The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Youth Ministry (page 1 of 15)

The Example of Charles Spurgeon (Why You are Not Too Busy to Disciple your Children at Home)

I write and speak frequently about the importance of parents intentionally working to pass on their faith to their children, because parents are the primary spiritual influences in the lives of their kids. Certainly churches and youth ministries should partner with parents and provide additional teaching and instruction in this regard, but the reality is that this should be extra: the primary spiritual training a child receives should come in the home.

That can be challenging, though, because we live in a time when everyone is busy, and extreme busyness can almost become a badge of honor. In addition to this being out of place with the biblical principle of Sabbath and the importance of rest, I think it is also problematic because it is frequently used as an excuse for why we do not do the things that we know we should. For example, Christian parents know that they should regularly read Scripture, pray, and talk about God with their children, but our lives are just so busy that these important tasks can get pushed aside by other urgent-but-significantly-less-important tasks.

But this excuse is just that: an excuse. The reality is that we can make time for the things we truly believe are important. I was reading a book a while back, and the example of the famous 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon impressed this reality upon me (the quotation below came from a footnote, but was so amazing to me that I wanted to feature it in this post):

Some may think Spurgeon lived in a much simpler era that afforded him more time to practice family worship than Christians would have today. I’ve conducted a great deal of PhD research on Spurgeon’s life and pastoral ministry, and can confirm this isn’t so. Spurgeon’s autobiography, as well as many first-hand observers, tell us that Spurgeon (1)  pastored the largest evangelical church in the world at that time (with more than six thousand active members), (2) preached almost every day, (3) edited his sermons for weekly publications, and thereby (4) produced (in the sixty-four volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit) the largest collection of works by any single author in English, (5) wrote an additional one hundred and twenty books (one every four months throughout his entire adult life), (6) presided over sixty-six different ministries (such as the pastors’ college he founded), (7) edited a monthly magazine (The Sword and the Trowel), (8) typically read five books each week, many of which he reviewed for his magazine, and (9) wrote with a dip pen five hundred letters per week. God gave Spurgeon an extraordinary capacity for work and productivity. And yet, despited the ceaseless, crushing demands of his schedule, at six each evening, setting aside a to-do list that few could match today, he gathered his wife, twin boys, and all other present in his home at the time for family worship.[1]

This is absolutely mind-blowing to me, and convicts me of at least two things: (1) I need to pray that God expands my capacity and increases my efficiency so I can do more work in His kingdom, and (2) if Charles Spurgeon could make time to pray and read Scripture with his children, then I certainly can as well. We all can—we just have to truly believe that it is important.


[1] Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016): 73-74.

2019 Harding University Lectureship Recap

I am a little late posting this, but I wanted to provide a quick recap of Harding University’s 96th annual Bible Lectureship, which was September 29-October 2. The theme for this year was “Fan the Flame—Acts: Renewed by the Power of the Holy Spirit.” This was my third time to take part as a presenter at Lectureship (I was part of a panel for young ministers), but this was my first time to take part as a resident of Searcy, so it was nice to be able to enjoy the many sessions and also sleep in my own bed. 🙂

I was privileged to attend several good lectures and classes, and here is a brief recap of what I went to:

