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If I were the Devil…

This was quoted in the sermon last Sunday evening.  “If I were the devil” by Paul Harvey.

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If I were the Devil, 

I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I would have one-third of the real estate and four-fifths of the population , but I wouldn’t be happy until I had the ripest apple on the tree. So I’d set about, however necessary, to take over the United States. 

I’d subvert the churches first; I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.” 

To the youth I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” 

I would convince them that man made God instead of the other way around. 

I would confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is “square.” 

In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. 

And to the old I would teach to pray after me: “Our Father, who art in Washington…” 

And then I’d get organized; I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that everything else would appear dull and uninteresting. 

I’d threaten television with dirtier movies and vice versa. 

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could; I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction; I’d tranquilize the rest with pills. 

If I were the Devil I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. 

If I were the Devil I’d encourage schools to refine young intellects but neglect to discipline emotions: let those run wild. Before you know it, you’d have to have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every school house door. Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing. 

With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to do what I construe as against God and in favour of pornography. 

I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get the preachers to say, “She’s right.” Thus, I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the Houses of Congress. 

And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys, girls, and church money. 

If I were the Devil I would make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle. 

If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give it to those who want it, until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. 

What’ll you bet that I couldn’t get whole States to promote gambling as the way to get rich? 

I would caution against extremes: in hard work, in patriotism, and in moral conduct. 

I would convince the youth that marriage is old-fashioned, but swinging is more fun; that what you see on television is the way to be; and thus I could undress you in public and I could lure you into bed where there are diseases for which there is no cure. 

Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labour camps. 

In other words, if I were the Devil, I’d just keep doing what he’s doing.

What is Family-Based Youth Ministry?

I have enjoyed reading Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries.  Before writing one of my book recommendations I am posting a three part summary of the book.  The first part HERE dealt with the need for family-based youth ministry.  The second part below deals with what family-based youth ministry actually is which is covered in the second half of the book, chapters 7 to 12.

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What is Family-Based Youth Ministry? 

Chapter 7: It only makes sense The Vision of Family-Based Youth Ministry

Researchers have discovered that young people who grew up in church attending the worship service and not Sunday School were much more likely to be involved in church as an adult than those young people who had attended only Sunday School without attending the worship service. 

The real power for faith formation is not in the youth programme but in the family and the extend family of the church.  Family-Based youth ministry recognises this, and these two things a priority. 

Priority 1: Empower Parents 

By supporting them and equip them to pass on their faith to their teenagers as effectively as possible. 

Priority 2: Equip the extended family of the church 

By providing the teenagers with extended Christian family, which is done by allowing them to experience the extended family of the church community.  This is especially beneficial for those who don’t come from Christian homes. 

These two principles can be implemented with any model of youth ministry.  Churches need to be intentional in choosing its youth ministry model and then undergirding it with family-based programming. 

The primary goal of family-based youth ministry is to equip young people to grow toward mature Christian adulthood. 

Chapter 8: Beyond the Cleaves The Challenge and Opportunity of Ministry to Nontraditional Families 

What every teenager needs in order to growing in Christ (faith nurturing family and extended faith nurturing family) is especially true for those from non-traditional families. 

There are many types of non-traditional families: Divorce, single parent, blended families and stepparents, with chemical dependency, with aging grandparents, in financial crisis, with both parents working. 

We are unlikely to be able to reach all these families and their needs specifically, but we can provide a consistent personal ministry to each teenager.  The extended family of the church can support for these families. 

Chapter 9: Walking the Tightrope Family-Based Youth Ministry and the Developmental Need for Independence 

There are two needs with regards to faith formation that teenagers have: 

Need for continuity – faith community to be involved in, a ‘family friendly’ youth ministry. 

Need for individuation – helping young people establish their own faith identities. 

Family-Based youth ministry is not about abandoning traditional forms of youth programming (which deals with the need for individuation) as much as it is about building the foundation of solid connections with mature Christian adults (which deals with the need for continuity). 

Chapter 10: A Different Gospel Youth Culture comes to Church 

Three of the dominant characteristics of our culture are in opposition to the Christian gospel.

1) Individualism – Christian discipleship happens in the context of Christian community.  Although we do want our teenagers to become independent in Christ, that is they stand on their own faith.  

2) Consumerism – Christian discipleship is not about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain and boredom.  Discipline is a key component.  If you build your youth ministry upon an entertainment model, the young people will be consumers and will move on when they get bored of it.  

