Faith, not wasted on the Youth

There are no chubby bunny contests and special “youth group rooms” on a college campus

So recently I posted on Youth Ministry. Let’s take a deeper look at some statistics that should cause you to pause, but probably not be surprised.
 
LifeWay Research Study
LifeWay Research and Ministry Development (2007)
 
Study Findings: 70% will leave the faith in college. Only 35% eventually return. 7 in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 – both evangelical and mainline – who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church. “The most frequent reason for leaving church is, in fact, a self-imposed change, ‘I simply wanted a break from church’ (27%).” “The path toward college and the workforce are also strong reasons for young people to leave church: ‘I moved to college and stopped attending church’ (25%) and ‘work responsibilities prevented me from attending’ (23%).”
 
There was another study, by Youth Ministry Architects, that says that the appropriate investment for youth in the local congregation is $1000 per student, per year.
 
SO….
 
Some easy numbers for ya.
– Student begins youth group as a 6th grader
– That is 7 years at $1000 per student per year = $7000 over the life in the church.
– Baseline for youth ministry is 10% of worship congregation (not including rolls that have people that are members but do not attend regularly)
– The average church attendance (Barna Group) is about 89 adults so we are going to round that up to 100 for argument’s sake.
 
SO…
 
On an average, we have invested $70K in these 10 students over the last 7 years, only to have them walk away from their faith at a 70% clip.
 
If this were a business, because mostly it is, we would expect a 5:1 (500%) ROI (return on investment). In reality, we are left with a $49,000 loss leaving us with -170% of our initial investment. (check the math please, it is not my strong suit)
 
Why do I say all of this? Well, it is because I believe that young people hold the key to the future of the body of Christ. I believe that they have every advantage and tool already given to them through the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are hindered by the promise of “bring a friend to youth group” and “you can help in the nursery this Sunday”.
 
I believe that not only will they be given vision from the Lord, but I submit that they already are but they are being told that their “level” of “church experience” would not lend them to sharing that in BIG church, so they shove it down and believe that what they are receiving is not real. They are relegated to youth group worship team and maybe once a month getting to be in front of BIG church. They are banished to an entirely different part of the building for crying out loud. Nothing makes you feel less than saying, “alright all the kids can now leave”. It’s like saying everything that comes next does not apply to you and the adults would like to talk now. 
Paul said this to Timothy…
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1Tim 5:1-2 ESV) 

This call from Timothy is really a call for us to be a family and I believe that means on Sunday and Wednesday and every other day for that matter. We should certainly honor the older generation, but the younger generation matters.

I guess I just believe that if we invested in the young people the way that God has invested in all of us, we might see a different trend in those young people leaving the church as they continue to do. Honestly, I believe they leave the church because they have no idea what it really means to be a part of it in the first place. There are no chubby bunny contests and special “youth group rooms” on a college campus, and if there are they probably involve alcohol or some form of humiliation for standing for your faith. One of the top reasons given for kids leaving the faith is this. They never personally owned their faith. What would that say to the way that we treat them in our local congregations?

It may be time for a change or are we okay with dooming our young people to repeat the errors of those that are walking in faith. Sure, according to the statistic above 35% will return to their faith, but are we willing to take that chance? I for one am not. Will you follow the Lord or will you throw good money after bad? Think about that before you dismiss your young people this Sunday to leave the large group setting.

Living in a Fantasy Football Island

…the Holy Grail usually is just bragging rights until the next season.

Ah yes it is that time of year again. The time where everyone from the amateur arm chair quarterback to the CEO of a fortune 500 company will get their chance to manage a football team. Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us and that means fantasy footballers unite.

As I sit back and ponder the fate of my favorite football team in real life, the (as for now) Oakland Raiders, I have to sit back and think of the years that I spent chasing the Holy Grail of NFL fantasy football’s number one ranking on Yahoo or ESPN’s fantasy football league. BTW, the Holy Grail usually is just bragging rights until the next season, but if you are real fortunate you might get a trophy, we will talk about that later though.

Hours I would pour over match ups and history of the players abilities and their track records. You would look deep to find that one guy that everyone would leave on the board because he was too old, or too young, or he was a kicker. Then you decide is round 5 too early for a kicker or will a defense really make the difference this year? Do I draft a QB or a running back first? You pick up the local fantasy rag that gives you every tid bit of information you would possibly need to get you the leg up on the competition. Then enter the information age. Everything has now changed. Now it is at your finger tips. Every stat, every scenario, every player profile. From where they eat to how much they get paid, to if they can perform on artificial turf when the temperature is above 60 and the opposing team stayed at a Marriott Hotel last night. You can now have the app that vibrates consistently in your pocket on Sunday morning beckoning to the Pastor to cut things short today, after all it is about to be kick off time. We are connected more than ever to our fantasy football competitions.

