What are the stories we tell ourselves, and how do these stories shape what we believe and how we live? What kind of disciples do these stories and doctrines create? How should the gospel counter-form us into a discipleship that is following Christ’s call on our lives? How does a life of discipleship and discipline flow out of doxology and worship?
While many churches in our day emphasize convenience and comfortability, one of the key ingredients to a life of lasting discipleship is actually discipline. In other words, like marriage or excelling in a particular career path, being a Christian is not always fun, but often involves hard work, faithfulness, and perseverance. We also need faithful shepherds to come alongside us, to feed and care for us, as we make our way through Vanity Fair on our way to the Celestial City. That’s the focus of this edition of the program as the hosts wrap up their series, Finding Yourself in God’s Story, on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“We don’t live the Gospel, but we do conduct ourselves in a way that in step with the truth of the Gospel. And that’s not just moralistic peccadillos, it’s something grander. It’s a vision that Paul was talking about right there about not living hypocritically, about loving across the boundaries of race and of socioeconomic standing, of male and female, rich and poor, people’s cultural affinities, whether you like opera or country music, across all of the boundaries, all of the enemies in this world that you can possibly think of, all the hostilities, living non-hypocritically, being at all times driven by the Gospel.
“Above all that is what the life of discipleship is – empowered by the Gospel and guided by God’s law. That is discipleship in summary. And, you know, it really comes down to love. That’s why Jesus could summarize the whole law in terms of loving God and loving your neighbor. Discipleship is about receiving God’s love and giving God’s love to others.” – Michael Horton
Term to Learn:
The move to the therapeutic in society has been induced by several cultural developments. The intense psychologization of men’s attitudes and feelings as the primary subconscious level of “who we are,” the altering definitions of justice as primarily the accommodation of society to remove all barriers from self-expression and empowering fulfillment of the self, and the movement to the individual subject as the arbiter of that freedom to happiness apart from external structures and forces. The good life of justice, freedom, happiness have been internalized to such a degree that boredom and the external forces which upset that interior life are now seen as the greatest of evils. Justice has been re-defined in the last century as the removal of external barriers and the material empowerment of the individual towards the good life perceived to be desirable.
Men’s attitudes and feelings have come to arbitrate justice and goodness in the late modern society. Safety and security have been held out as the primary good of Western culture above what previous generations saw as essential to promoting the good life, namely liberty, self-reliance, and responsibility. Conventional ideals of moral responsibility have gradually become subordinated to state interpreted therapeutic ideals. “Modern culture is unique in having given birth to such elaborately argued anti-religions, all aiming to confirm us in our devastating illusions of individuality and freedom,” writes Philip Rieff in his magisterial, The Triumph of the Therapeutic.
Jacques Ellul argued in the mid-century that whenever a culture’s ethical outlook could not keep a pace with its technological developments, propaganda was the fated result – the subconscious alteration of men’s attitudes and feelings through technological means of domination. Modern cultural production has moved into the business and technique of manipulating a sense of wellbeing under what Jürgen Habermas has called a “therapeutocracy.” (Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Culture,” WHI [blog], October 05, 2015)
What are the stories we tell ourselves, and how do these stories shape what we believe and how we live? What kind of disciples do these stories and doctrines create? How should the gospel and our liturgical practices form us into a discipleship that is following Christ’s call on our lives? How does a life of discipleship flow out of doxology and worship? Why are our daily habits and practices so critical in our discipleship?
We need to remind ourselves once again that worship is the natural response to encountering the God of Scripture. Once we have been captivated by his mercy and kindness to us in Christ, we not only offer him praise and adoration, but we also give him our very selves, for we are now no longer our own, but have been bought with a price.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1Corinthians 6:19-20).
On this program the hosts discuss what it means to become true and lasting disciples of Jesus Christ as they continue their series, Finding Yourself in God’s Story, on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“There’s a lot of emphasis in our generation and in the whole history of evangelicalism on spontaneity. Get rid of order. Get rid of formalism. This is understandable and a correct critique of formalism but that can become a dangerous attack on forms and structure. I remember growing up with — even though it was non-liturgical evangelical background — lots of liturgies and there were also lots of disciplines. There was a lot of structure. You were expected to go to church in the morning and in the evening and in the Wednesday night prayer service and the church was pretty full at all of those services.
