Should I Let My Teenager Date?

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I was right in the middle of the Evangelical whiplash cultural course correction following the social revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. This produced youth ministries at the time serving up a steady diet of Hells Bells and True Love Waits.

Purity Rings and True Love Waits

It seemed, growing up in that era, that the great enemies of the Evangelical church were Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Drugs and Rock and Roll were solved by creating a subculture of Christian Music. Sex was addressed by creating the purity culture. The goal was good, but the application of that goal I think was very harmful. Wanting kids to live Holy lives is a good thing. Kids need to understand the importance of Sanctification in the Christian life. The way in which it was taught was not helpful to kids or the church as a whole.

I’m talking about youth meetings where a youth pastor chewed a piece of gum and then offered it to someone else to chew. Of course, they would refuse. They’d then pull out a rose and tell the boys to pass it around while they talked about keeping yourself for marriage. At the end they would ask for the rose back. It was bent and broken. The youth pastor would say, “nobody wants something that is used.” Once a youth pastor said, “If you kiss a girl who you don’t marry you are kissing another man’s wife.” The church in the ’90s in its fear of sexual revolution created a sexual revolution of its own.

The problem is not the calling out the misappropriate use of Sex and Rock and Roll from the generation before them. The problem was trying to fix hearts and broken culture with only rules. “This beat is sinful,” and, “No one wants used things,” both come from a human perspective of trying to keep kids away from something. Rather, they could have challenged them to live for something, painting a picture of a God who redeems broken things.

Should my kid…

Should my kid date? I say yes. In the high school years, kids are learning the basic tools for life, hopefully with the guidance of a loving adult. My advice, which goes against the grain of the ’90s purity culture, is for your kids to have many meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. The advent of technology has isolated our kids and taught them that real friendships consist of likers of their airbrushed photos. Friendship is a dying art in need of revitalization. Lewis in his book The Four Loves says:

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex, because should they get married they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.

Kids need to learn how to have face to face conversation that isn’t awkward with the opposite sex. They need to learn what types of texting is appropriate. They need to learn how to treat people that they are attracted to and how to treat people that they aren’t attracted to. How can this happen if the boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other? I don’t believe the path to marriage starts though sexual attraction. I think it begins through meaningful friendships.

Friendship with others starts with understanding whose we are.

I dated several women before I married my wife, Sandra. None of those relationships detracted from my relationship with Sandra. They clarified for me who I was looking for and what I found in my wife. The problems in the single dating culture in the church aren’t solved with a lowering of standards, they’re resolved by asking the right questions and starting in the right place. We are asking, “should we date,” –  the question should be, “are my relationships God-honoring or self-gratifying?” We should not ask, “How far can I go and still be ‘pure’ as a Christian,” but rather, “To whom do I belong.”

The problem with the purity culture of the ’90s was not the concern of a hypersexualized culture. The problem was that the starting point and goal were not God. When man is the starting point and imperatives of our sermons being a used piece of gum or bent flower, you end up with crazy weird applications of truth. You got off course. When you start with God and understand that you belong to him, you are free to have meaningful friendships. Suddenly, you see others as image bearers, rather than objects which have been created by a loving God to reveal to you his mercy and grace, much of which can only be experienced in the gift of friendship.

I remember hearing years later Matt Chandler preach a message about that rose: that no one wants because it was broken and used. He ends the video with poignant finality, “Jesus wants the rose. That’s the point of the Gospel!” This is what the purity movement missed in their desire to protect kids from harm. It missed the gospel. Such a powerful message of our God who redeems. Jesus wants the rose.

Gospel At Center Post: New Year’s Resolutions

The God who sticks to us.

Here is an excerpt from my newest post on New Year’s Resolutions over at Gospel at Center:

New Year’s resolutions are the annual reminder that we are really bad at sticking to things. Yet in another sense, they are grace, God’s tender mercy revealing to us his long-suffering nature that though we are fickle he is faithful. We are able to stick to him only because he sticks to us.

Read the full article here

Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.

Are you a Preacher Who Pastors or a Pastor who Preaches.

One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram.  Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.

The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.

We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.

One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.

What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.

Happy Reformation Day – Semper Reformanda

Why we still need reformation.

One of the mottos of the Reformation was Semper Reformanda which means “the church reformed, always reforming” With the strength of the Evangelical Protestant Church this seems like an antiquated motto for the Protestant church in its infancy.

However, as we celebrate 501 years of the Protestant Reformation, we are still a church in need of reformation as much from within Protestantism as we are from without. Recently I got into a conversation with several youth pastors from around the country, and the conversation was centered around the question of baptism. The question was posed if we should baptize someone who is currently living with someone in an unmarried relationship. 60% of the people who answered the question said they would baptize someone who is living with a partner. Various responses included “Who am I to judge” “There is no prerequisite in the Bible for baptism.” “Nobody is perfect” “#JesusWould” But would He?

In conversations like these, I am reminded how much Youth Ministry in America needs Reformation. I am reminded of how culture has out catechized our youth, and personal ideology permeated our seminaries. We need a reformation that shakes the foundation of our faith one that places the trust and dependence where it always should have been on Christ alone. One of the things I find helpful in the turbulent mishmash of progressive Christianity and Post Modernity is to look back at old things.