Superheroes on Mars Hill - Engaging the Comic-Con Culture With the Gospel

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.

While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.

Comic Books and Superheroes

When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door.  Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.

Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books

In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred. 

The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)

Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.

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Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)

Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.

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Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)

This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."

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Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Modern Age (1985 - present)

As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.

Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.

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Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY

The Cinematic Universes

When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.

Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.

Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.

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Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme

Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."

In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:

For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.

Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.

Engaging on Mars Hill

What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age. 

Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.

Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.

Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd. 

What If?

After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.

What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."

Their interest was piqued.

I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?" 

The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.

I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.

Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)

 


The Prevailing Religion of the Day

In a culture that seeks to be spiritual, but not religious (which ultimately is impossible) a certain version of religiosity has developed over the years. In the early 2000s, researcher Christian Smith surveyed adolescents in the United States of various faith backgrounds (Catholic, Jewish, Mainline Protestant, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Evangelical, and others) to determine where teenagers stood when it comes to religion.

The research has been reviewed and updated over the years and while there are likely some shifts occurring, one standout revelation as defined and described in Smith's book Soul Searching states that across the board among American students, the religion of the day, as affirmed and modeled by their parents even, is now "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." It rightly sounds like therapy or at a minimum, the presentation of religious thought from a television talk show host.

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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Smith goes on to codify the details of this religion as revealed in their interviews as follows:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

The sad reality is that as many people read these descriptors, they will mentally affirm them to be true. Yet, this version of God who would find himself very welcome and affirmed in our culture misses much of what Scripture reveals. In other words the God expressed here is not the God of the Bible nor does he offer redemption, hope, or salvation. But...at least people feel good about him, right?

The tragedy is that many within the church today have slid into this affirmation of religion under the guise of progressivism or tolerance. 

This is why our churches must embrace a family equipping discipleship model. Church attendance and activities can be highly effective. Yet, we know that as we embark on high school graduation around our nation, many students in the church have falsely bought into a God described above. This is one reason why so many students have manageable gods in their lives, but not the true God and eventually walk away from "organized religion" to self-identify as "spiritual but not religious" and ultimately lost.

Thoughts?

_______

Smith, Christian with Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Putting a Stop to the Youth Exodus in the Church

For the past few years, church leaders and evangelicals have been lamenting the loss of younger people in the church. While some new church starts and mega-box churches have seen growth in seeming success in reaching the younger generation, the statistics show a loss overall. Much has been written about this and most hearkens back to Pew Research Center's 2015 report. While that report is two years old, it is likely no significant changes have occurred.

Generational labels differ based on what study is cited or book read, but by and large, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) and Generation Z/Boomlets (born after 2000 ) are trending away from the church. There's not as much data regarding Generation Z, but the older portion of the generation are in high school and graduating this year. 

Generation Z/Boomlets

This generation has been described this way (from MarketingTeacher.com):

  • In 2006 there were a record number of births in the US and 49% of those born were Hispanic, this will change the American melting pot in terms of behavior and culture. The number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation.
  • Since the early 1700s the most common last name in the US was "Smith" but not anymore, now it is "Rodriguez."
  • There are two age groups right now:
    • Tweens.
      • Age 8-12 years old.
      • There will be an estimated 29 million tweens by 2009.
      • $51 billion is spent by tweens every year with an additional $170 billion spent by their parents and family members directly for them.
    • Toddler/Elementary school age.
  • 61 percent of children 8-17 have televisions in their rooms.
  • 35 percent have video games.
  • 14 percent have a DVD player.
  • 4 million will have their own cell phones. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones.
  • Have Eco-fatigue: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it.
  • With the advent of computers and web-based learning, children leave behind toys at younger and younger age. It’s called KGOY-kids growing older younger, and many companies have suffered because of it. Most recognizable is Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls. In the 1990s the average age of a child in their target market was 10-years-old, and in 2000 it dropped to three-years-old. As children reach the age of four and five, old enough to play on the computer, they become less interested in toys and begin to desire electronics such as cell phones and video games.
  • They are savvy consumers and they know what they want and how to get it and they are over saturated with brands.

