Friday, April 26, 2013

Why I Love Being a Youth Minister

by Rev. Felicia Fox

Here are ten moments that have reminded me why I love being a youth minister:

10) Having a middle school boy ask me if my name means “awesome.” I had just told my class to pay attention to names in the Bible because they give clues about the people. Felicia really means happy.

9) Having to look at cuts, bruises, and scrapes because my youth want to tell me the story behind them. If it is important to them, it becomes important to me even if it makes me want to throw up.

8) Having a teenage girl text me when she’s having a bad day because she needs an adult to listen to her and she knows I will.

7) Playing a crazy game like Murder or Zoinks that will insure tons of laughter. That’s my secret to staying young.

6) Having a student ask me a really hard question about the Bible because he is reading it all the way through. He even read Leviticus. Those were some hard questions.

5) A youth walking past me in the hall at church and singing a song because they know it will get stuck in my head the rest of the day. This usually happens right before I head to worship.

4) Talking to my students about the new movie coming out only to have them tell me who dies in it. Now I don’t have to go see the new G.I. Joe movie. I already know the ending.

3) Hearing my youth talk openly and honestly about where they are in their relationships with God during our
FLASH meetings.

2) Having a parent share a story about something their kid did that is directly related to what you have been talking to them about during Bible study.

1) Seeing a student have a “light bulb moment” when they finally understand something about faith they have been struggling with.

These are just a few reasons I love my job. Check back later for the list of reasons I don’t always love my job.

Felicia Fox is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church of Mount Olive, NC. This article originally appeared on her blog.

Friday, April 19, 2013

NC Lawmakers Seek to Set Up a State Religion

by Dr. David Stratton

Yesterday I wrote about NC House Bill 494 that seeks to open the door to a state establishment of religion in this state. Using a feature from the earthly ministry of Jesus I showed that Jesus established a separateness between his mission and government. Now I would like to respond to some comments of the sponsors of the bill published in an article in the Raleigh News and Observer.

Carl Ford and Harry Warren, the Rowan County Representatives who filed the bill, say that they have no intention of setting up a state church. They want to support Rowan County Commissioners in a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union about the regular use of specifically Christian prayers to open their meetings. While the motivation behind the bill may be to allow such prayers the actual language of the legislation goes much further. The measure states that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion" and that North Carolina does not recognize federal court rulings that regulate or prohibit the state or any political entities within the state from "making laws respecting an establishment of religion."

So these two State Representatives and the eleven others who have signed on as sponsors may only wish to support Christian prayers at County Commissioner meetings, but the language of the bill clearly expresses support for a state establishment of religion.

However, the language of the legislation would have to go that far in order to accomplish the aim regarding Christian prayers at government meetings. The framers of the Bill of Rights clearly understood the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to express strict separation of church and state.  

One year after Congress approved the Bill of Rights, in the discussion concerning the census bill, James Madison explained why he did not include on the census a question concerning the occupations of citizens. He was concerned about listing religious professionals. Madison did not think it proper to list members of the clergy because “the general government is proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who [are] and who are not ministers of the gospel." No member of Congress disagreed with Madison's reasoning.

So the actual framers of the Bill of Rights believed its language to prevent the government from asking citizens what they do for a living because the question would have to be posed to ministers which was not allowed because the government was not to touch religion "in any manner whatever." This is obviously an expression of strict separation between church and state, and this is the interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by the the body that adopted it.

However, the sponsors of NC House Bill 494 say that the First Amendment does not apply to states. The problem with this thinking is that a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s interprets a portion of the Fourteenth Amendment to mean that the First Amendment is enforceable against state governments. But the NC bill in question says that it does not recognize such court rulings. The problem with this thinking is that anyone with two grains of sense knows the the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law in this nation.

But what about the root cause of this lousy bill: prayer at County Commissioner meetings. Whatever you may think about that issue the solution proposed by the Rowan County Reps is way over the top. Yet, is public prayer at government meetings really a wise move?

Are Muslims allowed to lead prayers in Allah's name at County Commissioner meetings in Rowan County or any other county? Are members of any other religious faith other than Christians allowed to lead such prayers? What about those of no faith at all, how are they to participate in these prayers? I don't know the answers to these questions--I'm just asking.

The response of those who would support only Christian prayers in government meetings might be that the overwhelming majority of the citizens in their area claim to be Christians so it is appropriate that only Christian prayers be offered. The problem with this reasoning is that religious liberty is a fundamental right for all and if that right does not extend to everyone then everyone is not free.  The driving force, really, behind the religion clauses of the First Amendment was oppression of religious minorities in this land.

Baptists in particular were severely persecuted as a religious minority in Virginia from about 1760 to 1780. In practicing their faith they were beaten, jailed, and fined by other Christians when church and state were united there. In response Baptists and others said that church and state should be separate in order that the government would not infringe on the rights of conscience of anyone, including those belonging to religious groups that were not in the majority and those claiming no religious faith at all.

Many would say that religious freedom is best preserved by keeping government out of religion entirely, including public prayer at government meetings. But Christians who want for this to remain a truly free country and who desire prayer in government meetings must make the practice free and fair for all faith groups and for those of no faith, including those in the minority. And I'm wondering how that can be accomplished in a manner that guards the fundamental right of religious liberty for all.

Dave Stratton is the Pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Apex, NC. This article originally appeared on Dave’s blog, David’s Deliberations.

Friday, April 12, 2013


by Rev. Jason Blanton

One of the most common questions I get as pastor of Grace Crossing concerns our worship "style."  I heard it again last week, and it has prompted me to really think hard for the last few days about the answer I gave then - an answer that I hope represents the truth of why we do things the way we do.

