Archives For Values

Henrietta MearsWednesday, October 23rd would have been the 123rd Birthday of Henrietta Mears.  In commemoration of Miss Mears’ impact and contribution to ministry, I thought it was only appropriate to share a passage of scripture that she often cited.

In Joshua 1: 2,3 God says to Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”

Henrietta Mears led Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church Sunday School from 1928-1963, founded Gospel Light Press (1933), Forest Home Camp (1938), and GLINT. I don’t think that Henrietta Mears would have wanted for us to eulogize her achievements or her memory—as the passage says “Moses my servant is dead.”   In the same way that Moses vacated his position as the visionary leader of the people of Israel and passed it on to Joshua, so did Henrietta Mears. We cannot, as glorious as our past is, we cannot relive our past.  But it can inform and inspire our future.  It must inform and inspire our future. Although Moses was dead, Joshua would now enter the land that God had promised and take it. Taking the land wasn’t some sort of “name it and claim it” process, it was real work. While God fought many battles for the greatly outnumbered and untrained soldiers of the nation of Israel, they were still required to take the land.

Miss Mears took this passage literally. When she decided that the resort that would then become Forest Home was what she wanted—people thought her dream was impossible.  But, no one advised Miss Mears except God.  She believed that a training ground was needed to train the next generation of leaders that would take the Gospel around the world.  In spite of how impossible the dream seemed, she took the land. She went out and walked the property and asked God for every part of Forest Home her foot touched.  Through the prayers and gifts of 100′s of people, Forest Home was purchased for $30,000 in 1938.   It seemed that Miss Mears got what she wanted.

Today, I believe for the organizations that Henrietta Mears founded and the church in general, that God will give us “every place that the sole of [our feet] will tread upon”.  However, I believe that it will require work.  And, I also think it requires a return to the principles that Mears’ vision and leadership were based upon.  Don Williams in a message to the College Department, in June of 1963, summarized the core of Henrietta Mears’ vision as four things:

  • a Christ-centered Gospel
  • a Bible-centered church
  • a Mission-centered vision
  • a People-centered ministry

Here are some quotes from Henrietta Mears on each of these.

On a Christ-centered Gospel:

Growing youth is a vine seeking a trellis.  If you do not strike a pole around which a vine can climb, and to which it can cling, then it will trail along the ground.  This is just what is happening to youth today.  They reach out the tendrils of their senses and desires, and finding nothing to lift them up they crawl along the ground.  Strike the Lord Jesus Christ as a stake in the midst of young life, and see how this Presence will lift the child.  His personality will become  an integrated one around this great Savior and Lifter of men.  Put a child’s face between your hands and lift it heavenward.  Let him see the Savior “whom to know aright is life everlasting.”  Let the Light of the Word shine into His heart.

[We] must continually point pupils to Christ and the necessity of a commitment to him.  Christ says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  When we teach Him we teach everything.  We will never be satisfied until we see young hearts and lives committed, not to his teachings, but to Him.

On a Bible-centered church:

Do you teach the Word of God?  The Bible is the living seed that brings life.  We are born, fed, enlightened, equipped for service, and kept by the Word of God. Youth must know how to use this Chart and Compass.  Are you presenting the Word to each life and heart. Other things may be good, but this is the best.  Always specialize in THE BEST!

We have a statement that the Word is the seed.  This is what we, as teachers, will sow.  God has given us His Word but there is a false impression that all of God’s Word can be adapted to every age.  I believe the Bible clearly teaches that the Word contains “milk” for babes, “bread” for youth, and “strong meat” for men.  It is not all for everyone.  I believe it would be impossible to adapt the teaching in Revelation, for instance, to a six-year-old. . . . So there are portions of God’s Word beyond the realm of the experience of the child, but there is much that is within his grasp so that nothing need be substituted for the Bible in teaching him.  The Seed is the Word; this we know.  But good seed can be lost on the wrong soil.

We know there is nothing wrong with our textbook, the Bible.  It must be in the way we have presented the great facts and teaching of the Word.  When we consider the reasons for the tragic lack of interest that exists in the study of the Scriptures, we will have to admit that we have committed a spiritual crime.  We have made children say, “When I don’t have to, I’ll never go back to Sunday school.  There’s nothing there for me.”

