The “S” Word

I began my journey in Student Ministry at the young age of 18. I worked for Jacksonville Christian Academy, and also served as the school’s chaplain. Being the only male on staff in the Learning Center, I had the pleasure of escorting young boys to the restroom multiple times throughout the day.

There is nothing like little-boy restroom conversations. Comedy gold.

One day, though, I had a mild heart attack as a 7-year-old boy pointed to a 8-year-old boy and informed me, “He said the ‘S’ word!” Coming from a public school background, my immediate thought was, Dear Lord, they have potty mouths at this age?? All I could manage was a bewildered stare and “What?” The little boy rolled his eyes. “He said ‘STUPID.'” Certainly egregious in its own right, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of relief!

Well, there is an ‘S’ word that some treat with the same measure of shock and disgust. Just like the little boy’s comment in the bathroom, though, it’s not as bad as we make it out to be. It’s a word I think we consider from the entirely wrong perspective.

“Small.”

“Small” seems to be a dirty word in church work. As a church planter, I’ve referred to our congregation several times as “small.” I’ve had other church planters and well-meaning saints correct me. “It’s not small; it’s growing! Small is a mentality!”

While I appreciate what they are trying to say, I disagree with them. “Small” is a stage. It’s a part of the process. Getting upset because someone calls my church “small” would be like getting upset because someone calls my 11-month-old son “small.” Of course he’s small; he’s an infant! If he was my size, we would have a problem!

So many people miss out on their children’s lives because they are always thinking down the road. They’re so concentrated on the next milestone that they miss enjoying the stage they are in. There are only so many years you get to cuddle, push them on the swing, take walks to the park, and play Legos on the living room floor; we better enjoy them while we can!

It’s great to have vision. Without a vision, the people perish. I’ve heard that if you want to grow, you have to lead your group as if it was twice the size that it is; I believe there is a lot of truth to that. It is ABSOLUTELY God’s will for every teenager in your city to be won to Him. We must be careful, though, not to get so focused on the youth group we WANT that we forget it begins with selling out to the youth group we HAVE.

If you’re a Youth Pastor of a small youth group, can I encourage you to enjoy this stage? It’s part of the process! If you’re doing the right things, there are only so many years where they will all fit in your living room, or in the same van. There are only so many years where you will personally be able to attend every baseball game, graduation, recital, or birthday party. There are only so many years where you will personally be able to mentor and connect on a deep level with every single one of them. Enjoy it while you can, because WHEN you grow, you will need your current “Small” group to help you reach your “Big” group.

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The 8 Most Important Words You Can Say to a Student

Pain. Joy. Despair. Hope. Agony. Elation.

You feel them one at a time, and yet you feel them all at once. There are no words to truly describe you feel when you lose someone you love.

I lost a student yesterday. He wasn’t just any student. I know we aren’t allowed to have favorites, but he was one of mine. He loved God with all of his heart. He served Him with everything he had. Many times I would arrive at Youth Service to discover he had walked there, guitar in hand. I would chuckle to myself when I would get a phone call from him on the rare Friday night when there was no Youth Service, asking me where everyone was. He loved church. He loved ministry.

I will always remember the last conversation I had with him. I had been asked to preach for my home church Sunday morning, where I had been his Youth Pastor for several years. We had an incredible move of God, with several baptized and first-time visitors seeking the Holy Ghost. The pastor got delayed with hospital visits that afternoon and called me back to have me preach that night. When I came to the platform, the young man walked up to me. He never quite got the Pentecostal lingo down, but he said to me sincerely, “I really enjoyed your message this morning. It was real church-y and revival-y. It was great seeing people praying for the Holy Ghost and getting baptized. We need more of that.”

His heart was beating for revival. I saw him one last time the following Sunday (we have been attending church there while we are in the process of launching our church plant). During the altar call, I asked him and several other young men to pray over me and our church. They did so earnestly. Then I hugged each one of them, including him. Then I uttered the last words I’d ever say to him:

“I love you, and I believe in you.”

A huge grin crept across his face. I know he believed me. After all, he must have heard it 1,000 times over the years. He heard it when he was the quiet, shy 12-year-old in my Jr High class that was so painfully unsure of himself. He heard it when he came out of his shell, and became the life of every youth party. He heard it the day he received the Holy Ghost. He heard it when he started goofing around on the guitar, still not quite sure what he was doing. He heard it when he became the centerpiece of the youth worship team. Finally, he heard it Sunday, as he stood in the altar for the last time.

There are times we have to correct students. There are times we must even discipline them. There are times when we must use our God-given authority to deal with a situation. I have found, though, that few things we do impact a student more than encouraging them. To know that we love them and believe in them. That is what they need more than anything.

As much as we want to believe things like this won’t happen to our students, they do. We never know what moment will be the last, so make every moment count. Tell them. Tell them every week. Tell them one-on-one. Let your students know that you are in their corner, and you are cheering them on. Let them know you love them, and you believe in them.

Mo’ Mo: Creating Momentum and Motivation in Student Ministry

It’s a roller coaster. It’s predictable. You can almost call it before you see it.

