Back To School: 5 Things To Pray For Your Teenager

Today marks the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year in our County’s Public School System. Here are a few things that Christian parents of Christian teens can pray for as their students return to school:

1. Pray that you and your student will realize that true identity is in Christ
Middle and High School years are rough. Young people are discovering who they are for themselves. The world, classmates, and parents often send mixed messages about who they should be. If students aren’t guided, they can look to popularity, grades, and outward appearance for their identity. Parents, it’s your God-given responsibility to constantly and gracefully show your teen that true identity is found in Christ alone, not in their performance, their looks, or the acceptance of their peers.
(Proverbs 22:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 2:20)

2. Pray that your student will see his/her studies as an opportunity for worship
While a Christian student doesn’t find his/her identity in academics, academics still matter! For the Christian, all of life is an opportunity to make much of Jesus. If your student professes faith in Jesus Christ, show them how their love for Jesus translates into a pursuit of excellence in their academics. (Colossians 3:17)

3. Pray for (and cultivate) and atmosphere of honest conversation in your home
As your student is “in the world” he/she will encounter things that challenge a Christian worldview. Don’t panic. Have open and honest conversations about the truth of the Gospel vs. the lies of this world. Graciously and winsomely refute false worldviews. Teach your student to think for himself/herself and study the scriptures. Encourage spiritual disciplines that flow out of a robust faith in Christ. Be in the Word on a regular basis as a family. Take note: In order to guide your children in these things you must be grounded in a biblical worldview. You must have a robust and demonstrative faith in Jesus. Do you? (Consider walking through Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill in Acts 17 to see how Paul refutes a pagan worldview. Or consider THIS great resource.)

4. Pray for Christian community
Ask God to give your student close friends who love Jesus, share struggles, and encourage one another. Take them to Student Ministry gatherings; good ones where they hear the Bible and learn to properly apply it to their lives. Encourage times of fellowship with other Christians their age. (Proverbs 18:24, 27:17, Hebrews 10:25)

5. Pray for missional opportunities
If you are actively discipling your student, you should be showing them that their time around people who don’t know Christ has a purpose. Have you taught your student how to share the gospel? Have you encouraged your student to invite their non-Christian friends to church? Are you modeling this in your own life? (1 Peter 2:9)
I’m praying these things for the students and parents of NewBranch Community Church. Will you join me? Also, this is a very short list. What else would you add?

Is My Kid’s Salvation Experience Real?

This past Sunday, as we were discussing the significance of John the Baptist’s water baptism, I touched very briefly on the implications for discussing baptism with our children.

In particular, I cautioned against rushing into baptism in order to provide our children an assurance of their salvation as soon as they make a decision to trust Christ.

I’d like to briefly address this a bit more in this post.

When our children tell us they have “accepted Christ”, we rightly want to celebrate this decision.  We also want to help them find assurance that their decision was real and genuine.  But how do we know if their response to the Gospel was real?  How do we know that they have genuinely trusted in Christ and repented of their sins?  How do we know if they really have new life in Christ or not?

The simple answer is that “only time will tell”.

Many times, parents in these situations will rush to give their child assurance of their salvation. But what’s the rush?  Do we think that if their conversion is real they will somehow lose it if they don’t get baptized right away or if they don’t get some “assurance” right away?  That’s impossible.  If it’s real today, it’ll be real tomorrow, and it’ll be real in a year.  If it’s real when they’re 6 (and yes, I believe that’s very possible), then it’ll also be real and even more apparent when they’re 12.

Let me be clear:  They will not lose their salvation simply because you waited to baptize them, or because you waited to give them other indications of your assurance that they are genuinely saved.  But conversely, we can do harm to them by giving them assurance too soon, if their “decision” was not genuine.  By baptizing them, telling them they’re “saved”, or the like, we can give them a false assurance, and end up inoculating them against the Gospel.

in-oc-u-la-tion – to introduce the causal agent of a virus into the body in order to generate immunity to that virus

Giving false assurance of salvation to children who are not genuinely saved could actually be “immunizing” our children against the Gospel.  We see evidence of this all over the place.

