Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Probably not your grandmother’s idea of church: A series titled “Villains, Bad Guys and Minions” at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Florida. (Source: Museum of Idolatry)

You would have recognized St. Catherine without reading the caption if you owned a set of SaintCards trading cards. See the Kickstarter preview below.

Welcome to our first ever Springtime edition of Wednesday Connect, where all the cool get people get their Christian news and opinion pieces. (If you missed the first one last week, it’s here.) You can also stay in touch during the week here at the blog and @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter. (Just remember the number one substitutes for the letter I.)

► We don’t usually lead off with a video, but this piece by Andrew Peterson, based on Revelation 5, is especially powerful. There’s also a story behind the song, Is He Worthy?

► Andy Savage announced yesterday his formal resignation from Highpoint Church following the revelation of his abuse of power with then youth-group-member Jules Woodson.

► Persecution Watch: “Over the last three years, the anti-Christian persecution in India has continued to increase.  Open Doors’ World Watch List ranked India as the planet’s 25th worst persecutor of Christians in 2015.  Yet in 2017 it was found to be the 15th biggest persecutor and, this year, it climbed to 11th place. An Open Doors spokesperson informs us that before Christians face overt physical violence—in 2016, 15 Christians were murdered in India and many more beaten and threatened—’there [is] often…a long process of re-converting them to Hinduism, during which they faced discrimination, social exclusion and other types of pressure.’ A chief cause of the oppression, according to Open Doors, is the resurrection of Hindu nationalism.  The Hindu nationalist holds that only Hinduism should be observed in India.”

► Word of the Week: Christaphobe.

► Box Office Surprise: “The third-biggest movie in America this weekend was I Can Only Imagine, a Christian movie that shares a title with a Christian song that first charted 17 years ago…The movie’s success was unexpected for some, with analysts calling it ‘the big surprise of the weekend,’ given that it didn’t screen for critics and wasn’t widely marketed.(Pushing A Wrinkle in Time to 4th place.)

► By the numbers: Comparing 2015 to 2018, a look at Roman Catholic approval ratings of Pope Francis in various categories.  (Some rather significant declines.)

► American History: “Senator [Theodore] Bilbo used that power to craft an amendment (to the 1938 work relief bill), which would have relocated 12 million American blacks to Africa. The amendment failed, but Bilbo would defend it for the rest of his life. And he would do so in the name of God. His ideas of white supremacy and racial separatism were both advanced by making extensive biblical references. He really seemed to think he had God on his side.” 

► Youth leaving the church? Peter Enns says, “They have lost interest in what amounts to a shallow, quasi-biblical expression of Christian faith, one that focuses far too much on the not yet.

► Conundrum: Jesus never told Caesar how to run the federal government, correct? But what about the Religious Right today? “Let’s put it this way: their entire purpose for existing is to tell Caesar what to do.” So it wasn’t something Jesus did, rather, as Jerry Falwell, Jr. puts it, “That’s our job.”

► Christian apologist John Lennox reflects on the life and writings of Stephen Hawking. (24 min. video.) 

► One of my favorite authors (Michael Frost) quotes one of my other favorite authors (Skye Jethani) and the concept of “Fear-vangelicals.” Frost sets it up uniquely, however: “In the conservative Australian state of Queensland it was recently decided to remove any reference to a person’s height or gender on their driver’s license. That’s actually no big deal to those of us from other states where height and gender hasn’t been included on our licenses. But among the ultra-conservative evangelicals in that state it was cause for moral outrage.

► Albert Mohler, Jr. writes that sometimes controversy is necessary. “The New Testament is not evasive, as it reveals serious and consequential controversies within the earliest congregations and even among Christian leaders. The Apostle Paul defended the gospel against compromise as he entered into a controversy with the Galatians. He inserted himself into a moral controversy as he wrote to the Corinthians. Paul faced down Peter over the issue of the Gentiles and circumcision. Jude warned of the perpetual challenge of defending the truth against its enemies. John warned of a church that was so lukewarm and uncommitted to the truth that it could not muster a controversy. The history of the church also reminds us of the necessity of controversy when the truth of the gospel is at stake.”

