Tag Archives: College Avenue Baptist Church
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.
I’ll be heading off this week for a conference in Dallas which is called D6, named after the oft-quoted passage in Deuteronomy 6 which commands parents to know the commandments of God and to “impress” them on their children in the normal routines of daily life (6:6-9). Several of us from College Avenue Baptist are going and I’m looking forward to hanging out with them and some of my friends who will be there like Doug Fields, Tim Smith and Mark Matlock. There are quite a few good speakers lined up for this conference and I’m looking forward to hearing them and attending some of the seminars. I’ve been asked to be on a panel for one of the sessions, to talk a little bit about how youth ministry intersects with family ministry today. Should be a good conversation. If you would like to peek in on the conference this week, you can do that online by visiting http://d6conference.com/.
I just returned from a wonderful week of ministry in Mexico with 25 College Avenue Baptist Church parents and their kids. We built a very nice new home for a poor family and we conducted four days of Vacation Bible School (VBS) in two separate villages involving more than 150 children.
Since I joined the staff of CABC as Pastor to Generations, this mission trip has been a dream of mine. I’ve participated in dozens of mission trips with youth groups over the years but have always felt like something was missing from them—namely the involvement of parents. Even though I believe in youth short-term mission trips and the powerful impact they can have on kids, I think they fall short just a bit. Typically when teenagers return home from a mission trip, their parents rarely understand the significance of what their kids experienced. (“Now, if you’re through changing the world, how about cleaning your room?”) I exaggerate here, but not by much.
So this family mission trip to Mexico was something I was really looking forward to doing for a long time. There is much processing and reflection that still needs to be done but so far there is a feeling of euphoria that makes me want to think this has been somewhat of a high water mark in ministry for me. Watching moms and dads serving together last week in Mexico was absolutely thrilling and I’m so looking forward to seeing how God will use this experience to change those families forever. One parent told me that his family has already decided to start serving meals on a regular basis at a local homeless shelter.
We arranged the trip through YUGO Ministries and stayed at their Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) near Estero Beach. They set everything up for us and provided us with supplies, meals, the program for the week and very nice accommodations. One parent commented that she felt a little bit guilty staying in such a nice place while serving the poor. I understood completely what she meant but reasoned that since our trip was only a week long, it was such a blessing to have our needs provided for by YUGO so that we could concentrate on meeting the needs of the people we were there to serve. It’s a great introduction to the mission field and a wonderful ministry that YUGO provides for churches and individuals who want to be challenged and stretched.
The only negative of the week is that several of our people got sick. I don’t think all of the sickness was Mexico-related however. We were doing ministry during the week jointly with another group of families from Memphis, Tennessee, and apparently one of their families came to Mexico with the flu. (We started calling it the “Y’all Flu”). Fortunately, it was not too serious and did not hamper our efforts too much. But it’s never pleasant to be sick while you’re far away from home.
If you would like to go on our next trip, just let me know! We’d love to have you.
I have often talked to parents about the importance of writing family mission statements or family creeds to help pass faith from one generation to the next. Many children grow up in Christian homes not really sure about what their parents (or they themselves) believe. Last month I wrote an article for our church’s parent newsletter on that same topic. Here it is:
In the book of Deuteronomy, parents are instructed to “impress” the commandments of God upon their children (6:7). What does this mean? The word impress in the original Hebrew means to permanently fix or brand, similar to what takes place when a farmer brands his cattle.
So how do we brand the commandments of God on our children? Obviously we aren’t supposed to tattoo them on our children’s bodies. Our goal is to brand them on our children’s hearts and minds.
Let me suggest one way to do this. We can teach the commandments to our children not as a negative list of things they shouldn’t do (“shalt not’s) but as a positive list of things they get to do as members of your family and as followers of Jesus Christ. You might even want to rewrite the Ten Commandments especially for your family as a mission statement or creed. Here’s an example:
Our Family Mission Statement
- We will love and serve God, who first loved us and gave his Son to die on the Cross for our sins.
- We will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
- We will be ambassadors for Christ and share his love with others whenever we have the opportunity.
- We will devote special time every week for worship, prayer, reading Scripture and serving others.