3) Demand for success – Christian discipleship is not about treating God as the most efficient means to success in life.  It’s about learning to trust God during times of failure and suffering as well as times when everything is going well. 

Chapter 11: God Calling Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry 

When dependence on God’s grace is excluded from our thinking we end up trusting in human strategies.  All our systems are not enough to lead us to repentance and faith.  We can only support teenagers in the growth that only God can bring.  This means the best we can do is to work with God’s design for faith formation. 

God’s first provision is the family (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Sunday School and youth group is not a substitute for the spiritual training in the home.  The Sunday School movement began originally as outreach to unchurched poor children.  

God’s second provision is the Christian community.  God wants people connected to the community of faith.  Ideally every young person who makes a commitment to Christ should be eager to become part of a specific church.  The parent’s commitment to the community of faith should also hold them accountable for their faithfulness in the home. 

The Christian family is a tool for building faith and character in God’s children, but the family is not God and without His work will not be able bring any growth. 

Chapter 12: Making it work Implementing a Family-Based Youth ministry 

There are two main approaches to family-based youth ministry. 

1) Family ministry model - this aims to empower families and support the ministry that rightly belongs to families.  So churches employ a ‘families pastor’ whose role is to empower and equip parents to nurture their children in the Christian faith.  Programmes under this model might include divorce recovery, marriage enrichment, and parenting seminars.  One problem will always be the parents who do not and will not take the initiative of doing Christian nurture in the home. 

2) Youth ministry model – this aims to help young people come to maturity in Christ by accessing their family and the extending family of the church.  

There are two types of family-based programming. 

1) Uniquely family based events – such as parent/youth Sunday School classes, retreats. 

2) Exfamized events – taking a programme already in place and infusing it with parents and extended Christian family of adults.  If an event worked with your young people, try it with young people and parents together.

The Need for Family-Based Youth Ministry

I have enjoyed reading Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries.  Before writing one of my book recommendations I will post a three part summary of the book.  The first part below deals with what I’m calling the need for family-based youth ministry which covers the first 6 chapters of the book.

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The Need for Family-Based Youth Ministry 

Chapter 1: Something’s Wrong The Crisis in Traditional Youth Ministry

There is a crisis in youth ministry today.  The crisis is not getting teenagers to come to our youth meetings but rather that we have not been effective in leading our young people to mature Christian adulthood.  More teenagers are participating in our programs but they are not growing up into adults who participate in church.

One of the dangers in youth ministry is that youth workers and churches evaluate their success or failure by the wrong numbers.  They spend huge amounts of effect and energy getting more teenagers to participate while ignoring most of the ones that God has already given them.

Chapter 2: Is Anybody Out There? The Growth of Teenage Isolation

The main cause of this current crisis is the way that our culture and our churches have systematically isolated young people from the very relationships that are most likely to lead them to maturity.  Young people grow in maturity generally, and maturity in Christ particularly, by being around those who exhibit such maturity themselves.

9 cultural shifts have taken place which has increasingly separated children and young people from the world of adults (taken from Urie Bronfenbrenner). 

  1. Father’s vocational choices that remove them from the home for lengthy periods of time.
  2. An increase in the number of working mothers.
  3. A critical escalation in the divorce rate.
  4. A rapid increase in single-parent families.
  5. A steady decline in the extended family.
  6. The evolution of the physical environment of the home (family rooms, playrooms and master bedrooms).
  7. The replacement of adults by the peer group.
  8. The isolation of children from the work world.
  9. The insulation of schools from the rest of society.

There are now today, less opportunities for children and young people to be with adults in the neighbourhood, schools, social activities, families and church.  Hanging out with friends or partying in an adult-free home has become the norm for the teenager’s social life.

Church is possibly where youth are segregated the most from the world of adults.  Youth programmes keep them separate from the rest of the church.  Even when adults and young people do worship together, they sit in peer groups – adults with adults, youth with youth etc.

Chapter 3: The Developmental Disaster The Impact of Teenage Isolation

There are a number of things this isolation of teenagers from adults brings:

1) Teenagers won’t learn the skill required of mature adults.  Maturation occurs as less mature have repeated opportunities to observe, dialogue, and collaborate with the more mature.  This does not happen in a peer centred Sunday School class. 

Youth culture keeps young people in youth rather than moving them towards adulthood.  Young people who sit together in church tend to act like children.  Young people who sit with parents, or who are divided amongst the rest of the congregation imitate the behaviour of the adults they are with.

