Raising Kids that Don’t Leave the Church

Faith that LastsIt was a little over two years ago when I picked up the phone and hoped that he would answer.  This was one of the crazy leaps of faith that every publisher takes when they have a hunch.  I had read a blog post by Jon Nielson and was deeply impacted by the content.  Surely he must already be a published author if his work was being posted on the Gospel Coalition website.  Even more likely, he would probably not be available to take my call.  As the phone rang a few times, my heart began to sink…and then he answered.

After a few moments of introduction, we got into the heart of the matter.  I asked if he had been contacted about doing a book on the subject of his blog post and if he had a book deal already in the works.  To my great surprise and joy, he did not.  Now to the really hard question – was he willing to write an entire book on a concept that had started as a blog post.  It didn’t take long for Jon to agree that the subject of his blog was really important and that he could actually do what I was asking.

So what was this blog post about and why would a publisher consider doing a book about it.  Well the blog post touched on a subject that is becoming more and more resonant with parents all across the country.  It is no longer a secret that millennials are leaving the church in droves when they hit the all-important age of 18.   Many of these kids have grown up in the church, attended youth group, Sunday school and Bible Camp.  Most of them made genuine professions of faith.  And then for many different reasons, as soon as they hit that magic age they stop going to church and become part of the “none” generation – those that claim to have no particular religious affiliation.  The title of Jon’s post was “Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up”.  It had created a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and was being read several years after it was first posted in 2011.

Jon’s new book, Faith that Lasts, goes on sale this Tuesday and deals with this subject head on.  His subtitle, “Raising Kids that Don’t Leave the Church” is the heart of his content.  Instead of wringing his hands like many of the pundits and prognosticators, he approaches the topic in a really counter-intuitive way.  So many other authors and commentators have focused on why kids are leaving the church and what can be done to fix this problem.  Jon takes a totally different tact and looks at kids that chose to stay in the church as they became adults and asks why.  This is not a how to book or some kind of recipe for parenting success, instead it is a book filled with hope that God is still sovereign and parents do make a difference in the choices their kids make.

I am so glad that I had the courage to pick up the phone and call Jon.  Over the last couple of years, he has moved from doing pastoral ministry at the College Church in Wheaton, Illinois to a campus ministry fellowship at Princeton University.  Every day he gets to interact with kids that are interested in pursuing and deepening their faith in Jesus Christ even as they deal with all the normal doubts that every college student faces.  As this book is birthed I am looking forward to hearing from parents who had been despairing in the face of what seem like insurmountable obstacles in our culture.  How do you raise kids that will follow Jesus on their own?  Some of those answers can be found in this really important new book that we get the privilege of bringing into the world on Tuesday.

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Investing in the Soul of a Leader

bill hybelsBill Hybels was talking and told this story.  He was consumed with leading and growing the Willow Creek Church and was in his office one day when his daughter stopped by.  His desk was covered with papers and he was deeply focused on an issue that needed his attention.  He looked up when she came in and saw that she wanted to talk with him.  Without thinking, he said “Can you talk quickly because I am really busy right now.”  She began to back out of the office and said, “It’s OK Dad, I can come back when you are able to listen slowly”.  Not surprisingly, that conversation was like a dagger to his heart.  He ran after his daughter, apologized for his abrupt response to her and asked for her forgiveness.  God used that incident to begin a deep work of transformation in his heart that would impact other leaders for generations to come.

This week, I was the beneficiary of that work in Bill’s life.  Not only was Bill the founder and pastor of the Willow Creek Church, but he founded the Global Leadership Summit that is held every year in August.  This live event is hosted at his South Barrington, Illinois church campus and is simulcast in nearly 600 locations around the USA.  Over 300,000 people attend and participate at one of these many sites.  I had the joy of attending two different sites in Philadelphia where our team was providing a leadership book resource table for the attendees.   It was exciting to see other leaders investing in their own growth and development and to learn from the excellent faculty of speakers that were sharing from the main stage during the two days of the event.

There were many highly influential and experienced leaders that Bill and his team had chosen to speak at the summit this year.  They included Melinda Gates (Bill Gates’ wife and head of the Gates Foundation), Alan Mulally (President of the Ford Motor Company) and acclaimed leadership author Patrick Lencioni.  While I learned a lot from every one of the speakers, I was most deeply impacted by Bill Hybels himself and something that he shared on the second day.  Maybe that is because he and I share some traits in common and are passionate and driven leaders who care deeply about God’s kingdom.  Maybe it is because I share some of the same flaws and have made some of the same mistakes.

