Ethan Bryan is a stellar youth pastor who is passionately in love with Jesus Christ and the young people God has called him to do life with. Bryan serves at Cornerstone Church in Lee's Summit. The following is a response to this post I made last week.
The Good News
Recently I was reading the blog of friend Mike King, president of YouthFront Ministries. He posted a list of ten questions that youth ministries need to consider if they want to continue preparing teenagers to follow Jesus for a lifetime. The first question was, “How can the Gospel be communicated in a way that is really Good News?” I have been wrestling with that question for quite some time, and by no means have definitive answers, but felt like I wanted to contribute to an important and necessary conversation.
Why isn’t the Gospel Good News today?
After John was imprisoned, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, boldly declaring the good news of God. “The time is now!” he said. “God’s kingdom is here! Change your lives and live in God’s kingdom!” (Mark 1.14-15).
1. It isn’t “new” news. I know that the numbers and demographics of USAmerica are rapidly changing. However, I still believe that the simple majority have been exposed to a cultural Christianity from very young. We have heard of Jesus, and through various media (movies, news, TV, friends) we think we know the fullness of his message. Can you remember the first time you heard about Jesus? Can you recall the first time that his “come and see” invitation was extended to you, and you dared to follow him in faith, in hope, in risk? The stories of Jesus are too old to be heard in today’s latest-newest-greatest addicted culture.
2. We have grown too comfortable. Unfortunately, most USAmericans honestly believe that we are fully capable of providing for our own needs. As USAmericans, we have never been without food, drinkable water, clothing, or shelter. The large majority of us have never truly been in “need.” We are easily frustrated when our comforts are inconvenienced—when the air conditioner breaks, when the car needs repair, when the upstairs shower leaks through the downstairs ceiling. Our comfort deadens our hearts and keeps us from hearing a call centered in not being comfortable.
3. We are too individualistic. I can do it on my own. I don’t need any help. The rise of the individual has a long and colorful history, and I am certain that I don’t know half of the story. The European intellectual movement known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason started with the philosophers and scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries. Descartes’ famous statement captures the essence of the individual, “I think therefore I am.” We have fully bought into the modern perspective of the self-made person. Like an average four-year old, we erroneously believe the world to revolve around our wants and desires. While the gospel is for the individual, it is for the individual in community.
4. We are too critical. Thanks to marketing, we have been trained not to accept any statement at face value. Without repeatable and “objective” proof, we struggle to fully embrace anything. We have proudly placed ourselves in the judgment seat. Though I am convinced that doubt and faith go hand in hand, we will never have all the answers to our questions. How can God love me? How can a good God allow evil to exist? How can an all-powerful God allow “that” to happen? While we must continue to wrestle and struggle with these questions, we can’t allow them to turn us away from the good news.
5. We are too easily entertained, distracted. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory). The gospel is not entertainment. In its definition, entertainment is a distraction from reality. Today, there are millions of distracting choices to diverts us from reality, not the least of which is labeled “reality TV.” Sometimes, just plain life gets in the way—bills, jobs, stuff, family. And the stuff of life helps us turn a deaf ear to the call of the gospel.
6. We are numb. We are aware of the power of our emotions, and have learned to suppress and contain them. Joy, pain, and anger are all emotions that lead to a full life. We are too rushed and hurried to allow our emotions full room to breathe.
7. We long to be in control. Barely three chapters into God’s Great Story, and we see the darkness of humanity. Our desire is not only to know God, but to be God ourselves. But if the gospel is truly good news, we will not be in control.
8. We are too busy. The gospel does not come quickly or with the flash and pizzazz of a Hollywood production. The gospel is heard and lived slowly. Until we get the time to allow the Story space in our lives, we will continue to be unimpressed by it.
9. We misunderstand the Gospel. We have reduced the good news of Jesus’ invitation to personal, mental assent. We have reduced Jesus’ call to “fire insurance” and life after we die. The good news of Jesus is a way to live. It is not just for me, but for all of creation. It is not so much about my personal relationship as it is God’s Great Story of reconciling all things to himself because of his extravagant love.
How can we hear the Good News today?
The gospel transforms us as we live it, not as we sit and listen to it. Jesus’ invitation is “Come and see,” not “Sit still and listen.” The good news comes and orders our priorities, giving us the freedom to say “No” to unrealistic expectations and our wants. The gospel transforms us in community, as we share life together, living out the Scriptures and breathing our prayers. Having said that, here are some possible ways that we might hear the gospel anew today…
What if we went on a week-long retreat, attempting to live out the admonition found in Mark? "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."
What if we turn everything off for two or three days? No cell phone, computer, or lights—an unplugged lifestyle! It will take some planning in advance, for meals especially, but it is easily possible. The simple goal is to remove all the distractions that keep us from seeing the awesome power of God already at work. We have been invited to be in God’s presence, to share in His life. Too often, we are focused on what just happened or what is about to happen and forget to fully live in the moment.
What if you spent two weeks with those who are truly the poorest of the poor? Experiencing life from the perspective of another, serving them, loving them, getting to know their story helps us to hear God’s call in our stories.