2) The media now plays a more powerful role in the formation of teenagers values .

3) Teenagers are severely limited in their ability to think critically, leaving them easily swayed by what feels right at the moment.

4) Peer influence correlates closely with the rise in rebellion, resistance, chemical abuse, and promiscuity. 

Chapter 4: Sitting on a Gold Mine The Power of the Nuclear Family

What happens in the youth group has miniscule impact compared to what children learn on a day to day basis as they do the everyday things of life in and with their families.  The best long term youth leaders are parents themselves because they ultimately have the greatest interests in their kids.

Research has found a number of things to support this: It’s found that parents remain the single most important influence in the development of a teenager’s personality.  It’s found that parents who talk about faith and invite their children in serving alongside them can double and sometimes triple their children’s chances of living out their faith as adults.

This shows how important it is to equip fathers and mothers to play a more active role in the religious education of their children.  Parents play a role second only to the Holy Spirit in building the spiritual foundation of their children’s lives.

However, it’s also important to remember that the parent’s power to build up is matched by their power to cause harm.

Chapter 5: The Critical Care Unit The Peculiar Crisis in Today’s Christian Family

There are some barriers to involving more parents in youth ministry.

Here are three of the biggest:

1) Parents are not mature Christian adults themselves.

2) Parents are feeling helpless when it comes to providing for the Christian nurture of their own children.

3) Parents are victims of their own schedule – they are too busy.

Chapter 6: Stacking the Stands The Power of the Extended Christian Family

Every teenager needs an extended family of Christian adults – adults who can be a part of the cloud of witnesses that cheers them on.  Church is where teenagers are exposed to these adults.  An extended Christian family is a community of believers who affirm and encourage growth toward Christian maturity.  Only church and family can provide Christian nurture from birth to old age – even death.

The extended Christian family can be equally as powerful in faith formation as parents, especially for those who come from non-Christian homes.  Research has found that when person reaches mature Christian adulthood they often will point to the influence of a godly parent or Christian adult who modelled what being an adult Christian was all about.  It’s important that teenagers are give opportunities to build connections with Christian adults.

When the church and family abandon their role of helping young people navigate passage to adulthood, the teenager becomes more susceptible to influence of friends, music and media.

Often it is the stronger youth programmes that weaken the chances that young people will remain in the church, because participation in the youth programme takes the place of participation in the church.

Four types of events to reach non-Christians

I like what Richard Perkins has done in his post on evangelistic events.  He has helpfully highlighted what the four main types of events that churches run to reach non-Christians are, and given two reasons why churches have a range of events in the first place.  Read the full post HERE.

Four types of events that a church can run:

1. Non gospel event – playing Frisbee in the park.

2. Cultural event – such as a quiz night with a short talk.

3. Apologetics event – where someone gives a talk to address a specific topic or objection to the Christian faith, like “Where’s God when bad things happen?”

4. Gospel event – an event at which a clear explanation of the implications of the death and resurrection of Christ takes place, with a call to repentance and faith.

Two reasons why churches put on a range of events:

a) They’re a concession to a lack of maturity as a church.

b) They’re a concession to a lack of interest in the world.

The Glory of the Cross

What a wonderful little booklet ‘The Glory of the Cross’ by James Philip is!  With the main content of the book less than 30 pages, it can easily be read in one sitting, although it’s definitely worth taking your time and really thinking about what has been written.  

cross1

Sinclair Ferguson is right when he writes in his foreword: “From time to time a publication appears, of modest size and author, its value greater than a whole bookshelf of contemporary bestsellers.  The Glory of the Cross falls in this category.”  From start to finish we have are taken to heart of the gospel and are reminded about how wonderful the cross of Christ is. 

James Philip takes us on a journey through the events of Jesus’ final 24 hours.  Starting in the upper room as Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover meal we then moved to his betrayal as Judas visits the high priest.  We then are taken to the Garden of Gethsemane which is followed by Jesus’ trial and the cross itself.  But more than just telling us the story, we are told the meaning behind the events and how this should lead us to worship and evangelism if we are gripped by the truth of the gospel. 