Anyone who has worked with teenagers knows that they are people of extremes. This is painfully evident when they have a crush. The minute they determine that their romantic feelings are returned by a person of the opposite gender, it’s head-over-heels love. It’s 4-hour phone conversations, and all-day text threads. It’s names encircled by hearts on notebook covers. It’s one-week anniversary presents. You couldn’t fit a credit card in between them; surely, this is the one! Then, a month later when they run out of things to talk about and the excitement wains, one of the two decides it’s time to move on. The low is equally extreme. It’s missed meals. It’s 2-hour cry sessions while they wear out their favorite breakup song on their iWhatevers. It’s “I can’t live without her” followed by “I never want to see her again” 5 minutes later. You couldn’t get them to hold hands to play Red Rover. Then, they both meet someone else, and the cycle begins anew.

The same is true in their walks with God. You can probably set your watch by it:

  • Holiday Youth Convention – HIGH!
  • Beginning of summer – low
  • Youth Camp – HIGH!
  • School starts – low
  • Back-to-School Rallies – HIGH!
  • Holiday season approaching – low

On and on it goes. As a Student Pastor, you may feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel; you’re exuding a lot of effort, but you aren’t moving your group forward. What is the key to getting off of this roller coaster and out of this hamster wheel? How do we move our students from ebbing and flowing with the changing seasons to consistently moving forward in their relationships with God?

We need mo’ mo: MOre MOtivation.

I have found that the key to motivation is anticipation.

Think about it. If you’re a casual NFL fan, there is nothing more uninteresting than the preseason. The roster that takes the field will be dwindled down from 80 players to 53 players, only 45 of which will be active on game day. After one or two quarters into the game, the coach is inserting players who may not even be in the league when the games start counting. Even the announcers sound bored by the time the game reaches the 4th quarter, when coaches are playing the very bottom of their depth chart, hoping they will see one or two things that stick out to them on cut day.

However, even as a causal fan, it doesn’t take much to get you interested in the Super Bowl. After 16 weeks of regular season games and a playoff field of 12 teams being whittled down to 2, the nation prepares to watch the two greatest teams in the world square off for a chance to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Super Bowl Sunday has become the third largest “holiday” for American grocers, right behind Thanksgiving and Christmas. No one has to hype you up. No one has to talk you into watching. It’s such a big deal that many churches have even begun airing the game in an effort to attract visitors.

Why are people so motivated to watch a Super Bowl, yet largely uninterested in preseason games? Anticipation! When you sit down to watch the Super Bowl, you sit down expecting to see a great game. You expect to see the best of the best competing. You expect to be entertained for three solid hours. Even the commercials have us on the edge of our seat, as we expect to see the fruits of millions of advertising dollars spent to amuse or inspire us.

Our student ministries are no different. Why are students so motivated to go to HYC, Youth Camp, and other big church events? They are anticipating something incredibly life-changing taking place. They expect the worship service to be dynamic. They expect the preaching to be powerful. They expect the atmosphere to be electric. They expect the altar call to be…well…altering.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you that the breakthrough for which we were looking in our student ministry occurred when we started focusing on building anticipation in our students. Here are four key ways we did it. They all begin with “P,” so we will consider them “The 4 P’s for Mo’ Mo:”

  • Prayer. I know I talk about this often on this blog, as if it were some sort of cure-all. Well, it is! Prayer is the most important aspect of our walk with God. I have never met someone who prayed regularly who did not anticipate God doing great things in his/her life. Because they are anticipating a move of God, no additional motivation is required to engage them in the service. They KNOW God will move, so they are motivated to seek Him.
  • Participation. Why do WE get so excited about Youth Service, Sunday School, and Student Ministry events? We’re involved! We’ve spent time praying and studying. We’ve spent time working on graphics and decorations. We spent time promoting and preparing. During all of this, we are dreaming and envisioning all the great things that can happen. By the time we get to the service or event, we’ve invested so much into it that we can’t help anticipating something great. Students are no different. If students show up to services where other people are always playing instruments, other people are always singing, other people are always leading, and other people are always speaking, it’s hard to keep the anticipation high. As much as I believe in great graphics and captivating, culturally relevant series topics (and I am a huge fan of both), those things will only go so far toward building momentum. If we want to elevate the students’ participation, we need to get them involved! Nothing creates anticipation in the heart of students as when they are singing, they are playing, their friends are leading prayer, their friends are preaching, etc. Some of the most powerful services we had was when I turned my pulpit over to a student. The messages were short and often disjointed at best, but the students were so motivated by seeing their peers step out in faith that they rushed the altar.
  • Planning. I won’t cover this in tremendous detail, because I have done so in several other posts. I will simply say that part of motivating your students is building momentum into the calendar. We tried to make sure we had a major event at least every other month. The students would circle these on their calendars and count down to them. Since they were involved in preparing decorations, putting songs together, developing games, etc., their anticipation was sky-high by the time the event arrived. Our biggest event of the year was always our annual Youth Week. Quite honestly, it was the biggest event our church did all year. It was an opportunity for students to connect with some of the speakers they heard at youth events. They were involved in every aspect of the event. Whether you have 3 students or 300, I strongly encourage you to host a Youth Week (if you don’t already). I had the opportunity to preach a Youth Week for a very small youth group, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. The students from that youth group still reflect on it when we see each other. There are many people who do an incredible job with this. Find a couple of people who have hosted one and pick their brains until you come up with a plan that works for your students!
  • Persistence. Even if you do each of the things I’ve outlined above, you will find that there are still occasional periods of spiritual lull. As a Youth Pastor, you must exert your God-given authority, draw a line, and refuse to accept it! I realize it’s harder than it sounds. Much of our success, I feel, came from the fact that I simply refused to allow our students to not press for a move of God. I recall several times when I preached my heart out with passion and conviction, only to give way to a tepid altar call. At that point, I would bring all of the students together and press until they responded. This is more about you than it is the students! It’s much more comfortable for us to say, “Well, there’s always next week.” This may be true, but if we string enough “next weeks” together, we’ll find our group in a serious dry spell. Don’t let that happen! Teach them to push through to the Spirit even when it doesn’t come easily. Teach them to never allow themselves to just go through the motions. Teach them that every service matters!

