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Posts Tagged ‘emergent youth’

     I remember a time when I would get together with people and study the bible. I recall doing this in college.  We did have social Navigator meetings, but we also were taught how to do bible studies with others.  We even were encouraged to read our bible daily.  They called it a quiet time.  We were to study the bible, and dig into the word.  Often there would be a workbook with questions for a guide, but it really was about looking at the text.  I had one of these yearly while in college, if I recall right.  I even led one, though I felt very ill prepared.  Still, we did study the bible, and did go through it.  When a challenging person I met in the dorms would say, “you have to be baptised in my church to be saved” I could often dig with the group for verses to counter this person.  We could prepare for our daily lives, and could be encouraged by the scriptures.

When I got married, we were friends with a seminary student.  We got our own little bible study together.  We studied John for a year, and it was a great time.  We brought in a few other young people, and a few were unsaved.  It was a great time of fellowship, and a great time of digging into the bible.  We continued to study with this couple and a few others until we moved away from each other across the country.

When we lived in Seattle, we attended a bible study group.  I don’t recall it being called “small group” but bible study.  We did find it a bit frustrating because we’d go through a guide book and often it would be very simplistic.  However, we did stick to the text.  We socialized, we supported each other in illness, job loss and in gain, miscarriage, one woman had a drug addicted spouse, in new babies, and in moves (many of us moved and helped each other).  We did study and talk about the bible, we never focused on a book that had bible verses in it, but instead did studies on books of the bible.  We might also do a topical study but it was all pointing back to a block of scripture.

We moved back to Kansas and found a church with the word “bible” in it’s name.  We got involved in a small group.  I still called them bible studies, because that’s what I thought of when we would get together with a group of people with pens and bibles.  We began with the simple books on books of the bible or a topic, all focused in studying the bible and what it said.  However, after a few years, we began to do topical study and it wasn’t really about the bible.  We’d study things like marriage, our personal gift inventory, finances, or how to witness effectively.  We’d take personality quizes, financial inventories, study our love languages, or our spiritual gifts.  We’d discuss these findings outloud in the group.  It was very self focused, and yet it was also a time when we’d reveal personal things in a group.  We’d have projects during the week which took time.

Always, my husband and I would fight for studying a book in the bible.  We felt so good one year because we were able to get into the book of Acts.  We kept trying to get back to that kind of thing.  It was so wonderful to just dig, to  hear scripture read aloud every week.  It was a growing time. 

Small group for us was really mostly about the friendship.  We did have great relationships, and I believe our friends in those groups were mostly Christians who really desired to study God’s word and fellowship in Christian brotherhood.  We wanted to pray for one another, that was always a point that showed really what the groups were about for the people in them, the prayer support.  That’s where the caring came in.  People also did things to help each other in times of need.  There was nothing wrong with this, in fact it was one wonderful aspect of the groups that made up for all the books we went through.

The group would often get together and decide what we were studying.  This is how we ended up eventually pushing for bible study in the actual bible.  It became the desire of the leaders of our group (we eventually became leaders…with another couple).  We wanted to get into the meat.  However, there was always a pull to books like “The Five Love Languages.”  I was even one who suggested we do Max Lucado studies, partly because I felt these books got you into the text. 

One thing kept happening that was annoying to us personally, and I believe maybe others in the group though I cannot be sure.  The church would, at least once a year, have a series.  Usually it was a Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or some other book.  It was not biblically focused although it did contain bible verses.  This series would run along side sermons.  I believe once there was no book, but the pastors had a topical study with their own studyguide for the group (though I believe this wasn’t manditory).  The manditory church wide study also involved a DVD…easy to pop in, easy to run right through. 

The group would meet, go through the DVD, discuss it, have a prayer and snack time.  These were very simplistic, and annoying.  I never objected outright, I found though we made comments at times during the DVD to keep ourselves entertained because we were bored.  One time my husband lead this and did feel some sense of accomplishment, he’d not lead the group alone before.  We did still get annoyed with the book and DVD though, it just was not very deep in biblical information.  It was more poor entertainment than anything.  The most entertainment we got actually, was making fun of the DVD in subtle ways. We usually also spiced up these times with personal testimonies and other activities rather than just plugging along in the book and DVD.

I recall getting less and less satisfaction from small group.  Not from our friends, but from the bible study part.  There were people in the group also who said they really desired to study in a book of the bible rather than in these men’s books.  We recalled our time studying Acts, and the comment was that it was a great year. 

