Iran is all over the news. President Obama and President Hasan Rouhani talked just over a week ago—the first time the presidents of the two nations have spoken since 1979. This is being hailed as good news, and I tend to think that starting conversations is a good first step.
Iran is a complex place when it comes to the gospel, religious liberty and sharing Christ. Recently, I had a conversation while in Central Asia with some workers in that nation. It was a powerful and moving conversation, shared here with their permission.
The letters and comments are pouring in from our recent article on the pastor’s wife.
I suppose it should not surprise me—weirdness is everywhere—but some people were angry that we called the pastor’s wife “the most vulnerable person in church.” One guy gave a long list of people, mostly the hurting seekers who arrive at church hoping to find a word of encouragement or a helping hand, who come before her.
There is no question that churches are filled with seeking, hurting, vulnerable people. Ranking them in order of desperation and need is pointless, since we are to be ministering to them all.
It’s common sense: Church leaders can’t expect people to grow in generosity if it’s not talked about.
While some leaders try to avoid the topic at all costs, the truth is most churchgoers aren’t as resistant to talking about money as we think. In fact, many already give to a variety of organizations and causes.
This shows there is a gap to fill between what we know the Bible says about money and our willingness to act on what we know.
Talking about money in church can be tough for the person on the platform and the person in the crowd. But it’s not impossible to do—and do well. You just need to better understand what to say and when to say it.
If you’re operating social media for yourself or for your church and you’re trying to grow your platform, I’m sure you’ve heard the one key to social media success is this: “Content is king.”
But have you ever wondered: What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that "if I build it, they will come”? Does it mean all I have to do is have a well-written article and hundreds of people will line up to read it?
If you’ve tried this, I’m guessing you know it doesn’t necessarily work.
If you haven’t tried it, let me save you some grief and wasted hours—there’s more to it than that.
(This is the type of article some church people will find objectionable. I’m fully aware of that and am willing to run the risk of the flack from writing it. If it results in one congregation standing up to a member who has held the church in a stranglehold and run off preacher after preacher, if it puts just one bully out of business, it’ll be worth the flack. This is a far bigger problem than most people realize.)
No church bully thinks he’s one. He’s just (ahem) looking out for the interests of the church, since a) no one else seems to be willing to do it and b) even though it’s a difficult task, he has the courage to step up and do this difficult thing.
1. In all the world there are only three Christians who love change; none of them are in your church.
2. When you speak before an unfamiliar group, be careful what you say because you never know who is listening to you. You’ll start to tell a story about some guy in your former church, and his mama is sitting right in front of you.
3. There will never be a time in your life when you know all the Bible and have your questions all answered; if you cannot serve Him with some gaps in your knowledge and preach without knowing everything, you’re going to have a hard time.
Emma grew up in a small town her whole life. She dated and had a steady boyfriend for two years, until he succumbed to the ribbing of his football teammates and tried drugs for the first time. After learning of his new found habit, Emma’s parents forbid her to see him. But after spending most of her time with him and his friends for the previous two years, she never really found a place to belong again. The local churches’ youth groups were nonexistent; her sister had her own friends, and failed attempts to make the school’s sports teams left her feeling rejected. At home, she often saw and heard her parents fighting about money and didn’t get the attention she wanted from a distracted mom consumed with trying to keep her marriage together.
I love being a pastor’s wife. It truly is who God has called me to be in this season of life. Everyday is not easy, but when I’m serving as God intended for me to serve, I’m never more fulfilled in life.
That’s why I decided to share this advice to pastor’s wives. (I understand my husband has lots of pastors who read his blog. I hope they will share this with their spouse.)
Here is my advice:
Don’t try to be something you are not … and … Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
1. The belief that engaging financial leaders will make them feel as if all the church cares about is their money or it shows favoritism to certain givers.
2. The lack of confidence to engage financial leaders in a way that encourages them to become significant givers.
However, as churches look to climb out of the tough times caused by the recession, we can no longer exclude anyone—including those with financial means—when it comes to developing a giving ministry. At the same time, confidence is developed when we know the proper techniques to use and the right questions to ask.
In a world that has become so wrapped up in social media like Facebook, Instagram and avatars, has the live event lost it place? Has the “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves” become relegated to a computer screen or a smartphone (Heb. 10:25)?
I recently watched a group of young girls sitting at the same table in the food court of a trendy mall and laughing. Though there’s nothing unusual about that, what caught my attention was that they weren’t talking to each other; they were feverishly texting back and forth. Their laughter wasn’t a result of what they were saying to each other, but rather what they were texting to each other. In our digital age, have we lost even our most fundamental art of conversation?
Half of all Christian students will walk away from their faith in college. How can your church confront that statistic and help teens establish a deep faith before stepping on campus?
As young people from your church graduate high school, how they develop in the years that follow will determine not only their destiny, but also the destiny of the American church. Pastors enjoy a certain delight and privilege in helping to guide the lives of the families that look to their wisdom and spiritual leadership for navigating the tumultuous waters of life.
This is especially true as many parents enter the minefield of determining a course of direction for their recent high school graduates. Since these early years are so important, we must be very careful to help parents set up their young adults for success, no matter how unconventional the approach may be.
Think about the teenagers in your church who you believe love God the most, the ones that would be most likely to serve in your congregation. Can you see them in your mind yet? These are the “good” kids, right? At least these are on the correct path, right?
Don’t be too sure.
These are the exact type of teens who go on mission trips with my team each year. More than 72,000 of them have shown up over the years ready to explore South American jungles, trek through Himalayan mountains and journey inside cultures unlike their own, all for the chance to tell people about Jesus. At least that’s what I thought, until I made a shocking discovery.
