9 Objections to Christianity

Over the past 2 days I have watched much of the Resurgence13 Conference (you may have seen a lot of #R13 on social media.) This Seattle based conference had live sites scattered across America and also and online contingency of over 20,000 viewers. Over the 48 hours of the conference delegates and online subscribers heard messages from Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, James McDonald and Matt Chandler just to name a few. The heart of the conference was for delegates to learn lessons from ministry leaders who have seen God’s faithfulness as they respond to his call. Many of these sessions I managed to see and found all of them especially helpful, compelling and empowering. I’m sure in time these sessions will made available at The Resurgence.

In the final session of the conference Pastor Mark Driscoll shared of a number of new developments that he, his church (Mars Hill) and The Resurgence website would be working on. One of those is a project that will become a book, sermon series and small group studies on the 9 objections to Christianity
the unchurched and dechurched (people that haven’t attended church for a considerable amount of time.)

The market research (done by some of the market leaders in research) has already been undertaken and after numerous survey’s, focus groups and interviews Mark shared the summary of the Top 9 objections to Christianity. I for one, am incredibly thankful for the time, energy and expense that has been invested and await eagerly the finalisation and communication in full of the data, it’s findings and how we as believers are to respond. So these are the 9 and below also a quote from different participants of the study.

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Intolerance
“Some Christian groups are too intolerant”

Sex
“The Christian religion and I have different views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage

Politics
“I don’t like how some Christian groups meddle in politics”

Hypocrisy
“Most Christians are hypocrites”

Exclusivity
“There are lots of religions, and I’m not sure only one has to be the right way”

Inequality
“All people are not created equal in the Christian faith”

Scripture
“I don’t really share the beliefs that the Christian faith tells me I should”

Greed
“Christianity is about making money, not religion”

Irrelevance
“The Christian faith is not relevant to modern times”

I wish I could post the session as I greatly appreciated how in just 90 minutes Mark unpacked these objections, it would obviously help further explain what each subheading specifically spoke too. I look forward to this project and it’s findings being shared on the global scale in the first half of 2014.

I truly believe It’s important for us as believers to be engaging in the conversations our culture is having, and be able to speak the truth into issues, shortcomings and falsehoods people have about Christianity.

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The Civil Wars are changing my preaching

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I love listening to music, I’m pretty sure I can’t think without some kind of music in the background. So much so I’ve even begun to preach with full blown music tracks underneath while I preach. One of the albums I’ve been listening to for months is the latest project from The Civil Wars. I initially followed the groups beginnings having previously interviewed Joy Williams during her solo Christian music days, however, my interest in the group quickly progressed to something much deeper. I think I could safely categorise myself as a fan.

The duo are on a hiatus and depending on which journalist or blog site you read the reasons are varied. One thing is for sure this album has captured the beauty, the pain, tension and heart break of human relationships. Their current self titled album is probably the most emotionally charged and tense album I’ve ever listened too, and apart from something stunning being released in the next few weeks this album will be my favourite of the year.

Great Art is born from Great tension

Many of the songs on the album are intentionally vague blending fact and fiction which leaves the listener wondering whether the duo are speaking of their musical relationship, their marriages (not to each other) or something else. Recently in an interview JP (other half of the duo) spoke of his desire to leave their songs ‘vague enough, so that everyone can see themselves in it.

I was taught how to preach by some amazing men and women. One of the things they all taught me to do was to make it crazily clear on what I am speaking about but also how you want people to respond and live out what you are teaching. I know for me, what I have done too often though is in my endeavour to be clear is ended up preaching what I now refer to as ‘Friend’s Semons.’ These are sermons just like the 90’s sitcom friends that would start with laughs, have some tension/chaos/disagreement, then resolve it and after 30 minutes wrap everything up nicely. If you’ve ever preached multiple times chances are you may have done this too. Rather than embracing the tensions of the text, the pains of life or even seemed contradictions we try to quickly navigate them with well intended (and maybe even completely true) statements and verses quickly attempting to move to the next thing. I know sometimes I’ve made messages so specific and so free of tension and struggle that I end up alienating countless numbers of people that Jesus is wanting to speak to.

I’m learning more every week that it’s OK to not have all the answers to all of life’s questions and the theological hurdles that may arise because if it.

