God wants us to know wholeness in spirit, body and soul
One night, exhausted from a hard week of work, I got in the bathtub to relax my tired body while my wife, Kathy, lay sick in her eighth month of pregnancy. An hour later, I started to get out of the tub. But as I stood up, an intense thought hit me: I am going to die!
The thought caused panic to rush through my whole being like stampeding cattle. My entire body trembled as my heart pounded out of my chest. Strength drained from my limbs as I fell back into the water, shouting desperately for Kathy to help me. She rushed into the bathroom where I lay helpless. I managed to mumble something about having a heart attack. She strained to help me out of the bathtub, and then she ran into the kitchen to call our family doctor.
He relayed a few questions to me and concluded that I was having a panicattack, not a heart attack. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a journey through a living hell.
Successful youth ministry is about the life-altering reality of the gospel, not gimmicks
Youth ministry. The words alone are enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned, accomplished ministry professional. They bring to mind laborious, draining efforts that don’t always have the results we want. How did it get this way? Why do church’s youth pastors tend to have such a high turnover rate?
Out of a genuine desire to impact the next generation, many respond by trying to make church so entertaining or cool that young people will be too impressed or comfortable to walk away. So, expensive stage lights are installed and a café is set up. Nothing wrong with those things, but the problem is: When we give young people what we think they want—or even what they tell us they want—and deny them the life-altering reality of the gospel, we fail to give them the one thing they truly do want: something real.
The few short years I’ve been blessed to serve as the director of Eagles’ Wings 9-month Internship and three-week Summer Discipleship have been a real crash course. Nothing like learning as you go! But as I have prayed, improvised and stumbled my way through, I’ve encountered some good news—actually, the Good News.
Through worship and prayer, Christians will hear God’s heart for Israel
As leaders with a passion to be a part of God’s kingdom coming here on earth as it is in heaven, it is vital that we see the kingdom of God that is within us (Luke 17:21) coming as well. This happens as we come into His presence.
It’s one of the things I love about the tabernacle of David; that place where we come into His presence in worship and intercession; the flowing of harp and bowl (Rev. 5:8).
We must become a house of prayer if we desire to see the house of prayer raised up in our generation—His kingdom coming on the earth and His kingdom coming in us.
Churches need men who will mentor the next generation
On a recent mission trip to Sri Lanka, I had a most memorable conversation with a young man I had met more than 11 years ago. Then a 14-year-old Tamil boy, he struggled to survive amidst a bloody civil war raging a few miles from his village.
He recounted some of the most difficult times in his formative years that included living in a nation at war. He had deep appreciation for his father, a converted Hindu, who went to great lengths to protect him from the Tamil Tigers that reportedly forced families to sacrifice their sons for the cause. He recounted the indoctrination and the pressure he faced at the hands of school officials with direct ties to the Tamil Tigers on a daily basis in the classroom.
He spoke of the Tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people. He told of the war’s violent end that forced hundreds of thousands of people into refugee camps just a few miles outside of his village.
Raising up strong children requires transparency and authenticity
A time-worn Christian cliche’ says that family decline is the root cause of much of the devastation in the nation today. From broken families, broken children emerge to create broken communities, broken churches and even broken nations. If we are going to turn America around, we must heal our families. Our families and homes are the first school house and the first church.
When my husband talks about a spiritual reformation within our nation, I often think about the practical aspects of training the next generation. I know several strong Christian leaders whose children have wound up doing prison time or they are stuck in nonproductive jobs, or even worse: They hate the idea of being engaged in ministry. This is often because the leaders did not pass the baton on to the next generation.
Years ago I looked at my life. I saw how wounded and dysfunctional I really was personally. Born an illegitimate child, the descendant of three generations of broken homes. Sexually abused before the age of 5 and brought up in a ghetto that led to me getting involved with drugs, alcohol and premarital sex. I even had two abortions.
Practical help for pastors and lay leaders in selecting the best outreach program
Vacation Bible School (VBS) has come a long way since 1923 when Standard Publishing produced the first printed faith-based curriculum for children, which was designed as a five-week course. Today, VBS has morphed and expanded into the largest church outreach program of the year for kids, though it only lasts a few days of their summer.
Churches nationwide gear up during the winter and spring months for the summer event by investing precious time, money and resources for a number of reasons. The most obvious one is the opportunity to reach out to the local community with the love of Christ and the message of hope. VBS is a non-threatening way for families to walk onto a church campus and experience firsthand a church’s commitment to loving and ministering to people.
