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Archives for 104 – The Work of the Holy Spirit

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.

Communion

The Spirit’s foundational is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.

Transformation

The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.

Giftedness

God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever “talent” we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. Too often we talk about “talents” as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts; we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of “talents,” is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We “see” the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts in service to the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We “see” the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.

Conclusion

Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.

Communion

The Spirit’s foundational is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.

Transformation

The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.

Giftedness

God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever “talent” we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. Too often we talk about “talents” as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts; we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of “talents,” is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We “see” the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts in service to the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We “see” the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.

Conclusion

Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

In the fall of 2007, the Lord began to do a fresh work in my family’s heart. My wife and I had been married for just a couple of years. We both loved our jobs, our church, and the community of people that God had raised up around us. Our first little house was constantly full of friends and family. We hosted Bible studies, cookouts, game nights, and frequent out of town visitors. In those early years, our home was a revolving door of friends and strangers (soon to be friends) alike. It was a fantastic season of life.

As we reflect back on that season, we feel nothing but a deep sense of gratitude for all that God was doing.

It  was in the midst of that season that God began to give birth to a new dream. We sensed God was inviting us to help begin a new expression of His Church through that community that seemed to be accidentally forming all around us.

So in the fall of 2008, along with a handful of close friends and family we started Ethos Church.

The last five and half years have been exciting, exhausting, satisfying, and joy filled. We have celebrated success and picked ourselves up after failing. We have seen many come to Christ, relationships healed, the poor served, and many missionaries commissioned both locally and globally. It has been an amazing adventure, and only God can take credit for what He has done.

There are countless stories and decisions that have shaped our church’s culture over the last 5 years, but for the sake of brevity, I want to share 3 choices that continue to shape us deeply.

ONE : WE WILL BE OUTWARD.

First, we have decided that if our church was in the shipping business, we would be in the business of exporting not importing. In other words, our primary goal is to export our people for the good of our city not merely import the people of our city for the good of our church. As I look at the scriptures, the marching orders of Jesus to his followers seems to be quite clear — “we go to them.” Jesus has not called us to build a great church. That is his job. Jesus has called us to reach a city.

This understanding of Christ and His mission has shaped virtually every aspect of how our church family functions. It shapes the way we gather on Sundays, spend our money, organize our time, and hire our staff. When it came time to find the spaces in which our multiple campuses and services would gather each Sunday—our goal was simple. We wanted just enough space to gather our people around God on Sunday for the purpose of then deploying them into the city for mission. We wholeheartedly believe that when Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives, the arrows of our church’s heart will always face outward.

TWO : WE WILL BE MOBILE.
Second, we have decided that in order for our church to be effective in sharing the gospel, we must fight hard to stay mobile. In a culture that is rapidly changing, to be anything but mobile is nothing short of a death sentence. Although our church is quite large, we have intentionally chosen to operate in a way that is simple and small. If our church were a boat floating down a river, we want to be more like a pack of tugboats traveling together than a giant barge. Although a giant barge can carry more freight, it is far too cumbersome to turn or maneuver. A tugboat is quick and responsive, and more importantly it is strong enough to pull something much larger than itself into port.

This imagery has helped us continually find ways to keep a unified mission while constantly decentralizing ministry. After 5 years of ministry, we still have a week to week lease on the buildings we gather in for worship. This might sound crazy, but we find it liberating. We use a small staff to mobilize and release hundreds of volunteer leaders. If our volunteer leaders can’t drive the ministry, we aren’t ready to start it. These leaders pastor house churches, care for people, visit the sick, preach weddings and funerals, lead ministry opportunities locally and globally, and so much more. We’ve discovered that a lot of people carrying a little bit of weight, can carry much more than a few people trying to carry the whole load. This mobility has been essential as we continually try to reach a changing culture with an unchanging Gospel.

THREE : WE WILL BE CENTERED.

Finally, above all else, we strive to be centered on the person, presence, and promises of Jesus Christ. We firmly believe that every trend, fad, and methodology will pass. We know that even our tiny expression of the local church will eventually close its doors, but the name of Jesus will never fade. His church will never be stopped. His kingdom will never be slowed.

So for us, every choice we make revolves around keeping Jesus at the center of our church and our lives. We preach Jesus boldly. We listen for his voice with expectancy. We invite people to Jesus unashamedly.

We believe our mission as followers of Christ begins with the finished work of Jesus. He has paved the way. He has paid the price. He is present with us. He will teach, guide, correct, encourage, rebuke, and protect. He will draw men and women to himself. He is our great shepherd, and our deepest source of joy and comfort. When Christ is at the center, everything else will be quite alright.

Dave Clayton loves God, his wife Sydney, and his two boys Micah & Jack. In the late fall of 2008, Dave & Sydney, along with a small group of friends, planted Ethos Church in the heart of downtown Nashville. Ethos Church is a young, urban church passionate about reaching the lost, serving the poor, and planting churches all over the world. Ethos Church currently meets in a variety of locations and has congregations in Nashville, TN and Eastern India. Dave is passionate about helping a new generation of men and women love God, love people, and awaken the movement that Jesus began.

            In the previous article, I wrote briefly about some of the passages which provide a framework for an intergenerational youth ministry. It’s not a new concept, but what is new is our many and varied opportunities to integrate our adults into our youth ministries. So let’s flex our creativity muscle and think about some ways to do just that.

The Hows

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

With Hebrews 12:1-2 planted firmly as your anchor verse for your youth ministry, here are some tangible ways to go Tribal.