“Now, you look at a generation of boomers who reacted against that as ‘legalism’ and now people don’t even want to show up for church. You drive by the mall and its parking lot is overflowing on Sunday and there is very little of what there used to be. I even reacted when I went through my college years against a kind of pietistic environment where everything was, ‘Have you had your quiet time today?’ and it was all based on guilt. So, I reacted against that too. No, I should have a quiet time or whatever it is. I should read my Bible regularly and pray regularly by myself and with other people, but not on the basis of guilt. You don’t get rid of the discipline if you want to be a disciple. Liturgy is one of those disciplines, one of those structures, which is essential. Sunday is a good day to test whether we are being immersed in the greatest story ever told or whether we are being shaped by these other cultural liturgies.” – Michael Horton
Term to Learn:
“Church as Counter-Culture”
Cultures enact and uphold certain ritual practices that act as liturgical formations of identity through imaginative means. Such ritual forces of culture are not satisfied with being merely mundane; embedded in them is a sense of what ultimately matters.
…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10)
‘Secular’ liturgies are fundamentally formative, and implicit in them is a vision of the kingdom that needs to be discerned and evaluated. From the perspective of Christian faith, these secular liturgies will often constitute mis-formation of our desires – aiming our heart away from the Creator to some aspect of the creation as if it were God. Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that ‘teach’ us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.
By the same token, Christian worship needs to be intentionally liturgical, formative, and pedagogical in order to counter such mis-formation and misdirections. While the practices of Christian worship are best understood as the restoration of an original, creational desire for God, practically speaking, Christian worship functions as a counter-reformation to the mis-formation of secular liturgies into which we are ‘thrown’ from an early age. We must learn to consider Christian education (and worship) as a counter-pedagogy of desire. (Adapted from James K.A. Smith, “Love Takes Practice” in Desiring the Kingdom, p. 88)
As contemporary Christians have become increasingly detached from both the drama of Scripture and its doctrinal significance, our praise has shifted from a focus on God and his glory to our individual worship experiences. Yet we are not only called to gather once a week to sing God’s praises and to receive his good gifts, but also throughout the rest of the week to be loving, generous, and hospitable to others in grateful response to all that God has done for us.
The hosts will discuss issues related to worship and doxology as they continue their series, Finding Yourself in God’s Story, on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“What is justification?” Forgiveness of sins and declared righteous. You need the sacrifice on the cross, the penal substitutionary sacrifice, and Jesus’ obedience. What you start seeing throughout the entire Old Testament, not just Psalm 51 and Hebrews, is Jesus is the true Israel who fulfilled what Israel was supposed to be. So, he is the true vine who doesn’t need to get chopped off and thrown away. He is the fruitful one.
“This is important for people to see because many people think, okay, Jesus died on the cross. I’m forgiven of my sins. I’m back to zero. Now, it’s up to me to add to that account and what we’re saying, what this text is saying is, no, he is the obedient son and we are co-inheritors of this inheritance now. We’re in Christ. Because we’re in Christ, all of his benefits and all of his obedience, all that he has done is given to us. This is really helpful for people to see, is that Jesus doesn’t just get us back to zero but he deposits into our account his righteousness.” – Justin Holcomb
Term to Learn:
While some of our habits are acquired by choosing to engage in certain practices (e.g., signing up for drivers’ ed or registering for piano lessons), many are acquired without out our knowing it. And this might happen especially when we are unaware of it. If we are inattentive to the formative role of practices, or if we treat some practices as thin when they are thick, then we will be inattentive to all the ways that such practices unwittingly and unintentionally become automated. We will fail to recognize that they are forming in us habits and desires, oriented to particular ends that function to draw us toward those ends at an affective, unconscious level such that we become certain kinds of people without even being aware of it.
Liturgies are rituals of ultimate concern: rituals that are formative for identity, that inculcate particular visions of the good life, and do so in a way that means to trump other ritual formations. Our thickest practices – which are not necessarily linked to institutional religion – have a liturgical function insofar as they are a certain species of ritual practice that aim to do nothing less than shape our identity by shaping our desire for what we envision as the kingdom – the ideal of human flourishing. (James K.A. Smith, “Love Takes Practice” in Desiring the Kingdom, pp. 85-87)
Everyone has an intricate belief system that takes some kind of faith and leads us to worship. Each belief system, whether secular or religious, is rooted in some kind of narrative or story that ends up forming a person’s core values, goals, and habits. As we have seen in previous episodes, all of these things are bound together. The same is true with the Christian story and how we relate the drama to the doctrines and worship we derive from it.