As the book closes we are remind of two important truths.  Firstly, that the cross must never been left out of our gospel message: “Without the cross there would be no gospel.”  And secondly, that all who bow before the cross find salvation: “The gospel transcends cultures and political divisions; it is for all, paying no regard to education or to wealth.  What was true of the centurion that afternoon is also true of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60).  There could be no greater contrast between these two men: one a rough soldier, the other a rich Pharisee and counsellor of the Jews – yet at the cross they are both on the same level, and both found salvation.” 

I definitely agree with what the author says at the start about this book: “Lend it to friends; talk about it; but more importantly, let it lead you back into the scriptures – to reflect on the cross, and to rejoice in all that Christ’s death achieved.” 

Do the sensible thing and get a copy and marvel at what Jesus has done for you! 

‘The Glory of the Cross’ is available to buy HERE

Some more quotes from the book: 

Do Hard Things

There are many books out there for young people to read that will encourage their Christian growth.  But the majority of them weren’t written with young people specifically in mind.  When it comes to good books specifically written for Christian young people, I haven’t found very many.  But one I have found is ‘Do Hard Things’ by Alex and Brett Harris (younger brothers of Josh, the guy who writes the dating books). 

This is a book worth giving to every teenager in your youth group.  This is a book worth recommending to parents of teenagers. 

dht 

Do Hard Things is “a challenging book for teens by teens who believe our generation us ready for a change.”  This book is all about the way they believe this change will take place, which is by teenagers rebelling against low expectations or to put it another way – Do Hard Things. 

The book is split into three sections. 

In the first section titled: Rethinking the Teen Years, they “call into question the modern notion of the teen years as a time to goof off.”  They note that the teenager has been around for less than 70 years, before that people were either children or adults.  Even though the term adolescence literally means to grow up, the reality is that adolescence “allows, encourages and even trains young people to remain childish for much longer than necessary.”  Adolescence is a concept alien to the Bible.  The call in the Bible is for young adults (our modern day teenagers) to stop being childish and grow up and fulfil God’s purpose for you at this age of your life. 

In the second section they list 5 hard things, 5 types of opportunities that God gives.  These are: 

  • Things that take you outside your comfort zone so that you have to take risks to grow.
  • Things that go beyond what’s expected or required that encourages you to pursue excellence.
  • Things that are too big to accomplish alone that encourage you to dream big and work alongside others to achieve the goal.
  • Things that don’t earn an immediate pay off encouraging you to persevere and stay faithful.
  • Things that challenge the cultural norm so that you take a stand for what is right. 

As Christian teenagers step out and do these hard things, an impact will be made in the world.  Their vision is for “young people who are passionate about growing in Christlikeness and sharing the gospel (character), who care deeply about skill, strategy, and creativity (competence), and who are committed to finding and working with a community of like-minded rebulutionaries (collaboration) to bring hope and healing to a lost and hurting world.” 

In the third and final section of the book the story of some of the young people who stepped up to this challenge are told.  It’s thrilling to hear of what teenagers can and have accomplished and this presents a challenge for the teenagers in our churches and youth groups. 

The idea of doing hard things is not just for people who believe the Bible, but as they conclude “we would never have written this book or encouraged you to do hard things if we didn’t have a Bible-shaped, gospel-driven view of life.”  They then go on to remind us that Jesus has done the hardest thing of all when He died in our place and paid for our sins. 

Get this book for the teenagers you know and pray that with God’s help they will step up to the challenge and ‘Do Hard Things’. 

Do Hard Things is available to buy HERE

Check out Alex and Brett Harris’ website The Rebelution HERE.

Family Driven Faith

There are many books on parenting out there, but if you were going to buy just one, Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr. is certainly one that Christian parents should consider getting.  You may not agree with everything Baucham says but it will certainly challenge you to take seriously God’s call to do what you can with His help to raise children who walk with God.  Below I have written a summary of what the book is about and engaged a little with the bits I disagreed with. 

fdf

In the opening chapter of ‘Family Driven Faith’ Baucham assesses the current situation, which is that so-called Christian children are walking away from the faith when they reach adulthood, and asking why that is.  The answer given is that most of these so-called Christian children are not Christians, and that many Christian parents have yet to realise that their primary goal in parenting is their children’s walk with the Lord.  Baucham then calls Christian parents to do something about this trend by pointing them to the help in raising children which is found in the Bible, particularly Deuteronomy 6.  The principles found in Deuteronomy 6 are then discussed in chapters 2-8. 

