The Importance of Reading the Entire Paragraph

About one year ago, I started doing things a little bit differently in my personal Bible study. Up until this point, I never really had what you would call “structure” to it. Most of the time, it was read, pray, and be done with it. And there isn’t much more to it now. But after listening to a podcast by a pastor of a larger church, the structure he gave was something I had been looking for.

Burk Parsons, a pastor of a reformed church, tweeted around the same time I was changing my study structure. The tweet said,

“I want my children to have boring testimonies.”

After analyzing this tweet, I realized that I was this kid. I was thinking as I was reading that my testimony was boring. I didn’t do anything that was too far off base. While I was growing up, I tried my best to stay within the boundaries my parents gave me. Because of their discipline, I never veered off too far from what I was supposed to be doing. Of course, those of us who have lived long enough know that correct, gospel-driven discipline does not guarantee what your children will do or not do. But I lived a pretty boring life.

What was also boring was my Bible study. My Bible study lacked authenticity from me and I knew it. So I searched and searched for ways to enhance it and bring myself to grips with Scripture. I told you I “re-structured” and had a new plan, but I also started reading through books of the New Testament. My starting point was the Gospel of John. Of course, the Gospel of John is different from the other three synoptic Gospels and is also the most textually criticized Gospel of the four. But I did not read chapters; I read paragraphs. I literally would read at most three to five verses at a time on average and meditate on those specific verses throughout the day.

I started in John on that specific day, whenever it was. Now I am in the fourth chapter of Romans. This brings me to the title of this post – “Reading the Entire Passage.”

We all know those specific verses (I call them “Instagram verses”) where they are like a good one-liner. I think Romans 3:23 would be one of them.

“..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:23, ESV

This verse is a part of several in the Roman’s Road to Salvation, a habitual verse to lead someone to Christ, but do we really understand what the verse is actually meant to say? As I was reading through this specific paragraph, I realized that if we would read the entire paragraph, we could understand more about the Bible than we do already. Here is the paragraph (vv.21-26):

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” 

Romans 3:21-26, ESV

When we take a step back and group the entire paragraph together, we get the context of the passage. God came to show His righteousness through His Son and because of His gracious gift, we can have eternal life through Christ. Of course, we look at 3:23 and think the same meaning, but now we can further understand why God did what He did. God sent His son, the justifier, to earth so filthy, lowly, depraved sinners could spend eternity in Heaven. God made sinners guilt-free through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

You do not see this truth unless you read the entire paragraph.

My Thoughts on Student Ministry – Part 2

Part 1 of this series ended with me saying that if I, as a student minister, do not awaken to the supremacy of Christ, neither will the students of our church. If you haven’t read the entire post, you can find it here. In continuing this “series” or whatever you want to call it, I am going to really become vulnerable through this post.

Vulnerability.

My initial thoughts on student ministry were drastically different than what they are currently. Four years ago, I would have said that student ministry exists to bring teens closer to God. Duh! But I would have also said it exists to do so through whatever means you can use or think of using. I would have said that student ministry can exist to use a bowling trip to reach students for Christ. It sounds like something to be laughed about, but as I discovered other student ministries across our denomination through networking and relationships, I realized I was not alone with this mindset. For the entirety of my ministry (3 years) until January of this year, I have used this philosophy of ministry to “run” my student ministry. There was no substance with the activities I executed. There was no depth to the trips I planned. The only “activity” with any sort of substance whatsoever was my Wednesday night student worship service. The funny realization I have had lately is I thought I had it all together. I thought I “knew what I was doing.” I just knew in the back of my mind this is what the Lord was leading me to do in the student ministry He had entrusted me to lead.

But it was not.

In ministry, the Lord never leads you to do something without Him as the forefront. In the most sincere, genuine way I can be, there has never been a more true statement for me in my ministry. God will never direct you, as a student minister, in such a way that will not have Him preeminent in your endeavors of student ministry. Once again, this does not mean that you cannot have fun things to do every once in a while. However, they must be with purpose. What I missed in my first three years of ministry was discipleship. I knew it was a vital part of ministry, but never took it as a personal responsibility as a Christ-follower or student minister. It is comical to hear senior pastors talk about how the church needs to be healthy spiritually before it can grow numerically (I agree). But why don’t we ever hear student ministers use this same language with their youth groups? We seem to agree when pastors talk about it in terms of the congregation, but we never consider that our teenagers could serve as an agent of God to revitalize the congregation. Wow!

