Hi Brett, I have a theological dilemma that I need your advice on. A friend, who is married and has 3 young kids and a wife that isn’t working, has guilt about not being able to tithe.
I have tried all the usual tactics about being under the New Covenant and tithing isn’t required anymore, but that you should give as much as you can. Then he brought up the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, saying that it is excellent in Jesus’ eyes to give to the point that it hurts. I think that’s a valid point. But then I think it’s also a valid argument that God expects him to take care of his family – right? If he takes away from his family to give alms, isn’t that also wrong?
(1) It doesn’t seem Jesus’ point is that on a normative basis we should give until it hurts. Particularly given the immediate context, it seems like the larger point is a comparison between the outward righteousness of the religious authorities not being a true demonstration of love for God and what true love for God does actually look like. So I don’t think we’re obligated to take that passage as a command to give until it hurts, even though there is occasion to do so.
(2) Secondly, your friend is not in a parallel situation to the widow, who does not seem to have family to care for, so you cannot simply draw a direct comparison between the two. Your friend has a wife and kids, so he has to balance giving with his obligations to feed, clothe, and shelter them. The Bible does offer clear guidance on taking care of one’s family.
(3) Giving isn’t just about giving money. When one isn’t in a position to give monetarily, it doesn’t mean he or she has nothing to give. We can give of our time, our service, our current resources like a car, home, etc. So maybe during this season of financial struggle, giving to the Lord’s work looks different from just putting money in the offering plate. Maybe it’s taking a skill he has and offering it to someone else in need.
(4) Lastly, sometimes there is a time and place to give when it hurts. Maybe this is one of those times. But I think this has to be done in harmony with his wife so that they are of one mind. If she doesn’t agree, I would say don’t do it. And they must take into consideration whether or not giving puts their own family in jeopardy. If so, don’t do it.
When you're teaching, whether it's apologetics or any other topic, it's not just the information but also the presentation that counts. You may be able to dump theological knowledge on your audience, but that doesn't mean it will stick and have the impact you're hoping for, so you've got to work on your presentation skills too. This is especially important with youth audiences.
When I'm asked for advice on teaching youth, here are some of my suggestions:
Have a strong opener for your talk: Use stories, object lessons, and illustrations to draw them in, gain their attention, and earn their trust. And get into it quickly. Don't waste time with filler (e.g. "Glad to be here with all of you…").
Cut content to the most essential elements: Often you have such limited teaching time (30-40 minutes), so make sure you're focusing on the most essential material for each topic. Avoid an "information dump" where you regurgitate every single aspect you've studied. You may study hours upon hours for a single talk, but you'll need to boil it down to the key ideas and arguments for your audience.
Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: As you explain spiritual truths and abstract concepts, you will need to illustrate these for your audience. For example, we use the ice cream/medicine illustration to explain objective/subjective truth. In addition, I created a "Truth Test" years ago to further illustrate the distinction between the two.
Close your talks with ways that hit home: Show your audience how ideas have consequences. Illustrate how what you've taught plays out in real life. Use powerful stories to close. Help them see the relevance of your teaching to life. This will help give your talks a strong finish.
Hang out with your audience: If I'm speaking to a group I don't know, I will take the initiative to get to know my audience (as much as possible) beforehand. Greet people as they come in, walk around, introduce yourself, ask questions and mingle with them as they wait for the event to begin. If I'm at a camp or conference, I'll try to have meals with them and even participate in some of the camp activities with them. And afterwards, make yourself available for further questions and interactions. I typically try to be one of the last to leave the event. All of this will help the audience connect with you personally and, therefore, help them connect with your teaching at a deeper level.
If you do a lot of teaching, I suggest you get a copy of Timothy Koegel's book, The Exceptional Presenter. You'll benefit from it tremendously and so will your audience.
Tonight is my live event: “5 Tools to Help Equip Your Kids with the Truth,” 6:30–7:30 (PT). If you'd like to ask questions during that hour, join the event on Google+. Otherwise, you can watch the whole thing live right here tonight (and anytime afterward).
The goal of tonight's event is to help parents and pastors be more focused and intentional in their discipleship of the next generation. I'll talk to you about the tried-and-true classical method of education and offer some very specific ideas and practical tools to equip families and churches. (See here for more info.) See you then!
[Update: Because of technical difficulties, the first eight minutes are audio only.]
I hear the stories again and again from around the country. I hear them from moms and dads, grandparents, pastors, and youth workers: Students, raised in the church and raised in Christian homes, encounter serious challenges to their faith and then walk away from God.
You hear the stories too. Maybe you've lived it with your own son or daughter. We're all well aware of the problem, but what can we do to stem the tide of students who walk away from Christianity? Join me for an evening of opportunity and action at Stand to Reason's upcoming event, "A Vision for Youth," on Sunday night, November 15th, from 5:00–7:00 p.m. at Grace Fellowship Church in Costa Mesa, California.
We'll enjoy a wonderful meal together. You'll hear a special message and challenge from former cold-case homocide detective J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold-Case Christianity and the newly realeased God’s Crime Scene. Also, I'll share about the exciting new plans we have to train up a new generation of ambassadors for Christ, and we'll extend an invitation to you to join our efforts and partner in our vision for youth.