  • Restoring an Acts 2 Church, David Young: David is the preacher at the North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, TN, and kicked off Lectureship with this keynote on Sunday night. This was a highpoint for me. I was reading Young’s book, New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church before and during Lectureship, and was really tracking with much of what he had to say. Short version: Churches of Christ (and churches across the spectrum) are declining in the US, and the solution is to get serious about making disciples and planting churches. Another helpful takeaway: as a church (or an individual, I guess), you can seek to be comfortable, or you can seek to be awesome; there is no overlap between the two. In addition to this keynote, I also attended Young’s two class sessions on Monday, which further covered similar material.
  • Devoted to the Apostles’ Doctrine, Scott Adair: Dr. Adair is on the Bible faculty at Harding, and recently has been developing a proposal for unity by identifying the central tenants of the Christian faith by mining the practice of baptism. In this lesson, he used the sermon material from the Book of Acts to highlight these same central beliefs: (1) Jesus Christ is Lord, Son of God; (2) A Belief in One God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit; (3) The Death and Resurrection of Jesus; (4) The Church as the Assembly of the Saints; (5) Forgiveness of Sins; (6) The Gift of the Holy Spirit; (7) Resurrection of the Dead. There is still more to work out beyond these beliefs (each has ethical demands that goes along with it), but I do think this is a helpful framework for trying to distinguish between preferences, important convictions, and foundational gospel matters.
  • Resurrection Preaching, Fate Hagood: Fate is a preacher from California, and presented a really stirring message during Monday evening’s keynote session on the nature of resurrection preaching from the Book of Acts. While he said a lot of good things, his closing was incredibly powerful for me, as he used Paul’s reasoning from his block of teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 to encourage us that our labor for the Lord is not in vain.
  • Devoted to the Breaking of Bread, B. Chris Simpson:  B. Chris has been a great speaker for as long as I have known him, and the depth and quality of his content just gets better and better. He presented a thoughtful and powerful lesson emphasizing that if we wish to resemble the Acts 2 church, we must be similarly devoted to food and fellowship, and the radical hospitality they practiced.
  • Intentional Connections with Parents and Teens, Brent Wilhite: Brent is one of the youth ministers at the College Church of Christ here in Searcy, and talked about current trends for teenagers both in the church and in the culture at large, and also tips for building resilient faith within teens. Brent had a lot of good content, and I felt like he could have gone for another thirty minutes.
  • Devoted to Fellowship, Harold Shank: I had heard of Harold Shank before, who is well known in Oklahoma Christian circles, but I had never heard him speak. I enjoyed his Tuesday night keynote, where he discussed why the early church was devoted to fellowship, and dreamed aloud what Acts 2 churches might look like in modern contexts.
  • Devoted to Prayer, Juan Meza: Juan was a former classmate of mine, and serves as the Latino Minister at the Church of Christ at White Station in Memphis. I thought he did a good job discussing how prayer builds our relationship with God, its power, and its purpose. It was all the more impressive to me because he was presenting in a second language!
  • A Dialogue on Two Views of Heaven, Dan Chambers and Ralph Gilmore: This was a discussion on the nature of eternal life: will eternity be spent with God in a spiritual heaven (“up there” somewhere), or will it God come to dwell with His people on a renewed earth (“down here” somewhere)? On the whole, I was disappointed in this. The two men had not shared their notes ahead of time, and I thought this was a mistake as it lead to a disjointed conversation, where Chambers was presenting his perspective on a renewed earth, while Gilmore tried to anticipate Chambers’ arguments and refute them rather than actually present his own perspective on heaven. On the positive side, the two men repeatedly affirmed their love and respect for one another and were adamant that this was not a fellowship issue, or something to be divisive about. I appreciated that.
  • Artifacts and Acts, Part 3: The Flame in Jerusalem, Dale Manor: Dr. Manor is a treasure—a classically-trained archaeologist with a wealth of information about the ancient world, and I try to catch one of his lectures each year. This one focused on some archaeological finds and background information from Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, and Caesarea.
  • This Is Us, Part 3: Spiritual Ancestry of Churches of Christ, Monte Cox: Dr. Cox is another favorite of mine, and I thought he had some good things to say about the history of Churches of Christ and our future. He talked about the early days of the Restoration Movement (focusing on Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone) and their strong emphasis on unity. In the 20th century, the (unofficial) list of essential doctrines grew longer and longer, and a unity movement became increasingly fractured. He concluded by posing the question: are Churches of Christ in crisis, or are we experiencing a reorientation toward Christ at the center?
  • Boldness In Adversity, Jesse Robertson: Jesse is a New Testament professor at Harding, and also a deacon at Cloverdale (where I work), and is someone I have come to deeply respect and appreciate. He closed out Lectureship on Wednesday by focusing on the boldness that we witness in the Book of Acts: it is something the apostles repeatedly prayed for and then evidenced in their lives. Jesse passionately implored us to pray for courage as we seek to tell the world about Jesus. As he pointed out insightfully: it takes one kind of courage to speak truth to your enemies; it takes another kind of courage to speak truth to your friends.