1. Get adults in the room for classes, groups, and fellowship. Not only to teach, but just to be there. Engage in the ministry of presence. Presence communicates value. Parlay those interactions into conversations. Parlay the conversations into friendships. Parlay the friendship into doing ministry together to bless someone else.

2. Give each senior in the youth group a three-picture frame. Ask them to fill each frame–before leaving for college–with a picture of themselves standing next to three different people; the first person a half-generation older, the second a full generation older, one two generations older. If they don’t have someone of that age to put in their frame, their goal becomes to form a friendship with someone so that they can put them in the frame. During your Senior Send Off service (you have one of those, right?) ask the three people in each senior’s frame to commit to regularly checking in with the senior for the next yearPoll the teens,

3. Ask the teens which adults of the congregation they’d like to see more of in the youth group. Then go get those adults and tell them that the teens want them! Populate your volunteer pool with these adults.

  1. Ask the teens to identify and rank their own love languages. Use these in your ministry.
  2. Ask teens to tell you the top 5 ways they want adults in church to let the teens know they care about them.
  3. Ask teens to tell you the top 5 ways NOT to do this.
  4. Tell adults the results (a sermon series, perhaps?) and create a plan for helping the adults live out those connections.

Because in the teens’ world, they must know you care about them before they will listen to you about anything. You must build relationship capital and earn the right to be heard. You earn it by doing the things the teens say in the poll.

4. Assign retired people in your church to go to the games, concerts, and performances of the youth group members at their respective schools. Go see the teens in action. Sit with their parents. Afterwards, say    the following: “I love to watch you play.”

5. Have parents swap teens for a weekend. Go do something cool. Because then the parents’ own teens will get jealous. Which will provide an excuse to go do something cooler next weekend.

6. Take youth group to visit an assisted living center for 30 minutes. Ask the residents to tell the teens stories of when they were teenagers. Watch the magic happen.

7. Have your church’s small groups host the youth group for a devotional once a month. Plan the gathering with activities designed for everyone to make a new connection and friend outside their own age demographic.

  1. Go to Lowe’s and grab two paint chips each of about fifty different colors (they’re free); two Raspberry Mists, two Midnight Moons, etc.
  2. At the gathering, pass out one set to the adults and the other to the teens. Then tell them to find their exact match. Ask a question they can both answer to each other. Shuffle the two stacks cards separately. Redistribute. Repeat.

8. Have your men’s ministry borrow the guys of the youth group, either during a Sunday morning class, or a mid-week gathering. Do the same with the girls and the women’s ministry. Do an activity (sitting and sharing only counts part way. Get up and move.), then talk about it.

9. Teens need to know about grace, faith, baptism, sanctification, etc. But they also need to know how a faithful Christian grocery shops, works a checking account, buys a car, gardens, fixes stuff, and spends their spare time. Who better to teach them these life basics than you? So go kidnap a teen in the youth group next time you have to run errands on a Saturday. (Green-light it with their parents first. Amber alerts in youth ministry are a resume killer).

10. For college-age students, your church has got about 3 weeks to pull in and embrace new students at the start of the semester. Studies have shown that if a college student doesn’t get connected to a church the first three weeks of their freshman year, they are unlikely to ever do it at all. So spend some money and resources making those three weeks of worship distinctly aimed at college students, with sound biblical substance, and great visuals. Go out of your way to make church…there’s really no other word…COOL. (Yes, I’m aware we shouldn’t go to a church because it’s cool. But that’s a mature perspective. To an immature perspective, COOL might be the best outreach tool your congregation will ever use.) And when they come, your church’s goal should be for every college student to be greeted by at least 4 church members before the first song starts. And each of those college students should be taken to lunch afterward. Sidenote: this will require some intentionality and planning of your post-worship meal. If you have the “I don’t know, where you YOU want to eat,” mentality, it’ll be tough to plan for taking a college kid out with you.

11. Grandpa-Grandson and Grandma-Granddaughter retreats or dinners.

12. Force yourself, no matter how crushingly difficult, to go on a sarcasm-and-meanness fast when you are around teens. Some (most?) teens are not cognitively developed enough to get it, and you’ll consequently come off like a jerk. Besides, they hear enough negativity. Be the one who fills their ears with something positive. Remember that whole Ephesians 4:29 passage? Practice it on the teens.

13. Aim for a 2:1 or even a 1:1 teen-to-adult ratio at yearly youth ministry events and weekend conferences. Events and conferences are great for teens, but what really makes the experience stick is having a faithful adult/mentor with whom to experience the event, so that all the good of the weekend doesn’t stay at that weekend. They will keep talking about it when the spiritual high wears off, and that’s a good thing.

14. Got a teen who’s shown some aptitude for technology? Pair them with someone in the A/V booth who will teach them how to produce the Sunday Morning Service (slides for the preacher, video clips, audio, etc.). Coach them on how not just to operate the technology, but how to use the technology to create an environment for worship. Or give the photography-minded teen a chance to produce some original content for your media presentations. Work towards the goal of having the teens plan, produce, operate, and participate in the service. There are a hundred ways to serve on Sunday without being in front a mic, and teens are good at most of them.

15. Organize a Take-A-Teen-To-Work day where professionals of the congregation take similarly-gifted teens to work.

16. C.H.A.T –  Call. Hang out. Ask. Text. These are four primary ways to let the teens in your church know you care about them. Call and leave an encouraging voice mail. Text a bible verse. Ask how their week has been. Simple little things are huge, because they communicate respect. And when a teen reads ‘respect’ from an adult, that’s a good thing.