Discipleship.

On discipleship, Richard Ross has a 50+ page chapter in his book Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ. 50+ pages! Several things come into play with his discipleship plan. Let me just chime in with this thought before I go further: You do not have to do this exactly as Ross has it outlined. Your personality at your church is going to affect the way you implement these suggestions. However, what Ross says is necessary to have a spiritually healthy student ministry.

Several things encompass his discipleship method:

  • Prayer Mentors
  • Relationship with Student Minister
  • Relationship with Spiritually Alive Parents
  • 1 on 3 Discipleship (“Life Coaching”)
  • Open Group Bible Study (Sunday School/Small Groups)

The biggest point he makes are two of the five listed: Prayer Mentors and 1 on 3 Discipleship.

Prayer Mentors

Ross says,

“Prayer mentors pray daily over a teenager, and they provide encouragement and warmth to that student. They reflect the heart of an older Paul toward Timothy, ‘I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you…so that I may be filled with joy.'”

(2 Tim. 1:3-4)

Today’s adults in your congregation may not feel as if they are connected to the younger generations of your church, but they can be just as effective as your volunteers by becoming a prayer mentor to a student. Prayer mentors commit to praying for one student until they get married or graduate from college. As the student minister, it is your job to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12).” This includes equipping members of the congregation for committed prayer on behalf of teenagers. Ross says,

“Bottom line: God blesses prayer and the nurturing connection formed between two generations.”

1 on 3 Discipleship

This discipleship model is one adult and three students in a discipling relationship for at least one school year. It mirrors the relationship between Jesus and Peter, James, and John. This is not just discipleship, but it is also life sharing with an adult in the church. If you think about it, Jesus took these three men just about everywhere He went. Most of the time when you see Jesus in Scripture, you also see Peter, James, and John. The most important goal for you as a student minister is to equip (Eph. 4:12) your disciplers for the work of the 1 on 3 discipleship. Disciplers who are being transformed will result in disciples being transformed. It is that simple. But it is just as simple to expect students to not be transformed if your disciplers are not being transformed.

Deuteronomy 6 calls parents to disciple their children starting at home. However, if you were to talk to most of the parents (if not all of them) in your church, you would most likely hear that none of them were discipled as children in their home. Inertia is the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest. To overcome the inertia of parents expecting the church to disciple their children, you must have a specific strategy to do so. Ross says,

“It may take parents discipling at church to overcome initial inertia of family discipleship.”

One of the most important things you can communicate to your disciplers as they invest in three students is that they are changing the world for Christ. They are making a difference in teenager’s lives through discipleship. What they do matters!

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, I have not been intentional about discipleship in my student ministry and am not proud to admit it. But I am now and will continue to be until I retire. I wholeheartedly believe when pastors and student ministers who embrace the supremacy of Christ make discipleship a priority in their ministry, God will bless. And this is not to say that God only blesses discipleship. But discipleship is God’s plan for the church, period. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..” Jesus’ last command to the disciples was not to go and gather the masses for awesome bowling night, great trips out of town, or a “fear factor” themed lock-in. Jesus’ last command was to make disciples. Jesus’ last command was for His disciples and apostles to build lasting relationships with their congregations so they would in return have a lasting relationship with the risen Lord.

  • Should it not be our passion and desire to do the same?
  • Should it not be our goal in ministry to equip those in our churches to come alongside us as student ministers to carry out the ministry to students?
  • Should it be entertaining activities that reach our students or the gospel?

Our goal in student ministry should be for our students to awaken to the supremacy and preeminence of Christ in their lives, whatever it takes. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s in student ministry.

Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” If we really love Christ we will keep His commandments. And His last commandment was for all of those who have trusted Him through faith to go and make disciples of all nations.

Recommended Resources:

Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ – Richard Ross

Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture – Brian Cosby

Sustainable Youth Ministry – Mark Devries

Purpose Driven Youth Ministry – Doug Fields

My Thoughts on Student Ministry – Part 1

I’ve been thinking lately. I know, surprise! I am sure it has been stated in a previous post, but I am now halfway into my fourth year in ministry. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I am a student pastor and have only written at most 2 blog posts on student ministry. I figured it was time to write another.

When I first entered into student ministry on New Years Day 2013, I admit (now) my priorities in youth ministry were so out of line it wasn’t even funny (and still isn’t). I still think about my early days in student ministry and wonder how I had a job for such a long period of time! It seems funny, and I laugh even as I type. But I also sit here in embarrassment to write this blog. The purpose of this blog might as well be to confess my own selfishness and pride in my early student ministry days (I also understand that I am still relatively young in ministry and have a long way to go). But let’s get to the point.