The Numbers

Pew Research shared the following:

Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014.

Yet numbers can be confusing and sometimes do not tell the full story. In a 2016 article, Pew reveals the factors leading the growth of "nones" in the US:

Indeed, our Religious Landscape Study finds a clear generational pattern: Young people who are not particularly religious seem to be much more comfortable identifying as “nones” than are older people who display a similar level of religious observance. Nearly eight-in-ten Millennials with low levels of religious commitment describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” By contrast, just 54% of Americans in the Silent and Greatest generations who have low levels of religious commitment say they are unaffiliated; 45% claim a religion. A similarly striking gap between Millennials and others is also seen among those with a “medium” level of religious commitment.

What Can the Church Do?

Normally, at least it has been my experience, when data like this surfaces, churches and denominations react, rather than respond. In many cases, the exodus of young people comes as a surprise, all too late. Parents who had faithfully attended church, signed their children up for every program and event from AWANA to DiscipleNow, youth camp, mission trips, etc. wonder where they went wrong when the now adult child seemingly walks away from church with no intent of coming back. 

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In the past, churches would say (well, not out loud, but it was a predominant thought) "Just wait until they get married and have kids. Then, they'll come back to church." Maybe that was true a generation ago, but it doesn't seem to be now. The fact is that young parents who just attended church and were entertained as teenagers seem to find more community in social networking sites, school activities, athletic endeavors for kids, and other areas and church is not avoided...it just never come across their minds.

Yet, all hope is not lost.

Reaction is not the answer, but godly response is. 

What we are facing is not new. Have you ever read the Old Testament? When you read Moses' commands to the next generation in Deuteronomy 6 regarding the passing on of truth to the next generations, there is a since of fear in his words. The fear is that unless the family teaches of God, models worship in the home, and remembers the covenant past with God, the kids and grandkids will not only forget, but walk away. The journey away from God is not without consequence.

What faithful parent or grandparent of a prodigal hasn't shared similar lamentation in prayer?

Since trends tend to raise awareness, let's look at observable trends of those who have not abandoned the faith.

Jon Nielson, Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, recently shared an article highlighting some of the trends he has personally observed of faithful Millennials and young adults (full article here).

  1. They are converted. Sometimes, we deem attendance as a faith indicator. Yet, just being in the youth room or the church building does not a convert make. Teenagers from "good families" who get good grades, play football, cheer, get accepted to multiple schools, etc. are considered by many in the church to be "good kids" and while they may comparatively be, the problem is when salvation is presumed. Christians truly don't abandon Christ. Church attenders and members do.
  2. They have been equipped, not entertained. Oh boy, this is big. "Come to our youth group. It's really fun!" isn't a bad thing, but when everything in the ministry is focused on the student or young person, rather than on the God we worship we perpetuate a "better than the church down the street" model that defaults to the latest events, concerts, praise band, dodgeball tournament, ski trip, and other such events (which are not bad...they're just no the ultimate point.) I'm all for fun and I like being entertained, but if we're simply creating consumers of Chrstianese rather than making disciples, no wonder the younger generation walks away. "Big church" will never be that fun. Seriously - the deacon retreat is not quite the level of youth camp. 
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them. Better yet, their parents worshipped with them and not just at church. The gospel was lived out, modeled, and shared. Normative home life was Christ-centric. Parents who are discipled well disciple well. When the parents are not believers, the church fills the gap. The problem occurs when Christian parents outsource discipling their children to the "professional Christians" at the church. Let's just say that after decades of promoting this model, the proof is in the pudding. It does not work.

Walker Moore of Awe Star Ministries developed a model of student ministry years ago where students led. The gifting of "significant tasks" to students for the health of the ministry allows God to work in and through young people at levels where the "come into the youth room and wait for the adults to feed you" model never will. 

So, what can we do? We can remember. God has not abandoned young adults and teenagers. And, God is not through with the older generations, either. It's not like all the Boomers and Gen Xers are believers, right?

