Friday, May 30, 2008

Music video goldmine! . . .

It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then I stumble across something on the Internet that catches my attention and holds it for a long, long time. It’s even better when the online treasure chest keeps calling me back for more and more.

A couple of days ago I found something on MTV’s online home that I had never seen or heard of before. If it’s been there for awhile and you already know about it, I apologize for my enthusiasm. It’s called the MTV Yearbook. Here’s how it works: you go there and choose a year of MTV. Every single year since the advent of MTV is included. That’s right. . . . 1981 until now! Choose your year and a page opens up that includes thirty or more of the top videos from that year. Click on a video and watch it. You can even download the lyrics.

So I cruised around and looked across the years, remembering just about everything. Remember, I’m part of the generation that didn’t have MTV until our adult years. I was 25 years old when it debuted in August of 1981. I found myself asking over and over again. . . . “Has it really been that long since that video first came out?!?!?” The site offers a fabulous peek into the evolution of popular music, musical genres, and music video. It shows how our culture has changed. Don’t believe me? Just go back to 1984 and take a look at David Lee Roth in Van Halen’s “Jump”! Scary, huh?

I decided it would be fun to figure out which year was my favorite, and why. I also looked to find my personal favorite music video of all time. I couldn’t settle on one year. I chose two. 1982 has to be in my list of favorites, not because of the music, but because of the year. That was the year Lisa and I were married. That was the year we moved to Massachusetts and we started seminary. And believe it or not, that was the year when I turned on my lousy TV (it had been color for its previous owner but it was now green and white for me) and for some strange reason, we were picking up MTV over the airwaves. No, I didn’t have cable. And no, I wasn’t stealing cable. Somehow, someway, the signal was jumping from a pole or wire outside our apartment window into that beleaguered old set. I quickly became a fan of MTV and hearing those songs remind me of those wonderful days back in 1982.

I chose my other favorite year because of the music. I was going to go with 1991, but I have to choose 1992. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, U2. I know, I know. . . . Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” is in there too. But the real seller for me is that this is the year where my favorite music video of all time falls. . . . Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”

I’ve watched this video literally hundreds of times. Each and every time I see something new as my heart is touched by the realities of relational breakdown.

Let’s have a little fun here. Carve out some time and take a trip to the MTV Yearbook. What’s your favorite year? Favorite video? And why?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A letter to Senior Pastors. . . .

Dear Pastor,

I’ve asked your youthworker and your students' parents to forward this letter on to you. It’s about the kids in your congregation and the powerful role that you play as their pastor in their spiritual nurture.

I know that you’ve got teenagers sitting in your congregation every week. From your vantage point up front, you may spot them doodling, daydreaming, napping, zoning out, or even text-messaging. At times, it becomes painfully obvious that their eyes are lying. Even though those eyes may be focused on you, the young person behind the eyes is somewhere else. All this is evidence of a growing reality we face in our churches today: Many teenagers feel disconnected from the person in the pulpit – and as a result, the message as well. This troubling fact points to the need for pastors to intentionally listen to, understand, and reach out to students in a way that facilitates students’ connection and engagement with you, the messenger, and the life-changing message you’ve been called to preach.

What can you do to foster deep and significant connections with the emerging generations that extend from the pulpit to the pew, in order to point young people to the cross and new life in the Kingdom? Our pastoral lives must be marked by several core characteristics that are part of who we are and how we minister in our students’ postmodern world. We should prayerfully and intentionally develop these characteristics as part of our ministry strategy. They each reflect the earthly ministry of Jesus and effective missionary efforts throughout the history of the church.

Approach teenagers as a cross-cultural mission field. To effectively engage the emerging generations you must remember that there is a cultural gap that you are responsible to span. Their world is not your world. Consequently, you are a cross-cultural missionary who must employ the incarnational approach God used when he sent his Son into the world. God came to us as one of us. He entered into human culture, living and using human language and customs. Knowing their language, culture, and lifestyles helps us contextualize the unchanging message in forms that are familiar to youth.

