Start ‘em Young

In a future blog, I intend to discuss the unique opportunities and challenges encountered during adolescence. I’ve taught on this twice in the last six months, but my thinking is not quite finished. In my research, I’ve come across a number of blog posts and resources on the ages of the disciples. The best one in terms of original sources is probably Ray Vander Laan.[i] Generally, these sources argue that 11 of Jesus’ disciples were teenagers (the exception being Peter). Here’s the evidence;

  • Temple Tax. In Matthew 17, Jesus and Peter were asked to pay the Temple tax. According to Jewish regulations, men 20 and older were required to pay the Temple tax. Apparently, the other disciples were exempt, suggesting that they were not yet 20.
  • These little ones. In Matthew 10, Jesus says “…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (NIV) The word for “little ones” essentially means “kids.” Why would he call his disciples kids unless they were young?
  • The Bachelors. When a boy reached 18, they generally got married. Peter had a mother-in-law (Matthew 8). No other wives are mentioned, so the disciples may have been under 18.
  • Rabbinical Education.[ii] In Jewish culture of the first century, formal schooling ended at about age 15. Some boys would be apprenticed to a trade or would be selected by a Rabbi at about age 15 to formally disciple them. Jesus’ disciples appeared to have been engaged in their various trades (rejected from “Rabbi University?”) when Jesus called them. This puts their ages at roughly 15-17.

According to this circumstantial argument, other than Peter (married, 20 or more years old), all of Jesus 12 disciples may have been teenagers. Obviously discipleship can happen at any age, and the ages of Jesus’ disciples are not critical to any systematic theology. However, this does raise interesting implications for the church. Even if you accept that adolescence now stretches into the mid-20’s (“adultlescence”), these years would appear to be the most natural and appropriate for discipleship. What is typical in the American church is to cram all the youth into a rumpus room with pizza to entertain and distract them, combined with fun activities and short teachings. When they leave for college, most churches just release them all with no plan. After all, their addresses are going to change every 3 months and they don’t have any money, so ministry to college-aged people is not a priority. Jesus appears to have had a very different approach, strategically enrolling teens in a very intense and serious discipleship relationship.

[i] Ray Vander Laan has a Master’s degree from Westminster seminary in Philadelphia. He is a scholar in the area of Jewish studies and Israel. His site is www.thattheworldmayknow.com

[ii] See also https://kbonikowsky.wordpress.com/2008/08/20/jesusdisciplesateenageposse/

Biblical Vocabulary

Can you think in “Bible?”

In college Hack #5, I argued that factual knowledge precedes skill. I used the metaphor of language. You can’t think in German if you didn’t learn the vocabulary. I was reminded of this recently when talking to a student who had spent a year in Japan. By the end of his study abroad, he was having dreams in Japanese. He told me he spent an entire weekend recently watching Japanese language TV without subtitles, just to get to where he could think again in Japanese. I think this is a good metaphor when it comes to understanding how God thinks. What’s your Bible vocabulary?

College Hack #8: You didn’t learn anything so you can’t get a job


A few years ago Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa wrote a book arguing that college students don’t learn much in college. Based on assessments (aka testing), in Academically Adrift (2011) they concluded that most undergraduates at the Universities and Colleges of this nation aren’t learning much in the classroom, but are really good at hanging out. After that big splash, they’re back with a new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift (2015). In this book they argue (from data collected by following up the students they had tested), that it’s hard to get a job in the post-2009 recession era. Paradoxically, young adults are incredibly optimistic about their futures. So you’re doing worse, but you feel really good about it.

Meeting Sheela

In January 2015 I went to India with India Gospel League as part of a team to teach some “young pastors” conferences. I was able to meet my sponsored child, and was able to get the story onto the IGL website here. However, word limites necessitated cutting a couple details for brevity. I’m reposting the full story here in case you’re interested.

Sheela KaruppaiyaIMG_2738

India Blog Days 1-6

Wifi mysteriously works after a week of no connection; I’ll quickly get my blog up here. NO pics because the sketchy connection would surely collapse…

01-17-2015 Day 1; First Impressions of India

I feel tall! 5’7” is a very respectable height for a man in India. Also, Bangalore basically smells like dust and diesel fuel. I predict allergies.

India Trip: Part 2

We leave tomorrow for India, and will be teaching two 2-day young pastor conferences. I will try to post something here while I am gone depending on internet access.


I’m Going to India this January

I’m traveling to India this month to teach a pastor’s conference with three of my friends from church. I may not blog a lot in January, so here is a book review I originally wrote for Church Planter Magazine.Sponsor-Kids2

Gift Ideas for the Frugal


My friends just started their new blog site: pretendtobepoor.com. It’s based on Proverbs 13:7 “…there is one who pretends to be poor, but is rich” and is intended to promote financial freedom and flexibility through frugality. I am by no means frugal, but hope to be one day. It’s aspirational for me; like wanting to be a runner or a published author or lighter (by about 25 pounds to be precise). However, I look around my house and it looks like an ocean wave receded leaving behind a lot of plastic. I am so tired of debris, and do not want to accumulate more stuff. This is a real struggle for me, because too much stuff both reflects a lack of simple living and makes life more complicated. For decades I just haven’t thought about it; too late now! How many hours do I spend each year cleaning and organizing and searching through the basement junkyard for the thing I actually need? So here are some gift ideas for the frugal, who do not want stuff (some also work for the frugal who do not want to spend much).  

Forgiveness, Immortality, and Meaning

There’s a recent Ted Talk by Matthew O’Reilly that has me thinking about universal human needs that immanent death reveals. Matthew is an emergency medical technician who encounters patients who will surely die. Apparently, conventional medical wisdom is to lie by not telling them that they are going to die. The theory is that people will freak out or something. Well, one day he told the truth:

Career Success for Slaves

A number of Old Testament figures rose to positions of considerable power and influence in politics. Joseph, after some time in prison and other adventures, became second in command of Egypt. Moses, originally floated down the Nile to avoid infanticide, was raised in Pharaoh’s home and became a Prince of Egypt. After his 800 mile naked march to Babylon, Daniel was in the King’s court and even outlasted kingdoms. Esther, after being pimped out to the king during a year-long casting call to audition potential wives, became a Queen in Babylon. Then there’s Nehemiah, who was cup-bearer to the King. This did not mean just wine-taster, but rather a position as political advisor more like our modern day secretary of state.