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What if they tag the bathroom?

Would it be appropriate to:

Close the church to youth programming if they tagged the bathroom two times?

Ask students to leave the youth ministry if the teens were smoking weed in the cemetery across the street?

Forbid a pregnant church teen from attending the youth group?

What if teens are using callousness and indifference to simply veil the real adolescent behind the mask? Research indicates many adults are scared to relate to teens. I wonder if our rules are more for our protection and not for the good of the people we serve. We are prone to think that the teen we see is actually the whole teen. We fail to recognize that there is a veil the teen is hiding behind.

I have worked with churches that have done all these things listed above. Let me tell you a story why I think they were missing the point.

My parent’s church never had an official youth program. We had some denominational retreats and a few BBQs, but it was sparse. Yet my childhood church had a youth ministry.

I remember one poignant model of Christlikeness from my teen years. My church was along a popular cruising strip. The community was in an uproar, laws were passed, police patrolled and businesses put up fences around their parking lots to keep teens out. Not my church. Several elders went to the bakery, bought tons of doughnuts, and spent hours on the parking lot every Friday and Saturday night.

Here’s one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in ministry: programs cannot make disciples.

Think about natural reproduction. What makes a tree? Only trees. What makes a giraffe? Only other giraffes. Following this logic (and the very definition of disciple), what makes disciples? Disciples make more disciples. Programs? In my experience programs breed more programs.

Jesus’ life and ministry teaches us an important lesson. His method flung disciples into every city in Galilee and eventually every region of the world. Many programs tend to be Centripetal: inward moving and focused on the core. They attempt to draw into the center.

The difficulty lies in that we try to form and fit hurting teens and families into the mold of the program. We want them to come but they have to play by our rules and not spill sprite on the library carpet. Then we ask them to leave if it gets a little scary.

There is a place for centripetal ministry yet Jesus’ ministry was distinctly centrifugal. The core was a training ground for the purpose of launching a disciplemaking movement out into the world: Into the parking lot with donuts.

My elders when I was a teen taught me that ministry is using the overflow of your life to impact other people.


Mission Team Pride


“They tore it all down. The whole building had to be reconstructed from the dirt up.”

I was astounded at the waste. A team of men and teens from a church in the states had traveled to Central America to bless the missionaries and natives. They were to build a vocational school building in the jungle at the mission compound. Problems quickly arose as the mission workers disagreed with local workers concerning material, style and process of building. Soon the local workers backed off and allowed the building to progress right up to the struts. Time ran out and the team left convinced they had provided a superior and modern quality structure, all but finished. Then the missionaries and local workers tore it down. The North Americans had insisted on materials and building processes that could not be completed due to lack of tools, would not stand the weather of the jungle and could not be adequately maintained with the equipment and resources at hand.

They returned home convinced of their selfless act, reinforced in their bias and pride. They had wasted weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars. The church service at home stylized them as servants of Christ. I was astounded at the pride of these men. And then I saw the missionary looking me in the eye, and was astounded at the potential for my pride and knew why he was telling me the story.

Have you ever wondered why service occasionally makes us proud? It would seem quite the opposite. We expect humility to be developed and instead we are reinforcing our ruin.

Larry Crab, spiritual formation director and counselor, states that,

“brokenness is not a disease, like cancer, that may or may not develop. Brokenness is a condition, one that is always there, inside, beneath the surface, carefully hidden for as long as we can keep the façade in place….It is the nature of things that our natural foundations must be destroyed if true spirituality is to develop. There is no other way.”  (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 11)

Our primary approach to spiritual problems, the dark valleys, is to fix and repair instead of realizing that these are opportunities to open ourselves to God’s work, usually through his community.

There is an acute need for brokenness in the life of an individual in order for the journey of spiritual growth to be beneficial to them.  Many would state this as a prerequisite and as the beginning of Christ-like spirituality.  The first step is brokenness over one’s own sin and depravity and a whole-hearted abandon to the power and mercy of the cross.

“Brokenness is a realization that life is too much for us, not just because there is too much pain but also because we’re too selfish. Brokenness is realizing that He is all we have.” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, 11)

Isaiah states it well:

“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5 KJV).

It is important to remember that brokenness is therefore not a state of circumstance or even an attitude of heart. The realization and life of Brokenness is a gift that can only be granted by God. Yet as with other gifts we may pursue them. In leadership terms we usually think progress, effectiveness and efficiency as primary pursuits. These grant control while also masking the desperate illusion we perpetrate. The illusion is not just masking our powerlessness, but our fundamental identity as broken creatures. This is why power is said to corrupt.

The great spiritual formation writer Dallas Willard helps us understand the root of the issue:

It is common today to hear Christians talk of their “brokenness.” But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them. Few today have discovered that they have been disastrously wrong and that they cannot change or escape the consequences  of it on their own….Yet without this realization of our utter ruin and without the genuine re-visioning and redirecting of our lives, which that bitter realization gives rise to, no clear path to inner transformation can be found. It is psychologically and spiritually impossible. We will steadfastly remain on the throne of our universe. (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, 60)

Humility then is not an accomplishment but a life lived in the acknowledgement of brokenness.  It is a dethroning of ourselves and a pulling back of the curtain to finally see the true nature of ourselves.

As with most disciplines and gifts, it would seem likely that we can exercise a brokenness that puts us on the path to humility. I hope our missions and service this summer begins with and lead us to brokenness.

Questions to ponder:

If we are capable of bringing ruin to ourselves through service, how might training and preparation be far more important that what happens on the field?

How could a mission or service project team prepare for service that brings brokenness instead of pride?


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