Where are all the children who “accepted Christ as Lord & Savior” in VBS and Sunday School 20 years ago?  Where are they today?  They’re not in the church!  Statistics are overwhelmingly convincing…the 21st century Church in America allows (and unknowingly encourages) false conversions year after year – only to see those children grow up and leave the faith.  How many examples can you personally name?

The reality is they didn’t leave the faith; they were never IN the faith.  But if you ask them today, they’ll say, “yeah I’m a Christian, yeah, I got saved when I was 5, 6, 7,…and I even got baptized, I don’t need to hear about the Gospel.”  What a tragedy!

A sobering question for us is, “Are we doing this today with our own children?”

So, how can you tell?  How can you tell if their decision to trust in Christ is real?

In recent years, in an attempt to determine whether someone is really saved or not (particularly children), we encourage them to say a simple prayer (the “sinner’s prayer”), or we tell them they need to “invite Jesus into their heart”.

The hope with this strategy is that as long as they say those words (and mean them), then we don’t have to do the hard work of actually looking for evidence of genuine repentance and regeneration. All we have to do is know that they prayed a prayer, and asked Jesus into their heart.

The problem with this strategy is that those things simply aren’t in the Bible!

The Bible never says that you have to pray a certain prayer to be saved.  The Bible never says anything about “asking Jesus into our heart” in order to be saved, yet we want to use that with children, and tell them that’s all they need to do to be saved!?  What child DOESN’T want Jesus to be in their heart?  If we’ve told them Jesus is loving and good, of course they’ll want Jesus in their heart, but that doesn’t mean they have any awareness of their own sinfulness and need to trust in Christ and repent.

Likewise, the Bible doesn’t say anything about the need to raise a hand, walk an aisle, get baptized, etc., in order to be saved.  Biblically, assurance of salvation is not based on any of these external symbols.  Our response to the Gospel is simply faith & repentance, and our assurance of salvation is based on how we answer two simple questions:

  1. Whom are we trusting right now for our salvation?  Are we trusting in self to be saved (what I do), or trusting solely in what Jesus has accomplished to save us?
  2. Is their evidence of change, of new life in Christ, and of genuine faith and repentance of sin?

So, how can you tell if your child is really saved?  According to these two questions, a child who has genuinely trusted in Christ for salvation, will continue to trust in Christ for salvation.  If they are genuinely trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the Cross as their only hope for salvation, then they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

Likewise, a child who has received new life in Christ will (over time) give evidence of this new life.  Granted, this is difficult to discern in a child.  It’s not as if they were a murderous thief when they were 5, and now we see this colossal change in their life.  Nevertheless, over time, you will begin to see “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).  They will begin to show a new and growing affection for God.  They will become more interested in reading their Bible and spending more time in private prayer.  They will become increasingly aware of (and convicted of) their own sins.  They will have a growing concern for their own personal holiness.  These are things that parents will begin to see over time.  It may not be evident right away, but “time will tell”.

So, when our child comes to us and says, “Mom, Dad, I am trusting in Christ for my salvation…I’ve repented of my sins….and I think I’m saved now!” – How are we to respond?

We have 3 choices:

1. We can rush to give them assurance of their salvation.  We’ve discussed (above) the dangers in this approach.

2. We can be a spiritual wet blanket”  We can say, “No son, you didn’t do that.  Your mother and I still see too much of your sin nature in you….and we seriously doubt that you are genuine in your faith & repentance….we don’t think you are regenerated in Christ….and so therefore, we conclude that you are self-deceived about your salvation…sorry, you’re not a real Christian yet”.

    NO….DON’T DO THAT!!  Although in reality those things may be true of our child, we don’t want to squelch the work of the Holy Spirit on their heart.  We want to stimulate that work, and encourage them to keep moving toward God.