VBS also creates a great opportunity for the entire congregation to support and highlight its children’s ministry. VBS should always be a big deal. The exposure it creates for children’s ministry is invaluable.
Why young adults need to hear a ‘better song’— biblical truths about love and marriage
I sing a lot in my sermons. I sing because students know and resonate with the songs that they have heard since they were children. In fact, young adults’ ideas about love and marriage are usually formed more by Disney movies and other media than biblical narratives. So I grab their attention by singing a familiar Disney song and then explain a better story—God’s story. Here are three lies that Disney movies tell young people.
Teens are worthy of worship by someone of the opposite sex.You know the story—it’s the all-too-familiar young romance movie. A young man becomes infatuated with the striking beauty of a young woman, going to great lengths to woo her. He will kill any dragon, trek any foreign land and embrace any hardship to be with the young lady. Once he rescues her, he sings, praises and whisks her away to a life of bliss. It’s a great story. It’s fun, exciting and pulls at our heartstrings. However, there is a problem. God is left out of the story.
Here is a better story: a God-honoring man goes to great lengths to woo the heart of a woman who fears God. Together, they honor God by serving and loving each other for the rest of their lives. These two stories have similar plots, but the difference lies in who is worthy of being worshipped.
Four ways to prepare couples for marriages that will last a lifetime
Having been a college/20-something pastor for the last decade, I have lived in the land of dating, engagement and wedding officiating. My weekends are regularly filled with beautiful flowers, “Here Comes the Bride” and mediocre reception musicians. Officiating weddings is fun, and a lot of energy is poured into making this a special and memorable day. But there is so much more that must be considered. Have we spent more energy pulling off a wedding and less on preparing to make a marriage last a lifetime?
I have been asked “How do I know if she is the one?” more times than I can count, taught about dating and marriage multiple times, and spent endless hours in premarital counseling. Thinking about this sacred subject has been a necessity for me. Here are a few things I have come to realize in trying to prepare young adults for marriage.
Paint a realistic picture.Marriage is a beautiful thing, designed by God. There is fulfillment and joy for two people that “submit themselves to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). But having a great marriage takes a lot of work. When we get caught up in the enchanting imagery of Ephesians 5, we have to remember that it is an invitation to the death of self. It is easy to be a servant when people praise us for it, but the test is will we still serve when people treat us like servants?
How to deposit the right kind of motivation into these vital ministers
Growing up, I’d often see my mom the scout leader wearing a crazy hat. It had two bills pointing in different directions, and the caption above them read: “I’m their leader. Which way did they go?” While this was a funny message as a kid, for an adult leader this poses an important question. The key to leading scouts—and volunteer youth workers—is the same: Give them motivating reasons to want to follow.
Begin with the end in mind. Developing adolescent disciples is a worthy endeavor and a wild ride. Helping youth workers remember that the goal is always to build into teens and their families the tools to be lifelong followers of Jesus is critical. Tip:Keep the goal of what the youth ministry is about short and memorable. Talk about it often. Put it in easy view everywhere—on shirts, banners, even pop quizzes on the ceiling. Whatever it takes.
Appreciate their contribution and investment.Caring for teens and their families has a way of sneaking into every area of a youth worker’s life. This is not just a-couple-of-hours-a-week gig for them. Honor this investment. Tip:Handwritten notes of encouragement and thanks are not only timely but also special. Anybody can write an e-mail or Facebook post, but hardly anyone gets snail mail these days; so go “old school” and use the post office.
How to help those who have lost a loved one to suicide
Everyone can relate to difficult circumstances, especially during these economically tough days when people are losing jobs, homes and retirement savings. Divorce is on the rise, as are addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex. For millions, the emotional stress has become almost too much to bear. Yet among those suffering exists a group that actually believes the crisis is too overwhelming. Unable to cope and devoid of hope, they believe there is only one solution: suicide.
How should pastors respond to those who are suicidal or those who have lost a family member to suicide? Are you equipped with the therapeutic and supportive resources to aide parishioners who are grief-stricken? Part of your role as a pastor is to bridge the gap between emotional despair and spiritual freedom, yet that is rarely an easy task. When it comes to counseling suicidal individuals or grieving families, the work is taxing. Yet even if you lack certification or training in professional counseling, here are some key elements you can apply in helping people recover from the effects of suicide.
1.Use a team approach. You’re not a doctor, and you don’t play one on TV. Use a strength-based approach by tapping into the expertise of professional and trained individuals in the field of counseling or social work. Seek their guidance and incorporate their suggestions in the efforts to aide a grieving family. Ask them about external supports or resources that are best suited to meet the needs of the family. Some families may not be comfortable revealing their feelings to their church family, so respect their right to privacy in seeking outside support.
