Our small group is a few couples who all have kids. Actually the kids outnumber us, but that's our fault... my fault... nvm! Anyway, it's surprising the level of fellowship the kids enjoy with each other. They look forward to playing together while we adults talk. Sometimes, they even have a little teaching time of their own. Like this week.
As they all gathered around the table to share a quick snack, Emily shared this nugget of wisdom in a way only she could:
A note was found that had been inadvertently left behind by some students the other day. Scribbles back and forth - made to pass the time during a time of worship on Sunday morning. But the content was not just some innocuous bantering back and forth to fend off the boredom. It was sexually explicit declaration of mutual intent between a couple kids.
At this point, I'm not sure exactly who wrote what, but every student in that section has grown up in church. Something is very wrong when someone can spend every week in church for 15 years and be so far from Christ... I know that attendance is not an indicator of any depth whatsoever to relationship with God, but you'd think that somewhere along the way something would have sunk in.
I'm tired of seeing people play the game. Tired of the shiny, happy faces hiding very dark hearts. I am sick of seeing kids and parents keeping up appearances while they trash their own lives. And yet, I know these kids are only pawns in Satan's attempt to derail the church from God's mission. They may be casualties or prisoners, but they are not the enemy. May God illuminate the corners of our lives that have stayed in darkness. May he continue to use me to bring life to dead students... ----------------- An interesting article has popped up on several youth ministry blogs that I've read recently. Learning to Lie shares some interesting sociologic insight gained from recent study into understanding why kids lie. It's interesting to think about this article in the context of the church. Are we inadvertently teaching kids to hide sin by never really exposing our own?
"...we are baptized into Christ and joined with his body. Every believer passes through the waters and becomes a part of the river of life. Alone, you are only standing in a puddle. Together, we become an oasis where those searching for genuine love and acceptance can come and drink deeply."
--Erwin McManus in An Unstoppable Force
We really need to emphasize that the church, young and old, needs to be this type of source to the world today. People should find within us this well of love and hope and faith... because we freely share our love and hope and faith with them. Together.
Divided, they'll only find pettiness, self-regard, and defensive posturing. Do they really need us to show them more of that? -------------------- Thinking of calling our unnamed Wednesday night youth ministry time together "Oasis" or "The Well". Any thoughts???
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life."
A better, or more important, promise has never been made or heard on this earth or anywhere else. We are all "thirsty" for the water that only God has to give. In the episode at the well, Jesus made this same offer to a woman in need of His grace. In John 4, he told her of a "living water" he could give. When questioned about how he could make such a claim, he extended the claim even further: "...those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Obviously, there's more at play here than physical thirst. Jesus offers life itself. Eternal life. But when Jesus talked about eternal life, he wasn't ONLY concerned about what we may call life after death of the afterlife. He was concerned about life right here, right now. Listen to his own words, spoken to his Father just before his execution, "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." Eternal life is knowing God - knowing Jesus.
We call the fourth environment in our discipleship process RIVER. With that image, we want to communicate the life-giving nature of knowing Jesus. It's not just life for me - it's life that wells up and flows through me to others. A disciple isn't merely a follower of Jesus on a leash; we are called to be conduits of His grace. We are to be life-giving agents wherever we go.
Scottsbluff is in a pretty arid part of the country. You can leave town and look out over the prairie and see very little vegetation taller than a couple feet. But every once in a while, you can see a row of trees pushing up above the brush and grasses. There's a river there. Where the river flows, it gives life to the land.
We want to see our students taking life to others. Filled with the grace of God. Unable to contain it within. Allowing His life to flow through them to the least of these all around us. When we've aligned ourselves with God's mission (to love His image-bearing but rebellious creation) He is faithful to provide opportunity to enter into the work of that mission. This environment is all about life-giving service. Entering in to the work of Jesus.
"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let those who hear say, 'Come!' Let those who are thirsty come; and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of Life." (Rev. 22:17)
After years of careful research and in depth analysis, I have come to believe that a critical part of life is breathing. You might even say the act of breathing is essential to life! Unless a person inhales enough oxygen in a continuously re-occurring manner, that person will die. The problem is that our lungs only have the capacity to hold enough oxygen for us to live on for a very brief moment before they must be re-supplied. If we don't exhale, emptying our lungs of precious, but used, breath, we can’t refill them with new oxygen-rich air.