I'm not pessimistic when I read the statistics. I'm actually happy that the scales are now falling off our eyes. Sure, many are walking away, but it's not too late. We (the church) are now being forced back to Scripture and the model is clear. Disciple-making is our commission. It begins in the home, not the church building. Family equipping discipleship is more than a model. It's a biblical command (Deut 6). 

I believe God is recalibrating our focus. While we may be as fearful as Moses, the hope we have in Christ remains. So, don't lose heart. 


A Rite of Passage for Junior High Boys

Nine years ago a school administrator and two teachers began a mentoring club at one of our local junior high schools for boys, simply put, who had little to no father influence and were getting into trouble in class.  This administrator, John Green is the founder of the group and eventually became principal of the school. He is now serving on the leadership staff at Seamark Ranch, a local ministry with group homes for children in need.

The mentoring group continues to meet, and currently has chapters at three local junior high schools. Our clubs (RealStuff Clubs) focus on leading young men into REAL Manhood that…

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility, and
  • Leads courageously. 

As a ministry of our church, we provide male mentors for these young boys. Our groups meet for one hour a week, prior to school in a room reserved on the campus. We abide by the law regarding student leadership and faculty sponsorship (Equal Access Act) to ensure no false allegations of “separation of church and state” have any grounding. We teach sessions on what it means to be a real man, using characters from the Bible and ultimately Jesus Christ as our perfect model.

Each year, as the culmination of our club meetings, we host a “Knighting Ceremony” where 7th graders are “knighted” into the journey of authentic manhood before their peers and family members. Each 7th grader receives a Bible as a gift. Our 8th graders receive the cross pendant from Band of Brothers ministry.

In the past, our mentors were the “knighters” and the presenters of the pendants. However, we now affirm that the ones who need to be doing this are the boys’ fathers (or grandfathers, or other significant male.) As mentors, we gladly stand in the gap for boys who have no father figure in their lives. Yet, for those with fathers, we focus on helping them learn how to do this vital rite of passage.

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So, this year, with over 250 in attendance (boys, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) our young men were charged with the code of being a real man, then their fathers were invited up to knight them (7th graders) or present the pendant (8th graders.) The fathers of 7th graders knighted these boys in the “name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and welcomed them into this fraternity called real manhood. The fathers of the 8th graders presented the pendant and then in their ear, spoke a word of blessing that included these key phrases “I love you! You have what it takes!” plus anything else they desired to say.

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It was a momentous evening and while it was focused on the boys, it truly was a night to remember for these fathers. For some, it was the first time they had spoken such words to their sons. Many had never heard their own fathers say such things. It was a divine rite of passage and we seek to provide support for them along the journey.

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firstFAMILY Podcast 015: Killing the One-Eared Mickey Mouse

Back in 1989, Stuart Cummings-Bond wrote in Youthworker Journal of the "One-Eared Mickey Mouse" that often develops within a church regarding student ministry. 

What is the One-Eared Mickey Mouse?

The premise is that left unchecked, the program model of youth ministry leads to an isolated entity with the thinnest of connections to church as a whole. This become a ministry silo (which I have written about here.) A healthier approach would find more overlap of the circles with intentional interaction and sharing of spiritual practices like worship.

One-earred-mickey

While student ministry often is the example used to describe this effect, the truth is it is not relegated to just ministry with teenagers. Any ministry within the church potentially can become its own "parachurch" ministry. This is often due to much weight being placed on the program model and the passion of those who serve within the ministry. For example, if John Doe serves in the intercessory prayer ministry, and has great passion for that ministry, there would be the natural tendency to elevate the prayer ministry over all other aspects of church ministry and opportunities. When this happens, a segmented leadership structure develops and an unintended "us vs. them" mentality develops which is evident in spiritual arrogance. You know, when only those who serve in "Ministry A" are considered to be really spiritual and doing something vital, while everyone else is missing out and living below the level of all that is holy.

Since Mickey's head is connected to his ear in this model at a very small, finely tuned point, it is very easy to be active in the "ear" and not be connected in the fullness of the church and its ministry.

