How To Ruin Your Life By 30 – A Book Review

Baseball pundits will be quick to say that you cannot win a World Series in April, but you can certainly lose one. Getting off to a bad start can have crippling effects, even in something as long as a 162-game season. In much shorter competitions, like a 100 meter sprint, a bad start is impossible to overcome. That is exactly the premise that Farrar has in his book, that a bad start is hard to overcome. Age 30 is significant for him, because “for the first 20 years of your life, your parents make the major decisions for you. From twenty on out, you will be making the decisions. The quality of your decisions will determine what your life will look like at thirty.” This is the mark of adulthood, you own your decisions and the consequences of them. And as a young person transitions into adulthood, passing through different stages leads to greater decisions and greater responsibility.


Farrar has nine common mistakes that he believes can shipwreck a life before age 30: Overlook the law of cause and effect, Get off to a bad start, Ignore God’s purpose for your life, Refuse to take responsibility for your actions, Neglect your gifts and strengths when choosing a vocation, Disregard what the Bible says about sex and marriage, Stop learning, Isolate yourself, and Refuse daily wisdom. The great news is that each of these can be fixed before a life becomes a tragic waste, but they are essential in the early stages of adulthood because of their long-term ripple effects.

Perhaps the most pointed chapter he has is chapter 6, which focuses on disregarding what the Bible says about sex and marriage. Marriage is hard work, but it is a lifetime commitment. As the divorce rate stays high, even among Christians, Farrar says “the reason Christian couples get divorced is that someone in the marriage didn’t burn the ships…. commitment has been redefined to mean they will stay in the relationships as long as it’s personally convenient.” To help young Christians make wise decisions for marriage, he offers four rules: 1) Married for life, 2) Hands to yourself (sexual purity before marriage), 3) Don’t act cheap, and 4) Christians only marry other Christians. In keeping with his long-range perspective, he also wants to challenge the common question young adults ask. Instead of “who am I going to marry?” he wants the first question to be “What kind of marriage do I want to have?” For Farrar, twenty years down the road needs to be the focal point, not the impulse for instant happiness.

In a culture that embraces YOLO (You Only Live Once) as its mantra, Farrar’s words come as a stark, but very wise and timely contrast. He ends the book by pleading with his young readers to go to the wellspring of Proverbs every day. Rather than live out YOLO and do what Drake says “forget what anybody says” and chase after the pursuit of pleasure, money, sex, and no consequences, Farrar sees one life with a 200 year ripple effect. He gives the example of Os Guinness’ great great-grandmother, who nearly committed suicide and leave two young children to an orphan’s life. Instead she made the adult decision to press on, found forgiveness and restoration in Christ, and married well.

Youth pastors, put this book in the hands of your graduating seniors, and challenge them to make wise decisions as they move into adulthood. Their choices in the 10 years after high school will have ripple effects for decades. This book is worth taking the time to read, consider, and apply – because by God’s grace we hope to see lives transformed by the Gospel and the pursuit of wisdom.

Life in the Land of Death

I’ve had a song on repeat both in my head and on my iPhone the last few days. It’s from a group called Citizens based out of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The song is called “I am Living in a Land of Death.” And it’s so appropriate for the last few weeks looking at the wasteland of families and lives destroyed by individuals in sin and the collateral damage from that. The crumpled tissues still sit in my trash can, the notes in my binder are there, the texts following up are in my phone.

Every one of them shows the tragedy and mess that sin and life in a fallen world can produce. And that’s what makes this song by Citizens so profound, so helpful, and such an encouragement. From the cacophony of its introduction to its beautiful melodies as it climaxes in a resounding triumph of God’s grace, this song walks us through the healing, salvation, and restoration of a fallen world.

One of my favorite passages through this has been 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.


I want to offer these to people going through crises, whether by your fault or if you’re suffering the collateral damage of another

  1. Jesus is enough – Whatever you’re going through, whether by choice or circumstance, Jesus is enough to bring healing, repentance, joy, and peace. Whatever we do to replace him with some other Diet Coke substitute, it never gives us the same as He does. Run to Him. Cling to Him. Call to Him. Only He is enough for your wounded heart to find relief. Only He can fill the vacuum left in your soul.
  2. Live in community – Christians are notorious for using a filthy curse word: fine. We will hide behind this veneer while everything on the inside falls apart, because we’re unwilling to let anyone in. We cannot fight the battles raging around us on our own, which is why we have the Church as a resource, support, safety net, and hospital for our wounded souls.
  3. Seek the Word – Citizens sing in their song Your law is a stream in this wasteland; my lifeline. So much more than precious gold Are Your promises my Lord By them is Your servant warned, And keeping them great reward – Don’t run from the Bible to find your peace and healing in your feelings, in some recreational escape, or even busying yourself attending church services. Seek the Word, draw from its treasure.
  4. Don’t Hide – Adam & Eve hid from God, and in the same way today we hide from our Savior and from one another for fear of how we’ll be received, that we’ll be a disappointment, or that we’ll lose something. Instead of bearing ourselves before our merciful Savior, we “trade naked and not ashamed for a better place to hide,” as Derek Webb says.

Vox, Verba, and Victor Garber – Jesus & Movies

IMDB lists 394 movies have been made that featured or involved Jesus as a key character in the storyline. Ranker offers their 28 top Jesus-based films, which range from the inspirational (Passion of the Christ, Gospel of John) to the unusual (Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter, even better it’s a musical and involves Mexican luchadores). Hipster Monk gives his list of Jesus films called “the Good, the Bad, and the Blasphemous.” Vintage 21 Church released its Jesus movie spoof several years ago as a response to how non-Christians often view Christians. 