What about you? How do you generate mo’ mo? Comment below with your thoughts!

Why I’m Opposed to Christian Hip-Hop

I thought long and hard about whether or not I would post this. Music, for whatever reason, is a very emotionally-charged issue. So much so that often people identify themselves with the music to which they listen. In other words, if you “attack” someone’s music, in essence you are attacking “them.” That makes this subject particularly difficult.

Additionally, I take on quite a bit of risk posting this. I am about as balanced as you can be on issues of Biblical holiness and separation. This often does not bode well for me. The problem with being right down the middle is that people WANT you to be on one “side” or the other. You can’t win. If you present a view that is considered “conservative,” people respond as if you are one of those ultra-conservative, no-tie-clips, white-shirt-only Pentecostal Rednecks who sees the devil in every shadow. If you present a view that is considered “liberal” or “progressive,” people respond as if you’re a tattooed yuppie who preaches sitting on a stool with a cup of Starbucks on Sunday morning.

So, there is danger. There’s danger that the following comments will get me branded as someone who is culturally insensitive and doesn’t believe in progress. Some will make assumptions about my character and ability as a Youth minister and preacher that will be incredibly unfair. If that happens, that’s truly unfortunate.

I’m not Verbal Bean, but I’m not Rob Bell. Hopefully you’ll take my word for it.

So why even bother posting this? Well, for all the reasons above, I had decided I wouldn’t. I decided I would let it go. Then I read a blog post by my friend, Matthew Smith, titled Christian Hip-Hop and Evil Beats. I encourage you to read that post as well and look at both sides of this issue. Really, follow his blog and read everything he posts; he’s brilliant. While I’m not on board with all of his points, he does bring out some interesting thoughts. What triggered me writing that I feel it’s time for the opposite opinion to his article to have its day in the sun.

Now, once again, Matt is a friend and I greatly respect him. And honestly, he has good reason to feel that there aren’t many valid arguments for opposition to Christian Hip-Hop. Do a simple google search for “Is Christian Rap Wrong?” and you’ll quickly see the ignorance of humanity. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a post to simply link to that I felt adequately and fairly presented the viewpoint that I espouse concerning this issue. This is NOT, however, a “counterpoint” or “reaction to” Matt’s post; as a matter of fact, several of his arguments I won’t even address. This is an attempt, rather, to present my viewpoint from a holistic standpoint, taking into account scriptural, cultural and historical angles on the genre.

If you’re still reading this after the longest introduction ever, there are probably one of two reasons:

1. You are a fan of Christian Hip-Hop, and you want to find a way to shoot holes in every point that I make. That’s unfortunate. I’ve encountered many people who will declare to me red-faced, veins popping out their necks, that rap music doesn’t breed aggression. Well…they have a funny way of showing it (I’m NOT saying EVERYONE who opposes my opinion is like this…but I AM saying I’ve encountered my share of “bullies” on the subject). If you’re simply looking for fuel for the fire, this article is sure to provide that. However, my purpose is not to incite you. Rather, it’s to present my viewpoint. I’m not calling you a sinner, and I’m not condemning you to Hell. Please keep that in mind.

2. You hate Christian Hip-Hop, and you’re looking for ammunition for your next debate on the subject. That’s equally unfortunate. We can hold our own personal views without attacking the viewpoint of others. There’s nothing wrong with defending what you believe. Looking for a fight is an entirely different issue.

Without further adieu, here we go.

First of all, let me clearly state my stance on the issue: I feel that Christian Hip-Hop (CHH), as a genre, is dangerous.

Notice, I DIDN’T say evil. I DIDN’T say demonic. I said DANGEROUS. There’s a big difference. There are many things in this world that are not evil, but are dangerous. Radio, television, video games, and sporting events are certainly not evil; however, no one would question that all of these things can be potentially dangerous, as the media presented through all of these venues can cause someone who is not a mature Christian using these mediums wisely to fall into serious temptation.

