Does Evidence Even Matter? (Part II)

apologetics1-full Continuing my thoughts from yesterday, I confess that I’m beginning to think about apologetics a little differently.  My previous rejection of the McDowell model was rooted very much in the belief that evidentialism was only useful in a world (i.e. Modernism) where people agreed that there was one kind of Truth (be it faith or science).  In response, my thoughts revolved around a personal narrative-based approach that made more sense in a postmodern world that favored “many truths.”

I’m beginning to think this isn’t sufficient for Christians (especially the adolescents in our youth ministries) today.  Things have changed, it seems, yet again.  I can’t tell you if we are still in “postmodernism,” but I can say that some of my assumptions about the place of our stories and personal experiences of faith might not be cutting it.

If Modernism gave us the age of competing overarching stories or metanarratives (science versus religion, for instance) and postmodernism a world of many narratives all of which had equal value, the new setting in which Christians seem to find themselves is one that is somewhat different.  Perhaps it defies categorization by a single term.

If the world of McDowell and C. S. Lewis was about quantitative evidence for God and my postmodern plans were about narratives of God, then this new approach is, for lack of a better word, a qualitative discussion of God and God’s people.God_is_not_great

People in our world might accept your evidence or they might not.  They might listen to their story or they might not.  But: even if you’ve convinced them on these first two counts, they might still think your faith–your God–are horrible ideas because of the danger “strong religion” poses to our world.  No matter the evidence, God is simply “not a good idea” for many in our contemporary world.  They come to this conclusion because of suicide bombers, Westboro Baptists, perceptions of Christians as only filled with hate, and so much more.  They see us as hypocrites and crusaders.  Sometimes they do this in the absence of evidence….and sometimes we provide them with a veritable catalog of options from which to choose.

The challenge of our day is, then, not necessarily proving that God exists either intellectually or on a personal level, but convincing people that belief in God is not a bad thing.  That it doesn’t make you into a person of hate.  Apologetics today, then,  is about defending Christianity in a world that is becoming deeply skeptical about whether our faith (or any religious faith) is helpful or destructive.

As a Church historian, it comes to mind that we in the West now face a situation unlike any since the first few centuries of Christianity.  Then, as our fledgling movement grew and expanded across the Roman world, the prevailing attitudes towards it were not positive.  We were considered obscurantists, full of “hatred of the human race” and its ways, and otherwise ne’er-do-wells who just wouldn’t go along with the system.  Rumors persisted that we were atheists (because we didn’t worship their gods but instead an invisible One), cannibals (because we eat Christ’s body and blood), and engaged in incest (called each other “brother” and “sister” and the “Love Feast” or Communion together).

6_1_justinFaced with disdain from the world around them yet convinced of the truth and positive plan of God’s work in the world, early Christian apologists spent time refuting the claims of the pagans.  They even sometimes argued that Christianity was a more superior system than paganism.  People like Athenagoras and Justin Martyr understood and served the Church well in this matter, and have perhaps left a pattern for us today.

For Christians today, and especially young people that face a culture of disdain more and more, the apologetic task is not simply to show that Christianity is scientifically accurate or at work in their lives, but first and foremost that it is not a bad thing.  This begins with grasping our faith deeply and understanding that it is predicated on God’s love.  That is a legitimate system it can have and has had a transformatively positive impact on our world.

The young lady in that youth service two weeks ago that said she believed in God but couldn’t say (or didn’t know) why would certainly have faltered in any era of apologetic work.  Her and those like her (many in the adolescent world) might not do well at all when confronted with arguments about Christianity being a religion of hate and ignorance and excess and hypocrisy.  They may simply not have the wherewithal to respond to the attack or even know whether it is right or wrong in the first place.  Without understanding what they believe, why, and what the core teachings of that belief are, they will be in no position to defend or persevere in their faith.

