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."
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.
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.
Last night marked the culmination of our young men's initiative called "REAL Manhood." Each Wednesday at two local junior high schools, male mentors who affirm our Statement of Faith, meet before school for a time of teaching, training and mentoring.
REAL Manhood is the mentoring initiative of Battle Ready Men, designed to lead young boys into an understanding of true, authentic, "real" biblical manhood. The journey is not complete in just a year, but as we meet regularly, we are able to reveal God's truth regarding the masculine journey. In an age and culture where gender differences are pushed to the back burner, totally ignored and most recently determined to be man-made and changeable, we "fight the good fight" for the hearts of these young men.
Over fifty junior high boys were decked out in tuxedos, complete with royal blue ties for the Lakeside Gators and green ties for the Green Cove Springs Cougars. Our ceremony took place at The Club Continental in Orange Park. Parents and family members squeezed into the room to celebrate the "knighting" of these boys as "REAL Men" and the beginning of their journey into authentic manhood.
The word REAL is a reminder of what a godly, biblical, authentic man is. He is a man who. . .
Expects the greater reward
This was our ninth knighting ceremony. The group has grown over the years. Founded by Principal John Green, there now are hundreds of alumni in our community and beyond.
The ceremony is unique. Junior high boys stand uncomfortably in tuxedos. Fathers and mentors recite words of affirmation and blessing. Family and friends record the ceremony and take photos. First year graduates are "knighted" with a sword symbolizing the Word of God and the journey that lies ahead. Then, a very special part of the ceremony occurs.
Two years ago we wrestled with what to do with the second year participants (Prior to that time, only 8th graders could participate. Our junior high schools are only 7th and 8th grades.) After many hours of prayer and discussion, it became clear that the most powerful moment in such a celebration is when a boy's father (or other designated male influence - grandfather, uncle, older brother, coach, pastor, mentor, etc.) presents a gift to the young man and speaks words of blessing upon him. We did not want to rob these men of this special role.
This moment has become the highlight for me.
The second-year participants select their presenter. In most cases, it's their father. In some cases, it's another man who stands in the gap when there is no dad or he's unavailable.
The blessing is public, in that it takes place before the crowd. The words of blessing are private - just between the two.
It is at this moment time seems to stand still. In a crowded room, these two men are alone with God and the blessing is bestowed. I'm sure some of the men aren't sure wha to say. In truth, most men were never blessed by their own fathers, so this is new for them. The awkwardness melts as words of "You have what it takes, son" and like phrases pour out upon the young man.
You see it in Genesis 27:30–38, where Isaac is blessing his son, and Jacob steals Esau's blessing and his birthright. Four times in those eight verses, Esau begs for his father's blessing, but it's never forthcoming. The Scripture says Esau always hated Jacob for that. The emphasis is more on the blessing than it is on the birthright.
The blessing always involves a hug and a kiss. Not the kiss of abuse, but the kiss of blessing—there's a vast difference. You can't force yourself on your child, but you can hug them and get close to them physically to a certain degree without embarrassing them or turning them off.
I found my kids love to be hugged and kissed. I grab my little girl by her ears and look into her eyes and say, "I love you, I bless you, I think you're absolutely terrific." That's easy with her because she's little and dainty. But I've got two boys, 280 and 290 pounds. One played pro ball, and both played college ball. They're 6'6", bench press 500 pounds, and are bigger than I am, but I grabbed that eldest son of mine recently and said, "I love, I bless you, I think you're terrific, and I'm so glad you're mine." His shoulders began to shake and his eyes filled with tears and he said, "Dad, I really needed that."
It's got to be said out loud. It's got to be stated. It's not like the lawyer that's getting a divorce and the judge says, "How often did you tell your wife you loved her?" and he replies, "I told her the day I married her and then never told her differently."
The blessing is also unconditional and continuous. If it's conditional, it's not love; it's a negotiation. I was in a prison in Texas recently where they've got 300 boys ages 10 to 15. These boys have committed every crime you can imagine. I asked the warden, "How many of these boys got a visit from their father in the past year?"
