What Kind of Church Outreach Works?

Since I started in ministry back in 2011, I have been a student of church outreach methods and practices. What is outreach? Outreach is simply the activity of extending one’s attention beyond one’s church community in order to bring the Gospel to outsiders, and to bring outsiders to faith in Christ and into the church.

Outreach is important, because as followers of Jesus, we ought not to keep the good news to ourselves. We want to share it and see others–as many as the Lord will give us–come to saving faith, reconciliation to God and others, and the transformed life that only Jesus can give.

Over the years, I have worked with ministries and staffs to develop strategies ranging from pub theology groups, to backyard barbecues, to evangelistic retreats and lock-ins, to well-known programs like the Alpha Course. I have attended conferences and researched curriculum. I have preached it from the stage, and I have obnoxiously wedged it into conversations. I would by no means call myself an expert in outreach, but I am a student of it. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I have learned a few things. And after years of studying and practicing outreach, I am convinced that there are two methods of outreach that is more effective than everything else.

The two most effective methods for evangelism I have found are these:

  1. Studying the Bible in a small group.
  2. A personal invitation to church.

Studying the Bible in a small group

There is something about opening up God’s word with a group of two-to-12 people, reading it, discussing it, and asking and answering questions about it that is just powerful. In Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says, “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (CSB). I have written about the benefit of small group Bible study to spiritual growth, so I won’t belabor this point.

If you are looking for something you can do to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, I would just encourage you to pray first, and then recruit one or two other believers to do this with you. Together, pick up a book on one-to-one or small-group Bible study (like this one) and start inviting your non-Christian friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with you. You can say something like, “Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me and a couple other guys (/gals) for a few weeks?”

An evangelistic, small-group Bible study on a book like Romans or one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be a powerful environment for outreach.

A personal invitation to church

Ideally, there is one place you can count on the Gospel being announced at least once a week. That place, of course, is your local church (if your pastor is not preaching the Good News about Jesus every week, then you need to have a sit-down with him. Come on, Preacher! We’ve got souls to save here! Get on your horse!). Because of this, a church invite can be a great way to get your non-Christian friends, neighbors and family members in front of Jesus. The fact is, most of us are not inviting people to church. Before churches plan to spend money, time and volunteer hours on large-scale outreach initiatives, we should take advantage of the “outreach event” happening every weekend!

The invitation can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, if you don’t have any plans this Sunday morning, I’d love to have you join me at my church this Sunday. We can even grab lunch afterward. Want to come?”

These two outreach methods are simple, but let’s be honest, they are still intimidating. You still have to make the invitation. Sometimes, we may prefer large-scale events, because it allows us to hid behind everyone else in the church. These two methods require personal, face-to-face interaction and taking a risk. But this is exactly what the Lord did for us. Jesus came down and met us face-to-face. And last time I checked, He still invites us, through His word, to come to Him (see here and here).  It’s our privilege, as His followers, to pass that invitation along.

Further reading: 

  • Why Church Members Don’t Invite Others to Church: http://thomrainer.com/2014/07/church-members-dont-invite-others-church/
  • Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched: http://thomrainer.com/2016/12/five-surprising-insights-unchurched/

Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

On Being Prepared to Defend Your Faith

In the Bible, God instructs his people to be prepared at all times to give a response, whenever anyone asks us about the hope that we have.

Most followers of Jesus have probably heard that command, yet how many of us are confident that we could, at the drop of the proverbial hat, feel ready to give an adequate defense of the Christian message?

A few months back, I was asked to create a resource that will answer the biggest objections and questions that people have about the Christian faith. If you know anything about me, you know that one of my main passions in life is tackling the tough questions–I do not always have the answers, but it’s a real thrill tracking them down. And I happen to be a believer that, as God’s breathed-out word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the Bible has the answers contained within it; any resource like this is going to direct folks right back to Scripture. So the thought of creating a resource that would defend Christianity against the toughest objections out there, and encourage my friends at Park to get deeper into the Bible, was really exciting to me. It was exciting to the other Park pastors as well–and a couple of them actually had enough margin in their schedules (a small miracle to be sure, given that many are husbands and dads–and all are incredibly busy) to be able to come alongside me on the project.

This initiative will certainly be aimed at non-believers who have real questions and objections, but it will also be for equipping Christ-followers to obey that command that we all know, but most of us never quite feel ready for: defending the faith.