"Why blended worship?  Are you trying to make everybody happy?"  That is most common response I get when I try to describe to people our chosen worship style.  My answer, is "no!"

First, the only One we want to make "happy" with our worship is God.  When we make worship about making one group or another "happy," we have totally missed the point and focus of worship.  Not only that, but we know that blended worship isn't the path to make people happy anyway.  In fact, just about every expert in church growth will tell you that blended worship doesn't make anybody "happy," and that the best way to try to reach out to younger generations while retaining older generations is to either split your services into "contemporary" and "traditional," or to simply try to do one style or the other as well as you possibly can.

We do other "crazy" stuff at Grace Crossing too!  Like encouraging children to stay in the service with their parents, even though most American churches separate children and youth into their own little "churches" during the worship service.  (notice I said "American" churches, because having preached in several other countries, I can tell you this idea is foreign to them!)

"But aren't the children distracting?  Bored?  Don't you have to censor your sermons?"  First, we love the sound of children, so if it is distracting, it is only in the best way.  Do they get bored sometimes?  I suppose, but then so do adults!  (hey, I'm not that great a preacher, sue me!)  I do choose words carefully during sermons considering the little ears present, but I don't mind, and I would imagine the folks in the seats don't mind either.

So why are we trying to fly in the face of all of what seems to be "normal" in the American church?  First, we believe that worship isn't something to be "consumed."  Since we are not the focus of worship, we need to look beyond what makes us happy or comfortable.  But beyond that, we believe that the church is best when it is filled with people of multiple generations.  We believe that there is value in a 4 year old worshiping alongside his 35 year old parents and his 75 year old grandparents.  We also believe that those multiple generations have different voices, different ways of speaking to and about God, and that there is value in each of those voices.  Heck, we even reach back for worship elements from generations that have been gone from this earth for hundreds of years, so that we can continue to hear the voices of the "great cloud of witnesses" that have gone on before us.

Each generation brings a new way to talk to and about God, and each has value.  God isn't static, nor is this world.  Progress and tradition in our worship style can each express God's worth and value in our lives, and both are not only heartfelt when expressed by their intended generation, but they challenging to the "other" generations present in the room.

I think an email I received this morning expresses best what I hope we can accomplish at Grace Crossing.  We are considering signing Evan up for Micro Soccer in Mint Hill, but we were concerned about paying for 8 weeks of soccer when we have no idea whether he will want to play or not.  This is part of the response:

it could be really up to you on how much your child enjoys this, as the Micro program is one where the parent is allowed to be on the field to learn the game of soccer with their kid.  You can hold their hand, walk beside them or even chase them if needed.  We encourage it. 

We want to create a church where we hold each others' hands across the generational, racial, gender, cultural, economic, social, and whatever-other divides.  We want to walk beside one another, to run around together, to worship together the God that binds us beyond all those differences.

Is it the best way?  I'm not sure there is a best way.  It is our way though, and even though it may be hard, and even though it may not be the best "strategy," its what we will do.

Oh, and we're always looking for more people to walk beside us!

Jason Blanton is the pastor of Grace Crossing in Charlotte. This article originally appeared on his blog,

Friday, April 5, 2013

Not the Same Ol’ Song n’ Dance

Overflow Shelter at First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem
Photo by Jordan Green, Yes Weekly
by Justin Thomas

A few weeks ago I received an email notification stating I had an unread email. I logged into my email account and the first subject to catch my attention was “Emergency Help Wanted”. This email was sent by a fellow classmate. I quickly opened my email to find out what was wrong. The email stated that First Baptist Church was setting up an overflow shelter for homeless people to come in from the cold weather overnight and they desperately needed people to volunteer working it. At first, I was a little hesitant to agree to spend the night at the overnight shelter, but I could not ignore that push I was feeling to go.

One Friday I went to First Baptist Church along with three other classmates to volunteer for the overnight shift. During the time we were checking in guests for the night, there was one gentleman who asked one of my classmates and I to sing. Out of nervousness, we declined and instead asked him if he could sing. He replied “no, I sang”. We encouraged him to sing and he began to sing a worship song. This man had an amazing voice. It was as if the angels from heaven were singing in the church. Who would have known I was in the presence of such an amazing voice?

A few minutes later the singing gentleman asked me to sing “Falling in Love with Jesus”, and without thinking I opened my mouth and started singing. The entire gym got quiet and all eyes were on me, but I did not stop singing. I closed my eyes and continued singing. After I was finished the singing gentleman asked me to sing it again, and again, and again. After a while the singing gentleman, my classmates and I were harmonizing in song lifting up the name of Jesus. It was such a powerful moment that I will never forget.

After we finished singing, a few guests that were staying for the night shared with me that they are musicians. There was a gentleman that plays the piano, another the drums, and a few who could sing. I was in the presence of men who love the Lord and desire to once again serve God with their gift of music.

What would have happened if I had treated these men as nothing but strangers on the margins of society? The Bible warns us to be careful when we entertain strangers, for we may be entertaining angels unaware. Now I am not saying these men were angels, but in them was the ministry of worship through music that has been lying dormant a long time. All it took was sharing the love of Jesus through actions and song to discover I was surrounded by men hungry for God and willing to serve.

The next time you are in company of strangers who may not look like you, not in the same economic class as you, or not as educated as you, how will you respond? Will you embrace them with the love of Jesus through your actions? Will you share a song, time, food, or will you decide not to follow Christ's example and cast them away?

Justin Thomas is an intern for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina and a third-year student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.