This is poor ecclesiology and ultimately sinful.

And, just about every church of any significant age and size will inevitably drift here.

As our Leadership Team meets regularly to pray, plan and prepare (nice alliteration, huh?) we are more and more convicted of the potential for developing and even celebrating the "one-eared Mickey." Therefore, we must be strategic in our planning and more intentional in our practice to ensure this does not happen.

To declare our desire to have a family-equipping ministry means more than just saying "We're intentionally inter-generational." It means planning for opportunities where family members of all ages (and that's church family as well as biological and home-based families) to serve together, worship together, learn together, and grow together.

Perhaps one of the greatest divides in this era of legacy churches, church plants, megachurches, home churches, and all other models is the generational divide. When a segment of the church (defined by generation or age) is described as "those people" rather than "our family members" the divide is there.

By and large the "worship wars" of the 1990s and prior are over. The fact that "wars" were celebrated within the church is bad enough. The winner of the worship wars? Debatable, but likely not the church since division and self-centeredness tended to define the battle most accurately described as "The greatest waste of time within the church walls while the world kept on turning."

Yet, "Generation Wars" may be upon us...unless, we are proactive.

To ignore the "one-eared Mickey" is a recipe for loss. 

There are many resources available to help churches avoid this. One is Timothy Paul Jones' book Family Ministry Field Guide. I recommend it for all pastoral staff members (especially during the season of ministry planning and calendaring - which for us begins in August and ends in July each year.)


RealStuff Clubs Launch in August

What's old is new again.

Or, as Solomon once said, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." 

We're announcing the launch of RealStuff Clubs in local schools in August 2016, but for the many adults who years ago were part of my student ministry, the name sounds very familiar. The name of our student ministry a couple of decades ago was RealStuff Youth Ministry.

So, this club launch proves...

  • I am not really creative
  • I still like acronyms
  • I am nostalgic (or I live in the past)
  • Twitter and website domains limit the development of new ministry names (because someone else has already claimed them)
  • I was tired of trying to think of a new name.

RealStuff Clubs aren't actually new, but are the next iteration of an on-campus club I have been serving in and leading for the past few years. Originally, the club was for boys only and met in a local junior high school. Founded by John Green, former principal at Lakeside Junior High School and current Education Director at Seamark Ranch, the "Gentlemen Gators" (the mascot for LJHS is the Gator) was developed to help young men who do not have strong, godly male leadership in their lives develop the manners, character and wisdom needed to succeed in life. Gentlemen Gators morphed into "Real Manhood" a few years ago. The name change was to allow the clubs to be expanded to other schools and using the "Gator" in the name would limit where that could happen. Also, by focusing on the word "REAL" the definition of authentic manhood as developed by the leadership of Men's Fraternity and 33 was used. A "REAL" man is one who Rejects passivity, Expects the greater reward, Accepts responsibility and Leads courageously.

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Of course, as we gathered each week over the years we would inevitably have young ladies and parents of young ladies asking for a girl's version of this club. Until now, we really didn't have the option to do this without forfeiting our focus.

It has become clear that God is raising up a generation of young men and women who are truly seeking to know what it means to follow Him and, in a culture that continues to strip away defining terms, understand what it means to live as a godly man and woman. To say that we live in an era of gender confusion is an understatement. Therefore, we are retooling the Real Manhood group once more to be open to both young men and women in the fall. The new group is an old name for me - RealStuff Clubs.

The "stuff" we will focus on centers on the Gospel.

These clubs will be student-led with adult mentors and campus coaches serving in the weekly meetings. 

Do we really need more Christian clubs?

This is a question that some have asked. Ultimately, we don't need more parachurch organizations, but what we do need is the church to engage the culture where the crowd exists. While our schools have some great parachurch groups meeting on campus such as FCA and YoungLife, the RealStuff Clubs will offer a church-centric student group on campus with a strategic focus of developing student leaders, focusing on God's design for men and women, and resource parents and guardians of the students to be the lead disciplers in the home.