Just to put this in perspective, let’s look at some stats. This is always fun to do even if not completely accurate. These stats are courtesy of Sports Management Degree Hub.

fantasy

So back when I started playing fantasy football we still used pad and paper to record statistics. That would be around the 91-94 years. The change is considerable.

fantasy2

This goes to show ya that fantasy sports are not just for the unemployed blue collar workers, but it reaches across the spectrum and you can clearly see that even the educated, white, full-time employed, male is capable of chasing his dreams of being a fantasy GIANT!

fantasy3

Again, fantasy football knows no bounds. If you factor in that consumers spend an average of $465 per year on fantasy football and do the math, you would see that as a nation we spend $18.6 BILLION per year. That is 6X’s as much as the NFL itself and 4.5 x’s the value of the league’s top valued team  (the Dallas Cowboys).

So, do you get the picture when it comes to this fantasy stuff?

So what does this have to do with the price of chicken wings on draft night at the local Buffalo Wild Wings? Well, I believe this has Kingdom ramifications.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, America still proclaims to be Christian nation. In this poll, 83% of Americans replied to the question, “What, if anything, is your religion?” by saying Christian. Although according to Barna, that same group of folks are doing a poor job of making disciples of the gospel.

In fact there is a nice little twist in Barna’s study that caught me off guard. The twist is this. Many Christians in church believe that they themselves are discipling someone at the current time, (52%). However when Pastors were asked if they feel that people in their congregations were actively discipling anyone, less than 1% said that was a true statement. Actually the answer to that question is different than both of those.

The fact is that everyone is discipling someone of something. The question comes in as to what are we discipling? Are we making disciples of fantasy football? YOU BETHCA! Are we making disciples of the love of money? YUP! Are we making disciples of internet football information and daily mobile phone updates? ABSOLUTELY!

Conversely, are we making disciples of the one true God? …EH Are we making disciples of the truth of the message of God through getting the wisdom of His word within us? not really Are we discipling others so that they can encourage and make disciples themselves of other? signs say nope While 17% of the Canada and US populations combined are engaged in Fantasy Football there are currently only 20% of Christian adults that are involved in some sort of discipleship activity, with the majority of that taking place within the walls of the existing building (i.e small groups or Sunday service). I guess that I feel when Jesus said this, he actually meant it.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
Mark 16:15

Did I dazzle you all with my Google skills and my data collection prowess, I am in quality after all? That was not my intention. Furthermore for all of those friends out there engaged in fantasy football, let me say this, NO OFFENSE INTENDED. I feel these days that I need to preface every statement with that for the thin skinned folks that take every word I say as arrows in the chest. Maybe this scripture is for you?

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14

Fantasy or not to fantasy, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of disobedience to God himself, or take arms against the will of men to disciple anyone of anything, rather than choose Jesus and stifle the critics. In the end the decision is yours. Just listen the next time you slip out of service to make that last second trade because the injury report just updated, God may be calling you into something deeper than the promise of annual ritual of fantasy football. If I were a betting man, I would say that he is.

Oh and to mention that trophy thing again.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, Matthew 6:19

 

 

The Remnant highway

there will be a highway for the remnant of HIS people

I have heard some things recently that drew me to think. I have heard it said that wherever I attend a gathering on Sunday morning as “my church” I have heard it said that I can do what ever I like because it is “my life”, I have even heard it said that people like to put ownership on Jesus as “my Savior”, as if yours is different than mine.
 
Well the scripture says,
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, Psalm 24:1
and Paul told Timothy specifically that Jesus was the Savior for all people, saved and unsaved,
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10
So I ask you when Paul instructed the people in Ephesus in this way…
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Why do we see that as an ownership thing?

