Monday, March 30, 2015

YOUTH: Defend Your Faith??

"Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This Holy Week, as we watch Jesus not defend himself in order to fulfill God's promise, somebody asked me a question about defending our faith and teaching our children to do the same. I've also had parents tell me that what their kids really need is to be able to defend their faith to other kids. To this, I can only respond, "No, no, we don't,"

Defend It?

Who was it that came up with the idea that faith needed to be defended? Trying to defend something as intangible as faith to those who will not believe is a futile effort. They will not be convinced by any logical argument. Faith, by definition, is not logical. It is given by the Holy Spirit when God deems it. Some have cited 1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV as it says:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
But what about the rest of the sentence? It says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." The reason for the hope that I have is Jesus Christ. He needs no defender. He needs no defense. He certainly does not need us to convince people that we're not crazy for what we believe or that it is logical and makes sense. Expecting that of our youth is not only a daunting task, but is unrealistic, as they cannot defend themselves against the powers of darkness or the walls of those who are stuck in their unbelief.

Share It! 

What I want my students, and everybody else, to be able to do is know what they believe well enough to share it in a way that gives them confidence when somebody asks them questions about it. No, you do not need to convince anybody of anything. You do not need to know the answers to their many questions. For most of them, your answers will just lead to more questions that cannot be answered. We don't believe because we've suddenly been given all the answers. We believe because the Holy Spirit has given us faith. We share our experience and truth, we do not need to defend it.

So, don't fill their heads with answers to have at the ready when those who do not believe begin pestering them with questions that may or may not match their answers. Fill their hearts with confidence in knowing what they believe and the ability to share it in their own words.

WHEW!! Isn't that a relief? Given all that, people will still ask questions and make stupid remarks, so here are a few phrases and suggestions.
  • "I believe the Bible is true."
  • Teach them to put the creeds into their own words and be able to tell others what they mean in their own words. Here's what I believe... (about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit). 
  • Teach them some Bible verses to help explain where their belief comes from and how they see God in the world and in their lives.  
  • Teach them to stand in what they believe with confidence:  "It's stupid? Well, maybe to you, but it's not to me."
  • "That's what I believe. I can't make you believe it and didn't tell you you had to believe it, but I believe it."
  • "Religion is for the weak? Well, that's your opinion. It makes me feel strong and confident."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Finances and Change

Pencil, Eraser, Write, School, Rubber
Previously, I posted 10 Survival Tips for Struggling Lutheran Schools. After teaching in one for almost a year, I have a few more observations. You have to begin with an honest appraisal of your financial situation and assess the school's willingness to change. Money is not your problem, parents choosing not to send their kids to your school is your problem. It will take change, maybe great change, to be able to become the kind of school that attracts parents.
  1. How many years does your school have left? Struggling schools need to be financially realistic. Do you even have time for a 5 year plan?  
  2. Your church (or association churches) cannot and should not be the major financial support for your school. Every Lutheran school needs to be financially stable and able to support itself. If that cannot happen, something needs to change. 
  3. You need more students more than you need more fundraisers. Schools will always need fundraisers for special projects, but you will not fundraise your way out of financial debt. Tuition should support the general education provided by the school. If that isn’t happening at your school, something needs to change. 
  4. Five new students who can’t pay tuition are not five new students. Of course, we would all love to provide a free Christian education to all children, but the reality is that parents who cannot afford the tuition are a financial burden. Any private school can only support so many students on scholarship. 
  5. Borrowing more and more money without great change is not good financial stewardship. I don't think I need to say anything more about this. We all know the popular definition that insanity is doing the same things and expecting change. 
  6. If your options are CHANGE OR CLOSE, you may need to sit down with parents and lay it all out. Let them know that change is coming. If you’re too afraid of change because somebody might get upset and move their child to another school, you might as well close your doors right now. 
  7. What should you change, and what should you not? Never let go of your beliefs and your Lutheran Christian heritage, but understand that that will not bring students into your school. If it did, Lutheran schools would be bursting at the seams. They are not. Keep having chapel and teaching religion (confirmation, Bible literacy, having Jesus time, morning/afternoon devotions, and prayer). Without that a Lutheran school is just a school. 
  8. Change anything else!  Anything else can be changed now, and I mean anything else, and I mean now, in order to market your school as competitive and better than other neighborhood schools. Just do it! 
  9. If you can’t change the little things, you’ll never change the big ones. There are always people who don't want to change anything, from the look of the office, to where the pop machine resides. CHANGE IS GOOD! It brings new life. How much time do you have to put it off?
  10. Get some fresh perspective on your situation. Sometimes it takes someone from outside the school to see the situation clearly. People who have been working at and supporting the school for years, often have difficulty seeing the reality of the situation and may not have the vision to effect the necessary change. If you're not taking advantage of that opportunity, you should be.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

LEADERSHIP: Volunteer Training for Sexual Child Abuse

Most churches and schools cannot function without the help of volunteers who work closely with children. The insurance carrier at my school, Church Mutual, asks that all the teachers and regular volunteers go through training for sexual abuse prevention. Of course, they say it's nearly impossible to spot a sexual predator, but knowing what to look for and what to do if it happens is imperative. We watched the video put together by a legal team. Another great training program you might want to check out was created by the Catholic church (I know, I know...) and is called Virtus.

This type of program should be see by EVERYONE who spends time with children in your ministry and attendance should be taken to show that they have all participated. That would include:
  • Pastors
  • Licensed Teachers
  • Directors of Christian Education
  • Youth Directors
  • Chaperones
  • Sunday School Teachers
  • Preschool Teachers
  • Daycare Teachers/Leaders
  • Volunteers in the Nursery
  • Regular Classroom Volunteers
  • Parent Volunteers who go on Tours
  • Anyone else in regular direct contact with children/youth.

Any training you do should address:
  • awareness of the signs of child sexual abuse 
  • methods and means by which offenders commit abuse
  • prevention.

It should also help leaders address:
  • creating policies and procedures that help define child sexual abuse
  • the reporting of child sexual abuse
  • the screening and selection of employees and volunteers
  • victim advocacy.
As the video says, "Just because somebody is nice and friendly in public, doesn't mean that they are not a predator." Sadly, in some cases, this is true.