With the release of the Mark Burnett and Roma Downey movie Son of God, there has been a renewed interest in the film portrayals of the Messiah and the response of both the faithful and the skeptical to them. Much of the film is based on the History Channel miniseries The Bible, which I have to admit was really well-done and very creative in how it brought the stories to life. The recent controversy over some aspects of the Son of God movie, namely the artistic license taken at times in the narrative, requires a critique and help for the Church to work through the process of discernment.


A brief theological discourse is necessary on the Latin words in the title, vox and verba. When we understand the revelation of Scripture, we have to ask ourselves this question “Are we getting the exact words of Christ (verba), or the exact voice (vox)?” In other words, are there times that the Gospel writers summarized Jesus or are they giving every indication that they are writing down the verbatim words of Jesus’ sermons? I would say that the answer is yes, to both, depending on the circumstances and the context. There are times where it is clear we have the voice, rather than verbatim, during Jesus’ lengthy discourses. Even if you read the Sermon on the Mount in Greek (which you should try, it’s a delightful exercise), it takes roughly 20 minutes. Jesus would have likely spoken much longer as an accomplished teacher, so while there are likely direct quotations in Matthew’s account, we have to recognize that there are times where he, and the other Gospel writers, are giving us a highlight reel of Jesus’ teaching. Both provide you the essence, content, and thrust of the teaching without every detail, just like how Sportscenter can recap an entire game in a 2 minute clip. In other places we can recognize that we are getting the verbatim words of Jesus, such as the Seven Sayings on the Cross, the institution of the Supper, or the interaction with Lazarus (which would have included Jewish understandings of cleanness as well). It doesn’t mean that one is “more inspired” than the other or that we should use a darker shade of red for the lettering.

This does not undermine the understanding in most evangelical churches of “plenary verbal inspiration” for two reasons: 1) The Holy Spirit is the author as much in the case of vox as He is verba, because what we have recorded in the Four Gospels is as much canon as any other book and is thus under the same standard of inspiration as Romans, Jonah, or Genesis; 2) Vox does not undermine the teaching of Christ because of the apostolic authorship of the Gospels. Darrell Bock says this about the debate in the book Jesus Under Fire: “One can present history accurately whether one quotes or summarizes teaching or even mixes the two together. To have accurate summaries of Jesus’ teaching is just as historical as to have his actual words; they are just two different perspectives to give us the same thing. All that is required is that the summaries be trustworthy.”

So what are we to do with Jesus movies as a thoughtful, careful, discerning people? Let me offer 4 suggestions:

  1. Recognize that every movie will fall short of the glory of the Incarnation – Even the Gospels themselves do not bear full witness to every detail of Jesus’ life. John makes that allusion in the last verse of his Gospel (cf. John 21:25), so a movie buttressed by a 2 hour time limit is only going to scratch the surface of the full story. Typically most movies are only able to fully pursue one plot aspect, and leave the rest either untreated or woefully under treated. The best example from the Jesus corpus of this is the Passion of the Christ, which focused exclusively on the sufferings of Christ in a roughly 24 hour period. Missing from the movie were the 33 years of perfect obedience that is as essential to the work of Christ as the cross, and the full implications of the Resurrection which validated and vindicated the work of Christ. Perhaps the wisdom I got from a middle school teacher is helpful, “The movie is never as good as the book.”
  2. Don’t act surprised when Hollywood doesn’t produce Sunday School material – At this I want to introduce two particular films about Jesus: The Last Temptation of Christ, and Godspell. In one, Jesus wrestles with inner conflict about his own lust, comes off the cross and marries 3 women with lots of kids who only as an old man dies for redemption, and in the other Jesus is a beatnik in Greenwich Village in NYC in the 1970s who paints murals and plants gardens with the Disciples. Neither one of these reflect the lessons from the Jesus Storybook Bible, and we shouldn’t expect them to. In 1 John, there are clear distinctions from the Church & the World, and we cannot expect the world to favor or embrace the radical nature of the Gospel. So when Hollywood produces blockbuster movies aimed at attacking historic orthodoxy (see da Vinci Code), welcome to the club, it’s been happening for 2000 years.
  3. Watch every Jesus movie with a grain of salt – There are some really good (and some really bad/cheesy) Jesus films out there. But all of them, even the most reliable, need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some go so far as to fulfill Chesterton’s words about Jesus not wanting to show us his mirth. So they make Jesus out to be an emo guy who looks sad with way too much hair product. Some go so far the other way to make Jesus giggle like a tween at a Bieber concert, and remove the hard edge from Jesus’ teaching & ministry. Others take liberty with the textual witness for dramatic effect because God becoming Man and dying for sin wasn’t dramatic enough. Take in the film, enjoy the story, and always check things against Scripture. There’s a reason why the Book of Concord (1580) describes the Bible as the “norming norm,” only it has the authority and place to rightly determine our thinking, our worldview, and our understanding of redemptive history. Rich Mullins nailed it when talking about Christians and entertainment “If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should go to church…you should read the Scriptures.”
  4. Fall in love with the sufficiency of Scripture – We believe that the Bible is enough to explain the major acts of history: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Glory. Because of that, we can rest in the security that comes from having a clear witness to things of utmost importance, and cling to it for the most crucial answers. No movie ever can be in the same time zone for the Bible’s storyline, emphasis, and goal. Be free from expecting film to do what it was never intended for. Most Jesus movies majorly lack a key theological/historical element, and that shouldn’t drive us to blogs and social media rants, it should drive us to the glorious text which shows us a drama far greater than anything Hollywood could do. 
  5. Buy the bottomless popcorn option – Enjoy the movie, get sucked into the drama unfolding, laugh when Jesus laughs (He did), weep when Jesus weeps (He did), and be angry at the treachery that befalls Jesus at the hands of Judas. Plus, movie theater popcorn is incredibly tasty and addicting!