 
I submit that it is because God has and is creating a remnant among the men and women of faith just as He did among the Israelite’s. Isaiah speaks of a time that the Lord will set His hand a second time to recover a remnant and that there will be a highway for the remnant of HIS people. That means that he will pull that remnant from those that call themselves saved.
Now before you start sending hate mail and throwing accusations out that I have a corner on the market for who gets in and who doesn’t, let this just be a call to all of us to get to a rallying point of Jesus Christ. If our focus shifts from self to the larger unit then maybe, just maybe, we will see a shift in our world. What ever will be will be though, because God is sovereign and His glory and reign will endure forever. It is what happens in the snapshot of time, that is our lives here on earth, that we can make a difference for the gospel.
Make no mistake that God’s word is true and a remnant will be pulled from the people of God, so while we are here and laboring for sake of the gospel let’s make that highway clear and remove all stumbling blocks and make clear a path for the Lord. Love one another, rally around the cross and be a good steward of the things that God has placed in your charge.

Cheating on God

“God designed marriage to make us Holy”

Recently I have found myself in several conversations about marriage and how does a Christian remain faithful and still consider divorce. I have talked to people through the years that run the gambit on this issue. I have spent time with those folks and walked them through the scripture and spent time in prayer with them, but ultimately there are gaps that exists because of their marriage relationship or the lack of understanding of a biblical marriage.

Ya see God is the bridegroom and therefore there are some things that come with that relationship.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior. 1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT

So if Peter was directing people to accept the authority of your husband then his expectation that people would flourish because of their obedience to their husband. You’ll notice that he makes sure to mention those that refuse to accept the Good News. The gospel is living, breathing and active among everyone but when we decide to “cheat on God”, or become adulterous in that relationship we leave a place for division to set in.

So the age old question comes. Can I be a believer and get a divorce? I know that God hates divorce and I know that he intended for a marriage to be a lifetime endeavor. Well God also gave some reason why one would be able to get divorced, (not required). God designed marriage to make us Holy. He designed it to glorify Him and not to add to our human joy. When those directives are not thought of or considered at that point of matrimony then you have to consider again God’s directive for a divorce.

And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful. Matthew 19:9

In the case of the New Living Translation of the scripture I submit that Jesus may have very well been speaking to the unfaithfulness of people in general and the idolatry that people in a difficult marriage  engage in. If in fact idolatry exists in a marriage and the love of the world has consumed one or both of the parties then the question is answered. Is divorce allowed for Christians?  If you cheat on God, then there is already a separation, maybe you can get out and begin restoration in the name of Jesus. Remember the gospel is true and applies to all situations. Jesus already paid the price so revel in that most of all and know that God is still in charge.

 

The noisy diner

“He will use every effort to engage you right where you are”

I have shared with people throughout the years the picture that God has given me about hearing His still small voice. I would love to share it with you today so that you might identify the analogy with your own life.

Here goes…

So there I am sitting the back of one of those old style 50’s diners and the place is packed out. The waitress yelling out “What’ll ya have?” and the cook yelling out “ORDER UP!”.  Busboys hurry around the place clanging plates and silverware together and wiping down tables feverishly so the next patrons can take their crack at some biscuits and gravy or the manhole cover sized pancakes. The noise is deafening at points and you can barely hear yourself think, let alone listen to the still small voice.

You see our lives can be filled with the hustle and bustle of life at times that we can barely discern what is right and what is wrong. The noise pulls us into situations that we believe that we can never recover from. For Elijah, it was very much the same way. It was so much so that Elijah would question if anyone around him was even submitted unto the Lord, but in fact, there were many that were but Elijah could not see that in this time of noisy silverware and loud waitresses. We see in the book of 1 Kings that there was a lot going on around him, but God chose to speak to him through a whisper.

 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 1 Kings 19:12

So back to our story. In my vision, I look to the rear of the restaurant and I see Jesus sitting on a bench like he is waiting for a table. His mouth is moving and he appears to be saying something but I can’t make it out. Slowly and intently I incline my ear to hear what He is saying.

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
Isaiah 55:3

I find that as I press into Him deeper and I focus my intentions on hearing, his words start to become clear to me. What are the words you say? The words are the very ones that He is speaking to you today as well. Through the din and clammer of everyday life, His desire is to be heard. He is not going to yell at you though. He will use every effort to engage you right where you are and to show you that He is Lord of all. It will be up to us to lean in and listen to the words and then obey what He says.

ORDER UP!!!

 

Frustration, key to Spiritual growth

“Trials will come and tests will be present”

So on my daily jaunt into work this morning I find myself on the highway and completely over come with thoughts of frustration that border on rage. Why, you ask? Well because other driver annoy the heck out of me and bring me to places that I would really choose not to be. They bob and weave in front of you, and they race ahead to get one place ahead of you so that they can slam the breaks on to make the next off ramp. Are you getting the picture? I think we have all been there.