17. Find a real, true, honest reason to brag on a teen to their parents, and do so. Best case scenario? Do it within earshot of the teen.

18. Dumb Things I Did as a Teenager Night, hosted by the elders and their wives. Elders will start to be seen as real people, not figureheads. That’s ALWAYS a good thing.

19. Get different ages in the room. Hire a Christian comedian. Get everyone laughing together. Laughter opens brain pathways that few other things can. Receptivity is increased afterward. Use this to your advantage to communicate the real message of the evening.

20. Introduce the older to the ministry potential of social media as a means to stay connected with teens. Then have the younger tutor the elder in how to Text, Tweet, Facebook, etc. Have a Selfie Night or Hashtag Tuesday. Caveat: Social media is for sharing interesting tidbits, encouraging thoughts, advice, funny pictures, even bible verses and prayers. It is not primarily for deep conversations or correctives. As soon as teens feel like they’re being stalked and their behavior scrutinized–even justifiably–the social media bridge is burned and you’ll be un-friended faster than you can say LOL. If you see something dodgy on a teen’s feed, DON’T write a corrective then and there. DO have a one-on-one conversation about it later, AFTER you’ve earned the relationship capital to do so. Otherwise, you may get your point across, but you’ll be summarily dismissed afterward. Indeed, Social Media should be the launch pad for in-person conversations.

21. Once you figure out where a particular teen is going to college, military, or trade school, make a proactive, intentional effort to contact a church in that area you think would be a good fit for the teen. Talk to someone. Get a name. Make a contact. If that contact passes your muster, tell said contact about your about-to-be college freshmen and ask them to come meet when you move the teen into their dorm.

22. Give a few teens and twenty-somethings a seat at the church planning table. Solicit their input. They’ll have insight that’ll be valuable. You just have to be sure to ask the right questions.

One of the visions for the youth ministry at our church is to break age barriers. We want adults in the room, making friends and ministering with their presence. Of course the events are still aimed at teens, but I believe when a youth ministry is done properly, the adults will be fed by it too. They’ll be like the grown-ups at a Pixar movie who get all the subtleties and enjoy it on whole other levels. How many times have you walked into a Cars, Toy Story, or Frozen with ‘This is a kid’s movie’ expectations only to be pleasantly surprised and even moved by it? A youth ministry run with excellence can have the equivalent effect. I believe it can also produce young people who’s faith is not only solid, but flourishing and contagious.

This process will not be comfortable, nor easy, at least in the beginning. It will feel awkward and probably won’t be attended very well for a while. But since when is something easy that’s worthwhile? And not every church will do this the same, nor should they (shout out to the autonomous nature of the church as found in Acts and the Letters). We must be contextual. But whatever you do, let me encourage you to stick with it, pray over it, and watch what God will do, however slowly. Find a handful of proactive faithful adults, cast the vision, empower them, and get out of their way. Because once teens see and know that they matter to other adults in the church, not just their parents, they will welcome the company. We want our teens to sail into college comfortable being friends with every age at church, even if they’re introverts. We want our twenty-somethings to be vibrant, robust participants, even leaders, in our churches. We want them to have a confidence that only comes from being bestowed upon them by their faith heroes. In short, we don’t want a new technique. We want a new normal.

Further Reflections

  1. As you look back on the formative years of faith development, who do you remember? Was it someone older than you?
  2. Does your church have a big college-student representation? How is your church making this happening? What retains the twenty-somethings?
  3. What other programs or ministry opportunities have you seen successfully integrate generations?
  4. How do you see Powell & Clark’s Sticky Faith fitting into this discussion?
  5. What questions are we not asking?
  6. What’s the biggest disservice your church is doing to the teens? What’s your plan to change it?
  7. What other poll questions for teens are there which would provide some valuable insight?

Part 1 – Tribal Youth Ministry (Part 1): The Necessity of Age Desegregation in Our Churches
Part 2 – Tribal Youth Ministry (Part 2): Theological Basis for the Shift

In the previous article, I gave some vistas of the modern landscape of rank & file youth ministries, in hope of sparking some interest in doing things differently so we may achieve some different results. One of toughest things about about dealing with young people is that you may never see the fruit of the seeds you plant. But if the vast majority of crops wither within five years, that’s another problem entirely. It’s time to reexamine how we farm.

I believe the ‘who’ that’s missing from most contemporary youth ministries is quite simply adults of the congregation. As I started to examine scripture and considering why and how we do what we do in youth ministry, I discovered that adults intentionally being around the youth for the explicit purpose of spiritual formation was not a new thing at all. In fact, it was quite ancient.

The Theology

Since there aren’t really youth groups in the Bible,[1] let’s look at some relevant passages about spiritual formation of the young, and adults’ role in it. These passages constitute a (non-exhaustive!) foundation of a theology of multi-generational youth ministry.

Genesis 18:18-19 (NIV)

18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (emphasis mine)

One of the main reasons God chose Abraham, according to this passage, is so that he would pass on his faith to his children and his household. In fact, this passage teaches that unless Abraham does just that, the promises from God will remain unfulfilled. But also notice the distinction made here between ‘children’ and ‘household.’ Abraham’s mission was to extend far beyond his blood relatives. Indeed, one of the promises made to him in Gen. 12 was that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. His household, i.e., his servants and servants’ children as well as his own family, was where the fulfillment of that promise was to begin. And this passage assumes that Abraham the adult will be the proactive party in this spiritual formation of the young.

Most every discussion about spiritual formation of children will, and should, include the familiar passage from the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9).

