Choosing Vomit or Jesus

One time at the zoo, I watched a gorilla puke out the contents of its stomach. This alone was disgusting, but I was appalled to watch him return to his vomit and start to eat it, only to puke again and restart the cycle. This happened over and over until I was whisked away to watch the shenanigans on display in the next exhibit.

You want to know something?

The Bible teaches that we can be just as nasty and disgusting.

This prior week, I was at youth camp with our students, enjoying the worship and Word. I saw many of our students take intentional steps toward Jesus. I was encouraged and amazed and overjoyed.

As the time came for us to have our last devotional together, I had been reminded of the realities of the broken world we live in. Many of our students were exiting the camp high, just to enter the darkness of broken homes, broken communities, broken hearts, broken dreams. Worse than this, many of our students were returning to friend groups that would guide them away from Jesus, not to them.

Falling back into the same old actions and sins is a foolish thing.

Look at this passage with me.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:20-22

Peter is addressing those who were in sin, heard the truth, and then returned to sin.

I told our students this week that it would have been better for them to have not come if they were simply going to return into the same lifestyles of sin (not sin struggles, that’s different. That’s going to war.) after camp.

Peter’s teaching is honestly pretty harsh. We don’t like harsh. But here it is anyway.

So where are you at?

Have you had an experience where God has recently clearly called you out of a certain sin in your life, but you find yourself back in the same lifestyles that Jesus rescued you out of? If you are, the Bible describes that aspect of your fleshly desires and actions as a dog returning to vomit.

If I’m being honest, I’m like that gorilla.

I return again and again to the same vomit.

I return to the same sins instead of using my knowledge of Jesus to redeem my thoughts, words, and actions.

Let me offer us some hope as well though. Look at this verse from the next chapter.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

God is patient with us. God has a desire to see us come to repentance rather than perishing.

So how do we choose Jesus rather than the vomit?

The answer I’ve found is this.

We must be taking small and intentional steps toward Jesus.

I personally am not a fan of altar calls, emotional songs playing as everyone cries and makes shallow decisions for the Lord. Because in the face of brokenness, emotional decisions brought about by borderline-coercive and manipulative moments fall flat. They aren’t followed through on. August and September steal away emotional decisions. When school starts back, students fall into the same rhythms they had in the Spring.

That’s why in my youth ministry we don’t do them. We share the gospel every week through the lesson and then tell our students to come talk to one of our leaders if they need to. If a student isn’t able to forsake volleyball and gaga-ball to talk about becoming a Christian, then they are likely not ready to go all in with Jesus. They haven’t counted the cost.

While I believe kids and teens are most susceptible to this emotionalism, adults can fall into it too.

There is one big decision in the life of a Christian, and that is the salvation decision, where we actively place our faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.

Every other decision is small, ordinary, boring even.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

This passage is always so encouraging to me. We are being transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to the next. It comes from the Spirit, not our own discipline or actions.

So, for you, maybe you need to just take a step.

Set that alarm for five minutes earlier than normal and pray. Read through a book of the Bible over the course of a month. Share a percentage of your income with others through church offerings and non-profit involvement. Meet with a younger or older man or woman to grow in your faith.

Take a step.

Invite your neighbors into your home for a meal and conversation. Volunteer at the local food pantry. Find where the foreigner and refugee are in your midst and provide them with the necessities of life. Call your estranged sibling or parent or cousin. Repent to a friend. Confess sins. Forgive.

Take a step.

Grandiose proclamations of life change more often than not don’t pan out. Simple, small steps toward Jesus always produce results.

So what step can you take this week?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Table

When you think about a symbol for evangelism and discipleship, what comes to mind?

Some of us might think of the cross, for it is central to the message of the gospel.

Some of us might think of the pulpit, where faithful preachers exposit the Word of God week in and week out.

Some of us might think of a Bible or Bible study, since the study of its truths is crucial to the growth of the believer.