The good news engages all of us, especially our imaginations. We must learn to see that this world is saturated with God’s Love, that people are made in God’s image (no matter how broken that reflection is), and that we have been invited to a Way of Life that starts now, sends us wherever our feet may go, and never ends.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!… As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness…Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. (1 Peter 1.3-4, 14, 18)
I really like political cartoons. This isn't a political cartoon so I call it a LIFE cartoon. It was on Scot McKnight's (who has a FANactical baseball passion) blog and it makes such a powerful statement on integrity and life.
It's that time of the year when registrations are pouring into the office for Youthfront Camp this summer.
I love camp because it is a place where transformation happens in the lives of young people. I think transformation happens because camp creates a change of space and a change of pace for kids (think the theology of displacement). A change of space and pace leads to a heightened awareness of the reality of God's presence and an encounter with the Presence of God is necessary for spiritual transformation.
This e-mail came in a couple of days ago from a parent whose daughter was at camp last summer.
[My Daughter] loved the feeling of freedom she experiencedat
Youthfront Camp last summer. I don't know exactly what happened there
last summer, but she came home a different person. At first I wondered
if the changes we saw would stick, but something about the experience
there has created a lasting change in her that I am so thankful for.
She came home so confident and seems to really be committed to Christ.
It was amazing to see – and to see that it has been lasting change in
her life (so far!).
I love this e-mail and the phrase "feeling of freedom" experienced by
this teenager. I believe freedom to hear and embrace Good News is what
leads to transformation not heavy handed focus on rules, do's and
don't's and other counter-productive ways of engaging in behavioral
modification. Truth sets us free. Jesus Christ is Truth.
Youthfront (kcyfc) ALUMNI CELEBRATION -- JUNE 27, 2009
You're invited to join us and dozens of other "alumni" for a day
of remembering, reconnecting and celebration! This is for everyone who
has been connected to Youthfront or Kansas City Youth For Christ over
the past 66 years of ministry!If you ever attended Ranch, Camp, CUBI, Rallies, Student Life,
IMPACT, or went on a Student Missions Trip this day is for you. If you
worked on staff at Camp, TV50, The Lighthouse or volunteered at any
ministry event we consider you Alumni.
Please join us as we celebrate
together all that God has done!
WHO: All Alumni of Youthfront & KCYFC WHAT: A day of Celebration WHEN: June 27, 2009 WHERE: Youthfront Camp West (formerly Circle-C Ranch) COST: None DIRECTIONS: Click HERE for map.
Schedule of Events 5:00 p.m. Open House & Tours of Camp 6:30 p.m. Dinner (the traditional camp cook out meal) 7:30 p.m. Group Gatherings (Mission Trips, Music Groups, Ranch Hands, etc.) 9:00 p.m. Worship and Fellowship Gathering in the Chapel
On Sunday afternoon, June 28 we will be offering tours of both
Youthfront Camp South (L-Bar-C) and the Youthfront Offices on Rainbow
for all who are interested.
Brian Rayburn is a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary working on this ThM. I met Brian last year when he attended Prelude. Brian asked me, along with many others I'm sure, to give him a list of ten significant questions to be answered by student ministers in the next decade. I typed these ten questions in about three minutes because they were the first ones that popped into my mind. If I had more time to think about it maybe three or four of these questions might go on my top ten list. So, what question or two would you add to the list?
1. How can the Gospel be communicated to young people in a way that is really Good News?
2. How do we catechize our young people into the church?
3. How can we better integrate youth into the overall life of the church?
4. How can the church do a better, more holistic, and open job of dealing with sexuality issues?
5. How can we shift the primary locus of ownership for the spiritual formation of youth to the parents?
6. Why do we need professionally trained vocational youth workers in the church?
7. What happens if the economy continues its downward spiral and financial resources to do youth ministry dry up?
8. How do we help older generations (fueled by a fearful resistance to change) to not drive away young people from the church?
9. How can we develop students to engage in the Scripture with passionate love for a living sacred text?
10. How can we help young people be people of prayer engaging in a life of pray that is rich, deep, and imaginatively robust?
Vicki and I spent the weekend in San Diego. The weather was chilly for San Diegans but awesome for us. I had a wonderful time hanging out with YS friends Tic Long, Debbie Yost and Michelle Fockler. I ran into Mark Riddle, who was speaking to Pastors about the importance of getting inside of their youth pastors thinking and world. We enjoyed a sunset at Beth and Joe Slevcove's home and loved seeing Allena and baby Akian, who welcomed me by marking me with warm baby urine as an act of love. We had a fine dining experience at the Prada at Balboa Park with my friend and editor from InterVarsity Press, Dave Zimmerman. Vicki and I read alot, ran, ate, played and had a stellar Valentine's Day weekend. Ahhh, so good.
Stephen Wiltshire is an autistic savant who lives in London. Stephen's first words "pencil" and "paper" weren't spoken until he was 5-years-old. When Stephen was 11-years-old he drew a nearly perfect aerial view of London
after taking a helicopter ride over the city. This video documents Stephen's attempt to draw, in detail, the city center of Rome. I understand this video is almost two years old but I add it on behalf of all of you who haven't seen this. Truly amazing. (ht to Gary Parker).
I know season 8 of American Idol is just starting but I already have a favorite ->
28-year-old Danny Gokey from Milwaukee, WI. Gokey is a Church Music Teacher (whatever that means?). Maybe I like him because he looks like my friend Doug Jones and Doug is cool. Anyway, Gokey seems so soulfully natural... he will at least make the top 5. Here is Danny singing "I hope you dance" during Hollywood Week.