Similarly, I’m not saying that CHH is evil. It would be irresponsible to call any genre of music “evil.” However, I do feel that CHH presents dangers that most other genres simply do not.

Let’s first begin by examining the history of hip-hop. This is absolutely relevant. Some feel that the history of something doesn’t matter, that it’s origins are irrelevant if it can be reformatted for a Christian context. I strongly disagree. The reason for that is context is largely shaped by history. If not for history, a swastika is just another logo. What is evil about the swastika itself? Nothing. It’s just a picture. It’s a drawing. Essentially, it’s artwork. However, it served a very unholy purpose, so much so that no one can look at the image without connecting it with Nazism and the related atrocities. Please don’t read into this that I’m comparing hip-hop to Nazism; I’m simply stating historical context matters.

Hip-Hop originated from pagan tribal rituals in Africa. Stories were set to music in worship to pagan gods. That music was brought over to the United States and made popular by islanders in the 70s, when disco was popular. It was originally a technique used by DJs to keep a party going. Over time, it developed into its own genre. Very few would deny this (even those who advocate for CHH).

Does this matter? Absolutely! I won’t deny that pagan customs do permeate our culture. The days of the week and the names of our months come from pagan gods. Many of our holiday customs have roots in pagan worship. Are we to stop using calendars or celebrating holidays? Only the most extreme would advocate that. Certainly I don’t. So why is that okay, but music coming from pagan roots is dangerous?

First of all, we do not use the days of the week, names of months, and holiday celebrations to worship our God. CHH is, however, offered in worship to God. That’s the distinction, and that’s where I feel the problem lies.

In defense of CHH, people often offer the following passage:

1 Corinthians 8:4-9

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

Certainly Christians were not forbidden to eat meat offered to idols. As a matter of fact, I’ve eaten desserts that were offered in Hindu worship to the god of Ganesha. Ganesha means nothing to me, so the dessert was nothing more than a tasty treat (if you’ve never tried Indian sweets, you’re missing out). However, I did not eat those treats in worship to God! What we eat, as demonstrated in this passage, is not part of worship to God. Pronouncing the days of the week and the names of months are not part of our worship to God. However, when we offer in worship to God something that was intended for idols, the context completely changes. I feel the following passages pertain in that instance:

Deuteronomy 12:2-5

Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come:

God was saying “Tear down everything that was used in worship to other Gods. Don’t use them to worship me. I’ll pick a different place all together for you to put my name.”

This is, in my opinion, the strongest Biblical support against CHH. If hip-hop has pagan roots (which is a historical fact), and those stylistic elements were used to worship false gods, how can we then try to use those same stylistic elements to worship the one true God? I personally don’t feel God would be pleased with that.

Leviticus 10:1-2

1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.

What was “strange fire?” The priests were given specific instructions as to how they were to worship before the Lord. For some reason, Nadab and Abihu decided to violate these principles. This resulted in the Lord refusing to accept their worship. I’ve heard proponents of CHH say, “Well, that was more about their attitude of rebellion than how they worshiped.” Is it? There’s no Biblical context for that argument. The Bible never tells us their motives. The Bible had no issue pointing out the fact that Korah, who committed a similar sin, was punished specifically because of his rebellion. How do we know that Nadab and Abihu had rebellious intentions? There’s no way of knowing. What we DO know, without reading anything into the passage that isn’t there or making any assumptions, is that it is possible to attempt to worship God in a manner that He disapproves of and is unwilling to accept.

You may say, “I pray and worship to CHH and I feel God moving.” I don’t doubt that. God has spoken to me through all kinds of things. While reading a youth ministry article, I stumbled across a Katy Perry song that actually encouraged me when I was going through a trial. That doesn’t mean I consider the song to be something with which God would be pleased. The hungry soul will find God regardless. When I worked at a toy store in High School, I used to pray while stocking shelves. Britney Spears and NSYNC played in the background. I still felt God’s presence. Jesus simply said, “Seek and ye shall find.” He didn’t say, “Seek, and if you do everything my way, ye shall find.” He’s as close as the mention of His name, regardless of our surroundings.

Furthermore, there are spirits connected with music. Not just the lyrics, but the music itself. Science tells us this. Ignoring studies of rock and rap supposedly having negative effects on plants and animals (though enough of the studies have been done by reputable scientists that I believe there is some validity to it), it is also commonly understood by the scientific community that music (even absent of lyrics) can be done to encourage people toward certain behaviors. For years, retail stores have used music to either encourage people to stay and shop longer or hurry up and leave because it’s closing time. Music was used by Nebuchadnezzar to inspire idolatry. Music was used by David to sooth Saul. Similarly, there are studies that demonstrate that music can aide or hinder digestion. Once again, many of these are done by legitimate scientists, done in controlled settings.

There are certain types of music that promote aggression and rebellion. Not simply the lyrics…the music itself. Science shows that rock and rap music can have that influence on people.