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESVUK)

“7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

This is fairly straightforward; teach your children about God at every opportunity. No need to belabor the point here. However, just a few verses later in the same chapter, we find this:

Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (ESVUK)

20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’

Part of what it means to teach our children about God is to tell, and re-tell the stories of God’s glory, providence, and grace in our own faith journeys. But first look at the question of the children. Notice that it’s assumed that the children will one day ask, “Hey, dad? Why do we have to follow all these rules? How come we have to go to worship?”

There’s no need to be insulted when children ask the question. It’s normal that children will question why we live the way we live. Our life of faith is neither easy nor convenient, which is how most of the world aspires to live. So our naturally curious children will call us on it about the time they really want to sleep late on Sundays. But when that day comes, says Moses, we are not to answer them with rules, citations, and traditions which hold little value to the youth.

We are to answer them first with our stories. We are to answer them with what God has done. Only then will it make sense to follow God’s statutes as a Thank You for our salvation. We don’t live the way we live because we like the people and wholesome activities. We live the way we live because we were once dead, and Jesus made us alive. Taking cookies to the fire station every week doesn’t make much sense to someone who’s never been pulled from the flames of a burning building. But to the one who has been pulled from the flames, weekly cookies not only makes sense, it seems woefully inadequate. So it is with Jesus.

So we’d better learn how to tell our stories in compelling ways, and pronto, because one day our children, and the children of others, are going to ask. It is vital that our responses inspire them, because it is a story that deserves to be told inspiringly, after all.[2]

Ezekiel 47:21-23 (NIV)

“‘So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance,’ declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel was written to God’s people who were in the exile to Babylon, between 586 and 536 BC. Ezekiel himself was among them. In this passage, God is giving the people a vision of what their re-entrance to Canaan will look like one day in their future. In that context, then, there are several relevant observations. First, there will be some non-Israelites–“sojourners”–along with Israel when they return to the promised land, and they will have been part of the Israelite community long enough to have had children. So their children will necessarily intermingle with Israelite children…and their parents. Second, these sojourners are to receive equal treatment; there is to be no difference as to how the Israelites treated these goyim vis-à-vis their brothers. They are to be welcomed into the family of God’s people with open arms, the implication being that they will be given ample opportunity to confess the Lord, their males be circumcised, and their families keep Torah. Some will do exactly that. The takeaway? Even as far back as the exile, God makes provision for families without a connection to the Lord to be in close proximity to those who do, and children were part of the equation.

Psalm 145:4-12 (NIV)

“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”

This is such an appropriate passage for several reasons. First, notice how high God is lifted in exultation! And it’s the OLDER generation that’s doing it! In our churches, more often than not, it’s the teens who get excited about worship; the upbeat fresh songs, the clapping, the general excitement and energy level are all far more common among the young than the old in our day. Not so in this passage.

Second, the description of the Lord as gracious and compassionate, etc., is a direct quote from Exodus 34:6-7, the passage in which God reveals his relational character to Moses. That Exodus passage is either directly quoted or alluded to more than two dozen times in the Old Testament alone. So the Psalmist is evoking some powerful imagery, indeed justifying why this God is worthy of the praise at the beginning of the passage. This praise will pass down from one generation to the next. As each generation hears the praise of the one before, they themselves will catch the vision.

Ah, but the best part is who will be the eventual beneficiaries of all this praise: all people. What a delightfully oblique reference to the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. And what is it, according to this Psalm, that all people will know? God’s mighty acts, and the splendor of his Kingdom. And they’ll know it by having been told by the previous generation.

Did not Jesus come to show us exactly these two anchors, with love as the vessel? When was the last time we declared God’s mighty acts to anyone, let alone a teenager? And if we don’t have a vision for the splendor of the Kingdom, how can we expect a teen to have it?

Among these and other passages which are important for understanding the intergenerational vision, the following trends emerge:

“Father’s House” is used 27 times;  “Household/s” 118 times; “Father’s Household 11 times. “Clan/s,” i.e., a several households of the same tribe, is used 226 times. “Tribe/s” = 293 times. “Youth Group” is used zero times.

From my research, here are my top three conclusions.

  1. House / Household / Family was the main context for moral education (which included literacy), and the initial context for vocational education (cf. Exodus 12:24-28; Deut. 6:4-9; Is. 28:23-29; Ps. 78:1-7).
  2. “Household” included more than blood relatives, e.g., aliens, fatherless, & widows (Ezek. 47:21-23; Deut. 14:28-30; 26:11).
  3. Therefore, familial AND extra-familial household members, in some cases non-Israelites, shared the task of educating the children, both morally and vocationally; passing that knowledge on to succeeding generations. But when the parents couldn’t, or somehow were kept from doing so, that responsibility fell to the extended family in the tribe.

If we transpose this Tribal system on our churches, I believe our youth ministries will drop some new anchors in teens’ lives in preparation for the coming culture shock of Not Being In Youth Group. And again, this doesn’t call for a complete change in youth/children’s ministry programming. This is simply about getting more adults to be along side the teens/children as those programs are planned and executed. These ideas are not without biblical precedent.

