Retreat Reinforecments: Costs, Cultural Relvance Pass, and Youth Can Listen to Sermons

This is simply a follow up from yesterday’s Modgnik post highlighting some random things I learned as a leader last weekend.

1.) Retreats really do have a cost. Obviously they cost money, as the retreat center needs to be rented (600 kids!), speaker paid, band secured, creative skits practiced, food eaten, kids housed, gas guzzled, etc…..These retreats take up a big chunk of our youth budget, and family wallets/bank accounts do take hits. But there is also physical toll that retreats take on leaders. One of ours progressively got sicker throughout the weekend and will be paying for her sacrifice this week. Sleep has never been my companion on these retreats either. But also, consider the family sacrifice. My four year old was not happy to send has Daddy off, and so that made his Mommy’s sacrifice a bit harder as well. But it is part of my job, so how thankful am I to have parents and another non-parents come to labor alongside of me? Very thankful. I became acutely aware of some of the costs that really go into such a retreat (saying nothing of the sacrifice of those who regularly get together to plan these things). Modgnik is worth the price of admission and the “pay-offs” in the lives of these youth-and their leaders-is often eternal. Cost counting doesn’t make me prideful but thankful for those who sacrificed to send kids and leaders.

2.) Youth will give you a pass when you don’t pass the cultural relevance test. Our speaker referenced R.J.3, the former Heisman trophy winner and current Washington Redskins quarterback the first evening. The problem is that his name is Robert Griffin III, and so his nickname is R.G 3. He got some flack, but the kids cut him some slack. No mention of it throughout the weekend. Perhaps the Harry Potter allusions covered his bases, but I think that most kids get over that kind of stuff pretty quickly. Middle schoolers care that you like them much more than how well you know their culture. Fortunately. I must be living in the past, because I knew ZERO pop songs they played as we piled into the meeting room and cafeteria. Coolness and relevance are far less important to youth than love.

3.) Middle Schoolers can listen to sermons. This speaker is an RUF guy, and RUF guys do sermons. They preach expository sermons, and regularly allude to verses and say things like, “I get this from verse 8.” He didn’t disappoint, and yet I was concerned that he might be over the kids’ heads. Last year’s speaker looked and sounded very different, and spoke on very different subjects. This guy preached Revelation, yet he wasn’t over their heads at all! Most of them articulated back to me exactly what he said in our cabin discussion time. The amount of “take-away” from the sermons confirmed that kids really can listen. A number of girls even took notes. While I do think preachers like myself need to recognize folks with shorter attention spans (like myself), middle schoolers should be expected to follow along. As parents we can follow up with our kids and expect to have meaningful sermon discussion. But we have to raise our expectations beyond the “Well I didn’t hear him/her talking too much this week, so things are good” perspective.

4.) Illustrations are important for all, but especially so for middle schoolers. I consider illustrations as the “coat hanger” on which to hang both the truth and applications. When connected with the truth and application, they provide something to help the kid think about when the sermon is done. These kids could re-tell the illustration and the truth articulated. Reinforced the need for illustrations, and their power to connect the listener to more than just the preacher, but to Jesus.

Just some things I learned this week and want to pass on.

Modgnik Recap 2012

This past weekend, Redeemer’s youth group, and 4 leaders made our trek down to Rockbridge (a young life retreat center) for the annual Modgnik Retreat 2012. Modgnik is “Kingdom” spelled backwards, which is appropriately named because Jesus’ Kingdom often runs completely backward to how the world (not to mention Christians) operates.

Last year, the speaker focused on the Kingdom and Culture. This year, Shawn Slate, R.U.F. (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister at University of Virginia, camped out in Revelation. He called the youth, and of course their leaders, to a greater heavenly vision with all sorts of relevance for our lives today.

While the speaker is clearly in his element on the college campus, his personality, allusions, honesty, and illustrations reinforced a very deep message. As far as I could tell in the following cabin discussion times, the youth tracked well and could rehash the main points and illustrations.

So with that in mind, let me rehash some for you.

On the first evening, he challenged us to think about Revelation like a portrait. As with anyone creating a portrait, the artist is asking you to see the world the way he sees it. So it is with God, who offers us a portrait of what is really going on with the world. And we need such a portrait because we don’t see the world from His vantage point. Yet the portrait of Revelation offers us a beautiful glimpse of not just what God is doing in the world, but a deeper, brighter, more beautiful picture of Jesus. The one who is first and last, and everything in between. The world hinges around Him. The portrait is ultimately a portrait of Jesus.

