A Definition for Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Adolescence has achieved objective status as an obvious stage in human development in our culture. It is probably un-American and maybe even un-Christian, depending on what circles you’re in, to dispute it. And though this attitude toward teenagers is not surprising from the world since the secular culture is always looking for ways to excuse behavior, it is inexcusable that so many in the church have adopted the same mindset.

Webster defines adolescence as, “the state or process of growing up; the period of life from puberty to maturity terminating legally at the age of majority.” It categorizes the time period beginning at puberty and ending in adulthood, typically designated somewhere between the ages of twelve and twenty. Of course the high-end number continues to climb and entire books now suggest that the end of adolescence is closer to 25.

Growing up is a process. It would be foolish to suggest that a person should or could skip straight from 12 to 20. But there is more to the term adolescence than simply as a handy label to catalog the days, months, and years of a teenager.

The entire idea of adolescence is built on a mindset. A mindset is “a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.” Parents assume that their teenager will have a certain mindset, and teenagers typically believe what adults tell them they will act like.

So what are some of the characteristics of this mindset? Though not organized in bullet form, Thomas Hine helps describe this mindset in his book The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager.

  • A teenager is incompetent. “The concept of the teenager rests in turn on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones.” (p.4)
  • A teenager is irresponsible. The period of adolescence is a time for experimentation and prolonged preparation. It is a deferring of responsibility. “Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos.” (p.8)
  • A teenager is in a perpetual identity crisis. Every adolescent is always in a constant struggle to find self-esteem. “Who am I?” “Why do I have pimples?” “Why don’t other people like me?” “Why don’t I fit in?” Their struggle is one just to survive by adapting to ever changing situations.
  • A teenager is a problem waiting to happen. There is a kind of mystique surrounding teenagers that “encourages adults to see teenagers (and young people themselves) not as individuals but as potential problems.” (p.11) In addition, adolescence assumes that what teenagers do doesn’t really count.
  • A teenager will be rebellious. Rebellion is not a question of if, but when. An adolescent always wants to break out of the cocoon and get out from under the umbrella of parental authority. They will naturally want to challenge their teachers if not the law. They have no desire for accountability from anyone, including the church.*
  • A teenager is at the mercy of their hormones. There is a bias against teenagers, “expressed in the two-word term that serves as the vernacular explanation for almost everything teenagers do: Raging Hormones” (p.29).

The greatest danger of these descriptions of the adolescent mindset is that they are presented to as timeless, universal, and inevitable. The culture, and many in the church, have swallowed these definitions hook, lies, and sinker. This is precisely the way Hollywood portrays teens on television and in movies. This is exactly what popular music assumes life is like for teens.

And the result is that teenagers cannot be held responsible for what they do. An adolescent cannot possibly be expected to function like a reasonable, normal human being, they are just victims of their hormones.

Some have seen through the smoke of excuses, even non-believers.

[W]hile endocrinology (the study of glands and hormones of the body and their related disorders) is a field where fundamental discoveries are made regularly, there is not yet any biochemical explanation for surliness (uncontrolled anger), self-absorption, or rebelliousness. (ibid., p.30)

But sadly, the facts seem to have far less power than what people believe is true. Parents, teachers, church leaders, and teens themselves believe the lies.

An Introduction to the Myth of Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

“The facts are simple,” says Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. “The earth is flat.”

As you stand in his front yard, it is hard to argue the point. From among the Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and tumbleweeds surrounding his southern California hillside home, you have a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert. It looks as flat as a pool table. Nearly 20 miles to the west lies the small city of Lancaster; you can see right over it. Beyond Lancaster, 20 more miles as the cue-ball roles, the Tehachapi Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Los Angeles is not too far to the south.

Near Lancaster, you see the Rockwell International plant where the Space Shuttle was built. To the north, beyond the next hill, lies Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was tested. There, also, the Shuttle will land when it returns from orbiting the earth. (At least, that’s NASA’s story.)

“You can’t orbit a flat earth,” says Mr. Johnson. “The Space Shuttle is a joke–and a very ludicrous joke.”

