The one thing I wish I knew 20 years ago

One of the questions I get asked often and find myself asking myself  as I get older is “What would I do different if I could go back in time and tell young Sam something. I started doing ministry right out of bible college I went to four years of bible college and was thrown into ministry at the ripe age of 21. I helped a few of my friends from bible college re-start our youth ministry and took over the existing kids ministry. I was young, full of energy and stupid. If I could go back in time I would tell myself lots of things. If I had to tell myself only one thing it would be [Tweet “”What you win them with is what you win them to.””] “What you win them with is what you win them to.”

The struggle that every pastor has is relevance. Deep down we all want to be relevant. That’s because we are pastors and we want to meet real needs not perceived needs. The problem is not in the desire to be relevant but how we define relevance and who we elevate as the mentor, leader, prophets that help us understand what relevance means.

The desire for relevance is pervasive. In kids ministry it shows it’s self in how “fun” you make things in how many tools you have like check in and environmental design. In youth ministry it’s how the youth pastor dresses, it’s what illustrations that are used, lights, and fog machines. In adult services it’s the language you use from the stage and in printed material, it’s what songs you lead with, it’s the sermon series you preach. I say all I just said from personal  experience I/we have done all the above. You know what is on the other side of all that? Not what you would think or what you have been promised. Relevance is elusive if you base it on style points and personal preferences. The reason most churches fail and most denominations dwindle is not from a lack of relevance but from an unhealthy obsession with it.

[Tweet “Most churches don’t die because of a lack of relevance but because of an unhealthy obsession with it.”]

What you win people with is what you win them to. It was relatively recently that I have come to an ever deepening understanding of the gospel. It is through the lens of the gospel that you see what really matters it is through the gospel you come to understand relevance. [Tweet “Relevance isn’t giving people what they want it’s giving them what they need. “]Relevance isn’t giving people what they want it’s giving them what they need. What they truly crave is a love that is relentless.  A love that can not be earned is a love that cannot be lost. That is what people are looking for. Lights are great, our kids should have fun in church but when the popcorn is cleaned up and the smoke clears our sanctuary was Jesus magnified. Did we paint a compelling picture of Christ to our kids, youth, and adults? There is nothing more relevant to kids and youth today than the opening words of a theological document that is a few hundred years old. Q1. What is our only comfort in life and death? A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

That my friends is relevance. I am not my own but I belong to my faith Savior Jesus Christ. That is what I wish I could tell young Sam. Preach Jesus, preach Jesus. Kids need Jesus, teens need Jesus, moms and dads need Jesus. We see kids walking away from faith because the “relevant” faith they have grown up with isn’t any different from their everyday life. Jesus is pushed to the edge.

“Genuine mysticism ultimately depends on genuine belief, and it often seemed that all of these efforts were just so much “play”— in Cox’s telling phrase— with little connection to actual conviction. It was this conviction deficit, above all, that explains the failure of accommodationist churches to keep believers in the pews. Their pastors and theologians had recognized, correctly, that the old foundations of Christianity were being undercut by the social revolutions of their era. Yet they had failed to identify any new foundation that could inspire real piety, real allegiance, real belief. Here their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete. In their quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated his scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgments. They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnations of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for the religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. While recognizing his willingness to dine with outcasts and converse with nonbelievers, they deemphasized the crucial fact that he had done so in order to heal them and convert them— ridding the leper of his sickness, telling the Samaritans that soon they would worship in spirit and truth, urging the woman taken in adultery to go, and from now on sin no more.

Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 108). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Douthat is right our kids, youth and adults need use to preach the gospel with clarity and without fear. They need us to hold up the banner of love in one hand while holding truth in the other. What we win people with is what we in them to.

Winning kids and their parents to a Jesus that is 100% just and at the same time 100% loving starts with us preaching all the bible to our kids. Even the parts we have trouble with. We must paint a picture of Jesus that comprehensive and compelling. I’m all for fun and smoke and lights but unless there is substance to our production value we will live out our ministry years trying to outdo last year rather than asking ourselves “Is what we are doing magnifying Jesus?” Youth pastor – What you win your kids with is what you win them to. Kids pastor What you win your kids with is what you win them to. Senior Pastor what you win people with is what you win them to. Let’s relentlessly preach the gospel with our actions and with our words because they are necessary.

The future of American religion depends on believers who can demonstrate, in word and deed alike, that the possibilities of the Christian life are not exhausted by TV preachers and self-help gurus, utopians, and demagogues. It depends on public examples of holiness, and public demonstrations of what the imitation of Christ can mean for a fallen world.

Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 292). Free Press. Kindle Edition.


6 thoughts on “The one thing I wish I knew 20 years ago”

  1. “Relevance isn’t giving people what they want it’s giving them what they need. ”

    OMG that is so awesome, thats exactly what causes me to rededicate my life back to Jesus. I was church hoping and searching and everywhere I went, no one could help me. I’ve never heard it articulated the way you have it hear, but I finally found a church that told me everything I needed to hear not what I wanted to hear. They taught the truth and it hurt to hear a lot of that stuff and I had a lot of change I had to do but the truth sets you free, I can’t stand churches that try to keep up with the jone’s and be relevant because its not what people need, its what they want and we have to get out of people pleasing, great post!

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