I know some will argue that I’m off base, that they’ve never felt aggression after listening to heavy rock or rap. I’m sure that’s true, just as some people are more susceptible to the cold, some people get sick more easily than others, some people get drunk with less alcohol than others, etc. Just because it’s never affected you that way does not make the science incorrect. Science is science….whether it fits our worldview or not. I still haven’t gotten over the idea that Pluto isn’t a planet…but scientifically speaking, it’s not. The fact that I’ll always consider it a planet does not change that.

Let’s also consider cultural implications. Let me begin this part by saying that, professionally, I have served as the chair of an Employee Resource Group for my previous company. I’ve worked directly for and with my former employer’s diversity department on a number of issues. Although we focused on healthcare disparity, as an Employee Resource Group, we also worked very closely on issues of employee discrimination and cultural expression. Please take my word for it…I’m quite culturally competent.

Now, that’s not to say I’m a diversity expert. No matter how much I study Black culture, for instance (and I have), I’m not black. I’ll never know what it’s like to be black, first hand. There are things about that culture I simply cannot and will not ever understand, not for a lack of desire, but for a lack of context.

Having said all of that, the cultural impacts of CHH are important. There is a particular culture associated with hip-hop. It’s rampant in students of all racial backgrounds, but it’s foothold is strongest in the black community. The hip-hop culture is largely associated with aggressive violence, illicit drug use, thug life, and rampant sex. The lyrics of the songs promote those things, the artists live them out, and teenagers eat them up.

In a desire to reach urban youth, some Christian artists have reached into the genre of music to make a connection. I do not doubt the sincerity of some of these artists. Although certainly some of these artists are “Christian” artists because they can’t cut it secularly, the same could be said of almost every Christian genre of music. Additionally, I do believe there are some CHH artists that are absolutely in it for the right reason and feel that it is a conduit to reach unchurched masses through stylistic elements that already resonate with them.

Again, having never been a part of that culture, there may be some validity to the approach. I’m not here to debate that.

I do believe the genre can be very dangerous for churched students.

First of all, the motives of the artists doesn’t in and of itself validate the method. I don’t question Joel Olsteen and Rob Bell’s motives; however, I don’t ascribe to many of the doctrines they propagate. I would never encourage my students to read their books. It could lead to confusion.

Although CHH artists at times present a strongly Christian message, the method is concerning. They maintain the same aggressive, in-your-face stylistic elements as their secular counterparts. Their appearance and mannerisms closely mirror them, as well. As a matter of fact, if you didn’t know better, you would have a difficult time determining their Christianity by looking at them. In one particular CHH video I viewed, the artists were driving expensive cars, flashing “Christian” tattoos, and dancing similarly to worldly artists. Certainly, they are free of the lewd, trashy filth that permeates every secular hip-hop video out there (and I ABSOLUTELY commend them for that), but is eliminating the obvious filth while leaving the appearance of that lifestyle wise?

2 Corinthians 6:15-18

15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

We are commanded to come out from the world and be separate. Are these artists living lifestyles that are distinctly separate? Or is their lifestyle like the cross tattoo on their forearms…an attempt to live in two different worlds?

You may say, “Hey, wait a minute; there are CCM artists and even gospel artists that are just as bad.” Absolutely! I don’t advocate for them at all. I’ve found myself rejecting many artists that I formerly enjoyed listening to because their lifestyles were too worldly for me to endorse. I’m not saying they have to be “Apostolic.” I’m just saying that, upon meeting them, it ought to be obvious they are Christian.

Some may say, “How do you expect to reach people in the hip-hop culture without CHH? That’s the music they’re into. They aren’t going to abandon their music.” So…what about extremely heavy metal? Where they’re thrashing around and screaming and you can’t even understand them? Do we need a Christianized version of THAT to reach people into that music? IS there even a Christian version of that? In High School, I asked several of my friends who weren’t in church their thoughts on “Screamo” Christian and CHH their thoughts. Almost unilaterally, their response was “If I wanted to listen to Jesus music, I’d listen to Jesus music. I’m not interested in listening to bad screamo/rap music.” Clearly, this was an unscientific poll. I’m sure there are some who have been touched and helped by these approaches. However, do these styles, long-term, lead to a life of separation? They may for some. But I can see clear danger in it.

The power of the Holy Ghost is a great equalizer. I’ve had students come out of the hip-hop culture. I watched as the first few services they laughed at the music and the lyrics. They especially found hymns amusing. However, as the services progressed, they felt something. The preaching touched them. They went to the altars and prayed. These same students actively participate in worship services now. They’ve learned how to respond to the Spirit when it moves. They’ll cry and weep in the altar to the same songs they used to mock. These songs may not be their style…but they’ve fallen in love with Jesus. We reached them without hip-hop.

Even mainstream Christianity isn’t sure about CHH. Just as is the case with Christian screamo/heavy metal, it’s difficult to find CHH on Christian airwaves. CCM stations won’t play it because it’s offensive to many Christians. They have to have their own stations. While the popularity of these stations is rising, it’s a slow ascent. If mainstream Christianity has its reservations, it would be wise for Apostolics to carefully consider whether it is Spiritually healthy for our students or not.