Once the breath of God has entered our spiritual lungs, there can be a tendency to take hold of that and savor the ecstasy of life in Christ. To bask in the security and joy of being loved by God and being saved from death. But if we hold it in too long, the result is death – not necessarily ours, but others’. We rob the world when we don’t exhale His breath of Life.
“His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” -Jeremiah
When our students have allowed Christ to begin transforming them and have connected with Him and with His Body, then together they will become conduits through which the Breath of Life will flow wherever God wants it to. As water VAPOR travels with other molecules of water VAPOR, they collide and combine and condense. The VAPOR even becomes more visible to us as clouds as it is collected and blown about overhead. Eventually the molecules of water in a cloud will become dense enough that the force of gravity escorts them back to earth as RAIN.
In human terms, we see this part of the process as students humbling themselves in community in order to love. In simple terms, love is putting someone else above our own desires, thinking of another first. That is impossible without first humbling ourselves before God and learning to think of ourselves as players in His story, not merely our own. We want to see our students enter into relationships through very small discipleship groups in which they each humbly seek the good and growth of the others in the group.
It is in these relationships where students will learn to order their lives in alignment with God’s mission. Erwin McManus and Mosaic use a phrase as a core value: “Love is the context of all mission.” In the RAIN environment, we want our students to live lives of love that allow them to enter into the mission of God. We know that God is desperately concerned with restoring His relationship with “missing” people. They’re missing from His family – He created them to love them. In humility and love, RAIN is allowing God to send us back into dry areas on His mission to bring life to the world.
The second environment in our discipleship process we're calling VAPOR. Once students have encountered Jesus, we want them to surrender to Him, moving from death to life. As Jesus said in John 5:24 "Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me... he has crossed over from death to life." We're not content to just let students come on Wednesday nights (our OCEAN phase). We want them to be resuscitated by the breath of God - His Spirit. Just like He did with a lump of dirt we call Adam and a pile of bones Ezekiel saw in the desert, we want to see God blow His life into our student body.
When our students have moved from death to life, we want them to understand not only their connection to the Vine, but also how they're grafted into the Body. We will all wither and die without remaining connected to Jesus (he's the Vine, just in case you missed that). Our students must understand that real spiritual Life is not possible to find outside of Jesus. But adding to that connection is the way He ties together those who tie themselves to Him. If I am "in Christ" and you are "in Christ", then we're both "in Christ" together - regardless of how old you or I are.
Too many students grow to the point of faithful attendance at youth group activities and events, but fail to understand their connection to the rest of the Body. Graduation happens and "youth group" (to which they really were sincerely dedicated) is no more. If they have not come to see themselves as an integral part of the Body of Christ, it's very easy for them to become discouraged and walk away.
We want to see our VAPOR students joining together with the adult Body in worship and service and fellowship. More than they need a place ON their own in the building, students need to be given a place OF their own within the Life of the congregation. When this happens, they will continue to be able to grow and connect with other believers, young and old. As they are lifted up together, they will grow together until the weight of their relationships causes them to humbly fall back to earth as RAIN - but that's another environment/step/phase/post...
This is the video I used last night at our Vision Dessert to talk about our student ministry. I showed the video, then explained a bit of the Water Cycle metaphor and how we're using it in our ministry.
As we seek to reveal God to students, it is our prayer that He will move in their lives. We don't want to develop a bunch of kids that are loyal to me or to Wind & Water, who faithfully attend every youth event or activity. We want to develop disciples who are wholeheartedly loyal to Jesus and who see the very "living of life" as an act of worship.
In the beginning, "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters". After thousands of years of shifting tectonic plates and freezing and heating land masses, much of the world is still underwater. Most of the world's surface water (about 97% according to Wikipedia) is found in the oceans. As it is blown by the wind and heated by the sun, water is released into the atmosphere as water VAPOR (which is our second environment in the discipleship process, but that will wait for another post).
The OCEAN is where we'll begin our process of discipleship - metaphorically speaking of course!