His soft voice carries conviction, for Charles Johnson is on the level. He believes that the main purpose of the space program is to prop up a dying myth–the myth that the earth is a globe.

The preceding excerpt is from an article titled: “The Flat-out Truth” printed in Science Digest, July 1980. The man mentioned in the article, Charles Johnson, died March 19, 2001, having fought the lonely and futile battle to, in his mind, “restore the world to sanity.”

A Google search for “flat earth” reveals a somewhat surprising reality that there are still many people today, even in the 21st century, who believe our earth is flat. There are even entire organizations devoted to fight the idea that the planet we live on is a globe.

But there is a simple problem: the earth is not flat. It is a lie that the earth is flat and that lie has generated a flat earth myth. A “myth” is just a traditional story accepted as history. A myth serves to explain the worldview of a people. And the story of a flat earth is quite literally a worldview; a made-up view of the world; an imaginary story passed from generation to generation.

In addition, I have come to find that there is a bigger myth, a bigger “story” than the story that our earth is flat. The bigger myth is the myth that asserts everyone used to think the earth was flat.

Now I admit, I didn’t always pay great attention in school. But until doing some research one Saturday night I’m sure I remember reading and discussing in school the whole account from 1492 where everyone thought Columbus was crazy for sailing off into the ocean because they all thought the earth was flat. I’m positive my teachers regaled me with the great drama on the high sea as sailors readied themselves to mutiny against the great Captain Columbus, fearful that after so many days without finding land they were sure to sail right off the edge of the world.

That story is all wrong. I read some fascinating research by a gentleman named Jeff Russell, a professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He says in his book, Inventing the Flat Earth, that throughout history and up to the time of Columbus, “nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Russell claims there is nothing in the documents from the time of Columbus or in early accounts of his life that suggests any debate about the roundness of the earth.

He attributes the myth about flat-earth popularity to the creator of another story, the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. Irving wrote a fictitious account of Columbus’s defending a round earth against misinformed priests and university professors.

The book was titled The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus and was published in 1828. It was a mixture of fact and fiction with Irving himself admitting he was “apt to indulge in the imagination.” Its theme was the thrilling victory of a lone believer in a spherical earth over a united front of Bible-quoting, superstitious ignoramuses, convinced the Earth was flat. Irving invented the picture of a young Columbus, a “simple mariner,” appearing before hooded theologians at the council of Salamanca, all of whom supposedly believed–according to Irving–that the earth was flat like a dinner plate.

There was, in fact, a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving’s account was pure fiction. He “let his imagination go completely…the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense.” The well-known argument at the Council of Salamanca was a question of the distance between Europe and Japan that Columbus presented and therefore had nothing to do with the shape of the earth. Needless to say Irving took some “dramatic license” to make the story more exciting.

But if the majority opinion was not that the earth was flat, how did the fictional version become the non-fiction truth taught in schools and schoolbooks as of the early 1860’s?

Russell says the flat-earth mythology flourished mostly between 1870 and 1920, and grew in a environment with an emerging acceptance of evolution. He says the flat-earth myth was an ideal way to dismiss the ideas of religion in the name of modern science.

The fundamental reason for promoting the lie about a flat earth was to defend Darwinism and provide ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful: “Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as the idiots who denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you be?”

So not only is the earth not flat, it has never been the popular view that it was! We might say the liberal media of the 1800s spun the truth to make Christians look stupid for teaching a flat earth and make evolutionists look smart. But the idea of a flat world is a lie. And the idea that everyone thought the earth was flat is an even bigger lie.

But this is not a series on the geometry of the earth. The major lesson from flat-earth beliefs is how well-spun myths mislead and how easily they blind one to contrary evidence. Embedded lies are major obstacles to the truth.

And there is a parallel myth running rampant in the church today; dangerous lies propagated by parents, spread by many youth pastors, defended by educators, and swallowed by young people themselves. The presuppositions of our generation about teenagers have become a story–a way we talk about life, and this story is a myth called adolescence.

