Archive for the Teaching 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.

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.
@RootAndrew

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.

BREAKOUT SPEAKERS

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).

CLICK HERE FOR GENERAL SESSIONS: https://app.box.com/s/tz5frul9rwo86zo49bdr

CLICK HERE FOR BREAKOUTS SESSIONS: https://app.box.com/s/4gvwsx8gimmmzavvwrwi

First Day of School Prayer!

Posted in Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , on August 16, 2014 by Walter

IMG_0405.PNGToday is the first day of classes for Lipscomb.  The first day of a school year is always pregnant with hope. Hope that this will be a better year. Hope that students will stay on top of their homework and reading. Hope that things will be different…better.  Here is a prayer for my students:

Father as we enter a new academic year I invite You to be impossible to ignore in the classroom.  May students see Your Creativity in the wonder of discovery as students are introduced to new ideas and concepts.

I praise You for the minds that want to be pushed, prodded, filled and challenged.  May they see You in the new information, discoveries, knowledge and wisdom.

I praise You for the relationships that will be formed between student and teacher.  May they begin a journey  of learning together that lasts a lifetime.

For those students that will experience loss, grief, struggle, discouragement, and doubt, will you send an extra measure of comfort and peace into their souls?  Please send teachers and classmates around those who are hurting to offer compassion and support.

May we all recognize that the classroom is truly Holy Ground.  May we see something transcendant when teacher and student gather together to seek knowledge and understand the extraordinary and truly awesome privilege it is to study in an institution of higher learning such as Lipscomb.  May we not take for granted the blessing that literally billions of others on earth would like.  Give us the discipline and self-control to take in all that this academic year has to offer in our readings, classes, activities, discussions, seminars, labs, and more have to offer.  

May You illuminate us with the light of knowledge and may that Truth we discern and discover this year set us free to help those who are oppressed, needy, hungry, naked, and lost.

Give my students the wisdom to know the meaning and purpose of their lives and learning so their knowledge, skills and gifts be able to make Your Kingdom a better place for your greater glory.

Grant me patience for the students who need that little bit extra.  Give me the ability to be fully present for every class, lecture, conversation and office meeting so that I can serve those around me in the best way possible.

May I learn more from my students than I have ever before and grant me new perspectives to places that have become overly familiar.  

May we be able to look back at this year and be able to undeniably praise You for all the growth that we have experienced through this year.

Amen.

 

.::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.

BOTH ARE NEEDED.

BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.

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

.::An Earthquake! . . . Really !?!?!?!

Posted in church, Life, Teaching, Theology on April 9, 2012 by Walter

Yesterday at Easter services we were looking at the resurrection story in Matthew 28 when I noticed something really interesting.  Look at the first few verses.  

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Mary.  That morning they are still in mourning over the loss of Jesus.  They are on their way to continue their mourning as they go to visit the tomb.  Perhaps to stil, to contemplate, to wonder, to lament, to begin to work through their anger, loss and betrayal.

Their pain is still fresh.  “He said he’d rise”

Their heart still aches. “I trusted him.”

The sting of death is still fresh. “He lost”

Their dreams are sufficiently dashed. “I left everything to follow him.”

Hope is extinguished. Now what am I supposed to do?!?

When it feels like things can’t get any worse, an earthquake hits.

Really !?!?!

It is as if the gods were mocking them with the first earthquake during the crucifixion there is another earthquake similarly mocking them in their misery.

I have always glossed over this part of the passion story.  Perhaps because it is so close to the empty tomb and I know things are just about to get better.  But can you even imagine what must have been going through their minds as the earth shook again?

“Why?” must have been echoing through their hearts.  Tears must have being to flow again mixing with the hundreds of others that have drenched their garments the past two days.

BUT. . .

Then the lightning came…the angel appeared…and the words that changed everything for them come,  “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

HE

HAS

RISEN!

The pain turns to joy

The heart ache is transformed into love

Death is swallowed in victory.

The dream is ignited

Hope blooms.

So where are you in the Resurrection story?

Are you still at the foot of the Cross wondering what has happened?

Have you let yourself still live in the confusion and lonliness of Saturday?

Are you one the way back to the tomb to mourn the loss?

OR

Has He Risen for you?

.::”The gospels are a poor representation of Jesus.”

Posted in Life, Teaching, Theology on January 31, 2012 by Walter

Tonight in my life group a good friend of mine said something really interesting and true, “The gospels are a poor representation of who Jesus was.”

Hear me out before you call me a heretic.

I think and believe the gospels are the best thing we have to understand who Jesus is and was. They are amazing, unequivocal works with nothing as their equal.

But.

They still fall short of who Jesus really was. Because they are limited by word, diction, interpretation, culture, history, and understanding.  I get that the word, “poor” is probably not an adequate representation of what I am trying to say.