How should we respond to the announcement of God’s redemptive mission to seek and save the lost, or to the doctrinal implications of Christ’s atoning death and his resurrection from the dead? On this program, the hosts will move from the drama and the doctrine to a discussion of doxology, or worship. What is the appropriate response to the good news of the gospel, and what patterns of living should flow out of an understanding of God’s grace in Christ? As with doctrine, we cannot escape worship. The question is to whom or to what we will be devoted. We’re talking about “Finding Yourself in God’s Story” on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“Too often in churches this basic biblical drama and its doctrines are assumed. Or they’re turned into a story about us with the supporting role for God, but we’re the star and author of the play. It’s all about how you can have your best life now and if God fits into that, so much the better. Our drama, doctrines, doxology and discipleship, even as believers, are increasingly determined by a human-centered culture.
“First, we need to be immersed once again in the amazing drama of the Bible, its Christ-centered plotline from Genesis to Revelation. Second, we need to see the connections to the doctrines that actually tell us what the drama means for us here and now. Third, we need to step into the story ourselves. Some believers are richly fed each week by a steady diet of the biblical drama as the story of God sitting purposes in Christ unfold before them. Some even connect the doctrinal dots. They know what they believe in and why they believe it. But they’re still in the stands, fans rather than participants. They’ve never been gripped by the ‘So what?’ – the implications of the drama and the doctrines that would lead them to join in this parade of thanksgiving. Scripture itself connects doctrine and worship in our lives so that we can take our place in the royal procession to Zion!.” – Michael Horton
Term to Learn:
“Church as Counter-Culture”
“Cultures enact and uphold certain ritual practices that act as liturgical formations of identity through imaginative means. Such ritual forces of culture are not satisfied with being merely mundane; embedded in them is a sense of what ultimately matters (compare Phil. 1:10). ‘Secular’ liturgies are fundamentally formative, and implicit in them is a vision of the kingdom that needs to be discerned and evaluated. From the perspective of Christian faith, these secular liturgies will often constitute mis-formation of our desires – aiming our heart away from the Creator to some aspect of the creation as if it were God. Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that ‘teach’ us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.
“By the same token, Christian worship needs to be intentionally liturgical, formative, and pedagogical in order to counter such mis-formation and misdirections. While the practices of Christian worship are best understood as the restoration of an original, creational desire for God, practically speaking, Christian worship functions as a counter-reformation to the mis-formation of secular liturgies into which we are ‘thrown’ from an early age. We must learn to consider Christian education (and worship) as a counter-pedagogy of desire.”
(Adapted from James K.A. Smith, “Love Takes Practice” in Desiring the Kingdom, p. 88)
According to the doctrines of nihilism, nothing at all is sacred. In fact, nothing really matters except that which gives momentary pleasure or excitement. Christianity, on the other hand, starts with a completely different premise. This world is God’s world, and everything we do matters.
So what are the implications of these two views? Do ideas like these just float around in a person’s head, or do these beliefs shape us in ways we can’t even comprehend? The hosts will discuss these issues and more as they continue their series, “Finding Yourself in God’s Story,” on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“According to the doctrines of nihilism and secularism, nothing is sacred; and, in fact, ultimately nothing really matters at all except for that which excites you for the moment. Nothing’s transcendent and we become like beasts with only base instincts. Christianity, however, presents a completely opposite picture. You are significant. You are bought with a price. This matters for you today. For as we become immersed in this story and understand the doctrines that connect us to it, we find ourselves experiencing the joy, hope, and confidence – that doxology – which makes us disciples of Christ throughout our lives.” – Michael Horton
Narrative collapse is the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.
Narrative Collapse is what happens when we no longer have time in which to tell a story. It is the experience of living in this fast-moving, chaotic information environment which destroys our capacity to conceive of our lives as stories, with a beginning, middle, and end. (Adapted from Douglas Rushkoff, rushkoff.com/present-shock)
On this program the hosts are continuing our new series, taking a look at how the drama gives birth to the doctrines we are to believe. As they unpack these key concepts, they’ll help us to see that every belief system is rooted in some kind of narrative or story that ends up forming a person’s core values, goals, habits, and yes, doctrines.