Be in but not of the world. We must avoid the extreme of pulling ourselves out of the culture, and the opposite extreme of becoming so closely aligned to the world that we uncritically assume values and behaviors that are contrary to God’s will. The church has been guilty of both for far too long. We must learn to walk the tightrope of living for God in the context of the postmodern culture. By maintaining the proper balance, we are maintaining a transforming and redemptive presence in their culture and modeling true, biblical discipleship for all those young people who come to faith.

Always evaluate – and where necessary, abandon – your ministry methods. While the content of the Word always remains unchanged, the way we do ministry should be constantly evaluated. There is no room for sacred cows. If the message isn’t getting through because of dated methods, new ones should be prayerfully sought and adopted in order to effectively communicate the Good News. However, we must adopt only those methods that are faithful to the unchanging Word. And we must never assume that methodologies can do what only relationships can.

Answer all the groans. All creation groans with longing for ultimate redemption. (Rom. 8:22) Jesus tells his disciples to “preach the Good News to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) Creation includes not only fallen humanity, but institutions and systems. Our ministries should address and speak God’s Word to the social systems that shape a teenager’s life, including families, schools, media, peers, vocations, relationships, etc. A biblically balanced ministry that goes beyond getting people “saved” will command the attention of the young, showing them the relevancy of the Gospel to all individuals and to all of life.

Use popular culture as a communication tool. Survey your congregation’s students to see what they listen to, read, and watch. Then read, watch, and listen for yourself. Popular culture is the life-shaping soup that they marinate in all day every day. That soup is filled with stories, video clips, books, films, magazines, lyrics, and so forth that can help us communicate the unchanging message in a relevant manner (visit our Web site at for daily updates on today’s youth culture). Jesus consistently used word pictures, analogies, and illustrations from his culture as tools for communicating unchanging truth. The Apostle Paul opened his mouth only after looking and listening carefully, using Athenian idol inscriptions and poetry to build a case for the Gospel (Acts 17). By using something familiar from the pulpit and in our face-to-face conversations, we can get them to perk up and listen, allowing us to lead them into an understanding of something new.

Understand your own cultural biases. When our adult world collides with the reality of their emerging youth culture, it can get messy. Because what we encounter is different and may make us uncomfortable, our tendency is to spend a good amount of our “ministry time” convincing students that we are right and they are wrong. In other words, we must understand our own cultural biases and our inclination to see these biases as matters of right and wrong that we force on others as non-negotiables. The reality is that our way of doing things isn’t always the only way of doing things.

Be intent on building relationships. The postmodern generation longs not only for a connection with their Creator but also with their fellow humans. What sets them apart from prior generations is the deep level of brokenness they’ve experienced in their most basic relationship – the family. This leaves them intensely hungry for and open to relationships with others. Are you taking the time to get to know the students in your congregation? Relationships open the ears, eyes, and hearts of young people to the truths of God’s Word. Relationships are more often than not the doorway through which the emerging generations come to faith and learn what it means to live out a faith that’s integrated into every nook and cranny of life.

Love without condition or limits. One of the great cries in today’s youth culture is the need to be and feel loved. It is crucial that our contact with young people is filled with love. Yet they may be hesitant to return our embrace because we are from another generation and culture, or because of their trail of deep relational brokenness and fear of being hurt again. To help them overcome that fear, our love must be sincere and without condition or limit. Like Christ, we must simply love, and do so by serving them.

Be willing to suffer “with.” Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, was called to minister to the poor after praying a very dangerous prayer: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” It’s dangerous because its answer can shake up our comfortable and self-centered priorities. When God answered Pierce’s prayer, he felt a deep compassion for the hungry and poor that changed the course of his life and the world. In order to effectively connect with the emerging generations, we must pray that same prayer. When God answers this prayer, we will fully realize the significance of incarnational ministry to the young, and, like Jesus, our hearts will be broken by the depth of their spiritual and emotional pain. We will be driven to immerse ourselves in their world, their history and their humanity. In effect, we will have an infectious “heart of God” for them that will sweep through our congregations.