We need to be thankful for the work of Burnett & Downey, if nothing else that they’re moving us away from the legacy of cheese that has long tainted Christian film-making. We need to be thankful for those who are willing to try to figure out how to tell the Greatest Story Ever in such a way that it captures the essence of the Nazarene before an audience that may only be interested in being entertained. We need to be thankful that Jesus is not limited to the King James dialogue that made many Jesus movies so wooden in the past, but that He was a man with a personality, sense of humor, passion, and love that goes beyond how He has often been played on film.

But we also need to be careful. We need to be careful that we do not assume too much in Jesus movies. We mustn’t put them in a place we should only reserve for Scripture. We need to be careful not to be overly critical or cranky about these, and miss how even movies like Ultrachrist (where Jesus is a superhero who fights Dracula & Hitler) can be avenues for bridging the Gospel. 

The great news there is that it’s so easy to do – the Gospels tell a far more captivating story than any blockbuster could ever do, as the Jesus Storybook Bible says, “It’s like an adventure story about a young Hero who came from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne, everything to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that have come true in real life.”

Book Review – Journal of Discipleship & Family Ministry

For years the model in youth ministry was to pursue the shock effect, eat copious amounts of greasy pizza, play games, and if possible connect Jesus through that with a simple message. Attendance in youth ministries was seen as the prize to pursue, from not only church leaders but also youth ministers. !e idea seemed to have been, “If they come, we have reached them,” or at least that’s how it seemed to many of us (28). Moving from one high to the next was a never-ending pursuit, mirrored in the culture-at-large by the constant stream of “I’m bored” posts on Facebook. More so, youth ministries were segregated from the greater life of the church, removing the students from regular contact with senior adults and even their parents. The strange irony is, through Cosby’s experience in youth ministry, students are hungry for truth, doctrine, fellowship with the church, and challenging discipleship. !is book is a response to the entertainment culture in many churches, with a plea for youth ministries to be foundationally about the gospel and to redefine “success” from numbers to faithfulness in ministry.

Cosby’s book is well-organized, with the middle chapters structured around the “means of grace” that he lays out in Chapter 2 as foundational for student ministry: the Word, sacraments, prayer, service, and community. He defines them as the ways that God works as he sees fit for the building up of his church (24). They are not ways of achieving salvation, but instead are seen as ways to build up students to be conformed to the imago Christi. For Cosby, the centrality of every youth ministry is the gospel, which he outlines as justification by faith. Service and ministry are seen then, not as paths to heaven by themselves, but a means of “strengthening our faith in His sufficiency, not ours” (31).

The Word preached and taught stands against a culture that is driven by what it can see. The response has been to diminish the role of exegetically-driven preaching and replace it with a casual story time with Scripture references throughout, even with visual cues on the screen behind the speaker. The premise is that because students are visually-saturated, this should be reflected in how they are taught. Cosby, however, is quick to point out that many students are able to memorize songs, so the transition to memorizing and treasuring Scripture should be natural.

Prayer is likened to the need of teenagers for authenticity, honesty and relationship, which are promoted in culture as coming from entertainment. The difficulty for many students is that they are exposed to passionless public clichés which robs students of intimacy with God and leads to burnout. Prayer is more than something done before a meal or trip; it is intercession, supplication and ultimately doxology (55). Entertainment starves students, but prayer as a means of fellowship with God and personal transformation leads them to the all-satisfying Christ.

One critique of Cosby at this point is his treatment of the “memorial” view of the Lord’s Supper, which he considers to be the prevalent interpretation of the Supper among Protestant evangelicals today. His premise is that the diminished view of the Supper among youth, and the church in general, comes from the acceptance of this view. The memorial view, in my opinion, is not at fault for the Supper being sidelined in churches. Instead, as Cosby points out, it comes from a diminished view of the Word preached and taught. The treatment of the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 in itself demonstrates the significance of the Supper, with deadly consequences for its irreverence. If the Word is rightly divided, taught, and applied for what it is as the authoritative, inspired revelation of a holy and sovereign God, then a light treatment of the Supper is inexcusable.

Service and community are two means of grace that Cosby introduces that are not typically seen under that term, but are appropriate for the purpose of his book. Service is a means of grace whereby God grows our faith, extends our love, and brings us joy and peace (77). Community is a means of grace whereby God confronts our sin, feeds our faith, transforms our minds, and grows our love (96). These two confront the same product of entertainment, entitlement, with the biblical ethic of humility. Service to the “least of these” provides a model for Christian living, rather than the pursuit of shallow joy and ultimate meaninglessness. It removes the constant desire for the high points and replaces it with the ethic of giving, which is best demonstrated by serving and ministering together. Community is supplied in the local church that cannot be found in any parachurch or civic organization or Facebook group. It provides safety among those whose identity and eternity have been found in Christ to be free from hypocrisy, judgment and condemnation. Cosby uses the idea of the “D-Group” as a model for biblical community in student ministry (105-109) that is built on solid content, small size, age/gender division, consistent meeting, trained and called leaders, and an emphasis on discipleship evangelism.