He also gave us something to really think about in regard to how we read Revelation. Some of the bible explains, “Do this, or believe this,” but Revelation is God’s “show and tell.” Instead of believe this, do this, understand this, we have a “see this.” A helpful hermeneutic indeed for connecting 1st century images to 21st century life.

The picture of Jesus we have in gospels is of gentle, suffering, servant-King, but we see a bigger, brighter portrait in Revelation. Nothing boring or ordinary, but a King worthy of respect, as John immediately falls down in His presence as if dead. Jesus isn’t our “binky.” But how cool is Jesus’ offering the comfort of a “Fear not?” We’re undone in His presence, but he puts us back together in His presence. Fearsome and powerful, but compassionate and reassuring. Jesus makes no promise of comfort or power, but he does promise none other will satisfy.

Why do we need such a portrait? Because Jesus is inviting us into this story of what He’s doing in the world. It’s an invitation, more than a straight command. If God captures our imaginations, He captures our hearts. That’s what He really wants. Our hearts.

One of the more challenging images he presented was that of Jesus saying, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” Instead of us looking at Jesus and saying, albeit inaccurately but honestly, “I’m bored with you,” Jesus is ultimately saying, “I’m the One who is bored with you!” Powerful and sobering.

When John lays his eyes upon the figure of the Son of Man, where is he? Right smack dab in the middle of His people. Jesus is always right there with His people. He suffered for and with His people. And even now, while reigning, He is still in some real sense here with his people. Comforting.

So how do we live now? We long for the return of this King. We can see his presence now, though its distorted, like the Mac Photobooth where folks twist, turn, and stretch photo images. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses of what the world should look like. It’s there. But we long for the real fulfillment. We bite into 3 foot chocolate Easter bunny, and discover its hollow. But one day we get a solid chocolate Easter bunny. We are heading for a real, solid world one day. Not an ethereal realm of spirits, but a real tangible world made new. Can’t wait. Exciting!

Our cabin time after this talk focused on the hope of what will one day be. Our imaginations need to be recaptured, particularly in regards to relationships. Consider judgment on the evils of this world. We don’t have to exact vengeance, but can trust God to do that. This belief makes us more gentle, less retributive. Consider the fact that your Christian friend, leader, etc…, who hurt you, will be made new as well. If we can imagine what that person WILL become, with their positives accentuated and negatives redeemed, we can love/forgive/bear with them better TODAY. Rubber meets the road kind of stuff.

Finally, he closed with the reality that the Return of the King will be good news for believers, but bad news for unbelievers. He illustrated what longing looks like. His little daughter called her daddy a bunch of times while on his way home. Daddy are you coming now? Yes, but I had to get groceries. Daddy are you coming home now? Yes but I had to pick up your brother. Daddy, are you coming home now? Yes, sweetie, do you see that blue car, I’m just behind that blue car? His daughter was in the front yard ready and waiting with a soccer ball to play with her daddy. That’s anticipation. That image will stick. 

Hope you feel somewhat as if you were there. Would have loved to have this kind of stuff when I was a youth!

Just for your info, that is me in the pic, wearing a giant over-sized onesie pajamas. My skit career made a brief comeback after years of dormancy when someone volunteered me simply because I’m loud. Compliment or fact?

Modnik Update: Compassion and Application

Here is the final update from our Jr. High youth retreat. The other one’s are here, here, and here. The final talk Sunday morning centered around some motivations and applications of how to actually go about changing or influencing the culture.

Compassion: How do the kids look upon people who don’t know Jesus and “do the things” they do? Are they judgmental and angry at kids who simply are doing what non-Christians do (not following Jesus)? The correct response should be compassion. When Jesus looked upon the crowds, he didn’t see a bunch of idiots, or yahoos, or even simply a bunch of sinners, he saw people who were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9). He had compassion upon them.

One heart at a time: There is no need to assume that youth will necessarily see people come to Christ en masse and whole middle schools will be changed instantly. The challenge that he left them with was to think through one or two of their friends who need Jesus. Instead of judging them, spend time loving them, serve them, and begin to communicate the gospel message. Instead of having nothing to do with non-Christians, begin to pray compassionately for them, move towards them, and live out their faith before them. Darkness needs light. That which is stale and bland needs salt. Compassion motivated, not guilt, or results motivated. 

My thoughts:

I liked David’s approach once again.

