Who needs honor, wisdom and experience when you have a seminary education?
I just got back from running a summer camp for our youth group. My wife and I took a co-ed group of 14 teens on a week-long wilderness adventure, kayaking down a long stretch of the remote Pecos River in West Texas, sleeping under the stars, and living off the land. We had a great time.
After 10 years of running near about 40 camp sessions, this was my first time to do it through an “established” summer camp outfit that provides a turn-key experience. Most groups simply turn their kids over to the camp staff for the week. I was the rare group leader who told the staff that I intended to be in charge of the spiritual aspects of the trip, and they “let” me do it, considering my background in youth ministry.
Our assigned summer-staff counselor was a 21-year-old seminary student. He’d already been in charge of several sessions this year, and expressed no small amount of dismay that he was not going to be allowed to run the “teachings” which, as for all the other groups, would have been a generic curriculum, handed down by the camp managers, with the same lessons taught on the same pre-set schedule.
Now, I didn’t tell the young man that I’d been leading teen groups since before he was born, or that many of my past campers are now much older than he is. But I did politely tell him that maybe he could learn something, if he had a desire to. Sadly, it became apparent that he didn’t, as he checked out of the spiritual aspects after three days, in what seemed a rather aloof way.
I knew there would be issues when, on the first day, I asked the campers to weigh their own spiritual maturity considering three factors: 1) Bible knowledge, 2) authentic relationship with God, and 3) real-world experience. After we finished that exercise, he expressed to me that “many of the campers were very discouraged by the exercise.”
I guess he didn’t realize the depth of relationship I have with these kids. I asked each and every one what their hope was for spiritual growth at camp, and each of them communicated great expectations. A few expressed they were definitely confronted by the reality of their own lack of spiritual maturity, yet said this was not discouraging but motivating. I am left to conclude the young counselor was the only one discouraged by the exercise.
Next I taught about what a real relationship with God looks like, and how it includes two-way communication with Him – not just book-reading and one-way petitions. I broke down the Scriptures, including a brief Greek language study on the word translated as “word” in the Bible. And I recounted a few real-world encounters I’ve had with the Living God. Many of the youth communicated their own experiences.
And then our young counselor spoke up. In what seemed to me to be a rather defensive tone, he stated his belief that God doesn’t necessarily communicate to His children any more other than through the written Word. Of course, he had no written Word to back up that assertion! Instead, he could only reference things told to him by his seminary professors.
No wonder he was discouraged. He grew up in the “church” and is an upperclassman at an established Baptist college. To be around a group of teenagers, many of whom have a closer authentic relationship with their Father, and who have experienced the reality of our Living God in more tangible ways, must have been a shocker – especially after having been thrust into a position of “spiritual authority” for most of the summer.
The next day, I spoke on the Gospel of the Kingdom – including our identity as offspring of the King with a destiny to conquer the world and rule in eternity – and after that our young friend completely checked out. He didn’t participate in one more lesson or discussion.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. My first-hand experiences, and thus my teachings, don’t fit into his traditions. Going forward, half of me suspects our young counselor will outright reject any overtures the Holy Spirit was making in his heart, write me off as some hack, and lament the lost opportunity to teach our kids some Bible trivia.
The other half of me is not going to give up hope. He was a fine young man with a good mind and deep love for God. Jesus said the seed we’re supposed to plant is the truth of God’s Kingdom. My prayer is that he listened enough to get some of that seed into his heart, and that it will eventually grow and take over.
The battle for his mind will be intense.
I don’t have a seminary degree and I am not ordained. There’s no way I would be accepted as credible by his seminary professors, and much of what they teach stands against what I have personally experienced and received from God. I don’t teach from a pre-set, handed-down curriculum. I don’t seek to give folks a spiritual “sugar high,” or to simply fill their heads with Bible trivia. I don’t tell them they have to sit in a pew on Sunday, or submit to a man called “pastor,” or put their money in the offering plate.
Instead, my goal is to personally introduce folks to the Living God and let Him take it from there. I ask tough questions and encourage them to dig. I teach about their royal identity, purpose and destiny in Christ, and about the true meaning and usefulness of spiritual authority. I tell them my own stories of hearing from God, miracles I’ve witnessed, and how He’s used a damaged vessel like me to do mighty things for His glory. And then I send them out to go and pursue the same experiences.
I don’t claim to be anything special. The Bible instructs us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and I take this injunction seriously. I adamantly teach that the things I’ve experienced in Christ are available to anyone who has a heart to learn and a willingness to count the cost. I hope and believe the people to whom I minister will go and do far beyond me.
At the same time, I refuse to diminish the gifts God has given me and the price I’ve paid to receive them. Over many years, God has taken me to multiple continents to meet a wide range of people and to see His work first-hand. I’ve been blessed with many remarkable experiences in Him and relationships in His Body. He has given me some remarkable mentors and a front-row seat to incredible works of the Spirit. I’m not the top of the heap, but dang it, I have quite a few battle scars, reams of revelation, and bushels of fruit to show after more than a decade in full time ministry.
And that brings us to a big problem with churchianity. If a man twice my age, with exponentially more experience in front-line Kingdom service, brought a group of kids to my camp, I’d be eager to sit at his feet and learn. That’s honor. That’s wisdom.
That poor kid. The “church” system has put him through a few years of “official” training, handed him a pre-set curriculum and given him a title. To them, that counts as “authority.” (It must count as authority to them, because that’s all their system has to offer!) He admits he’s never heard the voice of God or witnessed a miraculous healing, and I suspect he’d mess his pants if he ever met a demon face to face.
And yet somehow, in his world I’m the bad guy for not bowing to his “authority.”
Come to think of it … isn’t this why the “church” leaders of the day crucified Jesus?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Posted on July 2, 2012, in Churchianity, Leadership, Life lessons, Ministry Uprising, The Living God, Youth ministry and tagged church, churchianity, Gospel of the Kingdom, honor, leadership, ministry, organic church, religion, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.