Yes we see more about God through the story, teaching, insight and character of Christ in the gospels than perhaps anywhere else.

Don’t hear me saying that they are inadequate source for those wanting to know the risen Christ.  I believe quite the opposite.  The gospels are out BEST source to understand who Jesus is.  What I am trying to say is the even though there is a limitation of language, interpretation, culture, etc.  IMAGINE just how much of Jesus the gospels can’t show us?

Imagine how much greater Jesus is than what we can read from the gospels? 

How much more of the persona, character and nature of Jesus was not able to be reflected in the gospels?

Again, don’t hear me saying that the gospels are in any way flawed or weak, I am trying to point to how much more Jesus is than what we can read of him in the gospels.  I imagine a much bigger view of Jesus and his divinity.  I come away from this exerise with a BIGGER view of Jesus.

Let’s look at this from another angle…Every technology has its limitations.  For example, when I am traveling and I have to be away from my family, I have several different technologies I can use to keep in touch with them.  I can use letters, text messages, phone conversations or Facetime.  Now I prefer texts over letters because of their speed.  I prefer calls over texts because I can hear inflection and context better.  I far prefer Facetime over phone calls because I get the added dimension of the visual to our conversations.  BUT I can’t hug my screen when using Facetime.  It is a limited technology.

Each of these technologies can and have helped me maintain my relationship with my family.  I get to know more about my wife and daughters through these technologies as different parts of their personalities come out through each of the different mediums.  They all teach me something about my family memebers in their own way.

BUT none of them come close to being face to face with them, hugging them, smelling them, feeling their presence.  This is what I prefer.  This is what I look forward to when I am away from them.  This is what I long for when I am separated from them.

This is what I can’t wait to experience in the Kingdom that is yet to come. When I can be face to face with Jesus.

I do thank the gospel writers and the Holy Spirit and the early church Fathers who show me more about Jesus than I could ever have of imagined.

.::Discovery as Faith Journey

Posted in adolescence, church, Life, Ministry, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by Walter


“People are better persuaded by the reasons they themselves discover than by those which have come into the mind of others.”

–Blaise Pascal

I came across this quote during a class on mediation I am taking this semester.  The goal of mediation it to help two parties who are in conflict come to a decision or solution on their own terms as opposed to having a third party make the decision for them.  In other words, a mediator is there to help them discover information rather the tell them what they need to know.  This got me thinking about how youth ministers and parents can become more of trail guides for teens and less of indoctrinators?

Again, this is an integral part of the adolescent process where students need to know that their choices matter.  Discovery for a teen gives them and their lives meaning.  You have heard the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water . . . but you can’t make them drink.”  As we work with teens we do need to give them tools and opportunities to discover for themselves.  Truth be told, I much prefer to tell teens what I think they need to hear rather than give them the freedom to discover truth for themselves . . . after all aren’t I the expert?(sarcasm)

I think this concept has several applications in the way we might do ministry:

  • Let students have substantive opportunities to learn Truth for themselves:  ALL of the best research out there* that is asking why young adults leave church or what keeps teens in the faith point to the fact of whether or not they had a safe environment to express doubt.  Do our ministries provide sanctuary where teens are allowed to express doubt and differing opinions on faith, God’s existence, sex, social justice, poverty, homosexuality, and other dangerous topics?  Another way of asking this question is to answer, “What are the topics that are ‘off limits’ in our church?”–Let’s talk about those. . . not to be controversial, but to give voice to those issues that are probably on the hearts and minds of our young people.
  • Do students leave our teaching with more Answers or more Questions?  I believe a good education gives you the tools to ask more and better questions rather than simply delivering the answer.  “The Bible says is, I believe it, That settles it.”  Is an attitude we may need to depart from in order to give our students the space and ability to ask difficult questions of faith, religion, the Biblical text, and more.  What kinds of tools are we giving our students that allow them to investigate and journey in their faith that will guide them to answers as opposed to spoon-feeding them with answers?
  • Can we say “I don’t know”?  Is our own faith as leaders big enough to have the confidence to appropriately express our own doubts and still allow God to reign?  Do we have to have an answer for everyquestion that comes up or can we simply say, “I don’t know.”  I am not professing allegiance to a blind, uninformed faith.  Rather, I think being able to say, “I don’t have every answer, but I am still searching” is far more authentic and communicates Truth better than a weakly formed, proof-texted apologetic.  Look at Paul’s own struggles with doubt in Romans 7.  Surely, if Paul is wrestling with these issues at the end of his ministry, surely we have the freedom (or necessity) to have our own doubts?

Those are just a few ideas…any others?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section…

*For more see Sticky Faith by Kara Powell, Soul Searching by Christian Smith, You Lost Me by Dave Kinnaman.