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Rebuilding Neural Pathways to the Mind of Christ

I was in Chicago yesterday for a meeting, and one of the participants was Dr. Rob Maupin, a missiologist from Lincoln Christian University ( Rob shared some of his recent research concerning 18-24 year-olds. He said that in this age group the brain prunes 70% of all synapses and neural pathways and then begins to rebuild them. Young adults begin to rethink everything including worldview, values, and beliefs. 70% of what they developed from childhood is pruned and redeveloped.

Now, imagine that a child raised in the Christian faith goes off to college where he or she is taught that the Bible is all myth, God doesn't exist, and we evolved from blobs of goo. If that young adult did not receive a solid foundation of biblical teaching (what we believe) and apologetics (why we believe it), there will be greater likelihood that the redeveloped worldview, values and beliefs will be incongruent with what the young adult believed as a child.

So what do we do about this? Two things. First, we need to make sure we are providing a solid foundation of biblical teaching, apologetics, and Christian spiritual formation for our children. Second, we need to walk alongside our young adults and pour into them as they are reshaping what they believe and why they believe it. Here's a scary statistic that tells us how serious this issue really is: 1 out of 10 people 65 and older are "nones" (non-religious people; i.e., completely secular). 1 out of 3 people under the age of 30 are "nones." 1 out of 3! We have our work cut out for us.

Back in the year 2000 I was in the Philippines for a convention, and I was asked to teach at a youth camp. I expected youth camp to be similar to my youth camp experiences--you play a lot of games, go swimming, have a little bit of teaching and a great worship service at night. When I was told that every student in the camp was selected by the elders as part of an equipping and leadership development process, I knew I was in for a surprise. I received the camp schedule on the first day and saw that the students were taking courses on apologetics, hermeneutics, christology, and spiritual formation, and I was shocked! This was summer camp! Yes, they had fun and played games, but by the time these students returned home, they were ready to teach others what they had learned. The elders of their churches said, "We don't have time to waste if we want to see our churches multiply to impact our nation for Christ." They are raising up an entire generation who will be ready to evangelize, disciple, lead and teach others, and all done from a character that is forged in the likeness of Jesus Christ (servanthood, humility, graciousness, integrity, holiness).

I think we have a lot to learn from these Filipino elders. Let's join together in a prayerful commitment to pour into our children and mentor our young adults. Let's set the bar high in order to make disciples who make disciples. Whether you are 35 or 95, you have a significant role to play in how you live your life for Christ as a person of humility and character, how you pray daily for children and young adults, and how you identify those in the next generation with whom you can spend time as a mentor and friend. And perhaps the 70% of synapses and neural pathways that are rebuilt for 18-24 year olds will be rebuilt for the character and mission of Jesus Christ.

WANTED: Under-rowers on a Battle Ship!

Without question, the Church is a paradox: messy, earthy, and sinful, while at the same time holy, gifted, and united. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised by this, because the Church is simply a composite of paradoxical people: sinful and yet holy all wrapped up in one life lived under the banner of Jesus Christ. And as this is true for each one of us, it is also true of church leaders--sinners saved by grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1, the Apostle Paul refers to himself and other church leaders as "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." The word translated “servant” is not the usual diakonos (where we get our English word "deacon") but hyperetes, which originally denoted those who row in the lower tier of an ancient Greek warship. When you look at church leaders today is that what you see? Do you see rowers in the belly of a warship, or do you see captains standing up top yelling out orders?

Indeed, there is a need for captains to guide, direct, and lead. But that leadership should always come from the heart of a rower. Pastors, elders, and other church leaders are "underlings," "under-rowers," and "subordinates" (Revised Standard Version). Foundational for all church leaders is that we are in daily submission to Christ, which should bring us both comfort and challenge.

Here’s the comfort: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself" (1 Corinthians 4:3). Paul goes on and writes, “My conscience is clear” (verse 4, NIV). The comfort comes in knowing that when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and we are accountable to Him as His servants--His under-rowers--what other people say about us, or how they judge us, means nothing compared to the Lord who judges us (verses 4-7). Criticism can hurt, but our ultimate judge is the Lord! This tells us what to do with anonymous letters! They can be hurtful, but if the writer lacks the courage to share his or her identity, then we shouldn’t take the message too seriously. There was a preacher by the name of Joseph Parker who stood up to preach one day and a lady actually threw a piece of paper at him. He picked it up and read it, and it only had one word on it: “Fool!” Parker began his sermon by saying, “I have received many anonymous letters in my life, but they have always had a text without a signature. Today is the first time I’ve received a signature without a text!”

So, there’s comfort when we’re an underling, because we’re just doing our job, and we rejoice in the gift of serving Christ. But there’s also challenge, because we will be judged by the Lord (verse 4). And so we don’t grow slack or careless. When you pull back the curtain of the church, sometimes it’s mediocrity you see. People are complacent. Staff and leaders are just going through the motion. But our time is limited, and our marching orders are clear. Church leaders are to be under-rowers on a battle ship not a cruise ship! We’re at war with the enemy, Satan, and his legion of demons! This is spiritual warfare, and we all have a part to play in the advancement of the Kingdom of God! So, the call we receive from the Lord Jesus Christ is not a call of status and prestige but of humility and service. May we all aspire to live out that call through the power of the Holy Spirit. 


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