► Stating that, “It is my religious conviction that a male cannot have a husband,” the publisher of a local newspaper northwest of Lubbock, Texas scrubbed the name of a grieving son’s partner from his mother’s obituary. The story adds that, “The newspaper’s publisher, Phillip Hamilton, says he’s a bi-vocational Baptist pastor.” So believing that a same sex husband is somewhat of an impossibility, Hamilton leans on his conviction that, “A newspaper cannot knowingly or recklessly publish false information.”

► The Wheaton Thunder football player involved in a March, 2016 hazing incident is now suing Wheaton College for $50,000 in legal costs and damages.

► Notwithstanding everything we wrote about Christian radio here yesterday, here are few ‘new’ CCM songs: First, Freedom Hymn by Austin French (which was actually posted last September) and second, Christian rapper Zauntee’s God Taught Me (originally recorded last May and also available at YouTube in a Chipmunk version.)

► In your younger days did you ever want a major role in the class play only to be cast as a tree? Well, it could be worse: “‘Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’.’ [John 12:20-21] I wish I knew more about these Greeks. They’re the bittest of bit parts, most extra of extras, to the story of Jesus. They wander into view, tell Philip they want to see Jesus… and then we never hear of them again.”

► Regular readers of Thinking Out Loud know that for years I championed the cause of Saeed Abedini when he was imprisoned in Iran for evangelism. Sadly, as this weekend headline reminds us, things have not worked out well for the pastor since his return to the U.S.

► Admittedly, it’s an advertisement, but for free you can read Barna Research’s top five American cities in three denominational categories: Catholic, Non-Mainline Protestant and Mainline Protestant.

► Not wanting to be outdone by conventional religious broadcasters, Scientology launched its own network last Monday. (At the same source, a rather cynical review of its programming.)

► Ever wonder what the choir director is doing when he’s waving his arms? This one doesn’t have a clue.  

► Kickstarter Preview: It’s actually launching at the crowdfunding site on Easter weekend. After years of distributing their baseball-card-type saint cards through Parish schools, SaintCards is getting ready to ramp things up a notch.

► Finally, you can breathe a sigh of relief: There’s been a major breakthrough in the manufacture of Mormon underwear for women.

The latest Twitter parody account had no problem approaching 1,000 followers. @DesiringDog echoes the name of John Piper’s website.

The question all our readers are asking; see if you agree with the answer!

“So where does all this Wednesday Connect stuff leave me? Do I still have a job?”


March 14, 2018

Wednesday Connect

■ We’re back with a new name and a slightly different format which I hope will evolve and improve over the next few weeks. Your comments and suggestions are always helpful. Welcome to Wednesday Connect #001.

► The Liabilities of Christian Celebrity. This short piece was one of the most frequently mentioned article in the past few days. “This is a fickle expression of faith, one that is based not in the Gospel, but in humans who have limitations and will change. Christian celebrity culture creates in and out groups based on the collective belief in faith leaders, as opposed a universal belief in the teachings of Christ.”

► Ravi Zacharias Update: The apologist will not face any sanctions from the organization which holds his ministry credentials, The Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination and said that “available evidence does not provide a basis for formal discipline under the C&MA policy.

► Question of the Week: “Here’s one way to test the teaching you’ve received and the lenses you’ve been given: were you taught that David’s sin with Bathsheba was primarily sexual? Or were you taught that his sin was the way he abused his power?” The writer goes on, “If you were taught to view David’s relationship with Bathsheba as a consensual, sexual liaison, I believe you’ve been taught to misread the story.”

Left Behind co-author Jerry Jenkins is signed up for a new series releasing this fall. “Dead Sea Rising features Nicole Berman leading an archeological dig in Jordan to search for the first concrete sign of the biblical patriarch Abraham. During the excavation, she discovers a 4,000-year-old complex that includes evidence of Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.” (New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans is “Biblical Consultant.”)

► They weren’t trying to be provocative, but…this headline: Is Déjà Vu Prophetic or Psychic Paranormal Witchcraft? “Déjà vu is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, but one thing is certain: It is not a spiritual gift. This is not the gift of prophecy. It’s not the word of knowledge…[It] does not belong in a prophetic person’s spiritual vocabulary of God expressions. At best, it’s likely a similar memory that’s buried in your subconscious. At worst, it’s witchcraft.”