Finally, there is evidence of strong Satanic influence in Christian metal and CHH. PLEASE understand…I’m NOT saying ALL CHH artists. I’m simply saying the evidence is there in the genre. First, there is Satanic symbolism that at times appear in artwork used by some of these artists. Additionally, SOME CHH music actually does not meet the literal definition of music. Music, by definition, contains melody, rhythm, and harmony. Many CHH songs do not contain any sense of melody or harmony (again, not all); the only element present is rhythm. Just as a word is not a sentence (rather a component of a sentence), a rhythm is not a song (rather a component of a song). No one would play a “C” chord and call that music. It’s not music; it’s just a chord. Together with other chords it becomes music. By textbook definition, then, many rap songs are not music, but rather rhythmic entertainment. In pagan worship, it is common practice to have short, repetitive themes in the “music,” which is intended to drive the “worshiper” into a trance-like state. Many of these elements remain in several CHH songs.

I know that’s a lot to read. You may be feeling a myriad of different emotions at this point. Let me close by reminding you of a few things:

1. I’m NOT saying CHH is evil; only that it is dangerous. This is why I would never encourage my students to listen to it, and why I don’t listen to it myself.

2. These are simply MY opinions. It’s MY viewpoint. I understand that you may not agree with some of the points I’ve made. You may feel I’ve used some of these scriptures out of context, or that I’m making the wrong applications. You are welcome to believe that, and you may be equally correct in your assessment. I’m NOT stating my opinions in these areas are infallible.

3. My point in writing this was NOT to sway you to my way of thinking; it was simply to point out that, whether you agree with me or not, there are well-reasoned, logical arguments that can be made from a scriptural, historical, scientific, and cultural vantage point that support opposition to CHH. If you want to throw up your hands and call me names, deciding that my arguments are stupid and I’m simply some backwoods hillbilly with no cultural sensitivity, so be it. We probably wouldn’t agree on much of anything in life if you can only see me that way.

4. I believe CHH is a matter of Christian Liberty. Again, I feel it’s dangerous, not evil. We are in the last days of the church era. We are at war. The clock is ticking, and our commission is to win as many people to Christ as possible before the trumpet blows. Sometimes, in war, desperate times call for desperate tactics. If you feel, prayerfully, that CHH is the best weapon you have against what Satan is trying to do in the lives of your students, by all means use it. That’s between you and God. I only ask that you not judge me for having my own concerns.

Thanks for taking the time to read. May God richly bless you as you endeavor to reach a dying generation with the message of Christ.

An Unexpected Journey

At the time, we thought it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. As time progressed, we realized it was THE hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.

All we ever wanted to be was Student Pastors. We led a large youth group. We were bi-vocational, but we never felt underprivileged. We got to see God do some amazing things through us with Youth Ablāz. We saw doors open for us that we never thought would have been possible. We never really thought all that much of ourselves…but all the sudden, we were launched into arenas of Student Ministry that we couldn’t even have dreamed of.

Then, we felt God leading us to let it all go.

We had no idea what He was doing. We thought we were heading to a new Student Ministry opportunity. Maybe, after all this time, we were going to have an opportunity to go full-time, or at least part-time. Certainly all the successes we had realized were leading us to new dimensions of Student Ministry. As a matter of fact, we had opportunities lined up to try out for several churches. Then, God placed something in our spirit that we didn’t expect.

I was preparing to go to Men’s Conference. As I was getting ready to leave, I felt the Lord impress on me that His will for us may be outside of the opportunities we were exploring. At Men’s Conference, while our District Superintendent, Bro. CP Williams, was speaking to the ministers, I heard God speaking loud and clear:

“I want you to plant a church.”

We began praying about several locations. Finally, we settled on a community near where we live. This community is the fastest-growing area of Clay County. There are nearly 20,000 people in this area. There is a hospital going in, which will only bring more growth to the community. The closest Apostolic church for many people in this area is 30-45 minutes away. This past Monday, July 8th, we met our District Board, and were approved.

My wife and I are officially planting a church in Middleburg, FL.

Certainly, there’s an element of nervousness. We’ve never started a church before. We’ve never pastored before. We have no real contacts in the area. We do, however, know for sure this is the will of God. We have the support of our pastors, and we have the support of our home church (we are beginning as a daughter work). There’s not enough time to get into all of the miracles we have already seen since Monday. We strongly believe God is for us, and if He is…who can be against us?

So you may wonder…what about Student Ministry? Student Ministry continues to be a deep passion of ours. We will continue to serve on our District Youth Team as long as the great pastors of Section 3 continue to vote for us. We also will continue to make ourselves available as much as possible to preach youth events and work with local Student Ministries. Even as our focus shifts to planting a church, we hope to continue to bless any students we have the opportunity to serve.

We ask for only one thing from you; we ask for your prayers. We feel the weight of reaching a city that is in darkness. We’re praying for God to open doors and lead us to hungry souls, and would like you to pray the same.

This may be an unexpected journey, but it’s an exciting one. We’re ready to win people to God. We’re going to reach Middleburg, in Jesus’ name!

