Tag Archives: College Avenue Baptist Church
Last week I led a group of 20 people from CABC (College Avenue Baptist Church) to Ensenada, Mexico for an intergenerational short-term mission trip. Once again, we stayed at YUGO Ministries’ Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) and worked with their staff to build a home for a family living in poverty and also to conduct a VBS program for neighborhood children. We have partnered the past few years with a small church in the community of Salitral called “Fuego de Dios” (Fire of God). Pastor Nicolas Gallegos shepherds a small flock there and does a remarkable job of reaching out to this little community. YUGO’s “Houses of Hope” program helps local churches serve families in the neighborhood in a very tangible and practical way. Families who receive new homes feel a special connection to their local church long after the house is built, and the ministry continues.
We built a home for a family of six who were living in a one-room house that was built for them by another ministry (Amor, perhaps) many years ago, probably when the family was much smaller. The new three-room house that we built was right next to the old one, so the family can now use both. Their kitchen, which was outside, can now be moved inside. The children will now have beds of their own rather than all sharing a common one.
We also conducted a Vacation Bible School program at Pastor Nicolas’ church each morning for about 35 children. Along with games, crafts and Bible stories, we did a puppet show each day. I built a portable puppet show stage made of PVC pipe and curtains and I purchased some pre-recorded puppet show scripts that were in Spanish, so our puppeteers only had to move the mouths of the puppets in sync with the dialogue. They worked great, although on the first day, one of the children began crying hysterically when the puppets started to talk. Apparently the little guy had never seen puppets before and they scared him to death. You can imagine what a small child would think upon seeing such odd-looking creatures come to life. He seemed to like (or at least to tolerate) the puppets the rest of the week.
It was a good week of ministry. Although our Mexico team was smaller this year than last, we had a good mix of people who worked hard and accomplished much. Chuck and Shannon Fisher, with their kids Jon, Sara and Chris, are old pros—this was their third year in a row. Bill and Debbie Gossett, with their two sons Joe and John, came out all of the way from Minnesota. Laura Morales, a single mom, brought her two children Roy and Victoria. Sara Fisher invited two of her friends (Tori and Maddie) and made up the puppet team. Bob and Luanne Holaday, longtime members of CABC, joined me as senior members of the team. Esther Tejada and Oscar Miramontes served as our interpreters. Bryce Klabunde, CABC’s Pastor of Soul Care, also came for the third year in a row and helped immensely on the construction team.
This was my fifth year doing a family mission trip to Mexico and my third with CABC. In my view, these trips perfectly accomplish my ministry goals as “Pastor to Generations” at CABC. It’s my favorite week of ministry of the year. Hardly anything else comes even close as a vehicle for passing faith from one generation to the next.
A week in Mexico is a complete immersion experience in intergenerational discipleship. Parents and children serve Christ together, working side by side for five days. They engage in extended conversations about faith and values. They participate in doing something together that is truly remarkable and very significant as they impact the lifestyle of a family much like their own. They worship together and receive biblical input each day from the YUGO leadership who help them process and learn from what they are experiencing during the week. They have a fun, positive family experience which rivals any family vacation or family camp. And with Mexico being so close to us in San Diego, it’s not expensive and easily accessible. All that’s needed is a passport and an appetite for some of the best street tacos on the world.
Hopefully we’ll be doing it again next year. Let me know if you’d like to go with us.
Our church (College Avenue Baptist Church) recently held it’s first-ever intergenerational, all-church retreat at Pine Valley Christian Camp, about 30 minutes out of San Diego. It turned out to be the coldest weekend San Diego county has had in quite a few years. Temperatures dropped into the teens at night (we even got some snow) but during the day, sunny blue skies in the mid-50’s. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for a winter retreat. About 200 people attended, about a third of our Sunday morning crowd.
Our theme was community-building. I presented three seminar-style messages on the topic over the course of the weekend and since all ages were together, I had the challenge of engaging all the children who were there (as well as the adults). A few word-games and puzzles based on the theme seemed to do the trick. The feedback we’ve had from the retreat has been very positive so far. Whether or not we will actually see more unity in our congregation, more relationship-building between the generations and more disciples being made remains to be seen but I think we achieved what we set out to do.