The lies depict teenagers as helplessly incompetent, irresponsible, and in a perpetual identity crisis. Young people are portrayed only as problems waiting to happen, they are guaranteed to be rebellious, and always at the mercy of their hormones. Belief in these lies has become so commonplace that hardly anyone questions the reality or legitimacy of adolescence, resulting in an inability or unwillingness to hold teenagers responsible for what they do. This has produced widespread confusion among adolescents themselves and frustration for authorities.

Let me be clear as clear as possible, the popular idea of adolescence is not true and it is painfully unbiblical. Adolescence is not a fact–just like the earth is not flat. It is equally wrong to think that everyone has always recognized adolescence as a fact–just as everyone has not always believed that the earth is flat.

Ten Books Every Christian Should Own

A few weeks ago I listed the 25 books that have influenced me the most. In that post I promised a second list, namely my catalog of the 10 books every Christian should own.

stack of booksPhoto thanks to Darren Hester

These are books that, from my perspective, transcend time and culture. They are the kind of resources that should be frequently published and first translated when we take the gospel to a new group. They would help anyone, in any age, in any place to know, defend, and articulate the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Of course, my frame of reference is limited, limited by language (English) and limited by scope (what I’ve actually read). So I reserve the right to update this list as my own library grows. Also feel free to leave your own suggestions/criticisms in the comments. But for all that, remember:

It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to be the best. ~Richard Baxter

So here are the best of the best for my evangelical money.

1. The MacArthur Study Bible

John MacArthur, Editor. If I was stranded on an island and could only have one print resource, this is the one I want. Though I don’t carry or read my MSB on a daily basis, it is an absolutely essential tool. The background on the Canon, the overview of systematic theology, and the topical index are brief but outstanding assets. It is a one-stop shop for book overviews and outlines, not to mention the many helpful interpretive notes.

2. The Sovereignty of God

Arthur W. Pink. Though it is #2 on this list, it is #1 on my personal impact list. No man will be humbled appropriately without understanding of, and submission to, God’s sovereignty. Neither will man’s capacity to worship God be elevated sufficiently without acknowledgment and admiration of His supremacy and authority over all things. [Make sure to get the unabridged version that includes Chapter 5].

3. The Master Plan of Evangelism

Robert Coleman. If making disciples is the Great Commission–and it is–then those of us who are His followers ought also to follow His example in spreading the news of the Kingdom. The Master Plan of Evangelism is an oldie but a goodie (with hundreds of thousands in print) and explains the process of disciple-making unlike any other, with both simplicity and substance.

4. The Gospel According to Jesus

John MacArthur. If we are commissioned to teach the nations to observe everything that Jesus commanded then we ought to know (and obey ourselves) what Jesus commanded. This is the classic treatment on following Christ as Savior and Lord and the firestorm of the Lordship salvation debate.

5. Living by the Book

Howard Hendricks. If the Bible is the Book we are responsible to know, this book is the best resource for those who study in English. Hendricks helps us bridge the historical, cultural, geographical, and grammatical gaps as he covers the three basics of Observation, Interpretation, and Application.

6. The Holiness of God

R.C. Sproul. The “fear of the Lord” is largely absent and undoubtedly that stems from our ignorance of the Lord. The Holiness of God is classic Sproul, presenting God’s holiness and pressing for our proper response. Knowing God by J.I. Packer is along the same lines.

7. Desiring God

John Piper. I didn’t “get” this book until I read The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards. However, though TEFWGCTW is shorter, it is much heavier. Desiring God is essential Piper, but more than that it is essential explanation that God is glorified not only by His glories being seen, but by their being rejoiced in.

8. Concise Theology

J.I. Packer. This is a pocket resource on systematic theology, quickly covering most subjects in three or four pages while providing key Scripture references. If you’re ready for something less concise, than I’d suggest moving right to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.

9. The Cross-Centered Life

C.J. Mahaney. A happy Christian life depends on the definitions and distinctions between justification, sanctification, and glorification. Though other books dig deeper into the individual elements, this is a great primer on living in light of each part of our salvation.

10. Why One Way?

John MacArthur. 10 years ago this would not have made the top 10 list, and that’s not simply because it wasn’t published yet. The ever rising animosity toward authority and truth make this book both timely and vital. It is the most accessible treatment of modernism/postmodernism I’ve read while defending the exclusivity of the gospel and God’s Word in this inclusive age.