I would argue however that the table is a symbol for sharing our faith and deepening our faith.

I believe that sharing a table with others is the most effective conduit to discipleship.

I would argue that this was Jesus’ methodology as well. While He surely taught in public via parables and sermons, sharing a meal with others was a large part of His ministry. Consider the following verse in the Gospel of Luke:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ – Luke 7:34

In the passage where this verse is found, Jesus is calling the Pharisees and religious leaders out for their lack of faith in and allegiance to Jesus. Then he proceeds to tell them what He came doing: eating and drinking.

Again, I am not trying to detract from His preaching and His miracles. These are profound and show us that Jesus was the most unique man to walk the face of the earth, the very Son of God.

Yet, sharing a table with tax collectors and sinners was a clear part of His ministry. The Lord’s Supper, the ordinance that we use in our churches to reflect upon the sacrifice of Christ together, obviously happened around a table as well.

What does this have to do with us?

How can we live like Jesus in our communities, specifically when it comes to eating and drinking?

In His book, Surprise The World (Get it. Its call to simplicity when it comes to sharing our faith is refreshing. This blog is more or less his teaching in my words and experiences), Michael Frost calls every follower of Jesus to share three meals a week with someone in their community.

When I reflect on my life in just this past week, almost every conversation about faith has come around a table, while eating good food with others.

  • At Burger King in Wichita Falls, I talked with my dad about marriage and ministry while chowing down on some Cini-Minis.
  • At Braums in Vernon, I met with a student who is about to graduate and head off to DBU. We laughed together, talked about Avengers, and read a book about how the gospel should dictate our thoughts and actions.
  • While eating Pizza Hut (I’m not sponsored, but I wish I was) with some members of my local church, we talked about the Lord’s Supper and how to build stronger community together.
  • While eating a burger at a local restaurant, I spoke with a friend about how we can better serve one another in love, and rejoiced together about the professions of faith his children were making.

The table can serve as a bridge between people who might not otherwise spend time together. There is something intimate about sharing a meal. Jesus ate with those who were seen in their society to be the worst of people, and because of this He was accused by the pharisaical religious leaders of the day of being a friend of sinners.

Share a table with someone who looks different than you. Someone who has a different background. Someone who votes different than you. Someone who doesn’t walk with Jesus.

There is so much hate in our world, much of it propagated by well-meaning church-goers who don’t have the humility to just listen.

Just a reminder: in heaven there will be Republicans and Democrats, Cowboys and Redskins fans, Texans and Oklahomans, those who vaccinate their kids and those who don’t, homeschoolers and public schoolers, prostitutes and church secretaries, murderers and church choir members, heroin addicts and weekly Sunday school attenders, Baptists and Charismatics, Americans and former members of ISIS.

Your political party, choice of education for your children, race, wealth, or even country do not give you favored status in the eyes of God.

What conversations are you having?

What type of rhetoric are you putting on Facebook?

Don’t be a man or woman of hate.

Instead, share a table.

Eating with someone is not agreeing with 100% of their lives.

Somewhere along the way we have thought that distancing ourselves from any sign of unholiness is the best witness. We would condemn Jesus super fast, just like the Pharisees, for associating with sinners, wouldn’t we?

But association is not condoning sin. We must allow the holiness given us by Christ to shine through. When we’re like everyone around us though, we have gone too far the other way (as I blog about often).

I believe with all of my heart that long before we invite people to church on a Sunday morning, we should invite them into our homes to share a meal with us. Relationships draw people into the community of faith, not Sunday morning services. How could they? We are told in Scripture that we will be known by our love, not our dynamic preaching or bass lines or hymns.

Before you invite to church, share a table.

You may not be the most hospitable person. The thought of opening up your home may terrify you. Well, then, do what I do. Go out to eat.

If you can though, have people in your own home. You don’t have to have an immaculate home. Acknowledging an imperfect, sometimes messy home can be just as refreshing to a guest as acknowledging our imperfect, sometimes messy minds and hearts and lives.