In the last chapter, Cosby lays out the wisdom of a leadership team and some practical steps on how to build a leadership team in a student ministry. With the common perception that the average youth minister stays at a place of service for around 18 months, there is a great need to apply these principles to avoid the pressure that comes from a “Lone Ranger” mentality of ministry leadership. Building a team spreads decision-making, praise/blame, and creates a collective wisdom base greater than any single leader. There is also a section on purpose and vision in student ministry that serve as a way to unite the team and give a clear picture of where the ministry is headed.

The last paragraph in the book bears enough weight that it deserves to be copied here:

With all my heart, I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying Treasure that He is, and feed His young sheep with the means God has provided. May the gospel of Christ Fill your heart with grateful praise and guide your steps toward your heavenly home. (124)

This book is an incredibly helpful tool for youth ministers, regardless of theological persuasion. Though Cosby is writing from a Reformed Presbyterian background, his principles transcend doctrinal convictions and get to the heart of the issue: youth ministry can be far more than what many settle for. The individual reader will have to wrestle with Cosby’s theological persuasions and come to their own conclusions of agreement or disagreement. !at said, it must be emphasized that Cosby is orthodox in his theology, holding to the primary doctrines that unite Christians under the gospel of justification by faith.

The book is organized in such a way that his prescriptive steps can be easily applied to a current ministry context. The appendices allow for the student minister to both examine himself and also his relationship with church officers and parents. Again, his language may be confusing for those outside Presbyterian circles (but ultimately I found it very helpful in terms of understanding polity and pointing out my own blind spots), but the core is universal: youth ministry is not done in a vacuum, it is done within the context of a local church and alongside the God-given parents of the student.

This is a book for any youth minister who seeks to make an impact that transcends the gratuitous use of the word “epic” in the entertainment culture to truly give students something epic, Jesus. In a world that seeks to replace substance with cheap thrills, this book offers something that is more satisfying and ultimately what students are looking for in their lives. The students in churches are tired of what has been pushed at them by not only MTV but also their youth ministry. Give them what they want, challenge them, teach them the Truth, and let the Holy Spirit do what a fog machine and light system cannot: make them into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“You take youth into business meetings?”

Have you ever met someone who actually enjoyed getting dental work done? The kind of person who wants a long, slow root canal? Me neither. Sometimes I’ve sat through church business meetings where I wished I was in the dentist chair instead. But, like having a cavity filled or getting your teeth cleaned with that scrapy-thing, it’s necessary. Tonight we had our students in a business meeting rather than keeping them away in a separate Bible study. I wanted them to be a part of the church decision-making process, and as I came away from the meeting tonight I was able to think of 4 reasons why it’s important for teenagers to be in business meetings, even the long ones.


They’re church members – Unless we create a second-class understanding of church membership, teenagers who have joined the church are entitled to the same voting privileges, service opportunities, and speaking platform as a seasoned member of 50 years. They have a stake in the process, and because of that deserve every opportunity to be a part of it. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s part of being in a family. Reading reports is never a way of captivating people, but part of the importance of things like treasurers reports and membership reports is that it shows teenagers how important the details are – operating the church above reproach and recognizing the addition (or subtraction) of people from our membership shows them that the church is both organization and organism.

They’re the future – Believe it or not, the middle schooler who now is focused on getting the high score on Flappy Bird will one day be a leader in the local church. Many times teens are given only one aspect of church life, isolated among their own peer group, and withdrawn from the life of the greater body. They’re given a 7 year camp experience on Wednesday nights and Sundays, and when they graduate are unable to deal with the reality of church life. By allowing them a seat at the table in the beginning, while they’re still learning what their church roles might be, it allows a time of formation and sharpening so that they’re ready to step into active roles as adults.

They’re an example – I want our church to recognize that their students are not being babysat, coddled, or entertained. I want the church to see that we’re about producing mature, self-feeding disciples. And I want them to see that our students are living out 1 Timothy 4:12, setting the example for the church in their faith, conduct, and love. The last thing I want to see our student ministry become is a holding tank. We view ourselves as a ministry of the church, not apart from it. And that means brushing shoulders with young adults, single moms, retirees, and every other rank and file.

They’re part of the Gospel story – The Gospel isn’t as sanitized as we want it to be, nor is it like the exhilarating high of the camp experience. It’s messy. It involves people who we don’t agree with or like. It involves dealing with things that might sound trivial or boring. And it involves us having to put aside personal preferences for the greater good of the Body of Christ. These are all lessons vital for teenagers to learn. The Gospel story is one that has been told and retold for 21 centuries on 6 continents in millions of local churches – that Jesus Christ has come into the world to die for sinners and offer Himself as the hope for mankind. And that experience has looked very much the same for all 21 centuries: live, die, get married, have kids, work a job, serve the church, pray, worship Jesus, tell others about him – a very ordinary life. And in that ordinary is a thing of beauty. Church business meetings function that same way, they’re very ordinary and not always exciting, but they serve as a time for the church to come together to reflect on their contribution to the Gospel story.

