Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Best Picture Nominees Ranked AND My Favorite Move of the Year

I love story and how it is shared through film.  

2012 was a great year for movies.  Almost every movie I experienced caused me to think, feel, cry, laugh, long for God, and hate the broken world in which we live.

There were 9 movies nominated for best picture by the academy awards.  Here is how I would have ranked them 9 - 1 and a brief thought about each.  Also mentioned is the film in 2012 that impacted me the most.

9.  Amour

Love.  The story of love and pain between an aging couple.  In a word, the movie was excruciating but caused me to face the reality that death is coming some day.  Fun hugh?  Did I mention excruciating?

Very artistic in it's approach.  The 9 year old actress, Quvenzhan√© Wallis, stole the show.  As she goes on a search for her mom we get to learn about life through her young eyes.  It was also interesting to see how the story explored spirituality as all things fitting together.

Typical Terantino with exaggerated violence and story of vengeance.  Right or wrong I felt good about justice being done.  I know, kind of crazy.  It's funny how movies explore god like characteristics (justice) without a thought of the source.

6.  Lincoln

Unbelievable portrayal of Lincoln and others securing a constitutional amendment leading to the end of slavery.  Daniel Day Lewis was unbelievable winning best actor.  I found myself weeping at the reality of how slaves were viewed and treated.  Some unbelievable dialogue about leadership and seizing life and the moment for change that impacts millions of lives.

Compelling story of how one women led the charge to find and kill Ben Laden.  She never gave up even when the powerful around her doubted and flinched.  I'm not sure how true it is to historical fact but a great story never the less.  

Redemption, forgiveness, hope and love.  There are so many words that describe the incredible themes portrayed with passion in this musical.  And yes, I felt intense gratitude for how God has pursued and loved me.  I'm not sure if a movie this year caused me to connect with as many characters.

Another story of failure, redemption and new beginnings.  I particularly enjoyed the interaction with the love of parents for an older son struggling to find himself and start again.  And Jennifer Lawrence, wow!  She won and deserved best female actor of the year.

2.  Argo

Intriguing depiction of a CIA agent creating an elaborate scheme to rescue Americans during the Iran hostage crisis.  Ben Affleck was compelling.  Believe it or not I still remember the hostage crisis which made this movie particularly interesting to me.

Magical, spiritual, heartbreaking, surrender, beautiful are all words I would use to describe this incredible story.  The exploration of reality and fantasy was fascinating as well as it's depiction of spirituality in the midst of this pluralistic culture.  After watching it I woke up the following morning still thinking, feeling and questioning what I had experienced.  The story effected me personally at a deep level and gave insight into what many feel about spirituality today.

My favorite movie of the year

Or I should say the film that impacted me at the deepest level.  I care deeply for the next generation.  This particular film did an extraordinary job exposing what many middle school and high school students are experiencing every day.  I left the theater broken and with and extra longing to bring hope to those who are facing the complex issues of life in the teen age world.

If you care anything about the younger generation it's a must see.  It is perhaps the best window into the lives of teen culture since "The Breakfast Club".  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

So there you have it.  How many of the nominees did you get to see?  How would you adjust the order?

I'm all ears.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sticky Faith Cohort - Taking a Sip From a Fire Hydrant

What an amazing 3 days!

Part of the next gen team from my home church attended Fuller Youth Institute's Sticky Faith Cohort.  We and other churches from around the country are learning how to be more effective in preparing children, youth and families for the challenges they face after leaving high school and college, specifically challenges to their faith.

My team is encouraged, blown away and ready to tackle some issues.  We have never been more passionate about seeing the faith of our children and youth deepen as they grow and are released into emerging adulthood.

As I'm trying to wrap my mind around all we heard and learned these are some realities we're facing.

We have a lot of work to do.

We're not leaving discouraged, but know this journey isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.  To begin the process we're going to sit down with other staff members, parents and church leaders and take time to listen.  So often we can make the mistake of moving ahead without fully understanding.  So the question for us is simple, what can we learn from others that will help us develop and provide opportunities for the faith of our kids to flourish.