In his book, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, Doug Fields communicates a truth that changed the way I viewed my role as a student pastor. He says,

“The answer is not programs, but becoming the right person for youth ministry.” 

He also says our mission as student pastors is not what we need to do, but who we need to be. For the first 2-3 years of my ministry, I tried every program possible to entertain students. Let me just address this elephant in the room per se: student ministry ≠ entertainment. Al Mohler said it best regarding entertainment in student ministry. He said,

“If you entertain youth in church, rather than teaching them, don’t be surprised that you lose them when the entertainment no longer appeals.”

I am using these quotes as a testimony to who I was for the first couple of years in student ministry. Since then, I have realized that what Mohler said was imperative to how I viewed student ministry. I have even quoted guys like Doug Fields and Brian Cosby who have written books on this issue and how correct they were, and still did the opposite of what they were trying to convey! How stupid do you have to be to act so hypocritically? I was the student pastor reading books such as Giving Up Gimmicks and Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and not changing anything about myself or the student ministry I was entrusted with leading.

Then I came upon a book that I’ve had in my office since I worked at Randall House Publications/D6 Family; Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ by Richard Ross. This book has been a tool God has used to reform my philosophy of student ministry. The Lord has used this manuscript from Dr. Ross to change me and how I structure our student ministry at our church. I try my best to read at least parts of a book throughout a weekly routine in my office. It is a difficult task, especially since I have become somewhat of a bi-vocational student pastor. However, when I picked up this book about a month ago, I read the first 7 chapters in one afternoon. It is that rich of material and substance. I could write an entire blog post on quotes from this book. But the theme of the book is to awaken not just students, but your entire church congregation to Christ’s preeminence in our lives. Here are just a few quotes from the first several chapters:

  • “Where Christ reigns, there is hope.”

  • “Many Christians need to meet God’s Son again.” <- Woah!

  • “Biblical hope is not an adverb; it is a person.” 

  • “Student ministry that does not matter for a lifetime, does not matter much.” 

  • “What you design, others will allow you to make happen. What others design, they will join you in preparing.”

  • “An awakening to Christ without prayer will never happen.”

  • “Prayer will not saturate the student ministry until it saturates the student minister.” 

  • “Fellowship is only negative when it is out of balance and/or is without purpose.”

  • “Flocks follow the example of their shepherd.” <– Woah again!

As you can see, Ross’ point is to express the importance of Christ being preeminent in every aspect of our life and ministry (Col.1:18).

But what does this have to do with me as a student pastor? How did I change what I was doing? Well, I am glad you asked! For the first three years of my student ministry endeavors, I have been focused on students. I have been focused on what they wanted, why they wanted what they did, and how they wanted to attain what they wanted. I took entertaining trips, had kids over almost every weekend at my house for games, played games in my Wednesday night worship services, and much more to entertain students. My focus was on the wrong thing. Of course, the supreme focus of your life and ministry should be Christ. Once He is preeminent in your life and student ministry, your first priority is parents. Ross says again,

“Teenagers resemble the spiritual lives of their parents.”

If what Ross says is true, then our primary goal should be to train our parents to be committed disciples and disciplers for their family. When parents achieve this goal, it will overflow into their children’s lives. If you will look above at the list of quotes to the one that is bold, you will notice it is saying that if your students don’t take something away from your student ministry for a lifetime, you are operating a student ministry that does not matter much at all. Of course, let me say that events and programs that are “just for fun” do have a place in student ministry, but they should never take the place of what we are called to do; make disciples of all nations. If your activities outweigh your desire to see students know Christ, your priorities are out of whack.

I am in no way a veteran student pastor. NO WAY, whatsoever! But I do want to be the best I can be and do the best I can do to help students see who Christ is in all of His glory. I want students to be able to tell others of grace and mercy and love that Christ gives them on a daily basis. I want students to be able to present the Gospel with clarity to others and reach their community for Christ. I want students to be able to lead others through the repentance process and introduce others to the risen Christ who has come to have a relationship with His creation. I want students to be spiritual leaders in their home. I want students to influence the way my prayer life should be. I want students to be the leaders in our churches.

None of this can happen if I, as a student pastor, have not awakened first to the supremacy of Christ in my own life.