If you want to have a life and heart transformed by a missional mindset, start sharing a table.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

We’re Losing Them

We’re losing the next generation of students.

Yet, we’re not losing them in the way we might think.

We’re not losing them to evil, malicious, atheist professors in college.

We’re not losing them to the temptations of this broken world we find ourselves in today.

We’re not losing them to some craze where they indulge in the world once they get their college independence.

No, we’re losing them much earlier than that.

We’re losing them while they are students in our churches, even as early as elementary school.

Right now, I function as the family discipleship pastor at my church in Vernon. My primary role is in youth ministry, but my role includes children and young families.

Here’s what I truly believe. If we as the church were perfectly doing what we’re called to do, my job wouldn’t exist. It just wouldn’t.

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is no aspect of the Christian life that I do perfectly. But if we were to get there as a church family in the area of discipleship, we wouldn’t need me.

Before I get to my reasons as to why we’re losing the next generation while they are sitting in our churches as kids and teens, let me start with the great things I’ve seen in my specific context.

We have children’s ministry leaders right now who have served faithfully, often unthanked, for decades. They have given of their time and effort.

Last Summer, our church’s generosity was astounding. Via a luncheon and auction, we raised enough money to send every single student to camp free of charge.

We have youth ministry leaders who give not only their Wednesday nights, but their Sunday mornings to our youth group. I can’t do what I do in ministry without people like them.

But let’s get to where there’s still work for all of us to do.

Here’s why we as the church in America are losing them.

We segregate them from the rest of the church

Most churches have the following:

Youth Sunday School and Children’s Church. Youth group and children’s programming on Wednesdays, distinct from the rest of the church. Homegroups for youth only on Sunday nights. All of these generally take place apart from the rest of the church.

Here’s what this not so subtly communicates to our students and children.

You’re not part of us.

Now, I know that’s nobody’s intent by any means. But it’s what happens subconsciously.

It’s what happened to me for a season.

When I went to college at OBU, I struggled for all four years to get involved in a local church. It’s one of my biggest regrets. I was a member at one, sure. But I never went all in. Instead, I’d sneak in and sneak out of the service, never really getting involved.

I believe many of our children and students who end up leaving a local church in college do so because they didn’t feel part of a local church as a child or teen.

In Scripture, I’ve never seen children and young adults separate from the body. Instead, I see mothers investing in sons, children being brought to Jesus, and teenagers being called out and used by Jesus. The only reason children’s and youth ministries exist is because we made church aboutfun and entertainment, comfort and preferences.

We condemn them more than we invest in them

Ouch. This one hurts me. Even as the family pastor here in Vernon, I fall into this one. I don’t believe I’m alone in that.

When I peruse social media, I see Christians condemning and demeaning the next generation. Regularly. Are there things about the next generation’s behavior that isn’t in line with Christ? Absolutely. Can the same be said for any and all of us? Absolutely, times a thousand.

I find myself treating kids and students as problems to be fixed or maintained rather than young men and women to be discipled. I’m thankful for a wife who calls me out when needed in this way.

Our kids and students know what you say about them and what you think about them. They see you complaining about this generation in comparison to the good ol’ days, and they see you refusing to invest in them.

They leave their church family because that’s not how families are supposed to act.

We teach them fluff and stuff

Felt boards and dating tips. That’s probably that which comes to mind the quickest when you think about children and student ministry respectively.

Too often, our churches are teaching our kids and teens the most frivolous and flippant things. Too often, our churches are not giving the next generation the meat of the Bible. This too is a new method. The catechisms of the early church were rigorously taught to young Christians.

The next generation is leaving the church because the fluff and stuff doesn’t mean anything to them. They aren’t prepared to know the story of the Bible. They aren’t prepared to love God and love others.

