Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thoughts on the new Pope: Are your thoughts and comments uplifting or condescending?

I had promised myself that I would continue writing my series about youth ministry and not be sidelined by other topics, but once again I have broken a promise to myself. But I simply couldn't sit by and allow for this to continue.

If anyone has been reading or watching the news, out in public, talking with people, or simply paying attention to world events, you have noticed that a new pope has been elected. In keeping with the Papal structure the Cardinals met and voted on who would replace Pope Benedict, and came up with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who will now be known as Pope Francis. This is a huge and momentous occasion for the Catholic faith and they are thrilled to have a new pope after Benedict chose to resign due to his age and other reasons.

Normally this would not affect me in such a way because it does not affect my Protestant beliefs since I am not held to the governing ordinances of Rome. But the match that set off this fuse is this: I have noticed an increasing large amount of Protestants (mostly ministers) openly mocking and criticizing the Pope and the Catholic faith. Most of them are doing it in jest but the point is they are hurting Protestants everywhere. And to them I say "Shame on you!"

I am aware that most of you are simply poking fun at something that you may not understand, you do not agree with, you do not believe in, but would you stand by and chuckle should someone speak poorly about your pastor and his manner of dress? Would you smile and brush it off as a pass at poor humor should someone malign one of the Apostles? Would you be okay with people openly mocking your faith, beliefs, doctrine, theology, or personal thoughts? I would submit that no, you would not be okay with that. I myself take great offense when one makes a mockery of my beliefs. As Protestants whenever our faith is attacked we cry afoul, we demand justice, we demand respect, we demand that our faith not be harped upon, but when it comes to other beliefs we mock them openly and in a public setting or forum?

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not in support of the Papal structure. I do not agree with the Pope, the philosophies or doctrines of the Catholic church, nor do I believe that all Catholics believe the way that we Protestants do. But I can say this: we have many brothers and sisters within the Catholic faith who ascribe to the beliefs that we do. I say this because I personally know of many Protestants who have become disillusioned with the lack of structure, the hypocrisy, and the constant infighting in Protestant denominations and have sought out the structure and oneness that Catholicism offers. They do not ascribe to all tenants of the Catholic beliefs (ie: praying to saints, holy water, and the doctrine of Purgatory) but rather find their ability to worship God magnified by their surroundings and the support offered through a unified body. I also know of many priests who have set aside the common liturgy used in the Catholic tradition and instead preach Christ glorified straight from Scripture.

Brothers and sisters, we need to be mindful of what we say. I say we because I know that what comes from my mouth at times is insensitive and hypocritical. But that is not who we are to be! We are called to be different. We are called to be set apart. We are called to be like Christ!

When you invite people to faith in Christ, and then ask them stand beside us as believers as we point and laugh at other people around the world for their beliefs, what have we done? This is not what Christ had in mind when He told us to "make disciples" or when He met the woman at the well. We are called to minister not to malign. We are called to be servants of the Gospel not one who condemns to Hell.

Please understand me. I am not saying that we need to be accepting of all religions, or that all religions lead to eternal salvation. But I am pleading with you to think before you speak. Our tongues can do a lot of good, but also a lot of bad. While yes the Gospel is offense because it calls for one way to God, and no other option, and yes there are doctrines and truths that can cause people to be hurt because it calls their sins into view, that does not mean we need to be offense in sharing it!

My purpose in writing about this topic is as follows: To simply make us think about what we say and how we say it. I will close by pointing us to these verses (1 Peter 4:1-11, James 1:19-20, James 3:1-12, Luke 19:1-10) and asking for us to always be mindful of how we speak because we are representing Christ. Our actions and words speak volumes, but let them speak volumes of love and correction in love to those we should speak to.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Will you Take the Plunge? A look at the needs and promise of Youth Ministry.

So here goes my first attempt at writing a series. I have been pondering writing a post about youth ministry for quite some time, but problems always seemed to plague my posting of said blog. It was too long, or to condensed, or it would leave unanswered questions, or it just doesn't sit well with me.

Let me give a little background as to why I am going to be writing about youth ministry. Youth ministry is my passion. I love it, I crave it, I enjoy working with students, I love teaching and leading, and I feel called by God to serve Him, by leading teens into relationships with Him and changing their hearts and lives.

Honestly, I never really thought I would get into youth ministry back in the day. I always wanted to be a high school math teacher. Trust me, after taking multiple Calculus classes at my first college that dream dissolved faster than a decimal when converted into a fraction. Sorry that was a poor math pun. But math was no longer fun. It during my time at my first college that I really began to study the Bible more (it was after all a Bible College), and I began realized that ministry in some capacity may be where I was headed.

I grudgingly agreed to volunteer at my church's youth group during my time at PBU (now Cairn University). I say grudgingly because students had to have a ministry that they volunteered at to receive course credits each year and I did not want to do this. To be quite frank, I thought I would choose the easy way out by doing something I could check out of, not give a lot of time to, and disengage from completely afterwards. It is funny how our plans are so different from God's. I never would have guessed at that time how different my life would be because of that time of service.

I started out simply volunteering in the junior high program, but eventually was doing senior high as well. It was strange. I never liked teenagers (even though I was only 19 at the time) and I thought that youth ministry was a dumb ministry idea. But something happened to me. I saw the need that was there for these students. They needed leadership, love, support, guidance, acceptance, family, and Christ. My heart began to break as I saw the lives of these students and how desperately they needed to have a void filled.

I took a year off from school and instead of stepping away from ministry; I began to volunteer full time on top of my day job. I began to experience a new found energy and love that after a hard day's work, when I would be exhausted and ready to collapse, when I didn't want to talk to anyone, I would now feel alive, revitalized, and so excited to share God's love and salvation with these students. I began to grow as a leader and teacher. I began preaching. I started to love these students and this ministry.

My heart broke when I heard their stories. I cried and laughed with them. I stayed up all night talking with them. I did crisis intervention. I saw growth. I saw Christ save people! I finally understood where God was calling me. God wanted to use me as an emissary for Him. When this became a realization for me, it was as if the fog had been lifted from my eyes. I felt a peace unlike any other. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was calling me to serve Him in youth ministry.

Over the years I honed my skills at MBI, and I volunteered and led numerous youth ministries and programs. I was in all types of environments from rural, to urban, to suburban. I worked with large and small groups of students. I was able to experience so many different faucets of youth ministry that I got a wide berth of understanding and know how. Through it all, one truth remained clear to me: I was called to teach and lead youth, so that they could experience the gift of grace that only Christ gives. I am still working in youth ministry and plan on continuing that throughout my life. This is a lifelong learning process and one that changes in its approach but not in its intent. We are called to share the truth of the Gospel unabashedly. Youth ministry will always be about God and sharing His gift with students.

With all that said, I have decided to embark upon a series that will look into two specific areas: What do youth need, and why we should "do" youth ministry. This will be a series focusing on addressing the needs of students, youth workers, youth ministry as a whole, and why the very foundation of youth ministry is pivotal to our church and its continued growth. Youth ministry isn't an option, but a necessity. It needs to be in our churches and we need to proactively engage it.

In the days to come I will be sharing my thoughts about this topic, and hopefully encouraging some to take a more active role in youth ministry, edifying my fellow volunteers, building up youth pastors, and opening my heart to share what has been placed there.