Choose Your Own Adventure, John Lennon, Millennials, and Faith

When I was a kid I loved the “choose your own adventure” books in our school library. The appeal was that, unlike other books with one story line, you could design whatever story you wanted based on the choices you made in the course of the book. And if I didn’t like the result, I could backtrack to where I could have a much better ending.


Candace Chellew-Hodge wrote a piece for the USC Annenberg Religious Dispatch about a college class where the students created their own religious belief system. As she read through the class papers, some interesting trends came out. The students in this class created systems of belief that really focused on the individual, removed authority figures, removed any notion of judgment or hell, and tended to mash together different belief systems. When there were resemblances to “traditional” religious structures, like prayer or meditation, it tended to focus on personal enrichment and material gain.

What can we take from this? Is this an isolated instance or is there an entire generation that is willing to abandon its theological and ecclesial history for the sake of postmodernism? The answer is that we are dealing with an entirely different and unknown phenomenon, or to quote Sheriff Brody from Jaws, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

David Kinnaman of the Barna Group has described the Millennials (or Mosaics, Gen Y, MTV generation, etc.) as discontinuously different from their predecessors, especially in terms of faith. When looking at Millennials, there is not a precedent to filter their assumptions and understandings about faith and the role it plays in daily life. One of the most interesting quotes from the article was an exchange between Chellew-Hodge and a student:

“What happens if somebody transgresses from the beliefs of your religion?” I asked after one presentation.

“They can find another religion,” was the answer.

In other words, if the chosen religion doesn’t suit the needs of the individual, find another one, because there’s nothing distinct, unique, or consequential about what you choose. And this tends to be the mindset of the Millennial generation – all systems of belief are to be considered as equal and non-contradictory, even when they make differences between themselves and contradict one another. Like the “choose your own adventure” books, we are free to move back and forth until the story fits with what we want (and ironically, that story never involves us being wrong!).

At the core is whether or not truth exists apart from the interpreter giving assent to it, or if the assent leads to the nature of truth. In other words, if I don’t want something to be true, I don’t have to accept it and therefore it isn’t true. If a family doesn’t want to acknowledge their dire financial strait, and refuses to accept the truth of their late notices on their bills, it doesn’t change the fact that the Truth is that they owe money and are in danger of bankruptcy.

John Lennon wrote about this in 1971 with his song Imagine, where he dreams of a world without boundaries of religion, nationality, or materialism. The opening words give us a clear picture of his ideal: Imagine there is no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people, Living for today. In essence, the dream is the removal of all religious dogma and historical baggage. This is the same rhyme in Chellew-Hodge’s article, that we can and should create our own systems that mean no suffering, no hell, no judgment, and no consequences for disagreement.

So what should the Church do?

  • Recognize that Millennials are different – We cannot assume that because we do the same things as before that it will resonate with Millennials. When we do this, we live in denial about the state of reality – that they are radically different and require a new approach.
  • Leave room for questions – Millennials are the first truly post-Christian generation, so many of them are not wired with a Christian ethic or understanding of morality. Their generation is one that has been firmly affected by postmodernism, so walk carefully with them as they learn about the Bible, respond to the Gospel, and form a Christian worldview.
  • Stop the ostrich routine – We cannot bury our head in the sand and pretend nothing is going on. There are over 70 million Millennials, and they are more than a number. They are guys & girls made in the image of God who need to hear about Jesus.
  • Demonstrate consistency – For Millennials, experience trumps objectivity. For many Millennials, just saying something is true isn’t enough, there is a need to experience it, personalize it, and internalize it. And nothing dispels truth like inconsistency or hypocrisy. Millennials (and the rest of the watching world) are looking at the Church wondering what is so different between them and their secular neighbors? The documentary Beware of Christians has a line that gave me chills. When asked if a man knew any Christians, his response was “Yeah. All I know is that they’re busy on Sundays.”
  • Speak their language – All communication breaks down if you don’t speak the same language. Ask anyone who’s traveled overseas looking to find a bathroom. Many times when we speak Christianese, we speak a language that Millennials do not understand, or have never heard. Part of being an effective communicator is to find out the language of the audience, learn what they say, why they say it, and how they say it. For Christians, the goal of learning new languages has always been to translate the Gospel into it so those people might meet Jesus and be saved.

Am I Called?

“I think God is calling me to ministry”

I love hearing these words from guys & girls I’ve had the joy of influencing. One of my great passions is to raise up leaders for the Kingdom through the local church. It’s an exciting time for them, their parents, and for their church. A church should be seeking out those God is calling to equip them to be sent out. Let’s be clear first, God calls all of us to faithful service. But God calls out some for specific spiritual leadership within the church, which some would call “vocational ministry.”

Southern Seminary (my 2x alma mater & Carrie’s) has this helpful site as well to consider.