Provide a place and community. Today’s emerging generations long for a place to belong and call home. Their yearning is amplified by the fact that broken family situations and the lack of healthy peer relationships have left them with a huge relational void. They want connections, relationships, and community. Our churches should seriously consider stopping the destructive pattern of always separating the Body of Christ along generational lines. Teens should be included when the church assembles for worship, fellowship, mission, service, and discipleship. They need access to and relationships with those who are older, wiser, spiritually mature, and more life-experienced.

Be a learning listener. The emerging generations have a two-fold complaint about those of us who are older: We don’t listen, and we don’t understand. Understanding comes only through listening. By listening, we begin to learn about those we’ve been called to reach. When we listen, they feel understood and are more willing to listen to us when we speak to them. Our full attention and energy must be focused in on hearing and understanding what teenagers have to say.

Be a storyteller. The avenue to the heart of a young person is story. This is good news as our pastoral calling is a calling to telling the story of the great biblical drama of creation, fall, and redemption. We must not only tell them God’s story, but we must help them realize that God is still redemptively active in the affairs of humankind by becoming vulnerable and telling them our stories – both the good and the bad – about how God has changed our lives.

We are called to be signposts, pointing to Jesus Christ and the redemption, new life, and purpose that are found in him. As signposts we will “stick out” by entering into the postmodern world of young people while wearing these important characteristics. Doing anything less jeopardizes our ability to effectively cross cultures into their lives, and will only serve to foster a bigger and bigger disconnect between the person in the pulpit and the kids in the pews.

Be encouraged! You play a more powerful role that you can imagine in the lives of your congregation’s students. And if there’s anything I can do to serve you as you serve your students, please let me know.

Blessings to you,

Walt Mueller

Monday, May 12, 2008

Is something askew? . . .

If your newspaper is anything like mine, your last several days of papers offer some significant insight into not only the state of our culture, but the condition of the human heart. It’s made me ask, “As long as I’m comfortable, do I really care about other people?”

Let me state it simply: a little over a week ago a cyclone hit Myanmar. The devastation in terms of life and property has yet to be fully counted. At least 20,000 people are dead. Disease is rampant. Children were orphaned. Daily bread is scarce if non-existent. The government of Myanmar has been slow to allow international humanitarian aid to arrive. The death toll will rise.

At about the same time all of this was happening, a very expensive race horse broke both ankles and had to be euthanized. Lot’s of wealthy people stood in the stands cheering this horse and all the others in the Kentucky Derby on. The horse had a name – Eight Belles. Both print and broadcast news outlets provided me with an ongoing dose of still pictures, video, and commentary related to the horse’s demise.

Because I rely on news outlets to inform me about what’s going on in the world, by midweek I knew more about an expensive dead horse, than I did about the massive human tragedy in Myanmar. When at least 20,000 people die, shouldn’t the headlines be really, really big?

There’s a teachable moment in there that we should embrace and hand on to our kids. First, we need to give them some much-needed perspective that news coverage has largely failed to give. Gather last week’s newspapers and look at the space devoted to these stories. What does that space tell us about ourselves, our culture, and what we value in life? And, how does that contrast with the priorities of Jesus and what we read in the Gospels? There’s alot to teach our kids.

Then second, mobilize your kids to think about what they can do to begin to alleviate the suffering in Myanmar. . . . then do it. One component of suffering that Christ-followers must understand is that all human suffering is allowed so that God might be glorified. How then, can we, through our response to the suffering in Myanmar, bring glory to God? Teach your students about that country. Look at a map. Download pictures of the faces of those who live there. Look at the photos of the cyclone’s devastation. Then, gather your students together to pray for those who are experiencing things we can’t even begin to imagine. Finally, mobilize your students’ resources. Perhaps there will come a day when doors will open wide for some of your students to dedicate part or all of their lives to ministering personally to the cyclone’s victims. But for now, what is desperately needed is the daily bread that will allow survivors to continue to survive. There’s not a family, student, or church out there that can’t do something. . . . . yes, even though gas prices are a little over the top right now.