Chapter 2 looks at applying Deuteronomy 6:4 in our parenting by being committed to God and living lives that honour Him.  Five ways in which we can do this (based on Ephesians 5:15-21) is by watching our walk (being good examples to our children); by being good stewards of the time (realising that we only get one chance to raise our kids); by understanding God’s Will (our children don’t belong to us, they belong to God so God’s Will for our children should be our top concern); by constantly yielding to God’s Spirit (which we do when we acknowledge God whenever we can); and by ordering our relationships by the book (which means making marriage the priority relationship in the home).     

Onto Deuteronomy 6:5 in chapter 3, where the big principle is that if we learn to love God we will learn to love period.  This requires us getting our definition of love right.  The biblical definition of love is that love is an act of the will (it’s a choice) accompanied (not led) by emotion that leads to action (it’s proved by our efforts) on behalf of its object.  This understanding of love is transferrable to all our relationships. 

In chapter 4 looks at Deuteronomy 6:5 and the need for our children to do not only what God’s says but also to submit their will to the will of God.  For this to happen, children need to be taught to think biblically because they act on what they believe.  Five keys areas our children need to be taught to think biblically in is about God, man, truth, knowledge and ethics.    

The focus of chapter 5 is the application of the first half Deuteronomy 6:7 and the need of getting our children into the word of God if we want our children to think biblically.  As Baucham points out: “We must get our kids into the Word of God if we intend to get the Word of God into our kids.”  The responsibility for doing this lies with the parents.  “You can impact your child’s faith-life by reading and teaching the Bible at home.  More importantly, God has entrusted and commissioned you (not the youth minister or the Sunday school teacher) with this awesome task.”  Three ways in which we can do this is by firstly, simply reading the Bible to our children.  Why?  Because the Bible is the very Word of God; it’s God’s primary tool in preparing us for a life of godliness and service; it’s an agent by which God conforms us to the very image of Christ, and it’s a change agent.  Secondly, by Q&A, spending time answering your children’s questions, and getting them to answer their own Bible questions.  Then thirdly, by getting them to read books that will encourage the development of biblical faith. 

Chapter 6 is all about applying the rest of Deuteronomy 6:7 and how we live the Word at home.  Baucham lists 3 phases.  Phase 1 is the discipline phase, the key aim of this phase is that children are taught to obey their parents, this means that they ‘do what they are told, when they are told, with a respectful attitude.  Phase 2 is the catechism phase.  “The goal of catechism is to impart biblical theology.  Through a series of questions and answers the child slowly learns what to believe and, more importantly, why.”  Then phase 3 is the discipleship phase which is about teaching children what to do with what they have learnt.  “Discipleship is the application of what we believe.  If our children do not know what we believe or why we believe it, they will have difficult time understanding why one lifestyle choice is superior to another.”  At this point Baucham, discusses the part education plays in discipleship making the point that state education ‘detracts rather than contributes to discipleship…limits the time we have to make disciples…does not teach a biblical worldview…does not teach them to love, know and obey God.’  For him this is a good argument for Christian parents to home school their children rather than send them to state schools. 

In Chapter 7 Baucham looks at some of the ways in which we can put Deuteronomy 6:9 into practice.  Ideas include have pictures and photo’s up which would direct their focus to God, playing songs of the faith in the home, have a special meal on Sundays.  But the prime way is family worship. 

Then in chapter 8, a warning is given about the pull of prosperity and how that can draw families away from God, and parents away from their all-important of raising their kids.  “God is not against your having things.  He is, however, against things having you.”   One of the concerns that Baucham has that both parents work fulltime not because they need to provide the essentials of life but so that they can be more prosperous and the effect this has on the raising of their children.  

On the whole everything Baucham says in chapter 1-8 I would agree with and is very helpful.  I appreciate his passion for parents taking responsibility for bringing their children up.  I like the biblical definition of love that he gives.  I agree that it is important for children to be taught a biblical worldview, and I think that he gives some helpful suggestions as to how this can be done.  One thing I thought was missing was a discussion about whether we are to understand the passage in Deuteronomy 6 differently now that we are living under the New Covenant.   Eric Lane explains in his book Special Children? that under the Old Covenant (when Deuteronomy 6 was written), children were brought up to live in a covenant community, whereas today, they are brought up under the New Covenant to live in the world.  I think this plays a part in thinking about the arguments for homeschooling (although like Baucham I am a home school dad!) 

In the final two chapters, the subject moves from the home to the church.  