The storm hell with water guns, rah-rah approach just doesn’t seem to jive with anyone anymore. I also appreciated his non-triumphalism, as though we’ll have this whole Satan influencing culture thing down pat in a few years. Unless you are a post-millenialist, you realize that the church will advance and have some effect on the surrounding culture while at the same time Satan will see major advances. I don’t know who will be in the “lead” when Jesus comes back. I also don’t care, as its really none of my business. Jesus thinks the same (Mark 13:32).

Nevertheless, one heart at a time, does really make a difference. When God calls us out of the kingdom of darkness, he brings us into His glorious Kingdom (Col 1:13). People can see that. Some will like us even if they don’t like what we stand for. They will like us for our love. When people like you, they usually will at the very least listen to you. So the opportunity for impact is fairly large even with one heart at a time.

Ultimately, David’s cultural approach can be summed up (as I see it) by “live out your faith among your  Christian and non-Christian friends and let your faith make a difference in your schools, sports teams, neighborhoods, and families as much as the Lord sees fit. In the music, art, business you make/create or take in, let Jesus be Lord. Even just a few people who are Christians in a college religion class, where God’s Word is the subject of ridicule, does make a difference. I know from experience. The same is true for middle schoolers.

Some final thoughts on applying this

1.) Are middle schoolers ready to live out their faith among the world? That’s got to be entered into carefully and prayerfully. Maybe yours is not. Maybe yours is. Parents have to make that decision, but don’t assume that youth are necessarily too young to influence their friends for Christ.

2.) Middle-schoolers, like all Christians, need fellowship. They can’t ONLY be around non-Christians. Youth groups are key. So is church worship. So are other fellowship opportunities. So are godly families. If you and your youth are ready to be used in reaching out to others, they need to grounded in solid fellowship. And the flip is also true: if they are grounded in good fellowship, then they can probably can step out in faith and make a difference without being overwhelmed.

3.) Take advantage of outreaching opportunities. Invite unchurched youth into your fellowship. They don’t need to go on secret one-on-one missions, but instead can reach out with their fellowship.

  • Hospitality: Simply having one of your kid’s friends over to your house, and living out your faith before them, is a good place to start. Have them over to eat, or come to spend the night, and go to church the next day. You can control, to a degree, the environment this way.
  • Wyldlife: Christian kids can have an impact in their culture simply by inviting their friends to Wyldlife, the middle school version of YoungLife. Their friendships can play a part in leaving people to Jesus, and then to the church. All it take is a friendship and invitation. You need not fear the environment-though it can get a little messy on certain occasions!
  • Youth Group: This is an untapped resource that I really challenged the kids to think about. Invite friends to youth group and they will get to hear the gospel as well as see what fellowship looks like. The early Christians seemed to do lots of fellowshiping, but obviously didn’t neglect evangelism. I think fellowship and evangelism probably happened in the same place.
  • Church: While I don’t think this is the only outreach attempt we should make, we should still be open to inviting folks to church. Youth will often come if invited. Particularly if they spend the night. 

In the end, God can use Middle Schoolers in a bigger way than we might have assumed. As families, you can be a part of something bigger than just hoping they good good grades and do well in sports. You have the opportunity to be involved in something big. Huge. Don’t waste or wish away the middle school years, because God can redeem. 

Modgnik Recap: Dating and Relationships

This is the 3rd post relating to our Jr High Modgnik Retreat. The previous ones are here and here. On the Saturday evening session, we discussed one of the most prominent cultural battlegrounds for middle schoolers: dating and relationships. This was probably the most blatantly challenging topic for the kids in general, although my discussion with our lads didn’t reveal what other groups no doubt experienced. Here are some notes I took.

  • Students didn’t create romance; God did. 
  • Most of you aren’t ready for marriage. As a result, our kids don’t need to resort to the standard way of announcing a deep and meaningful relationship which will last all of 3 weeks (on the long end) by facebook. David Grant called it making it “Facebook Official.” I will always comment with something clever when I see this announcement.
  • Consider the fact that there is a better way to do Romantic Relationships
    • Yes, but not Yet; don’t give heart away till marriage. Guard the heart. 
      • Song of Solomon-2:7; 3:5; 8:4 “don’t stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” In other words, wait to till you’re truly ready.
    • Resisting Exclusive Relationship
      • Beware of the “Our love/relationship with my boyfriend/girlfriend is better than all other relationships” thinking
      • Don’t exclusively date
    • Remember there is strength in numbers
      • Dating or hanging out in groups limits physical temptation
      • Friends can speak into relationships when you are around friends and not when you exclusively isolate yourself with your “lover.”
      • Intimacy slows in groups, and the heart can be protected
    • Your Heart belongs to Jesus and only He completes you

My takes.