So in my murmuring and my frustration I start to think about my relationship with God and how that relationship has infused every part of my life, but this one part keeps creeping up on me. We all have that one thing that proves to be such a frustration at times. What is yours? Money, work, relationships? Could it be that there are several things?

In the book of Isaiah the prophet speaks to a nation of Israel to calm their fears and encourage their faith. He refers to them as one unit. We remain to be that one unit today. The body of Christ set forth and set apart for a  different purpose.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Trials will come and tests will be present, because the enemy does not want to see us calm in the presence of the Lord. However, God is faithful and just and he turns our frustration to laser focus on Him for those that trust completely and have made that relationship paramount in their lives.

So the next time that road rage creeps up on you or that crying baby in the doctor’s office or that co-worker is testing your very last nerve at work, take that frustration and turn it to Spiritual growth.

Waking up to a new day

Our inner self is in a constant state of regeneration.

In the every day stuff of life we often find ourselves searching for something more. Paul put it to the Corinthians like this.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

Our inner self in a constant state of regeneration. We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved again.

It is easy for men and women of faith to wonder aimlessly through life and find that the world is falling down around them. It is only if we recognize that is the truth and stop fighting, and revel in the tender mercies of a great big God who is growing us every day, we may just start to reflect Him in all things.

The times that we spend in anxiety and worry are the times that God is reaching out to us most. Those times we should take a inventory of the things in our lives that are challenging us that are outside the will of God. I find that when we look hard at those things and realize that we are chasing fame, or fortune or pleasures of the flesh that we can reel that in through a repentance and dependence on a Savior. Realize He is in charge, repent and fall back into the loving arms.

So wake up today. Wake up to a new day. Maybe you need to do this every hour today, until it becomes the very being of who you are. We are saved and we are being saved, every minute.

Where are you? vs Where God wants you?

Just a quick look at some of the scriptural places that God desires for us to be and matching those up against where we currently are. We can all take a minute to evaluate how much time we put into seeking God’s face in all things. Thanks for watching.

CLICK HERE to watch the video.

Why do I care?

Did ya ever get those times when you ask yourself, “Why do I even care?”? The times that you wonder why the things that bother you bother you. I mean you are secure in your faith and you hold God in high regard, you are suffering those around you and your desire is to see life lived out in the context of the gospel. That seems to be a pretty good start on why you would not see fit to ask the “Why do I care?” question. Yet we find ourselves asking that question.

Recently I had a friend of mine tell me how he visited a church where he used to go and proceeded to tell me that over the years not much has changed there. The messages are pretty much the same, the people are pretty much the same, and the open pleadings for money have not changed much. He was surprised that this was the case. The Pastor routinely posts publicly about the financial woes of the church and that there is a need to get people to give or they will not be able to pay the bills. He also told me that the number of people in the Sunday gathering was approaching 11 or 12, (people, not 11 or 12 hundred or thousand). Upon hearing this I almost instantaneously went to “why do they insist on making this so hard?”. Then I asked myself “Why do I care?”.

Then another friend of mine told me about how a church he was attending went with a snow producing machine for a Christmas service, that was not to be outdone by light shows and smoke machines on Sunday morning. That was not the part that made me scratch my head though. It was the part where he lamented over the fact that he has people there that he truly loves and have played a pivotal role in his walk with Christ, yet he has not personal relationship with them. I mean how much relationship can you truly have with someone if you have never been to their house right? We are family ya know. I ask myself “Why do I care?”.

Lastly there are the churches near us that have referred people to us, rather than helping them on their way. We heard things like, “they are more suited to people in your situation” or “they have a very good homeless ministry”. They are right in that we do have a good homeless ministry and we are suited to “those” people, but that is only because Jesus had a good homeless ministry and cared about “those” people. We spent time with those people that sometimes were in other congregations all together, yet had never or very rarely even stepped foot in the home of the Pastor of that church. I ask myself “Why do I care?”

Some of the answers started coming to me over the weekend. We hold a Sunday evening basketball training, bible study, fellowship, relational, character building, loving, sharing, growing kind of thing that is really proving to open my eyes more and more to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been studying in the book of Titus and it has been such a great time of growth for the men involved. This week something stood out to me and leaped off the page.

