Theologians on Christmas

In the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would share some quotes from men far more theologically advanced than myself. Each of these quotes reflect some element of Christmas, Advent, or the Incarnation.

Reading these will help ground us in the meaning and purpose of Christmas. Enjoy!

Barth On the Incarnation:

Of the incarnation of the Word of God we may truly say both that in the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin Mary it was a completed and perfect fact, yet also that it was continually worked out in His whole existence and is not therefore exhausted in any sense in the special event of Christmas with which it began. The truth conveyed by the first conception is that the formation and ordering of the flesh in the flesh is represented in the New Testament as a procedure which unfolded itself as it did with a necessity originally imposed upon Jesus. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of .… My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:32f.). “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk. 2:49). He must work the works of Him that sent Him, while it is day (Jn. 9:4). He must be lifted up from the earth (Jn. 3:14; 12:34). He must go to Jerusalem, to suffer many things, and be killed, and rise again, as the Synoptic predictions of the passion repeatedly say. This is the necessity of His action given at the beginning in the person of Jesus—the incarnation as an already completed fact.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/2, 337


Athanasius on the Incarnation:

“The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus is happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.”

Athanasius of Alexandria, The Incarnation of the Word of God


Luther On Christmas:

The right and gracious faith which God demands is, that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you, and that this birth took place for your welfare. The Gospel teaches that Christ was born, and that he died and suffered everything in our behalf, as is here declared by the angel: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” In these words you clearly see that he is born for us.

Martin Luther, The Sermons of Martin Luther, volume I:134-160


Augustine on Christmas:

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.  I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, (Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999)


Bonhoeffer On Advent:

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

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David Headshot

David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.

 

Unwrapping the Incarnation

This last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach to my entire LifePoint congregation. I preach two services most Sunday’s to students, but it was nice to preach to both my students and the greater congregation at LifePoint Church.

There is just something special about intergenerational worship and showing the greater population of the church the flavor of the student ministry.

This last Sunday, I unwrapped Christmas by focusing on the incarnation. Watch it and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Unwrapping the Incarnation from LifePoint Plano on Vimeo.

David Headshot

David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.

 

Dare to be Anonymous

The word legacy gets thrown around a lot these days. We’re very concerned with leaving our mark on history. Even in ministry we want to make sure that we will be remembered for what we’ve done for the kingdom.

Our digital world means that we can quantify our social impact by literally counting our friends, those who like us, and the reach of our writing through tweets and blogs. I fear that we have become obsessed with making a greater name for ourselves. We think that because we CAN be known by everyone, we SHOULD be known by everyone.

Do a thought experiment for me: how many youth ministry people can you name? Is it 20, 30, 50, 100? According to an informal twitter poll, the estimates are between 30,000 and 40,000. So out of that many you can only name 50. Now, how many youth pastors from the ’90’s can you name? I can name like 10. The further back you go, the less we remember. Out of every century there are only a handful of Christian leaders’ who’s names will live beyond their lifetimes.

The point is this. Unless you are one of the few people who truly change the direction of the church, your name is heading for anonymity. A few generations after you are gone you’ll be most likely forgotten. This is your legacy. Far from being depressing news, this should free you!

The history of the Church is populated with names of people you’ve never heard of. They were faithful men and women who worked to advance the kingdom and pass off the faith to the next generation. Hebrews 11 describes them like this…

35 they were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT, emphasis mine)

Even John, the voice in the desert, proclaimed. “He must increase. I must decrease.” (John3:30).

Without these brothers and sisters, the church would not exist. The church exists precisely because generally these people cared more about promoting the name of Jesus than their own name.

I’m aware of the irony that I’m promoting this post on a blog. This is not a rant against anyone with a blog, twitter account or podcast. It’s not a shot at those who do have social media clout. If anything, it’s a lament that I have spent too much of my time worrying if anyone will remember me as a great youth pastor. That’s time that I could have spent serving and loving others in the name of Jesus without expecting anything in return.

Trying to make a name for yourself is a losing proposition. You’ll end up hating others or hating yourself. Your students won’t get the best of you and your family won’t either because you’ll be too busy building your brand.

If you struggle with this like I do, here are some questions to ask yourself when you share, post, tweet, and write:

  • Will I be disappointed if I don’t get credit/praise for this?
  • Am I trying to catch the eye of someone of influence?
  • Is there a number of responses that I’m looking for to feel validated?
  • Is this more about promoting me than blessing others?

