Sometimes the Bible is Boring

I’ve always enjoyed watching movies. They draw me in and excite me. The story. The characters. The music. The emotion. The images. It’s quite an experience. Some movies are better experiences than others. Some I’ve seen several times and others just once. I don’t discriminate based on the genre. I’m open to sci-fi, romantic comedy, suspenseful action-packed thrillers, animated films, etc.

In the past month I’ve seen two movies in theater: Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. These 2 were hyped a lot, and in my opinion, they didn’t disappoint. I have no desire to do a movie review, but Interstellar in particular was quite the experience. It delved into some of life’s biggest questions. It took you on an emotional roller coaster. It was one of the most visually stimulating movies I’ve ever seen. The music was heavy, uplifting, engaging and overwhelming. It brought you in close to the story it was telling.

When I walked out of that experience my mind was racing. I thought about many of the different ideas and questions the movie raised. And then I had a question myself:

How do I get students to read their Bible when they are watching movies like this?

Now before you think I’m one of those bible-thumping-narrow-minded-movie-hater Christians, hear me out.

See, I work with students. I’m constantly thinking, praying and strategizing about how best to connect this generation with Jesus. And as technology continues to broaden the realm of experiential possibilities through movies, it makes it more difficult for someone like me to say to a student “read your bible.” I mean before we even get to “how?” think about “why?” a student would even want to.

Why would they want to sit down and read a book with black letters (and some red letters if they have a certain translation) on thin, white paper when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why would they want to read a book that was written a long-time ago and is sometimes difficult to understand when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read something that seems boring like the Bible, when they can go watch something exciting like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read at all, which takes effort, when they can go and passively watch a movie like Interstellar?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks, and it’s one that isn’t going away. It’s one that’s in a category of questions the church has been wrestling with forever. And the answer is not to condemn movies or to try and sway kids not to watch them. That’s a losing battle. The answer lies in our approach. We have to listen to what is going on in culture and then begin speaking into it.

Because the question is not just “how do I get students to read their Bible?” It’s more than that.

How do we do ministry?

What does church look like in our current culture?

How can I explain the significance of following Jesus?

How do I do________ in an “Interstellar” culture?

As I’ve thought about this and talked with others, here are 6 suggestions that I think can help this generation connect with Jesus.

1) Bring out the life and energy found in the Bible.                                                                                               

Notice I didn’t say, “Bring the Bible to Life.” That would assume that it really is boring and we have a lot of work to do as ministry leaders. But it isn’t. It’s exciting! There’s action. Drama. Scandal. Murder. Miracles. PG-13 type material. Dead people come back to life. People walk on water. And a central figure named Jesus who comes on a rescue mission to save all of humanity from the consequences of their sin. It’s incredible!
“Boring” and “Bible” should not be synonyms. If you teach or preach, commit to bringing out the life and energy already there. And oh yeah, bring your own energy to it!

2) Engage as many of students’ senses as possible when teaching.

This generation experiences sensory overload on a daily basis. With computers, phones and televisions in front of them constantly, it’s good to give them a break. However, it’s also influenced the way they learn and gives teachers other means of connecting with them. Show movie clips. Show pictures. Use props. Draw a diagram. Tell stories. It will make your teaching more effective. CS Lewis was maybe one of the best to ever engage the whole person. Read any of his fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and you will see how he used many different elements to engage the senses.

3) Help students see the sustainable fulfillment that comes from a relationship with Christ.

Movies, video games, etc. has made us believe we have to always be having an experience, and if we aren’t, we’re missing out. But that’s just not true. High experiences are temporary. Life is lived in the mundane. And in that mundane comes a fulfillment that can be found through a daily relationship with Christ. Through that relationship lies a greater future than anything on this earth could offer.

4) Encourage students to use their God-given talents and gifts.

There are a ton of opportunities for this generation to express themselves in creative ways. We do a disservice to the God who made them when we discourage creativity. We must encourage it! Help students figure out who God has created them to be and celebrate as they live it out.

5) Connect them to the larger story of God on a regular basis.

One of the amazing things movies can do is cause people to long to be a part of the world that the director has created. They can make people feel like they are a part of something bigger. And more, they cause people to feel like they can make a difference. We have largely underwhelmed people with the Gospel if they do not grasp many of those same truths when they read the Bible or hear someone teach from it. Because we are a part of something HUGE—the redemption of all humanity. And we all have a part in that mission. We must connect students to the reality of what God is doing and wants to do in their lives.

6) Allow them to ask questions.                                                                                                                                    

This generation is Bible illiterate. And that’s okay. If we act as if it’s not okay to ask questions about their faith it discourages growth and eventually belief altogether. I’ve written more about that here.

I’m going to keep watching movies. They’re pretty great. Maybe another suggestion could be “Take a student to a movie.” I don’t know. What others suggestions do you have?

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The 3 Things I Pray for Just Before I Speak

