There’s a place where Jesus addresses “whoever” that pushes hard on me whenever I read it. I read it again this morning. And to be honest, I should probably be reading it everyday.
He says to his disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
There’s no mincing of words here on Jesus’ part. He makes no effort to soften the blow in order to market the message to his hearers. It’s just there. Blunt. Straightforward. Direct. It should stop us in our tracks. It does that to me. . . everytime. And it’s an absolutely terrifying image.
Sure, there’s so much packed into this passage in terms of context and message. But as a youth worker, a parent, and a teacher of parents and youth workers, this passage both directs me and scares me in a very specific manner.
As parents, youth workers, and teachers of others we’ve been given a responsibility that should never be taken lightly. Jesus’ words make that oh so very clear. And if I mislead kids due to the errors of my thinking, my theology, my words, or my actions. . . well. . . it’s clear where the millstone-adorned-neck will take me. This sobering passage gives me marching orders that should result in eager (rather than fear-driving) self-examination on a 24/7 basis.
And this is where I have a concern regarding the state of parenting and the state of youth ministry. . . perhaps even the state of the church. It’s also a concern I should have first and foremost for me for the simple reason that I’m a part of the aforementioned ministry landscapes. And when I think about the dangers Jesus was warning against, the remedy seems quite simple: I must make it a top priority to tend to my own spiritual nurture and growth in the context of a theologically sound community that will willingly press iron to iron in order to keep me on course, corrected, and as sharp as possible. The quickest path to a millstone-on-the-neck is proudly trusting my own instincts and opinions to guide and direct my youth ministry, my parenting, and my teaching of others. Simply stated, I need to be constantly in the Word in the context of a community that’s handling the Word correctly.
Perhaps these thoughts are timely this morning as they come on the heels of a conversation I had yesterday with Duffy Robbins and Scott Gibson as we recorded an episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast (forthcoming). Scott’s a preaching prof at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. He’s written a fantastic book, Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon: Preaching in a Cut-And-Paste World. It’s more than a book about plagiarism. It’s really about how those of us who teach, speak, lead, and preach approach these high callings. . . and how we choose to nurture or not nurture ourselves in preparation to do these things.
We had the conversation because it’s needed in today’s youth ministry world. We’ve allowed ourselves to get so wrapped-up in everything but self-nurture that our last minute preparations result in using someone else’s talk rather than our own. Collectively, we’re preparing less and less. . . sometimes not at all. Consequently, our teaching, preaching and talking don’t flow out of our knowledge of the text and its specific application to our audience. Consequently, we read scripts rather than speak from our own knowledge, heart for God, and ever-growing passions. In the long-run, we short-change ourselves and then we short-change our kids. Over time, we resort to regurgitating the milk of others rather than feasting on and speaking the meat that results in a fountain that pours out ever-deepening nourishment into the lives of those we lead and teach.
For me, Jesus’ words foster a much-needed process of regular self-examination (my words will be listened to and I don’t want to mislead anyone) and the never-ending pursuit of spiritual depth (the deeper you go the more you realize how much deeper you need to go!).
Youth workers and parents. . . go deep and stay on course theologically. Fill your fountain and you’ll be amazed at the fruit that comes from its overflow into the lives of our kids.