He said, "One, and he only stayed 15 minutes, got into a fight with his son, and stomped out mad." They're not fathers, because fathers hang with their kids no matter what. I know a lot of fathers that disown their kids because they go to prison. But it's got to be something that is continuous and unconditional in order to be a real blessing, in order to be real love.
Glass's ministry is in the prisons and he encounters many, many young men seeking the father blessing, and they do not even recognize what they're missing.
A kid who is searching desperately for a blessing will put himself in all sorts of contortions in order to get it. You see this in gangs. Kids get into gangs because they want to be accepted by a family. Most kids that get into gangs have no father relationship. So, as a result, they go into the gang, because the gang promises them that they're going to be part of a family. "I've got your back, and I'm going to watch you all the way, and I'm with you no matter what." They have these little teardrop tattoos. Have you seen them on a kid's face? Those little tattooed teardrops stand for some heinous crime they committed in order to get into the gang—the initiation fee. If I have to kill someone to get into the gang, I'll do it, because I need to feel that I'm part of a family. And only a father can make a child feel that way. A mother, by herself, has a hard time ever doing that. All those guys on death row love their mothers. It's their fathers they've got the problem with.
There is power in the father blessing. We saw this last night.
Yet, there are some young men with no father in their story. The Bible is clear that God is the Father to the fatherless and for these young men who have this gap in their story, God, in his providence and grace brings along real men to stand in the gap. It is in this story the mentor, teacher, pastor, coach or maybe another male relative can bring the blessing.
You Have What It Takes
The message to these young men is clear - "You have what it takes." Why is that so important? Because the world and the Enemy will shout at them for the remainder of their lives that they offer nothing and do not have what it takes. It's the continual barrage on the heart of men. Therefore, these young men, these REAL men, need to hear this and know this regularly.
This is Just the Beginning
The years to come for these young men are bright with promise and potential. Parents and loved ones have high hopes and pour into them with love and understanding. Our focus as leadership of REAL Manhood is to partner with these families and provide spiritual insight and spiritual truth that is needed for the journey.
I was moved when I received a note from one of my young men that featured a quote and a personal message. The quote was. . .
A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained." - Shawn Hitchcock
The personal message was a thank you for being a part in his journey toward manhood.
It's not an easy journey, but I'm continually reminded of this truth. . .
"It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass
Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.
This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.
Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification.
Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.
As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.
I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.
Some background. . .
Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.
As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.
"He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgot? So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
"Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
"What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true?
More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.
How Will The Church Respond?
The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.
The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.
We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.
With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher.
However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.
A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.
I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23
We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,
Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22
It was a good morning.
My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.
Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”
The room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.
“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”
Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.
Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”
Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”
As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.
I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.”
Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.
This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .
In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.
At the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.
Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?"
I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."
It was a moment of panic for me.
One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.
But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore.
I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.
I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.
I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.
This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?
Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was so angry and upset.
Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?
Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?
My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.
This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.
Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.
I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him.
It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me.
I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.
So, here's my two minute "testimony":
I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.
I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.
I am saved.
Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.
To tell others.
Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.
As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.
Years ago, as I met with a new student pastor who was struggling to grow a healthy ministry, I shared something that took me a few years to figure out. It wasn't that others hadn't already been doing this. It was more that I was young and thought a strong student ministry was determined by how many students arrived at mid-week worship and events.
A wise student ministry professor had told me years prior (and I guess I didn't listen too well, at first) that a healthy student ministry is built upon a strong ministry with parents of students.
This frightens many new, young, student pastors. In many cases, these pastors do not have children and since many are young themselves, they are closer in age to the students in their ministry than to the parents of their students. Therefore, a sense of fear and lack of expertise often leaves parents feeling as if they're on the outside.
Consequently, many student ministries end up being built on the personality of the leader and parents are unintentionally led to "outsource" disciple-making to pastors, small group leaders and others in the church.
As First Orange Park, the church I am honored to pastor, enters into 2015 soon, we are excited about the changes on the horizon and the steps to be taken that will result in what we believe will be a healthy church with healthy families and all (preschoolers, children, students, young adults, married adults, single adults and senior adults) actively serving in a framework that honors God and provides natural growth and opportunities for parents to be the primary disciple-makers in their homes.