We promise too much

In an effort to avoid teaching fluff and stuff, we can unfortunately go the other direction and promise them too much.

Here’s what I mean.

We promise students changed lives and a changed world.

At first glance, this seems just fine, right?

But here’s how we teach these things incorrectly.

We teach them that they can see their lives transformed in a moment, and we teach them that they, not Jesus, can change the world.

Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is an arduously long process. It’s never quick. Yes, our standing before God is changed in an instant when we accept the sacrifice of Christ. Our temptations and sin struggles persist, however. Students go to college or grow up and give up on faith because they were told they could overcome all the sin in their life in just a few moments.

You won’t change the world.

I won’t change the world.

Jesus changed the world, and only He continues to change the world.

This is what I teach the students at our church. God uses ordinary people in ordinary jobs in ordinary places through ordinary churches to make disciples.

Students are leaving the church in college or when they grow up because they were told they were world-changers, and yet they really aren’t.

If the next generation isn’t discipled, our churches will close their doors.

We aren’t losing the next generation in college.

We’re losing them now.

Let’s do something about it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Redeeming Social Media

I’m hesitant to write anything about social media these days because, for the most part, I don’t participate in any of it. But for the sake of transparency, here is my short history of social media.

I’ve been on most major social media platforms since 2006, which is when I got my first Facebook account. I’ve had a few Twitter accounts, a couple Instagram accounts, and I had a mad SnapChat streak going with a friend for over half a calendar year. But as of now, I only have a minimal Facebook page and a LinkedIn. So that’s that.

Now before I move on, I want to say I believe most anything* can be redeemed for the Kingdom of God. I believe our work, our rest, our play, our entertainment, our habits, our hobbies can be used for that sake of loving God and loving others. (*I say “most anything” because I’m not sure how explicitly sinful activities can be redeemed, although I know God can bring about, in a way, redemption out of those activities.)

I want to also lay this foundational assumption of the way everything works. I believe everything, yes, everything, forms us. Everything forms us, molds us, makes us. From morning to night, from night to morning, we are forming and being formed by everything that’s around us. For example, when I make a salad, the salad is forming my body (in a healthy way). But when I make a bowl of ice cream, the ice cream is forming my body (in a, let’s say, different way).

James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is where I stole (acquired) this idea. So if you want to read more about this idea about everything as formative, then buy it and read it for yourself. In fact, it’s so good I would be willing to buy it for you.

OK, so far we determined:

  1. I have used and currently do use social media.
  2. I believe in the ability for Jesus to redeem most anything in creation.
  3. Everything in the world forms us to some end in some way.

Now, let’s talk about two distinct yet related ways that social media forms you. And I am going to use Instagram as a clear example. This is not to raise it higher or drag it lower than any other forms of social media. It’s just a way to make this all more concrete.

Two of the many ways a social media platform like Instagram forms you are: (1) It increases your desire for novelty, and (2) it increases your desire for sensuality.

First, Instagram is intentionally designed to cause you to become addicted to it. This is not-so-subtly because of advertisements. Instagram makes money when it sells ad spaces. Economics lesson over. Everything about the platform is meticulously crafted to usher you into an mindless habit of swiping and tapping and swiping and tapping and swiping and tapping. We become Olympian-like in our ability to swipe and tap so much that we do with ease it while operating an oversized bullet moving at 75 miles per hour.

How? In short, Instagram plays into our biological and neurological essence to trigger positive emotions based on novelty. We desire new pictures. It’s that simple. We want to see something new every time we open the application. If you saw the same picture on the top of your Instagram feed whenever you opened the app, you would be less inclined to open the app.

Second, Instagram as a visual media is particularly designed to play into our natural, sensual desires. OK, Economics lesson again: Sex sells. Economic lesson over. You know it’s true. Just watch literally anything. I mean there are too many examples. You were probably lured into tapping on an advertisement just five minutes ago because of some really good looking guy or gal wearing sunglasses that you can’t tell if they’re taking them off or putting them on. But woh those are some good looking shades.

