Thinking Out Loud

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.

December 17, 2016

Chickens and Eggs: Which Comes First, Belonging or Believing?

Try Before You Buy?

Later today at Christianity 201, we’re doing a video post from Seven Minute Seminary at We did this about a year ago, and while choosing something for today (it’s on the destiny of the unevangelized) I found this one. At first, I found the reference to “postmodernism” a bit dated. Surely everybody gets that mindset now and its continued pervasiveness among Millennials, right? But as Jim Hampton got into this 6½ minute explanation, I realized that is take on believing vs. belonging was something I hadn’t seen before; the notion that a new generation of seekers really wants to embed themselves in our communities to see if our faith is genuine; if our belief is authentic enough that it translates into our everyday practices. 

But embed themselves to what extent? Singing on a worship team? Partaking of The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)?

Click the title below to read the article and watch the video at source:

Belonging vs. Believing: Postmodernism and Its Implications for Discipleship

Postmodernism has many implications for how churches understand and approach discipleship. Using youth culture as a model, Dr. Jim Hampton explores how those who have a suspicion of authority and dogma might be included in the process of discipleship by allowing them to participate in community in significant ways.

James Hampton is Professor of Youth Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is an editor for the Journal of Youth and Theology.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

August 13, 2014

Wednesday Link List

God has no phone but I talk to him

Control the WeatherTime to dust off the flannel graph, test the cassette deck and warm up the filmstrip projector as another season of ministry kicks off. As for that book cover on the right, there’s no link because…well…someone might actually click through and buy one.

Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and edits Christianity 201, the latter of which is always looking for submissions.

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”


Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

June 28, 2011

Support Your Church’s Students Doing Summer Missions

I wish I could go into detail here, but unfortunately, I can’t.  Maybe some day, but not now.  But this is what is burning in my heart to publish today…

All I want to say is this:  If God has blessed you financially and you have young people in your church who are doing a summer missions project, then find a way to offer them encouragement. 

  • If you church doesn’t “commend” summer students with prayer, then pull the student of your choice aside and offer to pray for them.  AND:
  • If your church does do a blanket financial donation, then slip the kid an extra $5 or a $10 bill and say, “This is for some need that may arise when you’re in the middle of the project.”  Or, “This is for you to spend on something for yourself that you would have bought if you had stayed home working at a regular summer job.”
  • If you church doesn’t do financial support for the student(s) then offer to make a more significant contribution to their airfare or field expenses through the mission agency involved.
  • If that isn’t possible, offer to purchase something that the student needs for the following school year.  This way you know exactly where your money went.

Your financial support, prayer support, overall interest and sincere encouragement would mean so much; and students are very aware when the older generation in the church isn’t aware or supportive of what they’re trying to do.  Which can be somewhat bewildering.  You don’t have to be a “youth culture” church to show that you value the young people in your congregation.

By doing this, you are investing in the lives of future Christian leaders, and are also breaking down the inter-generational walls that exist like a plague in so many churches.  The money may not get spent in exactly the way it might have if you gave to a traditional missions project.  But the encouragement factor will be 100% effective in the spiritual formation of a young person.

July 20, 2010

Francis Chan Meets NOOMA in Basic: Fear God

The production team that introduced Rob Bell to a new audience in NOOMA, Flannel, is teamed up with Cornerstone Church (Simi Valley, CA) pastor Francis Chan for a minimum of seven DVDs under the series name, BASIC.

The differences are somewhat superficial, but there are a few of them:  Switching from sky blue to basic beige, modifying the packaging by including a color booklet, adding a second feature, and changing distribution from Zondervan to David C. Cook are some of the differences.

The similarities are the more striking, and they are but two:

First of all, the good news:  Chan’s message about fearing God merges well with the film production team at Flannel pulling out all the stops for an elaborate production that is visually very simple, but guaranteed to evoke one of the primary fears we all have, fear of water.   The musical score is also of the quality we came to expect from the Bell videos.    You almost wonder out loud how they did it, and you are rewarded with one new feature, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video that is as visually engaging as the film itself.

