Kamis, 09 Februari 2017

Sex Education Should Start in the Christian Home

Sex Education Should Start in the Christian Home

Sex Education Should Start in the Christian Home
When I was a sophomore in high school, a senior girl took it upon herself to tell me about her sexual experience. She knew that she was speaking to someone who was notoriously naive and inexperienced, and I could tell that she relished the opportunity to educate me in these few minutes at the end of a study hall. I’ll never forget her telling me:
Of course, we don’t have sex when I’m on my period, because I don’t want to get pregnant!
I smiled and nodded, wondering how a girl could get to be 18 years old and sexually active with so little understanding of how procreation actually works. She honestly thought that the week of her period was her most fertile week of the month. By some miracle, she made it out of high school without getting pregnant, but it wasn’t because she was being smart about it. She had obviously been misinformed, probably by another girl or her boyfriend, all because their parents assumed that kids find out how this stuff works SOMEWHERE, and they were personally far too embarrassed to bring up the subject with their kids.
To top it off, this girl had no notion at all that what she was doing might be the wrong thing. She certainly didn’t seem to think having sex with her boyfriend was something to keep quiet about. She was proud of what she was doing.
That was back in the early ’90s, which were utterly wholesome times compared to the world that our kids are now growing up in. Internet pornography has changed everything about our culture, and our children are more vulnerable than ever before to experience abuse, unexpected pregnancy, sexual addiction, and unhealthy and damaging views of sex.
Christian homes should be the most open, honest and comfortable places for kids and teens to learn and ask questions about sex. Let me make my case, Christian parents. If you are embarrassed to talk to your kids about sex, get over it. Here’s why.
The world is already teaching our kids about sex.
It’s teaching them that sex is casual. Selfish. It says that sex is purely physical. That it means nothing.  That it is about feeling good and getting what you want and nothing more. The world tells our kids that they are sexual objects. That they are only worth as much as another person’s level of sexual desire for them. It says that if they aren’t having sex they’re worthless, and that if they are having sex, they’re sluts. This world tells even our youngest little ones that they are defined by their physical attributes. It tells them that they exist for sexual pleasure and that they are even identified by what kind of sexual desires that they have.
As Christian parents we MUST be the very first people in our kids’ lives to educate them about sex. We need to explain from the beginning what God created it to be. About the sacred beauty of marriage. And, we need to work to de-emphasize the all-encompassing sexual obsession of our culture. The only way we can do that is by talking honestly about sex with our kids, from younger-than-you-think ages. It’s our job to place sex in the proper context, to provide our kids with a God-centered view of themselves and what sex was created to be. If we don’t teach our kids about sex, plenty of other people with a completely different set of values and an opposite worldview will gladly step up to do the job.
Pornography is coming for our kids.
The pornography industry wants to get our kids hooked, like it got so many boys in my generation hooked. It is a huge, insidious machine that wants nothing more than to continue raking in billions of dollars at the expense of families everywhere. If you think your kids are immune, that they “would never look at that,” then you are sadly mistaken. As Christian parents, we should already be talking about pornography before our kids are ever exposed. We should be warning about the dangers of the Internet, and we MUST install Internet filters on ALL devices that our families own. If we aren’t doing this, we’re throwing our kids straight into the waiting jaws of the pornographers.
We are pro-life.
We may sign every pro-life petition that comes our way. We may constantly preach about the sanctity of life. We may donate money to a crisis pregnancy center. But, if we aren’t talking to our kids about sex (not just once, but throughout their childhood and teen years), then we are truly failing to live out our pro-life views within our own family. We can’t send our children out there with no sense of what sex was designed to be and with no real knowledge of how their bodies work or how reproduction happens. We MUST be open with our kids and acknowledge how strong sexual desire is and how hard it can be to wait until marriage. We need to instill in our kids a reverence for marriage and for their future spouse, and above all, we must show our kids that holiness is a life-long pursuit that includes the difficulty of denying ourselves sexual pleasure until marriage. A huge part of the pro-life movement is and should be sex education. It starts with us.
Sexual orientation isn’t a given.
In this strange culture that our kids are growing up in, many will begin to question their sexual orientation or even be told by others that they are gay. They need to be able to talk to us when these questions come up. We should be there to reassure them, to guide them in working through their fears, and to constantly be streaming the word of God in their ear, always leading them back to the holiness and goodness of God. The last thing I want is for my children to feel like I am not where they can turn if these feelings come up. I want to be the first place they run to, and I will be if we have a long history of talking openly about sex.
If we start young, we can easily keep the conversation going.
If your child is a teenager and you haven’t opened up a conversation about sex, just do it. It will be awkward and weird, but don’t miss your opportunity to influence him, here and now, while you have him in your house. Invite him to share his struggles with you, and give him godly guidance, even if he doesn’t act like he wants to hear it. He needs to hear it.
But, if you have younger kids, you have a golden opportunity to open this conversation during a phase of life when they aren’t self-conscious and embarrassed. Start small in age-appropriate ways, and begin an open-ended, ongoing discussion that leaves plenty of room for questions and honest talk. And, don’t stop talking. Just keep it going. Check in every once in awhile. Ask questions about what she has heard. Find out if she has questions to ask you. If you are especially feeling awkward about it, talk in the car so that you don’t have to look each other in the face. You may both talk more easily that way.
As Christian parents, we want to disciple our kids and lead them in the ways of God. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that sex education isn’t a huge part of discipleship. Sexual sin is dangerous and rampant, and it always has been. We can’t help our kids deal with the incredible pull of sexual desire unless we talk about it. Will it feel awkward? Maybe, at first. But, it’s nothing we can’t handle. Sex shouldn’t be a dirty word in Christian homes. If we want our kids to think biblically about sex and about their own worth, then we have to teach them what the Bible says about it, one conversation at a time.

10 Ways to Get Teens to Own the Youth Ministry

10 Ways to Get Teens to Own the Youth Ministry

10 Ways to Get Teens to Own the Youth Ministry
One of the most amazing things you’ll ever do in youth ministry is empower your students to take ownership of the youth ministry. After all, it’s their ministry (or should be, if it’s not).
I’ll certainly never forget my youth pastor allowing me to serve and empowering me to do so. It all started with just letting me make the announcements and emcee youth group…and 18 years later I’m a youth worker myself and I’m not only empowering teens to take ownership of the ministry but I’m coaching other youth workers to follow some of the same steps I learned from my youth pastor!
I want to share with you 10 ways you can get teens to own the youth ministry:
1. Announcements! – I couldn’t help but put this one on the list since it was my first role in youth group. Give up the mic to a teenager!
2. Games – If you plan to do a game (or two) during the course of your meeting together, have one of your students plan for the game and then allow them to run it!
3. Greeting – Have students be the first contact when someone walks through the doors of your facility. Prepare a welcome table and get a few students to welcome guests.
4. Snacks – I don’t know about students in your ministry, but we have a few students who are really great bakers! They can whip up a batch of cookies in no time, too. Get a few teens who like baking (or maybe like eating?) to prepare the snacks for your youth group!
5. Photographer – We’ve got a few students who are amazing photographers. Because of their heart for ministry and their creative eye, we’ve made them our resident photographers! It may be easy to find out who these folks are…just check out their Facebook photos or notice the camera in their hand!
6. Prayer – I love when students lead our meetings in prayer. Solicit teens (ahead of time) who feel comfortable praying in front of your group and give them the mic!
7. Social media – Encourage your teens to take ownership of your youth group’s Facebook page, Twitter or whatever social medium you use. Have students update your social media platforms (under your direction) and share your ministry with the world!
8. Connecting with other teens – Teens can come up with great ways to reach out to their peers. Allow your students to lead your group in connecting with new students and with those who might be missing in action too.
9. Lead mission & service projects – Pull together students who are excited about missions or serving and empower them to lead a project for your youth ministry. Help coach them through all the logistics, but let them coordinate the projects!
10. Sharing – One of the best decisions I ever made was giving up the mic to allow teens to share talks or stories with the group. You should coach teens who plan to share ahead of time, but empower them to teach or preach.
Encouraging and empowering your students to do the work of the ministry will go a long way in helping steer them away from being consumers and help them become life-long participants in the Kingdom.

Free Youth Series: “Represent”

Free Youth Series: “Represent”

Free Youth Series

Download this 2-week series to share with your youth ministry.
From Open Network, “Evangelism should be central to a Christian’s life, and in this series, we’ll look at how older kids can bring share Jesus with their spheres of influence. Help students discover that it’s how they live—not what they say—that helps Jesus to others.”
This kids series package includes:
  • Promo video
  • Intro/close
  • Leader guides
  • Message videos

Get Download Now

Resource provided by Open Network

5 Qualities to Look for in a Youth Pastor

5 Qualities to Look for in a Youth Pastor.

Occasionally I offer a blog by a guest blogger. Today’s post comes from my friend and youth pastor expert Jeremy Best. Jeremy has served in student ministry for many years and is one of the most knowledgable guys around on the subject. He speaks with wisdom on the qualities to look for in a youth pastor.
You’re looking for the wrong qualities in your youth pastor.
I’ve been through the hiring and interview process a few times, have helped churches design job descriptions, and I’ve walked with other youth pastors as they’ve gone through the job hunt. Through all of this a few trends have emerged, but one stands out clearly – churches don’t have a grasp on the type of person their youth pastor needs to be. They get caught up looking for someone who checks off the boxes in the usually unrealistic job description and who seems to have that classic youth pastor look and feel (which is entirely subjective and typically based on the past experience – good or bad – of the people conducting the search). Because of this, churches often either hire the wrong person or miss out on great candidates that didn’t happen to meet their criteria.
So, let me submit 5 qualities to look for in your next youth pastor.
1. Horses over Cattle.
What does it take to get a horse to run? Not a whole lot. It’s in their nature. In fact, if you’re riding a horse you’ll hold on to the reins to slow the horse down or change its direction. But, what does it take to get cattle to move? A prod, an electric stick that shocks the cow to get them to move. Sure, cows are easier to control, but you’re much better off hiring a horse that you have to rein in from time to time than a cow that you’re constantly prodding just to get them moving.
2. Character over Charisma.
Charisma is by definition, attractive. People are drawn to charismatic leaders. Churches will often look for a charismatic leader whom people will be drawn to. Charisma isn’t a bad thing to have in a youth pastor, but it shouldn’t be a priority. What you need in a youth pastor is someone who will draw students to Jesus, not to themselves. Hire character. Look for a person who is deeply respected by those that know them and that is deeply in love with Jesus. This person will lead students to Jesus. If they happen to have charisma too, bonus!
3. Potential over Pedigree.
It seems every church is looking for someone with a master’s degree and 5-10 years experience.  They want someone with a good pedigree, and for good reason. Experience is extremely valuable. But, don’t limit your search based on how many years someone has been working. Look for potential. Look for someone who wants to prove they can do the job and is willing to work their butt off to do it. That person could be someone who has the education and the experience, but it could also be someone who’s still looking for their first shot.
4. Relational over Relevant.
Relevance is likely the most overrated quality churches look for in youth pastors. The idea that typically lies behind it is a good one – hire someone who the teens can relate to.  Yes, do that. But that doesn’t mean a youth pastor needs to dress like, talk like, or act like a teenager. What a youth pastor needs to be is relational. Find someone who cares deeply about teens and legitimately enjoys spending time with them, and that person will become relevant to your teens because he cares about them.
5. Curator over Custodian.
A custodian’s task is important, but limited. They are hired to care for a space, to keep it clean, tidy, and in good working order. However, a curator is a specialist in their area and are hired, typically by museums and art galleries, to design exhibitions. Curators determine what pieces are important and how they should be displayed. Many churches are looking to hire custodians for their youth ministry.  They want someone to make sure the program runs well and to keep the kids out of trouble. Aim higher for your church, hire a curator. Hire someone who will specialize in youth ministry and youth culture. Then trust and empower them to create a program that meets the unique needs of your church and community.
What quality would you add to this list?
Jeremy blogs at jeremyjbest.com.
Related posts:

Minggu, 29 Januari 2017

Advancing from Aleppo to Mosul

Christians staying in Aleppo
Advancing from Aleppo to Mosul
Last week The Voice of the Martyrs asked you to help support 40 Christian families who have chosen to remain in Aleppo as witnesses for Christ in that war-torn city.

Within days, generous believers had provided funds to support all 40 families. Thank you!

After speaking with our field staff in the Middle East, we learned that we also have the opportunity to support Christian families in and around Mosul. Iraqi forces have liberated the eastern half of Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) and are continuing their push across the Tigris River in order to liberate the rest of the city.

Help Christian Families Returning to Mosul and Surrounding Areas

Many Christians who fled Mosul in 2014 as ISIS fighters approached are anxious to return to their city to see what is left of their homes, businesses and lives. The Voice of the Martyrs is committed to helping them as they rebuild their lives and renew their witness for Jesus in Mosul.

On behalf of the Syrian Christians in Aleppo for whom you have already provided, thank you! We are now excited about the possibility of expanding this blessing to even more families, not only in Syria but also in Iraq.

Give to Help Christians Returning to Mosul and Other ISIS-Controlled Areas

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism

7 Ways to Deliver Constructive Criticism
There are times where someone needs to offer constructive criticism. In fact, the best leaders and the best organizations are made better by learning to receive, process and respond to criticism. No one particularly likes criticism, but when it is offered properly it can actually improve life for everyone—which is why we call it constructive.
You see things others don’t see. You have experiences others don’t have. As a leader, I personally value healthy criticism, even when it is initially hard to hear.
If you often have a hard time determining when criticism is constructive and when it is simply selfish, try reading THIS POST.
The problem is often getting needed criticism heard. Working with dozens of leaders each year, I can testify much of the criticism received is never taken as seriously as it probably should be.
We all know there are times someone shares criticism simply to “blow off steam.” They are angry and want to express their displeasure. Some people are only known for their criticism. Some people share criticism simply out of selfishness—considering no one else in their complaint. In my experience, when it is determined one of these is the case, the criticism received is rarely considered as useful or valued by leaders.
How do you keep criticism that may be helpful—even constructive—from being drowned out by a perception that it is non-helpful criticism?
That’s what this post is about. You can have the best advice for someone, but if it’s delivered poorly, it will almost never be heard.

Here are seven ways to offer constructive criticism that actually gets heard:

Recognize and compliment the good
My mother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Make sure you take a bigger picture approach when offering criticism. Most likely you are criticizing something small in the overall scheme of the organization, so think of the good things that are happening or have happened in the organization. Think of the good qualities of the leader. Start there. Compliment first. Some even recommend the “sandwich approach.” You start with praise and end with praise with a little criticism in the middle. I wrote more about this approach HERE.
Be specific
If you are going to criticize, at least make sure the recipient knows exactly what you are talking about. Guessing almost always leads to misunderstandings. Don’t hint at your problem or cover it over with ambiguities. Passive aggression—which I have seen so frequently in the church—overall causes more harm than it does good.
Offer suggestions for improvement
If you are thinking there is a better way, share it. If you haven’t thought of how to improve the area of your criticism, spend some time thinking about it before you criticize. When you think, do so from the perspective of the organization’s vision and the individual vision of the leader. It’s going to be hard for a leader to accept criticism that doesn’t mesh with the vision he or she feels called to achieve. You certainly don’t have to be a “yes person”—agreeing to everything a leader does—but, if you’re seen as against everything or against the leader, it will be harder to receive what you criticize as being “helpful.”
Choose words carefully
Kindness goes a long way. If the person you are offering criticism to feels you don’t even like them or support them, they are not likely to hear what you have to say. Be nice. That’s a good standard anytime, but becomes a strategic move when attempting to offer constructive criticism. Also, don’t criticize people or make the criticism personal. Criticism will almost always be rejected if the person receiving it feels they (or the team they lead) are being attacked. Talk less about the who and more about the what.
Have a vested interest
It’s hard to receive criticism as being constructive from people who really aren’t interested in the overall vision. For example, if you tell me you’d “never attend a church like the one I pastor in a million years,” I’m less likely to value your criticism about the music we sing. (And, that’s happened—more than once.) If it’s obvious you love the vision, you’ll be more welcomed to critique the methods by which people are trying to attain it.
Be humble enough to admit you may be wrong
You might be, right? Unless it’s a clearly spelled out biblical principle, then it is subject to interpretation. Yours might be right or it might be wrong. The willingness to admit this fact will go a long way toward your criticism being considered and valued.
Take the personal preference test
Check your heart for why you are sharing the criticism in the first place. Before you offer the criticism, ask yourself if you are really offering this criticism for the good of everyone or if this is simply a personal preference. It’s OK either way, but be honest enough with yourself and others to admit it. In fact, if you do this test appropriately, some of the criticism you think you need to offer you may decide you don’t need to offer after all. The less you are seen as offering criticism that only benefits you, the better the criticism you do offer will be received.
Do you want constructive criticism to be heard? These are simply some suggestions to hopefully help.
I’ve written numerous posts on criticism. Two of the more popular are 5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism and 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism.

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity: 5 Signs You DON’T Have It

Spiritual Maturity: 5 Signs You DON'T Have It
The issue of spiritual maturity seems to provoke one of the super strange conversations in the North American and Western church today.
Here’s the bizarre part: Some Christians end up criticizing other Christians for not being “deep” enough or committed enough to be “real” Christians. (The fact that this may not sound bizarre to you is, in itself, evidence of how bizarre this has gotten.)
There is apparently a certain subset of Christians who have maturity figured out, and the rest of us, well, not so much.
And yet often what we call spiritual maturity…isn’t. In fact, at least five of the common claims we make about having spiritual maturity actually show you lack it.

This Is What The Conversation Sounds Like

So, to be clear, how exactly does this issue surface in conversation?
In leadership circles, the dialogue often starts with a question such as, “What are you doing to disciple your people?” (emphasis on disciple, often said with a deeper voice than normal) or a dismissive statement like, “So you’re attracting people, but then what?”
And it’s almost always said condescendingly, as though some people own the maturity franchise and enjoy watching other fellow-Christ followers squirm while they try to come up with answers that will only show how immature they really are.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation many many times, because, well, our church reaches a lot of people who ordinarily don’t show up at church.

5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity…That Actually Show You Lack It

Before I outline the list, please know I’m not claiming to be “mature.” I’m not even claiming I understand the issue entirely. I’m just saying there’s something broken in our dialogue and in our characterization of spiritual maturity.
As for me personally, I would hope I’m maturing, but have I arrived? Not a chance.
Discipleship is an organic, life-long process. It has something to do with what the ancients called “sanctification.” The process of becoming more and more holy, a term, which stripped from its strangeness, simply means to be “set apart.” Basically, it means you’re different than you were. And that process continues until you die. I’ve outlined a few of the markers of more authentic spiritual maturity in this post, and again here.
In the meantime, if you want to keep growing, here are five signs that pass for spiritual maturity in our culture that probably show you lack it.

1. Pride in How Much Bible You Know

Since when was it a good thing to be proud of how much Bible you know, and to look down on people who don’t know?
As Paul points out, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Clearly he knew what he was talking about.
Some Christians strut their biblical knowledge like it is an accomplishment. That’s so wrong. 
I won my share of sword drills (remember those?) when I was a kid, and I take time to read and study the Scriptures pretty much every day, but as far as I can tell, I’m supposed to use that knowledge to function as a bridge to people, not as a barricade showing everyone else how righteous I am. Because, incidentally, last time I checked I wasn’t that righteous.
Use the Bible as a bridge to the culture, not as a barricade against it. To do otherwise puts us on the same ground as another religious group Jesus had strong views against. (Here’s a list of the Top 10 Things Pharisees Say Today.)
And it was never about what you know or don’t know, but about what God knows and who God loves.

2. Truth Without Grace

In a similar vein, being all about truth is a problem, as well.
I love how John phrases the arrival of Jesus: that Jesus came filled with truth and grace.
One of the things I love most about Jesus is that truth is never separated from grace, and grace is never separated from truth. He was always grace-filled as he spoke what is true…in that the truth is always designed to lead toward grace.
Yet some “mature” people feel it’s OK to land on one side of the equation. I’m a truth person, we tell people. No…maybe you’re just a jerk. (And I say this as a guy who leans on the truth side of the equation.)
Whenever I am tempted to speak truth, I always have to come before God to ensure it is equally motivated by grace.
Could you imagine if we all did?

3. Grace Without Truth

The opposite of course is also true. In the same way truth isn’t truth without grace, grace isn’t grace when separated from truth. Some “mature” people on the other side of the theological spectrum avoid the truth side of the equation as though love floats with no backbone.
No, grace has a backbone. We nailed it to the cross.
You cannot separate grace from truth any more than you can separate truth from grace. It is an incredibly difficult line to find, but we must find it. Grace without truth isn’t maturity any more than truth without grace is truth. Clearly, we need a Savior on this issue. And it’s a good thing for us He embodies both.

4. Harshness Toward Outsiders While Cutting Insiders Slack

Many people who consider themselves spiritually mature love to talk about how awful the world is. And it is pretty terrible. Pick a headline almost any day. It’s awful. God identified that as early as Genesis 6 (and if you take our theology seriously, he always knew it would be this way, which is a little mind-bending if you think about it). The passage from Genesis is worth quoting:
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord  was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.
So what did God do? He started again. What followed was an ark and a rainbow.
And ultimately God’s decision on his heartbreak was addressed in Jesus who came—as our favorite but often totally-missed-the-point verse tells us, God so loves the world and gave himself up for it not to condemn it but to save it.
So why do so many Christians behave like God hated the world? Because the world is corrupt and sinful, is the answer we hear back. But the truth of the matter, Christian, is that you are corrupt and you sin. But instead, we rail against the world’s sins as though it shouldn’t be sinning while cutting ourselves tons of slack on our moral failures.
What would happen if we started talking about church sins like gossip, gluttony, division and faction with the same conviction we use to talk about sexual sin?
wrote about that in more detail here. (Perry Noble also wrote an great blog about why we turn a blind eye to a church sin like obesity but rail on about homosexuality.)
So…what if the church started to take its own sin more seriously than we take the world’s sin? I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, study Jesus. You will discover he extended invitations to notorious sinners and outsiders, and reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day.
We simply have it backwards. If God so loved the world, who decided we shouldn’t?
And if you were trying to win people to open their lives to a loving God, why do you think leading with judgment is a great strategy? Very few people get judged into life change. Many get loved into it.

5. Telling People You’re Mature

This one mystifies me.
I’ve had more than a few people pull me aside over the years and ask, “So what do you do for spiritually mature people like me?”
Stand back while people like you part the Red Sea, I guess.
Telling people you’re mature is like telling people you’re wise…it’s kind of proof you’re not. The most mature people, in my view, also tend to be the most humble. If you’re strutting your maturity, it’s pretty clear you’ve got some growing to do.

What Do You Think?

I hope you can hear that this is borne not just out of frustration, but also out of love for God, for the church and for the world.
I’d love to see the conversation about spiritual maturity become healthier. As I’ve shared here, I think the church today is getting discipleship wrong. I’ve also argued we need a different kind of maturity in the church.
What have you seen?
What are some false markers of maturity?