One of the highlights of the weekend was our Saturday night talent show. At first I wasn’t sure we’ve have any talent at all (folks were a little hesitant to sign up in advance) but after we got there, the talent emerged and we had about 15 acts competing for the “CABBY” award, a trophy that was created especially for the occasion. Our winner was a 15-month old little girl named Karis who danced while her father played the guitar and sang. I emceed the show, or should I say “Buck Stud” emceed the show, an alter-ego of mine from Youth Specialties days who you might say is a cross between Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Swaggert. There’s a brief shot of Buck in the video clip. Buck did a Christian version of “New York, New York” called “New Jerusalem..” After the talent show, one of our older ladies at the retreat asked, “Who was that man who emceed the talent show, anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before.” Ha. I guess I was disguised pretty well.
CABC@PineValley turned out to be a very successful and fun intergenerational event that included children, youth, college students, families and seniors. We played together, roomed together, laughed together, learned together, worshipped together and came back energized and excited about what our church can ultimately become. It’s a slow process of change, but I think it’s happening. To all the Generations team at CABC, I say job well done. Let’s do it again next year.
Every 5th Sunday at College Avenue Baptist, we cancel all of our childrens programming during the morning worship hour so that families can worship together all in the same place. Our services are intergenerational in the sense that our youth and adults worship together, but normally our children (K through 5th grade) have a “children’s church” which they can attend if they choose to do so. Some children remain with their parents in “big church” but not all of them. To prepare parents for last Sundays inclusive service, Pastor Carlton Harris sent out the following email to our congregation, providing his excellent suggestions and insights on how to take your kids to “big church.”
At CABC we want to make more and better disciples from among the nations who honor God by worshiping Him! This Sunday, our worship service is a 5th Sunday Family Service. We will welcome our kindergarteners through 5th graders. The worship service has been planned with them in mind. We will be singing songs that they regularly sing during their group worship time on Sunday mornings. May I encourage all of you to sit as close to the front as possible (especially if your children will be worshiping with you)?
As some of you know, I began my journey as a father in 1983. God kindly gifted us with two daughters and a son within a time span of five years and four months. From the time our children were school-aged they joined us in our worship services. Wasn’t that a stressful decision? How did we do it? A better question is how did my wife do it without my help? I was preaching and leading in most of the worship services my children participated in between the start of kindergarten and the conclusion of high school. Here is some of what I remember from that season of our life together as a family:
- We would read the sermon text for the coming Sunday during the week. Our children would perk up when they heard familiar words during the sermon.
- We gave our children their own age-appropriate Bibles. They would bring them to the worship service each Sunday. They would also bring pens/pencils and paper to draw the sermon, the environment, or take sermon notes as they grew. They also watched their mother take sermon notes.
- Preparation for worship was done on Saturday night in order to reduce chaos and distractions on Sunday morning. We would select and prepare the clothes and shoes that we would be wearing to worship. We would get our Bibles and offering money ready. When our children were infants and toddlers, we would pack the diaper bag on Saturday night as well.
- Before we entered the worship service, they would use the rest room if needed so that they would not have to unnecessarily leave the worship service.
- We desired and expected our children to be respectful toward God and other worshipers around us.
- Our children would take a worship folder. Before the worship service began, my wife might point to the different elements in the order of worship, such as songs that they knew and liked. If there was something for which they needed to be prepared such as a responsive reading, she would point it out to our children who were old enough to participate.
- We would all participate as worshipers by sitting, standing, singing, closing our eyes, turning in the Bible, etc. with the rest of our church family. My wife and I wanted our children to see us sing praise to God with joy on our faces, or tears trickling down our cheeks, or hands clapping. We wanted our children to see her listen hungrily to God’s Word and watch me preach it passionately. In short, we wanted our children to feel our hearts meeting the living God during worship. We sought to model looking at the worship leader(s). So, we sat as close to the front as possible – usually on the first or second row – to reduce distractions like people-watching or clock watching. We wanted our children to see the front as well as possible. My wife would share worship folders, hymnals, and Bibles with our young children because those things are important tools for worship. We did not bring other books to the worship service for our children to read because we wanted their focus to be on worship. They could look at the pictures in their Bibles.
