Sunday, November 28, 2010

Message to bullying victims: God is on your side

Recent headlines have propelled bullying and teen suicide to the forefront.

As a teenager, I was bullied because my father was depressed and sometimes behaved irrationally. Not wanting to be labeled as weak, I never reported any bullying to my parents or to school officials.

Eventually, the harassment got the better of me, and I beat up my tormentor, landing both of us in the principal’s office. For me, a fistfight was my final option. Sadly, many teens today feel suicide — or even homicide — is their only escape.

While my bully made sure everyone knew about my father’s condition, his audience still was relatively small. Today, with e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and social-networking sites, news travels faster and to a larger audience. (When I browse social-networking sites, I sometimes wonder if people have forgotten that the “www” stands for World Wide Web.) Also, my bully was confined to the school grounds, during school hours. With modern technology, bullying can be constant.

For many young people, their self-worth is defined by other people’s perception of them. This can lead to peer pressure and other dreaded decisions. The tarnishing of a reputation seems irreversible and so monumental to some that they would rather take their own lives than live with the consequences. Others may suffer from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Experts believe some students who committed school shootings were victims of bullying.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises victims to report bullying to an adult, not to fight back or bully others. It also suggests not to show fear or anger — which could encourage further incidents — but to walk away, calmly ask the bully to stop, use humor if possible and avoid situations where bullying is likely to happen.

The Scriptures tell us God created humans in his own image and “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In the Hebrew Bible, the psalmist says, “I will praise [God] because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.” Songwriter Jeff Slaughter expresses it this way: “I am who the great I am says I am.” In other words, God made me, he says I am good, and his opinion of me is the only one that counts.

It is unlikely that we ever will eradicate bullies, but if young people can embrace this biblical principal, they essentially can render bullies powerless.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Like father, like son? It doesn’t always work out in the ministry

Evangelist Billy Graham recently celebrated his 92nd birthday.

The renowned evangelist has virtually vanished from the public eye, handing his ministry to son Franklin Graham. Since taking up the mantle, the younger Graham has made some controversial statements that show he is not his father.

Succession from founding father to child is common in Christian ministries.

Robert H. Schuller, known for the weekly broadcast “Hour of Power,” turned over the Crystal Cathedral pulpit to his son and then his daughter. Televangelist Joel Osteen inherited Houston’s Lakewood Church and its TV ministry from his late father, John Osteen. Jerry Falwell Sr.’s sons, Jonathan and Jerry Jr., took over leadership of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University, respectively, after his death.

Preachers’ children often are exposed to the challenges of the ministry and can receive invaluable insight from being around their parents. They thus tend to be suitable candidates for succession.

Family-line succession also is biblical. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the high priest of Israel was to be a descendant of Aaron, the brother of the prophet Moses. Aaron was succeeded by a son, Eleazar, and the trend continued for several generations.

Celebrity ministries often benefit from family succession because they tend to be personality-driven. Having a person familiar with the organization’s leadership style, who has similar personality traits, can provide stability for continued success.

The main problem with family-line succession is descendants often are expected to continue their parents’ vision rather than develop their own.

Schuller’s son retired after disagreements with his father about what Schuller Sr. described as “different ideas as to the direction and the vision for [the] ministry.” Schuller Sr. relinquished leadership but never gave up control. The congregation recently filed for bankruptcy and many attribute the diminishing success of “Hour of Power” to the church’s inability to find a comparable replacement for Schuller Sr. His daughter now is senior pastor.

Joel Osteen took over after his dad’s death and critics note that his message deviated sharply from his father’s. John Osteen’s preaching style was more aligned with the Pentecostal charismatic movement while his son often is accused of being more of a self-help speaker. Still, the younger Osteen has increased his father’s flock almost fivefold and developed his own brand.

There never will be another Billy Graham. To expect otherwise may be unrealistic. The challenges of a new generation dictate the need for new leadership. Family-line succession can help preserve the spirit of a ministry, but new leaders should be allowed to bring new ideas and directions.