Many Christians today have uncritically accepted the idea that “doctrine is irrelevant,” without even realizing that this very idea is itself a doctrine. In fact, the very moment one turns away from any particular belief or opinion, other beliefs rush in to fill the void. So everyone has doctrine, but the question is whether our beliefs and assumptions about God or the world in which we live are true, false, or somewhere in between. “Finding Yourself in God’s Story” is our series and the importance of doctrine is our focus on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“Folks, what we’re saying here is doctrine matters. The doctrines come out of the drama. The drama is basically the story you’re living in, whether you know it or not – the story you take to be true. You may not have even reflected on whether it’s true or not, but it’s your default setting. You’re assuming certain things are true about the world. This is how your life fits in with the life of other people around you. This is the meaning of history. This is what the story is all about and you’re living your life in the light of that. Then, the doctrines that come out of it are the reasonable implications of that story and that shapes your experience and the way you live in the world. That’s what we’re saying. If it’s not going to be Christianity, it’s going to be some other narrative. It’s going to be some other drama that shapes you. If the Christian drama isn’t what you’re getting regularly in church, if this isn’t the way you’re reading the Bible and getting it deep down into you, even to the point, as Paul says, where we are singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs so that the work of Christ may dwell in us richly, then other stories are going to do that. You can’t just drift. You can’t just say, well, I tip my hat to a couple of doctrines and yeah, I believe Jesus died for my sins, and not immerse yourself in that story from Genesis to revelation and reflect on the doctrines that come out of it.
“If you don’t invest in that Christian, biblical drama and its doctrines, you will, by default, be shaped by the drama and the doctrines that Madison Avenue is selling to you every day that you’re getting from CNN or MSNBC or Fox. They’re going to shape you. They’re going to tell you who you are and it’s not going to be in Christ. This is the greatest story ever told and it happens to be the true story and Jesus proved that by being raised on the third day. No other drama has that lynchpin and has that kind of empirical validity that you can analyze, that you can approach and look at and contrast with the baseless stories that the world is telling us every day.” – Michael Horton
As individual believers and as churches, we are always prone to fall away unless we are brought back by the Spirit to the Word. Therefore, we always need a theology grounded in that Word in dependence on the Spirit. The study of Christian doctrine is always an indispensable enterprise for the faith and practice of the whole church—not only for academics or even pastors, but for the whole communion of saints. Everyone who confesses the creed should always be growing in his or her understanding of its depth and implications.
The alternative to this growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ is not pious experience or good works but gradual assimilation to the powers of this passing evil age. The biblical drama plots our character “in Adam” by our natural birth in this present evil age. Nevertheless, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:3-5).
(From Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p. 26)
The Bible did not fall down from heaven as a sourcebook for spirituality, personal life-lessons, or even as a collection of doctrines. Rather, it should primarily be understood as a report of an unfolding drama that took place in real space and time history that culminates in the life of a particular Jew born in Bethlehem in the days of Caesar Augustus.
If this story isn’t true, it should be completely rejected and set aside. But if it is true, then we will find ourselves caught up in the greatest story ever told. “Finding Yourself in God’s Story” is our theme on this episode of the White Horse Inn.
“The Christian faith is not only true, but it’s also beautiful and good. That’s the thing about a drama that a doctrine by itself cannot manifest. A doctrine can be proved as true but you separate it from the drama, it doesn’t grip you as beautiful and good. There are good stories and bad stories. There are even — sometimes I’ll read a story or see a movie where it’s kind of a horrific drama that’s unfolding. But it’s true to reality. There’s something about it that grips me because it’s actually true to reality. That’s different from saying the cat is on the mat.
