Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

Continue reading

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mark Driscoll & The Road of Repentance

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence. Photo credit:  http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence.
Photo credit: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

This is a re-post from my article over at Made for More.  Made for More is a great forum for exploring the intersection of life and faith and wrestling with the tough questions that are posed by both.  Head on over to their website and check them out.

FAREWELL PASTOR MARK?
This past Sunday Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of the Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, shocked the evangelical world once again when he announced that he is stepping down for at least the next month and a half while the leadership of his church investigates the charges brought against him by 21 former elders. For those who have not been following this story, Pastor Driscoll has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year as he has faced charges of creating a culture of fear among the church’s leadership, plagiarism, and using ministry funds to advance his own book sales.   In one of the more shocking developments of the past few weeks, Driscoll and Mars Hill were removed from the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting organization that he helped start, by its leadership board.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the Pastor’s Role?

pastor copy

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.

Tagged , , ,

A Time Apart

boat-and-clouds-on a lake-wall-inkbluesky

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”
~Mark 6:30-31

With the busyness of moving winding down and a month still before the start of the Fall quarter, I’ve been spending more and more time reflecting on this current season of life.  When I first learned, back in April, that I was being let go from my position at Trinity my mind immediately flooded with questions:  “Why would God call me to this church only to call me away after a year?  What will my next steps be?  What does this mean for my future in ministry?”  It was a time of turmoil, confusion, heartache, and deep soul searching.

The weeks that followed were filled with a lot of conversations and discernment.  That process ultimately led me to St. Louis and Concordia Seminary.  At first this was a decision that was made, admittedly, with a bit of frustration.  In many ways I’ve approached this season of full-time graduate work as just another hoop to jump through.  I have felt called to pastoral ministry for a long time, been actively involved in vocational ministry for 7 years, and had already been working toward my M.Div when this change was made.  Concordia seemed like just another barrier to overcome.

However, as I’ve reflected on where we have landed I have increasingly had a sense of peace about where we are.  The truth is that taking a break from vocational ministry may actually be healthier for me in the long run.  Here’s why.

When I first started working in vocational ministry several people warned me about the dangers of attrition.  Attrition is what happens when, suddenly, all of those things that were so refreshing and nourishing as a church member begin to lose their luster and your own spiritual life begins to diminish.  You begin to notice it as you’re sitting in worship services. Rather than just soaking it all in, you find that you’re analyzing the sermons, evaluating the theology behind the songs and hymns, and taking note of the overall flow of the service.  It creeps into the small groups that you lead as you begin to focus more on group dynamics, facilitating discussion, next steps, follow-up, solid application, and fielding questions rather than discovering Scripture for the pure joy of it.

Attrition is what many people who are called to vocational ministry encounter once they begin their work.  It happens when doing ministry becomes separated from your own spiritual growth as a leader.  Attrition is what takes place when your personal times of Scripture study are replaced by sermon prep, when worship becomes nothing more than something to arrange for the weekend, and when prayer is squeezed out by hectic schedules and ministry demands.  Slowly but surely the work of God becomes more about the work and less about God.  And, for too many of us, myself included, attrition creeps up on us without even realizing it.

With this calm between the end of my ministry position at Trinity and the start of seminary, I’m beginning to see just what a toll attrition has had on me.  In the empty hours of the day I’ve begun to realize how much I’ve missed reading Scripture for the sheer pleasure of it, attending worship just to be with fellow believers and receive the gift of worship, and just talking with God in prayer.  Furthermore, I’ve seen the negative effects as well:  a shorter temper, greater impatience, and a spirit of discontent.  After 7 years of ministry, I think it is safe to say that I’m a little more burnt out than I thought.

Which is why these past several days have been so nourishing.  I’ve been spending time reading through the gospel of John and, as I’ve walked with Jesus through these pages, several passages have struck a chord.

“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
~John 4:14

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
~John 5:39-40

“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
~John 6:26-27

Over and over again Jesus has been issuing an invitation to me; an invitation to come, rest, and be fed by him.  I think this is the reason why, after abundant times of ministry, he would beckon his disciples to come away with him and be restored (Mark 6:30-31).  Too often it is easy for leaders in ministry to focus so much on what needs to be done that they forget that, first and foremost, they are called to be fed, nurtured, and formed by Christ.  It is from the overflow of that relationship that all other ministry comes.

