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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Youth Ministry (page 1 of 15)

New eBook: Youth In Family Ministry: A Handbook

I am excited to announce the completion of a project that I have worked on for the last couple of years. Youth In Family Ministry: A Handbook is the culmination of years of research and personal experience, and sets forth a model of youth ministry that, I believe, is both biblical and effective.

Research shows that a lot of our young people walk away from their faith after high school, and what’s worse, research also indicates that a lot of the things that we have traditionally done in youth ministry are actually weakening the ties that young people have to the church rather than strengthening them.

In Youth In Family Ministry: A HandbookI take an in-depth look at the current crisis in youth ministry, examine in detail what Scripture says about passing faith on to the next generation, and also suggest practical ways that this can be done. The book is about 100 pages long, and is thoroughly researched and footnoted, and is filled with important information.

This ebook releases in two weeks, on Wednesday, November 15, but you can pre-order your copy here.

I believe this is an important project, because I deeply believe in the importance of helping our young people to develop a faith that will stick with them throughout their lives. I would love for it to be read widely so these ideas can spread and more and more churches can practice youth ministry in what I believe is a more biblically-grounded and, ultimately, better way.

There are two big ways you can help:

(1) Buy the book. 🙂

(2) Spread the word. Share this post, and tell others you know who you think might be interested. I think it is an important resource for youth ministers, church leaders, youth group volunteers, parents, and more.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support!

The Christian Story, Free Will, and Love Potions

Really, the Christian Story is a fairly simple one. God created a world that was good—beautiful, well-suited for its purpose. Humanity, created in God’s image, was the pinnacle of creation, and was given the vocation of ruling over, tending, and cultivating what God had made.

But something went wrong. Rather than living according to the standard that God had set up, Adam and Eve determine to go their own way, and in choosing to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, grasp for moral autonomy. The results are disastrous as sin enters into the world, damaging the relationship between humanity and God, damaging the relationship between humans, damaging the way we view ourselves, and actively placing a curse on the good creation that God had made.

The rest of the Christian Story is basically the account of God working to redeem and undo the damage that was done in Eden (and continues to be done) when men and women seek moral autonomy for themselves. That redemption and undoing was definitely accomplished in the work of Jesus on the cross, but will ultimately come when death dies, God establishes the New Heavens and New Earth, and dwells with His people forever (1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21).

Not too long ago, I was summarizing this story to a group of teenagers at a weekend retreat that I was speaking at, and after I finished, a young man came up and asked me a great question: “If Adam and Eve’s sin caused so much damage, and God knew that they were going to do it, why did He create them with free will in the first place?”

This is a common enough question, but it’s a great question. It’s a thinking question, and I was proud of the young man for asking it (Incidentally, the question presumes that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. I am fine with that, but not all Christians agree with that presupposition. See these posts.).

How would you answer the question? The typical answer that is given is that God created out of love, wants His creation to love Him in return, and the only way for that to truly happen is if humans were created with the power to choose: love is only real if it is chosen, not forced. Typically, this is illustrated with the example of parents: parents want their kids to obey them, but they don’t want programmed robots; they want their children to lovingly obey them. And it is the same with God.

But this isn’t the metaphor I used with this young man, since I have found that parental metaphors are not particularly relatable to people who haven’t yet been parents. Instead, I said this: “Imagine there was a girl you really really liked. Everything about her was perfect. You are 100% convinced that this is the girl that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Now let’s also say that you had a magic love potion that you could give this girl that would make her love you forever. She would never know about it, but as soon as she took it, she would always love you faithfully. Would you give her the potion?”

Pretty quickly, the young man responded that he wouldn’t. When I asked him why not, he said, “Because it wouldn’t be real love.” And then, he got it.

Real love is at the heart of the Christian Story. Not coercive love. Not programmed love. Not love-potion love.

With all the freedom in the world, God chose to create us, and chose to redeem us through His Incarnate Son. And in response to the love that God has first shown us, He invites us to freely love Him in return.

Hectic Youth Ministry

Things have been pretty quiet around The Doc File recently, largely because I am now squarely in the middle of the summer youth ministry grind. Looking back, I actually didn’t write a single post in the month of June, but that is not too surprising when I reflect on what my June looked like:

  • Portions of three different weeks were taken up by three different camps that we participated in: NWA Work Camp, Uplift at Harding University, and Green Valley Bible Camp.
  • Four different speaking engagements (one at Farmington, one at camp, one at a retreat, and one at an out-of-town summer series), all over different material.
  • A youth group lock-in the day after we got back from camp (I have been a youth minister for too long to make such a rookie scheduling mistake!).
  • Teaching two bible classes and/or making arrangements and leaving plans for substitute teachers on evenings when I have been away.
  • Making plans for our Vacation Bible School in July,  working toward several changes to our education program beginning in September, and organizing the 2017 Deeper Youth Conference in November.
  • In addition to these ministry responsibilities, we also made two trips to Little Rock in June for follow-up appointments related to Kinsley’s surgery.

