Thursday, April 18, 2013

A New Home for the Rooted Ministry

Rooted is pleased to invite you to our new home at There you will find all of the resources, blog articles, and information about our mission to see student ministry anchored in the incredible message of the Cross and of God's unconditional grace. Please visit us at

Monday, April 08, 2013

Re-Thinking Your Sunday Best: Why Student Ministry Needs to Reclaim the Centrality of Imputed Righteousness

Growing up, my parents made sure I wore my “Sunday best” to church—coat, tie, slacks, and on special occasions, suspenders!  After all, we were going to meet with the living God. A whole generation (or two) regularly used this phrase to communicate the reverence and awe of worship and to make sure our outward appearance reflected something of the cleaned-up heart we all embraced. Ironically, I didn’t spend a lick preparing my heart for worship.

Most of the time—during my early years—I only heard one side of the gospel. I heard that Jesus died on the cross as a payment for my sin, but I never heard that he lived for me. While I heard that Jesus died the death I should have died, I never heard that he lived the life I should have lived.

The point: Jesus has accomplished for us what God has required of us. He lived a perfect, sinless life, obeying all of God’s commands. That we are declared “righteous” by God (the doctrine of justification) is a declaration made on the basis that our sin has been credited to Christ and his righteousness has been credited to us.  We, therefore, stand accepted by God because of an alien righteousness, received by faith alone.

In reality, Jesus is our Sunday best. He is our righteousness. God is pleased, not with the fancy tie I received for Christmas, but with the righteous robes of his own Son, which I have received by faith alone—a “righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

Why does this matter for student ministry?  Because the imputed righteousness of Christ stands as the foundation for the good news of our being justified by God.  In other words, without justification sola fide we don’t have the gospel. If you, like many who have loved the recent “gospel movement”—The Gospel Coalition, T4G, the GospelProject, among others—want to lead a gospel-driven student ministry, the imputed righteousness of Christ must take a central place in your teaching and ministry to students.

Nothing will free your students from the cyclical shame of sin like knowing and believing that all of our sin—past, present, and future—has been cast as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Similarly, nothing will spur them on to holiness and sanctification like knowing and believing that they are simply living out what they have already been declared: “righteous.” They are not striving to earn God’s favor; rather, they are striving to please the One who earned God’s favor for them.  The law of God, then, comes alongside, not to condemn, but as a friend, showing him or her how he or she can please God.

Nothing will give your students joy like knowing and believing that their righteousness isn’t found in being a good student, a good son or daughter, or a good soccer player.  Their righteousness is found in Christ alone.  Indeed, their hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  Or, in the words of the hymn “Before the Throne of God Above”

Behold him there the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of glory and of grace
One with himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by his blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God
With Christ my Savior and my God

May student ministries across our land embrace and love the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and may it free youth pastors and parents from the success-oriented, entertainment-driven models of ministry that undercut the very message they are seeking to communicate.

If you are involved in the discipleship of students, reclaim the centrality of the imputed righteousness of Christ as you teach and equip them.  May that, not self-help sola-boot-strapia, provide the true “gospel” focus of your ministry to students.

Brian H. Cosby is pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, TN and author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (P&R, 2012) and Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology (Christian Focus, 2012).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Apologetics for Teens: You Asked: Your Questions. God's Answers.

Answering students’ questions about God, life, Scripture and Christianity is like walking a tight rope. On one hand, students deserve clear, thoughtful, and simple but not simplistic answers. On the other hand, the questions often reveal deeper, unspoken, concerns present in their own heart. The challenge is to provide answers for the spoken questions while also recognizing and addressing the unspoken questions.
For that reason I am delighted that William Edgar’s You Asked: Your Questions, God’ s Answers is now available. The book may rightly be described as “apologetics for teenagers” and its format is straightforward: each chapter begins with a common question middle and high school students ask, and then provides clear guidance and instruction enabling students to discover answers from the Bible and a Christian worldview. It is a work Edgar is uniquely qualified to write, having expertise in apologetics, a deep grasp of culture, and experience as a high school teacher. Furthermore, as an apologist in the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, Edgar skillfully answers the spoken questions while gently exposing and addressing underlying heart issues.
The direct audience for this book is students themselves. Edgar has provided a reliable guide for them in language they will find accessible. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this book is only for students. Youth pastors and parents will also find it a useful resource guiding their own interactions with their teenagers.
I am thankful this book is available and would encourage youth pastors, parents, and teens alike to make use of it. As Michael Keller wrote in his endorsement, the book will help students navigate the “minefield known as adolescence.” I agree with Mike, and commend You Asked to teens wrestling with tough questions, and to youth pastors and parents helping teens along the way. 