Second, the not-so-good news:   The BASIC series will do for Francis Chan what NOOMA did for Rob Bell in terms of awareness and publicity, but for those of us who knew a pre-NOOMA Bell and know a pre-BASIC Chan, it’s easy to wish that instead of these short-form teachings, they simply packaged up some of Chan’s best sermons into quality teaching, long-form DVDs.  Where NOOMA doesn’t represent the “Best of Bell,” neither is BASIC necessarily going to give the world the “Best of Chan.”  Both are phenomenal communicators who can’t be contained in a 10-14 minute video.

In other words, just as a few of knew there was more to Rob Bell than we saw in Dust or Luggage or Rain; so is there so much more to Francis Chan than we get to see on Fear God. However, having said that, I think Chan has a better chance of allowing his teaching to transcend the short-form film medium.

There are some great discussion options available here to youth group leaders, who made up the core of the NOOMA market.   They should find BASIC equally useful in preparing youth and young adult meeting theme preparation, and like NOOMA, it will probably bleed over into an older demographic as well, and even the occasional Sunday morning service.

I’m looking forward to seeing this series develop.

July 15, 2010

Currently Reading: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites

Since this is a book about statistics, may I begin by saying that I am about 64% through this book, having just started yesterday.

Whereas unChristian by David Kinnaman is a book about those outside the church, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told by Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD (Bethany House, 2010) is very much a book about those inside the church, especially Evangelicals.

But there the similarity ends, because while Kinnaman is a researcher for Barna Group, Wright, a sociologist, takes direct aim at many Barna Research studies, the manner in which they are published, and the spin that alarmist Christians and headline-hungry press put on them.   (And since one of the bullet points in my recommendation of unChristian was its affiliation with Barna, it really undermines the credibility of that book by default, even though isn’t footnoted in the chapters I’ve covered so far; the author does reference Barna Group’s Revolution several times.)

In Bradley Wright’s view, the sky is not falling, the church is not necessarily decaying, and there no substantiation for giving up hope.   This flies in the face of people like Josh McDowell, author of The Last Christian Generation, a book and writer that Wright refers to, but not by name (you have to read the footnotes.)   Wright’s detesting of statistical manipulation is evidenced from the opening chapter.

This is probably the best book I’ve seen for North American Evangelical pastors who want to better understand who exactly is sitting in the pews on Sunday (and who is away that week!)  But it’s far from a leadership book; anyone who wants to be conversant on where the church is heading, or has a concern about the so-called “last generation” should read this.   There are many graphs and charts and explanation of the sociological method, but it should not deter anyone from getting some benefit from this thorough work.

I did some post-review research here to see if David Kinnaman and Bradley Wright are linked anywhere in the blogosphere; one writer connected the two in passing back in 2008,  the same year Wright himself reviewed Kinnaman’s book.   More recently,  Louis McBride tries to connect some dots in a July 4 blog post at the (biased) Baker Book House Connection blog, and a day later, an excellent review is posted by Scott Sidusky.   You might also enjoy the 18-minute interview at the Drew Marshall show; click here and scroll down to May 22.

June 1, 2010

The Perfect Excuse For Sin

As an itinerant youth worker who did music and seminars on music in a variety of churches, the closest thing I had to a base was a small, conservative Evangelical church in east Toronto which also happened to have, throughout the 1980s,  a very dynamic youth outreach on Friday nights.

On the Fridays I wasn’t booked elsewhere I would spend my evenings there listening to the performers and talking to people who just wanted to talk.

I knew Mike superficially but we hadn’t really had much in the way of conversations, so I was a little surprised when he told me that he really needed to talk with me about something important.

I had arrived early that night to unload some boxes, and hadn’t moved my car, therefore, parked as it was by the front door where teens were coming and going every few seconds, it offered a place that was both public and private at the same time.   I often used it as a portable office.

Mike shut the door and began telling me how his life was plagued by lustful thoughts and how he was often swept away by uncontrollable urges; often several times in a single day, if you get my drift.

My policy had always been that I felt questions concerning sex or sexuality should be handled by the married individuals and couples who were part of that ministry’s core team, and had I known ahead of time that this was the topic of choice, I would never have suggested Mike start telling his story.