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Have you ever been talking with someone who nonchalantly made a profound statement? They weren’t trying to be philosophical or impress you. They just said something that ended up impacting you tremendously. (If you don’t think it happens to you, you either aren’t listening, aren’t talking to the right people, or think you know it all and can’t learn from others. Because people are full of profound statements.)
This regularly happens to me. I’ll be talking with someone and they’ll say something that catches my attention. I’ll then quickly write it down, often times into the notes section of my phone. Later I’ll revisit it to see how I can apply it to my life or save it for later. It may relate to God, relationships, culture, ministry, parenting, leadership, etc. Whatever it is, I know when I hear it that it’s good stuff.
One of these times happened several years ago when I was speaking at a youth gathering. It was a large event and one of my first times speaking. So I was definitely nervous. As I waited backstage the youth pastor came up to me and we chatted for a couple minutes. He prayed for me. And then right before I walked out he said, “Matt, tonight speak with passion, integrity and conviction.”
It was a simple statement. A profound one. And the youth pastor didn’t even realize it.
It was something I’d thought about, but hadn’t categorized. I knew I wanted those 3 characteristics to be true of my speaking that day. What I didn’t realize was how those 3 characteristics would shape me as a speaker going forward.
Since then, every time before I speak publically I pray a simple prayer. “God, help me to speak with passion, integrity and conviction.”
I’ve thought about these 3 characteristics quite a bit over the years, and when I pray that short prayer each word has a specific meaning to me. To hold myself accountable and to get better, lately I’ve been trying to ask some of the following questions after each message.
Passion
Did I bring energy?
Did I show that I cared about the content and people listening?
Did I speak with emotion and inflection?
Did I bring out the excitement within the text of the Bible I’m speaking from?
Integrity
Did I honor God with my words?
Did I faithfully represent what other authors I quote were trying to say?
Did I tell the truth in the details of the message?
Did I honestly represent my beliefs and not try and seem like I had all the answers?
Did I give people a reason to think I’m a person of integrity after my message?
Conviction
Did I allow God to lead me while speaking?
Did I allow my beliefs to have greater influence in my presentation than my fears?
Did I convince others that I personally believed what I was trying to convince them of?
Did I communicate in a way that caused others to experience some level of conviction about the topic I spoke on?
Passion. Integrity. Conviction. 
Praying for this to be true of my speaking has made a significant difference. These 3 characteristics don’t encompass everything I want to be true of my speaking.
There are certainly other things I aim for like simplicity, clarity and practicality.
I have a process for my preparation and an approach for my delivery.
I’m unapologetically trying to reach non-believers in every message I give.
I am influenced by certain speakers.
I have many convictions that I hold to.
And I’m still learning a lot about how to communicate.
But at the end of the day, if I am speaking with passion, integrity and conviction I can sleep well that night.
You might not give formal presentations on a regular basis, but you still interact with people.
Do others think of you as someone with passion, integrity or conviction?
What other characteristics do you think are important for communicators to have?
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7 Things God Has Used To Grow My Faith

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The past two weeks I wrote about how you can grow in your personal relationship with God. I focused exclusively on having a “quiet time” and shared how that has been the single greatest factor in my spiritual growth. It’s what I tell students to focus on as well. Nothing will grow their faith as much as personally owning it on a daily basis through getting alone with God.

While I believe this wholeheartedly, after I finished those posts it got me thinking. What else grows our faith?

What else has been pivotal in growing mine? Because even if having a quiet time is the foundation, there have to be other things that have helped, right?

Yes.

In the same way lifting weights is foundational for muscle growth, doing that alone won’t give you maximum results. There are other factors that contribute to it happening. Good genes, right diet, drinking enough fluids, rest between workouts, proper sleep, etc.

So what are some of those other factors for growing your faith? Here are 7 things God has used, and continues to use, to grow mine.

 1)      Daily Quiet Time.

This is relationally connecting with God through prayer and reading the Bible. Last week I did a whole post devoted to this called “Have a Quiet Time.” You can check it out here.

2)      Relationships.

We were not created to be alone. We were created for relationship. If we are going to grow in our faith we must be in relationship with others because God often speaks in and through them.

Other than having Christian friends, two other strategic relationships have grown my faith tremendously.

Small Group: Gathering together with a small group of people allows for accountability, encouragement and conversation about faith.

Mentor: Finding someone who has been following Jesus longer than you to pour into you makes a major impact on your faith. I currently have a couple of people I consider mentors that I regularly talk and meet with. I’m so thankful for their influence in my life!

3)      Church worship services.

There is something special about coming together with a large group of people to worship through music and learn about how to follow Jesus through teaching. When everyone stands to sing truths about God, that collective “song” is a reminder of the faith you have. And when the pastor brings a message from the Bible, your faith is engaged. Find a church with practical teaching that focuses on Jesus in all it does.

4)      Application, application, application!

Learning a whole lot of stuff is great. But if you do nothing with it, it’s just knowledge that makes you spiritually fat. Growth comes when you apply what you’ve learned. If you don’t, you are deceiving yourself into thinking you are doing okay. (James 1:22) Take what you learn and put it into practice. You’ll always know more than you do, but working to shrink that gap has been pivotal for my faith.

5)      Serving others.

I heard it said a while back that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving. And it’s so true. More than that, it grows your faith. I’ve experienced some of my greatest times of growth through serving others on mission trips, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, serving in a nursery at church, feeding people at a homeless shelter, etc.

Also, serving in the way God has gifted me has been an even greater catalyst for my faith. God has gifted each of us in unique ways to serve others. Have you ever taken the time to figure out your gifting and served in that way?

6)      Reading and Listening.

I regularly read books and blogs and listen to sermons and podcasts of influential people. By doing this it allows for other people to speak into my life and help me grow in my faith. I may never meet them. I may disagree with them on certain points. But it stretches my faith and challenges me with a real-life example to follow.

7)      Sharing with Others.

If you want to remember something you’ve been trying to learn, teach it to someone else. The preparation and delivery solidifies it inside of you. It’s the same way with your faith. Since I teach publicly on a weekly basis on matters of faith this is an easy one that God has used. But there are two other ways I can share that grow my faith. I can share with others  what God is teaching me and I can share the gospel with non-believers. When you share the gospel with someone it increases your trust in God and reminds you of what it is you believe.

I’m sure there are more things, but these are the 7 that are most obvious to me that God has used to grow my faith.

What are some other things God has used to grow your faith?

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