On Mission-centered Vision:

Do you enlist for Service?  Are you helping youth find God’s plan for their lives.  We let them go out on an uncharted sea.  Let each one know that he is accountable to God for his life, and that the Lord has a place for him in this world.  What is more exciting than finding God’s plan in one’s life? Nothing gives greater satisfaction than the sense of building according to that plan.  Several hundred young people from our college department have found God’s plan for their lives and are today engaged in fulltime church vocations both at home and abroad.  But hundreds more have found that God’s will had led them into professions and business and the ministry of teaching.  Christ has all commissioned officers in His service.

Our duty is to enlist lives for the Lord and Master, and every opportunity is seized to accomplish this all important task.

We are training young people for world leadership in answer to Christ’s command, that they should “Go in to all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

On People-centered Ministry:

A good curriculum should be Christ-centered and child-concerned; the Bible should be our only textbook.  We believe that the child’s life experiences must be based upon the foundation of God’s infallible Word.  We must give him facts so that he will know how to build his life correctly.

Good curricula are written by those not only acquainted with the Bible but with the characteristics and need of the child himself.  It is just as necessary for the farmer to know his soil as it is for him to know his seed if he is to gather a good crop.  So the teacher must know the child’s heart in order to be effective.  It is important to remember that you are teaching children not materials.

The things that Henrietta Mears built ministry upon haven’t changed.  I believe future ministry still rests upon these four ideas.  What do you think?

Damon DeLillo, Dr. Dale & Kathy BrunerTo the right is a picture of me with Dr. Dale Bruner and his wife Kathy.  Among the many people at the 123rd Birthday Celebration of Dr. Henrietta Mears last Dr. Henrietta Mears in FursWednesday, they shared some memorable stories of Dr. Mears–like chasing a skunk out of Miss Mears closet in the middle of the night.  (Which is really funny, considering all of the furs that Miss Mears wore.)

At the celebration I shared some quotes from a letter that Dr. Bruner wrote to Miss Mears in his final year at Princeton Seminary.   I thought they were a fitting tribute to some of the important aspects of Miss Mears’ life and ministry. Here’s what Dr. Bruner wrote:

“I have not had a single occasion here [Princeton Seminary] to be embarrassed by my Sunday School teaching . . . I just go to my knees and thank God for the wonderful and wholesome biblical teaching I received in my home church, at your feet. Not once, dear Teacher, in the face of some of the finest scholarship, have I had reason to be embarrassed by what you taught. And do you know why—or at least why I think this is so? You teach Christ. And He is never superseded. . . . Your passion and preoccupation was Christ. You never tired of teaching Him and we never tired of hearing of Him. As you once said when you came to that part in Ephesians: “…the unsearchable riches of Christ”—“it might seem that to preach Christ and Him only would be a dull subject and that we would be soon done—but in Him we have unsearchable riches and we will never be done with Him.”


Dr. Dale Bruner 1958

Dale Bruner, April 1958

“You know what Teacher, I don’t even remember you exalting the Bible, or teaching as a subject “The Bible” in our College Dept. Do you know how I came to my high doctrine of the Scriptures? By the way you used them, and delighted in them! I don’t recall you ever carefully defining your view of the Scriptures, or spending much time in talking about the Scriptures. You seemed so thrilled with what the Scriptures taught that you excited me and so many others to go to the Scriptures ourselves and be thrilled! So we did, we liked what we found, and we just naturally came to love what we affectionately called “the Word.” I never remember having a doctrine of Scripture before I came to Seminary. But, by the grace of God, how I loved the Scriptures!”

StepsPeople are not born in crowds, nor do they die in masses.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?

Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?

I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships.  Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.

Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.

Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.

It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.

While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:

  1. Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
  2. Make that environment the destination.
  3. Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
  4. Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online. So here you go.


Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

Breakout Audio (MP3–This is audio of the same breakout from a different conference.)

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me. Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

Not a Fan of Church

October 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church. Basically when asked if they affiliated with a church, they checked the box marked “none.”

A few days ago, Ed Stetzer entered the fray and wrote an article entitled: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Cultural Christianity Is

I’d summarize his main point as: We are not seeing a real decline in actual believers, just nominal or cultural Christians who are no longer claiming an affiliation with church.

I’m just really glad that Ed Stetzer has clarified that the church isn’t really losing true believers, just its influence with nominal Christians who weren’t going to heaven anyway. So we should all breathe a sigh of relief—it’s not as bad as we might have thought.