  1. MOSES TO JOSHUA (Exod. 17:9; Num. 13; Deut. 31:1-8; 34:9)
  2. ELI TO SAMUEL (1 Sam. 3)
  3. JESUS TO THE TWELVE (NB: Peter, James, John; John, the Apostle Jesus loved. (esp. John 15)
  4. PAUL TO TIMOTHY (1 Cor. 4:17; Acts, Ephesians; 1 Timothy)

None of these proteges were related by blood to their respective mentors, and this is not a list of obscure characters. These are heavy hitters. Another interesting tidbit: in our world, an “orphan” is a child who is without both parents. But in the Biblical world, particularly that of the New Testament, an “orphan” could refer to a child who only had one parent, usually the mother, i.e., the “fatherless.”[3] So when the word appears in James 1:27 (“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” NIV), a perfectly reasonable interpretation that the orphan and the widow are related, i.e., a single-parent household. As such, Timothy could have been an “orphan.”

There may not be many teens in our churches who have lost both parents, but I guarantee we’ve got single-parent household teens by the truck load. Let’s find ways for those teens to connect with a father- and mother-figures of faith. The youth minister can introduce and connect people, but it’s our boots that should be on the ground.

The Vision

We want our teens to learn to have deep, meaningful fellowship across generations, so that when all the razzle-dazzle of youth ministry is gone, they don’t go with it. We want there to be something more nourishing and substantial in their church experience, and for it to be in community. That is what will sustain a young person and keep them plugged in at their new church away from home, indeed anywhere. But it is imperative that we help them exercise their relationship muscle now so they know how to use it freshman year of college. We want our teens to leave our youth group and feel comfortable developing friendships with people twice and three times their age. The vision is that they’ll be glad for their time in our youth ministries, but they are ready for something more mature, not pine for their high school faith days.

Of course they’ll want to make friends with Christians their own age, as they should. And it’s been pointed out to me that sometimes teens leave their parents’ church because it is just that–their parents’ church. It’s a fair point. But suppose they go to a church of all upwardly-mobile hipster twenty-somethings. Eventually the same thing will happen; the whole process has just been deferred, and they still won’t know how to be in community with people twice their age.

We must help them learn to get out of their age demographic for the purposes of their Christian walk, but also for the sake of the family aspect that church is supposed to be. If they can learn that one thing, they have taken a big step toward maturity. (And incidentally, for you baby-boomers and beyond, hanging out with a college kid would not be the worst idea in the world for you either. You’ll find yourself feeding off their contagious energy. Just try not to kill their optimism; it’s what makes them charming.)

In a nutshell, we want to change our youth ministries from being program/activity driven to being relationships/service driven; and that the relationships be with faithful adult Christians. My friend George the Youth Minister, says it this way: “We want for this to go from a ministry TO the teens, to a ministry OF the teens.” But the good news is, a youth ministry need not jettison its programming. It need only integrate faithful, loving adults of all generations into it. It’s the ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’ method. Every teenager deserves to be friends with at least one faithful adult Christian. “And every teenager, left to his own devices, will always gravitate to the oldest person he can find who will take him seriously, and treat him with dignity and respect.”[4]

In their survey of the most effective faith-nurturing practices of adults, Johnson & Yorkey found that in the students who continued their faith, more than 90% of them had a half-dozen mentors in their [growing-up years].[5] “Almost without exception, those young people [who came from our youth ministry] who are growing in their faith as adults were teenagers who fit into one of two categories: either 1) they came from families where Christian growth was modeled in at least one of their parents, or 2) they had developed significant connections with an extended family of adults within the church. How often they attended youth events (including Sunday school and discipleship groups) was not a good predictor of which teens would, and which would not, grow toward Christian adulthood.[6] (emphasis mine)

Our marching orders are simple: get in there and cultivate some relationships with the younger generations. Doing so will earn the credibility to pass on your faith, both by word and deed. Are you a grandparent-type? Then find a teen in your Tribe (read: Church) who needs a grandparent. Do you have a good rapport with your teenager’s friends? Then leverage that relationship toward Christ by buying them a cheeseburger that’ll lead to a conversation.

I’m convinced that one of the biggest struggles our youth have is quite simply age-isolation. It’s so easy to dive into the virtual world of ‘Likes’ and ‘LOL’ but never actually get to know an adult who genuinely likes them and who will actually laugh out loud with them. Everyone of us is a youth minister, whether you are related to the teens in your church or not; to the teen with both mom and dad, to the single-parent teen, and to the teen who show up when they have every reason not to. Otherwise, what models will our teens have, if not you? Upon whom will they look? Many have said it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a church to raise a child’s faith. As the sign in the University of Colorado library reads: The generation who knows only itself is destined to remain adolescent forever.

You can read part 1 here – Tribal Youth Ministry (Part 1): The Necessity of Age Desegregation in our Churches


[1] 2 Sam. 18:14-15, a grisly example to be sure, is about the closest thing to youth group in the Old Testament.

[2] So Joel 1:3 (NIV), “Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.” Cf. Psalm 78:1-7; 145:4-12.

[3] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 725. See also John 14:18; the only other place in the NT the word ‘orphanos’ appears.

[4] H. Steven Glenn and Jane Nelson, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a

Self-Indulgent World (Roseville, CA: Prima, 1989).

[5] Greg Johnson & Mike Yorkey, Faithful Parents, Faithful Kids (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 249.

[6] Mark DeVries, Family-Based Youth Ministry, 2d. ed. (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity, 2004), 102.

This article is the first of a new feature at Wineskins called “Ministry Highlight“. These articles will highlight some of the freshest approaches to ministry that we believe will be helpful to many of you out there who are asking and attempting to answer the most relevant questions of our day.

This article is by Duncan Campbell and is the first of three outlining his approach to transitioning youth ministry toward a more intergenerational approach. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest questions facing churches today as we are beginning to see the connections between our traditional approaches to youth ministry and the disconnect from parents and other adults being a part of the faith development of our children, and the mass exodus from church by young adults.