THE NEED FOR PARENT MINISTRY
Ministering with parents of children and teenagers is essential. As many of our senior adults can attest, there is no manual for culture changes and parenting helps presented when a baby is born. Biblical principles are present, and vital, but often the church has been ineffective in giving moms and dads (and grandparents, foster parents, uncles, aunts, etc.) handles to hold as they embark and live out the journey of parenting.
As one aspect of our new family emphasis, we (our ministry leaders) are making available to parents of preschoolers, children (K - Grade 6) and students (Grades 7-12*) resources that are practical, helpful and needed through ParentMinistry.net.
The ROPE - Rites of Passage Experiences are vital in the life of a child.
So, whether you have a child or grandchild or a young person in your family in need of these helps, we are proud to be your encouragers along the way.
We're putting the "Magic Button" on our website soon, but in the meantime, click here or the image below to view resources that can get you started.
The "Magic Button" leads to information for parents of teenagers. Other resources will become available soon.
Our strategic framework for family discipleship will lead all areas of ministry within First Baptist to change over the next few years. This is a needed step and we believe God is leading clearly in this direction to be biblically sound in our discipling strategy. BTW - the resources are just the beginning. More info to come.
*6th Grade is actually in the "Youth" section of ParentMinistry.net, though at First, as in our community's schools, 6th Grade is in our Children's Ministry.
Even in the church, this has happened. I remember a small group party that was held at our church where the men in the class put on a "talent" show dressed as some of the ugliest women imaginable. It was all in fun, and drew laughter, but as I reflect back. . .not exactly something that should be done in a church, or by Christians.
Over the years, the humor in this has dissipated for me. This is based on an incident years ago at a youth camp where I was serving, a meeting with a former transvestite at a ministry network gather, and the most recent trends in our culture regarding widespread acceptance of "alternative lifestyles" and the normalizing of such abherrant behavior and its impact on loved ones, friends and family members.
CROSS DRESSING AT YOUTH CAMP
Years ago, I was given the task of creating a relay game at a youth camp. I had seen relays involving numerous students at camps in the past and borrowed a themed idea from a friend. I thought nothing of it, other than it involved dozens of students, was fun, messy and would fit our timeframe. The name of the relay was "A League of Their Own" and was based, loosely on the film with that name.
Each station in the race involved something to do with baseball and women playing it. So, one station had a designated male student who would be dressed in a women's skirt and ball jersey by teammates. The uniform was just thrown over his current clothes. Then the next station, this boy would have a wig placed on his head, a baseball cap and lipstick, all done by teammates who were blindfolded. This made it maddening and fun. The relay race went on and eventually the boy dresssed as a girl was swinging a bat trying to hit water balloons. There were other steps as well, but you get the idea.
After having the relay run, one of the youth pastors at the camp came to me concerned. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, so his concern took me off guard.
He informed me that he had a young man in his youth group struggling deeply with gender identification. He had been abused as a young child and had numerous problems, but one was that he would often dress up like a girl and pretend he was someone other than who he was.
They were counseling him and his family. He was only about 15 years old. He was an outcast of sorts in the group, but even the other students showed concern for him and were working to help him personally and help him see the love that God has for him and the hope through Jesus Christ.
He was a long work in progress and then, at a Christian camp, we had a cross-dressing game for all to participate. It was a step backward and I never saw it coming.
"It was just in fun," I thought at first, but soon realized how the Enemy had warped even our game and good intentions.
MAN LIVING AS A WOMAN
Another incident took place at our area network office. Pastors and church leaders gathered to hear testimony from a guest who had experienced an amazing transformation through Christ. This gentleman shared how he had struggled his entire life with same sex attraction. His story was not unlike many others I have heard.
He put a picture up on the screen of a beautiful woman and everyone in the room expected to hear how a story about his female friend. However, we were told that the picture on the screen was not of a woman, but of him. It was years old and was strangely amazing. The picture on the screen appeared to be a woman and when he dressed as such, he was very convincing. He shared how he would speak differently, walk differently, create the appropriate facade of anatomy and hide other distinquishingly male marks. His story was deep and eye-opening.
