Living into the Vision

Since I was a Freshman Christian education student at Taylor University I knew that I never wanted to be “that guy”. I never wanted to be the guy that made ministry all about himself. I never felt the pressure to be the BEST speaker or the COOLEST guy in the room. I never wanted a student’s faith to be based on merely the attention I was giving him or her. From the beginning I have wanted so much more for students. I always wanted them to know two things: Jesus loves you, and the Church loves you.  To be sure, I love them too, but that is far less important than the first two points.

Youth ministry as we’ve known it can be dangerous and damaging to youth. We’ve set up a culture where one person (other than Jesus) is the focal point of teenagers’ faith. Teenagers are made to believe they can (and should) get everything they need from one person. Then, they get out of high school and realize they’re alone. Their youth director has dozens, or even hundreds, of other teenagers to connect with and by pure necessity leaves the new college student abandoned and stranded in their faith. There is a better way…

Team Ministry

Recently we held our annual Phao Student Ministries Adult Leaders Retreat. A weekend where we both celebrate the things God has done within student ministries and the church, as well as look to the future and where God is taking us.

This year we had almost 30 adult leaders and potential leaders (pictured above) join us for a day of training, reflection, planning and vision (and a handful that couldn’t make it). These people are small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, P58 leaders, special event crews, parents, friends and interested newcomers. All with a passion to see Jesus made known in the lives of teenagers.

That, to me, is the ministry I was called to; equipping adults to pour into the lives of teenagers. Helping them to know that each one of them has God given gifts to impact students’ lives eternally for Jesus. You see, it is these adults that will make a lifelong impact on students’ lives. It is these adults that will be there for them in 5, 10, and 20 years. It will be these adults that coach them through college, encourage them as they enter the “real world”, and advise them as they start families and raise their own children.

I believe in the importance of youth directors. I believe that significant growth within student ministries relies on leadership that can equip adults within the church to come alongside teenagers and live life with them. I believe, however, that the days of the “rock star youth director” are gone. I believe that the days of youth directors “equipping the saints” for the work of ministry in the lives of teens is here. That makes me excited! Paid youth staff are important, but if we’re not equipping the adults of our church to live life alongside teenagers I believe we’re doing it wrong.

Special note: Thanks to all of our Phao Student Ministries adult leaders for sacrificing all that you have, and will, to be that lifelong influence in the lives of our teens. Thank you for leading small groups, showing up to events, leading sunday schools, and living a life that is worthy to be an example of Jesus to teenagers. You are the ones that make ministry and growth possible.

Thank you for helping us live in to the vision!

This song has been ringing in my head for days now. It may be one of the best Christian songs I’ve ever heard. I know…bold statement, and it’s not even written by Chris Tomlin (slight jab at the Christian Contemporary Music Industry).

The lyrics are so rich and robust. It drives a spike into the heart of who we have become as people. It hints at the quest we all have for money, fame, fortune, and power and just keeps singing “It’s not Enough”. The deep desire we all have for “status” in our world leaves us empty and broken. Nothing we can attain on our own in this world will fill the void in our souls for something deeper, and more powerful. Jesus. 

Here are the lyrics…

Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete

Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

To make me whole
It’s not enough, it never was
Awake my soul
It’s not enough, it never was

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could walk the world forever
Till my shoes were filled with blood
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun
It’s not enough, it’s not enough
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough, it’s not enough

taking the rules too far

You might have seen this story on TV, or had it show up in your Twitter or Facebook feed this week. It has gone viral! The story is of 9 year old Kamryn Renfro who was brave enough to shave her own head to support her best friend, 11 year old Delany Clements, who has been battling cancer and has lost her hair during treatment. After shaving her head Kamryn was told she would not be allowed to attend school because of the school’s strict dress code that included a ban on shaved heads. All she wanted to do was show support and compassion to her friend, to love her in a radical and special way, but the school let the rule interfere with that.

The school has since changed that rule and allowed Kamryn to return to school.

Obviously this story sparked a lot of outrage. People became upset that the school would allow a basic rule to come between a girl and her radical support for her best friend that is so bravely battling cancer.

As I was reading this story it had me thinking about how often we do the same thing within our Christian faith.  How many times have we as Christians allowed our theology to prevent us from showing compassion toward another human being when they need it most? Sometimes that presents itself as being judgmental toward someone who does not believe, or act, as we do. Sometimes that presents itself as looking down on a fellow believer that is of a different denomination or theological background. However it presents itself, and regardless of our theology, no theology based on Jesus would allow us to be anything BUT compassionate to all people.