 

Arminianism and the Sovereignty of God

 

If you saw my previous post, you notice that I do not claim to be any type of theologian or profess to have a great intellect. In case you did not see it, you can find it here. I really want to make this clear that I am in no way trying to boast of anything written from me on this blog.

However, in the time that I have been in college (and some of high school) and in full-time ministry, I have noticed that there are a number of different people who have deemed Arminian Theology unbiblical. I have heard some say it should even be considered “pagan.” I cannot understand this premise to which people come to understand Arminian theology as an unbiblical, pagan theology.

In this post, I will give two specific reasons proving why Arminian theology, specifically dealing with the sovereignty of God and in light of the Free Will Baptist tradition, is biblical.

1) Arminian Free Will Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Specifically speaking, Free Will Baptists are a large number of ones who hold a classical Arminian view of soteriology. Sometimes, the simple reading of our denominational title poses questions to others who do not hold to the same view. Some associate FWB (Free Will Baptist) to a doctrine called repeated regeneration which claims essentially that every time man sins they become lost and must become saved again, and then the cycle repeats. FWB do not hold to this view of salvation/sanctification. Also, some seem to find FWB to be related to an incomplete view of total depravity; meaning FWB’s believe man has some part in the salvation process. This viewpoint is also incorrect. In his book, Classical Arminianism, Leroy Forlines exclaims “There must be a move toward man on God’s part before there will be any response on man’s part.” Free Will Baptists and classical Arminians hold to the doctrine of total depravity and the fact that, as John wrote, ‘no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).'”

Because classical Arminianism affirms total depravity, there is some common ground between the two sides (Calvinism and Arminianism) in their soteriology. But the disagreement comes when we start talking about election. Calvinists have always had a problem with “free will” in salvation. Calvinists believe that God chose or “elected” some to be saved. Forlines writes, “This election was in no way related to God’s foreknowledge of faith on the part of the individual.” This is why Calvinists deny any idea of free will. Their belief system totally and completely denies the idea that man has any specific role in salvation (And in all fairness, this viewpoint of salvation is a valid interpretation of Scripture. There is some logic in these statements from verses in Scripture. However, I do believe that Arminianism is a more logical view that Calvinism). Furthermore, the Calvinist system of belief has nothing to do with men and everything to do with God (Divine Determinism).

Arminians do not believe in a free will that makes man the sole authority in salvation. This belief is the doctrine known as Pelagianism (pə-lā′jē-ə-nĭz′əm), which is basically salvation by works. Forlines has a great explanation of free will in light of Arminian theology. He says, “Freedom of will is a freedom within a framework of possibilities. It is not absolute freedom. We cannot be God. We cannot be angels. The freedom of a human being is in the framework of possibilities provided by human nature.” The reason Arminians believe in freedom of the will is because of our human nature. Our free will is simply the choice to do or not to do when the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts. When the Holy Spirit works on lost people’s hearts, it is in the framework for that person to either say yes or to say no to the Gospel. Whichever they choose is their choice.

2) Arminianism affirms God’s Sovereignty; not Divine Determinism

Of course, the question of God’s sovereignty goes much deeper than only coming to God through the drawing of the Holy Spirit or the freedom of the will to choose in salvation. What do I mean when I say “God’s sovereignty”? God’s sovereignty is viewing God as the sole commander and authority in the universe. God, in His sovereignty, controls all events in all lives; past, present, and future. God is sovereign because He knows all things; past, present, and future. Within Calvinist circles, the view of God’s sovereignty seems much larger than that of Arminianism because Calvinism holds the view that God literally has control of everything that goes on in our lives. This doctrine is called divine determinism. Calvin referenced this viewpoint best when he said, “No wind ever arises or increases except by God’s express command.”

I won’t get much further into the Calvinist system of belief; hopefully, there is enough information in the above paragraphs to surface their viewpoint. However, the problem that classical Arminians have with this viewpoint essentially exists with the problem of evil. If God controls every single thing that happens in the world; if God is responsible for everything that goes on, then God is responsible for the problem of evil. In Against Calvinism, Roger Olson said, “Someone has said that no theology is worth believing that cannot be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz. I, for one, could not stand at those gates and preach a version of God’s sovereignty that makes the extermination of six million Jews, including many children, a part of the will and plan of God such that God foreordained and rendered it certain.” What classical Arminians believe about free will and God’s sovereignty is said best by Robert Picirilli in Grace, Faith, and Free Will, “The classic Arminian views affirms that the future is perfectly foreknown by God and yet is, in principle and practice, “open” and “undetermined.”