The greatest legacy my mother gave me was a legacy of holiness, of integrity, of a life well-lived and of exemplifying the Word in action.
Simply put, Alice Gray stood out among the crowd. Many of the people I grew up around attended church. But looking back, there were very few whom I would classify as true Christ-followers. That’s not to judge them and say that they were bad people. But there’s a difference between those who follow a religion (which simply involves rote repetition) and those who are committed to growing and developing in their relationship with God.
The final words of Malachi’s prophecy say the hearts of the fathers will turn to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. The church is at its best when we see that Scripture being lived out among the generations in our local congregations. It isn’t easy with a widening generation gap in a rapidly changing society. But it can happen when it’s modeled within church leadership.
As a youth pastor, I know I’m able to lead a younger generation toward God because of the people who paved the way for me, believed in me and gave me a chance despite my failures. I’ve been blessed to have a great relationship with my senior pastor, David T. Demola, who taught me the true meaning of ministry.
What do mission legends Mary Slessor, Hudson Taylor and Cameron Townsend share in common? They were all impacting nations and reshaping mission paradigms before they were 30 years old.
The gospel’s march has often been carried on the backs (and in the backpacks) of young people. The golden chain of mission expansion has been forged by teenagers and young adults. And whether or not they realize it, on-fire youth today add to a train of faith centuries long.
It begins with a lump in the throat, followed by a cold sweat and clammy palms, and it finishes with a sinking feeling. It’s the moment you realize you’ve “failed” in youth ministry.
Today I thought I would share some of my most cherished moments from the “How Not to Be a Youth Pastor” handbook.
1. The "unbroken arm." Imagine your student who is “that kid.” You know—the one who needs to push all of your buttons, and you are too proud to admit it? At camp I say four times, “Don’t stand on the trash can that is 5 feet in the air. We are playing basketball, and you could fall off.” Fourteen-year-old Malcolm ignores me. He falls, then grabs his arm, screaming, “It’s broken!” Me, in an award-winning moment: “No, it’s not. Go play basketball like you were asked.” Malcolm finally begs me to go to the nurse.
Why Teen Mania’s Ron Luce is compelled to engage America’s next generations like never before
I recently wrote a heartfelt letter to someone very close to me. She’s 18, fresh out of high school and over the years has lost her way. She grew up in a normal home with parents who love her, and she never had any real problems at school. But somehow she faded away, slowly and quietly.
Looking back, I realize now that while home was a safe place, it never offered a solid foundation. Values weren’t instilled, and church was more of an occasional event she was forced to attend rather than a community in which she freely participated and found acceptance. Rarely, if ever, was she in a life-giving place that facilitated God conversations or where she built relationships with youth leaders.
Our guest editor for this issue, Ron Luce, knows this scenario too well. As co-founder (with wife Katie) and leader of Garden Valley, Texas-based Teen Mania Ministries, Luce spends his time engaging today’s teens with the gospel, partnering with thousands of churches nationwide through the ministry’s Acquire the Fire youth events. For the past 27 years at these weekend events, Luce has stood face to face with more than 2.7 million teens to bring them a relatable and gospel-filled message. As a result, he’s very much aware of the “slow fade” happening among emerging generations, both churched and unchurched. Throughout this issue, Luce offers a prophetic message and challenge to church leaders, reminding us that, “it’s going to take all hands on deck to see a turnaround in this generation.”
Luce knows firsthand the power of a church and its leaders focused on youth. Raised by his mother in a broken home, at age 15 he ran away and began using drugs and alcohol. A year later, at rock bottom, he went with a friend to church. The church’s youth pastor reached out to him, and the senior pastor “drew me to the deeper things in Christ,” Luce says. Ultimately, after discovering that Ron had been kicked out of his house because of his faith, the pastor invited him to live with him and his family during Luce’s senior year of high school.
“This man took a risk on behalf of the younger generation,” Luce says. “Since then, Christ has inspired and compelled me to love people the way He loves them, and I’ve realized that the whole point of my life is to point a younger generation toward Him.”
However, Luce didn’t start out with a vision to have an international ministry. “I didn’t really want to start a ministry,” he says. “I just wanted to preach and get young people saved and go on mission trips around the world. When God gives a dream and the tools to pull it off, He will bless it.”
To date, Teen Mania has sent more than 70,000 teens on mission trips with its Global Expeditions arm (see p. 42), and more than 6,000 have participated in the Honor Academy, a yearlong internship for high school graduates and young adults providing leadership opportunities and opportunities to grow in God (see p. 34). Since its inception, hundreds of thousands of teens have accepted Christ through Teen Mania programs.
In his cover story (p. 16), Luce offers practical counsel for real issues, such as equipping teens to speak intelligently and confidently about their beliefs in a culture where absolute truth is mocked and social media offers constant distraction. In light of these issues, Luce identifies two essential questions church leaders should be asking: What are the most poignant challenges to reaching an ever-changing group? As leaders of Jesus’ church, how do we confront those challenges?
I thought a great deal about my young friend as I read through the articles in this issue, about how potentially life-changing it would have been if a local church leader had taken a risk on her like Ron Luce’s pastor did for him. I pray this issue challenges and inspires you to take similar steps for a fading generation.
In John 21, Jesus referred to youth “engagement” as “feeding the lambs.” Notice that, of the three different references to taking care of His flock, Jesus told Peter to feed and take care of the sheep two times, but He specifically called out the lambs. It’s as if He was telling Peter, “Don’t forget the young ones!” One-third of his exhortation was aimed at the lambs!