“There’s something in the drama of redemption that’s compelling to me, that’s persuasive. I think part of why a lot of people can’t connect with Christianity, though they’ve been raised in churches their whole life, is because it may have been presented as doctrine. It may have been presented as eight-hour praise services, praise-athons. It may have been 18,000 hours of homeroom where you’re doing discipleship courses. But the one thing it wasn’t was — here’s the greatest story ever told unfolding from Genesis to Revelation. And so, they don’t think Christianity is good. They don’t think it’s beautiful. They don’t care whether it’s true, then they begin to look for another story to ground their lives.” – Michael Horton
Term to Learn:
“Popular Postmodernism as Most-Modernism”
Most often postmodernism is simply a code word for something new, a supposed break with the past (modernity) and the dawn of a radically new era. Of course, a more modern description of an era could hardly be found, as academic postmodernists will be the first to point out. On a host of points (notions of tradition, language, the critique of autonomy, progress, presence and absence, and so on), thinkers actually classed as postmodern have a lot to teach us about what popularizers of postmodernism fail to recognize is little more than “most-modernism.”
There is just too much of the modern in the postmodern to be able to speak in sweeping terms of a major paradigm shift in culture. Postmodernism, or whatever one wishes to designate our brief moment in history, is the culture in which Sesame Street is considered educational; sexy is the term of approbation for everything from jeans to doctoral theses; watching sitcoms together at dinner is called family time; abortion is considered choice; films sell products; and a barrage of images and sound bites selected for their entertainment and commercial value is called news. This general trend in culture translates into hipper-than-thou clubs passing for youth ministry, informal chats passing for sermons, and brazen marketing passing for evangelism, where busyness equals holiness, and expository preaching is considered too intellectual. This trend can account in part for homes in which disciplined habits both of domestic culture and instruction in Christian faith and practice give way to niche marketing and churches becoming theaters of the absurd.
This take on postmodernism is hardly new. Marxist intellectual Alex Callinicos’ illuminating analysis of postmodernism concludes that it is little more than the result of the self-obsessed “flower children” of the revolutionary ’60s now taking their place in the professional “new middle class.” In other words, postmodernism and boomer go hand in hand. Fellow Marxist Terry Eagleton adds, “Radicals, for example, are traditionalists, just as conservatives are; it is simply that they adhere to different traditions.” This appraisal fits perfectly with what I see in my experience of contemporary evangelicalism. Postmodernism is the new code word for mission, a new way of enforcing not just change but particular changes that have particular ideological assumptions. One can even detect a note of fatalism in challenges that verge on bullying: “Get with it or get left behind.” This is just the way things are now, so we had better adapt. Sweeping endorsements or sweeping denouncements make for light work.
(Adapted from Michael Horton, “Better Homes & Gardens,” The Church in Emerging Culture, pp.105–111)
What are the stories we tell ourselves, and how do these stories shape what we believe and how we live? When we discover ourselves in God’s story, we come to understand that God is with us through pain and pleasure, confusion and confidence, doubt and dependence. God is the one who is at work in the world to save it. God is the one who has promised to gather a people from all over the world, from every tribe, tongue, and nation to know him and be known, to love him and be loved, and to worship him forever.
On this program, we begin a new series, taking a look at four D’s: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. As we unpack these key concepts, we’ll help us to see that every belief system is rooted in some kind of narrative or story that ends up forming a person’s core values, goals, and habits. That’s our focus as we begin our new series “Finding Yourself in God’s Story” on the White Horse Inn.
“The Christian faith is grounded in an unfolding drama. It’s God’s story and yet it also includes us. We’re accustomed in our narcissistic and consumeristic society to think that we’re the stars in our own life movie. Even God can have a supporting role as long as he keeps to the lines we’ve given him. This is God’s story. It includes us but it is not about us. It’s about the faithfulness of the Father in his Son through the Holy Spirit from the creation to the consummation.
“It’s not just the greatest story ever told. It’s also true. It gives rise to certain doctrines. The drama tells us that God has acted in history to rescue his people, time and time again, even from their own sin and rebellion. Then, the same script tells us what this means. God is loving, compassionate, merciful, all-powerful, and all-wise. He tells us who we are as created in God’s image and yet fallen sinners, rebels for no good reason against a good Father. He tells us what God has done to rescue us from our treason and to make us his own justified and adopted children in his Son. From this unfolding drama and doctrines, we enter into doxology – rituals of lament, confession, praise, and thanksgiving. At this point, we are no longer spectators or fans. We are on the field, joining the other players as the great cloud of witnesses – those saints who have gone before us – are cheering from the stands. And now living in this story, we take on the character of those who are no longer enemies of God but his friends and coheirs with Christ to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Drama, doctrine, doxology and discipleship – these all shape our lives.” – Michael Horton
“Turning Your Gaze Away From Yourself”
If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.