Each RealStuff Club will function with a monthly schedule where each week emphasizes a specific purpose. This strategy is not unique to us, in that many school clubs do similar things.

REAL WEEKS

  • REACH WEEK - Week One of every month is REACH WEEK. During this week's meeting we share stories of how God is working on our campus and through our lives to reach others for Him. Stories are shared that emphasize the characteristics of real manhood and womanhood with mentors available to break down the details and expound on the biblical truths.
  • EQUIP WEEK - Week Two of every month is EQUIP WEEK. During this gathering, we spend time training students in the basics of sharing their faith. This is a "back to basics" approach of apologetics. 
  • ASK WEEK - Week Three is ASK WEEK. We spend time together in our small groups, with mentors and leaders asking God to bless our campus and give us "eyes to see and ears to hear" what He is doing in our midst. This is a time of real prayer. We specifically ask God to lead our friends to attend LIFE WEEK and that many may surrender to Him.
  • LIFE WEEK - Week Four is LIFE WEEK. We have a special guest and either breakfast or pizza available (depending on when the club meets). This is the week where the Gospel is shared clearly to all with an opportunity for people to respond to His call.
  • WEEK FIVE - Every quarter we end up with a fifth week. During this week, each club will offer unique opportunities and engaging teaching that fits with the actions steps needed to implement that which as been taught in the previous weeks. 

We hope to have RealStuff Clubs in every junior high and high school in our county. 

Again, as part of our firstFAMILY Network, this ministry seeks to go where the crowd is for the sake of the Gospel. For more on RealStuff Clubs and to journey with us during this genesis time, go to realstuff.club and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Ban the Bait & Switch in Church!

Years ago one of our church members (John Green) founded a young men's mentoring group on a local school campus. It was originally designed to help students who needed some guidance and male role models. The groups started small and eventually grew to over fifty gathering on campus prior to the beginning of the school day. The group was unapologetically faith-based, which is politically correct way to say "religiously focused." In the case of this group, the desire to present godly examples of men living out their faith became the focus. 

Over the years, leadership has shifted. I joined the leadership team a number of years ago. It is a weekly responsibility I have had for all these years and we are seeing God work mightily through the young men (and the older men mentoring them as well.)

The founder of the group is no longer working in the school system, but now oversees the educational aspects of a local group home for boys and girls. He is still very much involved in the promotion and focus of this group and since he is still a leader, active member, and minister at our church, he too promotes the solid theological focus needed to lead these boys not just into strong adulthood, but biblical manhood.

The on-campus ministry is called Real Manhood. The word "Real" is an acrostic that reveals the definition of biblical manhood being taught to the boys.

A real man...

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility
  • Leads courageously

These are aspects of manhood that all men should seek to attain.

We have expanded the ministry in recent years to newer schools with a plan to be at even more in the fall. Of course, to have a ministry group meeting on a public school campus causes some to wonder. "Is this legal?" is a common question. Absolutely it is, especially since the group has a faculty sponsor and meets prior to school. Student leadership in the group is clear and reservations of facility mean that we are abiding by all laws as well as the "Student Bill of Rights." Our group is not unlike FCA or Cru or even non-religious groups meeting on school campuses. 

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The unique thing about our group for young boys is that it is targeted to just one segment of the student population. A girl's version is being developed. With gender confusion and identity a front-page story nowadays, the need for what we are teaching our boys is needed now more than ever, in our estimation.

All boys, regardless of religious background or belief (or non-belief) are invited. Many who attend now do not regularly attend any local church. Some attend ours. Others attend elsewhere.

When talking with John about the viability of maintaining the group as leadership has changed, we have been adamant that no "bait and switch" occur when inviting boys to attend.

The Bait and Switch

For decades, businesses have been accused of using a "bait and switch" to gain customers. Simply put, this is an advertising technique that pretends to offer one thing, but once the customer arrives, seeks to sell another thing. It has been called a shady marketing strategy and customers, by and large, hate the practice.