More details will follow. However, in the meantime, maybe your interest in defending the faith has been piqued. If that’s the case, I want to recommend the blog of another Settecase–my brother Parker. Parker has been tackling some of the toughest questions and objections against the Christian faith for awhile now, and he does it well. You can also check out my older blog, with the unfortunate title, “Don’t Forget to Think.” And one final recommendation: go get The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, right now. Read it and re-read it, then hand it off to a friend (maybe that one friend or coworker with all the objections about God that you never quite know how to answer). You will be glad you did.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to obey the command to be prepared to defend his or her faith. The steps we take today can prepare you to better do that tomorrow. Happy preparing!

App Recommendation: PrayerMate

I used to be a youth pastor. And one of the most significant events on any youth ministry’s calendar is the annual lock-in. They take a ton of prep work and team building, but the intense teaching, prayer and sharing time can have an incredible impact on the students who attend.  I remember one time at one such lock-in, my friend Larry, who was serving as one of the guys’ group leaders, asked his small group a question: “If you had God’s cell number, and you could ask Him any one question, what would you ask?” That question sparked some deep, thoughtful answers from the students–who ranged from spiritually mature to more immature. Of course, the question is somewhat unrealistic, given that God doesn’t have a phone number. Yet it also communicated a powerful point that night, because the fact is, we can talk to God anytime we want. He is easier to reach than if we had Him on speed dial; we can contact Him through prayer.

Prayer, I submit, is probably the most powerful, most under-utilized resource of the Christian life.

Now, if you are not yet a follower of Jesus, maybe you pray and maybe you do not (I know unbelievers who do all the time, and some who would not dream of it). But I would pause right now and encourage you to pray the most important prayer of your life: repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. The Bible promises that, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). This is because, “One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10). If you call out to Jesus in prayer to save you, He will not deny you. 

Alright, I am going to make the assumption that every (former) non-Christian reading this post has now become a Christian, and that everyone reading this is now officially following Jesus Christ (a bold assumption? Certainly. But go with me here).

Now, my dear Christ-following friend, let’s talk about Larry’s question. If you could get God on the phone, what would you ask Him? Or what would you share with Him? Or what would you praise Him for? Or what would you confess? What kind of help would you request? Again, we do not need to pick up the phone. We can close our eyes or look skyward and simply speak to Him, and He will hear us. How astonishing should that be to us? And how much do we take that for granted? How much do we neglect this wonderful opportunity that we have to communicate with our Father and Creator?

If you are like me, you wish your prayer life were better. You know you ought to pray more. You have even promised some people that you could pray for them (if you came to this post from Facebook, maybe you recently commented “praying!” on someone’s post. Sound familiar?), but for some reason you cannot seem to get any kind of consistency in prayer. Maybe you have read or heard about the great men and women of the faith who prayed for hours a day and saw God provide in magnificent ways. Whatever your situation, if you are Christian, you ought to pray, and pray often. But we don’t pray like we should. Why not?

We don’t pray because we are busy. We don’t pray because we don’t really understand how it works, or because we have unanswered questions about prayer’s effects. We don’t pray because we simply don’t think about it, or we forget. We don’t pray because we believe we think prayer is only for dire circumstances, and life (while frantic at times) is under control right now. We’ll get serious about prayer, but… later. When we can figure it out.

My friends, that time has come. I present to you, the PrayerMate prayer app. I will cut to the chase (because I have recommended PrayerMate before): PrayerMate has transformed my prayer life. Its features are super practical and helpful. It lets you quickly create prayer categories and customize how many requests you want to pray for (and from which categories) every session. Then it shuffles your prayer “cards” for you, so that you never pray for the same request in any category twice, before you get to them all.

getting_started1I have tried prayer journals, but I don’t always have my journal with me, and it becomes hard to track the requests as God answered them. PrayerMate lets you archive subjects when they are answered or no longer relevant. It will also let you set push notifications, reminding you to pray at certain times of day. It is super easy to set up.

I have been using PrayerMate for about two years now. Recently, however, I upped my game. I actually deleted my Instagram app (a huge time waster for me), and set my PrayerMate app to serve me up three subjects per session. Now, when I habitually grab for my phone, instead of flipping through Insta-time-wasting pictures, I send up three quick prayer requests. And every session ends with, “Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (from Philippians 4:7). So multiple times a day, I’m praying God’s peace over my heart and mind. This is having an impact on my decision-making and wisdom already.