It is the same old story, my friends—the same old story of the natural man. Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves—to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain. Not that way is peace with God to be obtained. It is to be obtained only in the old, old way—by attention to something that was done once for all long ago, and by acceptance of the living Savior who there, once for all, brought redemption for our sin. Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the Cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God!
That that may be done, there is but one way. It is not found in a study of the psychology of religion; it is not found in “religious education”; it is not found in an analysis of one’s own spiritual status. Oh, no. It is found only in the blessed written Word. There are the words of life. There God speaks. Let us attend to His voice. Let us above all things know the Word. Let us study it with all our minds; let us cherish it with all our hearts. Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved. Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness He may make His Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life.
(J. Graham Machen, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship,” What Is Christianity? [Eerdmans, 1951])
This is the eighth and final installment of our amazing interview with Matt Clinton of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Parents – you are more of a model for your kids than you’ll ever know! Matt gives some great practical advice on how to help them set boundaries by actually setting boundaries for yourself.
Matt Clinton, Fellowship of Christian Athletes: My daughter, who is only 18-months-old, can already work an iPhone. She already knows how to swipe through the pictures on her favorite app and scroll to what she wants to see. So, I’ve never been more aware of how much time I spend on my phone until I saw my own child just doing what I always do. I’m not saying that what I do on my phone is wrong – most of the time, I’m simply scrolling through the news or a book or something. But, when my son comes along and grabs my phone out of my hand because he wants to hang out with me, it’s a sign that my “news-scrolling” is taking up too much time.
Then, when you watch your own kids model your behavior back to you, it’s very revealing.
When they see dad working twelve hours a day, they think that is how normal parenting is done. When they see mom on social media all the time, they think that being on social media all the time is what older people do, and they set their own lives in that direction.
Now, I know that I’m stereotyping with both of these examples, but you can insert whatever behavior you want in there, and then think, “What message am I sending to my kids and do I want them to model this behavior?”
I’ve noticed this to the point where I’ll turn my ringer off at home and place it face down in a different room, and try to BE with my family. Of course, there are times when I’m practically getting the detox shakes by not having my phone on me, but it’s a lesson I’m willing to learn in order to teach it to my kids – we need to be with the people we are with.
Parents – here’s a fun game when you go out to dinner: Everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table and set them all to silently vibrate, so that every time a text comes in or someone gets a notification, the pile of phones buzzes. The first person to grab their phone because they can’t handle it anymore pays for the meal!
It’s a fun game and it absolutely freaks out high school kids! Notifications make them twitch. It makes you wonder: Are you ok with not knowing what is going on with everyone everywhere all the time?
I remember a time when I was in grad school. Class got out and a bunch of us were walking out together toward the parking lot. There was almost a couple dozen of us together, but we all instantly started checking our phones as we walked… all of us except one of my friends. Instead, he got all of our attention:
“Here we are surrounded by people and we want to talk to people who we are not surrounded by.”
Yeah… in one sentence he pretty much summed up our culture. And that’s the pressure teens are under all day, every day. They feel like they can’t miss a single post. If they take longer than a few minutes to respond to a text, they must be angry at the other person. Denying someone their instant gratification is a foreign thought to kids today.
Leslie Salazar Carrillo, Im Waiting: Gut check! Just now, when we first started this interview, my phone was buzzing and I had to check the incoming texts… even while you were speaking to me! I’m so sorry.
As we wrap up, how can people help you and the team at Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
Matt: Every ministry has too many needs. For starters, just check out what we do. Go to our website and click around. Learn about us. Pray for wisdom. We know that often our time is very short when we are on high school campuses, so we need to spend our time wisely.
Then, if you’re up for it, come and spend some time with us on campus. I promise, it’ll be an impactful 30 minutes. And, bring pizza! It’s amazing how teens will simply follow anyone with free pizza.
Kids will hear about Jesus… and with pizza, even more kids will come and hear!
You see, we’re no different than any other ministry out there. Going to high schoolers in their own environment is our lane and we love doing it.
