CNN posted an interesting interview with Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian. In her book, Dean argues that how the church currently engages the youth culture amounts to little more than a do-gooder, self-help “Christianity” that is utterly failing to captivate the hearts and lives of youth.
The article (found here) is excellent and reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: youth ministry isn’t working. It’s time for ministry that focuses on identifying, challenging and empowering emerging leaders within Christ’s church to come into prominence.
In scanning through some Youtube videos for a sermon a while back, I came across a channel produced by Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry spearheaded by a priest named Father Barron. I watched several of their videos, and really, really enjoyed them, especially the ones that took modern movies and explored their themes from a biblical perspective.
One of my favourite videos is Fr. Barron’s response to Bill Maher’s mockumentary “Religulous.” Actually, Fr. Baron doesn’t spend too much time cutting down the movie’s “arguments.” Instead, he focuses his efforts on exposing the problems with Bill Maher’s underlying assumption that religious belief is fundamentally irrational.
The entire video is worth watching, although it’s Fr. Barron’s reflections on the relationship between belief and reason (starting at 5:31) which are really rich and insightful.
“Like many others, I once assumed the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved, but after they believe it, they advance to deeper theological waters. But, as Tim Keller explains it, the gospel isn’t simply the ABCs of Christianity, but the A-through-Z. The gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life; it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.”
There is definitely a church-wide paradigm shift occuring related to what the gospel actually is and what it means to embrace it. I’m incredibly excited to see how these new discussions, explorations and insights will reshape the heart of the Christianity in the near future.
It might be difficult for some parents to read through, but here’s a top ten list that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Over the next several days I’ll be expanding on each of these in succession, but for now, here is my top ten mistakes Christian parents of teens make:
10. Not spending time with your teen.
A lot of parents make the mistake of not spending time with their teens because they assume their teens don’t want to spend time with them! While that’s true in some contexts, teens still want and need “chunks” of one-on-one time with parents. Despite the fact that teens are transitioning into more independence and often carry a “I don’t need/want you around” attitude, they are longing for the securing and grounding that comes from consistent quality time.
Going for walks together, grabbing a coffee in order to “catch up,” going to the movies together, etc., all all simple investments that teens secretly want and look forward to. When you don’t carve out time to spend with your teen, you’re communicating that you’re not interested in them, and they internalize that message, consciously or unconsciously.
9. Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family.
The number of parents who wrap their lives/schedules around their teen’s activities is mind-boggling to me. I honestly just don’t get it. I know many parents want to provide their children with experiences and opportunities they never had growing up, but something’s gone wrong with our understanding of family and parenting when our teen’s wants/”needs” are allowed to overwhelm the family’s day-to-day routines.
Parents need to prioritize investing in their relationship with God (individually and as a couple), themselves and each other, but sadly all of these are often neglected in the name of “helping the kids get ahead.” “Don’t let the youth sports cartel run your life,” says Jen singer, author of You’re A Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either). I can’t think of many good reasons why families can’t limit teens to one major sport/extra-curricular activity per season. Not only will a frenetic schedule slowly grind down your entire family of time, you’ll be teaching your teen that “the good life” is a hyper-active one. That doesn’t align itself to Jesus’ teaching as it relates to the healthy rhythms of prayer, Sabbath, and down-time, all of which are critical to the larger Christian task of “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
8. Spoiling your teen.
We are all tempted to think that loving our kids means doing all we can to ensure they have all the opportunities and things we didn’t have growing up. This is a terrible assumption to make. It leads to an enormous amount of self-important, petty, and ungrateful kids. A lot of the time parents are well-intentioned in our spoiling, but our continual stream of money and stuff causes teens to never be satisfied and always wanting more. Your teen doesn’t need another piece of crap, what he needs is time and attention from you (that’s one expression of spoiling that actually benefits your teen!).
There are two things that can really set you back in life if we get them too early:
a. Access to too much money.
b. Access to too many opportunities.
Parents need to recognize they’re doing their teens a disservice by spoiling them in either of these ways. Save the spoiling for the grandkids.