We must continue this journey.

As a team we're convinced that if we don't work to build authentic, grace driven faith in the lives of our kids and families, the church will continue to loose emerging adults.  For far too long the church in general has taught a theology of sin management instead of a transformational gospel.  As we invest in the younger generation we long to see fruit that remains.  Not just fruit that lasts through high school but for a lifetime.

We (next gen team) cannot do this alone.

The responsibility of handing authentic faith to the next generation involves parents, youth workers, volunteers, senior citizens, all staff members and everyone who is a part of the church family.  Sometimes we (youth workers) act as if we have to do this alone.  When considering the work ahead there is no room for a "Lone Ranger" attitude.  We need to see ourselves as ambassadors to the rest of our church family.  Our message?  Jesus has a special place in his heart for the younger generation and each of us who are older share the responsibility of loving, knowing and declaring God's greatness.

By the way, there is so much more we're thinking about.  While we definitely feel like flies taking a sip from a fire hydrant, we're going to slowly process what we feel God would have us put in practice.

Here's the good news, God is already at work in our churches.  What a privilege to be used by him to accomplish his heart and passion for kids.

Let's be faithful, creative, humble and patient as we work towards our calling to teach and model a faith that sticks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sticky Faith Cohort - Day One

This morning it's my privilege to be writing from FREEZING Pasadena California.  That's right, it does get cold in Southern California.

A team from our next gen ministry (children's ministry pastor, middle school ministry pastor, high school ministry pastor, and myself) is attending the "Sticky Faith Cohort" at Fuller Seminary.  We're hoping to learn a little more of how we can have a next gen ministry that launches students into emerging adulthood with a faith that has "stuck" through college or whatever they've chosen post high school.

Your know the stats.  Many youth group kids are leaving the church after high school and not coming back even after they have families of their own.  As church leaders we want to do everything we can to create environments, relationships and learning opportunities that prepare children and youth for adulthood.

After spending a few hours with Chap Clark, Brad Griffin, and Kara Powell our team was relatively encouraged by what we heard and where we are heading as a next gen ministry.  Obviously we have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

At our post meeting party (party is a little strong) there were some great questions that surfaced from our time yesterday afternoon.  Here are 2.

How do we teach children / students what the Bible instructs without presenting them with a bunch of "to do's"?  

We know kids have a proclivity to take whatever we teach and sift it through a moralistic thought process.  They hear truth and immediately feel they should simply try harder.  Because we live in a performance driven world they often translate our teaching as things you do to get Jesus to love you more.  That's simply NOT what the gospel message presents.

Here is part of the struggle, the Bible doesn't just instruct us on who we are and what Jesus did on our behalf, it instructs us in how we are to live out our faith.

Many of Paul's writings flesh out this way.  Romans 1 -11 is about who we are an what Jesus did for us.  Romans 12 - 16 tells us how we should live.  Perhaps we should follow the same kind of model as we teach.

It seems the key word in thinking through this question is the word tension.  Paul captures this tension in Philippians 2.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

Work out your own salvation / God who works in you. 

Here's the reality.  WHY students do what they do is as important as WHAT they do.  We long to teach them in a way that helps them live out their life by faith not simply by trying harder.

We don't have the solution but we're willing to journey on and embrace this tension.

How do we encourage the rest of our church leadership to adjust for the younger generation?

Our church does a wonderful job supporting the younger generation and longs to see spiritual formation in the lives of kids.  But as you can imagine we have some opportunities for growth.

When it comes to teen's involvement in church it seems we've (not just IBC but church in general) told them to be quite, listen and smile as we adults do adult type stuff.  The way we preach, lead worship, give announcements, encourage service and provide opportunities for involvement must be prepared and led with the teen ager in mind.

It's time for the church to adjust to the unique needs of the younger generation.