All are welcome to this special night, so please invite your friends, family, and church leaders. You can RSVP with Dawnielle Hodgman at email@example.com. I hope to see you on November 15th!
Raising kids to be faithful followers of Christ in the 21st century can be very challenging. Our culture continues its secular slide, with entertainment and education—which permeate our kids lives—leading the way. Of course, life is busy and it's difficult for families to avoid simply being pulled along with the world. In light of the current challenges, parents and the church must be very intentional in their discipleship of the next generation. We must think carefully about our strategies and be more aggressive in training up our children.
As our oldest daughter approached the junior high years, my wife and I began to rethink our views on educating and discipling our own kids. We were dissatisfied with things we were seeing in her life not only academically, but also spiritually and morally. In that process of reevaluation, we discovered “classical education.” Educator Susan Wise Bauer offers a concise description of this approach:
“Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study [Grammar Stage]. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments [Logic Stage]. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves [Rhetoric Stage].”
I think this model offers parents a way forward. My wife and I have been using it with our own kids and I think the church can also use it as it comes alongside families to help disciple our children.
On Tuesday night, November 17th, at 6:30 pm (Pacific Time), I will host a live online event to help parents and pastors think through the discipleship of the next generation. We'll dialogue more about this classical method. I'll also offer some very specific ideas and practical tools to equip families and churches. And you can participate too. We'll be taking live questions and interacting with your comments. Follow this LINK and join us for this live online conversation.
Churches and families must be focused and intentional in order equip our kids with the truth, and I think this event will help you do just that.
My passion has always been youth. Ever since my days as a youth pastor in the local church, I've sought out ways to more effectively reach students and offer them serious teaching and discipleship. That's why I started and developed Stand to Reason's apologetics mission trip to Berkeley and our theological mission trip to Utah. Of course, those trips require some serious effort. There are lectures, reading, studying, tests, and more, and that's before we ever go on the trip. Then there's the actual trip, with engagements with atheists, agnostics, skeptics, Mormons, and anyone else we can throw at the students, all day long. But most Christian kids won't have the opportunity or the maturity to attend a mission trip like this, so I've thought a lot about the best way to reach larger numbers of students. How do we get that typical evangelical student, who is sitting in our youth groups week in and week out, exposure to deeper teaching in apologetics and theology?
Three years ago, we tried out one of my ideas: an apologetics conference specifically designed for youth. I called it the reTHINK Conference, and our tagline was, "Stand to Reason Student Impact exists to provoke a new generation to rethink their worldview, recapture the truth, and then reengage the world for the cause of Christ." We had about 400 students, youth workers, and parents attend that first conference, and we were ecstatic. We did it again in 2013 and more than 600 showed up. Last year about 1,100 came out, and last weekend 1,500 people (most of them students) came out for our fourth annual reTHINK Student Apologetics Conference in Southern California. We've clearly seen the success and impact of this conference on the lives of young people. But why? What has made reTHINK successful? Of course, it's ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, but what have we done on our end to facilitate God's work? Here are a few thoughts that might help you as you try to reach your own young people:
(1) Our communicators must be able to connect with youth. This is absolutely key. Kids don't care much about your Ph.Ds, the books you've written, or your scholarly accomplishments. They're not going to listen to you simply because of your credentials. If you don't grab them in your talk in the first few minutes and then hold them throughout, they'll tune out. Unfortunately, that's just the reality of modern youth. So we bring in speakers who can speak to youth exceptionally well. Not only are they humorous, not only do they tell good stories, not only do they illustrate well, they also don't dumb down the truth, while still making it accessible to young minds.
(2) Our conference must be filled with fun and laughter. I'm tired of apologetics being saddled with a reputation for being stodgy, always serious, angry, argumentative, somber, etc. Yes, we want to be serious about God's truth, and our speakers do a great job with that. However, we want to model a Christian life that is filled with joy and laughter. So we intentionally plan for it. For example, as the MC, I do not get up and introduce the speakers by reading through their list of accomplishments. Instead, we joke around, tease each other, or even play a little competitive game to get the audience laughing. In the process, the speakers are introduced in a more personal way, making them more relatable. Indeed, I had many attendees applaud us for the humor and laughter. Who thought you could laugh so much at an apologetics conference?!
(3) Our content must be focused on worldview, apologetics, and theology. The content of most youth teaching and curriculum can be summed up in two phrases: love Jesus and be good. Sadly, that's about as much depth as they go into. We make sure students are being exposed to the evidence for Christianity, that they see life Christianly, and that they come to understand the great theological truths about our great God. And we've seen students rise to the occasion, telling us how much they learn and grow at each conference.
So those are some of the things we do to tailor this conference for youth, and it seems like God is using it to reach them. This was some of the best feedback we received this weekend, from a dad: "The quality of every aspect of the event that my son and I experienced was awesome. The topics were engaging, relevant and diverse. As the dad of a 17 year old boy, I can't tell you how satisfying it was to hear him say the very best part of his week was going to reTHINK. Thanks for putting together such a powerful event that I know strengthened both mine and my son's faith. You guys killed it!"
We're taking this show on the road too, hosting our first reTHINK Conference in Dallas on October 23-24. Come join us!