I thought this talk was a much need alternative to the standard model of “facebook” official dating our kids are so into these days. I really appreciated the fact that he presented the principles of the talk from the scriptures, common sense, and experience. In the end, he encouraged one main application: don’t exclusively date people now because physically and emotionally middle schoolers are just not ready. 

So he resisted the pharisaical stance, “You can’t date now and if you do, you are clearly in sin.” The bible just doesn’t say that, and so David wisely didn’t approach it from that route. I appreciated that. Not only is it gospel centered, but such an approach encourages honest dialog instead of a fight where one person is forced to defend THE (albeit unclear) biblical position.

What he did was let the youth know that it is not wise to exclusive date now. While dating as a middle schooler is not sin per se, it does open the door to sins. For instance, exclusive dating run amuck will isolate you from other important same-sex relationships that you need. It obviously can eventually lead to sex before marriage, which is now just as common in professing Christians as it is in those who aren’t. Finally, since 99 out of 100 middle school relationships do not end in marriage (I confess I made that up, but I doubt I’m off by too much), and those that end may not end amicably, kids are having to deal with serious heartbreak before they’re ready. 

In David’s opinion, and its one that I share, exclusive dating at the middle school age is not a great idea. You may disagree personally, but I would encourage you to at least consider some of his counsel. He’s been involved in youth ministry for many years, and has 5 kids, only one of which is still youth age. So it probably deserves some thought before reactively rejecting all he said.

One more talk to go, then I’ll be back to blogging my normal stuff, whatever “normal” is for me.

Modnik Recap-Cultural Diagnostic questions

This is the 2nd part of my update for our recent youth retreat on Kingdom and Culture. The first can be found here. Since these principles seemed too good to not share with parents, or much less anyone of any age, I felt compelled to put them on the blog.

In our Saturday morning session, David Grant gave us some helpful diagnostic questions to ask while watching TV, movies, or listening to music. I appreciated the fact that he did not say, “You should watch this show and shouldn’t watch that show.” He exclaimed, “What you watch is between you and your parents.” David instead challenged the youth how to watch shows. Provided they are faithful to ask these questions, as are the parents, it should open the door to stop watching certain shows which may be negatively transformational. 

Here are his five questions, and my thoughts (which may be the same as his) are in italics. He reminded the youth that they are being taught something. Movies and TV shows and music have SOMETHING to say. Figure it out or you’ll end up being taught without realizing it.

1.)  Did you enjoy it? Why did you like it or not? This is a great question for parents to ask to find out why people connect to certain shows or movies. There is a reason why so many young girls like Twilight. Consider the why if you want to begin thinking critically.

2.) What did it say about Authority? How were authority figures depicted? Parents, police, government, bosses, etc…..

3.) What did it say about Morality? What kind of morality was being promoted? Immorality? Legalism? Amorality?

4.)  What did it say about God? God may or may not by name be mentioned. But you can discern the worldview, and how God does or doesn’t fit into the characters dialog or directors arrangement.

5.)  Where can you see the “finger prints” of God? If you look hard, you can see aspects of God’s “finger prints” in movies and TV shows. Because we are all made in the image of God, we should be able to see something commendable in all movies. Sometimes it can be very clear as in the gospel illustration at the end of Gran Torino or the beautiful love a parent places on her child immediately upon birth in The Waitress.

My take on parent possibilities:

Parents have the responsibility to determine what each child can correctly and biblically filter. That filter needs developing in all of us. Middle Schoolers don’t need to watch Jersey Shore. Of course, no one probably does, but that is of course, my own opinion. 

Nevertheless since parents are ultimately responsible for training their children, watching movies and TV shows with them NOW-even ones that might not be faith based-might be the best way to train them to watch movies and TV shows when they leave your house THEN. If your kids are watching movies, watch them WITH them. At the very least, you need to be asking questions of the movies and TV shows. They won’t always have you telling them “you can or can’t watch this or that,” but if you’ve helped them develop some sort of diagnostic filter, they can turn movies, TV, and music into devotional and teaching moments for themselves and their friends. And many times, because they have such working filters, they may decide beforehand, “This movie or show isn’t worth my time.”

In some ways, the movies both reflect and shape culture. But as Christians, we can through these same movies begin to be shapers of culture, instead of simply reflectors and consumers. One person at a time.