Sermons, just like all great art whether it be music, dance, painting, acting etc is meant to among other things, generate great conversations. I’m being more intentional than ever to not ‘land’ my sermons with a “one size fits all” solution, but more desiring to help point people to begin a conversation with Jesus and his people to wrestle the tension of how we are to live out the good news even in the midst of what can sometimes be chaos and contradiction.

That doesn’t mean I don’t give steps, principles or insights on how we are to live, but rather I’m committed to let God be at work in his people by his spirit and not think that their obedience to him is based solely on whether or not I preach the right 6 steps.

So let’s talk about it…
I pray I can be more like Jesus in this…

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The 3 F’s of Youth Ministry

I’ve been in youth ministry for over ten years! WOW, I just scared myself… In that time I’ve been blessed enough to see God at work in a number of churches across several different denominations. In that time I’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Youth worker you could probably do the same, so rather than doing that (plenty of blogs, websites, conferences and mentors can help with that) I’d rather like to share so you 3 ingredients I believe must be apart of every time you gather together with your teenagers.

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FUN

If I’m honest this was probably that hardest one for me. I know for many youth pastors and leaders that may be the total opposite. I can so focused on Discipling young people, making sure they are hungry for God and are carrying the gospel that I forgot to even enjoy the ministry God had me doing, I quickly realised that fun is not contrary to gospel living. Jesus had fun, he enjoyed life and our youth ministry must have adequate doses of fun scattered throughout our nights. And don’t limit yourself to thinking this must only be in games. Have fun in groups, in your sermons, wherever. Fun, energy and passion are huge culture and atmosphere change agents.

FRIENDSHIPS

We want our youth ministries to be a place where young people can come and experience genuine friendships, not only with their peers but also with leaders. Relationships is the currency of teenagers, and if you have no relational connection with them you’ll find it almost impossible to be able to communicate anything of substance to them. Your young people are not a Missional tool or evangelism target but rather peoples whose lives matter to God. We must invest relationally into them, but trust and respect and love them because God does.

FAITH

If we don’t communicate Jesus we are nothing more that a cute little gathering of teenagers who entertain themselves with games and various outings. The youth ministry I inherited nearly 18 months ago was phenomenal at these first two F’s. I’d never seen a group of leaders so devoted to creating great moments in youth nights and so good at investing relationally in teenagers,seriously one if the best I’d ever seen. Over the past year our team has gone on a journey ensuring we are not just stopping there but are speaking the truth of Jesus (in love) and giving our young people an opportunity to experience, process and journey with God. Teach them the scriptures in a way that cones in with their world, let them dialogue, process and even wrestle with it

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Breakfast Ministry

I’m a parent of 3 beautiful children. Having kids is by far one of the greatest decisions that my wife and I have ever made.

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Yesterday at breakfast I was struck again by a spiritual truth that came out of a regular conversation with my oldest son Caleb. His current flavor of the month breakfast is to have a bowl of corn flakes and some honey drizzled over the top (really a poor man’s crunchy nut corn flakes.) That morning however, I realized I’d run out of honey and had forgotten to mention it to my wife for our weekly shop which was done the day before. I had to break this to Caleb that he wouldn’t be able to have honey that morning on his cereal. What followed was a 4 year olds version of his world collapsing as he was unable to get what he wanted. I said to Caleb ‘Son I know you want honey, but I can’t give you something I don’t have.’

No sooner had that sentence left my lips I felt the urging of God saying the exact same thing to me. ‘MJ, you can only give people that which I have already done in you.’

After being in pastoral ministry for over a decade now (outside of radio work it’s been my only real “job”) I have to admit that too many times when I’ve come to preach or share leadership thoughts with my teams and I’ve found myself coming to God and his word for content to deliver rather than for transformation of myself or intimacy with God as the ultimate objective.

Before I teach it, preach it, tweet it, heck even blog about it I must ensure that I am transformed by it and living it

You can only draw water out of a well that’s already dwelling inside. So too we can only give out that which God has already done within us.

Lets not become mere professional Christians, rather let us live out and be transformed by God so that we can give out that which has been done within us.

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Projection Problem

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Recently I was setting up my MacBook for youth & attempting to project the image from the computer to the screen. A pretty normal function and one I thought would be pretty simple task. However, somehow and God only knows (or a Mac expert) that the image from my computer began to project a completely different visual. I quickly became incredibly frustrated after several failed attempts to fix the projection problem. How hard can it be to take one thing and authentically project it somewhere else without anything being different.

