Helping youth thrive

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It’s not often that you encounter people with the passion for youth of Peter Benson. His whole TED Talk titled ‘How youth thrive’ shows his love for young people and it encouraged me.

Peter Benson is not a youth pastor however; he’s a psychologist who does research amongst young people on their ‘spark’. By ‘spark’ he means a skill, a cause or a quality that makes people thrive, that makes them happy and whole.

In his talk, he shares some interesting statistics. Right now, there are 80 million young people aged 8-18 in the US. But only 25% of these 80 million are on a pathway to human thriving (meaning being happy, connected, kind, contributing, etc.) and the rest has fallen behind. They are lost, confused, medicated and alone. Those statistics should give anyone involved in youth work food for thought. [Read more…]

Presenting the gospel in a five minute time slot

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I’ve heard it when I was studying for my teacher’s degree (which was 15 years ago) and I’ve been hearing it ever since and in ever increasing intensity: young people can’t concentrate and if you want to reach them with your message, you have to do it in segments of five minutes, ten at the max.

Nonsense.

Kate John, one of the speakers at the Youth Work Summit in 2012, stated it as well. She said that the ‘standard’ for presenting the gospel to young people was by showing scenes from the Jesus movie accompanied by sad music, followed by a ten minute sermon on penal substitution. Obviously, that doesn’t work any more. Or so Kate John stated.

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Challenges of postmodern youth ministry: reaching the unchurched

Peer friendship evangelism, long the 'golden standard' in youth evangelism, is under pressure from the effects of postmodernism.

We’re doing a series on Postmodern Youth Ministry this week and the challenges it brings. After a brief discussion of what postmodernism is exactly we’ve examined the meaning of truth in postmodernism and how we can communicate the Truth to a generation that doesn’t believe in absolute truths. Today we want to study another challenge postmodernism brings us: the issue of reaching the unchurched.

Friendship evangelism under attack

Friendship evangelism by peers has been the  ‘golden standard’ in evangelism for the last decade or so, but it’s being challenged by the effects of postmodern culture:

  • Church attendance is declining, making the number of young Christians smaller and smaller. That’s an even bigger problem if you realize this generation of young people is the single biggest generation ever (1). That leaves us with very few Christian young people to reach a huge mass of unchurched youth.
  • Those young people that do still come to church don’t always adhere to ‘orthodox Christianity’ (for lack of a batter word), but often have a faith that isn’t exclusively Christian or exclusively focused on Christ (see the discussion on Moral Therapeutic Deism in the post What is postmodernism). That makes them less than suitable for spreading the good news, since they haven’t exactly found that good news themselves.
  • A third aspect is the effect of extended adolescence, which results in young people postponing becoming an adult with the accompanying responsibilities. Evangelism, reaching your peers, that sounds like a very adult and mature thing to do for many young people and often they see it as something they’ll ‘do later in life’. Also, they feel like they’re not ready to share their faith yet, like they’re too young.
  • The basis of friendship evangelism (namely spiritual conversations with your friends in which you slowly discussed Christianity) is threatened by how postmodernism views truth and religion and by the extreme tolerance it brings. Striking up a spiritual conversation won’t be a problem, but proposing Christianity as the single only ‘right’ religion, that’s not something that runs contrary to modern culture.
  • Another objective of friendship evangelism was often for young people to invite their friends to a youth group activity or event. That particular style may no longer fit this postmodern generation, who is far more focused on community, relationships, experiences and authenticity.

Peer friendship evangelism, long the 'golden standard' in youth evangelism, is under pressure from the effects of postmodernism.

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What is the Gospel: preaching the Gospel

Spurgeon once said in a sermon: "Preaching the Gospel is to exalt Jesus Christ."

Last week’s post on What is the Gospel got some really inspiring and helpful comments, so many thanks to everyone who’s helping me in my journey to find out what the gospel is exactly.

Today I want to close off this short series with some thoughts on what it means to preach the Gospel. I don’t think I’ve found a definitive answer to the question what the Gospel is, but we could devote another 50 posts to this and still not write everything there is to say about the Gospel.

With every theological topic you run the risk of focusing more on theological differences than on what binds us, and I have no desire whatsoever to bring division instead of unity. So today we’ll focus on what binds us all in describing the Gospel: Jesus our Savior.

Whether you believe the gospel is the entire Biblical narrative, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the promised Messiah or God’s ‘salvation plan’, one thing is clear: the Gospel is centered around Jesus Christ, God’s Son and the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Gospel and it should be all about Him. Preaching the Gospel therefore means preaching Jesus.

Spurgeon once said in a sermon: "Preaching the Gospel is to exalt Jesus Christ."

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What is the Gospel (part 2)

Yesterday’s post on What is the Gospel got some really inspiring and helpful comments, so many thanks to everyone who’s contributing to the discussion about what the Gospel is. Today I just want to post videos of two views on what the Gospel is to encourage further thinking on this subject.

The first video is by John Piper and it’s titled: Did Jesus preach the gospel of evangelicalism? Bit of an off-putting title to be honest, but Piper writes on his own site that in hindsight he should have changed the title to ‘Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?’. (I’d have had some problems with that title as well, but anyway…). Piper defines ‘Paul’s Gospel’ as: the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, for the glory of God alone.

 

The second video is a much shorter talk by Scot McKnight on the question ‘Did Jesus preach the Gospel?’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to embed it, but you can find the video here. It has a bit of a slow start, but his opinion that the meaning of the word Gospel has gotten lost resonated with me. McKnight has also written a book on this topic, which I haven’t read yet but I sure will. It’s called The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Many thanks to Paul Sheneman for pointing me towards this video.

Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you have any other valuable resources on this subject, please share…

What is the gospel?