2.Show empathy. It’s critical that those grieving feel your sincere sensitivity, warmth and understanding. Regardless of the circumstances, refrain from making statements such as, “Didn’t he know it’s selfish to commit suicide?” or “How could she be so dumb?” There’s simply no room for this type of insensitivity. Those left behind are already confused, shocked and dazed. Help them understand that suicidal people generally want to end their suffering and pain, seek to alleviate their unendurable psychological pain, and relinquish their self-perceived reliance on others. Your compassion can help bring a sense of understanding and acceptance.
3.Be there to listen. Silence is golden, and there isn’t a better time to apply this principle than in the crucial days following such a tragic loss. Give the family space and time to work with a professional counselor and sort through the psychological and spiritual impact of their loss. In some cases, they may feel a sense of scrutiny and stigmatization. To the best of your ability, serve as a buffer from harmful remarks. Your presence as an effective listener will be pivotal throughout the entire ordeal.
4.Ask questions. Don’t assume; ask candid and open questions. It’s easy to beat around the bush in a situation like this, but don’t let that happen. Not only will you assist the family in dealing with core issues, the questions you ask will help you ascertain vital information and give you insight into how you might prevent suicide’s devastating impact in the future.
5.Become familiar with suicide risk. You can learn about suicidal signs by attending a seminar or a suicide prevention conference. Many symptoms are easily overlooked, so take the initiative to learn more by researching online or talking to a social worker. There are also suicide hot lines available in virtually every community. Provide contact information for these in the bulletin at your church.
Devon A. Blackwood counsels at Johns Hopkins and Hope Health Systems and is president and CEO of B.W. Affiliates. He is the author of Planted By Water and is writing his third book, My Season.
How to attract—and empower—a new generation of worshippers
Most music has a shelf life. While there are many songs both sacred and secular that span the generations, a vast majority fades into distant memory with the years.
The same can be said of worship music. We all remember and cherish the songs that we sang in our churches when our lives were first changed by the power of God. Those songs stay with us, embedded in the story of our relationship with Jesus. But on a regular basis, new, dynamic worship songs and albums sweep through the body of Christ and again transform lives. These songs are the beauty of God’s creation responding to its Creator.
Why personal finance must be set upon a strong foundation
The more the economy continues to bump along, without much evidence of rebounding, the more anxious people become about the future. We don’t like uncertainty, especially financial uncertainty. Have you noticed how many people are ready for economic change? Nearly all of us! And regardless of how we’ve weathered this recessionary storm, we all have a need for a solid financial foundation.
Poor employment numbers, diminished value on investments, lost equity in real estate—these and more have pushed many of us out of our comfort zone during the last several years. This has instilled some with an urgency to find new ways of doing things and has led to some good changes. Many, though, are still looking for direction, hope and a positive outlook about the future.
How can your church become a child’s favorite place to go?
A few months ago I conducted a water baptism interview in my office with a 10-year-old girl. We talked about all the reasons that Christians should be baptized, and I walked her through how and why we immerse kids and adults into the “big bath tub” and what it means.
The interview continued, and then she asked if she could share something with me. While in chapel at school a few days earlier, she said, a teacher asked the students where their favorite place was to go. One of the kids in the front of the room raised his hand and exclaimed, “Church!” Enthusiastically, the little girl in my office added, “Church is my favorite place too!”
How to help people surrender their deeper issues to Jesus
Jesus came to set captives free. Whenever He taught, healed the sick, and ministered to crowds and individuals, He viewed each person as someone who was trapped and needed to be free—not as someone who was lazy and needed to try harder. The emphasis Jesus put on freedom throughout His ministry indicates just how important freedom ministry is.
Freedom ministry is far more than a one-time event; it’s a year-round, ongoing discipleship process. It engages people at an ever-deepening level and equips them to live in freedom and, ultimately, to become instruments of freedom in the lives of others.
How is your church helping parents who are running on empty?
Almost all parents feel at times like a person who’s run out of gas—they’re going on empty. Desperately they look around to find “parent fuel” that fills them and gives them confidence in raising their kids.
Parents look to the church as the gas station for the parent fuel they need. But often even the best churches have little to offer. How can your church fuel parents so they can move down the road toward God’s parenting destination?
Begin by looking candidly at the parent fuel your church provides—or doesn’t provide. Ask the hard question: Why are your parents out of gas? Picture them on the side of the road staring at an empty tank. Could they have filled up at your gas station when they drove by?
