak in plain language that is accessible, humble and approachable. Others speak in carefully worded language borrowed from generations past and deeply rooted in scripture that is deep, holy and divine.



Ivy Beckwith defines ritual as, “something we do over and over again as a way to remember or reinforce the values the ritual represents.”1 In modern youth ministry, we have segmented our young people off from the larger church body to such a degree that I think they might be missing out on the rich heritage that exists in the ritual of our faith communities. We have worked so hard to be so innovative with our young people we have tossed aside the story of who we are with our teens and they have missed a significant part of the spiritual formation–their identity.

Might we have been so innovative, so fragmented, so segregated, that they have missed out on the metanarrative of who are are? Might this be one of the reasons that they wander off from the church when they graduate youth group? Maybe our students do not possess and understanding of WHO they are in the midst of the larger, broader Christian community because they have missed out on the ritual and liturgy that lives out the story of our identity.

What are the things our youth ministries and churches are doing over and over and over again?

What values are those reinforcing?

What Identities are they forming?

What stories are they telling?

We need to have our students participate in and with the larger church’s liturgy. We need to be available to answer their questions of, “What does this mean? What is going on here?” They need to hear and experience the stories that the liturgy lives out in the midst of community.

1 Beckwith, Ivy. Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010. 21

.::A Rant on Reading

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Parenting Teens, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, youth ministry on January 18, 2012 by Walter

I came across this article from Canada about teens and their desire to read:

“Fewer kids say they like to read. A new report from People for Education — using data from the provincial Education Quality and Accountability Office — says the percentage of Grade 3 students who report they “like to read” has declined from 76% in 1998/99, to 50% in 2010/11.

In Grade 6, the percentage of students who say they “like to read” has declined from 65% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11.”

Granted you may want to file this under the “Duh” column and blame TV, the Internet and Online Gaming as the cause to kids not wanting to read. But let us look at the glass as half full.  There are teens who LIKE to read!  These statistics show that HALF of our kids still LIKE TO READ!  So I want to ask the question, “Does the way we do ministry encourage or discourage reading?”

Think about this:

  • How often or how much does our teaching with teens depend on people to be IN the text as opposed to talking ABOUT the text?
  • Do our ministries have a cultural expectation for teens to bring their Bibles, to be in the Word, to look at a text, etc. in our youth ministries?  I have heard kids say, “I don’t bring my Bible because we don’t use them.”
  • Is your teaching more topical and less textual?  In other words, when was the last time you taught through a book of the Bible?  I have found that most topical teaching uses the text as a launching pad for the day’s topic.  A textual study requires you to stay in the text and deep in the word.
  • Does the reading up on PowerPoint contribute to your students NOT bringing their Bibles?  After all, why should I poen my Bible when it’s going to be up on the screen?
  • I have heard language like, “Today we are going to look at a story from Acts, you don’t have to open your Bibles” which was then followed by a poor retelling.  Does this send a message to teens that says “the text is not that important?”
  • Do we use more references and clips from movies than the Bible?
  • What does the rise of digital texts (Kindle, iPhone Bibles, tablets) mean for people’s reading of the text?  Are we reading the Bible more or less?  There is some room for great research here.

I confess that I was one of the first to use PowerPoint but have begun to regret that usage.  I know it is helpful for visitors and guests, but how might we enable/encourage/expect people to use their text?

My rant here is how might we ENABLE our students to be more readers?  How do we engage them with the text?  How to help help them DIVE into the word instead of away from the word?

Think of all the contemplative, visual learners and those who learn best by reading.  How might we teach to them and give them the opportunity to savor the text and taste it like “honey on their lips?”