Businesses who consistently utilize the technique tend to gain a poor rating from customers. In other words, you don't want to be known as a "bait and switch" company.

When Churches Bait and Switch

Though we denigrate businesses for using such unwholesome techniques, the church has been guilty of doing the same thing. Even with good intentions, the practicality of saying "Come to our event and win an iPad...but really, we just want to preach to you," comes across as more P.T. Barnum than C.H. Spurgeon.

Tweet: Saying  Saying "Come to our event and win an iPad...but really, we just want to preach to you," comes across as more P.T. Barnum than C.H. Spurgeon.

 When John and I were discussing the future of Real Manhood, we agreed that in no way should a "bait and switch" to be used to gain attendees. Parents who allow their children to attend MUST know that this group is an extension of our church's student ministry. That means we are up front with saying "Hey, Real Manhood is a ministry. It's a Christian ministry. It's a Baptist ministry. We teach the Bible to these young men and believe that God will reveal Himself to them through these stories. Real manhood, based on the definition we use, is unattainable apart from Jesus Christ." 

Tweet: Real manhood is unattainable apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Real manhood is unattainable apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So far, so good.

Even non-believing parents understand where we stand.

Why is this important? Because to devalue the gospel by trying to package it as something other than it is, is wrong. Why would a ministry choose to be deceptive when sharing Christ? Why would a church do so? There's one in the Bible that is identified as deceptive and we, as Christians, should never wish to be associated with him.

I often wonder if we would have twice as many participants if we just promoted the gathering as a "mentoring group for boys with good life lessons." Perhaps. But, then we'd be lying. To be honest, if I had a son in school attending a group gathering that promoted itself as one way and sold a different bill of goods once the group was gathered, I'd be irate.

Perhaps all churches should consider then when seeking to engage the community and the culture? I'm not really opposed to gatherings that offer fun events, give aways (we even gave an iPad away a few years ago at a student ministry event), and special guests, but be sure to promote who you are and whose you are clearly, especially in our culture of cynics and charlatans. The Gospel deserves better.


firstFAMILY Podcast 004: Tech Savvy Parenting with Brian Housman

In today's podcast, I interview Brian Housman of 360 Family about his book and seminar titled Tech Savvy Parenting Brian has spent more than twenty years speaking into the lives of students and parents. His experiences as a school administrator, camp director, and youth pastor have allowed him to see families in the culture from many different perspectives. As the founder of 360Family, Brian has spoken at more than 200 conferences, churches and schools including work with D6, K-Love, and FamilyLife Today. His work can be read monthly in Parenting Teens and Homeschooling Today magazines. 

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Did you know 9 out of 10 student aged 8-18 have viewed Internet porn? Did you know 31% of all adolescents lie about their age on the Internet? Did you know more than half of parents fear their child being contacted online by a stranger?

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The Tech Savvy Parenting workshop will be held at firstFAMILY Church on Sunday, March 6 (lunch provided) and Monday, March 7 at Montclair Elementary School. In this informative workshop we look at current research into gaming systems, internet activities, and online communities. Parents will leave this workshop not only with a working knowledge of the web culture but also with specific step you can take as a parent to safeguard your home and child's life. Parents will also be equipped to talk about touchy subjects such as internet pornography, cyber bullying, online integrity, and many more.

Brian has given parents a road map to dealing with their teen’s technology. Tech-Savvy Parenting isn’t just about big issues like texting and internet – it’s about walking parents through practical steps they can take immediately. – Scott Lotta, Parenting Teens Magazine

For more information on Brian, his resources and the conferences, go to techsavvyparenting.com and 360family.org.

 


The Fam - Part 4 - "Rites of Passage"

08-30-2015 - The Fam - Part 4 - Rites of Passage

“When does a child become an adult? When does a boy become a man? When does a girl become a woman?” 

  • Age 13 – Teenager, no longer eating off the kids menu (legally.)
  • Age 15 – Driver’s permit?
  • Age 16 – Driver’s license?
  • Age 18 – Legal to vote?
  • Age 21 – Legal to drink?
  • When puberty hits? (Different for everyone?)
  • When puberty ends? (Somewhere around 25 or maybe 30?)
  • When they get a job?
  • When they have sexual relations?