It has been a busy month, and the reality is that things won’t slow down too much for a while. I am currently in Alabama for a few days of vacation surrounding Independence Day, but as soon as I return we will be back at it with 10 days or so of prepping and then doing VBS, followed by our summer youth trip.

I don’t say any of this to be whiney or to complain, and honestly, most of the youth ministers I know have summer schedules that are this bad or even worse. Spouses of youth ministers sometimes joke about being “youth ministry widows” or “summer widows” because they go so long without seeing their spouses who are continually jetting from one event to another. I do wonder, though: is having a hectic summer packed with constant activities the best way to do youth ministry? What I am about to say may seem self-serving since I would like to slow down a bit in the summer, but I am seriously starting to think that the answer is “no”:

Hectic summer youth ministry is expensive.

This is the most practical consideration on the list, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. I try really hard to keep our youth ministry activities affordable, but the reality is that, the more you do, the more you spend, especially when you start talking about camps and extended trips, or families with more than one student the youth group.

We have a policy in place where we never want a student to miss an event because of cost, and thus, we make provision for students who can’t afford a certain event; at the same time, just because we have that policy in place doesn’t mean that students and parents always take advantage of it, and I am confident that some students miss out on certain events due to cost without telling me.

Hectic summer youth ministry separates children from their families.

I have written before and also spoken many times about how I believe that youth ministry should be built upon the twin pillars of the physical family and the faith family (where “physical family” refers to moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc. and “faith family” refers to the church congregation), and that it is these two groups that, ideally, pass on faith to young people. This means that youth ministry should work hard to strengthen the ties between a student, that student’s physical family, and the student’s faith family.

Unfortunately, the hectic summer youth ministry model that we have been talking about doesn’t necessarily do a great job of that. Sure, constant youth activities can work wonders to strengthen ties within a youth group, but unless you are very intentional about about including parents and other adults from church in meaningful ways, what you can end up doing is providing a full list of activities that cause your students to largely check out on their families and their church family for a couple of months, which is never good.

Hectic summer youth ministry encourages activity without reflection.

When I think about it, having an overwhelmingly busy slate of summer youth activities makes perfect sense in light of our larger cultural problem of constant busyness. People seem to be busier now than ever before. We have made being busy in some sort of virtue or badge of pride, as if it is healthy to constantly be burning the candle at both ends, rushing around from one activity to another without time to catch our collective breath. A hectic brand of youth ministry fits right in with the surrounding culture.

Part of the problem with such busyness is that it deprives us of the time for reflection (and in time, I think it progressively deprives us of the desire to reflect and then even the ability to do so): how can you sit and process the experiences you have just had when you have to immediately turn around and run to the next thing? I don’t want to make too much of this, but isn’t it possible that continually going from one thing to the next without ever reflecting on what we have done actually makes us shallow, attention-deficient humans?

Concluding Thoughts

To be honest, at this point I have more questions than answers. Considering our own youth ministry schedule, I think we have done a pretty good job of not overloading students throughout the year, but I think the summer is undoubtedly hectic at times.

I have tried to mitigate that somewhat by providing some down times during the summer where there is not much going on. June is crazy, and July ends that way, so I intentionally don’t schedule much around the 4th of July (hence, me being on vacation for a few days!) or after the first few days of August, in hopes of giving students time to catch their breath and be around family. Perhaps these down periods are sufficient, but I am also planning on critically evaluating our summer schedule for next year, and seeing if it would be beneficial to pare down a little bit in an effort to make the summer a little less hectic for our students.

Radical Conversion(?)

I recently finished reading Radical Restoration by F. LaGard Smith, and found it to be an endearing combination of brilliant insights and prolonged axe-grinding. However, one quotation in particular really struck me:

The pernicious effects of a spiritual body composed mostly of second-generation Christians whose early-youth baptisms were, in the main, more convention than conversion are more spiritually devastating than we might ever imagine. Why are we not more evangelistic? Because we ourselves were never radically converted. Why do spiritual matters not hold center place in our busy, work-a-day lives? Because a merely “mentalized” faith can too easily become a compartmentalized faith. Why are we just as materialistic, worldly, and secular as our irreligious (or religious!) next-door neighbors? Because we have been duly initiated into a worldly church, but never properly introduced to an other-worldly Kingdom.