But how can you know that God is calling you to ministry? I want to walk through the steps I use with prospective ministry leaders. I believe all four of these are essential, and if one of these is not currently present I encourage that person to step back and assess their calling, or to explore the possibility that God desires them to faithful service in the church but not as a vocational ministry leader. A helpful passage for this is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

  • The inward (personal) call – This is the beginning point, where God’s Spirit leads an individual to understand that s/he has been given a unique, personal calling towards ministry. It’s also the hardest to dispute, which is why it shouldn’t be the only step in discerning a call. When people have shared they sense this part, I normally ask them these kinds of questions to help them make sense of what God may be saying to them:
  1. Can you share your testimony of conversion, and is it a credible one of saving faith & repentance?
  2. Do you have a deep love for Jesus, the Bible, prayer, the Church, and God’s people?
  3. Do you find an unspeakable joy in the things of God?
  4. What do you believe about the “big deal” stuff? Theology & Doctrine matter
  5. Are you someone who has a high level of character & personal purity?
  6. What are your spiritual gifts? Do you have the gifts that translate well to ministry leadership?
  7. Do you like to serve, get your hands dirty, and work hard?
  8. Do you find yourself repenting more of your sin and working to kill it in your life?
  9. Do you like to read? Leaders are readers
  10. Are you willing to be held to a higher standard than others?
  • The pastoral call – Go to a person who is in spiritual authority over you. Ideally in your church there are a number of people who you can seek wisdom from. Share with them your inward call, and ask that person if they believe you could be in ministry. It could be your pastor, youth pastor, or another elder or minister in your church. Whoever it is, it needs to be someone who has had an impact in your life and who knows you really well. I firmly believe this is the crucial step, because if someone in ministry can speak well of your character and abilities, then you might have something worth pursuing. If this person can confirm that you may be called to ministry, then you’re ready for this to become an issue for the church.
  • The external (public) call – If you sense you are called to ministry, this is something that has to be validated, confirmed, and accounted for by a local church. It needs to be the church that you are attending/serving in. Do they believe you to be a person of Christian faith, of strong character, who is found faithful in the areas of service you are in? If you are not faithful to serve, work, and lead as a layperson, you will fail as a ministry leader. Seminaries and Bible colleges are great, and they are necessary to prepare and teach ministry leaders. But they don’t make a pastor, the local church does. Only the church has the authority to ordain and set apart men for pastoral leadership, and men & women for ministry leadership. So it is a huge deal for a local church to confirm a person’s call. I remember well the night my home church voted to license me to ministry. It was humbling to hear testimonies from men & women I had served with and gotten to know, and their endorsement still hangs on my wall and still humbles me.
  • The sustaining call – Eventually, the joy and elation of being called to ministry will disappear, and will be replace with the difficulty of carrying so many spiritual, emotional, and physical burdens for people. You’ll watch families fall apart, you’ll bury babies, you’ll listen to people pour out their sin struggles, you’ll write depositions for court, and you’ll deal with church critics who want you to fit the mold of their favorite TV preacher or the guy/girl who was there before you. I remember the first person’s face who wanted me to help them discern their ministry call when I told them “I’m going to do everything I can to talk you out of this. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do everything I can to set you up well.” The sustaining call is the one that flows primarily from your walk with Jesus, your relationship with your spouse, and your contentment to obey when Jesus says “Follow Me.” It will force you to ask what your satisfaction is: Jesus or _____? But God is faithful to carry His servants through to the end, and His grace is sufficient no matter what circumstances are around you. God will vindicate His own people. But you might still get fired.

HT: Dan Dumas and SBTS for this video

For more, check out this book: Are You Called?

Reflections on Barna’s trends for 2014 – Part 1

Last week, Barna came out with some new research looking at some trends to consider in 2014. Their article opened with a broad discussion of organizational dysfunctional and the resulting decline in trust given to organizations/institutions. As the article said, this is nothing new, institutional distrust has been brewing for decades (long before we were forced to take off our shoes and turn over our coffee cups at TSA screenings). But the most revealing part was the perception of the institutional church and its decline in trust, particularly among Millennials. Thom Rainer highlighted one aspect of this in a recent blog, where he gave 11 reasons why pastors are less trusted, based on some recent findings from Pew Research. If I could be a reductionist, the essence of the argument is this: we’ve blown it. 

Barna’s infograph is displayed below, and I would like to emphasize that the differences in institutional trust is largely generational. Here’s what I mean by that: when you were born affects your trust in institutions. The lone caveat to this is Congress. No one trusts them, except a small portion of Millennials.


When we see that fewer young adults are trusting of the institutional church, we are left with three options how to respond – do nothing, panic, or adapt. Most churches opt for the first two. They continue spinning an endless cycle of programs, pursue dated techniques, and maintain a status quo culture that is resistant to the changes around them. I think of this as the Mayberry Syndrome, where we want to create an idyllic relic of the past that really never existed that frowns on the adaptations around them. Instead of creating a Mayberry version of Shangri-La, it becomes a castle that seeks to repel whatever would disrupt life in the castle. Or they respond by going into full-blown panic mode and assume that the way to reach young adults is to use a PowerPoint projector, sing “praise choruses,” and wring their hands about what to do. But at the end of the day, there isn’t a core change. It’s surface change, superficial – similar to treating a broken leg with Tylenol.

What is needed is not a makeover, but a reformation. A makeover doesn’t deal with the real core issues, the center of what’s going on, it changes clothes, shaves, and gets a new haircut. A reformation seeks to take what is there and remake it into something glorious. This ethos is expressed by the phrase: Ecclessia semper reformanda, or “the church always reforming.” This isn’t anything groundbreaking, we do this everyday. Take out your cell phone. If you have an iPhone, you would have the computing power of all of NASA in 1969 when we put a man on the moon. Now we use it to throw birds into walls. Or consider your car, do you have heated seats and cruise control, or do you still have a Model T in the array of colors it came in: black? We do this in every aspect of our lives – we adapt to the circumstances around us in order to be more productive, more effective, and to respond to the changes around us.