As always, Lectureship was a blessing for me and I greatly enjoyed it.  I would highly recommend taking part in this next year if you are able!

One Piece of Advice from a Youth Minister

I have been in youth ministry for about half of my life (I was 18 when I began my first youth ministry internship, and I just turned 36 a few weeks ago). Truly, it was not a profession that I sought out—through various means and circumstances, I believe that it sought me out, or, more accurately, God called me to it.

I spend a lot of time doing youth ministry, I spend a lot of time reading about youth ministry, I spend a lot of time talking about youth ministry, and I spend a lot of time praying about youth ministry (but certainly not as much as I should). I am hesitant to describe myself as an “expert” on anything, because I am aware of how limited I am and how much I still have to learn, but outside of DuckTales trivia, I am probably closer to being an “expert” on youth ministry than anything else in life.

From my perspective, there are two really significant concerns in youth ministry today: (1) the large percentage of young people who walk away from their faith after high school and graduation from their youth groups, and (2) the phenomenon of extended adolescence.[1]

I have talked and written quite a bit about the former issue (“What’s Wrong With Youth Ministers?”, “Harding Lectures Audio Files”, “Revamping Our Youth Ministries”, “The Current Crisis in Youth Ministry”); it also features prominently in my book, Youth In Family Ministry. I have not written as much about extended adolescence, but it is a fascinating topic to me, and a number of friends and acquaintances have found themselves trapped in long conversations with me about it (sorry!).

Adolescence as a concept has not been around very long, maybe 100 years or so. A simple way to think of it is the gap between physical maturity and societal maturity: when is someone considered able to function in society as a mature adult, handling all the responsibilities that adulthood entails? This has cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual implications.

A hundred years ago, the gap didn’t really exist, or if it did, it was very short: young men and ladies would go through puberty in their mid teens[2] and often begin courting shortly thereafter, to be followed by marriage and all the expectations of adulthood.

Things have changed a lot since then. Puberty is occurring earlier and earlier (especially in girls), and the entrance to adulthood gets pushed back further and further. In fact, there is no consensus in contemporary American society about what makes one an adult: a driver’s license? High school graduation? Sexual experience? Registering to vote? Marriage? Moving out of parents’ home? Furthermore, many of these milestones have less appeal than they used to: increasingly, many teens are waiting to get driver’s licenses, a lot of high school graduates are avoiding college (or at least taking a “gap year”), millennials are marrying later than ever, and we are all familar with the cliched image of the 30 year-old college graduate who lives in his parents’ basement playing video games all day.

Becoming an adult is now regarded as such a daunting task that the very word adult has been turned into a verb, and older adolescents (“emerging adults”) will verbally pat themselves on the back because they “adulted” today—accomplishing some task that previous generations would have done without thinking, because it was what was expected.

If all of this sounds like the cranky, get-off-my-lawn complaints of a grouchy youth minister, I want to be clear that this is not just a behavioral issue where young people are being intentionally immature—this phenomenon is happening at a physiological level. While teenage bodies are developing earlier and earlier, their brain development has slowed. Higher level analytical thinking skills that were once manifest in 15 year-olds are now not evidenced until the upper teen years or even early 20s. This statement is backed up by research,[3] but it is also anecdotally true: talk to someone who has taught junior high, high school, or college students for an extended period of time and see if they have noticed a difference. I certainly have.

Extended adolescence is a complicated issue, and certainly, there are many factors that contribute to it, but recently, I was reading a brilliant essay that pointed out a major one:

I suggest that what we are experiencing in our classrooms and what our data demonstrates is the result of the cumulative effects of adolescents who have, essentially, been left along to journey through adolescence.…When kids are systematically left to their own devices to individuate into adulthood, their progression is slowed.[4]

When I read that, my mind was blown. It made so much sense and I couldn’t believe it had never occurred to me before. In my work to address the first main problem in youth ministry (teens leaving the church after high school), I have focused significantly on the importance of young people being around adults (both their parents, and also older, mature Christians) as a means of developing long-term faith and helping them become mature Christians themselves, but it didn’t occur to me that this exact same practice is also the best means we have of addressing the crisis of extended adolescence as well: the more that developing adults (i.e. adolescents) are around adults in meaningful ways, the better and earlier they will learn to “adult” on their own.