All snarkiness aside, I agree with Ed Stetzer’s explanation.  The primary issue however, is not whether the “nones” are the “nominal” Christians of a previous generation.  The primary issue is about influence. “None” while more honest, seems to be a step in the wrong direction. It means that the church is losing influence with people in the community and it is losing influence at a greater rate and in a more pronounced way with 20-somethings.  That’s a big deal.   

Henrietta Mears was fond of saying, “The church is one generation away from extinction.”  It isn’t alarmest; it is true.  The situation is no less true because it is urgent.

The braver question is not “who?” but “why?”  Why this group now? And what role did the church play in creating this? What responsibility should we take and what changes do we need to make as a church to reach the next generation?

“The church leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic [18-25 year olds] are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely uncompelling.  To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away.”

from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

I happen to believe that Christianity may be becoming less a part of our culture because many churches have fallen in love with a mid-century, cultural church model rather than falling in love with the mission of the church.  I’m speculating here, but my guess is, it is those churches that will be most interested in this explanation that seems to try and reduce the urgency of our mission.

The Gospel is offensive. Unfortunately, we offend people before we even get to the Gospel.

The Gospel is offensive

Aero Vodochody L 29 Delfin Jet CockpitThe average airplane can have over 40 gauges.  But only a few of those gauges are critically important at any given time.  And maybe the most important is the one right in the center.  Like the speedometer on a car, the attitude indicator may be one of the more important flight instruments on a plane because it shows the aircraft’s “attitude” to the horizon.  In other words, it will tell you whether you are flying upside down or not.  Kind of important.

Kidmin, like the cockpit of a plane, has lots of dials and gauges—lots of things that demand our attention like scheduling, team training and curriculum to how many popsicle sticks we need for VBS.  It can be overwhelming.  But what if some things are more important than others?  What if there are some systems that require our attention more than others?  What would be the attitude indicator for kidmin?

Apart from the basics like Jesus and the Bible—we know we need to point kids to Jesus and we do that through the Bible—, what would be the top five gauges we should give our attention to?  What systems are really critical to the effectiveness of kidmin?

Here is a great top five from The Orange Leader Handbook also known as the Orange Essentials:

System #1: How we integrate leaders.

We can’t expect people to follow us if we are not on the same page going in the same direction.  This is especially true when working with children and students.  We are laying the foundation of a person’s life so we must all be working with the same end in mind.  Having the same strategy to get there is a good place to start.


System #2: How we communicate truth.

How we say what we say is as important as what we say. Maybe we should communicate as if what we have to say is the most important thing that can be said.  Since it is.


System #3: How we connect people.

Spiritual growth happens best in the context of close personal relationships.


System #4: How our church partners with families.

Parents have the greatest potential to influence the life of the child.  Lasting impact begins with a system to effectively partner with parents to help them leverage their influence during the week.


System #5: How we mobilize every generation to be the church.

We have a lot of people doing church, but not a lot of people being the church.  If kids are not being the church while they with us, how can we expect them to be the church when they are not with us?


You are in the cockpit of your ministry at your church.  The gauges you give your attention to will determine the effectiveness of your ministry.

What do you think are the top five gauges we should be looking at?

Todd Henry just posted his TEDx talkon his blog outlining the five areas we need to monitor in order to remain prolific, brilliant and healthy as creatives.  Great talk.  Check it out.

I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online.  So here you go.

Breakout: I’m Not Creative: Leading people who don’t think they are creative.

I’m Not Creative Presentation Slides  (I use  Click the link to the left.  You have to sign up for a free account to download it.)

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me.  Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

Just in the last year there have been several books written on the topic of youth leaving the church.  Among them You Lost Me by David Kinnamen at the Barna Group; Slow Fade by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar and Abbie Smith; Sticky Faith by Kara Powell.  The topic of youth leaving the church is perennial—that is it seems to be a topic that pops up in cycles.  (Check out my post on an article called Why Do Teenagers Drop Out? From Teach Magazine Summer of 1963.)  While it draws a lot of statistical studies the truth is, for those of us in youth ministry it’s personal.  We know the kids who walked away from church and faith.  They are more than numbers they are faces.

This last week I had the opportunity to corner Chuck Bomar and ask him some questions about why youth drop out and what the church can do about it.

How do you create belonging in your church?