Church leaders often complain about uncommitted parents dropping off their kids at church, yet they continue with the usual superficial fare: A yearly family sermon series. A meeting for parents to get them excited about upcoming activities. A pleading announcement for help in the children/youth ministry. A seminar on the evils of culture, music and the Internet.
What about your church? Does the pastor meet with and mentor younger generation leaders? Do youth pastors cycle through every year or two? Do younger generation volunteers relationally disciple kids? Does antagonism exist between parents and youth/children’s leaders? If your church is not yet a “full-service gas station,” answering these questions is the first step toward offering the fuel your parents need.
Next, envision a refueling place for parents. Imagine your church as that place—a ministry environment that equips parents to max out their influence with their kids.
Begin by acknowledging this fact: Parents are the No. 1 youth leaders in the world! Parents, beyond all others, have the most dramatic personal influence on their children. George Barna confirms this truth in his book Revolutionary Parenting, in which he reports that an AP-MTV Youth Happiness Poll found two-thirds of 1,280 teenagers surveyed listed parents as their greatest heroes, and 47 percent of teens say that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development.
However, most parents lack the fuel to max out their influence. Barna goes on to say that parents are “desperate ... parenting by default, lacking self-confidence ... turning over their parenting responsibilities to others. This crisis is seriously undermining the potential of our next generation to become spiritual champions.”
Envision the solution to this dilemma by holding one hand over your head and one hand out from your side. Imagine every parent reaching with one hand to connect with God and reaching with the other hand to connect with their kids. Through parents, kids connect to God.
You can turn this vision into reality with:
• A process that focuses parents on pursuing their relationship with Jesus and on fulfilling God’s parenting purpose.
• A Spirit-led experience with other parents to pray over and discuss their kids’ issues.
• A set of relationship and discipleship-building tools that connects parents with their kids’ hearts. (For specific direction for fueling your parents, go toparentfuel.org.)
Imagine your church’s influence when the No. 1 youth leaders in the world fill up on fuel that leads their kids to follow Jesus!
12 ways to make your church ‘middle school friendly’
Parents can do a great job of being the primary spiritual nurturers of their children, but they can be much more effective if the church is supporting them in the endeavor. Here are 12 suggestions for how you can help families with kids in middle school, ages 11 to 14.
1. Encourage families to participate in activities with their teenagers. Plan church family activities for everyone. Make sure single parents know they’re welcome. Invite singles to help plan and organize so they, too, feel part of the church family.
2. Make your church middle school friendly.This is the age so many kids drop out of church. Make your teenagers feel wanted and needed and a valuable part of your church.
3. Choose your teachers and ministry leaders wisely. Middle schoolers especially need adults in their lives who will teach God’s Word in a gentle manner—not preaching or judging, but relating to, respecting and encouraging them.
4. Develop a resource library for parents to help them teach a biblical response to abortion, homosexuality, racism, premarital sex, drugs, etc. Sometimes parents who desire to teach their kids about difficult subjects don’t know how to do it or have so little knowledge about the subject that they hesitate.
5. Offer a purity seminar. Make it optional for those families that prefer to teach this at home. A thought: Even if parents teach purity at home, having their teenagers attend the class will support what they’ve been taught. Teenagers will also recognize that they’re in this together—with their friends. Remember, peer pressure isn’t always bad.
6. Make a DVD of a Bible character who has a sense of destiny in doing God’s will.Students will learn about the person in a way that they will remember for years to come.
7. Encourage teamwork. Instead of asking one teenager to set up the Sunday school room, ask two or three. Instead of having an individual Bible memory contest, divide into teams.
8. Stock the church library with books and DVDs for this age group. Supply books about creation/evolution, devotionals, fiction, missionary biographies, etc.
9. Involve middle schoolers in a mission project. They need to meet ordinary people doing extraordinary service for the Lord. Focus on missionaries who occasionally visit the church (so the teenagers can get to know them). Choose tangible mission projects such as saving money for a specific need.
10. Plan a middle school Sunday. Allow your middle schoolers to do as much of the service as possible.
11. Write letters or send e-mails to your teenagers. Communicate to each middle schooler how much she’s appreciated as part of the church family. Make each letter different (because they will compare) and mention specific circumstances.
12. Appreciate them. When a group of kids was surveyed as to how they thought the adults perceived them, they answered: “They don’t like us.” I had a young teenager tell me: “They can’t find a Sunday school teacher for our class because adults are afraid of us.”
Change the perception of middle schoolers in your church. Get to know them by name. Ask how they’re doing. What are their interests? You might be surprised at the maturity some of them possess.