But I was also not completely unprepared.   I have two stock answers to questions of this nature:

First, I told Mike that the Bible is very clear that the mind is the battlefield.   I may have mentioned the verse in Proverbs 4 that reminds us to guard our hearts.   I may have mentioned the one in II Cor.  5 which tells us to take every stray thought that enters our mind captive. I definitely would have got into the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus equates a lustful look with adultery.

Second, I reminded Mike that one aspect of the fruit of the spirit is self-control.   That nothing, no matter what, should overtake us.

I thought those two points summarized the issue quite well.   It also avoided ridiculous advice like, “Why not just take a cold shower?”   That would not have been helpful at that point.

So, confident that I had done my job, nothing prepared me for Mike’s response:

“But you don’t understand, Paul; I’m Italian.”

Apparently, somehow, ethnicity, or culture, or citizenship rendered all my earlier points null and void.    Mike’s self identity as an Italian canceled out all requirements to adhere to the lifestyle ideals presented in the scriptures I had quoted or alluded to.

The strange thing about this is, despite the clarity with which I can retell this story two-and-a-half decades later, I have absolutely no idea what I said next to Mike.   I can guess.    I know I didn’t give him an opt-out on the basis of his parentage.   I know at the end he appreciated my willingness to share.  But I can’t remember my response exactly.

Had Mike found the perfect excuse to just ignore everything the Bible teaches? He believed his answer to me had validity.

What would you have said to Mike at that point?

February 2, 2010

Meet Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin

On one of the blog aggregators (or portals) this blog is on there is a popular blog called “Basta Love Life: Love and Relationships” authored by Kuya Kevin.   An American, Kevin Sanders is a missionary to youth in Manila, The Philippines.

“There’s a story here;” I said to myself several months ago, “And sometime soon I’ve got to find out what it is.”   Kevin was good enough to play along as I asked him a number of questions…

How does a guy from Alabama end up spending the last eight years in The Philippines?

I felt God was calling me into ministry back in my teen years.  I was very involved in student ministry throughout high school and college.  I remember several missions conferences back in my college days — these made a real impression on me.  These “student years” gave me a passion for two things: missions and college ministry.

I decided to pursue college ministry after I finished seminary.   To make a long story short, it was a process of sending out resumes and seeing where God opened doors.  I eventually applied to become a missionary here.  It’s been the best of both worlds–missions and college ministry.  I was originally planning to be here for one year.  God obviously had other plans.

What does a typical week look like for you?

The most important thing I do is campus evangelism and discipleship.  I approach students, share the gospel, do Bible study with those who respond positively, and train student leaders to do the same.  I usually spend 3-4 days a week doing this.

The rest of my time is divided among different ministry activities: 1. Speaking engagements at schools and churches. 2. Recording our radio show. 3. Writing, which includes blogging, responding to email, and books (if I happen to be working on a book project).

It’s kind of a juggling act and I’m always praying for discernment in the best use of time.  Speaking engagements are a big deal this month because of Valentine’s Day, so I’m willing to spend more time than usual doing seminars.  It’s all about making the best use of the time God gives us.  I haven’t mastered this by any means, so I always pray for grace and wisdom.

What would you say are the cultural distinctives among youth there versus in the States?  What things did you have to adjust to?

Filipinos are naturally fun-loving and gregarious people.  I feel in love with them almost instantly.  Cultural adjustments haven’t been terribly difficult for me.

I’d say one significant difference is the group mentality.  Filipinos tend to be more comfortable acting in groups (a group of friends is called a barkada here, and almost everyone belongs to such a group).   I rarely approach just one individual–there’s usually at least four or five of them hanging out together.

For many youth workers, the issues of sexuality and dating are part of a larger ministry portfolio, but you’ve chosen to specialize in this area ; do you find there’s a great need for this among the kids you work with?

I never really planned to get involved with purity advocacy when I first arrived here.  It’s something that just happened through a series of events–events I believe God orchestrated.

It started around 2003.  A Filipino version of True Love Waits was produced and we decided to try doing seminars on campuses.  The response was so overwhelming that I knew God wanted me to pursue it further.  There’s definitely a need here.  Filipino youth tend to be more conservative than their Western counterparts, but they are struggling with this x-rated world we live in.

