Archive | April, 2018

A very real issue: STRESS among teenagers and young adults

24 Apr

Sometimes an issue hits you right between the eyes and you wonder why you haven’t seen it sooner.  This is one of those issues.  Yes, in recent months I had heard “bits and pieces” from multiple directions. I had read news reports of soaring rates of depression & suicide among teens & young adults.  I have talked with folks in the business world who talked about how managing their young adult employees is very different today.  I have heard from educators about how high school students are constantly stressed out.

To be candid, my feelings about this issue lined up with many others of my generation:  What do they have to be stressed out about?  They don’t know stress. They’ve got it easy and don’t know it.  Teenagers are always stressed out – and always have been! In short, I was pretty dismissive of most of it.  Until last week.

Listening to podcasts as I drive is one of my favorite things to do. It helps me learn and it helps me use dead time in a more productive way.  Occasionally, I listen to a leadership podcast from Carey Niewhouf, a pastor in Canada.  Here is a link to the show….

https://careynieuwhof.com/mypodcast/

I listened to episode #187 with Tim Elmore entitled “Anxiety in Young Leaders.”  Really, the episode is about the stress felt by two entire generations – the Millennials who are now in young adulthood and Generation Z, the generation presently in high school and younger – and why those feelings of stress are more intense than the stress of other generations.  One statement from this podcast rocked my world…

“The average 17 year old feels as much stress today as the average mental patient in the 1950’s.” 

That isn’t a joke. You read it right. Tim Elmore says that he has been told this by multiple physicians.  When I heard that statement, I was shaken to my core.   If you are reading this post and you are older than me, please resist the urge to begin spouting off about how hard our generation had it and how easy this generation has it.  Yes, our generation had stress.  Yes, our generation is in the throes of middle age stress – marriage, teenage kids, mortgage, career, aging parents, etc. We know stress.  That isn’t the point. The point is how our kids feel. Let that sink in.  Yes, our generation knows stress, but consider these points…

1.     We did not grow up with smartphones and social media.  Our generation gets on Facebook to keep up with old friends and post pictures of our family events, but our kids feel the WEIGHT of social media in a way that we don’t.

2.     We did not grow up feeling like our future depended on the ACT.   High schools today place a great emphasis on preparing for the ACT, scholarships, college visits, and getting ready for college.  I am not critical of this; I understand why they do it.  However, our kids get the message and feel the pressure.  Yes, I took the ACT, but I don’t remember taking the ACT feeling like the rest of my life was riding on it. That’s a fairly recent phenomenon.

3.   We did not grow up with constant pressure to perform and excel. When we grew up, you played little league baseball.  Now, you play little league baseball, your dad takes you to a hitting coach every week, and you play travel ball because you are a good player and you can become good enough to get a college scholarship one day.  Think about it. In many ways, our kids feel the pressure to perform and excel much earlier in life than we did.

4.   Everything is more complicated for our kids. Take going to the prom. When we grew up, the guy asked the girl to go to the prom. It was simple.  Now, it has to be a production. Creative. Unique.  Splashed all over social media so that everyone sees “the ask.”  If you have teenage kids, just stop and think about how much more complicated and stressful getting asked to go to the prom is today than it was a generation ago. The more I think about it, just about everything our kids navigate in their teenage and young adult years is more complicated than it was when we grew up.

5.    We did not grow up with information at our finger tips – both good and evil. We had to go to the library to do research.  Pornography was found in magazines or on video tapes. Today, people use their phones for both research and pornography.  It’s instant.  The affect of this on our culture cannot be overstated.  Our kids feel the effects of it most. We were dependent on our parents for much of our information. We had to ask our parents. Our kids don’t.

6.    We grew up with a greater understanding of failure and resilience. There were times our generation didn’t get a trophy.  We didn’t get an award on awards day. We didn’t get picked for the team at P.E. A teacher was unfair to us. A coach didn’t play us when we deserved it. Somehow our generation learned not to be crushed when things didn’t turn out the the way we hoped. Somehow our generation learned to get back up again.  For whatever reasons, many teenagers and young adults aren’t learning this same understanding of failure and resilience and they are stressed out because of it. As a result, many are emotionally crushed by the time they are in their 20’s.

There are more examples I could list.  Here is the bottom line:  our kids have grown up and are growing up in a vastly different world than we grew up in.  We must not dismiss their pain and their stress.  Yes, we could argue about why this is the case. Parenting styles have changed, and many argue that is the root cause.  Tim Elmore discusses this issue in the podcast I mentioned. He believes that today’s parenting styles are great contributors to the younger generations difficulty in handling stress.  The reasons why aren’t the real point of this blog post. Here is the point of this blog post…

Our kids and young adults are stressed and hurting far more than I realized.

It doesn’t matter why. It’s how they feel. It’s where they are.  My heart goes out to them. This week, I thought of my own sons and wondered if I have failed to understand the stress they feel.  I thought of the teenagers and college students in the church I pastor and wondered if I have not taken their pain as seriously as I should have.  I thought of the young adults in my church and in my neighborhood and wondered if I lacked the empathy I should have.

I am committed to seek to understand more, have more empathy, and seek to help where I can. Our kids and young adults need us to walk with them as they navigate life. Count me as one who is determined to be there for them.

 

 

 

 

Lord, take over a worship service again.