To be sure, I am not immune to these “ideas” because I’m aware of them. I think studies have shown the opposite can be true in many cases. I might be more inclined to succumb to social media tricks simply because I am aware of what’s going on. To be honest, that’s one of the many reasons I don’t have many social media accounts anymore. It’s simply too enjoyable.

So what does all of this have to do with following Jesus?

Well, I’ll tell you by referencing Matthew 5:27-28:

“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:27-28

Adultery?

Yes, I’m talking about adultery. Why?

In Russell Moore’s Storm-Tossed Family, he mentions briefly that affairs are often had because of a desire for novelty. Yes, novelty, especially in all things, obviously, sexual.

So, let’s just say novelty does play a large role in affairs. And let’s say based on Jesus’s words that affairs are not just having sex with someone who is not your spouse. Affairs can be in your heart, and they’re not just restricted to married people either. This is some difficult stuff to consider.

But what does this have to do with social media, including Instagram?

It’s this:

Everything forms us. Instagram forms us by engaging, rewarding, and enhancing our innate desires for novelty and sensuality. Desires for novel sensual experiences drive affairs. Therefore, Instagram is forming us to have affairs.

And recall, affairs can be had in your heart whether or not you’re married.

If you are serious about following Jesus, you need to deeply consider what he has to say about how to resist the temptation to sexual sin.

Jesus also says this:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:29-30

Please hear me out on this. I am not saying every Jesus follower needs to “cut off their hand,” i.e., delete their social media accounts or toss your smartphone to be recycled properly. I am saying if you claim to follow Jesus, and I pray I’m doing the same thing–if there is a log in my eye in this, please point it out for me–please consider his intense hatred of sexual sin and his command to cut yourself off from anything that might cause you to sin.

Can you use social media, namely Instagram, to bring about redemption? Yes. Certainly, please do that. Please do that for the millions of people on Instagram. Please exemplify Jesus there. Post pictures of Bible verses. Post pictures of you enjoying creation. Post pictures of your small group sharing a meal. Post pictures of you spending time with your spiritual family and biological family. Please. Be light and salt on Instagram.

But I equally beg you to consider if Instagram is worth having if it sends your whole body to hell.

For me, my proclivity to lust and greed and jealousy was too much to have an Instagram. It’s too much for me to watch certain movies and TV shows and YouTube videos. I’m a weaker brother. I really am.

And if you are strong enough to bring about God’s Kingdom online and be a faithful witness, stay on social media. But if you are weak like me in these regards, please delete your account.

Social media is a discipleship issue. It’s a spiritual issue. It’s a life or death issue.

Whatever you choose, I pray your faith would increase ten-fold as you follow Jesus.
– Matt Welborn

Pump And Dump

This week has been Vacation Bible School week at the church I serve at. I am utterly exhausted, but my heart is full. I have desperately tried to keep up with the motions that accompany our theme songs for the week, I’ve played some mad games of Four Corners with the younger kids, and squabbled about the rules of Capture the Flag (or in this case, sponge) with the older kids.

I am saddened by how many men or women become crusty and somber due to studying theology, and Vacation Bible School is a refreshing way to break out of this in my own heart. I leave my office and my studies and interact with kids whose faith is encouraging and worthy of praise (all while eating plenty of cheese puffs and nachos along the way).

Last night I was able to be a part of a conversation in which a young child put their faith in Jesus for the first time. It was encouraging and exciting to be in the room when this happened, but it was also convicting. You see, I think it’s easy to come into discipleship with the exact same mentality as I came into my Psychology exams back in college.

What I mean is the ol’ pump and dump routine.

Generally my routine of studying for Psychology consisted of quizzing myself repeatedly with note cards the day before the exam, followed by regurgitating all of that on my test. If you asked me the following week about a definition, I would have no idea, it would likely already be forgotten. While this got me through Psychology, this is a horrendous way to do discipleship. Yet, if we’re being honest, if I’m being honest, we do discipleship like this sometimes in our churches.