No, Sunday morning doesn't have to become a "youth service" but if it is the church's calling to reach and embrace the next generation we need to start asking the right questions about intergenerational worship and service.

In this area it feels like a little adjustment could go a long way.  Hopefully today we'll receive some great thoughts on how to be catalysts for adjustments in our home church.

So there you have it.  In reality we have more questions than answers.  We're trusting God to give wisdom, grace and direction as we desperately want life changing faith in Jesus to grow in the lives of our kids.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gospel Centered Next Gen Ministry - 3 Questions

To be honest, I'm not sure what it means to be "gospel centered", but it sure sounds trendy.  Doesn't everyone in ministry want the gospel?

"Gospel" is a word we Christians throw around a lot.  We have gospel music, the gospel coalition, gospel bumper stickers the gospel tract and all other kinds of gospel things.

Over the last few years it seems discussion about the true gospel and what it means has become stylish and sexy.  There are even conferences dedicated and focused on "gospel."  For those who have been "gospel centered" for a long time (I hope I have been) I'm so thankful this discussion has gained momentum.

So I was wondering, are the ministries I oversee at my home church gospel centered?  How do I consistently press upon us the importance of the gospel?  What does it mean for us to be more gospel centered and grace focused?  What do other ministries focus on to make sure they're consistently dependent on grace in their ministries?

First, we need to remember how simple but expansive the gospel is.  From my limited perspective it seems "gospel" is a word often only associated with salvation.  As it should be, people are taught they will be saved if they believe the gospel.  Jesus said "repent and believe the gospel."  Of course authentic belief in the good news of Jesus results in one's salvation.  Paul says the gospel "is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes."

So it's obvious, the gospel is about salvation, but isn't it also about sanctification?

In many churches the inference is you come to Jesus by grace through faith but you grow through works.  This results is moralistic and perhaps a legalistic approach to discipleship.  And by the way moralism is the enemy of the gospel of grace.

Over the last few years this has been articulated well by University of Notre Dame's Christian Smith and the team at the Fuller Youth Institute.  Each has done extensive research on how youth group students view their faith.

Part of what they've learned is that middle school and high school students generally believe that God loves them and accepts them based on their behavior.  Acceptance from God is a result of what they do or don't do, not on what Jesus has already done and is currently doing.  Students (and most adults in my opinion) have not embraced the truth that we are saved by grace but we also grow by grace.  The result?  Moralism not grace infuses the religion of our day.

On of my favorite verses about discipleship and growing in Christ comes from Titus chapter 2.

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

So, the grace of God that "brings salvation" is the grace that "teaches" us to live godly lives.  This same grace that brings salvation is the grace that teaches us to live godly lives and grow in our faith and purity.

We must continually be in the process of thinking about ministry that is centered on the gospel of grace.  I'm not just talking about bringing hurting kids and families to Jesus but seeing them continually transformed from the inside out because of God's work of grace in sanctification.

This is what I've been thinking about lately in my church context.  Here are 3 questions we're exploring as we think about our Next Gen as it relates to gospel centeredness.  

1.  Is God Dependent Prayer Central?

If the gospel work is dependent on God it would seem our ministries would be marked by consistent focused prayer.  For us it seems like prayer may be in addition to the work we do, not at the center.  That wasn't true of the apostles in the Acts 2.  When Luke describes what they did, prayer is listed right up there with giving attention to the Word.

If change in the hearts of students is truly supernatural and from the inside out, prayer cannot simply be an add on in our ministries, it must be a central part of our work.

2.  Do We Use Grace Infused Language?

Focusing on virtues, behavior and character alone will never result in gospel transformation.  For students we should consistently speak truth like...

"there is nothing you can do to get Jesus to love them more 
and there is nothing you can do to cause Jesus to love you less".  

Helping them understand that Jesus did for them what they could never do for themselves is so important and cuts against their natural moralistic beliefs.  Consistently unpacking statements like this quote from Tim Keller...