- When younger, our children would draw pictures of what they heard in the sermon. Individual words or names triggered individual pictures. As our children grew, their notes would involve concepts. Always remember that not everything in a worship service or sermon goes over the heads of our children!
- We would process the sermon together and the implications on how we live life in response to the Word of God.
- We would talk about unique aspects of the worship service such as a missionary speaker from a country we had been praying for.
There were times when one of our children was restless or noisy, despite our best efforts. In those times all you can do is pray for the understanding of the people around you, and try to deal with the problem discreetly. If the child is “having one of those days” and will not sit still or be quiet, you may have to take him or her out of the service. Use it as a teaching opportunity for parental training. Then decide whether you’ll reenter the worship service or not. At CABC, we have an infant cry room (with video feed) for mothers and their babies. During our worship services, we attempt to keep the foyer as a place for parents with young children who need to leave the worship service. We have video feed in the foyer during our worship services. You can help protect the foyer space for parents by not loitering or talking in the foyer during the worship service.
One of my great desires as a father has been to see my children fall in love with the worship of God both individually in private as well as corporately in public together with the body of Christ. I feel that my most important job as a parent was and is to fall in love with the worship of God and model that for my children. Why? Because worshiping God is the most valuable thing I can do in life.
Just returned from our second mission trip to Mexico this summer and it was a very special one. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about this trip because most of our July team were newbies and we didn’t have a lot of Bob-the-Builder types. But they certainly rose to the occasion after we got there, and were a fun bunch to be around to boot. Again, our team was made up mostly of families from College Avenue Baptist—the King family (Dave, Debbie, Trevor and Holly), the Klabunde family (Bryce, Jolene, Kayla and Amie), Susan Wayne with her two grandsons Austin and Gavin, Barbara and Sarah Darby (mom and daughter), Matt and Craig Ebersole (college-age brothers), two excellent interpreters (thank you Esther Tejada and Rebecca Harver), Chris Curtin (college student), Noah Stern (recent high school graduate) and me—for a total of 20.
Like our trip in June, our objective was to build a house for a needy family and to conduct VBS (Vacation Bible School) for neighborhood children at a local Mexican church. YUGO handles the logistics and provides the infrastructure to make it all happen. We stay at their Ensenada Outreach Center, a place I’ve watched grow and improve over the past 15 years. The EOC staff is helpful and very good at what they do yet they appear to stay as invisible as possible to allow visiting teams of short-term missionaries to feel like it’s all up to them. Even though the house we built pretty much went up on its own thanks to YUGO, we were certainly proud of how it all turned out at the end of the week.
We built the house for a single mom whose name is Yelni. She has an 8 year-old daughter named Regina. They had been living with Yelni’s parents which was not only a cramped environment but a hostile one for Yelni, a recently-converted Christian. Yelni wanted a place of her own where she could freely raise her daughter up in the faith. Yelni told us that on Sunday, Regina said, “Tomorrow I get to meet Jesus!” Yelni asked Regina what she meant by that and her daughter replied, “Jesus is coming to build us a new house!” Wow.
YUGO works with local pastors to help identify families who need homes and to help them acquire the land they need. We discovered that Yelni’s home was being built on property adjacent to her sister’s house in an agricultural area south of Ensenada. There are no utilities there (running water, electricity, plumbing or sewer systems.) We provided Yelni with an outhouse and a propane cook stove.
On Monday afternoon , after the house was framed and the siding went up on the outside walls, Yelni took her Bible and began copying verses on the back of the siding between the studs. I shot a few pictures. Even though the drywall would soon cover up all this scripture-on-the-walls,
Yelni wanted to be surrounded by the Word of God in her little home. I’ve built a lot of houses in Mexico for poor families but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.
Each morning, half of our team went to the church to conduct a VBS program for children. The church is called “Fuego del Dios” which means “Fire of God.” This little church seats about 50 people and has no electricity. In order to hold church services at night or plug in a guitar amp, Pastor Nicolas has to power up the church by starting up a small generator sitting outside the church.