We use the influence of coaches and athletes to share the Gospel. This can look differently on different days at different schools. It could be a Bible study, or an outreach event, or a partnership event like the ones we have with Pregnancy Resource Center. But, if you can make the time to come and see a lunch meeting, you’ll see the reality of where and how today’s kids live.
I’ve regularly seen high-powered adults who broker million-dollar deals on a weekly basis get the sweats when they step foot on a high school campus. Just walking the halls takes them right back to when they were 16, along with all the insecurities and anxieties they felt back then. It’s a great moment when you realize what your teens face every day.
Leslie: Not everybody is called to work with kids. In fact, most of us who do are simply crazy. Because teenagers are brutally honest. But we are called to prayer.
So, pray for those of us who are working to reach the next generation with God’s word.
We’ve heard so many heart-wrenching stories, and there are days where we wonder if we can continue on any more.
But, the truth is that we love these kids with a love that surpasses all understanding.
We want a revival to start here in America, and I think that today’s teens will be the ones to obediently bring it on. It may not look like what we expect because the times change. But, while times change, people don’t.
We need to encourage our kids to be faithful, brave and strong and walk hard after the Lord. They are the 1 Peter 2:9 generation:
…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
Matt: I’m reminded every day that I pray a certain way and I expect certain things. That’s just how so many of us are wired. But, I also pray that God will show up in ways that I don’t expect.
2,000 years ago, so many people missed Jesus because He didn’t match their expectations. I don’t want to miss being a part of this generation and the revival that may come because of my own expectations.
One small example is when God shows me time after time a kid who I wouldn’t naturally pick as a great leader, yet they go on to make a huge impact for God’s kingdom on their campus. Each time I see this, God humbles me again, reminding me that it’s not my plan, but His at work.
We simply need to stand alongside today’s teens and encourage them.
Leslie: Leave a legacy of how you disciple and impact kids. Walk with them, cry with them, and then dust them off and send them off again.
Working with kids costs a lot. It does come at a certain sacrifice, whether it be in your income, your family, or your social life.
So, count the cost. And know that, if you are obediently serving God, the devil knows that if he can’t get to you then he’ll go after your family.
Pray for Matt, his family and the guys at FCA because they are doing a mighty work for God!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this interview with Matt Clinton. We are always blessed when we hear about what he is doing with the next generation through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His wisdom and compassion pour through his words. If you’d like more information about what Matt and the team at FCA are doing, simply check out SanDiegoFCA.org.
Matt Clinton of Fellowship of Christian Athletes desires to partner with parents in pouring into their kids to help them navigate through their teenage years.
Leslie Salazar Carrillo, Im Waiting: The socio-economic spectrum that you work within is very broad. You deal with very wealthy families as well as impoverished. So, what would you say to parents, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status, as all their kids are asking, “How am I supposed to live this life?”
Matt Clinton, Fellowship of Christian Athletes: I look at my own conversations with my own kids at home. Now, my son is only five-years-old, so we’re not up to the heavy hitting topics yet. But, still, it’s critical that I build in time into my days to be available for him.
Now, I know that being available to our children isn’t breaking news. I also know that eventually, they’ll hit a stage where they think that it’s not cool to hang out with their parents. But, we need to be available.
It’s also important to find people who really, genuinely care about your kid. Especially people who are outside of your family. That’s often where “life change happens”.
As a guy who is one of those “outside the family” people, most of the time, all I’m doing is parroting exactly what the parents are saying.
But, since it’s not mom or dad saying these things, it seems to make a huge difference.
Couple with the innate problems and pressures that teens face, I think that in today’s culture, there are so many distractions, options and influences out there that their heads just spin!
I mean, as just one example, it seems like many kids today are more concerned about who is following them on Instagram or how many retweets they receive than anything else.
So, one large part of the battle is to try to figure out what our kids’ priorities are.
But, across the board, kids want attention and they will seek it out and get it somewhere. This begs the question of “What kind of attention can we give them and how intentional can we be?”
Now, I’ve spent most of my adult life helping to raise other people’s kids. And I’m very passionate about that. But, ultimately, if I’m so wrapped up in other people’s kids that when I come home I have nothing to offer my own children, then I’m useless.
So, I’m learning on my own, too, that we need to be intentional, even when and especially when it’s not easy. The hard truth is that kids just want time and attention.