Join the rest of Christendom and dare to be anonymous. We must decrease and HE must increase.

Kevin Headshot

Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Kevin loves to connect with and empower youth workers. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick

A Tumor on The Body

“Well I don’t think what you have to offer is going to work for our family.” I’ve heard those words more times than I’d like to admit, usually from parents looking for a youth ministry that will take their kids off their hands for a few nights a week. While they might not say it, I’m often left feeling like they want a babysitter, which is certainly not what I do.

The “Average” Youth Ministry

Even though I was 19 when Jesus saved me, I spent my first few years as a Christ-follower serving as the ever ambiguous “student leader” in a youth ministry. While the church had an energetic and imitable youth pastor, the youth ministry was in the church annex and had little overlap with the rest of the church body. In fact, while it never spoken out loud and was likely unintentional, it was hard to avoid the impression that the rest of the church wanted little to do with the youth ministry. Sure, parents might drop their kids off and enthusiastically give them money and supplies for events and missions trips, but the leaders and folks without teenagers seemed thankful that the “loud” and “awkward” teens were out of sight and out of mind. As I’ve grown and witnessed more youth ministries, unfortunately I’ve found this to be all too common.

The Problem With The Status Quo

This method of doing youth ministry is problematic when we contrast it to the biblical view of the Church as a body. When the youth ministry starts to operate as if it is an autonomous unit, yet, still brands itself as an umbrella of the local church; it looks less like a healthy body and more like a tumor. A sobering image for us to face when we are striving for healthy church bodies, yet an image I’ve seen far too many times. There is hope, however, for bodies suffering with the growth of tumors and it doesn’t always involve radiation or chemotherapy. The cure is much more simple.

Strength Through Weakness

Three years ago I accepted a call to pioneer a brand new youth ministry at a young church plant. I had to be creative in building it as I was only a volunteer and still had to work full-time in secular employment. Additionally, the church plant was regional and attracted students from six or seven different school districts making it difficult to host frequent-midweek events. Yet, just as Paul found “when he was weak, then he was strong,” (2 Cor. 12:10) these weaknesses ended up being some of the strongest parts of our youth ministry. From the beginning the vision has been to partner with parents and offer very few events. Largely, we have stayed faithful to this vision and it has born fruit.

Absorbing the Tumor

Out of necessity and design our youth ministry meets only twice a month on Sundays for Bible study and prayer and then once a month for fellowship, games, and outreach (which a family hosts and I don’t always attend). We then offer 1-2 big events per year and usually partner with another church for these events. On the other Sundays of the month the teens worship with their parents with the rest of the church.

The blessings of this model of ministry have been that parents are very involved, both out of necessity and out of desire (both mine and theirs) and that they are bought in to the vision. I am not expected to shoulder the burden of being the only spiritual influence in the lives of the teens. It’s my conviction that parents should be the primary influence in the lives of their teens and this design helps that happen. We intentionally avoid doing lot of events in order to ensure students have more time with their parents. We also look for ways for the teens to join the “adult church” on mission trips, retreats, small groups and service opportunities within the church. Ultimately, I’ve found that we our youth ministry is very much a part of the greater body of our local church and has been embraced by disciples of all ages within our congregation. Now and again I’ve had a hard conversation with a family that wants to hand off their responsibility to some youth worker and decides the ministry isn’t for them, but I’m okay with that as our call is to make disciples and the families that have stuck around want to share in that call; they too want to be a part of a healthy body and not just dead weight being carried on the body’s back.

What about your youth ministry? If you assessed it honestly, do you feel you are partnering with parents to disciple their teens? Or are you operating independently of the rest of the church body? What will you do in the future to ensure a healthy balance?

Stay tuned for future posts where I will discuss some more of the theology behind this approach and some additional ways it plays out in the real world.

Sean Headshot

Sean Nolan teaches hermeneutics at Augustine’s Classical Academy and leads the youth ministry at Terra Nova Church in Troy, NY. He’s an aspiring church planter and is married to Hannah and father to Knox. He irregularly blogs at Hardcore Grace. He likes activities that don’t involve sweating.

 

Dreams of Greatness

On Tuesday, our staff celebrated Christmas. We did so by having lunch and then taking a tour of AT&T Stadium, aka. Jerry World or Cowboy Stadium. It was a blast touring this BILLION dollar building, but even more fun living out my dreams of greatness on the field!

After the tour, 8 of us spent around 45 minutes playing four-on-four and running fade routes to the endzone. It was so surreal. We also discovered how difficult it is to hit a 20-yard field goal!