He then shared of his rescue by Christ.
It was clear, evident and true. However, as he shared, he was still being daily rescued from a false identity as he would often, as all believers do, forget who he was in Christ.
TRANS, TRANS, TRANS OR JUST DRAG?
Within every alternative sexual lifestyle, there are variations. This is evident in the ever-growing acronym of LGBT to LGBTQ2IA and beyond.
So, to be clear, there are apparent differences in transvestites (A person who dresses at times in clothing identified as for the opposite sex. These are most often males dressing as females.), transgenders (One who identifies as the opposite sex than their physical gender, such as Laverne Cox), and transsexuals (One who has changed or who is in the process of changing his/her physical sexual gender to be the opposite.)
Then, there are Drag Queens, who are male entertainers and performers who do so as women (RuPaul, Dame Edna, Courtney Act and others.) There are "blurred lines" between these designations, no doubt.
IS IT REALLY THAT BIG OF A DEAL?
This is the question that often is asked and on the surface it seems that I'm just another Christian making a mountain out of a mole hill, another Christ-follower without a sense of humor. Believe me, there are many that fit that designation, but my concern goes deeper.
Cultural identifiers, such as television shows, movies, music and media emphases, reveals that this subject is not only mainstream (as evidenced by the Time magazine article about Laverne Cox, the popularity of "Orange is the New Black" and shows on LOGO such as "RuPaul's Drag Race") but to consider this issue as anything but normal will place you in a category of out of touch, hate-mongers who just aren't progressive. Even Facebook backtracked and apologized to drag queens after initially refusing their us of character names as their Facebook names. Now, "he" can be "she" on Facebook with the social media giant's approval.
Culture shifts never happen overnight. It is always a slow turn. Then, when some declare the turn to be wrong, or most likely, the current state of things to be "too far gone" it is often too far gone.
Where Flip Wilson would don his Geraldine costume for a sketch on a variety show and your parents and grandparents laughed when he said "The Devil made me do it," we now find ourselves celebrating parents who dress their little boys up as Disney princesses and laugh when teenage boys are lipsticked, glammed up and made "sassy" by their girl-friends (not to be confused with girlfriends.)
And, in this case, the slow turn now leaves us asking "When did this shift take place?"
Not in the 1990s, 1980s, or even the 1960s, but thousands of years prior as God's enemy worked to deface the cream of creation, the image-bearers of God.
When it comes to male and female, each person is created intentionally and strategically in the image of our Holy God. Males with a distinctly masculine heart. Females with a uniquely designed feminine heart. Both as image-bearers of God.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 22:5 (ESV)
The word "abomination" draws much ire from the tolerance police. The Hebrew word translated to "abomination" means "a disgusting thing, abominable, a wicked thing as it relates to rituals and ethics." So, this is a very strong word.
To be clear, and to avoid the legalistic understanding often attributed to this verse that has led to a proliferation of jean skirts and button down shirts, this verse is not about a certain item of clothing (i.e. women wearing pants) but about women dressing in such a way as to present themselves as male and men dressing to present themselves as female.
Appaently, even when the intent is just the punchline of a joke, these are things to be avoided. You never know when there will be a young man or woman struggling with personal sexual identity who may end up even more confused through this.
For more on this subject from a biblical perspective, check out this article on GotQuestions.org.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.
As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.
Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.
A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.
GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST
Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.
In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."
We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.
The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.
While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.
We must live out the truths of Scripture.
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 6:7 (ESV)
This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.
Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.
While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again.
Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.
If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.
A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.
The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.
Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.
Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:
Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
Salvation & Baptism
Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)
At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well.
WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?
This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles.
It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.
That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually.
WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?
More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?"
In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?
The Gospel is never-changing.
The Truth is never-changing.
The strategies are always changing.
Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.