► Essay of the Week: She plunged herself into an investigation of ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching. “I followed my interest in the prosperity gospel like a storm chaser, finding any megachurch within driving distance of a family vacation… I was traveling the country interviewing this movement’s celebrities for my doctoral research… I wrote the first history of the prosperity gospel from its roots in the late 19th century to its modern mix of TV preachers..” Objectivity went out the window: “No matter how many times I rolled my eyes at the creed’s outrageous certainties, I craved them just the same.” Then life intervened and it was time for a reconsideration.

► Two Men, Two Different Paths: A look at the divide in thought which occurred between Billy Graham and Charles Templeton (with whom my father worked back in the day). 

► A Sure Cure for Low Blood Pressure: Take this 20-question Bible Doctrine and Trivia (to make it an even 20) and provided you agree with the shameless bias of its creators, you’ll get 100%. One comment: “I got an 85 but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong Biblically, just means I didn’t answer all questions according to the question-posers’ doctrine.” (Me, too!) And they don’t even give you the ‘right’ answers or tell you which ones you missed. (The “About” page quotes MacArthur. That should tell you enough.)

► Parenting: That fear and dread when you find out your child is getting a ride home from someone who is not the one you had been told would be driving.

► Karl Vaters, the patron saint of small churches guests on the UnSeminary Podcast with Rich Birch. Don’t have 35 minutes? There’s also an executive summary at the link.

► Testimony Time (1): Her husband left her and then he left God.  An inside look at the pain that resulted.

► Testimony Time (2): Convinced he had the wrong god, he quit the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and built a new spiritual foundation on what the Bible teaches. “It was important because this church, with all it’s beautiful buildings and all it’s property, in the message that sounded so similar to Christianity and terminology, it taught me and continues to teach others another Christ. A Christ that cannot save. It’s a different Jesus. It’s a Jesus that doesn’t have any existence whatsoever. It’s a Christ that cannot save…” (An interesting sidebar to this article was the discovery of

► Trouble in Domain-land? The American Bible Society controls the domain “.bible” which means deciding who gets to use it and who is doesn’t.

► One More Time!  If your church participated in the Global Hymn Sing two weeks ago, or even if it didn’t, here’s another listen to the Getty’s arrangement of Jesus Shall Reign.

► One More Time!  If your church does modern worship, you’re probably aware of the song Reckless Love which has become very popular in a short time. A few days ago, Israel Houghton offered a fresh arrangement of the song.

► A new genre of Christian Music:  They call it Christian Ambient Music. (There’s a part two to this as well.)

► Practical: 3 Steps in spotting spiritual pride; 3 steps in undoing spiritual pride.

► At the Movies: We looked briefly at the film A Wrinkle in Time here on the weekend, inasmuch as there are similarities in the way its being received by conservative Christians and that of the movie The Shack. I never got around to linking to a review however. This one, from the National Catholic Register covers it well.

► A longtime reader here who spent 30+ in marriage and family counseling recently posted this list of seven things implicit in being defined as an emotionally healthy person.

► Sadly, stories of sexual assault involving a church staff member and a teenager are all too common. What makes this one different is that charges were laid against a father and son, both working at a Baptist Church in Texas.

► Connect to More Connections: We had a “My, how you’ve grown!” moment recently when we checked the index to all the Patheos Evangelical bloggers. But don’t stop there, you’ll find an equally large number of Patheos Progressive Christian writers. (There’s more as well: Catholic and Eastern Orthodox blogs.)

► Finally, it’s that time of year again. Take a look at the contenders in the American Jesus Madness 2018 Bracket. Jen Hatmaker versus Lifeway Stores; Eugene Peterson’s backtracking versus The National Statement; and of course, Jerry Falwell Jr. versus Shane Claiborne. Many other interesting face-offs in the first round.

Spotted this week: Stephen Colbert holding “‘Doing her best’ Barbie” in a classic Godspell T-shirt

Spotted earlier this Year: The Biebs reading his Bible sans shirt.

And so it begins. This week was a transition between what was and what this column will become. Your feedback is always welcomed. Special thanks to Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard for three of this weeks suggested items. The graphic at the top is from the UK’s Dave Walker. Click to connect. Items below are from Sacred Sandwich and Post Secret.