In this moment (if I’m honest I was über close to using some words probably not uttered by a pastor in the church walls of Heathmont Baptist Church) I felt the voice of God speak to me saying “MJ you do this in your life too.” “What are you talking about” I said to God, I should by now know better to argue or question him on things.

God was gracious with me again and explained “isn’t it frustrating when the real picture isn’t shown but rather an imposter is projected? Well in the same way their are times where who you are projecting is not who you really are.” I felt immediately convicted and repented in that moment fully aware of my sin and also my own inadequacy. I know in my life when I feel inadequate or that I believe I’m not good enough these are the moments I’m most likely to project a performance image rather than the real image. In these times I need to learn to once again lean more onto God and put more of my trust in him and not myself.

We need to be accurately projecting who we really are and who Jesus is. People can spot a fake from a mile off, and also become quickly frustrated once they realise their is a difference between the real picture and what we are projecting. Don’t be who you think others think you should, but rather project an authentic image of who you are and who Jesus is.

What are you going to do with the life that you have left?

540722_483809528339438_1833240444_nLast night I sat listening to Andrew Newbold Lead Pastor of Freedom Revolution Church in Doncaster. He was sharing at the launch of our new Young Adults gatherings. As he spoke he opened up with this question:

What are you going to do with the life that you have left?

Life is all about decisions, we make thousands of these every single day. Some are as simple as to whether we’ll have a shower before work? (I suggest you do) what we’ll do for lunch? Right through to will we marry that person? Will we accept that job offer interstate? Life is all about decisions! We make our decisions, and our decisions make us.

Andrew shared with us 5 key things to do when making decisions.

1) Try to never make important decisions when your tired, drained or being unreasonably pressured.

2) Know your Options (get all the information you can)

3) You actually need to make a decision.

4) Good decisions have a time limit.

5) Decisions are the pathway to your destiny.

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
(Psalm 25:8-12 ESV)

God says, “Ill show you, the path but first humble yourself.” Our prayer should be “God, Show me the path!” If you want his results, you’ve gotta live his way.

But what about if God is silent in the decision making process?

gps-unit-lgeWe can often perceive the silence of God as us heading in the wrong way? But have you ever used a GPS when driving to Sydney or Adelaide? The first 20-40minutes their is constant instructions from your GPS telling you to turn right here, left here. However, once you get on the freeway for a long time their is nothing. Does that mean you are heading the wrong way?

Absolutely not, rather its the complete opposite, because you are heading the right way on the correct road their is no reason for the GPS to speak. The same could be true in our relationship and communications with God, perhaps the silence could actually mean that I’m heading in the right direction and their is no need for further instruction until a change needs to be made.

Luke 22:42 says “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Rather than praying for God to endorse your decision on a destiny decision (like marriage, which job offer you’ll take, or if you’ll move overseas) Set aside what you want… Not my will, but yours be done!c Remember, Gods will for your life is always the best thing for your life!

The Toughest Leadership Challenge

If their was every going to be anything that would get in the way of all God wanted to do through your leadership what would it be? The Devil? A difficult church member? Council blocking your permit? Or could it be something much closer to you than you ever thought?

I’ve learnt in my life that the greatest challenge to my leadership fruitfulness is ME.

courageous-leadership-bill-hybels-hardcover-cover-artThe toughest challenge I’ve found in leadership is the art of self-leadership. The person I should be leading first isn’t my teenagers, my youth team or even my family. The person I should be leading first is myself. To be the man God desires me to be, the husband and father my wife and kids need me to be and the pastor and I must learn to lead myself first. Every month I grab a coffee, sit on the beach and spend an hour with Jesus reflecting on where my life is at. I use the following a list of questions Bill Hybels lists in his book Courageous Leadership to help me grow in my self awareness, but also in my own leadership.

  • Is My Calling Sure?
  • Is My Vision Clear?
  • Is My Passion Hot?
  • Am I Developing My Gifts?
  • Is My Character Submitted To Christ?
  • Is My Pride Subdued?
  • Am I Overcoming Fear?
  • Are Interior Issues Undermining My Leadership?
  • Is My Pace Sustainable?
  • Is My Love For God And People Increasing?

I want to encourage you to spend some time with Jesus over the next few days reflecting honestly over these questions and allowing Jesus to transform your heart, life and leadership to be more aligned with the Gospel.