7. Permissive parenting.
“Whatever” — It’s not just for teens anymore! The devil-may-care ambivalence that once defined the teenage subculture has now taken root as parents shrug their shoulders, ask, “What can you do?” and let their teens “figure things out for themselves.” I think permissive parenting (i.e., providing little direction, limits, and consequences) is on the rise because many parents don’t know how to dialogue with and discipline their children. Maybe parents don’t have any limits of boundaries within their own life, so they don’t know how to communicate the value of these to their teen. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to, because their own self-esteem is too tied up in their child’s perception of them, and they couldn’t handle having their teen get angry at them for actually trying to parent. Maybe it’s because many parents feel so overwhelmed with their own issues, they can hardly think of pouring more energy into a (potentially) taxing struggle or point of contention.
Whatever the reason, permissive parenting is completely irreconcilable with a Christian worldview. I certainly do not advocate authoritarian parenting styles, but if we practice a permission parenting style we’re abdicating our God-given responsibility to provide guidance, nurture, limits, discipline and consequences to our teen (all of which actually help our teen flourish long-term).
6. Trying to be your teen’s best friend.
Your teen doesn’t need another friend (they have plenty); they need a parent. Even through their teens, your child needs a dependable, confident, godly authority figure in their life. As parents we are called to provide a relational context characterized by wisdom, protection, love, support, and empowerment. As Christian parents we’re called to bring God’s flourishing rule into our family’s life. That can’t happen if we’re busy trying to befriend our teen. Trying to be your teen’s friend actually cheats them out of having these things in their lives.
Sometimes parents think that a strong relationship with their teen means having a strong friendship—but there’s a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed. You should be friendly to your teen but you shouldn’t be your teen’s friend. They have lots of friends, they only have one or two parents—so be the parent your teen needs you to be.
5. Holding low expectations for your teen.
Johann Goethe once wrote, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat as man as he can and should be, and he become as he can and should be.” All of us rise to the unconcious level of expectation we set for ourselves and perceive from others. During the teenage years, it’s especially important to slowly put to death the perception that your teen is still “a kid.” They are emerging leaders, and if you engage them as such, you will find that over time, they unconsciously take on this mantle for themselves. Yes, your teen can be moody, self-absorbed, irresponsible, etc., but your teen can also be brilliant, creative, selfless, and mature. Treating them like “kids” will reinforce the former; treating them as emerging leaders will reinforce the latter.
For an example of how the this difference in perspective plays out, I’ve written an article entitled “The Future of an Illusion” which is available as a free download from www.meredisciple.com (in the Free Downloads section). It specifically looks at my commitment to be involved in “emerging church ministry” as opposed to “youth ministry,” and it you may find some principles within it helpful.
4. Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement.
This one is one of my personal pet peeves (but not just because this is my professional gig). I simply do not understand parents who expect and want their kids to have a dynamic, flourishing faith, and yet don’t move heaven and earth to get them connected to both a youth group and local church.
I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret: no teenager can thrive in their faith without these two support mechanisms. I’m not saying a strong youth group and church community is all they need, but what I am saying that you can have everything else you think your teen needs, but without these two things, don’t expect to have a spiritually healthy and mature teen. Maybe there are teens out there who defy this claim, but honestly, I can’t think of one out of my own experience. As a parent, youth group and church involvement should be a non-negotiable part of your teen’s life, and that means they take priority over homework (do it the night before), sports, or any other extra-curricular commitments.
Don’t be the parent who is soft on these two commitments, but pushes their kid in schooling, sports, etc. In general, what you sow into determines what you reap; if you want to reap a teenager who has a genuine, flourishing faith, don’t expect that to happen if you’re ok with their commitment to youth group/church to be casual and half-hearted.
3. Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation.
While youth group and church is very important, another mistake I see Christian parents make is assuming them can completely outsource the spiritual development of their child to these two things. I see the same pattern when it comes to Christian education: parents sometimes choose to send their children/teens to Christian schools, because by doing so they think they’ve done their parental duty to raise their child in a godly way.