Here are 5 ways I believe churches can apply the lessons from Barna’s research:

Leaders need to be transparent – The news is rife with Christians who are caught in hypocrisy, whose private sin is made public before a mocking world. We need leaders who are willing to be transparent, to put aside the facade of “everything’s fine” and be honest with their still-pursuing holiness.

Leaders need a compelling vision – Where are we going? How will we get there? What are we doing? These are questions leaders need to ask of every aspect of the church. Every part needs to be going in the same direction, with the same goals, and the same accountability. I believe firmly that if a church is to engage and equip Millennials, it needs to present a compelling vision that calls on people to be part of something greater than themselves.

Don’t assume – We can’t assume that just because we’ve been around or that a church used to have young adults that they will continue to do so. Assuming removes being proactive from leadership. It isn’t based on data, trends, and facts – assuming is the product of the imagination, whether good or bad. Track your metrics, find the vital signs, keep an eye on the pulse of your church. Poll young adults to find out who they are, what they want, and where they are spiritually.

Speak their language – Many times in church we use a language that for Millennials sounds like we’re speaking the color purple. For every previous generation, the language of Christianity was more known among the culture, even the non-churched. But with Millennials, everything changed. Most Millennials have grown up outside the influence of a Christian ethic & worldview. More Millennials identify themselves as non-religious, agnostic, or secular than any other generation. So we must learn how to take our “Christianese” and translate it – not very much different than what a missionary does among an unengaged people group.

Pray – No matter how hard a church tries, what programs or emphases she launches, or any other factor, prayer is the most important piece for reaching, engaging, and equipping people. Are you marked by consistent prayer for those who do not know Jesus? Is your church focused on praying for them and seeking God’s face for Him to break your hearts for what breaks His, or are you only focused on the sick list? If we are marked by prayer, God will change us and He’ll use us to change the world.

The Thrilla in the CVG


In a few weeks Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis will do a live debate with Bill Nye. The actual event sold out in almost no time, and thousands have registered for the live stream. It will certainly be a spectacle, as two of the most visible and popularly-accepted voices of origins will share the stage. Criticism has been lobbed, with Nye’s camp believing that his debate with Ham legitimizes and gives creationism an audience, especially that the debate will be held at the Creation Museum rather than a neutral site or a university campus. This isn’t the first debate, nor will it be the last. Creationists like William Lane Craig, Doug Wilson, and others have shared the stage with evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens. Nye has certainly made his impression felt and his view on creationists is not vague.

What should we make of debates like this?

  1. It provides an opportunity to engage the culture – Paul spoke at the center of Athenian culture, Mars Hill, in Acts where he engaged the pagan culture of his day by interacting with their authors, dialogue with their teachers, and pleading his case to answer the great question of the Areopagus: “Who is the unknown god?” We must, as the Church, speak into the culture to provide the perspective that comes from the regenerative power of the Gospel. We believe the gospel speaks into issues of sexuality, marriage, questions of life, wealth, work, and origins.
  2. It brings both sides together – It’s very easy to lob hand grenades over a blog or social media, it’s an entirely different issue when you have to be in physical proximity with each other. Perhaps the best example is the friendship between Doug Wilson & Chris Hitchens. These discussions & debates provide a face to the issue in a time where we too quickly hide behind the laptop. The fact that true & genuine friendships can arise from these is proof that God is about the business of reconciliation.
  3. The issue of truth can be brought up – Pilate asked one of the most fundamental questions in history: What is truth? When we argue about preferences or personal taste, there are few implications. I can’t stand pepperonis on pizza, but that has no bearing on existence. Whether or not one is a fan of _____ means nothing to the cosmic order. But if the central issues of truth and reality are on the table, the consequences are long-reaching. It becomes the discussion of the most important thing – truth. There is no way for both to exist equally, and without being truly true, the ‘other’ position must collapse on itself.

You can sign up to watch the debate online here. I’m not sure what will happen from this debate. Ultimately I feel it will not be an issue of winner and loser, because the gospel does not allow us as Christians to have a “we win, you lose” mentality. The vs. in the title of the debate is bothersome, not because these views shouldn’t be discussed, but because we must approach and embrace our engagement of the culture as a mission, not a street fight. Neither participant will change their mind, the crowd will be a decided home-field advantage for Ham, and the blogsophere will blow up with responses, rebuttals, and reactions in the aftermath.

To quote Ravi Zacharias, “Behind the debris of these solemn supermen, and self-styled imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one, because of whom, by whom, in whom and through whom alone, mankind may still have peace: The person of Jesus Christ. I present him as the way, the truth, and the life.” Regardless of the result of the debate or the position people may hold on the age of the earth, how we got here, and what we’re to do, one central issue remains – we are sinners separated from God and are in need of a Savior. Christianity speaks to that in the person & work of Jesus Christ, and that provides the starting point for a cohesive and comprehensive worldview that answers the most fundamental questions of existence.

Biblical marriage, gender roles, and Full House

Making the rounds in the Interwebs the last few days has been a blog by Sarah Bessey, in response to a new book by Candace Cameron Bure (or as all of us 90s kids know her – DJ Tanner). It has sparked a lot of discussion, especially as Bure describes her submission to her husband’s leadership in their marriage. It warranted a further interview with the HuffPost where Bure elaborated more on her position. Denny Burk at Boyce College offers a great response to Bessey, where he lays out the task that what is really at stake is a question of biblical authority.