In the middle of the second day, Bill walked to a flip chart and drew a diagram of a line that went diagonally from the bottom left of the page to the top right and said this represented the ever increasing pace of the life of a typical leader who takes on more and more responsibility.  Then he drew a second parallel line below it that only went half way up the page and then began to fall off and actually went down to the bottom right.  This line represented the amount of time, energy and focus that leaders spend on developing their own souls.  Far too often in the race to get things accomplished, leaders do not invest as much in the growth of their souls as they do in the growth of their ministry or business.  The result is often burn out and leadership failure.  As a leader who has been taking on more and more responsibility I could relate to everything he was saying.

For me and many of the other attendees, the Global Leadership Summit is a soul investment.  It was two solid days of leadership teaching and reflection that was fuel for my inner person.  As I was considering how to keep investing in this type of growth going forward, it struck me that many of the tools I needed were right on the book table in front of me.  Bill suggested taking 10-15 minutes every day in solitude before God to let Him speak deeply to our hearts.  He even gave us some practice by stopping the summit teaching at three specific points for two minutes of nothing but beautiful music and asked us to get quiet before God.  Coupled with this practice of silence he emphasized the value of reading daily and committing to let the words of these authors soak into your soul.  I was ready for the challenge and look forward to allowing God to shape me in times of silence, reflection and reading.

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An Enduring Commitment

mom and dad weddingHe sat by her side every day in the hospital and never complained.  This past April, my Mom was unexpectedly hospitalized for eleven days with a severe reaction to food poisoning.  My Dad made sure that he was there as much as possible and helped in any way that he could.  Ironically, only one year earlier, it had been my mom who was beside my Dad’s bed everyday as he recovered from major back surgery.  Little did he know that he would get to return the favor in so short a time and that he would be healthy enough to make the daily trek back and forth.   Though my Dad was not able to do much from a medical standpoint, his emotional support made all the difference in the world.  As I walked with him on many of those days from the parking garage to her room and back, I couldn’t help but admire his enduring commitment to a woman that meant so much to him.

Today, they celebrate fifty years of marriage and a life of faith that has lasted the test of time and trial.  Recently, I came across an on-line article that described the marriage they have lived before my eyes.  Here is a brief except,

Great marriages are formed, not found. Christian marriage is the opportunity to practice fidelity over time, so you can look back and call it love. A Christ-centered marriage has less to do with finding the right one and more to do with committing your life to the one you found. It bears witness to the same kind of sacrificial faithfulness Christ has for his church. And while this self-giving marriage may not make me more fulfilled all the time, if done right, it will most definitely make me more holy. Therefore, it is faithfulness, not fulfillment that is the defining mark of Christian marriage.

Before you begin to imagine that my parents are super saints, I need to point out that they are human beings.  Like all marriages, there were times of squabbling and disagreement, but there were also many more times of laughter, joy and forgiveness.  As I grew up, I never had to wonder if they really loved each other and the strength of their commitment to God made their marriage that much stronger.  I was blessed to watch two people who were very different learn to lay down their own agendas for the greater good of our family and their ministry.  Arguments normally happened behind closed doors and affirmations often happened in public.  Mom and Dad stood side by side in their parenting and supported each other’s decisions making it very difficult for us children to try to “divide and conquer”.  Nothing put the fear of God in us more than mom saying, “Wait till your Dad comes home” for us to receive a punishment.

During most of their marriage my parents worked in the same ministry and often worked alongside each other.   The kind of work related stress they endured over the years could have destroyed many marriages.  To God’s glory, my parents not only survived but thrived as they worked together to serve people all over the world and to fulfill their joint passion to see people come to faith and maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ.  At the core of their relationship was a deep friendship and an unrelenting commitment to prayer.  I cannot remember a day that they did not have our family pray together and their practice of praying as a couple has grown as they have had more margin in their schedules in recent years.

For some reason my parents love the board game Scrabble and they play it a lot.  With so much practice they are really IMG_3186good at it.  I have often wondered if it is that same tenacity that has infused their marriage all of these years.  No matter how challenging the circumstances they faced, they did it together in full reliance on God.  It is no surprise that all of their children are now in long term marriage relationships and committed to growing in grace.  May we all reach this illustrious fifty-year milestone and honor the God we love like our Mom and Dad have modeled so well for us.