January 28, 2018

Youth Pastors: Avoid Any Hint of Compromising Situations

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

All of the stories currently circulating of Youth Pastors facing charges for inappropriate sexual contact or assault reminded me of something that happened when I was doing itinerant youth ministry. If I didn’t have a booking on a particular Friday night, there was one youth drop-in where I would hang out. One night Mike wanted to talk.

So yes, this story involves another guy, but the principle is the same.

Mike said he needed to speak to me privately and confidentially about an issue he was struggling with. He was a 15 year old boy; do the math. It was then that I got a brilliant idea and created a situation that I would then repeat several times in successive weeks when someone felt the need to unburden themselves.

I took my car — my hatchback car that was all windows — and repositioned it to the parking spot that was right by the door. (There were no handicapped spots back then.) That way, even though people were passing by — coming and going every few minutes — Mike could talk and I could listen.

I later did this when some of the girls wanted to talk. Nobody could say, “We saw Paul and ______ sitting in his car;” because the whole point was that they were able to see Paul and ______ sitting in my car. Nothing looked untoward because everything was in full view.

Is this in the Student Ministry training textbook? I don’t know. It worked then and to me it was just youth ministry common sense.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t girls in the group I wouldn’t have liked to date; but for the most point there would have been an 8-10 year difference. Creepy then. Creepy now.

I later married a girl where there was a similar age difference, but we were both older. Definitely no creepy factor.

As to the current headlines, I think that many of those situations could have been avoided if the student pastors had a day-to-day accountability partner. Another pastor on staff. Another youth pastor in the town or city.

December 24, 2017

Noisy Night. Chaotic Night. All is Alarm. All is Fright.

Rob Lacey was an actor and street performer in England who performed in inner-city London and Manchester, and wrote a book called The Street Bible which was a kind of “highlights reel” of all 66 Biblical books and later became published in America as The Word on The Street. Before passing away all too soon he also wrote a more complete free-style paraphrase of a harmonization of the synoptic gospels that was published in both countries as The Liberator.

Because my wife had taken the time to type out the text for a Christmas Eve service we did, I wanted to include them here for all to read. She made some minor edits to it, and the poem is of other origin, which I can’t trace right now. Remember, this was written for inner-city youth in urban centers in the UK and makes no pretense to be an actual translation.

So how’d it happen? Baby Jesus. The Liberator? You ready for this?

I’ll tell you: his mum, Mary, is engaged to Joe. They’d not had sex yet, but – weird! She’s pregnant! Courtesy of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on Joe. A good guy, trying to do the right thing and he’s desperate to keep this news quiet. The locals would come down so hard on her. He’s working out how best to deliver the “sorry, but it’s off” speech – without the gossip grapevine crashing from overload.

He’s smashing the billiard balls of his best options around his brain, well into the early hours. Finally he drops off and God downloads a dream: An angel saying:

“Joe Davidson, don’t you chicken out of making Mary your wife. I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby. She’ll have a boy, and you’ll put the name Jesus down on the birth certificate. Why “Jesus”? ‘Cause it means Liberator and that’s what he’s going to do for all his people…. liberate them from all the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.”

Joe wakes up and, yes, realizes it was all a dream. But he follows his Angel Orders to the letter and the wedding’s back on as soon as the baby’s born. Joe makes sure the birth certificate reads, “First name: Jesus.”

Meanwhile, in the depths of the Roman Empire, he-who-must-be-obeyed, Augustus Caesar, announces the Big Count. Caesar, the Big Cheeser, wants accurate population stats across the empire. Everyone is expected to trek back to their hometown for the registration.

So Joe Davidson sets off on the 130 km trip down the map, crosses the border and arrives in Bethlehem, Davidstown, in the south. He takes his fiancee Mary, who’s pregnant and showing. Three, four, maybe five days later they arrive and realize someone else is about to cross a border and arrive in Bethlehem.

Crisis! Her waters break! “No vacancy” signs in every B&B window. Decision. Mary has a ‘home birth’ in a livestock shed. She wraps strips of cloth round the baby and uses an animal feeding trough as a cot.

Noisy night, chaotic night
All is alarm, all is fright
Rounded virgin, now mother to child
Wholly infant, so other, so wild
Awake at an unearthly hour
Awake at an unearthly hour

Pull back to the fields outside the overpacked town, focus in on a local Sheep Security Team sitting through their night shift.

