If you had to bank on one person to share God’s love with the people around them this holiday season would you choose the sweet and soft spoken leader of your church's Sunday school class or the rambunctious teenage boy who consistently attends the youth group?
"Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you." John 16:7
Let me make something crystal clear before I begin this post...I love youth leaders! I'm a fan, some would even say a "fanatic", for both youth ministry and youth leaders. I've taken on the haters of youth ministry and taken flak for it.
There is an urgency to evangelism that is as strong as ever. But, sadly, far too many churches (and youth groups) give barely more than lip service to this mission critical mandate.
We play a lot of defense in youth ministry. We fight against tough opponents like teen suicide, marijanna and opioid addiction, cyber-bullying, sexting and on and on and on the list goes. Teenagers today are up against a long list of enemies and we want to help them win.
I've been speaking to teenagers for almost three decades now, during a third of that time I was a preaching pastor as well. I'm terrible at sports (uncoordinated) and horrific at hobbies (easily distracted) so I've poured everything I have into becoming a better, more impacting communicator.
500 years ago today Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door and sent a shock wave around the world. I think it's time for a new Reformation...or at least time to get back to the heart of the orignal one!
October 31, 2017 marks the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, the theological battle between the Roman Catholic church and those Protestants who protested their teachings. But I think the Protestants need a reformation today, a "re-reformation" if you will...and so do many of our Gospel presentations.
Many churches have strayed from one of the key pillars of the original Reformation, "Sola Fide" ("faith alone" as the sole prerequisite for salvation.) Many have unwittingly replaced faith alone in Christ alone for salvation with the leaven of a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps humanistic approach to salvation.
Think of some of the gospel presentations you've heard given in church. You've probably heard phrases like this....
- "Just say this prayer and you'll be saved"...sorry Charlie. But there are going to be a lot of people who end up in the Lake of Fire who said "the sinner's prayer" but never put their faith alone in Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. You'll never find one case where Jesus or any of the disciples led anyone through a prayer for salvation. Having said that I don't believe there is anything wrong with having a new believer articulate their newfound faith in God in the form of a prayer (I do it myself). The problem is when a person thinks that saying the right words will save them. No, only Jesus can save them through faith and faith alone.
- "Fully surrender yourself to Jesus and you will be saved"…Nope. Can't be done. A lost man cannot commit to anything. Why? Because he is spiritually incapable of following through on any commitment. And as soon as you start depending on your own "commitment", "submission" or "surrender" then you are forsaking the gospel of grace. When we ask someone to “surrender all” to follow Jesus we are actually turning our backs on Jesus and insulting his free gift of grace in the same way that we would insult somebody who was taking us out to dinner and we chose to pay the tab instead. Why do you think Paul was so hard on the Galatians? He said that as soon as you start trusting in yourself and your own ability to commit/surrender/submit to God by keeping the law rather than trusting in Christ alone (sola fide) then you are "deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ" (Galatians 1:6.) Let's not desert Jesus or his scandalous message of grace. Let's embrace him and his message by faith alone. And then, once we've received it, let's surrender fully to him out of utter gratefulness for his free gift of grace!
- "Turn from all your sin and you will be saved" Oops. Those who preach this as a condition of salvation forget one little thing in their salvation formula...Jesus. How can we turn from one sin (let alone all our sin) until Jesus is working from the inside out? The Greek word for repentance in the New Testament simply means "a change of mind". When used in the context of salvation it is used to describe a person changing their mind about who Jesus is (Acts 2:38) and what they are trusting in for the salvation of their souls. Did you know that the only book of the Bible written to a totally unsaved audience, the book of John, doesn’t use the word “repent” once? Instead it uses the word “believe” almost one hundred times! Does that mean “repent” is a bad word? NO! NO! NO! Repent is a great word. And repentance is necessary for salvation. But the word repent is interchangeable with faith throughout the New Testament. When you repent about what or who you are trusting in, you are believing. And when you believe in Jesus, you are changing your mind about who or what you are trusting in. But to say that repentance is turning from sin and a separate act of faith implies that the book of John and Jesus himself preached an incomplete gospel. That’s a dangerous if not damnable implication.
The last two Mormon missionaries who came to my door reminded me that they “had the same view of salvation as most Protestant churches.” I begged to differ. They said something like, “Oh yeah, you guys believe that to be saved you need to repent from your sins and completely surrender your life to Jesus to be saved and that’s what we believe.”
I guess they were right. Many Protestant churches preach the same thing.
But I have a really big problem with a gospel presentation that a Mormon has no problem with? Don't you? I mean if Satan is giving your gospel presentation a standing O you may want to reconisder.
Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace that we receive through faith alone in Jesus. Once we are saved we don’t “make Jesus Lord” of our lives. He is Lord! As we submit to him we are blessed and conformed to the image of Christ. If we resist we are disciplined until we submit. If we continue to resist then one of two things is true: we were never truly saved or we're in for a divine come-to-Jesus-meeting of Biblical proportions (Hebrews 10:26-32.) Once we repent (i.e. change our minds and believe in Jesus) he begins a work of sanctification and starts turning us from our sin...and he doesn't fully complete this work until we are dead.
We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. We are saved by God's grace, not our works. We are saved by what Jesus did, not by anything we have done.