I echo Burk’s concerns, and because of a desire to be consistent in applying Scripture as it relates especially to the home and church, must advocate for and promote a complementarian view of gender roles. My wife wrote extensively on this for her Ph.D. dissertation, and the working definition of complementarian gender roles she used came from Wayne Grudem, “God created man and woman equal in value and personhood, and equal in bearing his image, but that both creation and redemption indicate some distinct roles for men and women in marriage and in the church.” For her, and for all of us who hold to a complementarian view, the idea of “equal yet functionally distinct” is at the core.

Words carry a lot of weight, and often a lot of baggage. The word “submission” for many conjures the image of the overbearing husband who demands his wife to follow whatever hair-brained idea he has. And with that comes the image of the 1950s housewife who isn’t allowed to have an opinion, and whose primary job is to look pretty and bake brownies. Words like “patriarch” convey the idea that women are less than men, and that men need to say “Let me ‘splain to you little sweetie.” Let me be clear, the baggage is well-deserved. There are far too many cases where these words have been abused, misused, and twisted. But, because a term is abused or misused does not discount its legitimacy.

John Piper offers a great insight into his book with Wayne Grudem Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

I have a few concerns with Bessey’s article, and I’ll list them below:
1) Submission is not subservience nor is it inferiority – Submission within the home is instead the gracious response to Christlike and humble leadership. The relationship between a husband and wife in Ephesians 5 is used as an analogy to describe how Jesus relates to the Church. The greater emphasis is on the husband to provide Christlike love and care for his bride, just as Jesus did/does for His Bride. Bessey describes this: “A woman who is held back, minimized, or downplayed is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as an image bearer.” But that is not the case at all, beginning back in Genesis 1-2 where Adam and Eve are both created in the image of God and made with authority over the creation. The order in Creation, where God lays out a picture of male headship, is not a result of the Fall as Bessey argues. Paul lays this out in 1 Timothy 2 as the foundation for understanding gender roles in the church and home by pointing to the pre-Fall creation of Adam first and then Eve. It does not diminish Eve’s standing as an image-bearer, nor does it give Adam the right to superiority over Eve.

2) Male leadership is not a dictatorship – There are some who misuse this, and consider male leadership to be “Woman, make me a sammich!” Rightly, this should be rejected. Bessey describes the husband in a complementarian view as “absolute head of the home,” which is not an accurate portrayal of a biblical understanding of marriage and gender roles. Good leadership in the home comes from the humble leadership of a husband who is pursuing Jesus and seeking the best for his wife. It is the apex of unselfish leadership. Guys, Jesus calls us to sacrifice everything for our wives, and our leadership in the home is not for us to get glory or feel big & strong, it’s to make Jesus famous and make our wives look good.

3) Mutual submission is not a loss of male headship – Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5:21 “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To that I would say yes and amen. Leadership in a Christian ethic is not determined by power, force, or position. We are called to humble submission to one another, creating mutual deference. An example of that is if you’ve sat at a 4 way Stop and you’re trying to wave through the people waving you through. It’s seeking the welfare and better of another. But it is not the dissolution of complementary gender roles and male headship. Guys, let me be clear with you first – you don’t get to make decisions without your wife’s input, consideration, and even rebuttal. Just because you think it’s a good idea to drop $15,000 on a luxury cruise doesn’t mean anything if your wife gets motion sickness in a desk chair. That’s stupid. Mutual deference/submission is the pursuit of the better of another, and the putting of another before yourself. My wife has right of refusal for our family decisions, so she can push back if something is a bad idea – that’s not diminishing my role as head of our home, that’s walking in wisdom.

4) Getting to Bessey’s position is hermeneutical origami – The path for Bessey is a path that leads ultimately to the reworking and rewriting of Scripture in its plain meaning. As she starts to explain away the text as recorded to explain away the original meaning and intent, by introducing a difficult-to-maintain arc that opens the door for new revelation, and by insisting we have advanced beyond the ethic of Scripture to a modern ethic, she has created a figure out of paper. You have to twist, fold, hide, and work around so many issues in an egalitarian view of gender roles that there is little left of what was originally there. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to this hermeneutical origami is the analogy of marriage to the Church used in Ephesians 5. An egalitarian position does not hold water to this, because we would then have to connect the dots and say that Jesus then submits to the Church. The implications for that are far-reaching, we lose a sovereign Lord and open the path to open theism. We lose an effectual Savior where “no power of hell, nor scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand” to one that is left to our whims.

Bessey’s own description of her marriage, as they are pursuing Christ together, is much closer to a complementarian view of gender roles in the marriage than she would like to admit. But that is how God designed and intends for marriage – the pursuit of a husband and wife together towards Jesus. The words of Joshua come to mind, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I’m so thankful for marriages like theirs that is focused on Jesus, and while we would disagree sharply on many issues, both of us would affirm that our marriages have made us more like Jesus. I love this quote from Bessey at the end of her article “Christ is meant to be the head of our homes, and within marriage, we are meant to submit to one another.

So while we would disagree and rightly discuss, push back, and continue the discussion, we are still part of the same Bride who will one day be reunited with the Bridegroom who will come back to claim His Bride and bring Her to a place of forever joy. And one day, all our discussion of submission, gender roles, and the church will be laid before the Lamb who will forever be the leader, husband, father, and friend that we cannot fully satisfy here.