Category Archives: Discipleship

Trust is Given

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the interwoven themes of accountability and community. If you talk to anyone in ministry, they would say that both are essential for having a growing relationship with God and with others. And one of the virtues at the center of both of these discipleship ingredients is trust.

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Living Truthfully

IMG_2755“This above all: to thine own self be true”
(Hamlet, Acts 1, Scene 3).

With these eight words, Polonius summarizes well what, for many of us, has become the motto of the ideal life: to thine own self be true. They epitomize the constant drive we have for individual freedom. To be free is to be able to determine our own identity; it is to be able to define for ourselves who we are and how we will live. At its core is the ongoing quest that we all undertake to live authentically; to pursue a truthful life.

But what does it mean to live truthfully? Continue reading

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Learning to Love the Detour

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Growing up in Chicago, I learned to hate detours. With highways already jam-packed 24/7, a detour just meant another 2 hours out of the way, often in directions that felt like they were taking you further away from where you wanted to be rather that toward it. “Detour” was synonymous with “U-turn”.

So it should be no surprise that when my faith life has hit what I would deem a “detour”, my response would not be stellar. In fact, ever since becoming a Christian I feel like that is all I’ve ever encountered: one detour after another.

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Redeeming the Law

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For most of my life I was not a Christian. Though my family celebrated Christmas and Easter when I was growing up, we didn’t really attend church. For us, life was about being a good person and trying our hardest. Which is why, when someone finally shared the Gospel with me it was revolutionary. It showed me that being good isn’t good enough, because though we try hard, we ultimately fall far short of our own standards of goodness, not to mention God’s.

But the good news of Christianity is that we have a Savior; one who came to save us when good just isn’t good enough. Jesus lives the life we should have lived and dies the death we should have died, so that we – imperfect people that we are – can have new life with God. So that we can stand in His perfect, pure, and holy presence as His beloved children. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our imperfections and our shortcomings. He sees the perfect life of Christ.

And for all of us who fall short, that is the best news in the world.

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Why We Still Need the Church

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“Whoever seeks Christ must first find the church. Now the church is not wood and stone but the group of people who believe in Christ. Whoever seeks the church should join himself to them and observe what they teach, pray, and believe. For they certainly have Christ among them.”

~Martin Luther

There is a popular trend in the social media sphere that has really been picking up steam in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat or Dubsmash. I’m talking about the tendency by many to attack and criticize the church. And while, in some ways, criticizing the church is nothing new, what surprises me about this trend is that the ones leading the way this time around are Christians.

In fact, it is a rare week that I don’t see some article or blog post about the ways in which the church is failing to reach the young, the old, the hipsters, etc. Likewise there are countless “Things the Church Should Stop Doing” posts and top ten lists. I know because I’ve heard the gripe-fests, read the blog posts, and even tweeted and re-tweeted a fair number of them.

But I would argue that while the church is imperfect, that is also the very reason we need the church.

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Taking the “Me” Out of Service

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Growing up, service was always a big part of my family. Even before I was a Christian my parents were teaching my brother and I the value of serving others. So it was no surprise that, when I became a Christian, I was trying to find ways to connect my faith to a life of service. As a result, when I got to college I started to spend time with friends doing service projects and being active in the surrounding community. I was burdened by the question, “How can my faith be an active part of caring for my community?”

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Worship as Re-Formation

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When we talk about worship, what do we usually mean? Oftentimes I think we mean…well…what we do on Sundays.  Worship is about music and sermons, robes and hymnals, praise bands and ProPresenter slides. But this is not how the Bible understands worship. Worship is far deeper and more encompassing than what happens on a Sunday morning. In fact, Christian theologians throughout the centuries have argued that worship is, in fact, an inescapable reality of human experience.

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Spiritual Disciplines & The Classroom of Life

Photo Credit:  HFT Design

Photo Credit: HFT Design

LET’S GET SPIRITUAL!!!

What does it look like to live a spiritual life?  This is a question that I have had since I was young.  Even before I became a Christian I was drawn to spirituality and religion.  I wanted to know what it meant to be close to God and live a holy life.  Holy people are attractive to me.  Their selfless living, their intimacy with God, and their insight into life are things that I desire for myself.  This is why I was so drawn to the spiritual disciplines when I started my Christian walk;  practices like fasting, retreats of silence, lectio divina, and so forth.

In fact, if you want to make any money writing Christian books just write on discipleship, being “missional”, or the spiritual disciplines and you’re guaranteed to have a bestseller.  Why?  Because there is a powerful interest in rediscovering and re-applying these ancient practices of the Church, especially in evangelical circles.  During my years as an InterVarsity staff worker I would regularly take retreats of silence or practice disciplines like fasting as a way of growing in my walk with Christ.  I could easily do an hour-long daily devotion, complete with Scripture reading, journal writing, and praying.  I loved it.