This is the message of grace! This is the good news of Jesus! This is the Gospel that rocked the world 500 years ago and needs to revolutionize the church once again today!
The original Reformation began when a young, rogue monk, named Martin Luther, nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door. Well, I'm no Martin Luther, but I hope the Spirit of God nails this message to your heart today!
There is a church planting frenzy in America. It's the thing these days. And speaking as a former church planter I can see why. It is one of the most exciting, faith-stretching and rewarding areas of ministry an entrepreneurial pastor/preacher/pioneer can tackle.
"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." Hebrews 11:32-34
The Old Testament and New Testament is filled with stories of risk takers who were willing to lose it all so that God's name and fame would spread. We need more risk takers in youth ministry today.
We need risk takers who are williing to leave their paradigms and programs behind and even risk losing their jobs so that more teenagers can be reached for Jesus. The urgency is at an all time high and our collective effectiveness is at an all time low.
We are losing this next generation. The trajectory of the rejection of the historic Christian faith among young people today is skyrocketing and our traditional additional solutions will never bridge the faith gap that is growing exponentially.
But there is hope. A small but growing group of risk taking youth leaders are saying "no more." They are standing up to the system and embracing a radically "new" paradigm (that's actually 2,000 years old!) They are prioritizing intercessory prayer in their youth group meetings, mobilizing their teenagers for relational evangelism and multiplying gritty disciples.
Some have been mocked for it, others have been marginalized for it. And a handful have been fired because of it.
But they are marching on and rising up.
These risk takers are advancing. They are advancing God's kingdom. They are advancing Christ's Gospel.
They range from charismatic to conservative. Some are young and some are old. From the farmlands of Nebraska to the bustling sidewalks of New York City they are rising and they are taking risks.
I think of Chris Selby, an Arkansas youth leader, who risked it all to leave his job as a youth leader to mobilize teenagers and youth leaders across America to embrace the message and mission of Jesus. I think of Gustavo Gonzales Rodriguez, a youth leader in Puerto Rico, who is risking everything, even in the aftermath of a horrific hurricane, to launch full time into equiping youth leaders to reach every teen on their island (and beyond) with the hope of Jesus. I could tell you about Nathan, Carrie, Ryan, Brian, Josh and more.
And it's not just in America, it's all across the world. I think of Don and Chantelle of South Africa, who risked their roles as national leaders of a youth movement, to start Go-Live-Dare so they could activate a generation for the Gospel. If I had time I could tell you of Stefano in Italy, Callum in Australia, Palgrave in Ghana, Lawrence and Livia in Switzerland, Ma Prisca in the Philippines and the list goes on and on and on.
Like the list of risk takers from Hebrews 11 they are risking time, effort and, in some cases, their lives to mobilize a generation for the Gospel.
But we need more. We need more nationally and we need more globally. The stakes are too high. Earthly lives and eternal souls hang in the balance.
We feel this ever-pressing urgency at Dare 2 Share as well so we recently took the biggest risk in our 26 year history. We "burned the ships" and left the safety, comfort and stability of doing weekend conferences (we've done 185 of them over the last two and a half decades) to do Dare 2 Share Live. A live simulcast of this magnitude (68 cities) had never been attempted before in youth ministry. There was no one hour or two hour delay. It was truly live.
A leader at Incite Events (the group that simulcasted our event) told me that Dare 2 Share Live was by far the most complex simulcast they had ever done. It didn't have the most screens being simulcasted to but it had the most moving parts in the program. Every room had a live emcee/trainer. Every room had a live band. The simulcast switched back and forth from the live site to the satellite sites several times during the day. It was designed so that the teenagers in the smallest venue had a great experience, felt like it was a live event in the room and was inspired and equipped to share the Good News of Jesus.
So much could have gone wrong and didn't. From coast to coast teenagers had a great experience. PRAISE THE LORD!
The biggest thing that went wrong was attendance. My goal was 50,000 teenagers attending this event. With scholarships we had just about 10,000. This translated to a financial loss in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But it was worth the risk and it was worth the loss because now we have a model that can scale. We have a model that can, by God's grace, grow to train hundreds of thousands of teenagers simultaneoulsy!
Just over a week ago we had a Dare 2 Share board meeting. The godly business leaders who govern our ministry looked at the financials and said, "We need to figure out the economics but we need to do this again. You don't stop a snowball when it is just starting to roll downhill. It needs momentum and we believe God is going to give Dare 2 Share Live unstoppable momentum."
Mark your calendar for Dare 2 Share Live October 13th, 2018 by the way! Let's keep the snowball rolling until it becomes an avalanche of transformation!
We risked our brand, our money, our conferences and our comfort to try something that could eventually reach millions of teenagers with the Gospel. And it was totally worth the risk.
What do you need to risk for the sake of the kingdom? Maybe it's time to risk your current way of doing youth ministry to join the Gospel Advancing movement! Maybe it's time to risk comfort, security and safety to reach the bad, broken and bullied teenagers in your community.
What the world calls risk God calls faith. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that "without faith it is impossible to please God." That means that, with faith, it's impossible not to please him. And, because God is our Daddy, he will never let us ultimately fail. We are already victors through Christ Jesus!
Rise up O men and women of faith and take that holy risk to reach just one more teenager! Join this risk taking, Gospel Advancing, nation shaking movement now!