As I wait for the school year to start, I think Jesus has been using these crucial weeks to reframe my understanding of who I am and what it means to be called into pastoral ministry.  Before I am bombarded by readings, papers, quizzes and exams, Jesus is taking this time to remind me that all of this study, all of this preparation, is nothing if done without Him at the center.  This is a time to rest, to be fed, and to grow in my walk with Jesus.  Anything else is just the overflow.

Tagged , , , ,

Decision: St. Louis

St_Louis_Arch

The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…”
~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

Since my post about leaving Trinity many people have asked me what our next steps will be.  After many conversations, deliberations, and prayer we’ve arrived at our decision:  we’re heading to St. Louis to attend Concordia Seminary.  While it’s a fairly simple thing to write, the journey to that decision has not been an easy or straightforward one.  So, I wanted to take some time to explain our decision, but also to give you some insight into what the process has been like for us as a family.

The Opportunity

200px-Concordia_Seminary

Back when we first knew that my job was being eliminated, one of the options that our church extended to us was to attend Concordia Seminary, with the hope that this would help fast-track my path to ordination, provide me with solid theological grounding in the Lutheran tradition, and leave the door open to returning to Trinity for my pastoral internship and, God willing, an eventual call back to full-time pastoral ministry in our home congregation.

But there was a huge lingering question:  do we feel called to the Lutheran church?  After all, I had served in an interdenominational college ministry for six years and have been studying at a seminary affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church.  As such, we’ve been exposed to a variety of Christian traditions.  It only made sense to ask the question, “Are we ready to be tied to this denomination and to this theological tradition?”  Furthermore, this was a question that many people around us have been asking.  There are some in our denomination, and some looking in from the outside, who are disillusioned with the level of infighting that has taken place in recent years and who urged us to consider getting out.  Others, however, believe deeply in the theological convictions that undergird the Lutheran tradition and urged us to stay even in the face of such struggles.

stl windowAt the end of the day, I have to say that there are a variety of reasons that we’ve decided to say “Yes” to this calling to the Lutheran church.  First, I love the Lutheran commitment to the solae of the Reformation:  sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria.  Their high view of scripture and justification through faith in Christ alone are convictions that we, as evangelicals, share with our Lutheran brothers and sisters.  But beyond this, I love the acknowledgement of mystery, the commitment to the sacraments, and the thoroughly biblical way in which they articulate and ground their confessions.  If the basis on which we take part in a denomination is to be grounded in the theological confessions of that denomination, then the Lutheran church has a lot going for it.

But beyond this, there is a wonderful community of visionaries, reformers, pioneers, activists, missionaries, and shepherds within this faith tradition who inspire and encourage us.  Yes, our denomination has its conflicts, its infighting, its politics, but what denomination doesn’t?  No denomination is perfect.  And yet, the Lutheran church also has a rich community of those who are committed to advancing the Gospel and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, Concordia Seminary itself is committed to equipping pastors for the harvest.  I’m excited to see programs like MissionShift taking off as the Seminary partners with church leaders, activists, and social justice practitioners to train up-and-coming pastors on how to reach the world next door.

As such, I want to be a part of this growing community.  But I’ve also learned that it is easiest to build bridges from the inside.  If I desire to be the change that I wish to see in the denomination, I need to do so as one who has expressed, in both word and deed, a commitment to it.  I can think of no greater commitment than submitting to its authority, teaching, and formation by attending seminary.  True change happens in the context of relationship.  Going to Concordia, in my mind, will solidify that relationship and help shape me as a pastor within this tradition.

Finally, and most personally, we have the support and prayers of our home congregation in sending us.  If ever there were ever a reason for a person to enter seminary, my hope would be that it is because his or her home church is commissioning, blessing, and sending him/her to do so.  We have that.  I’m honored that Trinity sees itself as a sending congregation that equips workers for the harvest.  The fact that our church desires to send us, financially support us, pray for us, and maintain an ongoing relationship with us means more to me than any other factor.  Rarely do I see churches taking such an active role in the formation of their leaders, much less investing such care and support in them as they go.  I’m excited to see how our partnership and relationship will develop in the years to come, and my ultimate hope is to return to our home congregation so that we might continue to bless them through our service and leadership.