    3. We can encourage them.

      “Great son!  That’s awesome!  You keep on trusting in Christ and repenting of your sins.  That’s just what God wants you to do.   More than anything, we want to know that God has really changed your life….and we can only know that if you keep on trusting and repenting, and acting like a real follower of Christ.  This will show that you have a new heart…and that God has truly changed you….so keep trusting and repenting, and Mom and I will be watching and praying…and as questions come up, we’ll talk about them”.

      You want to be encouraging and positive and sincere.

      What’s the danger in NOT giving them a bunch of assurance right away?  Are we afraid that they will walk away from the faith if they don’t get some assurance real quick?  Listen, if they walk away from the faith it’s because their response (whatever it was) wasn’t genuine and wasn’t real……and friends, if that happens….you don’t want them walking around 20 years later with FALSE ASSURANCE (“Oh, I’m good, b/c my parents said I was saved when I was 6”).   NO…..you want them to remember, “Mom and Dad said that if my response to the Gospel was real…I’d keep on trusting in Christ, and living a life that gave evidence of genuine repentance….well, I’m not doing that….and so I know I’m not saved…and I desperately need the Gospel!”

      May God grant you wisdom as you bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord….and may He give you discernment as you shepherd his/her soul.

      A Bittersweet Transition.

      The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.

      a bittersweet transition.

      As of this past Sunday, I am no longer the lead student minister here at NewBranch. This is a bittersweet time for me. Bitter because I love students, and I especially love every student we have within doxa student ministry. While I will still be around doxa helping Kevin for as long as the Lord permits, I am sad because I know that this is, in many respects, the beginning of the end of student ministry for me.

      During my time in student ministry, I learned some new things, had some suspicions confirmed, and became more deeply convicted about other things. I would like to share those things with you today. I hope I can be reflective without being self-promoting (after there is nothing in my self worth promoting, only Christ).

      1. My suspicion that students could handle going deep in the faith was confirmed.

      Last year at Revive, a fellow student pastor marveled because we had a middle school student chilling in his bed reading “The Glory of Christ” by R.C. Sproul. That is just one tiny example of what I believed was true about students, and what has been confirmed: students can handle wrestling with the deep truths of the faith. As I’ve often pointed out, they study Calculus and Physics in school, they can handle more than “Jesus loves me this I know” at church.

      2. My suspicion that students didn’t have to be lazy and self-centered was confirmed.

      If I say “teenager”, you likely think “lazy”, “selfish”, and “rebellious”. I would then have to tell you about the kids who I have watched faithfully serve in after-school ministries twice a week for the past 4 years. Or the kids who showed up faithfully to do apartment ministry or inner-city ministry on Saturday mornings. The truth is that it’s not that teenagers are inherently self-consumed, it’s that we all are. And teenagers can realize the joy of serving others as well as the rest of us.

      3. My suspicion that entertainment wasn’t particularly attractive was confirmed.

      I grew up in this area and I know that most high school kids can find way better entertainment outside the church than anything we ever could put on to attract kids to church. However, what I believe is particularly attractive for students is a grace-filled community.

      4. I became more deeply convicted than ever that parents are the primary disciplers of their students.

      I believed this going in by head knowledge, and I believe this now with experience backed passion. There is nothing that compares to the biblically faithful example and teaching that parents provide with their students at home. We get to interact with kids 4-5 hours a week. Parents have way more opportunity for life on life discipleship. It’s God’s design.

      A parent that walks the walk, repents openly when they fail, lovingly disciplines their kid, and has a passion for God’s Word is the biggest positive influence possible on a student.

      5. I learned that real corporate health is a marathon, not a sprint.

      We are just now turning a big corner within doxa where students are “getting it” when it comes to mission. Likewise, Kevin and I and the other adult leaders fought for years to get students to see the need for community. It’s a marathon for sure. Not because students are slow, but because sinful patterns of thinking and living often die slow. Sometimes sanctification is microwaved and goes quick, however most times it’s a slow and daily grind.

      6. I was confirmed in my thinking that this task is far beyond me.

      There are so many crazy things that have happened in the last 4 years. So many stories where I didn’t have the words to say. So many in-over-my-head situations. I have become experientially convicted of the fact that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth”.