- We will love and respect our parents, grandparents and others who care for us, teach us and provide for us.
- We will live in peace and harmony with others, forgiving those who wrong us rather than hurting them or seeking revenge.
- We will remain sexually pure and faithful in our personal relationships.
- We will be honest and trustworthy in all that we do.
- We will be honest and trustworthy in all that we say.
- We will be thankful and content with all that God has given to us.
Of course the best way to impress these things on your children is to live them out consistently at home every single day. I guarantee you … they will be impressed indeed!
We had a wonderful Easter this year. We’ve been celebrating Easter in our backyard for over 30 years now (way before we had a backyard to celebrate in) because we believe that nothing is worth celebrating more than the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15).
Easter was especially meaningful for me this year. It started with our Ash Wednesday event at College Avenue Baptist Church called “Journey to Golgotha,” which kicked off the season of Lent, the 46 days leading up to Easter, during which I try to observe each year with a fast of some kind and time for reflection and spiritual discipline. This year I read a surprisingly good book by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) titled Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection which unpacks the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. My brother Jim sent me the book as a gift and quite honestly, not being Catholic, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a sitting Pope. But this book was rich, touched my heart and gave me numerous insights into the Gospel narrative, harmonizing the four Gospels to provide a thorough commentary on the last week of Jesus’ life before his ascension.
Easter Sunday was a great day at church. As I usually do on Easter, I put on a coat and tie to wear to church. I know it’s old school (hardly anybody at church wears a coat and tie anymore) but for some reason I just feel like Easter is a day worth dressing up for. After I got all spruced up, our 4-year-old grandson Jack took a look at me and shouted out, “Mommy look! Grandpa’s a … MAN!” We got a good laugh out of that.
Marci and I volunteered to sing in the Easter choir (our worship pastor needed a few extra voices) and it was really great to look out at a full sanctuary while singing classic Easter hymns like “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” and “Christ Arose.” After the choir performed the song “Redeemer,” Marci and I took seats on the front row and listened to our pastor, Carlton Harris, who delivered an inspired Easter message on Matthew 16:13-20. Right in the middle of his sermon however, a cell phone went off nearby and in horror we realized it was in Marci’s purse. She fumbled around trying to find it, but it just kept on ringing … loud. I wanted to stomp on her purse and make it stop but I couldn’t reach it. Finally she found it and turned it off. After the service, Marci apologized to Pastor Carlton and thankfully he was very understanding and kind to her.
After the sermon, the choir and orchestra and other members of the congregation performed the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always thought that this was was (and is) the greatest piece of music ever written so I was a little nervous about trying to sing it. Usually I just sit (stand, actually) and listen and am always moved to tears. I’ve always wanted to sing it, however, so I decided to give it a try. I went to choir rehearsal on Wednesday night and discovered that I had no idea how to read that music. Since the choir seemed a little short on tenors, I decided to be a tenor. But the Hallelujah Chorus is an incredibly complicated piece of music and during rehearsal, I felt like a musical moron. I couldn’t find my part at all. So I came home a bit embarrassed and humbled.
The next day, however, I decided to see if there wasn’t some way I could learn that part by Sunday morning. I searched the internet and happily discovered a YouTube video which had the Hallelujah chorus with the tenor part only! I downloaded it, put the audio on my iPod and listened to it about 50 times Friday and Saturday as I worked around the house. Actually it was really cool to be getting ready for Easter with the Hallelujah Chorus playing over and over in my head.
I was still a little unsure of myself during rehearsal on Sunday morning … but during the actual performance at the end of our worship service … I nailed it. Hallelujah indeed!
We headed home right after church and finished getting everything ready for our guests who started arriving around 12:30. Most didn’t leave until 5:30 or so. there was lots of good food and good music and good fellowship with people we love. It was a happy day, perfect for celebrating the happiest day in the history of the world.
Here’s a short promo video for the short term mission trips that we are doing this year at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. Marci and I will be leading the trip in June to Mexico (I talk about it a little on this video) and if you would like to go, we’d love to have you.