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7

He saved us because of his own mercy, we are being regenerated with the Holy Spirit, and he is coming back again to get us. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we embrace those things. Without them we are children tossed to and fro by any means of doctrine or light show or plea for money or indoor snow storm, okay so I added that last part to Paul’s letter. Speaking of Paul’s letter, the charge in Ephesians 4 is for us to grow up into the fullness of Christ and not be infants forever. There in lies the reason I dislike the reasoning, “I am just a baby Christian” (for the last 10 years), when it comes to serving the Kingdom of God.

It is my assertion that the reason churches find themselves in these positions of pleading for money or directing people away from their own church family is mainly because the gospel message is not released in their midst. They preach it, they believe it, they trust completely in it, but the folks that are attending regularly on Sunday have not been released to embrace the gospel on their own. The Pastor has been held up as the only one that knows what is going on. If it were not so why would we give themselves names like Senior Pastor or Head Pastor? If it they were not believing that they needed to be elevated, why would they build stages and quite literally keep the attenders in the dark while the light shines only on them in a Sunday morning gathering. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

The very ground that we walk on should be made even so that we shall see it together. Think about that. What if we treated people with that same vision? What if we allowed the Spirit of God to speak through the people gathered and scattered into our world? Would there be a need to beg for money on a Sunday morning? Would there be a need to refer widows and orphans to other fellowships because you are “not equipped” to handle them?

So the question remains, “Why do I care?”. Well I care because God cares. I have prayed Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours, and He has listened and responded. Do I run ahead sometimes? Sure Do I get it wrong sometimes? Yep Am I a broken man in need of a Savior EVERY SINGLE DAY? Absolutely! The thing that I can say for certain is that he loved us first and he guides and directs my path. I am righteous because he is righteous. I am loved because he loves. I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved.

That’s all I got to say about that, (in my best Forest Gump voice).

Moved by the story

So one of the most interesting thoughts I have had come through my mind over the last 12 years of living life on mission with God, is that the story of God matches up with mine so well. Ya see God’s story has all the pieces that make up a best seller, wait He already has a best seller. Anyway the story that He has laid out was one of creation, a fall, redemption and finally restoration. Yep, it is the story of the gospel, the “good news” for both the Jew and the gentile.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

That power that I felt was so real when I started to experience the Spirit of God moving through me. Now, I had been in some very dark places in my lifetime and I had very good reasons to be distant from God. You name it and I had been a part of it. All of the things and reasons people use for not being close to God, I was part of that very thinking.

Burned by the church? CHECK
Burned by people? CHECK
Lead by desires of the flesh? CHECK
Seeking gain for personal pleasure? CHECK
Chasing the almighty dollar? CHECK
Bound in addiction? CHECK
Gonna pull myself up by my own bootstraps? CHECK

Ya see in those things is the very nature of God’s story to proclaim hope to a lost and struggling world. God would not have sent me through those things if He did not desire for me to use them later. God’s story has a plan and a purpose that is solely HIS. My story was wrought out of confusion and chaos and the presence of a distant God whose son only existed hanging on the cross of the Catholic church I attend (or told my parents I attended) for most of my adolescent years.

The gospel story is retroactive.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Even while I was in my sin all those years ago, God showed His love for me by sending His son to die. Take minute and think about that one. The God of the universe sent His son to live a perfect life and encounter all the trials and tribulations of a human existence, be accused by people who once called him friend, be betrayed by the closest of those that would deny they even knew him then give up the ghost so those very people could live forever with Him. Because the story is retroactive we get the opportunity to receive the same gift 5 minutes after you read this and then say “You mean that the sin I will commit tomorrow is already taken care of?” YEP! For those that are already submitting to the Lordship of Jesus you still chase the flesh and will always have a sin nature, BUT the scripture says that the Holy Spirit dwells inside you to give correction and aid you in your journey. Think about this one time. What if every time that you sat down at the computer to look at porn or every time you lied or every time you lusted, you would actually thank Jesus. I mean sit there at the screen and thank him for the cross. Think about what He did so that you could sit there and watch porn. Think about what He did so that you could check out some girl/guy at the check out counter at the grocery store. If we took Jesus at His word and we knew His redemptive story and it became normal for us and those that we are walking with, what a difference that would make in our world.

Take a minute today and go over the story of God. Use your own words to talk about it, then find out how your current story matches up with it.

Please always know that we are praying for everyone in our city and community regularly and there are those that are at the point to receive a message that is entirely Jesus’ and entirely yours but they need to see it through a different lens. They are not filing into church on Sunday to catch the latest worship tune or waiting to put their money in the basket, they are in your school at your work place and maybe even in your home.

Share your story and be moved.