The first morning when we arrived at the church, we didn’t see too many kids. But Pastor Nicolas wasn’t worried. He jumped in our van and directed us to a migrant farm camp a couple of miles from the church. We returned with 33 children stuffed inside our 15-passenger van. The next day, we not only had a van full of kids, but I picked up another couple dozen in my pickup truck. I had 12 kids inside the cab of my truck and another dozen in the back. Not too safe, but we didn’t have to get out on the highway. Mostly dirt roads.
Our VBS team did a great job preparing Gospel lessons for the children and our interpreters put them into words they could mostly understand, although some of them didn’t speak Spanish. They come from Oaxaca (Wahaca) and speak a dialect called mixteca. They are beautiful, lovable children who live with extreme hardship every single day. It was fun to watch them play our games and win candy and prizes. One day we took pictures of all the kids and let them decorate picture frames. The next day, we had glossy photos for them to take home. Some of those children had never seen a photo of themselves before.
I led the children in a few gospel songs in Spanish that I have learned over the years (like “Yo Tengo Gozo”). After that, the Bible story and lesson is taught. One morning, Jolene Klabunde, who was teaching the lesson, asked the youngsters if they were ready to receive Jesus into their hearts. She asked them to respond by getting up and going outside to be counseled. At once, every single child (about 50 of them) got up and went outside. It took two or three times explaining to the children what their “decision” was all about. Pastor Nicolas said that he attended a VBS just like ours when he was a child. The seeds of faith were planted there, he said. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure that the children understand what they need to know about Jesus.
We finished the house in three days, finishing on Thursday. We furnished it with a number of amenities that we brought with us—bookshelves, rugs, linens, cooking utensils and the like. We also built a front porch for Yelni, using some lumber that we had used at VBS in an object lesson to depict the Cross. So she had scripture verses on her walls and a cross in her doorstep. The dedication ceremony was very moving as the group passed around the keys in front of the house and offered a few words of encouragement and blessing for Yelni and Regina. Dave King, who led our construction crew presented the keys and the celebration began. Yelni fixed a nice meal for us (which she had prepared earlier in the day) which was delicious. Some kind of Mexican soup with corn, chicken, onions, peppers, tortillas …
Well, I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. We came home on Friday after a couple hours of being tourists at “La Bufadora,” the Mexican “Spouting Horn” a few miles south of Ensenada. We also made one more stop at our favorite street taco shop. Dave King commented that one of the best things about the trip was getting to know a bunch of people from our church he didn’t previously know. I agree. I especially enjoyed getting to know the Kings better and working closely with Bryce Klabunde, one of our pastors who really worked hard preparing the VBS program for this trip, as well as his family. A lot of good things happened in Mexico including a new realization for me that God is charge, not us. Despite all our best-laid plans and expectations, God always surprises us with all kinds of miracles and blessings that just can’t be predicted or described. Thanks to all who supported and prayed for us.
I just got back from a week in Mexico with a group of families from my church, the first of two trips that we are doing this summer. Thirty-three moms, dads and their kids spent July 17-20 at YUGO’s Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC), a terrific base for short term missions in Baja. I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years or so with both youth groups and family groups and YUGO’s staff is always helpful and accommodating.
I have to admit that on the first day of the week, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the week. Normally, my wife Marci goes with me and we arrange to get a private room at EOC rather than sleeping in the dorm rooms. Marci had back surgery the week before the trip so she couldn’t go on this one. So I stayed in the dorm room with all the other guys (16 of them) on a corner bunk in the back of the room. It brought back memories of being a cabin counselor at junior high camp, except there was a little more snoring from the adult campers. But as the week progressed, I got used to it and really enjoyed the time bunking down with all the other guys.
In just four days, our team built a beautiful new home for the Aparicio-Lopez family (mom, dad and two kids) who had previously lived in a borrowed home of one room and a trailer. They had no furniture, so we outfitted the home with three beds (a double and two singles), linens, a table and chairs, rugs, curtains and shelves filled with dishes, pots and pans and other cooking utensils. Our dedication ceremony and presentation of the keys to the house to the family was a powerful experience for all of us. “This is our dream come true,” they said as they entered their new home. As one of our team members commented afterwards, “We built them a house, but it became a home very quickly.” One of the children, a teen girl, jumped up on her bunk bed and just stayed there for the longest time. She couldn’t believe she now had her own bed.