6 Apr

Once a church reaches a certain point, the services must be planned and prepared for in a greater way.  In order to have a quality choir and orchestra, the music they share in worship must be planned and prepared ahead of time. In order to have the audio-visual elements that are now standard in many churches, all of those elements must be prepared ahead of time.  Certainly, preaching is better if it is prepared ahead of time!  None of this means that we don’t pray and ask the Lord to lead us in our worship services. We do that every week at our church.  I would hope that every church does that, no matter how many or how few they may have in worship.  However, the end result for most churches is that our services are planned and prepared in advance, many times we print an “order of service” but, even if we don’t, we know what songs we will sing.  We know when we will take up the offering, and we know what message we are going to preach. Nothing wrong with that. God is honored in excellence.  We should always have the highest quality possible in our worship services.  However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if God moved so powerfully in a service that we threw our plans out the window?

In a recent conversation with my wife, we were talking about people responding in a worship service, and I made the statement “In my entire ministry, I have seen the Lord take over a worship service on two occasions.”  Then I proceeded to share with her about those two occasions.  Since that I day, I have prayed several times, “Lord, take over a worship service again.”  Let me make it clear: I am not talking just about people responding to an invitation at the end of the service – as wonderful as that is! I am talking about occasions when the Holy Spirit of God moves so strongly that it interrupts the order of service and things happen that aren’t in the bulletin.  I am talking about occasions when people are so moved by the Spirit that they MUST respond on the spot.  In 24 years as a pastor, I have seen this happen on two occasions.  Let me share them with you.

The first happened in 2005 when I served as Senior Pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama. A man named Kenny and his wife had visited our church a few times and I had visited in their home. Kenny was a good man, but he was not a believer.  I shared the gospel with him in his living room, but he did not give his life to Christ.  Then came one Sunday morning I would describe as “just a normal Sunday.”  No special emphasis. No indication that God was about to move in a great way. We sang congregational songs. We took up the offering.  Andy Hadley was leading our great choir in singing the song “Bow the Knee.”  The service was going exactly as planned. I was on the front pew ready to step up when the choir finished and begin my message.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement.  I looked up and saw Kenny coming down the aisle weeping – right in the middle of the choir special.  He knelt down on the steps in front of the pulpit and began crying out for the Lord to save him.  I knelt down beside Kenny to pray with him. The choir finished the song and then the church continued to sing and pray.  Finally, Kenny finished praying, looked up at me and said, “Pastor, I am sorry I messed up the service, but I couldn’t wait.”  As we embraced, I told Kenny, “You didn’t mess up the service, you made the service!”   To be very honest, I do not even remember the rest of that service. I don’t remember if I preached my planned sermon or not.  I just remember the overwhelming sense of God’s presence in that service and the visible, tangible rejoicing of God’s people.  The Lord took over that service.

The second occasion happened six years later on October 17, 2011 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, where I was serving as Associate Pastor.  Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Jimmy Jackson, had invited an evangelist named Ron Herrod to come for what we promoted as “A Day of Prophecy.”  Like the day in Pell City six years earlier, this day was “normal” and even “average.”  Our attendance was about average.  We met with Ron Herrod before the service and had prayer with him. The worship service and the music went “as planned” with our choir and orchestra doing their customary wonderful job. It was a good, solid Sunday, but there was no special air of excitement or special feeling. Ron Herrod got up to preach and his message was from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 – “What to Do If You Miss the Rapture.”   It was a good, solid message delivered by a good, solid man of God but his delivery and content were nothing extraordinary.  From my vantage point on the front pew, there was no hint of what was about to happen.

Those of us who have heard very many sermons know the signs when a preacher is about to move into the invitation.  I was on the front pew and sat up in my seat because I could tell that Ron Herrod was about to move into the invitation and I would be the point man down front to receive people.  As I looked up at him, I noticed a change come over his countenance. I noticed his voice strengthen as he spoke with even greater clarity and power.  It might not have been noticeable to the rest of the audience, but it was tangible from my seat. It was like the Lord took over Ron Herrod in those moments as he finished his message and extended an invitation.

The invitation music started and I stood down front along with other staff members to receive those who responded – and respond they did!  Immediately folks began coming down the aisle – most of them adults. “I want to be saved.”  “I need to be baptized.”  “We want to join this church.”  They kept coming.  The invitation was extended and people kept responding. In fact, the rooms that we normally used for decision counseling overflowed into the hallways and we eventually moved everyone who responded to the choir room in order to have room.  Our second worship service was going while we were dealing with this group who responded in the first service.  It took almost the entire time. Finally,  I realized that I needed to be back in the worship center to receive people responding in the second service and I raced back there with my eyes blurry with tears and my heart overwhelmed with joy at what I had just seen happen.  We saw a similar type of response at the end of the second service.  It was nothing short of incredible. The next Sunday we baptized a BUNCH of people, and then more in the coming Sundays – all of whom made decisions on that day. The overwhelming majority of them were adults.  The Lord took over that service on October 17, 2011.

In the years before and since these two days, I have certainly been part of many great worship services.  I have seen many people saved and baptized.  Many others have joined the church.  I have seen the altar filled with people praying after I preached.  It’s been wonderful to see many people respond to the Lord’s leadership over the years. However, these two occasions are different from all of the others.  It wasn’t planned. God just moved.  It was powerful.  It was convicting. It was encouraging. It was eye opening. It was joyful.  We could do nothing but weep tears of joy and give God praise because there was no question that He alone did this.  God took over the service. Period.

I told Becky that I was praying for the Lord to do it again.  Oh, how I long to see the Lord take over a service again. It’s been almost seven years.   No matter where you attend church, let’s all pray and come to church on Sunday expectant.  This Sunday might be the next time the Lord takes over the service.