 

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#State of Confusion

confused 2How did we get here?  That was the thought rolling through my brain recently as I was sitting on a plane.  Not how did this plane get to this point in the trip or how does plane flight even work, but how did we as a human race get to this point in time when we seem so lost and confused.  The man next to me had just shared about his life and the things he cared about most.  In the midst of the conversation, he made a startling statement, “I have lost seven of my kids to heroin “.  He quickly made it clear that he did not actually have seven children, but that he had been involved in coaching boys Lacrosse at a very competitive level for a number of years.  Many of those boys were in their twenties now and finished their Lacrosse careers.  Somewhere along the way, they began experimenting with drugs and now a number of them had lost their lives.  When I asked him why he thought this had happened, he said that he thought it came down to a loss of hope.  What did that mean?  How could bright, active, highly competitive young men come to the conclusion that there was no real purpose in life and certainly no hope for the future?

While there are many reasons that one can point to for our current state of confusion, I am convinced that at the core it is a spiritual problem.  With the advent of so much technology in our world, our adversary, the Devil, has convinced an entire generation that they do not have to learn or believe anything for themselves.  In fact, holding strong convictions about reality might even be unwise, because who knows when that “theory” will be disproven.  Instead, why not simply rely on the ever evolving bastion of all truth – Wikipedia – and similar websites when there is a need to know anything.  This reality was on full display recently with a widely viewed YouTube video where a young man went onto a college campus and started asking some outrageous questions.  You have to watch the video in its entirety to understand how confused this generation really is.  Suffice it to say that by the end of the video, he (a short white guy) was able to convince several people that he actually might be a tall Chinese woman.  Simple visual confirmation of reality is no longer sufficient.

While our enemy is using this tactic of digital disguise on many non-believing young people, he is using another even more insidious tactic with Christian young people.  Many are being convinced that the Bible is no longer reliable and that having certainty about anything is really impossible.  This week, I had dinner with a young couple who recently graduated from a Christian college.  They told of the confusion that is permeating Bible classes as professors regularly refer to parts of the Bible as mythology and make it clear that other parts are not accurate.  Instead of helping students to work through doubts and concerns about the reliability of the Bible, they are creating more and more.  No wonder then that with the legs taken out from the inerrancy of scripture that all kinds of strange theological conclusions can be drawn about issues that are not unclear in the Bible.

With all of this in mind, I am deeply convicted that God can use the printed page to break through this foggy haze that Satan is creating with tweets, inflammatory Facebook comments and biased blog posts.  It is my view that there has never been a more important time to put down our devices and pick up a book (unless your book is on a device).  If you have some confused young people in your life or if you are one of those confused people yourselves, here is a great list of books to get you started:

  • Know What You Believe by Paul Little
  • The Reason for God by Tim Keller
  • Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • The Universe Next Door by James Sire
  • The Faith by Charles Colson
  • The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer

As my plane was getting ready to land, I could not help but wonder what might have gone differently, if even one of those seven boys had encountered the truth of the gospel.  Of this I am certain, there is only one real hope for the future and that is in the God who created us all in the first place.  It is my life’s work to introduce Him to others one book at a time.

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Going Home

IMG_3455In many ways it was like going home.  This week, I visited the island of Barbados where I spent many of my formative pre-teen and teenage years.  Our family moved to this beautiful place in 1980 so that my father could lead the CLC bookstore ministry in the Eastern Caribbean.  During those years, I learned how to spear fish and snorkel, and I discovered what it meant for my faith to become my own.  My parents encouraged my growing spiritual inquisitiveness by finding a church where I could ask questions and get biblically grounded answers.  For a part time job, I started to work at the local CLC Bookstore in Bridgetown and loved seeing and reading so many books that addressed the very questions I was wrestling with in my heart.  The adults that mentored me where not afraid or intimidated by my questions.