One of God’s angels turns up, with brilliant supernatural special FX packing the fields with God’s radiance. The guys are scared stupid.

The angel delivers his standard, “Don’t panic” line then hits them with, “I’ve got great news, great news to bring a smile to every shape of face on the planet. Mark the date in your diaries. Today over in Davidstown there’s a new baby born. Not just any baby – The Baby! The Boss, Liberator God himself, turning up for you in baby shape. You’ll know which baby – he’ll be wrapped up snug and lying in a feeding trough that’s caked with old animal grub.”

Cued to make their entrance on the last line of the breaking news, the whole angel choir turn up and blast out the song:

“Celebrate! Elevate! And on planet Earth, serenity. In your earthly home, shalom for all who have known God’s smile.”

Once the angel choir scoots back up the Heavenly HQ, the Sheep Security Team come out with, “Let’s check it out”. “Yeah, let’s hit the town.” “Search the whole of Bethlehem for this baby.” “God’s put us in the picture – let’s go!”

They leg it and, sure enough, they track down Mary and Joe, then find the baby in his makeshift cot. The next days they fill the pubs with echoes of what they’d been told about this baby. The public pulse is breakneck pace as “Liberator Talk” bounces round the walls of the town. The reactions range from amazed to – well, amazed.

The Sheep Security Team go back to work, talking up God for letting them in on the whole adventure.

And Mary’s reaction? She’s quietly storing away all of this in a safe place in her heart, bringing memories out when ever she has some space to wonder.

October 6, 2017

Teenage Rebellion is not Mandatory

It didn’t happen to our kids — now 23 and 26 — and it need not happen to yours, but many parents take the perspective that teen rebellion is simply to be expected. It also didn’t happen to Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, author of the book Why I Dind’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow and How Your Kids Can Too (Nelson Books) which released in paperback just a few days ago.

First, the story of how the book came to be. You need to know that Rebecca is the daughter of Sheila Wray Gregoire, a Canadian author whose work includes 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and To Love Honor and Vacuum; the last title also being the name of her popular blog.

In the winter of 2014, Sheila asked daughter Rebecca to write a blog post for her on why she didn’t rebel. At first Rebecca said no — yes, I supppose you could call that small scale rebellion — but later changed her mind. Rebecca dashed it off in 20 minutes, and within the week it had been seen a quarter of a million times on the blog and over a million times on Facebook. You can read that article at this link.  Her mom then suggested she turn it into a book proposal.

Next, I need to explain why I wanted to read this book. Although we’ve never met, Sheila is a neighbor, inasmuch as last time I checked, we live in the same part of South Central Ontario. Or maybe we’re Eastern Ontario. It’s a big place and I’m never sure. I haven’t heard her speak but I’ve been aware of her traveling with Girls Night Out, a relief-and-development awareness program for women which tours Canadian cities. So there was a local-interest factor here, but honestly, I figured I’d read a chapter or two and then leave it there. As often happens, I ended up reading the entire book.

Like your first year Psychology textbook, this book relies highly on anecdotes from two dozen Millennials reflecting on their childhood years, with a very generous helping of Rebecca’s own family memories. Today she’s married and is considered a “self help blogger” at her website, So while everyone contributing to the book has the perspective of a few year’s distance from adolescent events, the voices in the book are all young.

This brings me to where I’ll probably depart from other reviews and publisher marketing on this title. For example this one: “Why I Didn’t Rebel provides an eye-opening way of raising kids who follow God rather than the world.  It should not be expected that teens are going to rebel, especially if you start to teach them the right way young.  The big key is to teach them right from wrong and consequences from a young age.”

I agree wholeheartedly, but I think there’s more potential here. I think that other Millennials might want to read this, and dare I say it, I think some teens could benefit from this; especially those whose home situation is not exactly perfect. I believe some — not all — adolescents might benefit from seeing some ideal family dynamics, and might also identify with the stories of those who persevered and survived amid family chaos.

Was Rebecca’s home situation the exception to the rule? She’s quick to point out that it wasn’t perfect, but it obviously provided her the security or stability which ruled out going through teen rebellion. In ten chapters she deals with the contributing factors and because of her age provides a refreshing perspective against a backdrop of more mature ‘experts’ writing parenting books.