Some Things I Wish I Had Known Part 4: Only the 10 Commandments are Set in Stone

Reaching back almost a decade for this one…

I like rules.

Rules provide structure. They provide discipline. They provide a clear delineation between “right” and “wrong.” They tell you which way to go. I write curriculum for a living for a large health insurance company. The modules I build teach people how to do their jobs. It’s Standard Operating Procedures and workflow documents that help me do this. If there were no “rules” to the business, there’d be no way to build instruction.

Of course, though…every time there’s a rule, there’s a consequence.

In business, consequences are simple. You are supposed to do your job a certain way. There are guidelines for conduct. Violation of these guidelines is subject to specific outcomes. Every workplace has some variation of this system…strike one, you’re verbally corrected, strike two, you’re written up, strike three you’re out the door. It’s fairly black and white.

Starting in Junior High all those years ago, my wife and I understood the need for rules. After all, have you BEEN in a room with 15 middle-schoolers before?? It can get chaotic very fast. We also understood that rules needed consequences or they were worthless. We set very clear rules.

  1. Pay attention
  2. Keep your hands to yourself
  3. Respect others
  4. Keep your shoes on (yes, that was an actual rule…and for a good reason!!)

The list went on. I don’t exactly remember what all was included, but I remember some of the consequences.

  1. Warning
  2. Conference with the Sunday School Superintendent
  3. Sent downstairs

The rules were good rules (especially the shoe one). The consequences were logical. There was one problem though: the consequences were set in stone.

There was a new convert in our class. She was full of all of the energy and and excitement any new convert brings. She was a worshipper, and the first one in the altars. Her enthusiasm was contagious! Unfortunately, she also had a problem with talking in church.

My wife addressed it with her a couple of times. When it seemed she wasn’t taking us seriously enough, we upped the ante: we made her sit with us during church.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed to even admit that! I don’t think I have to tell you that we didn’t see the same level of response from her that service. She sat there most of the night, looking like she couldn’t wait for church to be over. Thankfully, the Youth Pastor picked up on what happened.

He pulled me aside after church. He asked me what was going on, and when I explained it, he only replied with, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I think you noticed a difference in her tonight…and I’m not sure that’s what you wanted.”

He was right! The fact is, rules are black and white, but people are shades of gray. Where would any of us be if God had a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” program. We still have rules and guidelines, but we learned that only the 10 Commandments are set in stone. Here are some principles for student discipline we’ve learned to live by:

Build rapport before an issue ever arises. Make no mistake, the title “Student Pastor” or “Youth Worker” does not typically endow upon you the immediate awe of your students. If you are to be effective leading your students, they must GIVE you permission to speak into their lives; you can’t force it. Sure, you can force people to follow rules, but if the relationship isn’t there, you can’t truly shape their wold view. Build a connection with your students so when they DO mess up (and all of them, at some point, will) you can build on that connection instead of building a wall.

Always correct in private, when possible. Sure, if a student is jumping up and down on a table (hey, we’ve done Jr High Ministry, we understand!), correction must be swift and to the point. Most of the time, though, you’ll get much further with a student if you pull them aside where they won’t feel the need to demonstrate their dominance in front of their peers.

Never, ever, argue with a student. The minute you start to argue, you’ve lost. “I saw you kiss her behind the church; I want to talk about it.” “I didn’t kiss her!” “Yes you did, I saw it.” “No I didn’t!” “Are you calling me a liar?” “No, I’m just saying I didn’t do it!” All of the power is now in the student’s hands. You’ve lost control of conversation, and the burden of proof is on you. Let’s try again: “I saw you kiss her behind the church; I want to talk about it.” “I didn’t kiss her.” “Look, I know what I saw. We’re not going to argue about this. Besides, even if you WEREN’T kissing, was it appropriate for you to be alone behind the church with a young lady in the dark?” Much different conversation in that scenario.

Respect the student. A condescending tone never helps anyone. You don’t have to talk down to someone to show you’re the one in control. There’s a big difference between, “How many times have I told you to no drinks on the van?” and “You know what the rule is about drinks, right? I need you to throw that out before you climb on, please.” Remember the words of Solomon in Proverbs 15:1… “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

Ask questions. We have a lot of wisdom to give our students. If we TELL them, though, it will always be OUR idea. The trick is to ask them questions that will lead them to the right conclusion. Then, it’s THEIR idea. For example, I can say, “You don’t need to listen to that kind of music; it’s wrong.” Or, I could try this approach: “I heard the music you were listening to; let’s talk about it. Is it Christian? Does it glorify God? What makes you want to listen to it? Those reasons you listed, is that appealing to our flesh, or our spirit? What happens when we feed our flesh? So is it wise to listen to it?” You’re leading the student to the same conclusion, but you’re taking a much better path.

Always err on the side of mercy. There are some issues that are black and white. Yes, unfortunately I’ve had to tell students that they were not welcome on certain church trips because of very serious issues that arose that made bringing that student a serious risk. However, thankfully, most issues are not that serious. I’ve learned to err on the side of mercy. If my God can forgive me the 3948530th time I’ve done something, certainly I can forgive my student for the 4th. Mercy restores; judgment condemns. Is there a chance that student could fail again? Sure. But there’s also a chance that the 5th time was the charm, and I’m willing to take that chance!