Our leadership team at church is strategically preparing an overarching strategy for family discipleship. This is an exciting, yet troublesome journey as God is revealing areas in ministry where we have unintentionally built "silos" of ministry, believing the model to be best only to wonder where the disciples are.
Families are the primary disciple-makers and the church fellowship is to come alongside parents and children to encourage and sustain the walk.
One such area of familial discipleship that I feel strongly about, though admittedly have failed to fulfill due to circumstances beyond my control, is that of walking one's son into adulthood. The rite of passage is a missing piece in our culture and therefore, we often end up with children wearing adult bodies with empty looks of wonder and confusion in their eyes.
We Have Failed
Not everyone, but by and large, as a culture and even as the church, we have failed in this process.
The strategy God is leading us to develop is multi-faceted and powerful and will be revealed church-wide later this fall. However, one element of the strategy is the "rite of passage."
As my son was growing through adolescence, I dreamed of having a celebration such as the one described below and had even put into motion the plans for such. However, through certain circumstances and situations in our journey, God led me to shelve the event.
Nevertheless, I am adament on leading fathers and young men out of the fog and into a story that is large, powerful, life-changing and Kingdom-impacting. A life-long journey of discipling leads to a moment such as this:
A pastor at a sister church had a son who was entering his last year of high school. When the boy was age 17 or so, this father had met with some men who knew his son and had played significant roles in his life. His youth pastor. A coach. A mentor. An older friend. A grandfather. Uncle.
The meeting with this pastor and these men was designed to prepare them to share in a moment of significance with the boy. He gave them instructions on where to meet. They were told to stand, hidden behind trees until they heard him call to them. They received their instruction and were prepared as the day arrived.
On the day in question, this father and his son traveled to a piece of property outside the city where the father had already set up a fire pit and a couple of chairs. This was a familiar place to the boy as they had spent many days here in the past as a family.
The fire pit and seats were in an area accesible via a pathway through a wooded area.
The father and son walked the pathway, talking and sharing thoughts along the way.
Once they made it to the fire pit, they sat down and the dad began to share with his son how proud he was of him and what it meant to be a man, an authentic, biblical man of God. These were not new revelations, for the father had been pouring into his son for years truths regarding God and identity.
There is something very powerful to hear your father speak words of truth and love to you, especially as a boy.
At the appropriate moment, when the father had shared that God had brought many men along the way to journey alongside them and to help the son understand the reality of God's love and His plan for him, the father said, "Okay, gentlemen, you can come out."
At that moment, the men stepped out of the woods, into the clearing and moved toward the boy.
With tears flowing down his eyes, the young man was beginning to understand the power of the blessing.
These men who had loved him as a young man, mentored him, poured into his life and stood alongside his father to help lead him into manhood, spoke into his life at that moment. They shared encouraging, challenging and truthful words to him.
They prayed over him.
Then, they left the father and son to continue their discussion.
There's more to the story and it grows in power.
The father blessed his son that day and welcomed him into adulthood.
A Rite of Passage
That, my friends, is a rite of passage.
It sure makes getting a driver's license or a voting card pale in comparison.
This is just one example. There are many other elements to be put in place for families, parents, grandparents, children and young people.
Can you imagine when events such as have been described above are more than just things some do, but are actually part of the fabric of the local church?
Ministries that are so segmented they can stand alone, with no input and connection with other ministries within the church lead to broken models, tired volunteers and busy members, but not disciples.
That's why it is true that "greater things have yet to come" as we follow God's lead into this strategy.
As I talk with pastors from around the country, there is a growing urgency to move the church toward living missionally. A common theme is the need to update some internal church practices, without watering down the Gospel, in order to better reach and impact the community for the sake of the Gospel.
This means CHANGE.
The old joke that "no one in the church likes change except for the babies in the nursery" is more true than we want to admit.
Often I will hear from some pastors who tell me they feel resistance from the senior adults in their fellowship. This either leads to continuing on with "status quo" or creating an unnecessary battle within the church. Still, the inevitable is true - change is happening.