      Further, I was confirmed that the task of seeing people come to deeper levels of faith is one that is utterly dependent on the Spirit of God. I have preached horrific sermons, and watched God move on people to repent of serious idolatry. Further, I have preached the most beautiful sermons, and watched students shrug their shoulders. (How arrogant. I know… I’m messed up.)

      As we move forward within the student ministry under Kevin’s very gifted leadership, I will savor every opportunity to minister to students. I look forward to seeing what God continues to do through these students, and I am prayerfully expectant that these students will do great things to glorify Him.

      I mentioned how moving forward is bittersweet, and elaborated on how it is bitter…It is sweet because I know that this next step is one step closer to what I believe God has called me to ultimately: planting or replanting a church. So, all of this to say, I am simultaneously excited about my new responsibilities and sad that it sets me on a trajectory of in the next couple of years no longer actively serving in student ministry.

      doxa, high expectations, and using our minds.

      The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.

      This post could easily be titled “Why Theology Is Important for Students”.  To that end, I must clarify that I think students should develop a biblically derived understanding of who God is (theology) and how to interpret the Bible (hermeneutics).

      Most likely, when I say that “students need to learn who God is”, there is no disagreement.  But when I say that “students need to learn theology” (theology is literally “the study of God”), some will reply that is not practical and too academic.

      I would respond that saying that “students need to know who God is” is the same as saying “students need to learn theology”.  While there is pushback to saying using the word “theology”, I would echo the often heard mantra that “Everyone has theology.  It’s just that some people have bad theology.”  If you have a thought about what God is like, that is a theological thought.  If you think that God doesn’t exist, that is a theological thought (even though it’s a false one).

      So, everyone has theology.

      Furthermore, everyone has some kind of hermeneutic (the way by which you interpret the Bible).  If you read any part of the Bible and try to understand what it is saying then you are using a hermeneutic.

      We believe that students should be taught to study and understand the Bible, therefore we believe students should be taught how to interpret the Bible.  To this end, we teach sound hermeneutical principles (usually without saying the word “hermeneutics”), so that students respect and rightly treat the Word of God.

      Practically, we have done this by teaching through methods of how to interpret the Bible.  We usually employ the 4-part system taught by Duvall and Hays in “Grasping God’s Word”, wherein the reader seeks to 1) Understand the text in the biblical context, 2) Understand the differences and similarities between the biblical context and the modern context, 3) Formulate timeless principles from the text (about the character of God, about believers, etc.), and 4) Seek to apply those principles to the modern context where they live.

      The American church has often erred in application because they have failed to understand the text in its original context, and have skipped too quickly, and unthinkingly to application.

      Furthermore, we model this on Wednesday night by preaching expository sermons through books of the Bible.  In doing so, we seek to walk students through a passage of Scripture showing clearly how we derive our points (or “timeless principles”) from Scripture and then offering some concepts about how that might or how that does apply to their lives.

      We hope that through this focus on teaching, students will themselves be able to rightly handle the Word of God.  To us, this is the spiritual equivalent of that old phrase “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

      Likewise, when it comes to theology, it is only natural that when you read something about God in one part of the Bible, you try to make it make sense with what you have read about Him elsewhere in the Bible.  It is at this point, that many people will accuse the theologian of imposing their philosophical ideas on the text.  In fact, seeking to synthesize what Scripture says is really both unavoidable and necessary.

      Now, I would plead with you from Deuteronomy 29:29:

      The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

      The Bible tells us that we should not try to understand things that God has not revealed or things beyond the extent of God’s revelation.  However, it tells us that we are remiss if we don’t seek to understand the things that He has, in His grace, revealed to us.

      Some folks who don’t like the idea of teaching students theology don’t like the idea of theology.  They prefer a sentimental Jesus who is their buddy and delivers pithy statements of encouragement, as opposed to the biblically revealed majesty of God that is revealed in human form in King Jesus.

      All of that is a euphemistic way of saying that “they suppress the truth” about God (Romans 1:18).

      As I have argued many times before, students who study calculus, chemistry, Shakespeare, and economics can and need to study deeply about their God.