There are other classics that make my Honorable Mention list, such as:

  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • Anything on Prayer by E.M. Bounds
  • A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson, also on prayer
  • Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell on apologetics
  • Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by Piper & Grudem

Specifically For Men:

  • Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle
  • Future Men by Doug Wilson

Specifically For Women:

  • The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson

Remember, these are some of the best and not the only books to own and read. No doubt I’ve missed something, so let me know.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. ~Francis Bacon

May these books, and other good books like them, be digested by believers with diligence.

Four Tools for Great ComMissional Disciple-Making

Series | ComMission

*In Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0, I criticized the man-centered, pragmatic approach of contextualization. I also promised to post four tools God has given us for the sake of making disciples of all the nations. All of the following are founded on the Sword of the Spirit and also require dependence on the Spirit Himself. So before we trade up for a new set of gospel gadgets that will prove themselves lemons, what are the divinely authorized gospel implements?

1. Clarity

Before the gospel can save it must be believed, and before it can be believed it must be understood. This is why the first tool of clarity cannot be over overemphasized.

As Paul gave thanks for the work of the gospel among the Colossians he stressed:

the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras

The gospel must be “heard” and “understood”; it is something “learned” and is therefore connected with “truth.” Hearing, understanding, and learning are matters that require clarity for them to materialize. Epaphras is extolled as a “faithful minister” not because of his ability to reach the Colossians “where they were,” but because of his clear proclamation of the gospel. Undoubtedly that is why Paul knew that he ought to speak about Christ in the clearest possible terms.

Clarity is a sharper tool than contextualization for disciple-making.

2. Common Sense

The second implement of disciple-making is common sense. Note that Paul instructed the Colossians to

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

First of all, “outsiders” are outside the church not outside our culture. Second, contrary to the emerging contextualization clamor, postmodern people are not outside our culture (I intend to argue in a subsequent post that postmodernism is not a culture anyway, it is an anti-God mindset that transcends culture). American Christians have no need to “contextualize” the gospel for American unbelievers because we haven’t entered an unfamiliar context. Yes, foreign missionaries study culture and customs. But we are not foreigners! We know the language. We live under the same government. We are familiar with the same social customs and ways of communication. And so while we can never proclaim the gospel outside a particular context, we are not on the outside looking in.

So it makes sense to speak English to English speakers, and Spanish to Spanish speakers, etc. We are wise to follow the regular rules of grammar and sentence structure. It is suitable to talk to a student about the gospel before or after the test, not during it. And it is logical to take your shoes off in a home where that is customary in order to avoid offending the host. An awareness and appreciation for where we are and who we are talking to is appropriate.

Purposefully engaging in conversation with unbelievers is imperative for every follower of Christ. And these encounters should be marked by our wise conduct. But prudence and discernment is not equal to contextualization; it is simply called common sense.

3. Compassion

Love is a powerful tool. We are told to employ this third tool even on our enemies. Our sympathetic concern for the painfulness of a person’s guilty conscience and their fear of God’s holy wrath is as necessary as it is helpful.

We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. So there is no reason for us to be proud or condescending. Insensitivity and inconsideration is out of place in outreach. So our defense of the faith is always to be with gentleness and respect. Our speech toward unbelievers is always to be gracious and seasoned with salt. Soft answers turn away wrath and often are powerful enough to break bones. But considerate and caring disciple-making is not contextualization.

4. Supplication

The fourth tool of disciple-making is prayer. Paul pleaded with the Colossians to supplicate for his work:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—-that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Paul regularly talked about open doors when it came to the gospel ministry. Apparently these “open doors” were sovereignly appointed opportunities for evangelism where God had prepared the soil to receive the seed.

We pray for open doors because God is sovereign in salvation. Only He can give new life to dead people, free slaves of sin, deliver from the domain of darkness, and transfer into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

Make no mistake, seasons of great spiritual awakening come from God’s sovereignty, not from our skill. There are not, nor have there ever been “magic bullets” of evangelism. The problem is not our inability to tackle “defeater beliefs” but our inability to conquer spiritual deadness. No amount of philosophizing or pre-evangelism can prepare a corpse to receive life. Being born of the Spirit has everything to do with the Spirit.