IN DEFENSE OF SENIOR ADULTS
As a pastor of a "First Baptist Church" who often hears statements like "You're not a typical First Baptist Church" as compliments, I acknowledge we have made some significant changes in strategy and systems over the years. While I have more mistakes in my bio than victories regarding these transitional moves, I have learned some things over the past couple of decades.
One thing that remains clear, our senior adults can handle change and will embrace it, as long as it is right and not superficial.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
I wish I had learned this earlier (and was better at it now.) I have discovered that many of the stereotypical senior adults who are categorized as not wanting change will actually champion it, if they understand the "why."
Change for the sake of change is wrong. It may look good, but leads to no strategic end and becomes little more than a waste of resources and influence.
I have found that for senior saints who long for their children and grandchildren to be active in a local church and more importantly know Christ, they are willing to see needed changes occur. The urgency of seeing lost loved ones, friends, neighbors and others come to Christ melts away most aversion to changes within the church. . .as long as the goal is clearly communicated.
This does not mean that our seniors really enjoy newer music, schedule shifts or other things that are not how they have always been, but those with a heart for missional living are often willing to sacrifice so that more may join the family of God.
Clarity of communication is not relegated just to the senior generation. The age group most resistant to change, in my experience, are those between ages 35 and 50. Perhaps this is due to a strong nostalgia of youth groups and choir tours from the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe it's a desire to remain in their small (or not so small) groups with others who have the same age children or are in the same life stage? It could be the growth of therapeutic deism that many western churches unwillingly propagate. This leads to a self-centric church experience that feels more like a support group and counseling than a faith community. There are many possibilities, but as for seniors, they typically handle change better. . .as long as they know why.
SENIORS CAN HANDLE CHANGE
Again, change may not be desired, but our senior saints can handle it, better than most. Why? I believe it is due to the fact this generation has experienced more change in their lifetimes than perhaps any generation prior.
Many of our seniors have memories of global wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, etc.), the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the advent of "the pill," the space race, Neil Armstrong, the energy crisis, the Red Sox finally winning, the introduction of the personal computer, cell phones, smart phones, email, social media, etc.
The world is changing at break-neck speed, and this generation has experienced it all.
In other words - they can handle change.
SOME RESIST, BUT IT'S NOT DUE TO AGE
There is always resistance to change within the church. Every pastor has a Sanballat and Tobiah in the fellowship. I have met with seniors who are resistant to just about everything I propose. However, I have also met with twenty year olds who exhibit the same deference.
As a pastor, I must ensure that whatever change I may be leading the church into is not just my good idea, but a prayed through God idea.
When that is affirmed, resistance will always arise.
Pastors - be careful to not categorize and stereotype every senior adult in your church as a bitter hearted curmudgeon. In truth, those are actually a minority in the family of God. They may be the loudest, but they are the fewest.
INTERGENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS VITAL
In the American church, we have successfully built ministry silos over the years. These silos of age-graded ministries have effectively divided the family and created less than what God intended in His church. While churches build buildlings for children, students, senior adults and others, in order to sequester people by age, we have often missed the joy and strength of inter-generational ministry.
This is especially obvious in our suburban, McMansion worlds where extended families tend not to live near each other.
There is value when seniors in the church begin to view the teenagers as "our teenagers" rather than "those teenagers." The same can be said in reverse. When a student sees the seasoned saints in the worship service as part of their family, the church begins to grow more healthy.
There's no easy answer to this and I'm not suggesting we tear down all our individual ministries, but we must begin to be more strategic in how we do life together.
MINISTER WITH SENIORS
There is a big difference between ministering with someone and ministering to someone. The with connotes togetherness and unity. Many of our seniors are discovering that retirement is not a biblical concept. While it is a good thing to be able to get the gold watch and walk away from the 40+ hour work week, the sad reality is that many have chosen to retire from church service and faith as well.
Thankfully, missional living allows us to see the value in all Christ-followers, regardless of age, and allows the church to affirm that which is being done daily in Jesus name. We have many seniors who refuse to just sit in a pew, and we celebrate that willingness to serve. Some of our folks volunteer at the hospital, local nursing homes and even create golf outings so they can engage lost friends with the Gospel. This all counts!