As a parent–and especially if you are a Christian yourself–YOU are THE key spiritual role model and mentor for your teen. And that isn’t “if you want to be” either–that’s the way it is. Ultimately, you are charged with teaching and modelling to your teen what follow Jesus means, and while church, youth groups, Christian schools can be a support to that end, they are only that: support mechanisms.
Read Deuteronomy 6 for an overview of what God expects from parents as it relates to the spiritual nurture and development of their children. (Hint: it’s doesn’t say, “Hand them off to the youth pastor and bring them to church on Sunday.”)
2. Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen.
It’s sad that I have to write this one at all, but I’m convinced very few Christian parents actually express genuine love and “like” to their teen. It can become easy for parents to only see how their teen is irresponsible, failing, immature, etc., and become a harping voice instead of an encouraging, empowering one.
Do you intentially set aside time to tell your teen how much you love and admire them? Do you write letters of encouragement to them? Do you have “date nights” where you spend time together and share with them the things you see in them that you are proud of?
Your teen won’t ask you for it, so don’t wait for an invitation. Everyday say something encouraging to your teen that builds them up (they get enough criticism as it is!). Pray everyday for them and ask God to help you become one of the core people in your teen’s life that He uses to affirm them.
1. Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not
cultivating within yourself.
When I talk to Christian parents, it’s obvious that they want their teen to have a thriving, dynamic, genuine, life-giving faith. What isn’t so clear, however, is whether that parent has one themselves. When it comes to the Christian faith, most of the time what we learn is caught and not taught. This means that even if you have the “right answers” as a parent, if you’re own spiritual walk with God is pathetic and stilted, your teen will unconciously follow suit. Every day you are teaching your teach (explicitely and implicitely) what discipleship to Jesus looks like “in the flesh.”
What are they catching from you? Are you cultivating a deep and mature relationship with God personally, or is your Christian parenting style a Christianized version of “do as I say, not as I do”?
While having a healthy and maturing discipleship walk as a parent does not garauntee your teen will follow in your footsteps, expecting your teen to have a maturing faith while you follow Jesus “from a distance” is an enormous mistake.
You are a Christian before you are a Christian parent (or any other role). Get real with God, share your own struggles and hypocrisy with your entire family, and maybe then God will begin to use your example in a positive and powerful way.
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For the past three years I’ve been taking in as much Richard Rohr as humanly possible. Rohr is a true seer: one who “sees” rightly through the lens of God’s grace and goodness. His insights often haunt my imagination for days, and few writers have helped me understand the nature of the soul’s journey more than him. I subscribe to his daily meditation, and today was a great one for men (and those who love them) to reflect on coming out of Father’s Day weekend. It’s Rohr’s summation of the four stages of masculine spirituality.
“People in historical India recognized four stages of a man’s life.The first stage is student, where one is a learner and takes in life.The second stage is the householder, where he marries, raises children and learns to love and be faithful to his partner. We Westerners for some strange reason consider this second stage to be the whole deal and the end of all life.People spend the remainder of their life fixing up the house, waiting for their children, and then grandchildren to come home and visit them.
But there are more stages in India, which I even saw in a church window in Bangalore.The third stage is called the seeker, or “forest dweller.”This is the man who, after raising a family, takes them beyond their small world to a much bigger picture—just by growing up himself!
Most Americans are not very connected to the rest of the world; we’re not normally connected to anything except next week and practical problem solving.This, among other things, keeps us from stage four, the wise man. The wise man puts the inner life together with the outer life, the small family together with the big family, his masculine together with his feminine. The sage, or wise man, thinks globally and lives and acts locally, but now inside of that much bigger picture.”
This quote is an adaptation from Richard Rohr’s book Daily Meditations, but if you are interested in reading more about the unique shape of masculine spirituality, I’d recommend reading Quest for the Grail, From Wild Man to Wise Man, Adam’s Return, Men and Women: the journey of spiritual transformation (CD), and How Men Change (CD). All of these resources can be purchased directly from the Center for Contemplation and Action storefront here.