The Challenge

But even with all of these wonderful reasons for going to Concordia, the decision has not been easy and there has been no small amount of pain as we’ve moved forward.  The truth is that this change happened far more quickly and unexpectedly than we were prepared for.  When we first learned of this staffing change we were preparing to fulfill the dream of purchasing our first home.  We were also putting down roots in our community, preparing our eldest child for preschool, and enjoying our growing relationships with people in our church.  I was enjoying my graduate work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Jenny was looking forward to pursuing her own personal professional goals of tutoring, volunteering with InterVarsity, and becoming a Master Gardener.

iStock-10376306_close-up-tree-pruning_s3x4_leadThis change, in many ways, is an uprooting, a pruning.  We will be leaving behind family, friends, and colleagues.  There are many plans and hopes which, once again, are being put on hold for the sake of ministry, and while the calling is a good one, there is heartache as well.  As Jenny and I reflected on this a bit last night we realized that our daughter will be leaving behind the friends she has had since birth and that our son will return to the area without the connections that his sister was able to develop as she grew.  Jenny, while always a pillar of support to me, is once again putting her own hopes and dreams on hold for the sake of her husband’s call to ministry, a reality of which I am painfully aware.  One of the greatest struggles in this has been the reality that many people have expressed direct support to me while Jenny has, at times, been left feeling isolated and out of the loop on this leg of the journey, not sure what to share or whom to share it with.  I’m reminded, again, that the calling of a pastor is also the calling of his spouse, and just as a pastor can oftentimes feel isolated and alone, so too can his wife.  It has been sinking in more and more just how hard this transition will be for Jenny and the kids, and so I ask not only for prayers, but visible and direct expressions of support for them as they make this transition with me.

Furthermore, we are moving to a new city without jobs, without housing, and without financial stability.  There are still many unknowns and unanswered questions about what our life will look like and how we will make ends meet, even with the support of our home congregation.  These are daunting questions which, for a young family, are difficult to answer.

IMGOne of the themes that seems to come back to us, again and again, is this image of the nomad.  In very real ways, because of finances, jobs, and life transitions, we have always been on the move, and while it is one thing to say, “this world is not our home” it is another to be reminded of it year in and year out.  The reality is that we are beginning to feel it.  On the intellectual level we know that God has and always will take care of us, but that has not lessened the emotional reality and weight of this change.  Never before have I longed more for a sense of “place” than I do now, just as we are preparing to leave one place behind in exchange for another.

So, it is with this in mind that I ask for your support and prayers, not just for me and my studies, but for my wife, my children, my family.  Specifically, I would ask for the following things:

  • Please pray that Jenny and I would find both housing and jobs quickly.  We are looking to move in mid-July, but we need to have a home and some possibilities for income shortly thereafter.
  • Please offer support and encouragement to our family.  This is a transition for all of us, and so my wife and my kids are going to need just as much love and support as I do.  We need your help and support emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and, yes, physically (hugs are always appreciated).
  • Please pray for our preparation.  We have a lot of packing to do and paperwork to file.  Furthermore, I need to prepare for my entrance exams and the GRE.  This will be a stressful time for us, so please understand if we don’t answer emails and phone calls immediately.  We love you.  We just need time to get reoriented.
  • Pray for our times together as a family.  In the midst of the busyness of a move it is easy to allow our personal times together to slip.  Pray for us and encourage us to take time for ourselves in the midst of this transition.

Again, in all of this we are confident that this is God’s next step for us, but we are also wrestling with the challenges of this change.  We appreciate all of the support and encouragement that has been extended thus far and we are grateful to God, our family, our church, and our friends.

Stay tuned for further updates 🙂

Tagged , , , ,

News: Leaving Trinity

crossroads

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps”
~Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)

“Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The rock beneath”
~John Greenleaf Whittier

Several weeks ago I was hanging out with a couple of friends.  We were talking about the job market when one of them made an interesting remark:  “At least you have job security. You’re a pastor.”  How I only wish that were true…

On Monday night the news was made official to our congregation:  due to budget cuts at the church, I, along with two other staff workers, are being let go from serving at Trinity.  There is no longer a pastoral position for me for the coming year.  In the short time since the announcement was made I’ve already received a number of emails and condolences.  Others have expressed anger and disappointment at the circumstances that have led to the present.

So how do we handle something like this?  What is the proper response when the times require us to make difficult choices?  As I’ve reflected on this, a couple of things have come to mind.

A Grateful Heart

First, I am grateful.  Too many pastors and church leaders leave their ministries because of personal moral failings or bitter infighting within their congregations.  For me, neither is true.  I leave this post with my family in one piece, my integrity intact, and the love and support of my church community.  If I have to leave a pastoral position, this is how I would prefer it to be.  As such, I am grateful to God.