Apologetics for students today means not just pulling out a book of evidence, even though this might help.  It isn’t about merely getting a hearing for your story, even while I still believe that students should know the narrative of their faith.  I think apologetics today is something slightly different: it is about knowing and being able to articulate what you believe and why.  Knowing it so well that you’ll be able to respond when qualitative critiques and attacks against the Church are raised.  Knowing that we serve a good God who defines the very word “love” (I John 4:8).Pope-Francis-washing-feet

When a Facebook meme against “ignorant hate-filled Christians” goes around, it means that students need to know enough about Christ’s teachings to be able to differentiate for themselves and those who would question them what God is really all about.  They need to be sure in their faith and position, knowing the message of Scripture and the teachings of the Church so they can intelligently, lovingly, and in word and deed address concerns as they are raised.  They will need this to be able to stand firm in a time where aspersion is cast on religion as useless or bad.  And since they won’t be born with this knowledge, it is up to pastors, parents, mentors, and others to help them get here.  In this way, I think, apologetics in youth ministry is both more than I previously thought and less, perhaps, than McDowell has historically contended.

So it is in a world that asks “Is believing in God a good idea?  Is it worth my time?  Is faith hurtful or helpful?”

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Does Evidence Even Matter? (Part I)

20100331_joshmcdowell2A week and a half ago, I was at a high school missions event and had the opportunity to hear Josh McDowell speak for the first time.  Since that time, I’ve reflected on two things: 1) no one under 30 seems to know who he is and 2) his perspective on apologetics may have more merit than I realized.

To briefly address the first issue, McDowell (now 74 years old), is a longtime staple in the evangelical youth ministry circuit and amongst those interested in Christian apologetics (the defense, explanation, or proof of the Christian faith).  His heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s, though his legacy persists today amongst those of a certain age.

My second thought may be connected to his eclipse in the popular mind, for the kind of propositional and evidence-based apologetics he provides have long felt to me to be out of place in the postmodern world.  McDowell’s form of apologetics (or at least what I understood him to be saying), can be summed up in perhaps his best-known work Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  The title tells you a lot about his approach.  Basically, he was going to give you some logical reasons and evidence to believe (in the Bible, in the Resurrection, etc.), and you were going to have to decide it they were true or not.  This binary (True/False) is predicated upon a world that thinks in terms of universal Truth and an overarching narrative that explains everything.

The problem with this argument during the past two decades or longer has been that American society no longer lives in this kind of world. Time_cslewis_cover Like the arguments of C. S. Lewis I have discussed elsewhere, the approach that seeks to prove or logically argue for the existence of God can largely be ignored by a postmodern culture that does not think in terms of grand “metanarratives” that explain all of reality, but rather lots of different “truths” or narratives that can all exist at the same time.  It may be logically inconsistent, but that’s our world.  As I heard a British pastor once say: “It isn’t that you have to convince someone that the Resurrection happened. They’ll accept that.  But then they’ll accept a lot of things.  The bigger question to answer is what to do when they say, ‘OK, so what?'”

So it is that as I’ve thought about this and spoken to teens on the subject of apologetics over the past decade or so, I’ve de-emphasized the McDowell evidentialist approach in favor of a personal narrative based approach to the Truth who is Jesus Christ.  I’ve said, basically, that you can’t argue or debate someone into believing in God with evidence, so why even try?  Yet consider this: while postmodernism may de-emphasize big “T” Truth, it does provide us space to share our stories and experiences with God.  This isn’t argument; it is testimony.

Evidence that Demands a VerdictI believe that in a postmodern world that the story of our trust in and relationship with God may be the best apologetic of all.  We know that God can work through this, and that in our open-minded culture people will be open to hearing “our truth” and experience of God acting in our lives.  Their minds might be open to lots of ideas, but they’ll be open to ours too.  The gospel can and does work through such opportunities, and in postmodern world, maybe that’s the best we can do.

These were generally my thoughts until the other night.  In the service, McDowell asked a student if they believed some basics of Christianity (existence of God, Jesus, etc.).  The student said yes.  Then he asked her why.  She had no real answer besides “that’s how I was brought up.”  Not exactly an earth-shattering answer.  Even if she had been able to clearly articulate her story of faith as a personal narrative, I feel there would have been a lot lacking in terms of thoughtful depth.  Not wanting to single her out too much, McDowell then said he’s asked that same question many times and rarely, if ever, received a thorough answer.  He said that it is imperative in our Internet age to be able to answer questions and give reasons, because there are a host of ways to “prove” Christianity isn’t real, worth our time, or worth giving any positive attention at all.

I thought about all this, and realized that he’s right.

(to be continued)

Paying the Piper

Furtick_300x500Steven Furtick, young pastor of a growing megachurch, has recently been in the news.  The reason?  Accusations of financial excess surrounding a rather large new house that he is having built for his family.  In a similar vein, the Roman Catholic bishop of Limburg, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has been officially relieved by Pope Francis for spending 31 million euros in excessive renovations to his residence.

I cannot say much about the situation in Germany except that it seems to represent both an egregious violation of propriety and an appropriate response on the part of the Pope.   When considered in light of this, Furtick’s $1.7 million dollar home seems rather modest.  The issue, though, is not about comparing one excessive residence to another, but rather asking what the wisest or most appropriate course of action should be for ministers.  This isn’t an attack piece–it is an examination of what is best.

To ask a broader and more provocative question, I’ll say this: how much should a pastor make?

Now, I have been a pastor and am still an ordained minister…so I can tell you this is a sensitive issue.  Money is a touchy subject to begin with, but when you add in matters of faith they can become even more complex.

I posted a link to the Furtick article on my Facebook wall last week for discussion’s sake.  I received some thoughts that have been helpful to me as I’ve considered related matters and they’ve helped inspire what I’m writing here.

A first way to look at the issue is to consider two somewhat different answers: 1) a pastor should be able to make (from salary, outside speaking engagements, book sales, etc.) as much as he or she legitimately earns.  If that is $30,000 per year, fine.  If it is $1 million, OK; 2) nearly all Americans (and most Westerners, for that matter) make more that most of the rest of the world, meaningjohn-chrysostom-01 that we all live in excess.  The response to this is that we should all consider sacrificing and making do with less.

While the story of Christianity has always seemed to provide for the path of self-denial or asceticism, the life of riches and excess has often been looked at somewhat askance.  While we know it is possible for the Christian to be rich, such a life can be a difficult and dangerous one.  In the interest of safety and propriety, then, I stand on the side of those who feel that ministers need to be careful about how rich they get and generous with how much they give.

Am I singling out pastors as different from the rest?  Maybe, and I realize this might be a little controversial.  Coming out of the Reformation is the powerful idea that there ought not to be a strong distinction between the pastor and the laity. Being a Christian minister, in other words, is no better calling that being a Christian businessperson or plumber or teacher.  Overly criticizing Furtick, some would say, means that I am placing him as a minister in a separate category than other rich Christians.  According to a certain line of thought, this is a problem.

While I would affirm that ministers are not “better” kinds of people than others of their brothers and sisters in Christ, I do believe that because of their role, influence, and visibility they are to be held to a higher standard.  I have no qualms about this.  While all Christians must be yielded before God, I believe that the pastor must be more accountable.  He or she is a leader of believers, a representative of God in the eyes of many, and a direct recipient of money often sacrificially given.

Luther-Wittenberg-1517When I consider the role of the minister, I am constantly reminded of James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  This is a haunting reminder for those of us who serve in this role.  It means that all of our arguments about what is right and true and all of this need to be subsumed to what is wise, appropriate, and best for our flocks.  I understand that it might not seem fair that a pastor needs to be more careful about what they say or do or spend, but you know what?  That’s just the way it is.  Our financial choices are just as pastoral as the counsel we provide or the sermons we preach.

Please note that this does not exempt everyone else from making wise and godly decisions with their life.  It just means that the impact their decisions have may not be nearly as widespread within the community of faith as a poor choice by a Pope or bishop or Steven Furtick or whomever.

The questions surrounding pastors and finances are not meant to resolve around what is possible (i.e. how much can I make and still get away with it), but rather what is wise.  Is it legitimate that a leader of a successful multi-thousand member group, published author, and sought-after speaker would make enough money to build a 16,000 square foot house?  Absolutely.  Does it makes sense for a pastor to allow themself to do so?  No.  Is it wise?  No.  Is this going to help the ministry to which God has called them?  I can’t see how.  I can only see it causing the kinds of problems it does.  Sometimes we have to give up what we think we deserve.

I don’t know the average salary or cost of homes in North Carolina, but I can tell you that houses this size cannot be the norm.  If Furtick were pastoring in some parts of the world his home’s price (but not the square footage) might be a little closer to the average, but even then there would be some serious questions.  A helpful answer, in light of this, would be for pastors–if possible–be paid or only accept reimbursement (from any source) according to some metric of what an average localized professional salary might be.  I think pastor-salarysuch a rule has potential, for it guarantees a liveable wage even while is does not allow the pastor to face accusations of earning “too much.”

I’ve heard one suggestion that this could be tied to what teachers or administrators at a local public school might be paid.  More than this would put the pastor out of alignment with his or her community.  While some churches might not even be able to afford even this number because of their size, this locally based figure might be a kind of benchmark for a maximum salary: whether it is a church of 200 or 2000 or 20,000.  Having more people in your church might make you feel like you should earn more, but this does nothing to change what the average person in your church earns or sacrificially gives.

What to do as a celebrity pastor with all the other money that comes your way from speaking and writing books (the latter is, of course, where Furtick has said the money for his house derives)?  Well, a good deal of it probably ought to be given away…and in no case ought it to be used in the pursuit of excess.  Wisdom, prudence, and real servant leadership demands otherwise.  That’s just some of what being a pastor is all about.

Separate and Unequal

WhitesOnlyThe Fourteenth Amendment was the second to be passed during the post-Civil War period known as Reconstruction.  Consisting of five sections, it is a kind of catch-all for a number of different principles that needed to be established in the wake of that conflict.

I’m only going to focus on Section I here.  It reads as follows:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In the wake of Emancipation, legal provisions for the citizenship of freedmen were vital, and this amendment attempted to accomplish just that.  Though on the one hand it played the dangerous game of assuming that legal remedies were all that was needed (more on this next week), it did helpfully provide the principled basis upon which all citizens ought to be guaranteed “equal protection” under the law.9780060914530_p0_v1_s260x420

These ideas would become especially important during the civil rights era, as they allowed the Supreme Court to issue its landmark decision about segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  Though it took nearly one hundred years to get to this point, the legal implications have resonated strongly.  But: this was not the end of the story, as many point to persistent issues of segregation and inequality in contemporary society.

Historian Eric Foner’s history of the Reconstruction is subtitled America’s Unfinished Revolution.  As you might guess, the Fourteenth Amendment and its legacy has its place in this story.  Unfinished in the 1870s, not yet complete by the 1960s, it remains an open question for us today.

Explicitly or implicitly, our legal system and larger society have the potential to perpetuate powerful systemic inequalities.  Though we may never reach a point at which we’ve got it all figured out, the Fourteenth Amendment means that we ought not stop trying.

Things I Would Like To See, Part III

pastorA really good television show about the life of a pastor or pastors: this is what I’d like to see.  Rather than focus on the extremes (prosperity “Preachers of LA” or backwoods “Snake Salvation” handlers), my idea for the show would be much more mainstream.

I am a minister.  I know ministers.  I understand a lot of their world.  Which is why I have often been  disappointed by the way I see them depicted in film or television.  The wimp.  The fool.  The crusading hate-filled hyper-fundamentalist.  The hypocrite.  The money-grubber.  Not to mention the pervert.  Stock characters all.  There are ministers like this, certainly.  But only a small minority.  Most ministers are living rich and authentic lives in the everyday, serving in churches and doing the work they feel called to do in their local communities.  Sometimes this approaches the sublime.  Other days it is just complicated business.  In all cases their lives are ripe with dramatic potential.the-most-searched-character-on-mad-men-isnt-don-draper

Lest anyone think that a local congregation is too stayed a locale for serious drama, remember that one of the most revered shows on television right now focuses on office work in the 1960s.  Not exactly the stuff of heroic legend.  The writing, characters, and the situations they find themselves in are what helps make Mad Men great.  Here zombies need not apply.  In the same way, the story of the local church and the drama of the pastoral vocation contain the seeds of a number of fascinating stories.  Life, death, grief, joy, doubt, love, hate, sorrow: the ministerial world is not, despite what most people might think, boring.

I think that a show about the lives of ministers could be powerful and transformative.  But it must be honest about the trials, temptations, and toil of the vocation.  It must be a clear picture–in all its dangerous wonder and sometimes comedic inanity–of local congregational life.  And, importantly, it must actually be able to depict how people of faith really act.  No surface-level stuff here.  I’m not asking for a puff piece here that only shows happy pseudo-perfect pastors.  In addition to being boring, this would be fundamentally false.

SANY0001-pastor1What I’m asking for is a real picture of the kinds of men and women I went to seminary with and with whom I have served in ministry.  People with great gifts, heart, quirks, flaws, varying personalities, and a deep yet sometimes confusing sense of call.  Throw in the myriad people who are our congregation members (the possibilities for character choices here are endless…just ask any pastor) and you have the potential for a show that is as compelling as it honest.  Not to mention its potential for humor.

While the entertainment world has rarely seemed too interested in this kind of program, I have some hope that the AMC‘s of today would consider just such a character study or ensemble piece as worthy of their artistic efforts.  If done well, it could be embraced as a true successor to the dramas of Walter White or Don Draper.  In any case, it is one of the things I’d like to see.

Review: “To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity”

9780195386424_p0_v2_s260x420Allan Anderson currently serves as Professor of Mission and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham (UK).  His new monograph To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity is but the latest in a series of books and articles marking him as one of the world’s foremost Pentecostal scholars.  Anderson’s previous work An Introduction to Pentecostalism (soon to be in its second edition) is one of the standard texts in the field.  With this new volume, he further explicates the movement to which he has devoted his life’s scholarly energies.

I should note here that Professor Anderson also served as a reader on my dissertation committee.  In that role he provided important insight into my project and was a valued voice in that process.

The goal of To the Ends of the Earth is rather simple: in Anderson’s words, to take “the fact of Pentecostalism’s growth as its starting point and…[give] an explanation for it.”   The dynamics and popularity of the movement are described as follows:

The emphasis on the Spirit, the “born-again” experience, incessant evangelism, healing and deliverance, cultural flexibility, a place-to-feel-at-home, religious continuity, an egalitarian community, meeting “felt needs”; all these features combine to provide an overarching explanation for the appeal of Pentecostalism and the transformation of Christianity in the majority world.

Arranged in a broadly topical fashion, To The Ends of the Earth looks at the attraction of world Pentecostalism from a variety of perspectives.  Notable chapters include: “Women and Family” (giving attention to both the overt and sometimes silent ways that Pentecostalism empowers women), “Bible and Community” (helpfully describing the movement’s deep and dynamic relationship with the Scriptures), and “Transformation and Independence” (dealing with the ways in which the movement has been and continues to be uniquely indigenous the world over).Global-ReOrient

As Anderson further goes about his task, he spends time walking through areas of Pentecostal history familiar to many students of the movement.  At the same time he does not limit himself to the tale as traditionally told.  Because of his commitment to analyzing Pentecostalism as the world movement it is today, he is also able to unveil the ways in which it is a  translocal and diverse phenomenon.  The global approach is helpful here and is accomplished with more skill and readability than I have ever seen.  Despite the fact that he is dealing with diverse forms over multiple continents, Anderson’s skills are such that the whole story holds together in a compelling fashion.

Notwithstanding the insight he provides, I do wonder about Anderson’s tendencies in his particular discussion of Pentecostal origins.  As this is a study on world Christianity, his focus on elements around the globe makes sense.  Further, because he (and others) are concerned with a previous overemphasis on American primacy in much of the early scholarly literature on the movement (even though he admits that Azusa has “merit”), relevant alternatives are rightly considered.  In his words, “the macro-context must not be lost.”  To this end the evidence he marshals is powerful.

But claiming that “Pentecostalism is neither a movement with distinct beginnings in the United States or anywhere else” may end up obscuring certain realities even as it seeks to reveal others.  The United States did have a vital role–one could argue the vital role–in Pentecostalism’s genesis.  While nuance is important here, I do wonder whether the current focus on the independence and uniqueness of Majority World religion therefore affects this discussion more than it should.   Make no mistake: contemporary Pentecostalism is deeply indigenized and diverse.  It is not the particular province of America, but a thing unto itself.  I understand Anderson’s concerns here.  But even if it was historically proven that every single Pentecostal group around the world traced their origins to Azusa (and certainly they do not), this would do nothing to detract from the uniquely powerful forms and shapes they take today.

icon-pentecost1Despite these potential historiographical quibbles, To the Ends of the Earth is a marvelous work.  It reminds me of a comment I once heard at a panel discussion of Heaven Below, Grant Wacker’s study of early American Pentecostals.  One of the reviewers said something to the effect that what Wacker had done “sounded like the Pentecostals they knew.”  From a certain perspective, no higher praise can be given.  In the same way, then, I would say that what Anderson has accomplished here also “sounds like” the Pentecostalism in which I belong and to which I have devoted my academic efforts.

Ultimately, To the Ends of the Earth performs a valuable scholarly service, is written in a compelling manner, and is representative and holistic in its approach.  I highly recommend the book for all those interested in the contemporary beliefs and practice of a growing number of world Christians.  Scholars will be blessed with the work as a ready resource in this expanding area of research.  As for me, I plan on assigning the book as a supplementary text in my Church History II class next semester.  Both my students and I will richly benefit from the experience.

You Have To Know What To See

114998328_640 In a few months the winter retreat season will be upon us in full swing. For many youth ministries, the annual tradition represents an opportune time to get away from it all, focus intently upon spiritual matters, and grow together as a community. These weekend events can be transformative experiences for many students, marking a clear turning point in their lives. Some come to trust in Christ for the first time. Others become serious about the implications their existing faith commitments have in their lives. Still others begin to discern a deep sense of what God is calling them to do with their lives. For these reasons and more, I affirm the place of the retreat in youth ministry.

Yet youth retreats, by their intense and focused nature, are by definition a kind of artificial environment. At times this new place helps create space and time for people to encounter God and come to new insights they would never have otherwise. Sometimes, though, the environment is merely artificial and therefore lasts only as long as the weekend. This latter reality is why the last sermon at most youth retreats tends to revolve around the idea that we shouldn’t “lose the fire/focus/passion/determination/etc.” gained over the weekend.

I’m currently in conversation with a group about speaking at one of these weekend getaways. It is an honor to be asked. As Iour girls praying prayerfully consider the opportunity, I’ve also been thinking about the ways we often operate in youth ministry. Because in my tradition we often place a high value on spiritual experience, expressive worship, and the place of emotion in our faith, certain aspects of the retreat take on deep importance. Times of musical worship. Prayer around the altars. Post-service testimonies. These things and more can come to be hallmarks of the experience that many youth pastors look to as signs that “God showed up.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am a Pentecostal for a reason. I believe in expressive and emotional worship, transformative prayers, and the way in which the Spirit of God can and does change hearts and lives in the twinkling of an eye. But at the same time, I am leery of placing too much attention–in any area of ministry–to only those things that we can see in the moment.

Concentrating only the optics of a youth retreat (hands raised in worship, students praying together, emotional and experiential testimonies) contains danger. Because if we start to consider these eminently Tweet-able things the (perhaps only) hallmarks of our success, we will start to look at them as goals in and of themselves. We will, consciously or not, construct our retreat plan not around growing disciples of Christ, but creating places for people to be emotional, pray around an altar, or otherwise do/feel/see something. We will take these outward things as the measure of our success (and post on Facebook about them) rather than the inward and sometimes rather invisible work that God is doing in the lives of students.

worshipingTrust me here: I speak from experience. I still remember one retreat not too long ago where a speaker had silly yet emotive countdown. When he reached “zero,” all of the students were supposed to run to the front of the room and engage in prayer and worship. And guess what? They did just that. They did it, I think, because they were emotionally convinced it was necessary. They did so, not a little, because they were manipulated to. They did it because it was exciting.

As seen from the outside, this rush of students to pray and worship God seemed impressive. But that’s just what we saw with physical eyes. Spiritually? I can’t really be sure what was happening in the lives of students.

While I believe that God speaks to us through passionate prayer and expressive worship, I also know that it is possible to whip people up into an earnest emotional frenzy. As youth leaders, seeing these results (especially from sometimes mysterious or otherwise non-emotive teens) might make us feel better about ourselves and what we’ve accomplished. But once again, this is just looking at things with human eyes. Spiritual vision is needed.

You might say that the weekend youth retreat is but a microcosm of youth ministry itself. So often–and it is hard not to–we consider how many students show up on a given night and how we think they are responding in the moment as whether or not we’re doing something right. While there is merit in some of that, the older I get the more I’m realizing that the true measure of a ministry’s “success” is not how many students attend your sticky faithyouth meeting or how we feel about their response or emotions on a given week.

The real measure of a youth ministry’s–and a church’s–effectiveness is how many of those same students are following Christ in tangible ways a decade or two after they graduate from high school. How many have become lifelong disciples.

If we stop focusing on the tyranny of the now (i.e. only what is in front of us) and open our spiritual eyes to look towards the horizon, I think that we as youth ministers will be taking some important steps in the right direction. All the things we might value about retreats and church-based youth ministries right now? We will see them for their true importance, not just the emotional effect they have on us and our students in the moment. Taking “the long view” and avoiding the siren song of tangible short-term results will serve us well as we work together with families and congregations to help others on the path of faith.