(p.42)

I have had discussions before about how adult converts perceive a lot of things differently than those who have “grown up in the church,” but never before had I really considered the effect of having churches comprised largely of second (or third, or fourth) generation Christians who became Christians largely as a matter of convention: it was just what they were raised to do.

Before I go any further, I should point out what a tremendous blessing it is to be raised in the church, and to have Christian parents who are devoted to the idea of passing faith on to their kids. So please do not hear me as saying that it is a bad thing to be raised in the church. It is not. But at the same time, I think there is a lot of validity to what Smith suggests above. In biblical examples of conversion (think, for example, of Saul of Tarsus), we see a radical change in people when they come to know Jesus. Their lives are very different than they were previously.

When I look at my own life, I see a very different story. I can never remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. I was a good kid who tried to do good things. To be sure, I had sin in my life, but becoming a Christian didn’t entail a massive lifestyle change. In fact, the main difference in my life that I can remember is that following my baptism and commitment to Christ, I began taking Communion on Sundays! The point that I’m trying to make here is not that partaking of the Lord’s Supper is not important (it is), but rather, to underscore that my life was not significantly different than it had been previously: my life course was not radically altered by my decision to become a Christian.

Last fall, I attended a youth conference where the speaker did an excellent job of making the point that before you are prepared to share the Story of Jesus, you need to understand and be able to articulate how the Story has impacted your own life. A helpful way to verbalize this is simply by completing the statement, “Before Jesus, I was ____________; now I am ____________.” The problem is, based on my conversations with a lot of students raised in the church, they are unable to determine any difference! They can’t tell how their lives changed after they became Christians. This is a big problem.

This problem is further underscored by my conversations with young people prior to their baptism. Especially with younger kids, I always want to ask something like, “How will your life change once you are a Christian?” Generally, they have no idea!

Truly, I think Smith has hit upon a major issue, and I think the implications of this issue are, perhaps, as significant as he makes them out to be. The reality of “Christians” who look entirely too much like the world is pervasive in American Christianity, and maybe this is the root of the problem: people are not truly being converted.

That necessarily leads to the question, what should we do about it? Honestly, I am not sure, but here are three tentative suggestions:

Talk to kids about the cost of discipleship before they make a commitment to Christ. Becoming a Christian is not about joining a social club, or slightly cleaning up your spiritual self. It constitutes a radical change of dying to self and following Jesus instead. Increasingly, I try to have these sorts of conversations with children and teens who express a desire to be baptized in an order to get them to see (even in a limited way) the magnitude of the commitment they are making.

As the Church, do a better job of embodying the radical expectations of Jesus. How are young people going to figure out how to live as salt and light in the world if older Christians are not modeling this sort of lifestyle for them? If we have long-time Christians…and elders…and ministers who are markedly worldly in their thinking and practice, how will our children move beyond that. Read the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus demands radical living. Isn’t it about time that we hold ourselves up to the standards that Jesus sets for following Him?

Make the conversion experience more of an event. If becoming a Christian is the most important decision that one makes (and I absolutely believe it is), shouldn’t we make a really big deal about it? People go through great time and expense planning weddings, birthday parties, retirement parties, etc., because we recognize that these are significant milestones that deserve to be celebrated. I realize that because of the nature of conversion (people make a commitment in the moment), the same sort of upfront planning might not be possible, but couldn’t churches plan celebrations after the fact? Couldn’t we eat together and sing and talk and laugh and celebrate the new birth that has happened, and talk about the reality that everything has now changed? Couldn’t we, at least within our church fellowships, pay more attention to celebrating baptismal birthdays than physical birthdays?

Perhaps these are helpful suggestions; perhaps not. For my part, I am convinced that Smith has struck upon a legitimate problem, so certainly something needs to be done.

Reading in 2016

A quirk of my personality is that I like to keep track of certain things in my life, and for several years, one of those things is the list of books that I read each year. Somewhat surprising to me, people actually seem to enjoy reading the list of what I read, so I have been sharing that for several years.

Here was my reading list for 2016:

  1. A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering, by Gregory Stevenson
  2. Scribbles and Sketches, No. 2, by Ruby Tobey
  3. Dogmatics in Outline, by Karl Barth*
  4. Fables Don’t Leave Footprints: Following a Trail of Archaeological Discoveries from Genesis to Jesus, by Jan Sessions
  5. The Book of Revelation, by Chris Koelle (Illustrator), Mark Arey (Trans), and Philemon Sevastiades (Trans.)
  6. A Missional Church: Assessing and Developing a Missional Culture in an Established Church, by Matthew Morine
  7. Just As I Am: Married, Divorced, and Remarried, by Wayne Dunaway
  8. Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last And What Your Church Can Do About It, by Mark DeVries
  9. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, by Gregory A. Boyd
  10. Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, by Norman Wirzba*
  11. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, by George A. Lindbeck*
  12. Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, by Simon Chan*
  13. Four Views on the Historical Adam, by Denis O. Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick
  14. Change of Heart: Seven Money Truths to Help Teens from the Inside Out, by Joey Sparks
  15. #NoFilter, by Scott Utter
  16. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
  17. Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques, by Mark E. Young
  18. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford
  19. Competency-Based Counseling: Building on Client Strengths, by Frank Thomas and Jack Cockburn
  20. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims, by Brother Lawrence
  21. Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey
  22. The Bombay Boomerang, by Franklin W. Dixon
  23. The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  24. Essay on Negro Slavery, by James O’Kelley
  25. Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts, by Ron Susek
  26. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland
  27. Discover Your Conflict Management Style, by Speed B. Leas
  28. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, by Peter L. Steinke
  29. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, by William Barclay*
  30. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute
  31. Guiding People Through Conflict, by Ken Sande and Ted Kober
  32. Building Conflict Competent Teams, by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan*
  33. Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, by Randy Harris
  34. Why I Value the Bible, by Kerry Holton
  35. The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Formula for Happiness, by Rubel Shelly
  36. Managing Church Conflict, by Hugh F. Halverstadt*
  37. 11 Youth Ministry Hacks So You Can Spend More Time on What Matters Most, by Kindred Youth Ministry
  38. The Listeners’ Bible ESV, read by Max McLean
  39. Don’t Quit on a Monday, by Jeff and Dale Jenkins
  40. How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth, by Kerry Holton
  41. Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott
  42. Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality, by Mark E. Powell
  43. Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, by Seth Haines
  44. Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, edited by Margaret Warker
  45. Paper Covers Rock, by Jenny Hubbard
  46. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  47. The Story, by Biblica
  48. Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson
  49. The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech
  50. The Big Field, by Mike Lupica
  51. Advent and Christmas, by Thomas Merton

A few major observations before I talk about a couple of specific books:

  • My reading total increased slightly from 2015, when I read 48 books. I actually think I read less total, however, because I did not do as much reading of articles or long commentaries. Still, I did a lot of writing and editing this past year on various projects, and I know that cut into my reading time somewhat.
  • Looking back, I think there were more books that I read this past year that I really enjoyed than in 2015. My Top 10 books for the year are highlighted in bold above, but there are several in the list above that did not make that cut that I still enjoyed.

Some of my favorite books for 2016.

Of those Top 10 books, I would like to highlight a few (Note: I previously reviewed Centered in Godand hope to review 2-3 others in the near future):

  • Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness, by Matthew S. Stanford: I read this book for a counseling class,  and it might have been the best book I read all year. It helped me consider mental illness from a more biblical and theological perspective, and also discussed various mental illnesses clinically as well. I really think this is a book that all Christians should read, as mental illness of various types is prevalent in our society and thus in the church as well, and traditionally, we have not done well showing grace and compassion to those who suffer from these illnesses that we generally struggle to see or understand.
  • Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries: I have been a youth minister for over a decade now, and I have tried to become a student of youth ministry in an effort become more effective at helping young people develop lifelong faith. With that in mind, I have read quite a few books on youth ministry over the years. Mark DeVries became one of my favorite Youth Ministry thinkers with his Family-Based Youth Ministry, but it is possible that I enjoyed Sustainable Youth Ministry even more. The basic idea of the book is simple: youth ministries should not be built upon the foundation of a specific person (the youth minister), but should rather be constructed in such a way that they are able to survive for the long term and not be dependent on one person. There is a lot in this book to digest and I am still determining how best to implement some of the ideas, but the key principle is outstanding.
  • The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights that Illumine the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser: I am not a huge fan of the title of this book, because it makes it sound shallow or not serious. It is not, however, as the material that Heiser presents represents solid biblical and theological scholarship. Honestly, I felt like much of what has taken me years of college and graduate school courses to learn was condensed in this one, very readable, volume.
  • I did a lot of study on the Sermon on the Mount this year, and read several books and commentaries as a part of that study. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland, was a good read that presented some excellent background information, and some challenging sermons based on the Sermon. But easily the best resource I read was Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, by John R.W. Stott. Stott writes with penetrating insight and a gentle spirit, and with rare exceptions, I thought his interpretations of the SOTM were dead on.

So, that was my reading for 2016. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

I have a ton of books I have accumulated over the last few years that I am anxious to read, and for the first half of the year I do not have any graduate courses so I am hopeful that I will actually get to read some of them! I am looking forward to reading a diversity of works, and in particular, I am hoping to read more fiction this year.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

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