An Invitation to Self-Reflection

Second, I think this is a great opportunity for our congregation to do some soul-searching.  While it is true that our church is finally being affected by the tough financial times, the reality is that the reason we have had to make these cuts is because the level of giving over the past several months has varied drastically, with some months being marginally in the black only to be followed by others deeply in the red.  Our lead pastor has commented that he has never seen giving trends like these in all of his years in ministry.

As such I believe that our present situation is an invitation for further reflection as to the reasons why we are in the circumstances we are in.  This is an opportunity for us to ask questions and foster healthy dialogue around them.  I offer up the following questions as a guide for us in these times:

  • How comfortable are we, as a church, when it comes to talking about finances and tithing?  What are our hang-ups and how can we grow past them?
  • In what ways can we better equip and support men and women to be good stewards of the resources God has given them?
  • What does it look like for us, as a church, to model generosity, not only as individuals, but also as a congregation?
  • For those of us in leadership:  How might we better teach, celebrate, and model a lifestyle of extravagant generosity and sacrificial giving?

In all of this, I believe we are being invited by God to truly trust in him as our Provider.  Furthermore, he is reminding us that we, as his image bearers, are called to be generous with what he has given us.  As the Scriptures say, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it'” (Malachi 3:10).

A Call to Unity

Nevertheless, I am aware of how painful going through this process has been and will continue to be.  It is not easy being told that you are losing your job.  Furthermore, as a community, what happens to those of us on staff affects the rest of the church.  Not only have I been wrestling with my own pains and frustrations, but I’ve also heard how upset many people in the congregation are about the news, how decisions were made, and how everything is being communicated.

So how do we deal with these emotions?  The other day I spent some extended time praying and reading Scripture.  It was my way of clearing my head and seeking guidance from God.  As I was reading, I came across this beautiful section in Ephesians:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  “In your anger do not sin”:  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

Note what Paul says:  anger is not bad, but allowing it to fester breaks unity.  As such, he encourages us to share our hurts and frustrations openly, honestly, and directly with those with whom we are upset.  Such an attitude is God-pleasing because it offers us an opportunity to extend and receive forgiveness with each other.  In doing so we reflect the forgiving nature of our Father in heaven.  Furthermore, such honest discussion actually builds unity rather than breaking it, for it reminds us that we are all one body and, as such, are called to work and live together in harmony.

When we do this, we prevent the devil from getting a foothold.  Difficult times like these are ones that the devil loves to prey upon, for he knows he can sow the seeds of discord and strife.  Paul’s exhortation:  don’t let him.  As difficult as these times are, we must not allow the unity of the church to be broken.  Rather, we must learn to interact with each other as family in God’s household, extending love and grace to one another even as we disagree.  Even as we fight.

My hope is that this season will only strengthen Trinity further as we learn to work through these difficult times together; asking for and extending forgiveness to one another.  And I pray that the God of forgiveness and love would receive glory through this difficult chapter in our church’s life.

Where Will You Go From Here?

In closing I wanted to answer some basic questions.  Many people have asked me what my family and I will do as we move forward from here.  At present, there are two options before us:

  • We can stay in the area.  My wife has been interviewing for different foreign language teaching jobs.  If she were to go back to work full-time, I would probably go to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School full-time to finish up my Masters of Divinity there.  If we were to take this option, though, it would probably mean that I would not be able to be ordained in the LCMS as recent developments have prevented pastors who’ve received their education at non-Lutheran institutions from becoming ordained in our denomination.  As such, we would eventually need to leave Trinity Lutheran if I want to continue to pursue my pastoral calling.
  • We can go to St. Louis.  Trinity Lutheran has generously offered to help me cover the costs of my Masters of Divinity program if I were to transfer down to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  If we were to take this route Trinity has offered to bring me back to Lisle to do my vicarage with the goal of eventually bringing me back on staff as an ordained Lutheran pastor.  This route would, in total, take us 3 years (education+vicarage), but it would ensure that I get to stay in the LCMS as a pastor and continue to pursue my calling there.

There are several other scenarios on the table as well as some other job offers which have been coming in (thank you for those, by the way).  We are considering all of them.  What I would ask, though, is that you pray for us to have wisdom as we discern what our next step is.  I believe God knows where he wants to send us and my prayer is that Jenny and I would have open hearts and minds to hear him when he makes that calling known.