There is a misconception within Christianity and popular culture today that tells us that if someone does not believe the same thing we believe we must treat them as enemy combatants. We must remove them from our lives (and if they’re a church leader…their jobs). That simply is not true.

Jesus calls us to love all people…even the ones that have nothing in common with us, believe the exact opposite as us, and even try to harm us.  The whole love your enemy thing (see below). It is not our job to strong arm, or argue, someone into believing what we believe, or to admit they are wrong. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of where their (or our) lives don’t line up with the message of the Gospel. It is our job to show people radical compassion and sincere love, regardless of our differences.

How often have you let your beliefs or convictions get in the way of truly caring for another person? I know I am guilty of that! Maybe next time we are presented with the opportunity to divide we will respond like Jesus calls us to in Matthew 5:43-48…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the last few weeks you are probably aware that the movie “Noah”, starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson, releases this Friday.  The movie is based on the Biblical story of the flood in Genesis of Noah and the Ark.  The movie is poised to take in millions in its time in theaters, yet the Christian world seems to be up in arms over the deviation from the Biblical story that takes place in the movie.

I have not seen the movie yet, but I have been thinking about how we as Christians react to these things.

Hollywood has made a return to Biblical/Religious themed movies this year.  Son of God and God’s Not Dead are in theaters currently, Noah opens Friday, and Heaven is For Real and Exodus open later this year. Get ready Christians, there is going to be a LOT of Hollywood bashing to do. We’re going to have all kinds of opportunities to make ourselves look crotchety and stale.

It bothers me that Christians immediately gang up on movies and TV shows that are based upon stories of our faith.  Of course, these films take creative license with the story, you can’t NOT do that and make a 2 hour epic movie out of a story that is a chapter or two of the Bible.  Why do we need to act so hateful towards the movie industry for making movies like Noah, even if they aren’t 100% Biblically accurate?

Here’s my view on it…

I love that Hollywood is making a slew of movies based on stories of the Christian faith this year! They may not be 100% true to the Biblical accounts, but what they do is open up millions of people to be intrigued by the stories.  These people then might be led to open up a Bible, talk to a Christian friend about it, or swing by a church one day because the movie created in them some interest and curiosity about the true Biblical story.

Christians sometimes need to get off our high horses, quit pretending we’re all Biblical doctoral candidates, and just go with it.  I doubt any honest believing Christian is going to lose their faith because the makers of Noah took some creative license with the story. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if some people came to, or returned to, faith because the story lit a fire in them to seek the truth about God and his Son.

Let’s make a pact to stop acting like legalistic crazies and embrace when our culture at least attempts to share the Bible, even if their intent isn’t Biblical. Let’s stop scaring people away and open ourselves up to having a conversation with them when they ask about one of these movies. It just might open up an opportunity for belief.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

~ Philippians 1:15-18

VISION 2014 - FILM ONE from Hillsong Film & Television on Vimeo.

I love this video.  I think Hillsong beautifully captures the essence of who they are as a church while at the same time connecting with themes that evoke excitement and passion for us as viewers.

I love that Brian Houston refers to church planting as “pioneering a church”.  That choice of words immediately strikes a chord with me and takes my mind to thoughts of the early settlers of America. Pioneers that explored new territory and forged new ground.  They did things that had never been done before by their people and the world has never been the same since!

When I combine that with the idea of church leadership I get excited.  The idea of “pioneering” tells me that what we’re doing is not something that has been done before. It is not just a duplicate or replica of what has worked in the past.  This is going to be something wholly new. THAT is exciting!

So much of Christian culture is just repeating what has already worked.  Traditional worship with an organ was pioneering hundreds of years ago. Now a centuries old model of worship is just being reused over and over because it’s “tradition” and it has worked before. Contemporary worship latched on to the sound of popular bands like U2, and later Coldplay, now we’re just repeating it to death.  Churches tend to innovate less and just say, “Let’s see what’s working for other churches” and go with that.

I want to be apart of a church that is “pioneering”, not just repeating “what has worked” for someone else. I want to take Christianity to somewhere it has never been before to connect with people that have never know Jesus before.  It’s a tall task to be sure, but one that I think we should all aspire to, and would seem to raise up passion and excitement in us all.

What do you think?

© 2014 @JoeGGarrison