The Profundity of Panic: Deliberating Dregs and δόξα
Welcome aboard the random train of my thought. It’s been a while since I’ve updated this site, so I decided it was time for a brain-dump post. My hope is that if you venture to dig through the rubble of my ramblings here, you may find a few helpful truths, in spite of the nuggets that you may find irrelevant. I further hope to unpack the title of this post as I go.
First of all, this semester has been one of significant searching, thinking, praying. On the one hand, I feel like I know exactly where I’m going vocationally. On the other hand, I feel like I have so many ways to learn and grow that I am as unfit for labor now as I was as a high school student whose main interest in life was to goof off and enjoy the next fun time.
In all honesty, δόξα (transliterated ‘doxa’: glory, majesty, power) is on my mind more often these days. Namely, the glory of YHWH, my Father. My life belongs to Him. I feel like I’m on just the right track to get where He wants me to go vocationally, to bring honor to His name with my life. Working with Junior Highers only serves to stoke the fire of my passion for youth ministry every time I’m with them. My greatest hope is that they will come to treasure Jesus and give everything to Him!
Right now, however, I’m working through a lot of questions in my mind about ministry. My problem is that whenever I see a pastor I respect doing something really well and effectively, I want to spend a lot of time to figure out just how I can model my ministry after theirs. That habit is unhelpful, though, not only because comparing myself to older believers is always a recipe for my discouragement, but also because (I keep telling myself), my ministry does not have to look like theirs. It shouldn’t look like theirs. God is calling me to this for a specific, unique purpose.
I have a sometimes insatiable craving for the praise of men, apart from the grace of my Father. He’s starting to show me that part of my desire to mirror the ministries of great men in my life may stem from a desire to feed the idol of human praise in my heart. They are “successful” in my eyes, and so I want to be. But I also know that a lot of my yearning is rooted in a deep love for my students that does come from God. I’m finding out that one of the most difficult tasks that I will have in ministry is learning how to differentiate the motives of my heart and kill its idols.
I tell you that so that you won’t forget that I’m a sinful man. Don’t forget that. God is powerfully at work in me, but I am wretched apart from that reality. You need to understand that the things He’s showing me about ministry (which I’m about to write in the next few paragraphs) do not stem from a perfect heart or always pure motives. But He’s chipping away at the dirt that shrouds my soul.
A friend and I were sharing our mutual burden for youth ministry the other day. He feels called to serve in a context where formal youth ministry is nearly obsolete. I feel called to serve in a context where youth ministry is far from obsolete, but sorely flawed in a few significant ways. Both contexts are wrought with problems, and it has served me well to think lately about both situations as if I were going to deal directly with them, since I probably will (maybe sooner than I think).
I’m not as exposed to the context in which he will serve, but I think it’s relevant to my ministry anyway. I will assuredly meet youth who live in spiritually starving homes, or who come from other spiritually starving churches. Perhaps their fathers refuse to be the spiritual leaders of the family, or they only have access to wishy-washy “spiritual” resources that are man-centered, not God-centered, or their former churches were lead by men who didn’t treat the Word of God with the seriousness it deserves. Some of these students will be starving for spiritual depth, and maybe they will look to me to give it to them. That’s a scary thought to me. I’m not cut out to lead a remnant of curious youth in my own power. What if I say something wrong that they accept as truth? What if I do something wrong that they will accept as right?
The second context that we discussed at length was American “youth group” culture. I’ve observed two overarching problems in youth ministry here (there are probably quite a few more than that, but these two in particular really grab my heart).
The first is what I will call “complacent evangelicalism.” Basically, many youth have grown calloused to the Word of God because they are exposed to it so often, but in the wrong way. What I mean is that they are constantly hearing Scripture, but it is ineffective because it is delivered in a feel-good, shy-away-from-conviction- tone. I don’t think the problem is that they hear Scripture too often, but that they’re not hearing the truth of God as it was written for people to understand it. American youth group culture is largely entertainment based, which means the point of the entire thing is to give students a good time. So students don’t even come to hear truth.
The other problem is that our society places grossly misguided expectations on youth. Namely, we don’t expect much of them. We don’t expect them to understand deep truth, and if they do understand it, we don’t expect them to care about it. We don’t expect them to listen in class, and if they do listen, we don’t expect that the truth of the lesson will really make any impact. I’m speaking generally, because I think even a God-centered ministry can easily fall into this trap. Students are expected to be immature, and only in the game of life for themselves. The majority of American youth ministry is built with these ideas in mind. The lessons aren’t deep, and they don’t last very long. What content is presented is watered-down in a lot of cases, which leaves it dry and lacking gospel truth. Youth pastors don’t ask deep questions, because they don’t expect deep answers. They don’t make their students think, and they shy away from convicting them at all costs.
God is giving me a sense of urgency for this ministry to which He’s called me. I can’t lead a ministry that is built on the expectations of my society. The days are evil and fleeting. I have to expect students to think, because they will encounter faulty ideas that oppose their worldviews every day. I have to expect students to talk, because they need to understand how to articulate their love for Jesus. I have to expect students to listen, because there is no time for goofiness. I have to expect students to care, because their apathy would indicate to me that Christ is not in them.
I care so passionately about this because God is graciously beginning to show me the fleetingness of this life. Any of you who are facebook friends with me are probably well aware of my dad’s medical journey recently. That’s started me to thinking a lot about how short life is, how we don’t know when our lives will end. We have to get serious about our faith right now. We don’t have time to place low expectations on our youth. They need to be ready to die at any moment. They need to be ready for Jesus to come back.
So, there’s no time for dregs. There’s no time for silliness. I’m desperate to figure out how to do ministry in a way that doesn’t play with my students, but that treats them like adults who are searching for truth. They need the truth so badly.
All of this rambling boils down to this: I need Jesus. A lot. I need Him to help me figure out my life’s direction, and my ministry’s focus. I need him to help me sort out relationships. I need Him for everything. He keeps me breathing, and He gives my life meaning.
These days, I’m fighting to trust my Father more deeply. Hopefully, as He opens my eyes wider to see His great δόξα, my ministry, family life, academic endeavors, and relationships will all conform to His will.