Bijan Mirtolooi is part of the youth ministry staff at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The World’s Half-Truths for Teens Pt.6: The Power for Change Comes from Within


When I first began working with youth, the first Percy Jackson series was all the rage.  Greek gods, adventure, and awkward teen drama had captured the imaginations of youth all over the country - and some at my church.

Being totally unfamiliar with the books, I was curious to read them to find out why these books had become so popular.  So I picked up the first book in the series and began to read.

It didn’t take long to figure out what kids found so alluring about Percy Jackson’s story.  As the story begins, Percy appears to be relatively insignificant, marginally outcast, and and uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin pubescent youth.

Before long, we discover that -despite appearances - Percy Jackson is anything but normal.  Much to Percy’s own astonishment, he’s really a demigod - the son of a human mother and a Greek god for a father.  And Percy doesn’t have just any Greek god for a father, his dad is Poseidon, one of the “big three” in the Greek Pantheon.

Along with the revelation of his lineage, Percy also discovers that as Poseidon’s son, he inherits some of Poseidon’s power.  Percy discovers he can breath under water.  Water gives him strength. And most importantly, Percy can control water, bending it to do his will.

How awesome would it be to discover that a god-king was your father and that your father-god shared his power with you...?

Yeah, pretty much that’s the gospel - isn’t it?  Pretty amazing.

In Christ, haven’t we become children of the One True God, king and ruler over all things? (cf. Galatians 3:29, 1 John 3:1-2)  And what’s more, because we are his children, hasn’t God shared his power with us, filling us with the Holy Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance? (cf. Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 1:13-14)  Isn’t this the source of our joy and delight? (cf. Ephesians5:18-20, Colossians 3:15-17)

Familiarity with these truths sometime blinds us (and the youth) to their sheer awesomeness.  Sometimes it takes something like Percy Jackson to wake us up to the sheer wonder of the story in which we find ourselves.

Obviously there are some difference between Percy and the Christian.  First, and most importantly, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is fiction whereas our adoption and inheritance are reality.

Secondly, there is a fundamental difference between the power of Poseidon at work in Percy and the power of Yahweh at work in us: Percy seeks to control Poseidon’s power to wield the god’s strength for his own ends, while we seek to be controlled by the Spirit to be wielded by Yahweh for his ends.

It’s here that we begin to see the lie that underscores Percy Jackson’s interaction with the world.

In the end, any difference that Percy makes in the world or change that happens in himself emanates from his own willpower and ability to control the power of his father god, Poseidon.  Ultimately, and change is of his own doing (the gods are rather disinterested in the affairs of their children and the human world).

For the Christian, however, meaningful change cannot begin with our own efforts but with the grace of a God who cares deeply about us and this world. 

Biblically speaking, the power to redeem doesn’t come from us learning to control the Spirit of God, but the other way around.  The Holy Spirit is not a weapon or tool that we wield, but that wields us even as the Spirit works to renew us into the image of our creator, Jesus (Colossians 3:10).

Certainly we are called to participate in the Spirit’s work as we seek to put off the old self and put on the new self - but even this is done by faith as we learn to rest in Jesus’ finished work and receive from him the inheritance he secured for us in the Spirit as the Lord bless our time in Scripture, prayer, Christian fellowship, and the sacraments.

So concerning the world’s half-truth of the power to change coming from within, I say, Amen! Let us find the power for change within...but not within us as ourselves, but within us as children and temples of the One True God who is generous with his grace.  And let us cling to his grace by faith - not as a reward for our personal effort, but as a gift of the Spirit works within us to conform us to the very likeness of Jesus.

Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Essentials in Youth Ministry: Others

We want to feel necessary.  We want to feel important.  An easy way to fill these desires as a youth worker is to make our youth ministries about us.  We even do what I just did -- call the youth group “ours” and come up with clever tricks to make the kids want to come be with us.

But it’s not really about us.  Youth ministry is about our Triune God - giving glory to the Father, in Christ, by the Spirit.  Certainly we’re actively involved in the work of God in these kids’ lives, but it’s God’s work through us - not ours in which to boast.  Ultimately, these kids are God’s. The glory is His.