      Students need to be equipped to handle the sufferings of this life with something more than “It’ll be alright”.  Students need to handle the identity issues of life with something more than a superficial understanding of their identity in Christ.  They need to know the riches of His grace to sinners.  Furthermore, students need to understand what the Bible teaches about our radical depravity so they can know how to overcome sin (by the Spirit) and know the depth to which sin has tainted everything.

      That is why we go “deep” with students, and that is why we will continue to do so.

      doxa, High Expectations, and Heart Issues.

      The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.

      Last week, we began to discuss the high expectations that we have as a student ministry on students who profess to follow Jesus.

      Allow me to flesh out what is meant by high expectations.

      We believe that at the moment of conversion students are under the same call to “take up their cross daily and follow Him” as adults are. This means that we believe students who profess to be Christians are challenged to examine their own hearts for sin, so that they can repent of that sin and believe the Gospel.

      You have got to know this about our student ministry:

      Questions about exteriors are ALWAYS used to help students diagnose interiors. We talk about the fruit that their life is bearing, so that they can diagnose the condition of their heart.

      So, for example, the most criticized aspect of our student ministry has been our focus on students reading the Bible for themselves. Here’s how this usually goes down.

      “Did you read your Bible this week?”

      “No.”

      “Why do you think that is?”

      “I was too busy.”

      “Did you play video games this week?”

      “Yes.”

      “You found time for video games, but not to read your Bible?”

      “Yes.”

      “What does that say?”

      “That reading my Bible wasn’t a priority for me this week.”

      “Why do you think that is?”

      (conversation continues)

      So, then the exterior is not the point. The interior is always the point, because the interior affects the exterior, and NEVER vice versa (Luke 6:43-45).

      This is why every week there is the disclaimer that we are not trying to get students to manufacture fruit apart from the Holy Spirit. We are not trying to get students to read their Bible so that their Circle leader will get off their back. That would be futile! We do not prescribe Bible reading as the answer. We prescribe the Gospel. We implore students who are struggling to beg God to move to help soften their hardening hearts.

      I sat in a Circle group of high school guys as every one of them poured out their heart to God begging Him to make them less selfish, less taken by the things of this world, more captivated by the Gospel, more drawn to His Word, and more active in sharing the Gospel.

      That’s what we aim for.

      Spiritual growth is never attained by sheer human effort. It’s never just works. But the Holy Spirit at work in someone’s life does produce works (James 2, Luke 6:43-45 again).

      And here’s the thing:

      If there are no works, if there are no Holy Spirit-wrought affections for God’s Word and God’s church, we have to ask why. Why do I never want to read the Bible? Why do I value this activity over the community of believers? Why do I act this way?

      What do you do when confronted with the reality that believers bear fruit and some of our students lives don’t? Could it be that they need to examine whether they are in the faith at all?

      Hear me on this. I’m not saying that each week when a kid hasn’t read his Bible, we question whether they’re saved. I am saying that when a student seems to have no heart for spiritual things over extended periods of time (6 months, 2 years, etc.) then we do think it’s okay to challenge students to “make [their] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).

      The absolute worst thing we could do when the Holy Spirit is working to draw a student to a deeper level of faith through repentance and the Gospel is to say “You are fine. Don’t worry about that. God understands.”

      It is often painful to watch God root out sinfulness from a student’s heart. (Isn’t God’s discipline hard in our own life?) It always involves the student going through the pain of their depravity to find the healing of the Cross.

      Early on in my ministry, a 6th grade student busted his knee wide open at summer camp up in the mountains. I rode with a few older student pastors to ER in the middle of the night. I held that student’s hand as the doctor stitched up his knee on the inside and then the opening of flesh on the outside. The kid screamed out, he squeezed both my hands, he begged the doctor to stop. He was in writhing agonizing pain and had no anesthesia. The doctor pressed on. The pain was necessary to fix the wound.

      When the Holy Spirit is doing a work on a student’s heart, sometimes it is painful to watch because the student is going through some tough realities (“My heart is wicked. It is prone to idolatry.”). Far be it from us to try and remove the pain of Holy Spirit-wrought repentance at the expense of genuine healing.