One New Year’s eve my pastor preached a sermon that changed the trajectory of my life.  He preached on the topic of being “lukewarm” and I thought he was speaking only to me.  How could he have known the path that my life was taking?  On Sunday’s I was winning Bible memorization contests and during the week, I was living a life that did not honor the God I said that I served.  He challenged me to get off the fence, to be courageous in my faith even if it meant I would be ridiculed in school and to make my life count for Christ.  I knew I had to make a decision and to go in a different direction.  To God’s glory that direction involved publicly telling others about my faith, digging into God’s word for myself and leading a small student ministry at my High School.

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The CLC Barbados Bookshop

The purpose of my visit to the place that meant so much to me was to be an encouragement and support to the local CLC team.  Much had changed on the island since I had lived here and a recent change in my own role in the CLC ministry now means that I have oversight of the work in the North America and the Caribbean.  Barbados has seen much growth and development in the last thirty years.  Once known primarily for tourism, fishing and agriculture (primarily sugar cane), today the island is a hub for multi-national companies that are doing business in the Eastern Caribbean and has a significant industrial sector.  Entire areas that were once sugar cane fields have now been developed into office parks and shopping centers.  The middle class has expanded greatly and with their economic growth has come many typical consumer expectations and needs.

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With Bishop Gerry Seale and Gerardo Scalante

For a small island (only 21 miles by 14 miles), it has a significant population of over 250,000.  Most people would self-identify as a “Christian” of some type and about 35% of the population would consider themselves to be evangelical.  There are many good local churches of all different types including Methodist, Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal.  Like many churches in the west, however, there is a deep concern among the local clergy for the spiritual health of the next generation.   I had the privilege of meeting with one of the most important church leaders on the island and he said there is no longer a generation gap, but instead it is a generation chasm.  He is convinced that the church must refocus its energy on young people if it hopes to have a future.

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With Gerardo Scalante, Wilbert Charles and Paula Phillips

The CLC Bookstore is located on the edge of the downtown area on a main road.  It is easy to find and has served the Christian book resource needs on the island for nearly sixty years.  Unfortunately, finding parking near the store can be challenging and with the explosive growth of cars and drivers on the island, it has become an even bigger problem over the years.  As a result, foot traffic in our store has declined and the store has faced significant economic struggles.  Earlier, this year, Wilbert Charles became the new National Director and he is seeking God for a new direction and growth of the ministry in the years to come.  It was my joy to work with Wilbert in dreaming about a new future and planning to innovate and not stagnate.  Right before I left, Wilbert and I worked on launching the CLC Barbados Facebook page and I pray that this effort to utilize social media will be a part of the move of God to reach this next generation in a way that is relevant and meaningful.

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His First Speech

gerardoThe room got quiet and most of us were on the edge of our seats.  The anticipation in the room was almost palpable.  Gerardo Scalante had just been elected as the new International Director for CLC and this was his first opportunity to present his vision for the future.  The decision to elect Gerardo into this role represented something of a seismic shift for our organization as he is the first Latino to serve in this way.  What would he say?

As he stood up to speak, Gerardo made a very interesting opening statement.  He said that while he did not have any new revelations from God about CLC and its future, he did have some convictions and dreams.  In setting the foundation for the rest of his talk, he then went on to say,

We are a Christian organization fulfilling the Great Commission.  We simply accomplish this through the use of Christian literature and bookstores.  We are a missionary organization.”

This statement may not sound revolutionary, but it was deeply encouraging to hear.  While CLC was birthed out of WEC International and was entirely staffed by missionaries and volunteers in the early days, today the vast majority of our team members work as nationals in the own countries and receive sacrificial salaries.  In the face of the reality, Gerardo was reminding us that while some of our methods have changed our core purpose remains the same.

What came next was a presentation that I dubbed “The Seven Dreams of a Leader” and each dream was captivating in its own right.

  1. That we would fully understand who and what we are (as CLC).
  2. That would keep alive those things from the past that made us a great mission – Faith, Holiness, Fellowship and Sacrifice. These must be applied in fresh ways in our daily lives and local contexts.
  3. That we would have a renewed commitment to CLC’s mission and vision – never losing our Global perspective because of a local emphasis.
  4. That CLC will be attractive to people in such a way that they “will want to give their life to that organization”.
  5. That people will see us as a distinctively missional organization when they enter our stores.
  6. That we would create a more effective system for encouraging, supporting and implementing more cross cultural work.
  7. That we would develop deeper connections to the local church in our communities. That we would not be separate from what God is doing in a given country.  That we would be an important arm of the local church wherever we are located.