So, with all of that said, here is the firmest thing I know about the practice of youth ministry, the closest thing I have to a magic pill or a silver bullet: if you want your kids to grow to healthy adulthood and become lifelong disciples of Jesus, ensure that they spend a lot of time with adults who are serious about their faith (and make sure that you, the parent, fit that description as well). 

May God grant us both wisdom and mercy as we seek to raise His kids to His glory!


[1] Obviously, there are more than two, but I would argue that these are the most significant, and that many other concerns actually stem from these issues. The use of technology and the online behavior of teens might be equally significant.

The basic idea of extended adolescence is that it is taking young people longer and longer to “act like adults.” You can read more about this here.

[2] See Dominic Hernandez, “The Decreasing Age of Puberty” in Vital Record: News from Texas A&M University Health Science Center, January 10, 2018.

[3] See Chap Clark’s discussion of “middle adolescence” in Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011): 5-21.

[4] Steven Bonner, “Understanding the Changing Adolescent,” in Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith, ed. Chap Clark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016): 37.

Self-Denial in a Self-Discovery World

One of the advantages of being a youth minister is that I have the opportunity to read and hear a lot of good teaching from a variety of different sources. Some of these are basically available to anyone (books, sermons, podcasts), while others I gain access to by traveling to different youth events and hearing gifted and thoughtful speakers.

A while back, I was blessed to listen to my friend Shannon Cooper, who made the point that we live in a society that is obsessed with self-discovery: for many, the central goal of life is to “find out who we are” so we can “be true to ourselves.” Self-help books constitute a lucrative industry. Discussions related to sexual and gender identity become issues of the utmost importance. We seek to define ourselves by our hobbies, or the music we listen to, or our peer groups.

There is a problem with this, though: self-discovery leaves us with no point of reference beyond ourselves. Fundamentally, it is limited, subjective, and, ultimately…selfish.

It is also not Christian. A more Christian way of thinking about identity is not based on self-discovery, but on self-denial and the imitation of Jesus.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

(Matthew 10.38-39)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

(Matthew 16.24)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 11.1)

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

As Christians, we cannot force our worldview on nonbelievers (nor should we try to), but we should certainly hold ourselves and one another to that worldview. And the way of Christ is not about finding purpose and meaning through discovering “who we really are,” which is another way of saying “doing what we want to do.” Rather, it is about denying the urge to do what we want to do and instead to prioritize what Jesus wants us to do in partnering in His work to reconcile the world to Himself. This is where purpose and meaning is found.

Unsettled (And Why That Is A Good Thing)

It has been just over three weeks ago that my family and I moved to begin a new youth ministry work at a different congregation in a new city. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming, and we are so excited to be where we are. We were in a great place before, working with a great church, but ultimately, we decided to move because we became convinced that it was God’s will that we do so, and that decision has been affirmed and reaffirmed in so many ways since our move.

Having said all that, it has been challenging as well. One question I keep getting over and over is, “How are you settling in?”, and the best answer is probably that I am still very much unsettled. I knew this before, but I have come to realize just how much I am a product of routine, and virtually all of those routines have been interrupted. The familiar faces have changed, I am not sure which keys unlock which doors, and I have swapped a host of activities and trips that I could plan and lead in my sleep for others I have not experienced before and know little about.

For a person who likes to be in control, it’s all a little unsettling.

I suspect that I am not alone in this—either my desire to be in control, or my feelings of discomfort when I realize that I am not.

But what a valuable reminder this season of life is providing me! God does not ask me to construct a façade of control around myself seeking to find comfort in routine. Rather, He asks that I give up the notion of control itself, and place my trust, and indeed, my life, in His capable hands.

The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
(Proverbs 16.9)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4.13-15)

It is unsettling…but I think the life that Jesus asks of His followers is supposed to be exactly that.

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