The State of Things

The idea is simple enough: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” But this simple idea is profoundly discomforting when it comes to how we do church, and more directly, youth ministry. The simple truth is that all across Christianity, when teens graduate out of the youth group they are also graduating church at the same time. I know there are exceptions, and I’m painting in broad strokes, but you don’t have to be George Barna to notice that in most churches there is a gaping hole where the twenty-somethings should be. It’s as though there is an unwritten rule somewhere that says ‘Church begins at 30.’ There are several gales to this perfect storm, but let’s start with the youth group.

Youth groups are amazing at what they do. They have huge per capita budgets, the most forward-thinking practices, the coolest rooms, the trendiest tshirts, the most memorable trips, camps & retreats. They nearly always have the best tech/gear in the church. They have the most engaging worship sets, the catchiest worship songs, the most affable and dynamic speakers, and the most creative among us as their leaders. They are used to getting their hands dirty in service, feeding the homeless, and playing fùtbol with poverty-stricken kids in Africa. They are used to full-throttle, well-planned, and image-rich.

And the clock is ticking because, in the current climate, 92% of that is coming to an end as soon as they graduate. A time is coming when they are no longer part of the youth group. So then what?

They will always be welcome at the local congregation, of course, but the local congregation will be enigmatically foreign. Not ‘worse’ or ‘better.’ Just different. For in the Congregation, the language is different than that of Youth Group. The pace is different. The food is different. The worship is different. The messages are different. The ministry is different. And they often experience all this slower newness about the time they move away from home for the first time, a major life change in and of itself.

So they walk into a congregation away from home, and it’s filled with strangers, an immediate 8 on the intimidation scale. Then the worship starts and they know they are not in Youth Group anymore, as an ominous feeling sets in that ‘This is what I have to look forward to from here on out?’ Then they notice the teens of that church sitting in a clump off to the side, and suddenly an unexpected pang of envy hits. They tell themselves they are not here for friends but to worship. So they focus on the worship. Which is unlike the worship they’re used to. The songs are unfamiliar. The preaching is no where close to their life. They may go several weeks because it’s habit, but they are slowly starving spiritually. Eventually apathy sets in. So they leave. In droves. They venture out to find their main Christian community elsewhere because it’s just not happening at church. Their alternatives are:

  1. Become involved with college/young adult ministry or parachurch organization.
  2. Go to some other Big Church Sunday morning. Be a church consumer, hoping for the “best” one, whatever that means.
  3. Find a small group from church.
  4. Become a youth ministry volunteer, hoping to hang on to the glory.
  5. Go to another kind of church that ‘fits’ them, which likely entails a compromise in theology, even if they don’t know it.
  6. Quit going.

None of these sound that great, but we really want to stay away from options 4-6. Our vision for the college-aged and twenty-somethings is that they become a vibrant, connected, contributing element of our congregations, indeed of the global church body. The problem is that most of them haven’t been part of a congregation. They’ve been part of Youth Group. Think of Youth Group graphically as a one-eared Mickey Mouse, with the Congregation as the ‘head’ and the Youth Group as the ‘ear.’ They barely touch.[1]

For far too many of Christian teenagers, “youth group” and “church” are mutually exclusive. They think in terms of one or the other. And we leaders are squarely to blame for this, and for inflicting on them the ensuing culture shock.

I freely admit I could be wrong, but I believe we are now seeing the fruit of years of church compartmentalization and the philosophy of dropping off a 7th grader at the youth ministry and picking him up when he is a senior, expecting him to be a fully mature Christian by the Youth Minister’s hands. Alas, we have cast our seeds far too wide and watered them too little, and with the wrong kind of water. Something is missing from Contemporary Youth Ministry, and it’s been missing for a while.

That said, I’m not advocating a brand new youth ministry model or brand new programming. I’m not trying to change the What, but the Who. So actually the better statement is “Someone” is missing from Contemporary Youth Ministry. In the forthcoming two articles, I hope to offer some biblical anchors of a fresh approach to how we do youth ministry. Because I’m not content with doing what we’ve always done. The stakes are too high.



[1] Stuart Cummings-Bond, “The One-Eared Mickey Mouse,” Youthworker, Fall 1989, 76.

This winter has been colder than most.

Those who heat by electric or gas are probably seeing a big difference in their bills.

We see it in a mostly depleted fire wood shed because, we heat our house entirely by burning logs in a wood stove.

It puts out lots of heat, and some places like the balcony/ loft are extraordinarily warm.

But even though I said we heat our house with wood, the truth is we don’t heat every room nearly as warm as you might like it. Especially at night when it is down in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range.

There is after all, only so much wood that can be burned in one night.

So what do you do?

First, you learn how to wear warm clothes, particularly layers. Second, you wear socks at night. (I dislike socks at any time, and wearing them at night has been a big adjustment. Well, maybe calling it a big adjustment is over stating the case, all things considered, but I digress.) And third, you recognize that sleeping well on an icy cold night requires a nice, big, thick, and fluffy comforter.

I bet you know the kind.

There is something wonderfully comforting about a comforter. Pulled up to your chin, a comforter gives warmth. But more than just warmth, there is a sense of bliss, peace, and wellness when under a favorite and much loved comforter.

Ours is a down-filled, heavy, white affair… and I wouldn’t trade it for much of anything.

There is no comfort like that of a comforter…

But this isn’t really about exalted blankets no matter how much we might love them.

This is, however, an issue of our understanding about God.