We host a VBS, we host an Evangelism Sunday, we take students to Summer Camp or D-Now. We see God move in the lives of people in our community, then we pat them on the back, more or less saying good luck walking out your faith now. As long as we can post on Facebook or Instagram about the number of salvations, we’re not concerned about follow up and discipleship. I see no example of this type of pump and dump discipleship in Scripture. It’s painfully convicting to acknowledge in my own heart that I’ve been prone to be this way at times as well.

May we be churches that don’t settle for students coming to the altar and giving their lives to Jesus or kids having a conversation about the gospel with their counselor leading to the same. This is a wonderful, praise-worthy thing, the salvation of souls! However, we must not pump them up and then dump them out once the week is over and we’re back into our normal routine. There are many reasons for people departing from the faith, and every individual is individually responsible, but dumping kids and students and even adults off after they make a salvation decision is immensely detrimental to their spiritual growth.

Yes, the Spirit of God is what is ultimately responsible for the growth of the Christian through prayer and time in His Word. However, we are designed for community, created in such a way where we are able to flourish spiritually when someone is guiding us and leading us. We are woefully bad at times as the church at not doing this part of discipleship. We get them in the door and get them saved but we don’t walk through them how to think, feel, and act as a Christian. No wonder we have men and women in our churches who have come to programs and services for decades yet are still infants spiritually.

We must avoid pump and dump salvations. We must strive for discipleship.

The question of what discipleship is has been coming up a lot recently in my discussions with friends and fellow ministers. I look at a room full of people and I wonder how to get them from pews to God-honoring discipleship relationships. We have men and women in our churches who love the Lord and serve Him faithfully, but a vast majority of them are not in discipleship relationships.

Discipleship is pretty simple in my mind, at least at its core.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

That’s discipleship at its core for me. It’s me walking alongside someone, imitating their faith as they imitate Christ. It can look like a myriad of different things based on the relationship and situation, but it should always be life on life. Some of the most influential men in my life have been men who shared their faith while also sharing their home, family, struggles, and habits. Sometimes it looked like meeting weekly, sometimes it looked like tagging along while he went to pay utility bills for his home. Discipleship is not something that is for only the most experienced believers. It is for all who profess faith in Jesus.

My prayer for my community and my church is that older men will disciple, invest in, pray for, and commune with younger men, and same with the women. I don’t see a whole lot of that. We’ve mystified discipleship and it doesn’t need to be that way. We’ve made it for the elite saints instead of the everyday followers of Jesus.

My prayer is that myself and other members of our church will continue to walk with the young boy that professed faith in Jesus last night. My prayer is that we avoid pump and dump events.

If you’re reading this and you’ve never been discipled, I apologize on behalf of the church. My prayer is that you would encounter and partake in a relationship with another believer that grows you in your faith. A good step for you may be to step out of your comfort zone and ask an older believer if you can imitate them in their faith.

Let’s be disciples who make disciples.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Stormtroopers On Sunday

I opened up my Bible this morning, spending a little time in God’s Word and prayer before I started my day. Honestly it felt dry and monotonous. I was not struck by some amazing nugget of Biblical truth, I didn’t hear the voice of God crash into my bedroom, and I wasn’t moved to tears by the music I was listening to as I got ready to start my day.

When mornings like this happen, I am caught off guard by how prone I am to feeling like something is wrong since it was an uneventful morning in God’s Word. It causes me to question why in the world I would feel disappointed after a morning in intimacy with the Lord.

It all comes back in my opinion to the sensationalism that is blowing up in the Southern Baptist world.