Supplication trumps contextualization because it depends on God’s sovereign power instead of our superficial competence.

Somewhere along the way we’ve stopped praying for open doors and started picking at the locks. Not only is this fruitless, it is an insubordinate deviation from the Master’s plan of evangelism.

Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0

Series | ComMission

“Contextualization” is a buzzword in Christian conversation these days. A little over a month ago an entire conference was devoted to proclaiming the supremacy of Christ in this postmodern world of ours, and many of the speakers pressed that responsible outreach requires us to contextualize, that is, put the gospel into terms that postmoderns can understand and appreciate. We were told that the methods of evangelism used yesterday won’t work any longer. The current generation possesses less familiarity with the gospel and asserts new objections to Christianity so we must adapt and adjust our strategies appropriately.

But it seems like the majority of the “missional” and “contextualization” conversation is nothing more than an updated version of Evidentialism. The assumption is still that it is humanly possible to convince someone of the folly of their beliefs and the superiority of Christian faith, we just need new and improved arguments. So debates between creation and evolution have been replaced by conversations over inclusivism and exclusivism, while the goal remains to accumulate enough “historical and other inductive arguments for the truth of Christianity.”

This is simply a more sophisticated sounding man-centered approach. The problem is diagnosed with us, our methods, and our arguments; it is a failure in our presentation and inability to overcome resistance. So “responsible” outreach is determined by how successful it is, and success is defined by the number of people who accept our message.

Pragmatism may be wearing new clothes but her underbelly is as ugly as ever. It is Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0, where methods are judged on the basis of what works rather than what is right.

Contextualization, whether naively or arrogantly, ignores the fact that natural men (unbelieving and lacking the Spirit) do not need more sensible arguments or a contextual approach per se. Without the Spirit they cannot, they will not, understand the things of the Spirit of God. Without the power of the gospel (not the power of our presentation) and without supernatural regeneration (not our sophisticated reasoning) there is no hope of eternal life.

Is our gospel veiled? Yes! The God of this world has blinded them! This is no surprise. Whatever else the postmodern mindset includes, it views the preaching of the cross as foolishness. And do we not have very clear instruction on how to handle that? The Jews considered the cross a stumbling block; postmoderns consider its exclusivity offensive. The Gentiles thought the cross was folly; postmoderns do likewise.

Our task has always been and will remain simple: knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified so that no one’s faith would not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God. Plausible words of wisdom get us nowhere with spiritually dead people. Instead, let us depend on God to shine light in dark hearts. Spurgeon said:

Pray without ceasing, and preach the faithful Word in clearer terms than ever. Such a course of conduct may seem to some to be a sort of standing still and doing nothing, but in very truth it is bringing God into the battle; and when HE comes to avenge the quarrel of his covenant he will make short work of it, “Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause!”

Friday I’ll list four tools God has given us to use for the sake of making disciples. As my teaser, one of them is not contextualization but clarity. As Phil Johnson said:

I still think if we want to communicate the gospel effectively, even in a postmodern culture, clarity is ten thousand times more vital than “contextualization.”

The 25 Most Influential Books on the Void

Reading is making a comeback. Numerous bloggers have commented on the collection and reading of books in the past few weeks and I’ve started to compile an ever growing list of these posts for my own future reference.

book storePhoto thanks to slimninja

One of the reasons behind the recent resurgence of bookish discussion by bloggers was the article by Christianity Today on the top 50 books that have influenced evangelicalism. The list is subjective if not downright suspect, but it received a fair amount of attention nonetheless. I knew this was no small subject when the über-Christian blogmaster Tim Challies weighed in with his perspective.

All of that to say, I’ve come up with a list of the 25 books that have influenced me the most. And though the description of my list may sound like any other prejudiced, postmodern perspective, I can assure you that no sympathetic postmodernite would be interested in the meta of these narratives. So while my library list is nothing special, it might be useful to others who need help.