We are accustomed to expressing God in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirt. The knowledge of Abba, Father gives confidence and assurance. The sacrifice of Jesus as the Son of God allows for mercy, grace, and salvation.

And the Holy Spirit? If the truth be uttered, from the perspective of the Christian in the pew, we are not quite so sure about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter told those who would listen that they should Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Christians have discussed, debated, and argued over this gift, what it means, how it’s received, and what we might possibly do with it. I confess. I don’t have all the answers. I am not the go-to-guy to compare and thrash out differing theologies—at least on this topic. On the other hand, I do believe in the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of every Christian.

How does that work out?

Here’s one aspect in particular:  If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:15-17 KJV)

Other versions use words such as counselor, helper, advocate, and friend where the KJV uses comforter.

Whichever you prefer, they all speak to a presence in our lives that gives strength and encouragement—comfort if you will.

In the aftermath of the double murder that devastated my world, comfort was a hard thing to come by. I saw peace nowhere. I felt hope nowhere. I only could see and feel unrelenting pain and horror.

Eventually, I began to again recognize the comfort of God. That comfort grows stronger even still. But for the longest time, I also struggled mightily with where God was as Karen and Cole suffered through that final agonizing fifteen minutes of fighting for their lives. I tormented myself day and night wondering what Cole understood and needing to know how much terror Karen felt.

Several people tried to get me to understand that in the fight to survive, there wasn’t much time or place for reflecting on fear. That helped, but wasn’t quite the comfort I desired.

As time passes and opportunity to reflect is easier to do, I have begun comforting myself with a particular vision of the Comforter. I don’t know how accurate my take might be in the final analysis, but this is what I have chosen to believe:

In those final graphic moments, I am certain the Comforter was there. They were not alone. I believe that somehow someway, they were being shielded from the pain. And, I hold on to the hope that in those final moments, they were already on their way Home.

I long to continue knowing and feeling the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Until the Lord returns, I trust we will somehow experience the comfort only the Comforter can bring. Our helper, advocate, counselor, and friend…

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music

 Thank you for reading,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

http://lesfergusonjr.com

Note from the editor: I appreciate Jimmy and Les tackling this extremely difficult subject and sharing with us what they have learned about the dangers of pedophilia so that we can all take steps to protect those who are most precious to us and be more aware of what is going on around us. This is not an easy subject to discuss and there are some things said in the accompanying video that are very, very difficult to listen to. But this information needs to be shared, even if it just protects a single child from going through the nightmare of being abused by a pedophile. Please share this with your elders, your family minister, or anyone you think needs to get this information (use the Facebook share button at the top of the post if that is helpful). We can’t let kids suffer for our lack of boldness and courage to say and hear what needs to be said and heard. – Matt

I conducted a 3 hour workshop and webinar on child abuse in the church on February 22, 2014 with Les Ferguson, Jr. as my guest.  It is a subject that is very personal to us—Les because his disabled son Cole fell into the hands of a sexual molester from church who not only sexually abused Cole, but also murdered him and Les’ wife Karen.  And it’s personal to me because at about the same time in 2011 our family was devastated to find out that my father had sexually abused 23 children over the course of his life.  Les and I, both ministers in the churches of Christ and unknown to each other at that time, were faced with the very strong reality that sexual abuse of children in the church is very real and, sadly, way too common.  For 27 years my dad preached at the same congregation where I currently preach.  Many of the members I had to inform (before the newspapers informed them) about my dad’s allegations of abuse were the very people he converted to Christianity years before.

Dad is now serving a life sentence in a PA state prison for his crimes, but the Ferguson and Hinton families are all serving our life sentences of grief.  Here’s the catch—we were meted out our sentences of grief simply by being ignorant and uninformed.  This is why Les and I do what we do—to educate and inform other people of this dark evil, and to give them tools for keeping their children safe.  If you don’t think it could happen to your child, you better reconsider.  Church is one of the most appealing places for predators, precisely because we are not expecting it to happen.

Here are just a few points to highlight what we discussed in this seminar.  Please take time and watch the entire video.  It’s free.  And it’s too important not to arm yourself with the knowledge needed to protect your kids and the children that are in the church’s care.

#1 We Christians Are Over-Trusting

We want to believe that the assembly is a safe place for our kids—free from the threat of any innocence being stripped from them.  Unfortunately, churches that have not taken drastic measures to protect their kids are one of the most unsafe places we can put our kids.  Dad once wrote me from prison, “Churches are the easiest place for pedophiles to offend.  And there are a lot of us in the church.”  We trust adults to watch our kids.  We allow access to our children.  Yet 93% of pedophiles describe themselves as religious.  That’s important, because religious people go to church.  And, as the famed Dr. Anna Salter personally told me, “Churches are such inviting targets.”  Yes they are.  I’ve lost count of the number of discussions I’ve had with people, just in the churches of Christ, over the last 2 years who tell me stories of pedophiles abusing children in their congregations.  Keep in mind, these stories are only stories about those getting caught.  Why is this not front page news in our religious papers?  Why do we feel obligated to keep silent about it?  Why are our colleges, seminaries, and churches not conducting background checks on ministers or teaching them how to protect children?  Which leads me to the next point:

#2 We Are In Denial or We Don’t Want to Believe It

Perhaps most people are where I was prior to 2011.  I’d never noticed the daily barrage of news stories.  Who wants to hear about a 2 year old child who’s been raped by a 60 year old church member?  Or an 8 year old boy who was forced to perform oral sex on a deacon?  Yet this is the reality our children are facing in the church.  There are an estimated 42 million survivors of child sex abuse in the US alone.  Most of them will never disclose to anyone, including their spouse, that they were abused as children.  The scars victims of abuse carry is overwhelming.  Over 90% of perpetrators are known by their victims, adding insult to injury.