So, what happened?  I believe churches in this trend of church wide study of books by men, and even topical study books, are in a cycle of immaturity.  These  churches have leaders who want to reach the seeker, and are refusing to even call themselves Christians but want to be Christ followers instead.  They’ve substituted men’s wisdom (which is foolishness) for God’s word.  They’ve substituted a focus on the living Savior for a focus within the man. 

It’s all about five steps, or if that gets old, about finding the mystery.  I almost feel these churches actually run in some sort of cycle.  First they entertain you, then they talk about how entertainment shouldn’t be what we’re about.  You feel guilty because you realize you’ve been entertained, and you agree, more should be happening.  So you are told you need to find your spiritual gift, and another small group theme begins.  Later you’re told it’s easy to become selfish or self foucsed in sermons, that we focus too much on busy life and on ourselves, then you’re challeneged to find your purpose, and another church wide study begins on Purpose Driven or whatever.  Then you go along happy for a while, and you’re told you need to reach out to your neighbor, and Hybels study comes along when you learn how to witness.

The next step in the cycle is discussing the youth, and how we’re missing them.  We’re also studying too much.  Youth like action, boom…you’re out picking up trash in a park or painting a school yard in service.  Eventually, you begin working on going deeper in your relationship.  You need to get closer to God, so we’ll discuss spiritual disciplines.  There you go, you’re deep.

Far, far away is the church life you had to begin with.  Sunday school with bible study, or some midweek bible study is impossible.  No longer offered at church.  Sure, you might get your group to go along with studying a book of the bible, but likely not for long.  People hear how good so and so’s book is, and they suggest it.  If you become the leader, which is encouraged, you need to let the group decide what to study until the church leadership decided to invade with an all church study.

Where did bible study go?

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I have been concerned about some youth camps and their influence on churches through youth ministries in churches.  One such organization is Youth Front.  At one point the web site actually had prayer “exercises” called the “Sacred Gateway.”  This can still be found via google cache on the Youthfront web site.  Here is a link to the Sacred Gateway page itself: http://www.sacredgateway.org/

Despite taking this off their site, Youthfront clearly is teaching breathing exercises and prayer along with the “silence.”  Youthfront lists Youth Specialties on one page as a partner. 

It’s one thing for Youthfront to be a camp kids can attend, but it’s more than that.  It has history (used to be Circle C and L bar C).  I may have attended Circle C as I can remember it from somewhere, and did go to a few church camps as a kid.  These camps not only are a stop for kids in the summer, but there is training for youth ministers and also overseas missions.  Churches are filled with staff and connections to Youth Front, and it helps push spiritual formation/emergent themes into churches. 

 reveal-devo-packetweb1 is just a sample of what high school students are asked to do at Youthfront. (still learning how to do this, so click the link here, then click the icon on page you are taken to…)

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Phoned a contact at our former church today to borrow something for my kids.  She noticed we had not been to church for a while, and I told her we are attending elsewhere.  She didn’t ask why, so I didn’t offer much.  She did say they had been mulling things over lately and were considering what to do.  She did share that they had attended another church where the pastor preached the word.  I did say we made sure before we left to inform the pastors of our concerns, and she said, “that’s something I wonder about [xyz church], people have left but they don’t speak up.”  Yes, it may seem that way.  However, I know we spoke up as best we could and my husband says we were “beat up.”  We know of at least two other couples who have spoken up, one for a longer time, and another had an exit meeting.  One man said he knew of 20 couples who had left in the last few years.  So, it seems, another couple is considering making an exit.  This couple, older than we are, is a fabulous couple.  I knew them when I was in college, and they were solid then and still are today.  Funny, I borrowed, “The Dangers of the Rainbow” from them.  Little do they know just how much that book has helped us in this situation!  I heard phrases from one of the pastors that were warned of in that old book, and it’s part of what broke the camel’s back, so to speak.  Small world, small world. 

I did warn her the church they are considering might be following the same path but are a few years behind.  She said the church was simple, and the pastor seems to preach the word.  I agree, it seems this way when we’ve checked this particular church out.  They do use some of the same jargon type phrases for their church campaigns, and I recall they might be “Christ Followers” at times.  They also had a speaker about I followed up on who lifted his sermon right from Ortberg’s book.  Came home and read it, and was impressed at how pastors share materials for free like that…”boat potatoes” certainly is a phrase going around!  Of course, I didn’t express all this to her.  If she wants to know, I’ll let her know.  However, sharing the whole basket is a bit much.  Besides, I think they’ve already figured things out a bit on their own. 

Since they are older than us, they have a concern about the comments made that our former church is reaching out to the youth.  They think this is great, but that there is a whole spectrum of age that needs the church.  I agree.  Hurt yourself by narrowing to one small audience when your own church is intergenerational (and I thought the intergenerational church was a strength).  Also, she mentioned the many programs…just too much going on all the time and too much changing all the time.

Wonder how many people will jump ship when they see the new campaign that’s asking for financial commitment above and beyond the normal tithe?  They are starting some multimillion dollar building fund (and maybe missions oriented?).  If they loose older adults, some of that money for the fund walks right out the door.

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Lighthouse Trails Research has an interesting report about changes in a midwestern Nazarene university and also at a youth camp organization in Kansas.  Link here:

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/index.php?p=1220&c=1

The article discusses contemplative focuses at the university that are required in the chapel (click the links in the article) and also the influence on youth at the camps and the leadership’s teaching on prayer.

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It’s amazing how relieved I feel, and yet how sad I feel.  I have been attending this church for eight years, and intended to raise our children in this church.  Stability is a big deal to me, as is loyalty.  We had invested ourselves into children’s ministry, prayer ministry, and men’s ministry.  I had a particular desire to help women with miscarriage, and possibly to try to mentor pregnant women and teens.  Missionary work appeals to both of us, and we were hoping to go on short term missions as well as take our children on service missions.  Our church appeared to offer many places to devote service to God.  It was our desire to really devote ourselves to God’s service.  We still desire this, but we cannot do it in a church that has been going New Age. 

I am sad also because people are falling for a lie.  I love these people.  It’s like watching a person become a drug addict.  Knowing they won’t listen, it’s hard to sit and just watch.  That is likely what sent my husband for the doors.

Sunday, we almost attended a different church, but I couldn’t do it yet.  I had to feel closure, know it was my last Sunday there.  My husband actually parked in a church parking lot, and I said, “no, I’m not ready today.”  He promptly turned it around and we went to the church of our membership.  We listened to the sermon, which was more of the same.  The pastor talked about Christ coursing through our veins, and also had a time of silence at the end of the service.  Besides this, his message was about story and how we are to write ourselves into God’s story, and how the God’s story is the greatest story or some such something.  I will look at sermon notes later to get a better idea. 

We did let an elder friend of ours know we are leaving.  “Ouch,” was his reply.  He asked why, and so I delved carefully.  I tried to explain that really, our pastors have been promoting a religion much like the New Age.  I found my explaination to be halted, awkward, and difficult.  He listened.  He also said he was torn.  Listening to me had him confused.  One particular pastor was his mentor.  I had to share that this pastor really seems to be leading the charge following after Rick Warren/Dallas Willard and more.  He said, “you know, we came to a decision that people were just sitting and getting comfortable in our church, especially seasoned, mature Christians.  The 40 Days of Purpose was our way to combat that.”  I told him I understood why, that people can get complacent.  Still, the message has been tainted.  I shared a few phrases I have heard the pastors say, and one in particular was “Jesus coursing through your veins.”  Conversation moved on after a while, though I kept trying to revisit.  The elder went on to life and to things he has been involved in for business etc.  We chit chatted, and did come back to church topics.  He said, “we’re not called to change the church,” and “you need to do what you feel you are called to do.”  He added that if we were “not comfortable with the preaching in church we should find another church.”  He offered some other places, asked where we thought of attending and made a few comments on these places.  Really, he sidestepped the issue, and told me to not confront this in church.  I was told to write a letter, wait three days and then re-read it.  Send the letter, but don’t meet with any pastors.

I decided to write the letter, but I also decided to meet with one pastor.  This meeting will be next week based on schedule.  I hope to share a book with this pastor.  I hope he will hear me and investigate for himself.

Along the way, one of my friends who knows about my online writings has read about this issue.  Since this is also her church, she is alarmed.  At first, she didn’t believe it was really happening at our church.  Now she realizes better.  Her goal now is to just hang out, see if anyone will hear some reason.  She’s also going to work in church ministry and try to keep it pure where she is.  She hopes to impact the church in a positive way with the truth.  This also has been making her physically ill.  That is how she’s oppressed spiritually, through physical illness.  Hopefully, she can be healthy enough to fight the good fight here. 

I did listen to the last sermon online yesterday.  The quote, “Jesus coursing through your veins” has been edited out of the audio.  It’s a clear edit becaue you can hear the beginning of a word that is cut off.  Seems rather weird to me.  Evidence that they will likely back off any weird New Age language just to keep from running people off too early. 

So, our next step is meeting with the one pastor, meeting then with our small group, and letting our group shepherds know.  We also have to inform the children’s minister we won’t be helping.  I have let the pastor know I’m not helping with prayer any longer as I had before. 

We still have friends in the church.  I can think of some I want to inform.  I have got to figure out how to proceed in a way God would want.  My husband is pretty much hoping not to have to talk about this much more.  What he wants is to find a church and be in a Bible study group that actually studies the Bible and NOT some topic or book as often suggested by our church pastors.

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It’s a race across America, a prize awaits at the end.    You have trained for this race, others have more preparation ahead of time, and all have the same destination but some have started closer to the end.  This is not seen as a bad thing, it’s just to be expected in the race.  You have all been taught the destination.  You see other runners running in all different directions as you travel across the country, and this puzzles you.  All runners get to run in groups, some are leaders, some are followers.  Most, if they are given enough time become leaders at certain points.  It’s possible for one to follow a leader,and another to follow that one.  You have a main map that’s been given to you, it’s original writing is French, but it’s been translated for you.  Sometimes you have to really study the map to apply what it says to your race and you might get off the path at times, but generally if you keep your focus on the prize you can get yourself back on the path.  You finally settle with a group of great people with some really wonderful leaders.  The race is never easy, but it becomes more enjoyable.  If something happens, this group of people helps one another.  You do take time out on the race every week to talk about the prize, and listen to leaders that are helping to coach you to your destination.  Some groups of people have great leaders and coaches who really give them sound advice for the journey.  You have come to anticipate what road signs you will see, and how you will run to avoid injury, and what food you will take in for nutrition, and how much water you will consume in order to stay properly hydrated. 

One day, you notice some of the towns are a bit different.  Your leaders/coaches assure you that you’ve only changed a little bit on focus as many people are dropping out of the race. Oddly, it’s the young people they are worried about, not the older ones who’ve been running the race for a while.  You begin stretching differently, some of the food is really great…cake, fluffy things, fast food, you know, stuff that will keep the younger ones involved and keep their eyes focused on the path.  It’s important that we in our group stay on the path together.  It’s also important that we add as many to the path even if they are not going to be prepared in the way we were earlier.  You notice some of the members are concerned with sights along the side of the race, and go off to spend time working over here or there.  The road might look like it’s in need of repair, so they go and fix it.  After all, it’s important that the road be smooth for others coming along the path.  Some plant flowers or put beautiful rocks along the way.  Others prepare the food for the younger runners.  Some spend great amounts of time with people not in the race.  They have been given little maps by the leaders written by others.  The maps don’t look exactly like the first map, but they seem close enough.  These group members begin to hand out these maps, they don’t take much training to hand out and a few join the race. 

You recall you were racing from New York to Los Angeles.  The prize is your focus, you want to stay focused on the prize.  As you continue the race, your leaders/coaches continue to mention cities along the way, and they seem to be going off the path to Los Angeles.  Why are you in Texas this week?  Hmmm, now you’re in Kentucky, now Missouri, now Ohio.  Some days, you’re really hungry and thirsty.  You see the normal meals offered, no vegetables, no fruits, no carbohydrates with nutrition…only fast food and sweet beverages and sodas.  You’re feeling sick.  New members are getting fat, walking, eating, and following the leaders/coaches around.  Some are doing such nice projects, fixing bikes for people who bike ride, changing engines for those with cars, some are map makers, some are building houses.  All have many goals in mind.  All assure you they are also looking at the prize, and besides, they are helping people.  You know you are supposed to be going for the prize, and you do have a few friends you’ve invited to come with you.  You wanted to offer them the prize you seek, so you let them in on what you were doing.  Some have been with you a while, others you have just recently asked to come along. 

You’ve begun to notice something new.  Some people seem to be leaving the path you’re on.  They jump in with new leaders.  These are the seasoned marathon runners.  Some have taught you great stretches, others you’ve learned about proper nutrition.  A few you’ve seen speaking with the leaders/coaches trying to convince them to take a different turn at the next fork in the road or to go back to a healthier diet.  You’ve run across a few on the path and you’ve asked them questions.  They have given you clues that your leaders/coaches may be on the wrong path.  You’re not sure.  You wait and see. 

One day you realize you are getting colder.  Why is this?  Some of the signs you have read are in a different language.  It is French!  Well, but it’s weird, why would there be so much French?  Your leaders assure you that since the map was first in French, you must be getting closer to the right area and to the prize.  What?  They interpret the French for you.  They also tell stories about the places you’ll go on the path, and about the area.  It sure sounds different than what you had learned as a child about the race, about the path, and about the prize.  They begin to tell you what physical exercises and breathing techniques you need to do to optimize your success in the race.  Some of the stretches are intended to discipline your body.  Your goal is to make your body be in great shape.  You must run in different ways also, sometimes stepping with long strides, other times taking baby steps.  It’s all getting confusing, every day it’s something different. 

Suddenly, you come across a traveler.  This traveler began the race in a different place than you, and is traveling on the race going south.  Funny, you’re going north.  How can you be in the same race?  You take their map, wow!  It looks the same as the first map with translations that let you know clearly where you are.  You study the map, and some of the notes from the traveler.  Other travelers come along.  You begin to question your leaders/coaches based on the information you’ve learned from the travelers.  The leaders offer reassurance, you are on the right path.  You want to help the youth stay in the race, right?  Well, this is what we have to do for them.  Besides, we’re on a mission also to gather these people up from here.  We have many projects to do in order to attract more to the race.  You feel weaker in this race, unfed, out of shape.  You get involved in projects, you really try your new stretches.  You are assured you will be closer to the prize if you do these things in the right way and in the right order.  You notice a criticism of people who do it the way you once thought, a criticism of those who look like the travelers you met.  You still continue to look at the map from these travelers, however, and the notes.  One day it hits you, you are likely on the wrong path.  Wow, you cannot believe it, you are in Canada!  Your leaders have not been calling you runners for a long time, they’ve been saying you are prize catchers.  You now can see it more clearly, and cannot believe you’ve been dragged all the way up here.  Getting back on the path is going to be painful.  Now what do you do?  Do you try to tell all your friends and the leaders/coaches?  Do you join a group of travelers running toward the south east?  You are torn, believing this group you’ve been running with can get back.  They all mean well, they’re all great.  You love them so much.  Now it’s a matter of time, but only a short time as you have to decide what to do.  Your children, after all, have been following you and copying you this whole way.  Whatever you decide, it has to be with your eyes on the prize.

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A few things are very difficult in this time as our family looks into the shift our church.  First of all, there’s the grief because ministers and people we love are buying this.  Though I did have some things bother me, and I recall having a few crystal clear moments of “what the heck is going on here” I still was walking right along with this stuff.  As I read through sermons now, it’s clear where our church is heading (we’ve really pretty much arrived).  I was just so proud of my church and what they did for those who are in need, and for the missions aspect.  I still think doing is important.  I believe a church should meet the needs of others as a body, and should try to help people in poverty or who have had a disaster.  This is a good thing.  It’s not enough though.

I now feel a burden to either teach as many as possible what I know.  I have to learn to do this appropriately, but the way I am I want to sound it from the rooftops.  I have half a mind to walk about the church and drop fliers and place books in the library.  I thought of taking the sermons in the library and putting post its inside with warnings.  I just don’t want my people to go down in error like this.  It’s so hard.

Then there’ s the realization that this is so deep in the local metro area.  Oh my, with the camps and the other churches we partner with, and the church plants, and the conferences, and the local seminaries involved, this runs deep. If it’s not Rick Warren materials it’s Dallas Willard or Brian McLaren.  So many people are following this without realizing it.

I am struggling with the idea of doing things somewhat differently.  I have to now wonder if “small groups” are a bad thing.  We’ve always been involved in Bible study groups, but these small groups the last few years have not been about the Bible but about books and DVD driven lessons with skits, and service projects, and signing a group covenant and the like.  I wonder if I’ll ever be able to trust the “small group” model again. 

I have learned how immature I am.  I let this all slip by me.  I feel terrible about that.  I have been knocked down, the wind knocked out of me.  I love these people, my kids love these people.  They cannot all be lost, right?  I mean, we are still Christians, aren’t we all?  I know in whom I have believed, but who have all these others been believing in?  I was talking with a friend, and she just cannot imagine certain staff being involved, but I say they are the most likely involved.  The kindest, most wonderful people, and I realize now they are the ones who have fallen the hardest for Dallas Willard, and probably contemplative.  Our pastors spend a great many hours reading books, going to conferences, and all the missions projects.  When are they reading the Bible?  I am sure they are reading, but when? 

We had over 100 kids “come up” at our summer VBS type event this summer.  What is going to happen to them?  What kind of food will they be fed?  What’s going to happen to my children if and when we decide to get out of this church?

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