While half of our team built a house, the other half conducted VBS programs in two locations near the construction site. I spent most of my time with the VBS team. I’ve done this many times and over the years I’ve built several carnival-type games which are always a hit with the Mexican children. They love to win dulce (candy) and play juegos (games.). About 80 children came to our programs and memorized key Bible verses in Spanish. They also heard Bible stories about Jesus. Our team did a great job of presenting the Gospel in a very clear way and almost all of the children prayed to receive Christ as Savior on the final day of VBS. They heard Good News and they wanted it right then and there.
On Wednesday night, we visited a small Mexican church, the home church of the Aparicio-Lopez family. The pastor preached a short sermon on John 4 (the woman at the well) and during his sermon pointed out that he was about 10 years old when he found Christ at a VBS just like the one we conducted. He came for the candy, he said, but found Jesus also.
I played my banjo for the church and they loved it. I called it a “bano” and got a few laughs.
I am always deeply touched by these mission trips. Since moving from youth mission trips to family mission trips, I am even more deeply committed to them. It is a powerful thing to watch families serve God together on the mission field. Rather than having kids go home and try to explain what they did to their parents (which they almost never do very well), the family has a shared experience which powerfully impacts their family for years to come. This is our second year doing this at CABC and almost all of the families who went last year came again this year. And we have another trip planned for July, made up of entirely new families. Last year we took 25 people; this year we have 50. I’m hoping that this momentum continues.
I was very happy that this year, nobody got sick. Last year, there was quite a bit of illness which spread through the camp. But last year, a group from Memphis Tennessee was in the camp and we believe that they imported the illness from Tennessee. We called it the “Y’all flu.” The only mishap this year was the breakdown of one of our vehicles in Tijuana on the trip home. But they made it across the border and everyone got home safe and sound.
If you want more information about our family mission trips at CABC, contact me anytime.
Pastor Carlton Harris (College Avenue Baptist Church) just completed a powerful series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins. One of my takeaways from the series was that the Seven Deadly Sins are particularly troublesome for Christians, for those who are inside, not outside the flock. In other words, they are the sins of the church. Truth is, they originated not from the Bible but from the church fathers, most of whom lived in monasteries with other monks. While monks weren’t likely to kill, steal, tell lies or commit adultery, they apparently struggled quite a bit with anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And I have been reminded by Pastor Carlton that I do too.
What strikes me as unique about these sins is that they are all more or less acceptable. They seem rather benign on the surface. Take anger. Who doesn’t relate to that line in Broadcast News “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” We don’t really consider anger a sin. We think of it more as a natural and sometimes necessary response to disruptive events in our lives which deserve to be called out. Anger doesn’t need forgiveness, it needs management.
But why stop at seven? Seems to me there are other sins which produce just as many sinister consequences as the classic list of seven. Some have suggested these:
- Leaving the Toilet Seat Up
Personally, I’d like to nominate Busyness as the Eighth Deadly Sin. It’s one that I deal with every day and I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat addicted to busyness. I don’t like being NOT busy. I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I weren’t busy. I like doing things, creating things, solving things, running things, um, writing things. I sometimes brag to people that I am not retired. “But you’re getting up there in years, aren’t you?” they think to themselves. “Well, it’s not biblical to retire,” I assure them as if I’m not being sinful but obedient.
Busyness is a sin, no question. Certainly the consequences of busyness are pretty much the same as the other seven. When you’re too busy you experience anxiety, shame, aloneness, guilt, broken relationships including one’s relationship with God. Maybe Busyness didn’t make the original list of seven because monks by definition lived a disciplined, unhurried life. They didn’t deal with the demands of modern life that we have to contend with in today’s fast-paced world. Well, the probably did, in their own medieval kind of way. But apparently they didn’t see any real harm in it.