In chapter 9 the question is asked: ‘If the Bible clearly gives parents the responsibility of discipling their children, what role does the church play in the process?’  This leads him to question the need for churches to have a youth ministry for three reasons.  1) There is no clear biblical mandate for it.  2) It can damage family dynamics as split the family up at church.  3) In America it does seem to be working (referring back to what he said in chapter 1).  Much of this is a reaction against parents who instead of discipling their children themselves, hand them over to the youth ministry to do this for them.  Baucham however, does except that the strongest argument for having a youth ministry is providing for kids who don’t have Christian parents although he would rather they be in church noting that “When kids are disciple and integrated into the Christian community, they tend to remain in the fold.”  

In chapter 10, Baucham then outlines that alternative way of doing church without the youth ministry which is the ‘family integrated church’.  The distinctives of a family integrated churches are that families worship together; there are no age-specific groups; evangelism and discipleship is done through the homes with men being held accountable for this; and the majority of parents home school.  The motivation behind these features is a keen desire to promote a biblical view of marriage and the family, family worship and discipleship, Christian education, and biblically qualified leadership. 

Once again I agree with much of what Baucham is saying.  I think his principles and motivation for saying what he does is spot on.  That said, I don’t agree fully with his application!  I believe that a youth (and kids) ministry can play an important function in working with and supporting parents as they seek with God’s help to raise their children.  I too, believe that it is important for families to worship together.  Three ways that the church I work for has tried to cultivate this is by firstly, having no age specific groups for children over 11 at the same time as our church services.  Secondly, having a family service once a month (and school holidays) when there is no children groups during the service.  Thirdly, by creating a culture where families sit together.  In addition I also believe that a biblical view of marriage and the family, family worship and discipleship, Christian education and biblically qualified leadership can be promoted without adopting the family integrated approach to doing church. 

To sum up: Family Driven Faith was a helpful and thought-provoking read.  I’d recommend that parents and church leaders get a copy to read and think through what is said, even if they don’t agree with everything Baucham says (homeschooling and family integrated church with no youth ministry I think will be probably the two biggest areas of disagreement that some may have).  Thank you Voddie Baucham Jr. for reminding me again about the need to do what it takes to raise children who walk with God. 

Family Driven Faith is available to buy HERE

For more to with Family Driven Faith, check out Voddie Baucham’s website HERE.

Shepherding all our people

Possibly my favourite talk that I heard last year was Stuart Olyott’s talk titled ‘Shepherding all our people’ from the Banner of Truth Leicester Minister’s Conference.  He was simply outstanding on the topic of pastoral care.  I’ve posted my notes from it below.  If you can find the audio of this talk anywhere, it’s definitely worth listening to!

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Shepherding all our people 

This is an area that none of us are doing very well in.  Our response to this message is not to say “I’ve got to do better!”  That’s a good response, but it should never be our first response.  Our first response should be to say “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”  The good news is that when we do this, the Father will “[feel] compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”  Our first response is ‘Father I have sinned’ and He will run and accept you. 

1. Biblical Foundations 

Two keys texts: Acts 20:28 & 1 Peter 5:2f. 

a) What does it means to shepherd? 

To look after people. 

Make sure that they are fed spiritually.  Lead them on the right track.  Keep them on the right track.  Carry the weak.  Bandage the bleeding.  Heal the ill.  Comfort the distressed.  Seek the wandering.  Protect every lamb and every sheep from all those wolves, most of which they can’t recognise. 

b) Who has to be shepherded? 

Everyone.  I have to shepherd every elder, and every elder has to shepherd me, the elders together are to shepherd those in the local church they oversee. 

c) Why do they have to be shepherded? 

Jesus Christ purchased a vast number of men and women, boys and girls, and He doesn’t intend to lose any one of them.  The Bible teaches the perseverance of the saints.  We are kept by the power of God through faith.  The principle means by which we are kept persevering is the life and ministry of the local church led by its pastors and elders.  This means the integrity of our pastoral work is key. 

d) How do they have to be shepherded? 

When did you last sit down and give serious thought to shepherding the flock? 

It’s hard work.  It’s sacrificial work.  It’s emotionally draining work.  It’s unselfish work.  It’s demanding work.  It’s work done with one eye on the future, when all this work will have been worth it. 

It’s not about laying down the rules for people, telling them what to do.  This has already been done by Jesus.  We lead the people of God by setting an example. 

For Christ’s sake we work hard, we work long, we work tenderly to look after every Christian in the church. 