This list was born Saturday on the back of a Burger King bag while riding in a Volkswagen to Pullman for the WSU/Cal game with Jonathan and Curtis. These are either just personal favorites or those with the most influence on the Void. I’m already planing an additional post with a catalog of the 10 books every Christian should own. I also want to point out that the Bible is the default superscript over the whole list. So with those qualifications in place and in particular order:

  1. The Sovereignty of God A.W. Pink
  2. The End for Which God Created the World Jonathan Edwards
  3. Ashamed of the Gospel John MacArthur
  4. Brothers, We are Not Professionals John Piper
  5. The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman
  6. Exegetical Fallacies D.A. Carson
  7. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ John Owen
  8. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy John Piper
  9. The Religious Affections Jonathan Edwards
  10. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented Curtis Steel and Daniel Thomas
  11. On The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther
  12. The Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin
  13. Evangelicalism Divided Ian Murray
  14. The Reformed Pastor Richard Baxter
  15. The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager Thomas Hine
  16. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel Wallace
  17. Faith Works (re-titled: The Gospel According to the Apostles) John MacArthur
  18. No Place for Truth David Wells
  19. Why One Way John MacArthur
  20. The Way of the Modern World Craig Gay
  21. The Forgotten Spurgeon Ian Murray
  22. A Call to Spiritual Reformation D.A. Carson
  23. “Rejoicing and Heaviness” Charles Spurgeon (a sermon, not a book, but a must read)
  24. Our Sufficiency in Christ John MacArthur
  25. Diagrammatical Analysis Lee Kantenwein

Honorable mentions go to Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, God’s Outlaw by Brian Edwards, Future Men by Doug Wilson, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur, and Boy, Was I Mad! by Kathryn Hitte.

Dishonorable mentions go to the original Revolve biblezine, Create in Me a Youth Ministry, and all The Prayer of Jabez spin-offs. Other books were generously and purposefully driven from the list and no books in the Left Behind series were harmed in the production of this post.

Appetite and Ability to Study God’s Word

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

The third mark of health in our series is:

A healthy student ministry has people with an appetite and ability to study God’s Word.


Many passages reveal the importance of God’s Word in the life of a believer and in the life of a church. For example, as soon as the church started to gather in the book of Acts we find four things that were most important to them:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

While fellowship, the ordinances, and prayer are critical to spiritual health as well, devotion to doctrine is conspicuously absent in many churches and particularly absent in most youth ministries. Craving Scripture is commanded for everyone.

So putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, that by it you may grow up to salvation. (1 Peter 2:1-2)

Desire for God’s Word should be natural and innate in those who have been born of God. Just as a person is born again by the Word (1 Peter 1:23), so they should continue to crave and feed on Scripture for spiritual growth. Therefore, the apostle Peter commands Christians to long for the pure milk of the word. The imperative applies to every believer, old and young.

This is more than simply reading the Bible. We’re promoting a hunger that isn’t satisfied with scraps; a longing that causes someone to linger over God’s Word until it is at home in their heart.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

An appetite for the Book is distinctively characteristic of an individual’s spiritual health and by extension the health of any ministry, especially ministry to young adults.

Craving God’s Word is important not only for growth, but knowing Scripture is valuable for ministry.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The word profitable describes something that is useful and beneficial. In this context, the benefit of Scripture’s inspiration is to provide inerrant direction and counsel for shepherding and service. God’s Word prepares and enables a person for every good work. Many ministry problems would be solved by looking to and learning from the Bible. Many youth pastors would be patently armed for youth ministry if they knew more about the Bible than skateboarding and contemporary Christian music. Many students would be ready to use their spiritual giftedness if they continued in what they had learned from God’s Word instead of building their buddy list on MySpace.

So why don’t more student ministries focus on Scripture? Perhaps it is because *studying Scripture takes time and work.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

A worker is someone who does WORK! There are no shortcuts to Scripture insight; it takes study. This work requires diligence. The phrase do your best describes the importance of zeal and eagerness in this effort. And while this verse primarily applies to the teacher, the importance of rightly handling God’s book is relevant for everyone. A healthy student ministry must train staff and students so that they would have ability to study (and obey) with accuracy.