In Arminian theology, we affirm God’s Sovereign rule over the universe, but also affirm the choice He freely gives humankind in regard to the gospel.

Conclusion

The freedom of the will and the sovereignty of God go hand in hand within the boundaries of classical Arminianism. Obviously, God has sovereignly placed man’s freedom of will in the universe. We see a perfect example in Adam and Eve. These two individuals walked with God day and night. They had a perfect relationship with Him. When God gave the command to not eat of the tree, they disobeyed. Disobedience to God is a product of man’s freedom of will. It is in no way a product of God’s sovereignty and cannot ever be. To blame God for our choices in life is utterly unthinkable. The sanctification process is a difficult one, whether you are Calvinist or Arminian. However, we can rest assured that even in our deepest times of despair and disobedience, Christ has deemed us righteous before God the Father. Not from anything we have done, but because of what He accomplished on the cross through his death and resurrection.

 

2 Reasons Why Theology Matters

 

January 1, 2016, I started my fourth year in ministry. The past three years have been some of the most rewarding, yet most difficult times of my entire life. Over these past few years, I have come to love theology. In fact, most of my spiritual gifts deal with theology. Not to say that I am chosen by God to be some great theological mind, but the Lord has given me a desire to study and learn about Him and His Word.

The study of theology is (or should be) a vital part of a Christian’s life. Your theology determines your worldview, Christian or not. For us as Christians, we sometimes devalue theology and categorize it to only academia. Let me just say: Don’t do that! Theology is the Christian’s way of life.

Over the past few years of studying theology and discussing it with fellow believers, I have found two main reasons why theology is necessary for the Christian.

1) Theology involves knowing God.

One definition of theology is the study of God and divine truth. There may be some confusion seen with the above statement because if we are fair in our thinking, we also see that you can have an understanding of theology and not know God. James wrote it, plain and clear, saying even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). What James is saying is crucial in understanding theology; you can know theology and not know God. The fact of the matter is that there are some who view theology as nothing more than an academic knowledge of the Bible. In some sense, they are correct.

Theology is the study of God. When we deal with theology, we are dealing with God. When we study theology, we are studying God. As such, when we know theology, we should know God. But it is not the case all the time. In some cases, theology means nothing more to the Christian than any other knowledge.

It ought not to be this way.

The study of God ought to include a life that is pleasing to God. Because we study and learn God, we ought to make what we learn applicable in our lives of growing in grace. The primary goal in our theological endeavors should be knowing God. If not, our endeavors of studying theology are in vain, in my opinion.

2) Theology invokes an application.

Because there is a possibility to know theology and not know God, it is necessary for those studying theology to properly apply it to their lives. When we do not properly apply our theology, sometimes it becomes academic rather than an act of worship. Yes, you read right. Studying theology is an act of worship to God. We read our Bible to know God. We go to church to know God. We live our lives to know God. Our entire lives exist primarily for one reason: to know God truer and better.

In comparison, it is completely realistic of me to think similarly of my relationship with my wife. Dating has a common goal of trying to understand a person and their personality/attitude/goals in life to figure out if they match the standards you have for your future spouse. While I was dating my wife, we had many conversations about marriage and what we would do in certain situations of disagreement and conflict. These conversations are necessary to any couple considering marriage. However, it is equally necessary to talk about your “love languages.” Generally, your love language is going to be different than that of your significant other’s love language. My wife’s love language is dramatically different than my personal love language.

But let me pose this question:

What would it look like if I knew my wife and what her goals were in marriage, her love languages, and her personality thoroughly but never catered to any of those areas in her life? Of course, my marriage would not be strong, possibly even non-existent because I would never interact with my wife on a personal level. We think of marriages similar to this example and almost cringe to the idea of that much neglect of attention, communication, and the pursuit of your spouse, yet when we view theology, in some cases, we deem it alright to treat God this way.

Conclusion

When we study theology, we should treat it as a relationship, if you will. We wouldn’t dare accept it when our spouse treated us in a similar manner, but sometimes we do this with God whenever we do not effectively and correctly apply our theology.

It must be our main goal to know God. The Westminster Short Catechism’s first question in its contents asks “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is that man should “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God, we must know Him. We cannot know God without learning and studying about Him. In the same way, I must know and enjoy my wife’s companionship (if we can compare the two relationships), I must extend the effort to know God and reciprocate the same love He has shown us through His redeeming grace.