Adults are groomed by perpetrators just as their children are.  We parents are groomed to believe that the man from church who offered to baby sit our kids just enjoys helping overworked parents out.  We don’t want to believe that he really offered in order to isolate our child and gain access to their bodies.  We’ve got to stop denying that this is a problem in the church.  My heart breaks every time I’m contacted by someone in the church seeking advice because their kids have been sexually abused.

#3 Churches Need to Be a Place of Protection, Healing, and Justice

I long to see the day when children and survivors of abuse feel safe in our churches.  One young child, after disclosing abuse to her mother by her minister, was not believed by the mom.  The mom spoke with the minister—the alleged perpetrator—and was convinced that her little girl was mistaken.  The minister recommended that the mom visit another church just to get a second opinion.  When the mother and girl showed up to the other church, the girl was forced to go into a room alone with 4 men, including the preacher who had molested her!  I grow weary of the stories I hear when pedophiles have groups of church supporters in the courtroom while the victim takes the stand alone.  What message is this sending?  And the stories of children being forced to face their abuser and forgive him. . . it’s unbearable.

We have to stop giving a free ticket to the plethora of abusers sitting in our pews.  We have to very vocally let our children know that, when they are in our care, they—not the abusers—are safe.  We’ve got to develop protection policies that change the landscape of our church buildings.  We’ve got to develop crystal clear reporting methods, know mandated reporting laws, and have shepherds who boldly announce that protecting the flock will take precedence over budgets.  God couldn’t have said it any better when He said, “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:4 ESV).

I have repeatedly said from the pulpit, “If there is anyone here who is thinking about abusing children, we will find you, we will report you, and we will call for the full extent of the law to be carried out against you.”  We let people know that our congregation is not a safe place for would-be abusers.  Some will think that this is too drastic an approach.  I disagree.  We’ve got to expose the deeds done in darkness and protect the innocent.

Please take time to watch this video.  Listen to the voices of wounded people who have been devastated by the effects of child molestation.  Join us in our journey to expose this evil in the church and to protect our children.

http://vimeo.com/user25627401/2ndannualsexabuseworkshop

From time to time we will be giving away copies of books by those who are writing at Wineskins. Last week we gave away a book by Josh Graves & Chris Seidman “Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now.” Today we are highlight Frank Viola’s work by giving away two books. The first is free to all and the second is a book giveaway. Both of these books are proactive, written to help us find a path forward rather than merely describe or criticize problems.

Free ebook download (click the picture)

FrankViola-Discipleship

Here is an excerpt from the book,

“Christians are rarely if ever taught how to live by the life of Christ who indwells them. So they rely on their own will to be a “good Christian.” In other words, they live by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than by the Tree of Life.When the Creator planted the garden of Eden, He put two trees in the center of it. Today,these same trees stand at the center of life.The meaning of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil can be understood by the serpent’s promise: “By eating from this tree, you will be making your own decision. You will be like God, determining for yourself what is right and what is wrong.”

The fall of humanity was all about women and men assuming the posture that they don’t need anyone to tell them what to do. They would decide for themselves what’s good and what’s bad. They would be self-sufficient and self-determining. Of course, what was ignored in that whole discussion is the tree of life. God wanted humans to eat from the tree of life. Eating from the tree of life meant receiving the uncreated life of God into oneself. The tree of life was God’s own life made accessible to human beings. Today, the tree of life is the Lord Jesus Christ. I am the true vine. . . . As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

When we receive Christ, we receive the life of God. Divine life becomes ours. Receiving Christ is simply taking the first bite from the right tree.” p. 11

Book giveaway (comment to enter) – this giveaway ended in 2014

reimagining-church

This book was written as a followup to Pagan Christianity. Reimagining Church outlines principles for organic/non-institutional forms of Christian community based on biblical principles that Frank has been learning and applying in organic faith communities since the late 80’s. Comment below for Reimagining Church and we will randomly select someone from the comments on Friday.

Jacob wrestled with God…the Restoration Movement has wrestled with the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, we have been a movement fond of absolutes. Traditionally and historically we have been a very logical and analytical movement that has put great emphasis on knowledge. Even though God is beyond our comprehension, we have still felt more comfortable with our understanding of God than we have with the Holy Spirit. We feel far more comfortable with Christ than the Holy Spirit he sent us. The Holy Spirit and rational, logical, analytical reasoning just don’t seem to work out as easily for us as it has with Father and Son.

The question of our past has traditionally been “What do we do with the Holy Spirit?” But that is changing. We live in a world that is more open to spirituality than in generations past. We live in a world that is hungry for experience and intimate relationship with God. Information and knowledge is still important but it isn’t on the pedastle for post-moderns as it was with modern generations. The question for this generation isn’t, “What do we do with the Holy Spirit?” but the reverse, “What is the Holy Spirit doing with us?”

This issue on “The Work of the Holy Spirit” will explore the relationship of the Holy Spirit with Christians and congregations today. How is the Spirit moving and working? How desperate are we for the Spirit, to partner with the Spirit and rely whole-heartedly on the work of the Holy Spirit? These are important questions and not always easy ones to pin down. It is vitally important that we wrestle through the relationship we have with the Spirit and cast a real, biblical vision forward for the church’s embrace of the presence and work of the Spirit.

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