Modnik Recap-Cultural Models

Just got back from our Jr High Modgnik Retreat at Young Life retreat center called Rockbridge yesterday afternoon. I think it was the first youth retreat I’ve ever been on when I didn’t hear one, even miniscule, bit of whining. Of course, if you whine at this retreat center, you’ve got serious issues. This place is the Greenbrier (for those in WV) or the cadillac (for everyone else) of retreat centers. Hardwood floors, all you can eat delectable food, engaging speaker, rocking electric praise band, ropes course, rock climbing walls, ziplines, wiffleball/kickball field, game room, frisbee course, soccer field, picturesque stream leading to lake, etc…..Yeah, there should be no whining.

Since what we learned was so helpful, something Jr Higher’s should consider themselves “lucky” for being able to hear, I’d like to pass it on. 

The Modgnik Retreat (Kingdom backwards) is put on by the P.C.A.’s Blue Ridge Presbytery (but open to all churches-we had PCUSA, Non-denom, Nazarene, etc…) and intends to teach youth how to live out their faith in light of Jesus’ Kingdom having come. The specific aim of this retreat centered around how to impact their culture.

Talk #1 Definition of Culture and Cultural Models

Culture: a reflection of group of people, what they consider important and value. This can include things as obvious as following particular college sports teams to preferences for regional specific styles of barbecue. However we know that Satan is also at work to influence the culture and need to think critically about that. The hope is that Jesus is also at work in the culture and can use youth to change the youth culture and culture in general. 

Different Models: 

1.) Monastery-retreat and hide away from culture so that we can’t be influenced by any of the negative aspects. We discussed afterwards as a cabin that our enemies are the world (negative cultural influences), flesh (our OWN tendency to sin) and the devil. Hiding is not an option because even locking yourself in the closet will not deal with your own flesh and Satan’s advances.

2.) Camouflage-you can try to blend in with the culture and adopt all cultural beliefs and activities as though Satan doesn’t exist or that he’s lazy. As a a result you accept without critical thinking or interaction such cultural values that may be quite contrary to Jesus. Many times this can be quite subtle, as we begin to adopt commonplace views of money, family, sex that are idolatrous and detrimental not only to our influencing culture but to our relationship with Christ. 

3.) The Boat-he told a story about going on a date and forgetting to put the drain plug in the boat. Boat in the water is good. Water in the boat is not good. This model encourages us not to retreat, nor adopt, but to live out our faith among those who don’t believe. The scripture passage he used was from John 17:14-19 

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. 

Some questions for parents to consider-these are just my reflections.

1.) Can my kid really live out his/her faith in the world without adopting unhealthy cultural values? Yes, it happens all the time. For the most part, the church expects very little from its youth. We’re content if they simply come to church without griping, and don’t cuss, drink, or chew or go with girls/gals who do. But such youth can play a part in the work of redemption. They really can. I have a friend who traces back his spiritual journey to a middle school friend inviting him to church and youth group. He’s one of thousands.

2.) How do I know if my kid is really ready to make an impact? Obviously not all middle schoolers are mature enough to make any sort of “dent” in the culture. Here are some diagnostic questions that may be helpful for you to think through. Can he/she articulate the gospel to you or others? Would he/she come to church if you didn’t? Does he/she recognize that many of their classmates are probably not Christians? Can they detect a difference in lifestyles betwixt Christians and non-Christians outside of “not cussing?” That’s the default mode of middle-schooler’s I’ve noticed.  Does he/she simply try to blend in with whoever is around them? If you feel uneasy about any of these answers, then God may open up some different doors, like be-friending and welcoming visitors to youth group and church, as opposed to gathering, investing, and inviting. If you interact and ask them questions, you’ll be able to tell. 

3.) Do you believe that Jesus is greater than he who is at work negatively in the culture? Jesus as The Great High priest, prayed for your kids. He will hold them in his hand, and no one can take them out of His hands (John 10:28). Sometimes I wonder how much we really believe this is true, as though they will walk with Jesus only if we shelter them enough. Of course there are times when we will need to say, “No, you can’t go there with so and so.” But we also need to realize that if Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, He is also their author and their finisher.

Our speaker David Grant of Irving Bible Church in Texas, (a cross between Brad Pitt and the lead Russian bad guy from the movie AirForce One-just click the link) has 5 kids, so he’s lived this truth out as a family. That certainly carried some weight with me. 

Anyhow, the next post will present some diagnostic questions to help them as they watch movies, TV shows, and listen to music. Hope it helps.