You and I have the ability to speak with God. Let’s not waste another day on prayerlessness.

New Men’s Group Forming

I spent a few hours this afternoon contacting some of the men of Park Church (Edgebrook). I did this because I was recently tasked with overseeing the men’s ministry of our local church, and I wanted to invite them to be a part of a new initiative we are soon starting.

The good thing is this: I will not need to start things from scratch. Park Edgebrook already has a solid men’s ministry, which has been meeting semi-sometimely for breakfasts, book and Bible studies, as well as other initiatives. The men of Park Edgebrook are committed and involved in various ministries at the church. This is a solid church, with a solid contingent of men. Some of these guys have been attending the church for decades–since back when it was Edgebrook Church. But just about every week, there are new faces and new families that join our ranks.

A New Tribe

So my mission, as I see it, is to build on the momentum  happening here and to help provide opportunities for men who are already involved, as well as those who are newer or still unsure about the church, “to learn from God’s word and to challenge each other to live as men of wisdom and purpose.”

To do this, we are starting a new men’s small group, a tribe of friends and brothers to meet every week in community and on mission. 

The Biblical Pattern

In his letter to the church in ancient Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes,

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.

The Bible’s instructions for how we are supposed to live together involve all sorts of truly manly themes: restoring our fallen brothers, self-discipline, carrying one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of our King, pursuing humility, self-examination, working hard, and learning to carry out our own God-given responsibilities.

It all adds up to the makings of a solid men’s group, am I right?

The Church’s Vision

On the back wall of our church’s auditorium this statement is posted in words made of metal: “We exist to be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city, and impacts the world.”

The new men’s group will be the laboratory where we will strive to put the Apostle’s instructions and our church’s vision into practice.

Monthly Schedule

Following the guidance of Kevin Howells (Pastor of Small Group) and Park’s S. G. Ministry team, we will meet according to the following format:

  • Week 1: Group Study and Discussion
    An authentic, open and challenging discussion of a passage of Scripture and/or a chapter of a book, with a heavy emphasis on skills-building and practical application. 
  • Week 2: Meal
    Food, conversation, prayer and camaraderie.
    (Mmm… wings….*)


  • Week 3: Group Study and Discussion
    Same as Week 1.

  • Week 4: Third Place
    Time to unwind and hang out at a natural, neutral space in the community. Think: bowling alley, pub, restaurant, cigar shop, or coffee shop. I wrote an article about “Third Places,” which you can read here

Along with these regular gatherings, we will be open to getting together casually at other times, to watch a game, grab a bite to eat, get the families together, check out a neighborhood fest, serve the community, etc.

Next Steps

This new group will be open to all men of the church, single, married or divorced. Guys who are already committed to small groups should talk to their group leaders and wives (if applicable) before joining–but you are welcome too. Let’s form a tribe and get to work.

Do you want more information? Ready to sign up? Shoot me an email: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

*Or maybe you’re a vegetarian, in which case just imagine I said, “Mmm… carrot sticks….”

 

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.

Teaching Whole Families in God’s Household (Titus 2:1-8)

I have been working through the Pastoral Epistles–the Apostle Paul’s personal letters to his young pastor proteges–and outlining them to gain important knowledge, training and mentorship on how to be a pastor. Today, I am looking at Titus 2:1-8. As I exegete this passage, I imagine that I’m interviewing Paul. After the interview, I’ll attempt to summarize the passage. Then I’ll talk about what it means for student ministry, which is my particular area.

Joel : Paul, as a pastor what should I speak? Sometimes I think it would be better if I just don’t speak, and let them learn for themselves. After all, there are so many false teachers speaking out there; maybe what the church needs now is less talking, more walking? 

Paul: (verse 1) But you are to speak. Speak the things that are suitable for instruction. The instruction is to be sound.

J: Paul, what does this sound instruction look like? For starters, what should I tell the older men in my congregation?

P: (verse 2) Tell older men to be vigilant. Tell older men to be honorable. Tell older men to be sober. Tell older men to be sound in the faith. Tell older men to be sound in love. Tell older men to be sound in perseverance.

J: Okay, and what about the older women? What should I teach them?