      When I am privileged to watch God bring healing to a student through this difficult process, I am not going to quench the Spirit’s work by coddling him and saying “You’re fine. You’re a good kid.” but you can bet I will be there to hold their hand as the Doctor does His surgery.

      doxa and High Expectations.

      The following is a guest post by Tyler Recker.

      Come May, I will have had the privilege of serving as the student minister here for 4 years. I felt called here as a 19 year old just finishing up my freshman year of college and I felt absolutely overwhelmed by the task at hand. Since that time to now, I have been married for 2 and a half years now and will graduate college at the end of the summer.

      Here’s the thing: I’m still utterly overwhelmed.

      God has called me to the task of equipping students to advance the Gospel among their friends in the upper middle class suburbs surrounding our church. Jesus likens this task to trying to get a camel through the eye of the needle. It’s impossible. But God can.

      In that time, God has always surrounded me with a wonderful team to work with. Please allow me a moment to thank them.

      I recruited one of the best woman adult leaders to work with me by marrying her. Serving alongside Leah to disciple students has been a great joy to us. Meatloaf has been with us from day one always willing to do anything we needed and serve in any way he could. He has been a great encouragement to everyone he is around. Likewise, Charles has been a great value to our ministry through teaching and pouring into dudes.

      Having Kevin and Lauren join us is an unheard of blessing because of their experience in student ministry. Then, we were joined by Leanne in a very relational discipleship role. Also, Shawn and Lisa have served well as encouragers and in support roles. Who could forget Josie’s wonderful work managing meals for Wednesday nights? Then, as if having Kevin to help me preach was not enough, God brought Joe here to help us preach (Listen to this sermon!). Most recently, the Sherwoods have joined us to help with our Wednesday night and with student ministry. I stay overwhelmed by the humor of God that I would lead people like this when I just want to learn from these folks myself.

      The vision of our student ministry is to “glorify God by making disciples of all nations” using students and focusing on students. We’re part of NewBranch. Our mission is the same as the rest of the church, because we are currently part of the rest of the church.

      Likewise, there are some convictions I have about student ministry that I would like to explore more in a series of upcoming posts.

      I believe that students have, in recent years, been crushed under the weight of LOW expectations. For too long, they have learned Calculus in school and “Jesus loves me this I know” at church. For too long, we have spoon fed students little morality lessons but not encouraged them to wrestle deeply with issues of theology. For too long, we’ve succumbed to the entertainment route, and not challenged them to the greater joy of selfless service. For too long, we’ve declared victory if our kids don’t drink whiskey, smoke marijuana, or have intercourse while often in their morality, their hearts are still far from God.

      So, we have high expectations for students, and especially students who profess to be followers of Jesus. In short, we are begging God to raise up students who are more than nominal, cultural Christians, but instead are students so rocked by the grace of God in the Cross that they live a full on lifestyle of worship.

      But this is a needle that must be threaded very carefully.

      Jesus bemoaned that the Pharisees “[tied] up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves [were] not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4)

      The Gospel is grace. It is a free gift. A gospel of works is heresy and in light of our utter depravity, it would be no “good news” at all.

      And this works out well for us who are so jacked up in our sin that we can’t do a thing to save ourselves. Nothing. No amount of going to church, going to student ministry, reading our Bibles, going to KidZone, talking to others about Jesus, etc. None of that could ever be good enough to atone for our wicked rebellion.

      So grace is good.

      The Gospel is all grace, and no works. Our only part in the Gospel is response. And Ephesians 2 says that the faith that we respond with is a gift from God.

      Even more, not only were we (who are believers) all saved by grace, but we are still actively being saved from the power of sin in our lives by grace, and we will ultimately be completely saved from the presence of sin by grace.

      It’s all about what He did, and none of our salvation is accomplished by what we do. Not the slightest bit.

      And we don’t want to convey that.

      Next week, we will talk more about what we do at doxa to thread that needle.