2. What will all this mean in practice? 

a) You must know who is a sheep and who isn’t. 

Do they have a credible profession of faith?  Profession of faith is credible is the person has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Find out by asking them a question: Do you pray?  Why should God listen to you?  Those with a credible profession of faith will answer because of Jesus Christ and what He did for sinners.  But you won’t be able to ask that question if you don’t get close to people.  What is their attitude towards sin?  Does it distress them?  Do they have love for the brethren?  You can’t find out who is a sheep if you don’t get close to everybody. 

b) You must know each individual sheep. 

Do you know their names?  Next to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the name we love in the world the most is our own name.  Do you know where they live?  Do you know their family circumstances?  Could you go through a typical day in their lives?  Do you know what their temptations and joys are?  Do you know where they work and who they work with?  Do you know their cultural upbringing?  What language they speak at home?  Do you know what their temperament is like at home?  What their strengths and weaknesses are?  What their stage in grace is?  Their level of biblical literacy?  Doctrinal grasp?  Level of obedience?  Spiritual gifts? 

You have to get close to people and spend time with them to find these things out. 

c) You must take definite steps to make sure each sheep is looked after. 

  • Preaching 

Is your preaching accessible to all the sheep Christ has given you?  Can all your people understand it?  Is it what Al Martin called ‘Discriminatory Applicatory Preaching’?  Is your application as such that people then think that this word is for me?  A major part of pastoral work is done in the pulpit. 

  • Church 

Does your preaching teach the church what fellowship is?  Fellowship is my life wrapped up with theirs, and their life wrapped up in mine.  We need to encourage our people to understand this concept of a shared life.  Encourage people to spend time with each other.  Not all pastoral work can be done by the pastors.  Preach fellowship, live fellowship, example it. 

  • Eldership Meetings 

Do your eldership meeting start with the minutes?  A better way to start would be after a time of devotion around the Word and then prayer, to begin with the question: Is anyone causing us concern?  After this talk about the congregation in a systematic way, going down the list.  Talk about individuals, not broad categories of people.  Organise regular visiting to members.  Try and get an elder around to everyone every year.  Pray for the congregation together as elders. 

  • Yourself 

Do you pray for the sheep?  [One way to do this would be to buy a notebook, divide it into 5 sections labelled Monday to Friday.  Each section has 4 pages.  Page 1 is 1/5 of the members.  Page 2 is 1/5 of the adherers.  Page 3 is 1/5 of the church organisation.  Page 4 is own personal prayer needs.] 

Be the person of the place.  Be at the start of the different meetings that take place on the church premises.  

Necessary visits.  There are people who are ill who don’t feel comforted until you turn up.  When you hear of bereavement, stop what you’re doing and go straight to the family.  

Systematic visiting.  First time you visit, find out if they have a credible profession of faith.  Second time you visit, find out about their devotional life.  Third time you visit, find out about the serving them do or would like to do.  And so on. 

Hospitality.  Giving someone a temporary place in the family.  Have people round.  Keep an open home.  Be happy that people want to come and sit in your home. 

Be available.  Send out the right vibes all the time.  Why do pastors hide out in the vestry before the service?  Don’t you think that needs thinking about?  Welcome people in their seats.  Be around afterwards.  Sometimes don’t go to the front door, sit on the front row to chat with people. 

  • Other suggestions 

If there are a group of promising men give them training.  Create forums where people can ask questions about your teaching as you do it.  Sometimes let your pastoral visits determine what you preach. 

  • Don’t forget the thoughtful touches that show you care 

Give your complete attention to that person in front of you.  

A phone call, text, email, handwritten note.  Something that is sincere, spontaneous and short.  Spurgeon once wrote 500 of these a week. 

The pastor’s job is to love and teach, in that order!

Don’t Waste Your Teenage Years

“The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility.  They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now.” 

“The problem we have is with the modern understanding of adolescence that allows, encourages, and even trains young people to remain childish for much longer than necessary.  It holds us back from what we could do, from what God made us to do, and even from what we would want to do if we got out from under society’s low expectation.” 

“The saddest part is that, as the culture around them has come to expect less and less, young people have dropped to meet those lower expectations.” 

“In his book Thoughts for Young Men, J.C. Ryle wrote, “Youth is the seed-time of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning-point in the history of man’s mind.”  In other words, what each of us will become later in life largely depends on what we become now.  Are we taking that seriously?”

(Alex & Brett Harris, Do Hard Things)