Here are a few things we might consider:

  • Bible Text 101:  Lets go back to Elementary school and educate ALL our students on those things we all take for granted:  the difference between OT and NT, what the different numbers mean, the difference between red and black words,  and the Books of the Bible.  Let us get ALL our students familiar with the text so their love for the text is an easier road to travel.  (Better yet, let students who know this teach others!)  Maybe kids don’t read the Bible because they can’t find their way around it.  We can’t assume anymore that just because a kids comes to church they know their way around the Bible.
  • Simply saying, “Let’s open our Bibles to  . . . “ to encourage a culture of reading the text.
  • Read the text out loud as a group.  After all, much of this was written to be read out loud.  CAVEAT:  Let prepare to read it BEFOREHAND so we do not do mediocre readings of scripture and we bring the text alive as we read it.  Nothing kills the life of the text faster than a poor public reading of it.
  • Let students participate in a Lectio Divina during class where you give them extended time to spend time in just one passage of the text and THEN teach and talk about it.
  • Silent Readings:  Have students read the text silently in their bibles.  I know, silence is painful for some, but think of the students who LOVE silence. . . give them the gift of a few minutes to read in silence and absorb the word.
  • Program in Quiet Time:  Everytime I had retreat, camp, mission trip, etc. we would write daily time guides for quiet reading and reflection on scripture where we gave students guides they were welcome to follow for a daily devotion.  Whenever we did evaluations, this always ranked the HIGHEST!  Kids like to read and like quiet time!  How great!

I am not advocating Biblioidolatry where the Bible takes precedence over gospel.  I do want to see us foster a faith that is informed by the actual text and not what we think the text is saying through our poor recollections and cloudy remembrances of passages.

Remember:  There are teens who LOVE to read!  These statistics show that HALF of our kids LIKE TO READ!  This is still Good News!  Let us foster that love.

.::Canon Within a Canon

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, youth ministry on January 11, 2012 by Walter

About a year ago, I was fortunate to be in a short term study with NT scholar Amy Jill Levine. She made a really interesting observation where she said, “We all operate with our canons within the canon.”. What she means is that we all pick and choose which parts of scripture are weightier and which don’t merit much study,thought, or reflection in our faith traditions.

My experience in the Churches of Christ has shown that we have traditionally spent more time with Paul and Jesus (in that order) than we have with the Gospels, the Prophets, Genesis, Revelation, well this list goes on and on. Tony Campolo makes the observation that for many evangelicals, we look at Jesus through the lens of Paul.  When we do this, our vision is skewed and tainted with legalism as we see Jesus through the ethical codes and legislation of Pauline writing.  He suggests that Catholics look at Paul through the lens of Jesus.  When we do this, then the ethical codes of Paul are given a much better context to accept those teachings.  Campolo had a good Catholic friend of his observe that when you look at Jesus through the lens of Paul you get televangelists, when you look Paul through the lens of Jesus you get Mother Teresa.  While this may not be completely accurate and even a bit unfair, there is a valid point worth considering.

I want to propose that our canon within the canon has resulted in a more legalistic view of Jesus than is possibly warranted or even accurate.  When we spend soooo much time looking at Paul’s ethical codes for holy living WITHOUT the context of JEsus, Jesus’s life, Jesus’s teachings, and JEsus’s character, it is far too easy to condense the christian life to a list of rules and regulations and faith becomes formulaic (See The Prayer of Jabez craze from a few years back).

For example, I have sat through far more classes and sermons on Colossians 3 that detail the list of rules for holy living than I have the Christ hymn in Colossians 1 that gives us the lens to understand.  If I am honest, I have look at teens far more with the lens of Colossians 3 and measured a student’s spiritual growth based on whether or not they they were students of “Anger, sexual immorality, lust, greed. etc.” then to really look deeper and see if they exhibited the character and qualities of Jesus as described in Col 1.

I have been struggling a lot with performance-based faith lately.  Donald Miller suggests that the two words that kill the human soul the fastest are: “Ought To.”I reflect on those externals that I used to subject my youth group students to . . . externals like:

  • attendance-how often are they at youth group and not “forsaking the assembly
  • quite time devotion-how often are kids diving in the word and journaling.
  • participation-are they at everything we are doing in youth group?
  •  bringing their Bibles-You know that “good Christians” bring their Bible to church
  • sacrificing a game to attend a retreat-this is almost the mark of martyrdom.