What these kids really need, then, is not more of us, but more of Jesus and His grace.  Certainly they need to see more of Jesus in us and through us, but we are not the only - nor the primary - means through which the Father by the Spirit points the youth in our churches to Jesus. 

The primary means through which - by faith - the Spirit roots our youth in the grace of Jesus is Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and fellowship with other Christians.

And the primary community through which God has ordained to practice these means is the church - the family of God.  And though we serve the church in a very unique capacity as youth ministers, we are not the fullness of the church in and of ourselves.

The youth need to see and experience God at work in others. They need to see and experience the wisdom of God through others. They need to see and experience the fellowship of God with others.

And “others” as I’m using it doesn’t refer only to other youth in the youth group.  They need to know their senior pastor(s). They need to know other parents. They need to know seniors and other adults in the congregation.

Though it has many flaws and downsides, one of the helpful correctives of postmodernism is that it reminds us that we all see things from a perspective.  This includes how we see God.  I am much too heady for my own good.  I need people in my life with passion and emotion in their worship and relationship with God.  They help me see aspects of God that I can’t on my own.

If the only picture of God that our youth see is from our preaching and teaching, then they are missing out.  Involving other adults in youth group -- or better yet, involving the youth in the fuller life of the church -- is one of the ways God uses by his Spirit to nurture our walk with him.

It might feel like a slap in the face to be told we’re not as important as we think we are, but really, this is good news.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t be all things to all people -- we aren’t meant to be.  There are kids with whom we have difficulty connecting.  But the same Spirit at work in and through us and our ministry is also at work in and through other Christians and the other ministries of the church.

If a kid doesn’t want to meet with us, maybe they will want to get together with someone else from the church.  If they don’t want to come to youth group, maybe they will want to join the choir or the praise team.  If they don’t want to come to Sunday school, maybe they will want to join an adult Bible study.

As Paul puts it in a beautiful passage on the unity of the one church in the one Spirit, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The family of God is an incredible blessing for those of us who can’t do it all (which is all of us).  Let’s not neglect the body of Christ in our ministries that we might together be built up in God’s love.

Mark Howard is the Youth Director and Assistant to Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. Mark has a Masters in Theology from Wheaton College Graduate School

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fear, Patience, and Prayer in Discipling Kids

Recently, I made a presentation to parents in our youth ministry, entitled, “Why Kids Abandon the Church.” Two years earlier, when I made a similar presentation, called “Grace-Driven to Postmodern Teens,” the class drew five people. Not surprisingly, this terrifying title attracted a packed room of sixty parents.

In the presentation, I explained our strategy, which has been eight years in the making, to maximize the chances that students will stick with Jesus and the church after high school. Terms, such as “theological depth,” “grace-driven,” “devotional training,” and “family discipleship” flew around the room. I routinely dropped names like Kenda Creasy Dean and Christian Jones.

While I qualified the talk with the premise that we have so little control over our children’s spiritual future- only God yields fruit- the presentation did have a “business plan” feel to it. While I stand by our strategy and commend other youth ministries to focus intentionally on fostering life-long disciples of Christ, a conversation afterwards with a young adult in the audience exposed my blind spot.

He said simply, “The thing you are missing is that after they leave home kids have to claim their faith on their own; parents cannot force that to happen.” This young man grew up in a nurturing Christian home and solid church. To my knowledge, he did not consistently seek out church or campus ministry in college. Here as a young adult he is thoughtfully considering the depth in which he may or may not follow Christ. God has brought a woman into his life, and this relationship has stimulated a fresh consideration of faith. His honesty helped me contemplate discipleship of young people with a fresher balance and with the following concepts in mind.

As much as say that God’s total sovereignty and goodness is the only hope for our children, in my flesh I believe that I have control. I think if I deliver the right messages, relate in the best manner, and orchestrate certain experiences, I can effectuate real faith in my students and in my own children. The lurking fear I have, that kids for whom I care so deeply will reject Christ and the church, only exacerbates my desire to cling to my devices.

When I survey the turning points that led to my decision to walk with Christ in college and young adulthood, all of them came places that no person, except God, could control. At the National Young Leaders Conference during my sophomore year of high school, an agnostic from Maine asked me why I was a Christian. I had no answer other than subjective experiences and the beliefs of my parents. This encounter caused me to question the veracity of Christianity. Days later, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (of all people) dropped by our house and gave us an apologetics tract. I only read the section on proofs of the resurrection and fulfillment of prophecy. This tract stimulated a season of further study, which confirmed for me that, in fact, Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord.