P: (verse 3) Here’s how you should teach them: Tell older women in the same way (as you told older men). And here’s what you should teach them (there are four things): tell older women to be reverent in behavior. Tell older women to be neither slanderous nor enslaved to much wine. Tell older women to be teaching good things, in order that they may discipline the young women.
J: Ah! So the older women are supposed to be teaching the younger women. What should they teach them to be? (seven things)

P: (verses 4-5) The young women are to be lovers of their own husbands. (Young women, love your husband, and love only your own husband.) The young women are to be lovers of (their) children.The young women are to be sober.The young women are to be chaste. The young women are to be workers at home. The young women are to be good. The young women are to be these things, while being subordinated to their own husbands. They are to be subordinated to their own husbands in order that the word of God may not be defamed.

J: And what about the young men? Same thing—teach them by speaking to them?

P: (verses 6-8) Exhort the young men to be sober while living as a proper example. How you should teach them: exhort them in the same way (as you exhorted the others). Young men need to be exhorted. Exhort them to be sober. Young men learn by example. So live it, and they’ll catch it:

Exhort while, concerning everything, you are exhibiting certain things in your life and in your teaching. In your life: exhibit yourself as a model of good work.

In your teaching: exhibit three things. Your teaching should exhibit purity. Your teaching should exhibit respectability. Your teaching should exhibit a sound message above reproach.

Exhibiting these things for the young men will have a secondary effect, too—on the outside world. Be exhibiting these things in order that the opponent may be confounded. The opponent will be confounded in that he has nothing wicked to say concerning us.

Joel’s summary of the passage:

The pastor is to speak what accords with sound doctrine. (A common theme is sobriety: everybody ought to keep a clear head and think critically. Stop numbing your pain with alcohol, entertainment and distractions. Get your head in the game, people!)

The pastor must teach to older men to be upstanding. These are the men who will teach and oversee the church.

The pastor must instruct the older women to be respectful and to learn to teach. It’s the responsibility of the older women to disciple the younger women to be godly wives and mothers.

The pastor should exhort the younger men to be sober. Don’t just teach the young men—exhort them! Show them what hard work looks like. Whatever you’re teaching them, do it in such a way that they see how a godly man is like.

The bonus effect of living and teaching in a way that is above reproach: your opponents will be ashamed that they oppose you, because they’ll have nothing bad to accuse you of!

Finally, how all this applies in a youth ministry context: This passage has some great instruction for how to deal with parents, guys and girls, and also how to have an effective witness to outsiders. 

  1. For dads: tell them to watch out for their families and against temptation, to be honorable, to stay sober and thoughtful, to maintain a healthy faith, to live out love toward their families, and to stick with their commitments—especially when it gets hard.
  2. For moms: tell them to behave in a reverent way, not to gossip or tear people down—including their own husbands and children, to be careful not to fall into needing a drink (even wine). Moms are responsible for teaching the young women, so they need to learn how to teach good things.
  3. For gals: the older women (their moms, their friends’ moms, the “moms” of the youth group) are supposed to teach them. They should start learning about marriage and how to love their husbands and children—should God grant them a family. They need to learn to be sober—not obsessed with partying, smoking up, or even getting carried away emotionally, but thinking critically. It’s important for them to learn to be chaste—in how they dress and how they act toward young me. The older women should teach them domestic skills, and general goodness. Something that is going to be difficult to teach in our day and age is subordination to their (future) husbands. This is important, but it’s also important to remember that that is for husbands, not boyfriends or any other young man. Young women give Gods’ word a good reputation when they learn the skills that will be necessary to submit to their husbands—and only their husbands. Some girls are tempted to let their boyfriends control them; but it gives God a good name when they refuse to do this (after all, he ain’t your husband!).
  4. For guys: they need to be not just spoken to but exhorted—but in the same way as you speak to the others. Exhort them to be sober—not obsessed with partying, drinking, smoking up, or numbing their minds with video games, porn, or immaturity. Young guys learn by example, so it’s my responsibility to exemplify hard work in my life and purity, respectability and a sound message—one that is above reproach—in what I teach.
  5. For those who oppose the Gospel or the Church: those who would oppose the church and/or my ministry will be put to shame when I set a good example by working hard and teaching well. Suddenly, the opponent will have nothing bad to say about us Christians.