My old pal Jim Burns is fond of saying “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That sure sounds like a sin to me. Busyness is a sin for which we need forgiveness, healing and the power of Christ to overcome. I myself have been way too busy these last two years while serving on a church staff. The problem for me is that most people don’t see my busyness as a sin at all. They simply cheer me on and admire all that I’m doing for the Kingdom. This is not their fault or the church’s fault. I was already busy when I accepted the call to CABC. I had plenty to do even without the ministry that God called me to do at the church. Fortunately our senior pastor is one who knows the danger of busyness and has urged me to be very careful with my schedule, to set limits and priorities on my time, to erect fences around my soul so that the Devil won’t gain a foothold. I have found it hard to follow his advice (it is so counterintuitive to me) but I am taking steps … slowly but surely … to un-busy myself. I want more than anything to be fruitful for God and to please him in all that I say and do but I can’t do that if I’m just too busy.
How about you?
The Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote a story about a group of very clever burglars who broke into a jewelry store one night. Rather than stealing anything, they switched the price tags so that items that were previously expensive became cheap and those that were cheap became expensive. No one noticed when the burglars came into the store the next day and purchased the items they wanted at a steal of a price!
I am reminded of this story when I listen to Pastor Carlton teach on “Killing the Seven Deadly Sins” (current sermon series). It’s safe to say that the seven deadly sins have today morphed into the seven deadly virtues. Could it be that someone has switched some price tags?
When I log on to Facebook or Twitter, for example, my tendency to be full of myself (pride) is not only affirmed but celebrated (not to mention my sloth). I turn on the TV and see a hamburger chain commercial where my lust is not only prompted but encouraged (not to mention my gluttony). I turn to a reality TV show where greed is rewarded, making me feel envious which of course leads to anger! Yikes! This is what our children are being exposed to every single day! What’s a parent to do?
Let me encourage you first to take care of yourself. Guard your heart. Spend time in God’s Word and pray daily. Kill the seven deadly sins in your own life. As you know, we lead children primarily by example.
Secondly, bring your family to church for worship each Sunday, especially during the month of May. After the service is over, talk with them about what they saw, heard and experienced. Teach them how to recognize sin for what it is, how to know right from wrong, how to think Christianly in every situation. You can give your children the tools they need to be able to faithfully follow Jesus in a world of switched price tags.
Please know that we are here to help and encourage you in your holy calling as a parent. Let us know how we can support and serve you and your family. Springtime is here and we pray that your home is filled with Easter joy. May you take take advantage of the many opportunities we have to worship and serve our risen Lord!
I’m very excited that my sister Mary (along with her puppet partner Darcie Maze) is coming to San Diego to do a concert at the church where I now serve as Pastor to Generations, College Avenue Baptist Church. The concert is on Saturday, April 21 at 4 PM and it will benefit the College Area Pregnancy Services, which is supported by our church for its good work helping expectant mothers have successful deliveries.
If you are in the San Diego area, come to the concert (it’s free; an offering will be taken) and bring some kids. The address is 4747 College Avenue Baptist Church and the concert will be in the family center (gym). It should be a fun day. Here’s a video clip trailer for Mary’s new TV show.
One of the great things I get to do at College Avenue Baptist Church is to plan and promote intergenerational short-term mission trips. Here’s a video we showed in church this past week:
The December 2011 issue of Christianity Today featured an article by Anthony Baker, a theology professor at the Seminary of the Southwest titled “Learning to Read the Gospel Again” with the subtitle “How to address our anxiety about losing the next generation.” Losing the next generation (or expressed positively—hanging on to the next generation) is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in my role as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Like many churches, we are doing our best to stop the bleeding of young people leaving the church in record numbers.
Professor Baker makes a strong case in this article that the only thing capable of holding young people to their faith is the Gospel itself. He quotes the venerable theologian Stanley Hauerwas who made this comment about the emergent church movement which of course targets younger generations: “The future of the church is not found in things like this; the future is in doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday.” The “same thing” Hauerwas is referring to here is not the same failures of acculturation, but rather the continual proclamation of the good news, the Gospel about Jesus Christ, and “attending to the various classical practices that form people’s lives within the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ … The future of the church is found in doing this week in and week out, Sunday after Sunday, come rain, drought, hell or high water.”
Baker notes that one doesn’t have to look far to find churches where the “same thing” is a thing of the past and he suggests that youth & children’s ministries today are particularly prone to skipping over the gospel message in favor of more relevant fare.