What is the Gospel exactly? And what does it mean to preach the Gospel?

When I was preparing my message for the youth Christmas service, I asked myself this question a couple of times: what is the gospel? You see, I decided a few years ago that I would always, always preach the gospel in a youth service, no matter what the topic was. And I have done so, to the best of my capabilities. But lately I’ve been wondering about the Gospel I’ve been preaching.

The more I learn about God’s Word and the depth of what Jesus has done, the harder it becomes for me to define what the Gospel is exactly.

The more I understand of the beautiful symbolism and deeper meaning of many events around Jesus’ death and resurrection, the more details I want to include in sharing the Gospel.

The more I grasp of the concept of grace (and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface), the less satisfied I am with my version of the Gospel.

The more I try to live out the Gospel, the harder it becomes to share it in only 5 minutes of a sermon.

All in all, I think I’m having a bit of a Gospel-crisis which boils down to this question: what is the Gospel and what does it mean to preach the Gospel? So, in the upcoming posts I will try and find some answers on what it means to preach the Gospel and what the Gospel is exactly (NB: all quotes are from the NKJ translation).

What is the Gospel exactly? And what does it mean to preach the Gospel?

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Preaching for youth: painting the bigger picture

One of the biggest challenges when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture for them.

This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. When we are preaching to young people today, we’re preaching to a postmodern generation. We’re preaching to teens and students who do not believe in absolute truths, who for the most part consider all religions to be equal and who see no harm in cutting-and-pasting from different religions to create their own belief system.

But we’re also preaching to the most relational generation ever. We’re preaching to a generation that’s genuinely interested in God, in all things spiritual and mystical. When we preach to this generation, we have wonderful opportunities to reach them with the gospel of a God who loves them more than anything. That news, that message, is a gospel that will appeal to them…we just have to find a way to get through to them.

In my experience, one of the most important things to do when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture. We all know how little young people nowadays know about the Bible, even the ones from Christian families. Things that may have been completely normal to you and me, are an unknown and unfamiliar topic for them. But it doesn’t just apply to knowledge of the Bible books, memorizing verses, or knowing who certain Biblical characters were. This generation of youth doesn’t really know the gospel.

They can’t see the bigger picture.

One of the biggest challenges when preaching for youth is to paint the bigger picture for them.

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Preaching for youth: how to be seeker-sensitive

There are so many aspects to the Gospel, that we should preach it differently each time...without ever watering it down.

This post is part of the series on Preaching for Youth. Yesterday we made clear what preaching seeker-sensitive is not. Today we’ll focus on what it does mean. How can you adapt your message to an audience that for the most part won’t be a committed Christian? Here’s what I do:

1. Depart from common ground

If you have many non-Christians in your audience, you’ll need to find common ground right at the introduction of your message. If you don’t emphasize that despite your differences you have something in common, you may lose their interest soon. The easiest way to find common ground is to tell a story, preferably a personal one, where you focus on an experience or emotion your audience can relate to.

Example: in a seeker-service about love I told the story of how I broke up with my first boyfriend. Heartbreak is something almost everyone can relate to.

2. Preach a varied gospel

Always, always preach the gospel, but don’t preach the same one every time. There are so many different ways in which to tell what God, what Jesus has done for us that we don’t need to use the same one every time. Here are some ideas:

  • focus on different aspects of God’s character and connect them with the Gospel e.g. love, righteousness, mercy
  • use the Old Testament Law to show why we need a Savior
  • teach on the old sacrifices that were needed and how they were a foreshadowing of what Christ would do
  • use the story of Adam and Eve as the very start of mankind’s descent into sin
  • concentrate on the concept of grace
  • approach the Gospel from ideas people have on heaven and how to get there

A wonderful example is the way Bill Hybels brought the gospel in his closing talk on the Power of Clarity at  the 2006 Willow Creek Leadership Summit (there’s no available video online unfortunately). He focused on the concept of substitutionary atonement. That doesn’t sound like a seeker-friendly approach, but we have used that actual speech in our small group a few times and it worked every time.

There are so many aspects to the Gospel, that we should preach it differently each time...without ever watering it down.

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What preaching seeker-sensitive is NOT

Preaching seeker-sensitive doesn't mean saying what people want to hear, preaching to make people feel good

This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth. I’m a big fan of adapting your sermon to where your audience is in their spiritual journey. It means spending time to analyze where the majority of my audience will be in their journey with God and trying to determine what they need to make the next step. That means that when preaching for youth, I often preach seeker-sensitive, because I know that a lot of students are at the very beginning of their spiritual journey.

But I’ve discovered that not everyone knows what preaching seeker-sensitive means. There are a lot of prejudices and wrong associations about preaching seeker-sensitive, although I must admit some of them are caused by preachers applying the principle wrongly. Let me try to make clear what seeker-sensitive preaching is not.

Preaching seeker-sensitive doesn't mean saying what people want to hear, preaching to make people feel good

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Discipleship in Youth Ministry: the cost of discipleship

Discipleship means following Jesus in His footsteps

When we want to think about discipleship in youth ministry, it’s good to start with defining some terms. What do we mean by discipleship?

Literally a disciple (mathetes) was a learner, a follower, usually of a significant master. Discipleship then is simply learning from, or following a master, in our case Jesus Christ. When we say we want our students to become disciples, we mean that we want to see them following Jesus and learning from Him.

Discipleship then means spending time with Jesus, for instance in prayer and worship. It means learning from Him by studying His words, discussing it with others and trying to understand it. It means spending time with other Christians, learning from them. It means serving God and His Kingdom, like Jesus did. But above all it means obedience, being willing to do what He says, or to do what He did.

Discipleship means following Jesus in His footsteps

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