My parents and church had built solid foundations, but only in the moments ordained by the Holy Spirit in the mundane circumstances of life did I convert from a cultural Christian to a committed follower of Jesus. It all occurred apart from the control or strategy of any person but God.

Like most Christian parents and youth pastors, I have a strong desire to see my kids walk with Jesus in college. Ideally, in their first week in college they will attend a Cru or Navigators or an RUF meeting. On their first Sunday, they will start searching for a church that teaches exegetically and preaches the Gospel of grace. Their first date will be with a solid Christian classmate. At their first party, they will say no to the keg-stand and will return home that night to talk about the balance of law and grace, as they sit around their dorm room with their new found Christian friends. Oh, the fantasies of Christian parents.

But here is reality. God does not adhere to our dreams. God has timelines that conform to his desire to be exalted in the maximum manner in the optimal season. Our children and students may find God after they receive their third DUI or while working on their PhD dissertation in evolutionary biology or at the Democratic National Convention. We must depend on the grace of God for the patience and faith to align with His timing.

An article, like this, which decries our impotence in ultimately determining the spiritual welfare of our children, often leads to fatalistic despair.  This absolutely should not be the case. If anything, seeing that only God can produce fruit should drive us to the foot of the Cross and to a life of fervent prayer.

For several years, I have journeyed with a family in the discipleship of their children. These parents model family discipleship as they have taught their kids the Word, prayed with them, taken them to church, etc. Their children have wandered spiritually through high school, college and young adulthood. I have watched the mother move from panic to calm largely due to a fervent prayer life. In one of their children it appears that God- in a mystical yet palpable way- is using the random circumstances of his life to draw the kid to Himself. I feel as if I am watching the fruit of faithful prayer at work before my eyes. The Lord undoubtedly pours down grace on our children and students in response to our prayers.

Going Forward
I plan to continue to pursue ministry, where we preach grace and cultivate a deep, biblical belief system in students. We will help students transition to college and will equip them for a devotional life. And, it never hurts to be reminded in the midst of our best intentions that all hope centers on the generosity and sovereignty of God.  

Cameron Cole serves the Director of Youth Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL. He is the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry, which holds its next conference, Hope in a Time of Suffering, in Atlanta October 10-12, 2013.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Are We Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater on Fun in Youth Ministry?

In our efforts to critique youth ministry and move towards reform, such that ministry to kids is more grounded in the Gospel and discipleship, can we "throw the baby out with the bathwater" when it comes to fun? Mike McGarry at Emmanual Baptist Church in Norfolk, MA, a respected friend of Rooted, had a great analysis and clarification on the tension between "fun" and being Gospel-centered on his blog, "crosswalk."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Letter to Friends of Rooted

Dear Friends of Rooted,
First let me thank you for your participation in our movement. I wanted to update you on some of the exciting things coming soon for Rooted.

·      Rooted is gearing up for a total makeover. We will have a new website which integrates the blog and the other content of the ministry into one place. The look and feel will be fresh, and, more importantly, we graduate from Blogger! Our new home at will go live in the next 3-4 weeks.

·      On April 8-10, Rooted will take its act to the Gospel Coalition National Conference in Orlando. Two Rooted steering committee members, Josh Cousineau of Redemption Hill in Auburn, ME and Dave Wright of the Diocese of South Carolina, will present workshops. Josh’s workshop is entitled, “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: Building on Jesus not the Jokes.”  Dave will speak on “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: Jesus' Mission to the Next Generation.”

·      Will you be attending the Gospel Coalition Conference? Come by our booth and meet us. Rooted will be a “vendor” at the event (we aren’t selling anything). We would like to know you personally.

·      Our next Rooted Conference takes place in Atlanta on October 10-12, 2013. We are very excited about our speakers, Jared Wilson, Sharon Hersh, and David Plant. The theme, Hope in a Time of Suffering, has great relevance for ministry to a generation of students, which have suffered greatly.  Right now, you can register very cheaply ($100) for this conference at Prices will go up in mid-April.

Please reach out to us if we can help and support you in anchoring your ministry more deeply in the Good News that the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross is utterly complete.

Kind Regards,

The Steering Committee of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry