If We Bend too Far, We Will Break: Bemoaning the World Vision Decision

I have loved the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” since I saw it in theaters when it first came out. It is all about Tevye and his struggle to adjust to modernity. He began the movie trumpeting “Tradition!” and slowly sacrificed those traditions as the world crumbled around him. His oldest daughter wanted to marry the man she loved, even if it meant poverty, instead of entering the arranged marriage her father had made for her. He bent a little to give his permission to that marriage. Then his second daughter decided to marry a political revolutionary and did not seek his permission. Even in his fury, he decided to bend a little more and accept Hodel’s choice.

Then came the film’s crisis. Just before learning they will be forced out of Anatevka by Russian cruelty, he learns that his third daughter, Chava, has sneaked off, contrary to his explicit command, and married a local Russian boy. Confronted by his daughter, who appeals for mercy and acceptance, Tevye struggles once again. “On the one hand…On the other hand.” Back and forth. But then, he utters these words.

“On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break. On the other hand… No. There is no other hand.”

This man who was willing to make small compromises out of love found a place he was not willing to go. He would not sacrifice his faith even at the cost of his daughter. In pain, anger, and misery, he drives his milk cart away, leaving his daughter behind. That seems cruel, especially in our modern world of tolerance, where spiritual conviction is anathema. But Tevye would not abandon his faith to make peace.

Earlier this week, World Vision announced a tragic decision in Christianity Today magazine. They agreed to hire “Christians” who were involved in same-sex marriages. In a line that would have made Orwell’s Big Brother proud, the president of World Vision, Richard Stearns, said, “This is not us compromising.” No, this is not compromise. This is them seeking unity in the Body by allowing local churches to decide the issue for themselves. Quintessential doublespeak.

It is my opinion that World Vision, submitting to the opinions of this age instead of to the Word, bent so far in compromise that they did what Tevye would not do – they broke. They turned their back on truth and succumbed to the spirit of the age.

I have spent a lot of time on Baptist blogs (this one in particular) calling on us to lay down our weapons and accept one another – that few of the battles we engage in are worth the bloodshed. Compromise and cooperation are not dirty words – we do not discount our faith to walk in unity with our brothers and sisters. But there are battles worth fighting and stands worth taking. This is one.

And I do not say that because I hate homosexuals or wish to see them punished, discriminated against or ostracized. In fact, I think much of the church’s response (at least in some circles) to homosexuality over the years has been as sinful as homosexuality itself. We have not always demonstrated the love of Christ to these people, but often shunned them and been cruel.

But the Bible could hardly be more clear on the subject – Old Testament or New. I like to use what I call “The Martian Test.” If a martian came to earth and read the Bible, without any cultural conditioning or axe to grind, what would he (it?) come away with? They would certainly come away with the clear idea that the writers of the Bible did not think that homosexual behavior was acceptable.

So, the World Vision concept of promoting unity through the compromise of truth is faulty. They have bent so far that that their biblical commitment, their commitment to the gospel, their status as a truly Christian ministry has broken. Any time you ignore the teaching of the Word of God to fit in with and seek the approval of culture, you have taken a step too far. We do not further the goals of the church by denying God’s Word or by compromising biblical standards.

Such compromise can make us popular in the world but it cannot honor God. One can make a name for himself as a religion columnist on issues of faith, culture, and society – the world absolutely loves those who excoriate the church from within – but this will never advance the cause of Christ. “Christian” ministries will be lauded for rejecting the unpopular stands of the Bible, but is that the path to ministry in Christ’s name?

There is a different between compromise and capitulation. Compromise (in this positive sense) is laying down our weapons and seeking unity on issues of Christian debate. But when we advocate ignoring biblical standards, we have wandered from the realm of godly compromise to cultural capitulation.

What is our goal? Is it to proclaim Christ and call people to repentance, or is it to seek popularity and acceptance in culture? Are we seeking to please people or the God who created us? World Vision has chosen to please the world instead of standing with Christ. That is sad, but as one person tweeted, “If this move surprised you, you haven’t been paying attention.” World Vision may have abandoned biblical moorings long ago to drift rudderless on the tides of public opinion. Many Christian organizations have and will (just watch the Tsunami, folks) follow this same path.

I love, prize, value and promote unity in the Body of Christ. It is a conviction, a passion for me.

But there comes a point where we have to say, “On the other hand…NO! THERE IS NO OTHER HAND!

 

How to Keep a Youth Guy: Ten Ways My Church Encourages Me to Stick Around (by John Elkins)

John Elkins is the Student Pastor at First Baptist Church of Brazoria, TX

The current reality of tenure in youth ministry is atrocious.  I’ve see youth guys come and go at a rapid rate since I started in the ministry and have mourned the losses to my fellow churches.  I have been at my church for almost 8 years now as the Student Pastor (official title).  I serve at First Baptist Church in a small town south of Houston Texas.  Last weekend I was privileged to stay with some great friends and through the course of our conversation it came to light that their church has not been able to keep a youth pastor for more than 2 years.  They asked me why?  Why is it that Youth Pastors leave so soon?  What can they do to help them stay?  How do we change the paradigm when the average tenure for a youth pastor is 17 months and 3 years for a senior pastor?  (I know, you’ll find different numbers everywhere.)

Well, my church is awesome!  So I thought I’d share with you 10 things they do that encourage me to stay.  They are not in any particular order.

  1.        Treat the youth pastor the same as all the other pastors.  When my church looks at me, they see a pastor (or at least that’s what they communicate in their discussions with me).  I am asked about theological issues and Biblical issues by youth and adults.  I am asked how I would structure things and my input is valued as a premium.  Church members listen when I give instruction and I don’t have to fight for authority.  When I speak, the members grant me the same respect and gravity that they would my fellow pastors.  So respect your youth pastor, he’ll stay longer.
  2.        Make sure your staff gets along.  As a congregation you can give them opportunity to get away together.  This will breed fellowship among the leaders that is invaluable.  Nothing will kill a youth pastor quicker than an unbalanced and contentious staff relationship.  If your senior pastor micro-manages your youth pastor, he will leave.  If your staff treats the youth pastor like he is second fiddle or a child and refuses to take what he is saying seriously, he will leave.  Now, to be clear, there are youth guys who fit the stereotype mold and they might need to be kicked a little by their other pastors.  But, most of us are hard-working, have some semblance of what makes a good leader, and we do what needs to be done.  My church provides time for the staff to get away and enjoy each other and we are very connected as a result.  I frequently feel as though I am serving with brothers who are laboring along-side me.  I am never second fiddle and they include me in decisions.  I am not treated as a child, but as a brother.  We are colleagues and friends, and that’s what most youth pastors want and need in a staff.
  3.        Help without being asked.  Assume he needs you to do what you notice needs to be done and then go let him know you want to do it and do it without needing him.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but my church is great about helping when it looks like I need help.  One of my favorite memories was when some adults came to me and said, “we love your emphasis on teaching our students, we see this need, we’re going to do it for you.”  That was an incredible blessing.  Take note of what your Student Pastor does well and fill in the gaps without being asked.  If we don’t want you to, we’ll tell you.  While this is awkward it is far better than standing back and being upset at him for not asking for help.  By nature Youth pastors tend to think that they are supposed to do EVERYTHING.  When you come along-side them and just start doing the work, it frees them up to focus on what is important.  My church is awesome at this!
  4.        Pay him the same scale that you pay the other ministers.  A horrific reality of youth ministry is the pay scale.  I know of Pastors who make well over $100,000 serving with youth pastors who make less than $30,000 with no benefits!   This is an atrocious wrong.  My church pays me well and the rest of our staff is paid well too.  Pay your youth guy equitably and you’ll see marked improvement in his attitude toward the position.  I know a youth guy that makes $25,000 a year and is expected to work 60 hours a week (we counted them) under the supervision of a pastor who makes $75,000 a year, has less education, less experience in ministry, works a flat 40 hours a week, and has all benefits paid.  Needless to say, I have his resume if any of you are looking for a hard working youth guy.
  5.        Don’t ask your youth pastor when he is going to get a real pastor job.  You may mean well, implying that he is a great leader or preacher and you think he should take a greater leadership position.  But your complement comes with a devaluing of the position he is already in.  We are pastors already.  Value the position he is in as well as the job he does in it.  Treat the position as a permanent one and do not assume a corporate ladder mentality.  Most of us are not seeking to climb the invisible ladder of supposed success.  Most of us are just happy to work in a church and genuinely feel as though God wants us where we are.  So remember, he is called youth “pastor” because he is already a pastor.  Complement his preaching or leadership, ask him about his future, but be careful not to assume he is only there to step his way up.
  6.        Have his family to your home for dinner and/or go to his house.  Relationships are incredibly valuable for youth guys.  We don’t have many deep relationships because our career is built around relationships with 12-18 year-olds.  Believe it or not, hanging out with a bunch of 16 year-olds on your free nights is not as fun as it sounds.  The only adult fellowship most Youth Guys get is the staff at the church.  Student pastors need adult fellowship beyond the staff.  You can accommodate this need by providing a small group opportunity for him and his family or you can just be intentional and eat with the guy.  Invest your time in your youth pastor as a friend and he will be much more likely to rethink leaving.  Another positive to this is that he will take your advice more readily.  We are much more likely to listen to people who know us and who we know well.  So, love your youth guy and he’ll stay longer.  There is a particular man at my church who took me aside when I got here and said, “what do you need in ministry.”  I told him I needed a friend.  It is partly because of him I have turned down some positions, so that I could maintain that friendship.
  7.        Submit to his leadership in public and discuss disagreements with a humble heart in private.  By nature of the position, youth ministry is filed with leaders who are self-conscious about their abilities to lead and insecure about their authority.  We are very aware of the criticism of others and are extremely sensitive to disrespect for our position.  If you have a disagreement with your youth pastor, model humility for him.  He needs to learn humility, model it by submitting yourself to his leadership, even if it seems unnecessary to do so.  In doing this you will show him what humble leadership is, and will encourage him to learn well how to lead well.  He will stay longer.  My experience at FBC has been loaded with people who will submit to my decisions even if they think I am wrong.  They will respect my position and give me latitude to make mistakes.  As a result, I am still here.
  8.        Forgive his mistakes; he will make a lot of them… especially if he is good at his job.  Let me explain.  If you’re a youth pastor who loves students, you’re going to take some risks.  You’re going to over-plan, under-budget, and offend EVERYONE in the process.  (if you’re a youth guy reading this and you haven’t offended someone yet, you must be young or dense.) But these mistakes are done out of love for the students and a deep desire for Jesus’ name to be made great.  He is not intentionally offending anyone, unless he has stated that offense is his objective (lol, sometimes it’s necessary.) So, he is going to make mistakes.  He is going to be obnoxious.  And he is going to fail you.  He needs to know, failure is ok.  He needs to have the freedom to do so.  Let him run with abandon after a new idea and let it blow up in his face!  Let him fail and you will have a much stronger youth guy in the position.  He needs the freedom to exercise his creativity and the tenderness to be taught when he fails.
  9.        Don’t give him pointless tasks that are unrelated to his passions and/or job.  I remember my first weeks at FBC.  I was incredibly nervous I was going to upset my senior pastor because I was unaware of some unknown task I needed to do.  I was sure that I was going to be asked to set up tables, organize a party, fix some problem.  I was very concerned and was even getting jittery about it.  I walked into my senior pastor’s office and asked “Jim, what is it you want me to do!?”  Jim Doyle sat back in his chair and said, “Teach our students the Bible and run a comprehensive youth program.”  In a rather irritated tone I asked, “when are you going to ask me to set up chairs, or plan a party!?”  Jim smirked, “I’m not… I want you to teach the Bible and run a comprehensive youth program.”  After clarifying my job description, I left his office before any tasks could be added.  It was then I realized how much FBC values this position.  I’m not asked to do menial tasks.  FBC asks me to do things that are related to my job and I’m not asked to do things that are inconsequential.  Often I am told that I don’t need to do certain things because they would take time away from the teaching of the Word or the Students.  Find your youth pastor’s passion and assign him any extra tasks that may relate to that passion, otherwise, let him work without any additional weight.
  10.    Overlook offenses.  Youth pastors can be extremely busy dealing with students and are incredibly emotionally involved with their students.  Further, good youth pastors are much more concerned with your holiness than your happiness.  As a result, we will often offend and sometimes forget that we need to shepherd adults as well.  We may be inconsiderate, callous, or just plain unaware of and toward offenses.  Forgive them without having to be asked.  Model humility and mutual submission by forgiving and forgetting offense without having to bring it up.  He will feel the love from you and you just might be what keeps him there.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been forgiven offense without having to be asked.  It is probably why I am still here.

So, I hope that helps…  If you’re a youth pastor, what are some things that your church does to encourage you to stay?

Would God Ask You to Take a Mustard Bath?

The frail old man sets aside his walker and gradually places himself in the tub. But this is no ordinary bath. You see, he just returned from the store where he purchased seven gallons of yellow mustard. The old man has scooped, squirted, and squeezed this smelly condiment into his bathtub.

Why in the world has this man done such a thing?

“Is he senile?” you ask.

Nope. He’s just got arthritis and he watches Christian television. One day when he was watching his favorite show he had a strong impression that he couldn’t shake. As the polished reverend prayed over his global congregation, this delicate old man began praying his arthritis would be healed. Out of nowhere a voice told him to purchase seven gallons of yellow mustard and bathe in it.

As a logical guy he found this audible instruction a tad weird. But then he started reading over his Old Testament and realized that a bath in seven gallons of mustard wouldn’t be the strangest action the Lord has commanded. Convinced this was the Lord’s will, he dutifully waddled to his dusty mini-van, put his walker in the backseat, started the car, went to the store, and bought seven gallons of their best yellow mustard.

How can you argue with this fella’s logic? After all the Lord did ask people to do really strange things in the Old Testament. Our mustard-bather has nothing on the prophet Ezekiel. So, how could you convince this guy that the Lord isn’t telling him to bathe in yellow mustard?

Now in one sense you really cannot. It is theoretically possible that our living God would speak to an old man and tell him to bathe in a vat of zesty mustard. There’s really no Scripture passage that says, “Thou shalt not bathe with condiments.” So, in theory God could have spoken to him. But at the same time our now yellow friend has a gross misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture.

Yes, God once spoke to the people by having a prophet cook food over his own feces. And, yes, God spoke through burning bushes and clouds. That is what Hebrews 1 means when it says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets”. That “many ways” would include a guy laying naked on his side for a whole year. And it would include speaking to Gideon through the laying of a fleece as much as it includes speaking to Jeremiah through the Word that he put in his mouth.

But that has all changed. Notice the contrast in Hebrews 1:2. “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”

Something has drastically changed. As opposed to the unique ways that the Lord spoke to people of old, he now speaks to us clearly through His Son. And we see this speech plainly in His Word. This is what theologians call progressive revelation. The Lord’s communication with humanity has progressed–climaxing in the revelation of Jesus Christ. That’s why he’s not likely to communicate to us through yellow mustard. Progression. He speaks to us now quite clearly through Christ in His Word.

Thankfully, our mustard-covered friend doesn’t actually exist. At least I hope he doesn’t. But you hear weird stuff like this every day. Christians say that God spoke to them and told them to do something really weird. And when I hear that stuff I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because the Lord has said that in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. And he’s done so clearly. And it doesn’t require mustard.