And finally, feeding on Scripture is to be nonstop.

Feeding on Scripture should take place during times of corporate teaching, even in (I might say, especially in) student ministries.

Against this are some who suggest that student ministries should get rid of preaching altogether. They may even go so far as to suggest that someone can get too much teaching. But passages like Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1, and Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19 exhort day and night teaching and meditation. (The only danger from too much teaching is sleeping during it! Acts 20:7-9).

Leaving God’s weapon sheathed because students can’t handle it is self-destructive. That is why all spiritually dynamic student ministries teach biblical truth and urge young Christians to apply it. God’s Word changes lives, so a healthy student ministry will wield the Sword, not fall on it. A robust student ministry will exalt God’s Word, endeavoring to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God. A healthy youth ministry will have students and staff people who are hungry for Scripture, not pop-psychology or self-esteem seminars.

Not only should feeding on Scripture take place when the ministry gathers but it should also happen during regular times of personal study. It is inappropriate and injurious to go days without eating. Each student must eat Bible-meals in between group meetings. If the word of Christ only visits on Sundays it is not richly dwelling in you.

Jonathan Edwards wrote about Scripture intake with relevance for both youth pastors and their students:

If God has made it the business of some to be teachers, it will follow that He has made it the business of others to be learners. For teachers and learners are correlates, one of which was never intended to be without the other. God has never made it the duty of some to take pains to teach those who are not obliged to take pains to learn. He has not commanded ministers to spend themselves in order to impart knowledge to those who are not obliged to apply themselves to receive it.

A healthy student ministry must have people ravenous for, and skilled in understanding, God’s Word.

Godly Leaders

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

*Here is the second mark of a healthy student ministry:

A healthy student ministry has people who are godly leaders.

We cannot bypass the principle of godly leadership and still expect to see God’s blessing. Holiness is the primary ingredient for leaders in the church.

It is staggering to consider how many churches–and youth ministries in particular–select leadership. A man (or woman) is not to be a leader in the church because he is the best businessman, has innate leadership ability, or has a large bank account. In student ministries specifically, leaders aren’t chosen because they can snowboard or play Halo or whatever. Those with worldly gifts and talents are not God’s best tools; God wants and uses righteous instruments.

Godly leaders are those with deacon qualified character. When Timothy stayed in Ephesus, he had the responsibility of bringing the church to spiritual maturity. The apostle Paul knew Timothy couldn’t do it alone and that he needed godly leaders beside him.

Titus faced the same challenge in Crete, and Paul gave him similar advice. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 Paul gives a profile of the kind of people that are to be leading the church. They are to be:

  • above reproach
  • devoted to their wives
  • temperate
  • prudent
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • self-controlled
  • not self-willed
  • not quick-tempered
  • not pugnacious (not a punch-throwers)
  • not contentious
  • gentle
  • not materialistic
  • managing their household well
  • having a good reputation among unbelievers
  • lovers of good
  • just
  • devout
  • and not new converts

Those are the qualifications given in Scripture for leaders in the church. They indicate the kind of people God wants to lead His church. A church should not accept just any volunteer; it should elevate godly ones. While not everyone on the youth staff will be an elder or deacon/deaconness, these are the spiritual characteristics that must be promoted and pursued.

Godly leaders are also those committed to sacrificial service. This involves their:

  • time
  • talents
  • and treasure

The sacrificial service of a leader is above and beyond the sacrificial service of a non-leading Christian. And since every Christian follower is called to lose their life, giving up everything to follow Christ (cf. Mark 8:34-38), how much more the leaders.

This above-and-beyond commitment is alongside of responsibilities to family and work. The family is not equivalent to the church, so serving one’s family is not synonymous with one’s “ministry.” Neither is a person’s vocation equivalent to the serving the body, regardless of the spiritual opportunities provided by the position itself.