The podcast is English.   Do most of the kids you work with speak English?  What is the main language in Manila?   What does Kuya (as in Kuya Kevin) and Basta (as in Basta Love Life) mean?

Filipinos are excellent English speakers–they can usually understand it without any problem.  Having said that, Tagalog is their first language here in Manila.  Some students are not completely comfortable speaking English, so I learned to speak and understand Tagalog.

“Kuya” means older brother.    “Basta” doesn’t translate very smoothly into English.  But the simplest way to translate “Basta Love Life” would be “Just Love Life.”

You sometimes lapse into Tagalog in the middle of the podcast.   Obviously, you’re very much at home there now.   Do you get back to the U.S. at all?

The summer break here is in April/May.  Usually I come home for a few weeks during those months.  It’s an opportunity to visit my family, speak at churches, and do some bass fishing.

Your blog must get American as well as local readers… I see it also connects you to a youth group you work with…  Is it hard speaking to two different cultures at the same time or are the issues the same everywhere?

I’d say the issues are essentially the same.  Here’s an interesting thing about the show:  I’m an American who has spent the past seven and a half years here.  My co-host (Erwin) is a Filipino who grew up here but spent several years living in the States.  This helps us see issues from more than one cultural angle.

I’ve considered publishing and American “version” of Basta LoveLife, my first book.  But I’ll need to go back and Americanize it–make a few minor modifications.

What’s the core of what you want to say to young people about sex and purity?

I often summarize God’s instructions for singles in two commandments: be pure and be wise.  “Be pure” means avoiding sexual intimacy outside of marriage.  “Be wise” means using biblical wisdom in matters of the heart.  I think at least 90% of problems are avoided if singles will just follow these two principles.

Thanks, Kevin.

If you’re reading this and you’re interested in knowing more, first of all visit the Kuya Kevin website, check out the weekly podcast and then remember Kevin Sanders in your prayers.

If you’re looking for a mission project that is worthy of your financial support, donations can be sent to Kevin Sanders Ministries, First Baptist Church Pinson, 4036 Spring Streeet, Pinson, AL 35126.   For those of you in the U.S., tax receipts are available.

Kevin also wanted me to add that he has a strength and fitness blog; check out Strong and Fit.

January 10, 2010

The Trouble With Paris

Last night we binge-watched a four-part DVD curriculum series that was released in Australia in 2007 and picked up by Thomas Nelson in 2008.

The Trouble With Paris features Mark Sayers, described on the packaging as “Australia’s leading young adult specialist” and deals with the media saturation that presents us with a “hyper-reality” that over time leaves us expecting that to be part of our normal experience, when in fact we live life in normal, everyday reality.    Each of the first three parts is really a lead-in to the fourth, which is a big-picture overview of how God’s reality is what we truly need to be seeing and experiencing.

The segments run about 15 minutes each, though I should qualify that by saying that the disc has a number of built-in pauses to consider a small group discussion question.     While the packaging says “four weeks,” this would be an excellent choice for a retreat weekend for young adults or older teens, especially if there was a mix of believers and non-believers.

What’s most impressive however is the audio and video quality.    The curriculum is produced by Room3, a leading-edge video production company in Melbourne whose other work includes promotional videos and commercials with an emphasis on work with non-profits and social justice and community development groups.

At $39.99 US (for a perceived one hour of content)  Thomas Nelson is never going to sell these to individual consumers the way it did the Liquid series or the way Zondervan marketed NOOMA,  but it’s a diamond in the rough your youth pastor or young adults pastor should be aware of.  To watch it on the smallscreen click here but it’s better watched on a giant screen.



Some additional resources by Mark Sayers:

Your Faithclock is Ticking: Why Young Adults leave Church

Why Young Adults Leave Church: Reason 1 Choice Anxiety

Why Young Adults Leave Church: Reason 2 Post-Christian Identity

Why Young Adults Leave the Church: Reason 3 The Pornification of Christian Resources

Why Young Adults Leave Church: Reason 4 Consumerist Spirituality

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