I was particularly taken by the idea that God would allow us to be an organization that would be so attractive that people will want to “give their life to that organization”.  This seems so counter-intuitive at a time when most young people anticipate working for multiple organizations before they retire.  At the same time, it is highly motivating to anticipate being a part of a movement that is so God directed that it compels people to abandon their life agendas and consider “going out on God”.

As I pondered what Gerardo was sharing, I could not help but think how delighted my grandparents would be to have heard this speech.  Ken and Bessie Adams, the founders of CLC, may have said some of the very same things themselves, but they would also have been excited to see how these ideas would become a fresh reality for a new generation.  In another great irony, I could not help but think about how both Gerardo and I had started in CLC as young people (he was only a teenager) and we had committed our lives to this organization ourselves.  Somehow we had been compelled by the idea of the life changing power of Christian literature and how CLC could change the world one book at a time.  Now it is our turn to lead and to present that same vision in new ways to young people who are longing to make their lives count for the kingdom.  What an exciting job, what a big vision and what wonderful dreams to consider.

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Transplanting the Heart of a Ministry

IMG_3411Jim had a problem.  A customer had walked into his bookstore in Miami and was looking for an Italian Bible.  While his particular bookstore did happen to be bi-lingual, the materials were in Spanish and English, not Italian.  Not deterred by this challenge, Jim picked up the phone and called the only people he knew that were likely to have this item in stock – Jay and Jean Krause.  Sure enough, their small ministry called Multi-Language Media (MLM) had the exact Bible Jim’s customer needed.  The customer was amazed and delighted and was looking forward to giving the Bible to his friend who would now be able to read God’s word in his heart language.  This would not be the only time that Jim made a call to MLM in the following years.

Jay Krause is a quiet guy with a big heart.  In the 1980’s, he was on one of the Operation Mobilization ships traveling around the world.  He worked with their huge floating bookstore and saw firsthand that power of Christian literature to change lives.  In addition, he helped to find books and Bibles in the local languages of the countries where the ship docked.  This required a lot of research and relationship building.  When he returned to the USA, God put a burden on his heart to start a ministry to people that spoke and read in foreign languages in America.  Nobody was really doing anything comprehensive about this need and yet ministries to foreign students and ESL programs were beginning to grow all over the country.  With his contacts in so many countries already established, Jay was ideally positioned to start this new work.

At the time that Jay began, both CLC and WEC had small multi-language sections of their ministries in the USA, but Picture1both encouraged Jay and in fact gave him materials and advice to get started.  Over the years, CLC and WEC discontinued this aspect of their own work and Multi-Language Media grew and flourished.  As the years wore on, Jay and his wife Jean, saw God do amazing things through their ministry.  Thousands of Bibles and Books were sent out in languages like Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, French and many more in the native languages of our nation’s immigrants and they began to get letters about the impact of these materials.  People were seeing their friends and relatives give their hearts and lives to Jesus as a result of reading and many young believers were growing in their faith.  God was truly blessing the work of this faithful couple.

After thirty years of growth and development, Jay and Jean realized it was soon time to retire, but they wanted their vital ministry to continue.  When the Lord put it on their heart to pass this ministry on to a like-minded organization, they picked up the phone and called CLC.   In a great irony, the person who answered that call was Jim, the same guy who had called them so many years before about an Italian Bible.  Jim had harbored a dream for many years that one-day Multi-Language Media might become a part of CLC.  Now working in leadership at the Fort Washington, PA headquarters of CLC, Jim was ideally positioned to help make this dream become a reality.

IMG_3412This past week, a ministry “heart transplant” took place.  All of the books and Bibles were moved from Ephrata to Fort Washington and placed in the very heart of the CLC warehouse building in space that had been specially prepared for this very purpose.  The transition team had worked together for several weeks ahead of this momentous move and had expected it to take a couple of weeks until “the dust settled” and orders could be processed.  Surprisingly, it only took a couple of days for the set up to get going and orders were coming in right away.  In just the first few days they got orders for materials in Haitian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Hindi, Shona, Tigrinya, Russian, Vietnamese and Japanese.  This multi-language literature ministry really is at the heart of what CLC is all about as we seek to make evangelical Christian literature available to all nations.  With so many foreign languages spoken America these days, we are well positioned to meet the needs and to carry on the important work that Jay and Jean pioneered many years ago.

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