There are other ministries in the church that someone can serve in, even “deacon” in, using their spiritual giftedness, discipling, while following Christ that will cost a person less than serving in a leadership position in a student ministry. But we should stop making apologies for how much is asked of leaders. We ultimately answer to God (and to a lesser degree, to the elders, the parents, and even the students themselves), therefore, it is not a responsibility to take lightly. We show how valuable we think the ministry is by how much it costs us to serve. Ministry that doesn’t cost anything isn’t very precious.

The consequences of our work are eternal. We’re engaged in a spiritual fight. Our work demands commitment. If a youth ministry doesn’t have leaders who measure up to God’s standards, there will be problems from the start. So we must labor to make sure that our leaders (staff and students) are biblically qualified and clearly identified. Leaders don’t just appear with the push of a button.

Part of the Local Church

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

*I retaught my series on the Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry almost a year ago. The introduction is here and without further ado the actual marks finally begin.

A healthy student ministry has people who are part of the local church.

The Old and New Testaments are completely silent about Student Ministries. There are no verses that describe ministry focused on young people. Based on this alone, we might conclude that student ministry is at best a-biblical, that is, it isn’t found in the Bible. But though no verses support or provide instruction for this particular ministry, there are also no scriptures that condemn or prohibit it. Apparently student ministries is not anti-biblical either. So should there be such a thing as student ministry, and if so, where does it belong?

The New Testament does have much to say about the church and her role. Of course, a church is a body of believers that gather together in a local place for corporate worship, mutual edification, and biblical instruction for observing everything Christ commanded. In particular, Paul defines the work of church leaders in Ephesians 4:11-16 as strengthening and equipping believers to do the work of the ministry.

This responsibility of the church is to equip every believer. No national, cultural, gender or age restrictions exist, providing a rationale for focused shepherding and discipling of students. In light of Ephesians 4:11-16, student ministry exists to strengthen and equip students to do the work of the ministry. Done properly, student ministry is just a focus on the few to reach the many within the context of a local church.

Churches typically have other ministries aimed at specific groups of people, be that children’s’ ministry, women’s’ ministry, etc. These particular ministries are not essential for equipping the saints but they can help to target “each part of the body” (Ephesians 4:16) and “every man” (Colossians 1:28). Colossians 1:28 was not actually written for youth ministry; it is Paul’s objective for the entire church. Presenting “every man” complete in Christ is a huge task and student ministry exists to reach the “every man” among the Junior High and High School students as God enables salvation and sanctification. But it is only under the umbrella of the entire church that student ministry makes sense.

Though I’m certain there are more, here are four brief sub-points important for being part of a local church.

  1. Following Christ. As part of a local church students need to follow Christ. On one hand this is so basic, yet on the other hand we never want to take it for granted. As part of the Body we must follow the Head. Anything we do apart from following the Head misses the point of being a part of the whole.
  2. Submitting to the elders. Elders are given by God to oversee the local body. Students are responsible to submit to the direction and priorities the elders set like the rest of the body. Elders are given to guide and protect, so wandering from their oversight is inappropriate and dangerous.
  3. Pursuing the same goals as the whole body. A philosophy of student ministry should not contradict or compete with that of the overall ministry. Though some practical differences may exist, there should be no disconnect between what happens in big church and “little church.” The goals and practices of student ministry should be consistent with every other ministry.
  4. Serving others outside of student ministries. Whether helping lead in children’s’ Sunday School or service projects for families in need, students are a necessary part of the body that must work properly the makes the body grow.

Because student ministry is only healthy as it is part of a local body, student participation in “big church” worship is important as well. The youth meeting does not and cannot replace the entire congregation’s worship services. Anytime the church gathers, students should be a included.

Though it should be obvious, this also means that healthy student ministries are not isolated from the older members, those with wisdom to share and to whom the younger should watch as examples. Para-church ministries that attempt to make disciples in an isolated context away from the church are missing out on the blessings and benefits of being part of a local body.

Being part of a local church is #1 on the list for a reason. Too many youth pastors and student ministries try to do their own thing and try to be so different from what’s happening in the rest of the church that inconsistency and ineffectiveness abound. Student ministry is not finished until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, grown up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. In order to do this, students must be connected to the rest of the Body. Though churches don’t need student ministries to be a healthy churches, healthy and proper student ministries must be part of local churches.