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

This isn't something we teach kids once and they get it.  Remember, reward for performance is in the air they breath.  Speaking the gospel of grace must be an ongoing drumbeat in our communication with students.  Grace must infuse how we pray, how we relate and how we teach.

3.  Is There An Environment of Repentance?

When kids hear the teaching of the Word and it exposes areas in their lives that are not pleasing to God they will naturally respond by thinking they must try harder.  Unless we help them they will skip a crucial step that helps them tap into the grace of God; confession and repentance.

If they only respond by trying harder they will constantly fail but if we point them to repentance and help them understand their battle against sin is not natural but supernatural they begin to experience the grace of God "teaching them to live upright Godly lives in this present age".

To have an environment of repentance you must also have an environment where it's natural to admit one has sin.  This transparency must be wisely modeled by the leader.  It's important we as pastors appropriately share our own struggle, failure and need of repentance.

This is an ongoing journey and I know there are so many other characteristics of ministry that is centered on grace and the gospel.

What are a couple you might add and what are you learning as you lead ministry towards gospel centeredness?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

3 Things Your Volunteers Need From You - TODAY

Our ministries rise and fall based on how well our volunteer leaders are loving and serving students.  Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration seeing that Jesus is kind of a big deal, but you get the point.

Here's a little reality check, the greatest impact for students in your ministry will not come from the talk you gave last week or this week but from a loving adult leader who is pursuing Jesus and pastoring a small group of kids.  This isn't an excuse to get up tonight unprepared and bore students but it is a reminder that if we're not investing in adult leaders our ministries will never reach their greatest potential.

Here's the rub.  Very rarely are we praised by how well we're doing investing in adults, we're most likely judged based on the number of kids who show up to hear us speak.  Because this investment goes unrecognized our motivation to invest deeply in adults must come from a unwavering belief that Jesus can and will use these volunteers to shape the hearts of kids.  By the way, that's how Jesus impacted the world, by investing in 12 who invested in others.

You see, many times what you do for your adults behind the scenes isn't noticed, but it's those hidden habits that can yield the greatest ministry impact.

So as we think about our adult volunteers as the front line of ministry here are 3 things they need from you today.

1.  Prayer

Ok, not rocket science but much easier said than done.  Our hope and prayer is that adult leaders would have intimacy with Jesus and deep relationship with students.  This is supernatural stuff dependent on the transforming work of Jesus.  We need to ask Jesus to do this miraculous work in their lives.  If we're not praying for them that may be an indicator of where our hope truly is.

By the way, for us to pray specifically for our leaders we need to know what's going on in their lives.
When is the last time you reached out to a leader simply to ask them how you could pray for them?

Do your leaders feel served or used?  Praying for them is a tangible way for us to serve.

2.  Vision

By this time of the school year there has probably been attrition in a small group and students sometimes act like they don't care.  In fact I ran into a leader yesterday who was at the church to meet with her small group of girls.  Not one girl showed.

Remind leaders often why they do what they do.  I'm not talking about mission statements or values (although these have a place) but stories.  If you ever hear a story of how an adult is impacting students you have to share it.  If a parent or student tells you how awesome their leader is you have to pass that along.

Painting a picture of how kids are impacted as a result of their investment can go a long way.

3.  Gratitude

Nothing says "thank you" like a gift card to a good restaurant.  There are a thousand ways to say thanks.  Be creative.

Your leaders are most likely sacrificing an incredible amount of time and sometimes money to live life with students.  As the leader it's so important you recognize their sacrifice and show genuine appreciation.

Saying thank you is very good, but does your budget reflect your heart to serve and thank your leaders?  Move a little money from your pyrotechnics budget and use it to tell your leaders thanks.

Here's a confession.  Gravity pulls me towards investing time in areas I believe will bring me the greatest praise.  We need to change the score card.  If we invest daily in our adult leaders we many not get recognized but we will have the joy of watching our student ministry go much deeper and eventually wider.

God gets the glory and we get the joy.  Isn't that our greatest hope in ministry?