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Who is Doctrine For?: Theology in the Life of the Church

DISCLAIMER:  The following post is rated “Looooong” and may not be appropriate for people with short attention spans :p

This past quarter I took a course in Systematic Theology.  Honestly, it has been one of my favorite classes.  The readings have been great, the lectures engaging, and the assignments thought provoking.  We’ve addressed topics like Christian ethics, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, the sacraments, death, and resurrection.  For an egghead like me, this kind of stuff gets me excited.  I have been on cloud nine all quarter because I am in nerd central and I love it.

However, the other night Jenny and I were talking and she said something that really struck me:  “I feel like you are immersed in this subculture and you’re starting to speak a language that I just don’t understand.”  Her words really hit me.  I had to slow down and ask myself the question:  “Who is all this for anyway?!”  If I’m spending all this time (and money) learning theology, but it is not translating, then why am I doing it?

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What is the Pastor’s Role?

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WHAT IS THE PASTOR’S ROLE?

Since starting seminary this question has been on my mind more and more.  After all that’s the reason that I am here:  to learn what it means to be a pastor so that I might faithfully live out that calling upon ordination.  But what is a pastor’s job?  What’s his role?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have yet to take a course on pastoral theology and the nature of the ordained office, but what’s funny about being at seminary is that there are as many answers to this question as there are people.  As I’ve been dropping in on the conversations of my fellow students it is kind of funny to hear what their responses are.  Of the responses that I’ve heard there are a couple that keep cropping up in some form or fashion:

  • The pastor is the administrator of Word and Sacrament
  • The pastor is the under-shepherd over God’s people
  • The pastor is like a COO, overseeing the proper order and operations of the church
  • The pastor is like a CEO, pushing forward and safeguarding the vision and values of the church
  • The pastor is the lead missionary
  • The pastor is a preacher and teacher

While there is probably some truth to all of these things, what I’ve found in each of them is that they are, essentially, task oriented.  Each of the distinctions describes things that a pastor does, but none of them answers the “Why?”  Why does the pastor administer Word and Sacrament, serve as under-shepherd, oversee the church, safeguard vision and values, and so on and so forth?  What is the goal of the pastoral office?  What should drive the heart of a pastor?

As I’ve been thinking about this, my mind keeps coming back to one verse from Scripture:

[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

~Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)

If I were to sum up the heart and passion of the pastor it would be this:  to present everyone mature in Christ.  And I emphasize the everyone in that verse.  Here is the pastor’s call to both ministry and missions in a nutshell.  We are called to reach all people, the churched and unchurched, the lost and found, the Christian and the non-Christian, with the Gospel message and help them grow up as mature men and women in Christ.

This calling to help all people grow into maturity in Christ is the end to which all of our pastoral activities must be directed.  Whether serving the sacraments, stewarding the resources of the church, teaching and preaching from Scripture, or leading the body of Christ in evangelism, justice, and mission, we should always strive to help people grow in Christ.

Sadly there are times when I think our church’s traditions have fallen far short of this glorious calling.  Too often the pastor becomes the Bible answer man, the one to whom everyone goes with their questions.  And sadly, pastors have enabled this mentality rather than helping the people of God grow in their own understanding of Scripture and how to apply it to life.  I see this immortalized in the pastor-led Bible study, which, in many cases, is simply another sermon before or after the Sunday morning service.  But this is not the only way in which I see this take hold of the church.  I can think of several congregations in which the pastor is the sole leader of all forms of ministry, from small groups to outreach events to mercy ministries.  Why?  Because the pastor is the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” as if everyone else is just a spectator or a cog in the church machine.

I would submit that this is not only unhealthy, but it is unbiblical.  Paul’s desire was that everyone would grow to maturity in faith.; that they would increasingly see their lives through the eyes of Scripture, living lives submitted to Christ and helping others to do the same.  And our role, as pastors, is to serve this end.  This is why Paul writes:

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

~Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis mine (ESV)

This is my calling as a pastor:  to serve the world so that as many people as possible might grow to full maturity in Christ.  This is the end to which I endeavor.  This is the calling which I must seek to live out.

So, as I continue in this seminary journey I am trying to keep this in mind.  My driving question must be: How can what I’m learning be used to help people grow to maturity in Christ?  And it is my prayer that those under my care, whether in my field education church or at my home church, would daily grow up in Christ, to the glory of God.  Amen.

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