Don’t misunderstand me.  These things are not bad things.  However, when we use them as measuring sticks for faith and devotion, we are probably measuring the wrong things.  When we put these things up are the measuring sticks for faith, we put artificial hoops up for our students to jump through.

I would rather we find ways to see Jesus living IN and THROUGH our students.  How might we see Jesus living in our students?  Challenging our students?  I think the only way we can do this is to SPEND TIME getting to KNOW our students.  Sitting down with them over coffee. Listening to them articulate their faith, talking about Jesus, hearing their perspective on faith.

In order for us to know what to look for and listen for, we must spend more time in the Gospels AND the prophets AND the rest of the Canon of Scripture.  But let’s at least spend some time in our Sunday morning curriculum or small group times looking just at Jesus.  Luther sought for sola fide.  Perhaps we can strive for sola Jesus . . . at least for just a season this year.

.::From Postmodernity to Participatory

Posted in adolescence, church, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Theology with tags , , , on December 12, 2011 by Walter

I came across this powerful quote today:

“The shift from postmodernity to participatory culture means people find their identity through what they create as opposed to maybe what they consume. … Our churches are still structured in such a way that we do it to them, not inviting them to create worship with us. So, if that’s the case, there’s really no space for people who’ve been formed by our participatory culture in our churches.”

–Ryan Bolger, Fuller Seminary

In other words, what Bolger is saying is that if you are under 45, there really is no room for you in church.  In much of my research about adolescents, culture, technology and worship, there is an overwhelming pile of truth to this statement.  We have heard the sayings, “Church is what you are, not what you do.”  “You can’t go to church ’cause the church is you.”  Bolger is advocating that we invite people IN to worship.  Reggie Joiner says we need to stop being cruise directors that entertain our clientele and start becoming adventure guides that expect people to join in the journey.

What Bolger is advocating for, and I think he has hit a resounding chord of truth, is that we need to be less performance driven in our corporate worship and more invitational active.  Instead of letting people be passive spectators, we much call them to be active participants.  They cannot warm a pew for an hour to and hour and a half on a Sunday.

The picture we get in Acts 2 is a picture of EVERYONE participating in worship.  So I started thinking, “What if?”  What if we started a participatory worship culture in our traditionally spectator/consumer churches?  I am just spitballing here so bear with me:

  • What if? Instead of a sermon, we had 20 minutes of lectio divina and then had a roaming microphone to let people share what they heard in the passage?
  • What if? Instead of one person praying for everyone in the room, that one person moderated a time where people break into groups of 3 and 4 and pray FOR and WITH each other?
  • What might communion that is participatory look like?
  • How about singing and song leading?  What if we let go of that and handed it back to the people? (radical . . . I know)
  • What if instead of sitting in a room for an hour and a half one Sunday, we all meet together for 5 mins and then go serve in our communities as our worship and BE Jesus to our neighbors?
  • What if we all read the morning scripture out loud at the same time (in different translations)?
  • What if offering was also an open mike time where people talked about how they would offer their lives up to their neighbors, co workers, teammates, classmates, etc. that week?
  • What if INSTEAD of taking an offering, we called people to take what they were about to give and use it in their world to make a difference that week ? (Now I’m just being crazy)
Can you imagine the stories this could/could make?
Can imagine what you would learn from our teens as we watched them participate?
What would our teens learn from their parents as they watched them participate?
Can you see how messy this would be?  How many angry e-mails would people send?
Can you see all the lessons on patience and forbearance we would learn? (or need to learn?)
How much fun and frustration would this cause?
What would bother you the most in all of this?
I get that these ideas might just make some people go nuclear.  But I also get that it is going to take some churches a nuclear explosion to actually begin being the church God has called them to be in their neighborhoods.
Imagine the ownership people would begin to take in the Kingdom of God!

This would be FUN!