The whole time we were on the field, I kept thinking, “what is it like to have 80,000 people watching, cheering, jeering, and criticizing your every move? What kind of pressure do these players face in their attempts to get an oblong ball across a line?”

After pretending to throw and catch touchdowns, I drove 30 minutes back to my office in Plano for a time of discipleship with two students.

We spent 45 minutes talking about our identity in Christ, and I listened to them talk about how they are slowly but surely finding themselves in Him rather than in the things of the world. It was a rich 45 minutes.

As I was packing my bag to head home, I couldn’t help but parallel my 45 minutes on the field with my 45 minutes with students. My mind wondered, “what is is like to have friends, parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, and random people at school watch, cheer, jeer, and criticize your every move? What kind of pressure do students face in their attempts get through jr. high and high school?”

Getting through jr. high and high school and keeping Christ preeminent…now that’s greatness!

David Headshot

David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.

 

Eight Steps to Managing Your Time in Youth Ministry

While deployed as an Army Chaplain on Operation Enduring Freedom in Europe, God taught me some lessons about time management. While my unit was not in a combat area, the deployment made me think about the brevity of my life and how I had spent my time up until that point.

I grieved over time I wasted and committed that I would seek to try to make the most of each day, seeing each day as a stewardship God gave me with which to make Kingdom investments. I vowed that I would not waste my time.

Scripture communicates the importance of managing our time well due to the brevity of our lives and the limited number of our days. The Psalmist writes:

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
That we may get a heart of wisdom. (Emphasis added) Psalm 90:10-12 ESV

As youth pastors, it is important that we apply this truth regarding making the most of each moment and each day to our ministries. We must manage and use our time well to minister effectively to our students, youth volunteers, and parents. Allow me to share eight steps to managing our time well in youth ministry.

  1. Pray that God will grant you wisdom regarding how you should spend your time. The Bible says that we should seek the Lord through prayer if we would like to gain wisdom about a particular matter (James 1:5). We youth pastors should pray that God would help us in goal setting, task planning, and scheduling our calendars. We should go to the Lord first on this matter, before we turn to any other source or person for counsel.
  1. Set goals for your youth ministry. After you have prayed regarding how God would have you spend your time, set goals accordingly. Failure to set goals leads to bad time management, lack of direction, and wasting our time. Again, in the book of James, the Bible encourages us to set goals according to the will of God (James 4:15).
  1. Backwards plan to accomplish your goals. Plan backwards from the time you want to have the goal accomplished. Set various tasks that need to be finished with specific due dates to make positive progress towards the goal. Check off each task as you accomplish it. Backwards planning helps prevent procrastination and inefficient use of our time.
  1. Keep yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily calendars and follow them. Take your leadership on an annual planning retreat to plan the yearly calendar. Put as much detail on the calendar as possible. Once you have your calendar for the year, plan three months in advance, filling in the details for each item on the calendar for those months. As you begin the week, fill in the daily tasks you need to accomplish. Plan your daily calendars to accomplish those tasks.
  1. Prioritize your tasks and time, avoiding “the tyranny of the urgent” as much as possible. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey divides our tasks into four quadrants: urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, and not urgent/not important. He contends that we should prioritize based upon the importance of the task, seeking to operate in the not urgent/important quadrant. By doing so, we can prevent some important tasks from becoming urgent due to lack of attention. In addition, we can avoid focusing on tasks that appear to be urgent, but are not important.
  1. Set aside a particular time of the day to check and reply to email, voicemail, and social media contacts. If you do not designate a particularly time to respond to emails, voicemails, and contacts on social media, they will distract you from accomplishing goals and tasks for that day. You will waste time trying to refocus on the task after answering that Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram message, or email. Designate a time to respond to such correspondence so that you can keep your focus and accomplish more with your time.
  1. Create your weekly schedule and post it or share it with your administrative assistant (if you are fortunate to have one). Include in your schedule times you are in the office, times you are out visiting, when you eat lunch, etc. For the times you are in the office, schedule blocks for walk ins, appointments, and personal study time. I use a red, yellow, and green color code. Green is walk in time; anyone can come talk with me during these times. Yellow is my by appointment only time; folks call ahead to meet with me during those times. Red is my study time; unless it is an emergency, I am not to be disturbed during those times. Although you post your schedule, understand that ministry involves flexibility. Sometimes real emergencies arrive that you need to address, regardless of what color is on your office schedule during that particular time.
  1. Disciple your leadership and delegate responsibility. One failure that youth pastors make is neglecting to disciple their adult volunteers and student leaders. Discipling them becomes a ministry multiplier for you and allows you to make more efficient use of your time. Delegate responsibility to your leaders; however, make sure you demonstrate to them what they need to do before you delegate to them the task.