One other question that I have received is, “What can we do to help?”  Here are a couple of things that you can do:

  • Continue to pray, not just for us, but for Trinity, that we would come through this a stronger church than before.
  • Pray also for the other staff who have been affected by these changes.  They will need your help and support in the coming months.
  • Come to the Voter’s Meeting on June 17th and be a part of the discussion.  This is a great chance to hear about our new strategic plan as well as to get accurate information about the budget changes.  You can get more details in the weeks ahead by visiting our website at www.tlc4u.org.
  • Hang out with us.  More than anything we just want to spend time with our friends at Trinity.  We’ve deeply appreciated the love and support we’ve gotten from so many people throughout this process and for that I am truly grateful.
  • Be involved in the life of the church.  More than anything we need each other if we are going to continue to pursue the mission that God has given us.

In all of this, I just want to say thank you to everyone throughout this whole process.  You have been amazing and my wife and I appreciate all of the love and support you have been pouring out on us.  I’ll continue to post updates here on my blog as we continue to figure out our next steps.  Until then, I close this post with the words of Paul from Ephesians:  “Peace and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:23-24).

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

We Don’t Need Another Manual

footprints

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20

Flavor the the Month:  Discipleship

If you were to survey the largest church leadership conferences in the United States from the past 12 months, odds are that the major theme of the conference had something to do with discipleship.  From Verge to Exponential, there is no doubt that discipleship is the flavor of the month.

I find this shift encouraging.  Having worked in a mission-minded college ministry for so many years, it is exciting to see churches operating less like corporations and more like indigenous missions agencies.  I believe that this shift in the Western church is a helpful corrective to the insular, institution-driven models which have, for so long, quenched the fires of evangelism and mission.  Furthermore, this renewed emphasis on discipleship and mission is so widespread that it appears to be less a part of the latest fad and more a reflection of the Spirit-driven nature of church responding to the call of the Great Commission.

Consuming Discipleship

However, one of the things that I am worried about is the increasingly consumer-oriented nature of this shift.  Nowadays I can’t turn around without running into another book on discipleship.  There’s David Platt’s Follow MeMike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture, and Francis Chan’s Multiply.  There’s Jim Putnam’s Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual and Greg Ogden’s Transforming Discipleship.  The list is large and continues to grow.  Leave it to us Americans to take an awesome idea, package it, and sell it for the greater glory of God.  (And yes, I did just link all of those to Amazon.  You are now free to indulge your shopping impulse).

Now I genuinely believe that these authors have a deep desire to help men and women grow to maturity in Christ and that these books are not written for personal gain.  However, what I see when there is this explosion of books is a mad dash to buy, read, consume and regurgitate without thought to the consequences and without critical reflection on Scripture and our own contexts.  We end up going and attending conferences with these authors, spending money on airlines and hotel rooms, eating out, eating in, and buying more books, all in the name of advancing the cause of discipleship.  Finally, if any of this is actually applied, it is applied by buying more books, giving them to more people, and telling them to go and do likewise.  The result:  cookie cutter disciples being cranked out by the latest book buying craze.

Now all of that sounds rather cynical, but for the record I write this as someone who has partaken.  I am just as guilty of following this model as the next pastor and for that I must repent.  The reality is that we spend so much time reading and talking about discipleship that we miss the point:  to help people to grow into full maturity in Christ.  And the truth is that we don’t need another manual to help us do this.  Why?  Because we already have the one manual we will ever need:  Scripture.

Spending Time with The Rabbi

What I find interesting about the vast majority of these discipleship books is how they all center around one simple idea:  look at what Jesus did the in gospels and do likewise.  That’s it.  Jesus not only came and died for us, but he also modeled for us how to live.  Furthermore, when he gives the Great Commission to his disciples he is essentially telling them to do exactly what he did with them.  “Go and make disciples…baptizing…and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus makes clear that his intention was for them to follow the example that he had laid down.  So, I think the challenge for us is to set the manuals down for a while and to just spend time with our rabbi.  Jesus shows us how to make disciples in the way that he taught, and he invites us to join in him in that process.

So here is a challenge for all of us:  before picking up another discipleship book or training manual, spend some time in the gospels and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did Jesus help people grow spiritually?
  • How did he help shape and form his disciples as people?
  • What were Jesus’ rhythms of life with his followers?
  • How did he teach, both in word and deed?

I think we will be surprised by what we find.  Furthermore, this approach puts us right where we need to be:  at the feet of Jesus, watching what he does and learning from him.  My hope is that this will be the key to our discipleship; that we will be trained in the way of and formed by Christ himself, and sent to help others do the same.

QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:  As you read the gospels, what have you learned about how to make disciples?  What has Jesus taught you be his example?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Jesus’ Other Role

Image

The following post is a re-post of my latest column piece for RELEVANT.  You can view the original article HERE.