No it’s not a new fishing technique. “Edge” is the name of our middle school group at church. This morning I went fishing with one of our 7th grade students (Gavin, right) and two of our leaders (Steve on the left and Nick in the middle). We had a great time catching a variety of rockfish just outside the Point Loma kelp beds. Two “reds” are pictured here.
Since the middle of last year I’ve served as a family ministries coach (consultant) for College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. The church has caught the vision for becoming a more intergenerational, family-friendly and unified kind of church and they have asked me to help make that happen, particularly in regards to the youth and family ministries. My observation is that for quite some time this has been a church somewhat divided along generational lines with at least two distinct congregations—one that has clung desperately to the traditions of the past and another that has embraced the informal and edgy styles of the contemporary church. There are two services on Sunday morning for these congregations: the “sanctuary service” and the “gym service.” You can guess which is which.
Being a divided church hasn’t worked out too well for CABC. Attendance declined significantly over the past decade and for several years the church was without a senior pastor. Many of the staff left or were let go. Four years ago the church called a dynamic new pastor, Carlton Harris to lead them out of the wilderness and as he has implemented his vision for unity and change, the church has experienced even more losses in staff and membership. While this is not untypical, it can be difficult for a church to endure.
Against this background I’m happy to announce that I have joined the staff of this historic yet historically forward-thinking church. I have been asked to serve as Pastor to Generations—a position that didn’t exist previously. I’ll be ministering to parents and older generations in the church, while at the same time providing visionary leadership for the middle school ministry, which has always been my heartbeat. I even have a new office at the church with a big picture window! The church wants to do a better job of serving youth and families and connecting the generations, something I’ve been speaking and writing about for the past twenty years. So this seems like a perfect fit for me, a chance to put my words into practice. The church is only a few miles from my home so we don’t have to relocate and the job is part time for now, allowing me to continue conducting parent seminars, playing bluegrass music and pursuing some of my other interests.
It’s definitely going to take some time for me to learn how to be on a church staff again (I haven’t done that in, well, decades), so I’m certainly going to make a few mistakes. I’ve already made some. But along with the struggles that CABC has experienced in recent years, I’ve felt some positive momentum just in the last few weeks that I have a hunch will blossom into something really special, a significant piece of what God wants to accomplish in San Diego. I’m excited about this opportunity.
This month I began a new adventure in ministry as a Family Ministries Coach at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. I’ve never been a FMC before and I don’t really know anyone else who has ever been one either. But essentially I will be serving as a consultant to their youth and children’s ministry staff as they explore ways to better serve families at the church.
Strategically located just few blocks from San Diego State University, College Avenue Baptist Church has had a long and fruitful ministry in the San Diego area. My first contact with the church was back in the 1960’s while I was working with YFC/Campus Life.. Our offices were located just a block away from the church on the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue. Several of our YFC staff were working part time at CABC and we used the church frequently to conduct Campus Life meetings.
In the 1970’s, I attended Bethel Theological Seminary which was meeting at the time on the campus of College Avenue Baptist. The seminary later built it’s own campus, across the street from the church, but many of the professors continue to attend CABC. Because I have taught a few youth ministry classes at Bethel, I’m still (I think) on their roster of “associate faculty” members.
College Avenue Baptist Church has gone through a lot of changes in recent years as the church has gone through several pastors and lost quite a few members. More than a decade ago the church’s youth pastor started an alternative church service for young people called The Flood which was very successful but is no longer part of CABC. It broke away a few years ago as a independent congregation which now meets several miles away. Another group left the church recently to form another new church plant called Legacy Church.
So CABC has been in something of a rebuilding phase. I’ve been very impressed with the vision that new senior pastor Carlton Harris and executive pastor Mark Goeglein have shared with me. Part of their master plan is to strengthen families and leverage the immense amount of influence that parents have on the spiritual formation of their children. They are also committed to building intergenerational and interracial unity and community which reflects not only the diversity of the church but the reconciling power of the Gospel.
There’s more to their vision of course but I’m very excited about this opportunity to get involved with a church that seems to be really serious about encouraging parents and building faith in the home. I will be meeting with their staff this summer, formulating some ideas and hopefully becoming more engaged with parents and families in the fall.