I’m glad I chose to read all the way through; it’s a book I would recommend.

Read a sample chapter at proud Mom Sheila’s blog.


October 2, 2017

My Sunday School Memoir, Part One

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:07 am

The church in which I spent my teenage years ultimately left me with a stronger memory of testimony than teaching. The various guest speakers who came through always had a story to tell and while I can now name-drop so many North American pastors and musicians to whom I was exposed, I think I experienced that at the expense of some Bible learning I would need to catch up on later.

In our Junior High, Sr. High and College and Career Sunday School classrooms, Christian businessmen from the congregation would drop in to share something with us; either a testimony of how they came to Christ, or how they are able to honor Christ in their workplace.

One in particular was a frequent guest. He worked in an industry that was known for its propensity to corruption. I was too young to appreciate the nuances of the term “money laundering,” but if that was that your goal, his vocation would be the career of choice.

So as a Christian, he always told us about the various ethical temptations which confronted him on a daily basis and how he always had to choose to do the right thing. “I am a Christian;” he would tell his customers, “So I can’t write up an invoice for a different amount than what you’re paying.” I think we teens and twenty-somethings were suitably impressed that he was an excellent Christian.

On reflection, many of the aspects of owning a business were lost on us kids. This weekend, his various appearances in our Sunday School rooms came to mind, and for the first time I considered the possibility he was speaking to the other teachers and not to us at all. He might have been saying, “I know what you think of people who do what I do, and I just want to tell you that I don’t compromise my Christian principles even though I’m in a usually shady line of work.”

Was he really all he said? I have no reason to believe, or even suspect otherwise. I think as Christians we have to take these things at face value. “Love,” said Paul to the Corinthians, “Believes the best.”

I just wonder why we we were exposed to this every couple of years. Did he approach the people in charge of the Sunday School and say, “I’d like to come and speak to the High School kids;” or did he simply do a great job the first time that led to other invitations? “We’ll get _______ to come; he’s really good in front of the students.”

I wonder where was the man or woman who could have come to us and said, “I was just reading something in Luke’s Gospel this week that really struck me as appropriate to the things you face at school every day, and so I asked if could come for 2-3 minutes and share it with you.” Who instead of radiating the joy of maintaining great moral standards in the face of a slimy business environment could have radiated the joy of discovering something in scripture he or she had never seen before. Who could have given us an overview of how the books of the Bible were arranged and how to interpret different genres. Who could have explained what made our church different than the ten or twelve churches we had to drive past to get there.

It was always testimony over teaching, but without a strong foundation, the problem becomes, ‘a testimony of what exactly?’

More on this in Part Two.


July 24, 2017

The Office of a College Campus Minister

Regular readers here will remember Jeff Snow from the three-part series about how divorce affects teens, which we actually ran twice. If you missed it, click this link and scroll down to Part One. Jeff is currently serving bi-vocationally doing campus ministry as part of Mission Canada, an initiative of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (what the Assemblies of God churches are known as here.) The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) shares a campus with Durham College, so Jeff interacts with people studying at both levels, not to mention that this campus is more culturally diverse than anything our American readers might imagine.

He shared the following in a recent newsletter and as we do have readers here involved in student ministry, I thought it was worth presenting.

I get the feeling I like to work when there is food around.

I’m sitting in my favorite corner of the local Subway restaurant on a sunny but cool day working on this letter and it makes me think back to last semester, my first full semester of ministry through Mission Canada at UOIT/Durham College, and consider my favorite place to work on campus.

The cafeteria.

Last year, as I shared my ministry plans with a colleague, one of the first questions he asked me was would I have an office on campus? I just smiled. I knew I would have an office, but not in the way he was thinking.

My office is the cafeteria.

In my years of high school ministry, we would at times hear stories about youth pastors who had developed such a well-respected ministry at a high school that they were given office space. This does speak highly of the respect given to a youth pastor, but an office is something I’ve never aspired to for a couple of reasons.

One is that on a secular campus it puts a bulls-eye on your back for those to aim at who don’t want a Christian presence on campus. One principal told me years ago, “You fly under the radar. We like that.”