I have seen firsthand a church that did a series through the sermon on the mount entitled “That’s What He Said”. I was aghast only to discover that they had just concluded a series through the life of David entitled “Game of Thrones” with the very graphics used to advertise the show being used to advertise the sermon series. Separate the fact that GOT is horrendously pornographic (just check out VidAngel filters for how much this is shown in seemingly every episode), and this is still an attempt to make the Scriptures exciting for people.

I have seen a church that had a Star Wars themed Christmas series, complete with dancing stormtroopers on stage on Christmas Day. I have seen a churches with announcements that say literally nothing about Jesus, God, Scripture, or discipleship when advertising for Sunday morning activities. I have seen a church that sought to draw people in with a big Super Bowl Sunday service complete with crotch-grabs and obscene jokes.

Again, I totally understand that we should make our church programming appealing to those who don’t have a walk with Christ, but I think there’s a completely different way to do that.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16 

It is not via our advertisements or our hip cultural connections that people are going to find lasting faith. They will find it in churches that live out their commitment to God, each other, and the community they find themselves in. We are woefully bad at this in some ways, and due to this, churches are having to sensationalize their activities every week in order to make up for the fact that the church isn’t committed to holiness or service.

Right now I’ve been taking the youth group I shepherd through the book of 1 Thessalonians, verse by verse. One thing that has become clear to me in my studies and that I’ve desired to communicate to my students is that the Thessalonian church was known everywhere throughout that region for their faith, hope, and love. They were known not for their hip cultural references, but for their faith. They were known not for having the fanciest church service in town that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but for their hope. They were known not for amazing emotional services, but instead for their love.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 

The church was known for its commitment to the gospel message and for turning from idols. Man that gets my heart racing.

There is a better way. My heart hurts when I come to this realization that because we as the church aren’t being the church that we instead have to sensationalize everything because we think that’s the only way people will come.

Here’s what is dangerous about this. People come to our churches and experience sensationalized services, but then their devotional experiences are dry. They doubt their faith and then as adults even leave their faith because in our entertainment-saturated world they can’t find a church community that does just that. If they remain in church, they have church backwards. They go to be served and entertained instead of to serve. You know what is generally missing in this case, confession and repentance. There is not room for these historic Christian practices because there’s nothing less entertaining then admitting our sin to our small group, etc.

We’ve got to be pushing for something deeper than the sensationalism that characterizes the Southern Baptist church.

I see a generation rising up now that is abandoning the historic beliefs of the Christian faith. Instead they are wanting to do Christianity without any of the dying to yourself, church without the commitment, relationship with God without the call to holiness. The sensationalism of their youth has led them to want to be ‘authentic’ Christians who play around with sin instead of killing it. We need changes in the Southern Baptist church.

I am passionate about this because I’ve seen its affects in me. There is nothing sinful about being hip and relevant, I just caution us against it and question its ability to make lasting disciples of Jesus.

Thank you for hearing my ramblings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

The Lonely Southern Baptist

When I got to OBU, I honestly had a pretty strong disdain for all things theological and doctrinal. To me, my faith was about loving Jesus and others and nothing else mattered. Over the course of my years of study at OBU, I came to realize that theology and doctrine, when studied rightly, lead to loving God and loving others better. With this newfound fervor I began to study, but I started to find myself in an increasingly lonely position.

I grew up in a strongly conservative Southern Baptist church. My beliefs about sexuality, Scripture, sacraments, service, and soteriology are thus all firmly conservative and Southern Baptist. This was a heritage I entered into OBU with, something I was proud of. I was proud to have been raised in a conservative Christian home. My peers and friends around me at ‘The Walk’ at OBU when we started our collegiate journey stood by me in said beliefs.

Then the ‘deconstruction’ began. Countless people I knew, who I sat by in class, began this process of deconstructing their faith, a process that in my belief is the result of the tremendous lack of family discipleship. Many members of my generation grew up in homes where church was mandatory, but the gospel was not lived out at home. This is a tremendous travesty, akin to that of Judges 2:10 – “That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel.” The book of Judges is full of disheartening and disgusting acts done by the people of God, and this is the backdrop. A generation arose that did not know the Lord or what He had done. This means implicitly that the parents of this generation did not show their kids who God was and didn’t tell their kids about what God had done.