Leslie: We’ve found that kids often say things like, “I just wish my parents would understand…” or, “I wish my parents would only…”
Have you witnessed this, too?
Matt: Oh yeah, that’s extremely common.
I mean, I live in a world of teenagers, and I can’t understand all of them all the time or the pressure they’re under. And, there is a small number of parents out there who really understand their teens, and they know them far better than I ever could.
But, more than trying to understand every single “why do they do that” or “what are they thinking”, I think parents would be well-served to try to understand the pressure that their kids are under.
If nothing else, find the time to walk on a high school campus. You will be stunned at what teens talk about, what they do and what you would see. I mean, supposedly there are dress codes and zero tolerance rules, but you might be appalled to hear and see the things that even “good kids” wear, say and do when they think adults are not watching.
So, I encourage adults (parents, speakers, donors… almost anyone) to come with me to an FCA meeting and be encouraged by the dedication and growth of the Christian leaders who we work with. But, I also tell them to pay careful attention to the three minute walk through the halls.
THAT’S where we learn what it is that our kids are dealing with each day. Even the kids who are the best kids of all time and are following Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind… this is still what they are up against each and every day.
There is a relentless pressure in all aspects of our kids’ worlds today, and I just don’t think that parents understand. Each kid is faced with well over 100 tough decisions each day.
Leslie: Amen! I tell parents to remember back to when they were in high school and reflect on the unique pressures you faced. Pressures at school, pressures at home, pressures in the classroom and on the ball field, pressures to fit in, pressures to find your own identity… everything that you faced while just trying to get through your day.
Now, those pressures are common to nearly every generation of teenagers. But, you need to realize that today’s teens are the first post-9/11 generation. They’ve never known a time when we weren’t under the treat of terrorism. They’ve never known an era when schools weren’t shot up. They’ve never lived in an era when people of all ages aren’t told that their identity is based on their sexuality…
THAT’S the unique pressure THEY live in today.
Yet, like all teens, the frontal lobe of their brains, which governs problem solving, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior, is not fully developed. So, they are physically unable to handle all these incredible pressures. And, this is not the some high school experience that any parents out there grew up with.
For one, the boundaries that were understood across the board simply do not exist anymore. Even the guys and girls who are trying to be good are being bombarded by naked photos of their classmates being sent to them via text, Snapchat, or by other means. In fact, for many kids today, sexting is simply a part of dating. As a cultural group, they’ve convinced themselves that it’s safe since they’re not actually having intercourse. They figure since they can’t get pregnant or catch and STD, and they hope that no one will ever know about it, then it’s safe. But, the truth is that it’s not. And yet they still engage in it.
Matt: Yeah… I get it, but I really don’t get it. I mean, I understand their faulty logic, but I just don’t understand why they would engage in sexting and all these other things when they know the real risks.
And, I know that there are a lot of kids out there who, in their heart, don’t want to do these things. But they feel the pressure that if they don’t, they’ll be left behind and won’t be accepted.
Our kids are presented with this every day. And, there are new tools so they can go incognito made and released every day.
They – the developers and today’s teens – are always are one step ahead of us.
Leslie: Typically, as soon as kids realize that their parents have some messaging or photosharing technology figured out, they move on… if not way before their parents have a clue. Kids don’t use Facebook. If they do, it’s just as a front to make it look like they’re behaving.
Who has the kind of time that it takes to keep up with Snapchat, or Whisper, or WhatsApp, or whatever is next?
Matt: Well, today’s teens make the time. They make it a priority. Look, We all have 168 hours per week. But we each choose differently how to spend those 168 hours.
I ask kids to chart their time in any given week. We constantly discover that they spend a lot in pursuit of acceptance and identity. It’s an ongoing battle. It may or may not be a winnable battle, but its one that we need to be aware of. Social media cannot be an idol or cause anxiety.
Leslie: Kids need to realize that 95% of real life is NOT on social media. Therefore, your value isn’t coming from your likes, but because you were created to have value! Even with all your imperfections – and we all have them – you are still valuable! You have value because you were created in God’s image… and that has more value than any of us could ever imagine.
Parents play such an important role in how their kids understand their own value. Tune in next week to learn how YOU can partner with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Matt Clinton.