The culture is confused, in so many ways, but this challenge of growing up is being stunted and causing more problems for families and individuals than ever in the past.

Have you ever heard of the term “adultescent?”

This is the moniker attached to adults who “fail to launch” and choose to remain home, stay unmarried, refuse commitments and continue to live as if they were 16 well up into their 30s. Unfortunately, some of this trend can be traced to parents who, though well-intentioned, have lacked the tools to usher their children into adulthood. In most cases, the parents never had a defining moment of adulthood, so creating one becomes the challenge.

Male and female genders are intentionally and strategically created by God for the individual even before conception. Authentic manhood and womanhood are bestowed. God has intended for parents to lead out in this area. 

But, what about those who grew up in homes where there was no father or mother speaking truth into their lives?

What about parents who don’t know how to do this?

What about the teenagers who are living far outside the boundaries of morality and godliness? 

Many parents just laugh it off and say “Let kids be kids.” While I think kids should be able to have fun and be kids, the frustration is that when adults who have all the trappings of adulthood live as though they are little more than kids in big people clothes.

Rites of passage are essential

Watch this video from our ROPE series. This is one designed for parents of 13 year olds.

7th Grade - First Family Rite of Passage 2 from First Family on Vimeo.

It’s one thing to say “You need to create rites of passage for your kids at different stages and ages” and something totally different to say “Let us help you in this journey.”

Parents, grandparents, kids - We’re here to help you in this journey.

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.  Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (ESV)

Click the image below to be taken to the Rites of Passage Experiences (ROPE) page.

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Playing Games & Calling It Ministry

I have heard the comments throughout the years, but it seems that over the past few months they have grown with regularity. I wouldn't really file these away as gripes, but they are close. Maybe it's a sign that there's a holy unrest among a generation seeking more? At least, that's how I define it. The common thread is that I am hearing from members of a certain generation who are tired of being a part of a ministry that is content at remaining shallow.

Some of the things said in passing are things like. . .

"I really want to be a part of a ministry that is more than just focused on fun."

"I don't think just getting together to play games constitutes ministry."

"I love being with people, but shouldn't we be doing something for the Lord rather than just talking about it?"

"The trips are fun. It's just that they're only trips. We don't do anything related to God, the church or ministry."

"All we do is eat."

Holy discontent?

Sounds like young adults who grew up in a youth ministry that was built on pizza parties, trips to the beach or amusement park and maybe game nights. As a veteran of student ministry and student of the culture, this is one of the reasons many teenagers leave church when they graduate. They were never invited into ministry, never given significant tasks within the church and eventually they either desire more or see church as frivolous.

The thing is, the comments I'm hearing now are not from the younger, Millennial generation. These comments are coming from senior adults.

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I don't categorize them as gripes, but as honest questions from men and women who have more chapters read in their life stories than I do. Most desire to finish well and do not see empty "ministries" as allowing them to do so.

It's funny, they're not saying they don't want to play games, eat and fellowship together or even take trips together on the big bus somewhere. Their frustration is that these activities alone are called "ministry" and yet, should not be.

In other words, if the church only offers activities for seniors that the local community senior center can, there is a good chance that what is offered is not ministry at all. 

It is offensive to me when pastors and leaders who serve senior adults treat these seasoned saints as if they're little more than old versions of preschoolers.

We live in a culture that does not value the aged. This is evident in how many view senior adults. There is a treasure of wisdom available, but many just walk on by and never experience it, destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations by ignoring wise counsel.

Now, just because a person has lived long on the earth does not mean that person is living holy, redeemed and wise. These attributes are Spirit-given and often choices of the individual. Nevertheless, the church in the United States that rightly seeks to reach Millennials and young people with the Gospel must also discover ways to not push aside those who still have much to offer the Kingdom.

Intergenerational ministry is key. . .and it's not defined by games, meals and bus trips.