2. If you’re in the Hamilton area, email me (jstrong (at) grindstonechurch.com) and we can arrange a time for you to drop by my office and pick up a copy.
After recouping costs for the production and publishing of the book, I’ll be donating 50% of the profits from all book sales to Grindstone church. Grindstone’s influence on this entire project is incalculable, and this is just one small way that I can give back to the community that has invested so much in me over the last six years.
I’m really excited to see my dream to write my own book become a reality! I hope Mere Disciple becomes an important part of your own discipleship journey.
This year I worked with Matt Pamplin and Brent Schinkel to come up with a list of ideas on how to grow in each of the four loves. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength demands that we grow in our root type, but then also demands that we learn to love God through the other types that don’t come naturally to us. However, it can be hard to think of ways to grow beyond our root type precisely because we tend to gravitate towards activities that come naturally to us. This list has been created in order to provide some suggestions on how to stretch ourselves beyond what comes naturally to us, so that we can learn to love and experience God more deeply and holistically.
-Have a conversation with someone about their spiritual journey, and really listen.
-Spend some time goal setting and dreaming about your future. Ask God to give you a “sanctified imagination” that dreams big and is caught up in what is possible in Him. Cultivate a sense of “what could be” if God really got a hold of your life and heart. Allow what comes to mind inspire and excite you.
-Set aside some time once a month to connect with a formal/informal mentor.
-Write an email or letter of encouragement to someone.
-Invite a friend or someone from church over for lunch/dinner and spent time getting to know they and their story.
-Set aside time to connect with your spouse/child/a friend and do something FUN together.
-Write poetry/music that speaks to the current state of your heart before God.
-Spend time in silence, in reflection, in meditation. Use worship music if sitting in silence is too difficult for you.
-Taize style of worship (check it out: www.taize.fr ).
-Make a prayer list of people in your life that you want to pray for everyday. Each day spend 10 minutes prayer through your list.
-Silent walk through creation focusing on your surroundings.
-Journal. Journal about anything. Try reflecting on dominant themes, images, impressions, etc., God seems to be putting before you again and again.
-Disciplines of abstinence (giving up something for a set time). Give up the TV, texting, junk food, lattes, video games, etc., for a week. This forces you to confront habits and impulses that aren’t healthy and tend to numb the soul. It will also strengthen your appreciation of the good things God has give you.
-Spend time in prayer asking God for what you want (James 1:5-8).
-Read a book that challenges you intellectually. We recommend: The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoffer, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.
-Take a course at a local college or university. Regardless of the subject you’re studying, how does the knowledge you’re taking in expand your view of God’s greatness and goodness?
-Sunday at church, take detailed notes and the discuss and debate the message with a friend.
-Memorize scripture (large or small chunks).
-Subscribe to a podcast and listen to it during the week. We recommend “The Meeting House” (Bruxy Cavey), “Mars Hill Church” (Rob Bell), and “Redeemer Presbyterian Church” (Timothy Keller), all available through iTunes.
-Begin a “Discipleship Journal” where you record the “big ideas,” Scriptures and teachings that have impacted you.
-Host a learning party. Pick a theological question or issue, ask everyone attending to investigate the topic on their own, and then come together over good food and drink to discuss any insights, frustrations, questions, etc.
-Watch a movie, and then set aside time to reflect on the themes and issues raised in it. Discuss with a friend or group how a Christian should approach these issues.
-Do one (small) thing to help a housemate/friend/family member that they’ll never notice or be able to thank you for.
-Take a spiritual gifts inventory that can help you identify how God has gifted you to impact others. Google “spiritual gifts inventory online” for a number of free sites that offer questionnaires to get you started.
-Buy a friend/pastor/church volunteer/stranger a coffee or tea.
-Volunteer within your church.
-Volunteer within your community.
-Begin giving regularly and sacrificially to the church you’re a part of.
-Exercise. Whether you’re walking, hitting the gym, running, trying out yoga, etc., exercise is an important component of honouring God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).
-Cut out all junk food for one week and note any alterations in your mood this leads to.
-Sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International and write letters to your sponsored child.