Implementing these eight steps will help you manage time in your youth ministry efficiently. This efficient use of time fulfills the Psalmist’s charge to “number our days.” May we do so to the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tim McKnightTim McKnight is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. He has over 21 years of experience in ministry, serving churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Bluefield College, and a M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He blogs at drtimmcknight.com

A Student Thank You Note

I checked my box this afternoon and found a letter in it from around thanksgiving. The contents absolutely made my day. A student wrote me a letter detailing why he was thankful for me. This student has slight autism and struggles to “fit in,” but is one of the most honest and loving students.

As you read, remember why we do what we do. It’s totally worth it!

Dear David,

You are the best pastor at LifePoint Church. Well, you’re definitely up there, at least. You bring a smile to my face every Sunday. Here are some reasons why you rock.

First off, you make church fun. And that’s not an easy task. Yet somehow, you pull it off. So thank you for that.

Secondly, you get me involved even if I don’t want to. While this may also be my brothers doing, you always pull me into the fray. Because of that, I’m considered cool by all of my brothers friends. All in all, thanks for being the best pastor out there.

Sincerely,

One of my students.

Gospel + Community = Kingdom.

Have a great day!

David Sig 2

 

David Headshot

David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.

 

Thanksgiving Thanks

Every year on Thanksgiving, it’s wise to stop and remember who you are thankful for.

This year, I am thinking about the countless hours my Small Group Leaders spend pouring into the students in our ministry.

Their love, devotion, and transparency is setting our students up for a lifetime of faith.

For two hours each week on Wednesdays nights and though countless meetings, conversations, phone calls and text messages throughout the week, they pour themselves out hoping to see students develop a faith where Christ is held preeminent!

We owe them so much more than a simple thank you…

But thank you.

If you are a youth pastor, take today to do two things:

1. Thank God for the people he has entrusted you, as you together lead students.

2. Thank your volunteer leaders. Send them a quick email or text today, thanking them for their contribution to the kingdom.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to you! Thank you for reading the blog and caring about the next generation. Know that God is using you! Your efforts are not wasted and they have not gone unnoticed!

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Kenda Creasy Dean at #NYWC

There is a strange phenomenon going on right now within Christendom. Those who have beautiful and creative ways to expand the kingdom are doing so outside the context of the local church.

The American Church has been operating within a very small frame. And the way that you frame a story matters. The bigger the frame, the bigger the impact, so why has the church narrowed its scope and frame?

Not only have we narrowed the audience we are hoping to captivate, but we have narrowed the ways we seek to expand the kingdom.

Is the church where people think small? Is the church where good ideas go to die? Why is the church not more entrepreneurial?

This could be the very reason the church stateside is dwindling…

We may have set the church above the kingdom. And Jesus didn’t say “seek yes first the church,” he said, “seek he first the KINGDOM.” Have young people left the church not because of disbelief, but because of the church itself!

Young people long to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make an impact, they want to initiate change! So why is the church standing in the way?!

Youth Pastors, there is no greater place to begin the process of transformation than in the youth ministry. How can you expand the frame? How can you, WITH your students, think bigger?

Kara Powell: Yes or No at #NYWC

It is difficult to continually say “yes” to the commitments in our lives. We are constantly having to decide what, and who, we say YES to.

Time talks…it can shout the truth where words lie.” – Dorothy Bass

We say YES so much that we end up saying NO to the people we care about most.

Are we sacrificing our families on the alter of ministry?

We are not the only ones wrestling with this. The families in our ministries have a hard time prioritizing as well. Parents are saying YES without realizing the NO’s.

We should decide our yes’s and our no’s based on our theology, not our schedules. If not, our busyness makes us practical atheists.

“Exhaustion has become the new status symbol” -Brene Brown

This lays in stark contrast to Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

So what truths are we speaking over ourselves and over our students in light of this? Is our job to to try harder to glorify God, our are we and the students we lead, called to REST in what God has already accomplished?

Here are two steps to help your decision making process as you rest in Him:

1. If it’s not a definite yes, it’s a no.
2. Chose your few great “yes” priorities.

Pick 4 and do those four well!

For more great information from Kara, check out www.stickyfaith.org