Secondly, being in an office means you are but one more person that a student has to go TO in order to get help and support. It takes more time and patience, but the payoff is greater if we are able to travel in the young person’s world, become accepted in their universe, and, by being on their turf, be more accessible when they need help and support. The goal is to try and be where the young people are.

Like in the cafeteria.

Over the past semester, the two places I spent most of my time on campus was at Campus Church, the Friday night student-led campus ministry, and in the cafeteria. Usually I will make an appointment to meet one student for lunch, with a plan to stay in the cafeteria the whole afternoon. I bring a laptop to do some work and look studious during downtime, but more often than not there isn’t any downtime, as students that I’ve gotten to know through the Campus Church ministry will stop by, pull out their lunch, and start chatting.

The conversations usually start off light, and sometimes stay that way. But most of the time the conversations move to deeper issues. Relationships, school pressure, dorm life, church life, world issues, the future, ministry opportunities, prayer for family and friends. All have been topics for discussion. I have found myself being a pastoral presence on campus for a number of these students. Many of them have home churches and pastors, but my presence on campus gives them accessibility to a listening ear and support right there on their turf. And they don’t have to go to an office and make an appointment. They can find the support they need.

Right there in the cafeteria.

My desire as I look forward to the coming semester is to find ways to connect with students who aren’t necessarily Christians, connect with students who are not yet part of Campus Church. That is where an office could come in handy for the few who might seek out spiritual support. It would be a formal way of identifying where to find support rather than talking to some dude in the cafeteria. But until the school reinstates the chaplaincy, my best bet for meeting students is through my office in the cafeteria. Whether it is meeting pre-Christians through their Christian friends or through other means, I’m looking forward to opportunities to meet pre-Christian students on their turf and help them see how the Gospel connects with where they are in life.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jeff’s work or providing financial support, click this link.

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.


…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.


March 6, 2017

If Jesus Attended My High School

rene-schmidtToday we have a guest writer. René Schmidt wrote the following in the context of his role as the Director of The Beacon, a youth centre in Brighton, Ontario where he is on staff with Quinte Youth For Christ.  He’s also a published, award-winning author. Learn more at or read his blog at

• by René Schmidt

With some teenagers I have been discussing what Jesus may have been like as a teenager, or today, what Jesus would be like if he was a student in one of our local schools. What clothes would he wear? Who would be his friends? Would he seem ordinary in some ways?

So this is a poem I wrote about that…

If Jesus Attended My High School

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

Maybe young Jesus would be the total sports achiever
Who could anticipate passes as a football receiver
Would his game-skills be awesome or his skating the best?
Would he be faster and smarter than all of the rest?

Would he be good-looking for the girls to admire?
Strong and handsome and he’d never perspire?
Or would he be a joker, the best kind of class clown,
Witty and smart, someone cool to be around?

When I try to fit in I wonder how Jesus would fare?
Would he buy the latest styles or blue-dye his long hair?
Would Jesus the teenager even think of these things?
Like who to ask to the semi, or perhaps the spring fling?

Would we be friends on Facebook or would he tweet on Twitter?
Would he wear clothes with pinstripes or glitter?
Maybe Jesus would avoid social media so speedy
And instead be spend time with a friend who was needy

Maybe Jesus would be a studious guy off in another zone
Reading dusty old textbooks in the library alone
He’d surely be smart, especially in History,
And know all the answers – to him nothing’s mystery!

He would know me, right down to my middle,
But would I know him? Recognize him, a little?
Jesus on earth wasn’t automatically respected
Born to poverty, not influence, and often rejected

WWJD says try to do what he would do, live as he did
But we imagine him a grownup man, not a teenaged kid
Because as a teenager in my school, I’m guessing that rarely
The day would go by that a Jesus would be treated fairly

Maybe teased for being good or the way that he talked
Or who really was his father, was he born out of wedlock?
Maybe he’d be short and ignored, not allowed in the club
Because those shy quiet types are the ones people snub

If a kid was friendless Jesus would text that kid’s phone
And he’d talk to that strange kid who is always alone
Jesus had a purpose and wouldn’t be embarrassed
To be seen with me when I’m being harassed

So maybe not fitting in at school isn’t the worst thing ever
Not belonging with the cool groups, or being thought clever
If Jesus went to my school, I hope that I’d recognize
Him for his goodness and kindness not his beauty or size

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

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