For the kids, the situation is especially dire. Summer camps feature Jesus on a surfboard, or perhaps in safari gear, while Sunday morning classes tend to specialize in low-quality group counseling sessions. What we offer is anything but the simple gospel that ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:19). On good days the children humor us by pretending to enjoy themselves, all the time wondering when they get to do something more fun.
Quoting a memorable line from Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, he continues: “Young people look to the church to show them something, someone, capable of turning their lives inside out and the world upside down. Most of the time, we have offered them pizza.”
What Baker is suggesting is not that we stop using age-appropriate methods of reaching and teaching our young people, but that we consistently offer our kids a fresh and inspiring look at Jesus as revealed to us in the Scriptures. He continues,
“Of course what Matthew Mark, Luke and John offer us is a story, but not just a story. It’s also the linguistic vessel through which we encounter the loving, creating and saving God. The central character in this narrative loves us back. After asking, ‘Do you love what you are reading?’ the Christian educator ought to be able to add, ‘And are you loved by what you are reading?’… Imagine a church in which children and adults of all ages, races and classes were bound together by their common love for the words of the Gospel. If Christians can learn, week after week, to read the story of Jesus of Nazareth—to love what we read, to be loved by what we read—then surely the future of the church would look a bit more hopeful.”
I also read a new book last month by professor Scot McKnight (North Park University) titled The King Jesus Gospel which has greatly enlarged my understanding of what the Gospel is all about. McKnight begins at the beginning of the book by asking the reader to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question “What is the Gospel?” I played along and wrote something like this: “The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried and then rose again on the third day.” I based my explanation of the Gospel on Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3.
As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off. McKnight in fact bases much of his book on the same verse in 1 Corinthians. But he takes issue with evangelicals who summarize the Gospel more in terms of a formula for salvation: “Christ died on the cross for your sins. If you will repent, believe and receive Christ as your personal Savior, you will be saved.” I have to admit, I have presented the Gospel that way many times.
But McKnight’s view is that such a formula is not the Gospel but “the plan of salvation.” It is, of course, an important part of the Gospel, but it’s not the Gospel. When we reduce the Gospel to the plan of salvation, writes McKnight, we tend to make the Gospel more about us and what we do than about Jesus and what he has done. The Gospel is not our story, writes McKnight, but instead it is the story of God, the story of Jesus, how he came as the Messiah of Israel, lived, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and is coming back again to rule over his Kingdom forever and ever. That’s the good news (Gospel) about which all of the four evangelists wrote and which is contained in their four accounts which are appropriately named “The Gospel (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).” This is also the Gospel which Paul proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5: “Now brothers and sisters I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” McKnight asserts that these four crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ are the concern and the primary message of the biblical evangelists, not the “four spiritual laws” which are the concern and primary message of evangelical Chrisitanity today. The Gospel as a system of personal salvation is an incomplete Gospel, says McKnight, and is ultimately self-centered.
We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my personal salvation. In other words, the plan has a way of cutting the story about God and God’s Messiah and God’s people into a story about God and one person—me—and in this the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. We need the latter without cutting off the former.
What McKnight is saying is that the Gospel is more than what can be communicated in four bullet points. It is even more than what happened on the Cross. It is the whole story of God’s redemptive plan, from the creation story to the coming of the Messiah to the final consummation of human history when Jesus reigns forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The story is told of author and professor Robert Webber’s (Wheaton College) encounter with a student who asked him to explain the Gospel. He replied, “Do you have an hour?” McKnight himself takes a stab at summarizing the Gospel in his book and his summary takes six pages. He’s not saying that it’s impossible to be concise and clear about the Gospel message by using just a few words (that’s exactly what Paul did it in 1 Corinthians 15). He’s just saying that the Gospel is the entire amazing story of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord and King as told in the context of God’s amazing plan to redeem all of humankind.
I remember reading a book years ago by Paul Little called Your God Is Too Small. McKnight’s book has made me think that mayber our Gospel has become too small. I agree with Baker that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, is big enough, awesome enough and certainly powerful enough to capture the hearts of our young people and keep them connected to Christ and the church. If the Gospel is something that we want our children and young people to believe and trust for a lifetime, then we must take the time, week after week, to teach it to them.