-Be disciplined to go to bed on time. The better rested we are, the more energy we have through which to love and bless others.
Do you have more ideas we can add to this list? Share them below!
Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.
About Adora Svitak:
A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 12) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy.
The simplest definition of a disciple that I can think of is this: someone who is taking Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength seriously. In order to do that we need to first identify our root type and nurture it. To experience and love God in the way we do is a gift and we should celebrate it! What I love about Jesus’ command, however, is that it pushes us beyond the borders of what comes naturally. One of the four loves will come naturally to us—that isn’t the problem. The problem comes when we become satisfied with living out of our root type and miss out on the adventure of discovering the greatness of God as we learn to love Him in more holistic ways.
It is difficult for Heart types to conduct a systematic study of the Bible, but at some point this type needs to take up this challenge so that they learn to love God with their mind as well as their heart. Likewise, it’s not easy for Strength types to participate in contemplative practices, but discipleship demands that such a challenge be attempted. After all, a root is supposed to nurture something greater than itself, and our root type is there to be the starting point from which our love for God can become more robust and expansive.
So how do we put all of this together into a plan for daily discipleship? Three steps are necessary:
1. Do one activity every day that strengthens your root type. Whatever your type, nurture it daily by doing an activity that strengthens your personal love language with God.
2. Do one activity every week that falls within a different type. For example, if you’re a Strength type choose one Heart, Soul, and Mind activity for the week. It doesn’t have to be something huge or radical, but you should set a goal to do one activity each week that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.
3. As you grow in loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, look for ways to extend that love into your relationships with others. Jesus said the second most important thing is to love your neighbour as yourself, and out of our experience and understanding of God’s love, our lives will overflow with compassion, care, and justice for others.
I use these steps on a weekly basis. At the beginning of each week I sit down and think about how I’d like to try to stretch myself in loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength. I take the time to set a goal for myself within each type. For example, last week I came up with the following plan:
Heart: Set aside some time to connect with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while. Really listen and try to discern God’s movements in his life. Offer encouragement and support.
Soul: Journal once this week on something God seems to be challenging me with.
Mind: Complete my study on Colossians this week and take notes on anything that stands out.
Strength: Help the set-up team on Sunday morning this week at church.
As you can see, in each area I’ve tried to identify one thing that I could do within the next week that would stretch me beyond my preferred love language. Some weeks I come up with more than one thing for each area, but I try not to worry about quantity; I just try to think about one way I can learn to grow in my love for God heart, soul, mind, and strength.
To love God with all of one’s strength is to find one’s faith energized as one uses their physical energy to serve and bless others in practical ways. Strength types focus on pragmatic acts of generosity and kindness and find these especially rewarding and meaningful. Strength types have a genuine understanding that the movement from being a “hearer” to “doer” (James 1:22) is critical for discipleship and faith. Strength types are often models to the other types in showing what living out one’s faith looks like in concrete ways.
Many Strength types have difficulty getting anything out of Scripture unless it is tied directly to a practical application. While other types (especially Mind types) are busy trying to understand what Scripture is teaching them, Strength types are asking, “What should we do about it?” From the conceptual to the concrete: that is always the movement for Strength types.
Within their churches Strength types are invaluable. They are often well known and deeply appreciated due to the fact that they are the doers of the church, the 20% that seems to accomplish 80% of the work. They are passionate servers that rarely seek recognition or reward. Serving others is the reward for a Strength type because they love to offer help in practical ways to those around them.
If growth in the other dimensions of loving God is not pursued by Strength types, the stereotype of the do-gooder can come true. This can lead to a discipleship that is divorced from depth at the theological, relational, and contemplative levels. Without these other dimensions being explored it can also become easy for Strength types to define their spiritual health with their level of activity and good works. This can cause Strength types to become workaholics that are fuelled by an unhealthy urge to constantly busy themselves with many godly things. That was Martha’s temptation in Luke 10:38-42. She was busy serving Jesus (strength), but needed to learn to be still before him (soul), learn from him (mind), and deepen her relationship with him (heart).