May I make a simple suggestion? I don’t know of a Christian disaster response ministry that is more effective than the Salvation Army. Over the years I have gotten to know many of our brothers and sisters who serve in the Salvation Army in the area of disaster relief. They know what they’re doing and they do it well. These are people who have been called and sent by God to respond to disaster. Now, we have the opportunity to help them fulfill their calling by supporting their work.

Here’s this week’s challenge: For all of you who are youthworkers out there, would you prayerfully consider enlisting some creative way to mobilize your group to respond to the Myanmar disaster with the “cup of cold water?” Would you be sure that the creative response you enlist funnels economic assistance to the Salvation Army or some other disaster relief agency that’s positioned to get the aid through? I know that at this point the Salvation Army is already there in Myanmar. You can donate whatever financial assistance your youth group can muster to the Salvation Army by clicking here.

May I ask you to do two more things? First, would you cut and paste this blog and then send it on to as many other youthworkers as possible? And second, would you help to build some momentum for this by commenting below on how you and your students will sacrificially respond? Together we can share our ideas and build some momentum.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Redeemed. . . .

I’ve been involved in a very encouraging adult class at our church the past few Sunday mornings. Dozens of young parents (kids mostly elementary and pre-school age) have been gathering to hear about today’s youth culture. A rotating group of adults, including myself, have taken turns teaching on a variety of topics. I was asked to speak on the topic of “redemptive parenting” and I did so last week. We followed up yesterday with a panel discussion that featured five older and more seasoned couples talking about their experiences of living with and raising teenagers. It was moving to hear their stories.

After class a mother of three younger kids approached me and said how encouraging it was to see and hear “Godly parents who I look up to” speak openly about the fact that there have been struggles. Lisa and I sat on the panel. I struggled a bit with her use of the word “Godly” as a descriptor of my parenting skills – or as I usually see it, lack thereof. I know for me – and every other couple on that panel – I would more readily admit that while I’d love to be classified as “Godly,” honest introspection reveals more accurate descriptors. I would be much more comfortable with the phrase “struggler,” realizing that anytime I might get it right is purely by the grace of God. In all honesty, this is a realization that’s come over the course of time, as it’s very easy to think more highly of yourself and your parenting expertise when your own kids are young.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s class and at the request of someone who was there, I thought I would post a list of the main points I addressed in last week’s class. It’s not exhaustive, but it reflects personal lessons learned in the school of life as seen through the eyes of God’s Word. These are some of my thoughts on redemptive parenting:

• Embrace a proper theology of the sovereignty of God. Yes, God is in control of all things.
• Embrace a proper theology of human depravity. Yes, all of us and all of our kids are fallen beings.
• In a sinful and fallen world there are no guarantees. . . . even if we do everything just right.
• Adolescence is a primetime for difficulty. Because of where they’re at developmentally, our kids are perfectly positioned to mess up.
• Our identity should not be rooted in our children and their performance. Our identity must be found in Christ. Anything else is idolatry.
• Your foundation must be the truth’s of God’s Word. When the difficult times hit, you will need to constantly remind yourself of the “This I know” foundational truths of life.
• God is parenting and growing us as we parent our teens.
• Helpless is a good place to be. It drives us to God and away from ourselves.
• Embrace a theology of pain and suffering. . . . and “consider it all joy!”
• Be vulnerable. Admit your own struggles with sin.

• Think of your children first. Your first priority is to see the situation and your child redeemed.
• Don’t worry about what other people think.
• Don’t blame yourself. Your child can make his/her own choices.
• Be a person of grace. Remember John White’s great advice: “As Christ is to me, so must I be to my children.”
• Respond. Don’t react.
• Get support. . . . prayer, professional, etc.
• Shoot for heart change, not behavioral conformity.
• Let them suffer the consequences of their behavior.
• Be free to lament. Embrace the opportunity.
• It’s never too late. No situation is irredeemable.