In response to growing up in homes where there was a lack of genuine gospel conversation or Christlike character despite religious practices, many of my peers were driven to process their faith for themselves via the deconstruction of it. Soteriology, Scripture, service, sexuality, and the sacraments. All of these facets of theology were on the table now, ready to be studied and made new in the lives of my peers.

As this deconstruction revolution went up like a powder keg all around me, I found myself ostracized, villianized, and condemned by those who had stood by me as conservatives only four years before.

I remember the day. My Senior year we had Rosaria Butterfield come and speak in chapel at OBU. A group of students who had put sexuality on the cutting block and reassembled their beliefs about it were adamantly opposed to her presence. They stood up and silently left the auditorium in defense of said beliefs. This was the day where I felt the loneliness really start to kick in.

I am all for the right to protest. Yet in the aftermath of this protest, I felt myself smack dab in the middle of a divide with no place to call my own ‘theological home’.

On one side was the ‘deconstructionists’, a group that had pushed deeper into what they were taught and told to believe (an admirable endeavor) and had come out on the other side with opposing views to what I believed about sexuality, service, soteriology, and Scripture. Those who came before me at OBU were militantly and rudely attacking the college on social media in what was honestly a cowardly way of action. Instead of face-to-face conversations, there were social media clap-backs that were not at all showing the love of Jesus that this ‘camp’ was so desirous of. I felt (please know that I’m aware that feelings can be wrong) like I was looked down upon by this group for being one of two things. For holding tightly to my conservative Southern Baptist beliefs I was either 1) foolish and naive or 2) unloving and devoid of compassion. I was either a man who had not thought long and hard about what I believed, or if I had, I was a man who had no love or compassion for the broken and battered in our world.

On the other side were those who I felt like adhered to my beliefs about theology and doctrine. That being said, I felt myself alone in these circles due to my desire and emphasis on holiness. The ‘conservatives’ were now wearing shirts that said “I love Jesus but I cuss a little”. Cards Against Humanity, obscene talk about sex, and an outcry against our legalistic ancestors were the talk of the town. I could never find myself able to fully embrace this camp of ‘authenticity’ and ‘brokenness’ because I can’t escape the call of 1 Peter 1:16 to be holy as God is holy. This camp decried me as being either old-fashioned or legalistic for my belief about this. I became a weirdo in the denominational family that I called home.

When I left OBU I felt quite alone. I had a group of friends that stood with me in this middle ground, but we were few and far between. Two experiences at two different churches solidified me in this lonely middle ground.

On one hand, in Portland I was at a church event where we attended a Portland Timbers soccer game. I left discouraged and frustrated as members of this church chanted “We are the Timbers, we are the best. We are the Timbers, so F*&% all the rest. F&%$ them all! F#$% them all! F%#$ them all! Being authentic believers meant being no different than the world.

On the other hand, I served at a church in Phoenix where jokes were consistently made about SBC life (which in fact funded said church), and how we should not be so concerned with theology and doctrine (which led to an unhealthy meddling of Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, and Catholic beliefs). “Let the theologians argue about theology, we are going to love like Jesus”.

In a world of acceptance and charity, I found myself ostracized by those who had deconstructed their faith and outed by those in my own denominational camp because my desire for holiness and Scripture-driven sermons was not in agreement with the cussing Christians.

Where was I to go?

The answer is still not clear.

That being said, I am grateful for God’s grace given to me in two ways. One, I’ve been grafted into a community of youth pastors in my region who seem to be in the same position I’ve found myself in with this middle ground. Second, I’m incredibly honored and grateful that I have been asked to join the conversation at Misfits Theology. Go give that blog a follow!

In His Name,

Nate Roach