Most people do more dying than actually living. Without being caught up in the mission of God to redeem His missing people, we're only getting closer to our death one day at a time - that's not really living. We want to see students touched by the Son and moved from death to life. "Bringing Students to Life" is much more than a slogan we'll throw around. We literally want to see students who are just kind of floating through the currents come to life.
The problem we have is that we are powerless to revive dead souls on our own. (sidenote: It's odd to think of a young soul as a dead one, but I don't think I could do what I do if I didn't think that way.) My greatest ideas and programs, the greatest efforts of our ministry team cannot transform lives in ways that are eternally consequential. We may do some momentary good, but it won't be an everlasting difference that we make. Only God has the power to breathe life into the lifeless - and He does so through Jesus. Our job then, in the OCEAN environment, is to bring students to the one who can revive them. To "bring students to life" we bring them into contact with Jesus. We help them meet Him (don't ever make the mistake of thinking they already have).
Initially we are praying for students. Taking them to God in prayer and calling them to His attention. I know, I know, God knows what's going on in the world today, and He sees these students - would He really need us to remind Him of their situations? He may not need the synaptic jolt, but we do. We have to be consistently praying for the next generation.
We don't want to just send them on their way with a pat on the head and a "Good luck, I'll be praying for you..." though. We also need to be designing encounters with Jesus. Our Wednesday night activity/event/program is where this will be our primary focus. When a student comes, they will encounter Him - in the message, the music, and the interaction with other students and adults. Our students who've been around for a while, and should be progressing as disciples, will know that their responsibility on Wednesday nights is to "be Jesus with skin on" for new students. (Don't know where it started, but I heard it from Tory, so thanks for the phrase Tory.) When a new student comes, they should encounter Jesus. If they don't, we're failing.
Our prayer then is not that we have a lot of kids come, but that those who do come would be changed by being brought into contact with the Son - that they will be spiritually resuscitated, moving from death to life. Which takes us into the VAPOR environment, but you'll just have to wait a bit for that explanation...
I have met a lot of students who think they have rejected God. They think they know who Jesus is and what the church is all about and have turned from what they see as an old-fashioned thought police department that really doesn't have anything to do with their everyday life. The problem is, they've only met a sort of mini-god that doesn't resemble the Creator very much at all. The overarching aim of our student ministry is to "reveal God to students".
The name of our ministry "Wind & Water Student Ministries" has been chosen to reflect that desire. Our part of the country is shaped geologically by wind and water. The Bluffs that dominate our landscape reveal the activities of these two elements. The farms and ranches that surround us would dry up and die without access to life-giving water. In the same way that our landscape reveals the presence and activity of wind and water, we want our ministry to reveal God and His action in the world today.
We are adopting a two pronged approach to revealing God to students that incorporates two key phrases: "Bringing Students to Life" and "Taking Life to Students". As we are defining our process of discipleship, everything ties into these two thoughts. "Bringing Students to Life" is first about helping students meet Jesus - the real Jesus! Our youth ministry team's most basic function here, then, is to pray for students and design encounters between them and Jesus.
As they encounter Him and get to know who He really is, our hope and prayer is that they will be moved from death into life. Very literally, we want to see students resuscitated by the Spirit of God - a move from merely 'dying' for 70 years or so to really living the full life Jesus came to give us. Critical to sustaining this life is connecting to the Vine and being grafted into the Body of Christ. We don't want students to simply be a part of our "youth group" - we want them to connect deeply with Christ and His Church.
As they make this connection, we want our students to begin taking Life to other students. We want them to learn how to really love the kid at the next locker the way that God does. We want them to take water to thirsty people - to care for the least of these in our world today. When God is allowed to love people through us, this leads our students to live in a context where His mission is at the forefront. We want our students to choose to live a life of service to that mission both within the church and outside the church. As they serve, we want them to see their service as participation in God's life-giving mission to the world. They complete the circle by becoming agents of God's bringing people to life.
We're still developing this approach to student ministry, and using the water cycle to visualize this process of discipling. The students will move through 4 environments in our discipleship process: Ocean, Vapor, Rain, River.
(I'll explain these a little more over the next couple weeks or so - but until then, what are your thoughts? Leave a comment and share them...)