Remember that we should always see discipline as one of our many opportunities to strengthen our connection with students and help them grow. It’s not a chance to throw our weight around or “prove” to the rest of the students that “I’m in charge.” No, all we’ll prove is that we’re more interested in discipline than we are discipleship. After all, I’d want the same for me.

Some Things I Wish I Had Known Part 3: The Principle of the Line

“Why?”

If I had a dollar for every time my 4-year-old asked me that, I’d be able to retire before she turned 5.

It’s an essential part of childhood. She’s talking in the world around her. Her little brain has not developed the ability to think analytically yet. When we get in the car to go grocery shopping and she asks, “Why?” she legitimately doesn’t know. Although it can be painful to try to explain to a preschooler the necessity of every daily routine, it’s important to the learning process. Later in life, she will be able to build on these concrete concepts. She’ll use them to process her world.

I will admit, though, sometimes after about the 729430857th “Why?” I snap. “Because that’s just the way it is!” I reply, exasperated. Often she accepts that, realizing she’s taken it just a little too far…but the fact remains that I’m not helping her when I do that.

Equally annoying, sometimes, is when a student asks, “Why?” Sometimes it seems as if they’re just grasping for a loophole to get away with something.

“Why can’t I watch movies with cursing? I don’t curse! Why is that different than hearing cursing in the mall? Why is it a big deal if it’s only one or two curse words? Why does Sis So-and-So do it, but I can’t?”

Or my favorite… “But my friend from Fill-in-the-Blank’s church is allowed to do it. Why aren’t we?”

I mentioned before I was raised in a military home. In the military, there is no time to question orders on the field of battle. To take the time to answer a question could result in the loss of your life, or the loss of other lives. My Dad, like most military officers, often took the same approach with his children. As a result, I was raised to do what was asked of me, even when I didn’t understand.

Without even realizing it, I brought that same mentality into my work with students. At times, they would come to me with sincere questions about their faith. This was especially true of traditions of separation that our church has maintained that are not necessarily Bible doctrines. They’re lines, and (in my opinion) they’re logical lines…but they’re not Bible lines.

Some of these standards were required for students to be used on the platform or attend certain trips. As the Youth Pastor, it was my responsibility to help make sure these guidelines were being followed; I was supposed to echo the voice of my Pastor.

I took the wrong approach.

When I saw a young person struggling with a standard, I made assumptions. Instead of teaching my students how to contextualize these standards and helping them understand the principle behind the line, I jumped to a conclusion.

“You have a rebellion issue. You wouldn’t be asking these questions or living this way if your heart was right.”

Ouch!

Although I have found that this is certainly true at times, I’ve learned that most of the time students just need to know! They are exploring their faith. They are coming to conclusions about why they believe what they believe. They are searching for answers. None of us would expect to be held to a standard we didn’t understand…so why do we ask that of our students? The unfortunate thing I learned with some of them is this: if I don’t help them process these questions, someone else with less positive intentions will. So here’s some things I’ve learned:

Teach principles, not lines. The pulpit or teaching podium is not the place to bully someone into following a list of rules. Certainly there are times when issues must be publicly addressed…but address the principle! Instead of “You shouldn’t be watching R-rated movies,” a better approach would be, “The Bible tells us not to put any wicked thing before our eyes; that means if we shouldn’t DO it, we shouldn’t WATCH it.”

Don’t turn a tradition into a doctrine. In an all-boys session at Youth Service, I was asked why we ask our young men to be clean-shaven. I was very candid, and stated, “The Bible never tells us we have to shave.” I explained that in our culture, facial hair in many settings is viewed negatively. I sited studies that noted that, in many situations, a person who is clean-shaven is viewed more favorably than a person with facial hair. Then I explained the blessings of obedience. The fact is, they’re not going to hell if they don’t shave their face! To treat them like they would, when there’s no Bible support for that, would be wrong.

Deal with lifestyle issues on an individual basis. Sometimes a student’s seeming disregard for a Christ-like lifestyle can become a distraction to the youth group and, in worst cases, can even result in others being led astray. I’ve reacted at times by addressing the issue to the entire youth group, thinking it would keep from singling someone out. What I found was all eyes immediately went to the person who was the “problem,” and that person felt even more singled out. I’ve learned it’s much better to pull that student aside and have a heart-to-heart. Approach it from a loving perspective. Don’t lecture; listen! Often we have no idea what the root of a student’s struggle is. I’ve learned that 90% of the time it’s NOT because they have no desire to live for God. We catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Listen with the intent to guide rather than lecturing with the intent to discipline. Because really…even if you bully them into following a rule, what have you gained?

WIll you encounter students who, despite your best efforts, are not willing to conform to a Christian lifestyle, who constantly battle Biblical and Pastoral guidelines? Absolutely. But we create a much better culture when we concentrate on the “Why?” instead of the “What?”