When I was in high school the most common word that I heard associated with Jesus was “Savior,” as in, “Jesus is my Savior.” It was a prominent youth group emphasis: Jesus was always shown in the “rescuer” role, as the one who pulled us all out of our sin and expresses God’s grace and love. So we sang things like, “I am a friend of God,” and, “Jesus’ blood never fails me,” and it slowly shaped our faith.

All of this, of course, is true. But in our emphasis on Jesus as Savior, I wonder if we have developed a blind spot for His other—and equally important—role. 

In recent years, evangelical thinkers from Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost to Francis Chan and David Platt have begun to focus on another name for Jesus. “Jesus is Lord,” has become the battle cry for a generation of young evangelicals who are tired of the cushy, safe, anesthetized versions of Jesus that have been far too prevalent in our American Christian subculture. We are experiencing a renewed emphasis on radical discipleship, in which we take the commands and the red letters of Lord Jesus more seriously with greater authenticity and real devotion. “Jesus is Lord,” the earliest of Christian creeds, is making a comeback.

Perhaps this renewed emphasis on the Lordship of Jesus is a helpful corrective. I’ve seen the frustration of church leaders as they have wrestled with the lack of discipleship in their communities. Why is it, they ask, that so many people call Jesus their Savior and yet continue to live self-centered, morally compromised lives? Why is it that people can praise Jesus on Sundays and then curse out their neighbors and family members on Monday? Why is it that people will give millions of dollars for bigger church buildings and louder sound systems, and not take up the causes of social justice and world missions?

Perhaps contributing to this is the fact that we’ve only glimpsed a part of the fullness of who Jesus is. We’ve emphasized “Jesus as Savior” over and against “Jesus as Lord.” But in doing so, we have told people a half-truth. We’ve told them that God loves them, but forgotten that God has also commissioned them. We’ve told them that they are forgiven, but failed to remind them that they are now temples for the Holy Spirit. We have not remembered Paul’s words: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We’ve allowed ourselves to get comfortable with Jesus saving us while forgetting that He bought us for a purpose.

“Jesus is Lord” is a helpful counterweight to the overly comfortable, seeker-sensitive, consumer-oriented evangelicalism that has characterized too many American churches. It reminds us that there’s no room in His call for self-centered living. He came to bring us from death to life and invites us to be a part of the kingdom He is building.

But it must remain just that—a counterweight—rather than a new emphasis to swing us out of balance once again to the opposite extreme.

Because the new emphasis on radical obedience to Lord Jesus runs the risk of becoming the new legalism. Too many times I’ve seen my own generation gravitate toward a new kind of super disciples. In an effort to shake their fellow Christians out of the malaise of comfortable Christianity, they begin to heap expectation and guilt down upon their brothers and sisters. We begin to hear phrases like, “Who is really a disciple of Jesus?”

The result is that the Christian faith becomes a new list of to-do’s. When Jesus becomes Lord to the exclusion of Savior, we risk making Jesus into nothing more than an angry taskmaster: Someone who is sitting on His throne waiting for the apocalypse, all the while hurling down commands for His people to get into shape. I’ve seen too many Christians crushed by this new Pharisaism, thinking that they have somehow disappointed their Lord unless they are perfectly living out the Sermon on the Mount.

So how do we strike the right balance?

I think we begin by looking to the cross. When Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers nailed a sign above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” Who is Jesus? He is the crucified King, the suffering Lord. In Jesus, we see the Lord of Time, the pre-incarnate Word, the one who holds the universe in his hands, living in our midst. We see the Lord who becomes our Savior.

What we must remember is that, yes, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Yes, He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. He certainly lays out commands for us to follow and obey. But He is also the Lord who tells us that He is always with us, to the very end of the age. Jesus is the Lord who gets down in the dirt with us to lift us up when we fall.

The truth is that Jesus is both our Savior and our Lord. When we reduce Him to one or the other, we minimize the power of His message. And when we begin to see Jesus in the fullness of who He is, as crucified Savior and as reigning Lord, we are moved to worship Him more fully ourselves.

Tagged , , ,

A Prophet’s Life Verse

This week I have had the privilege of posting on one of my favorite blogs:  “Release the APE”.  I’ve re-posted the piece here, but I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out for yourself.

Jeremiah

Since becoming a Christian I’ve heard lots of people talk about having a “life verse”.  Usually it is a passage of Scripture that they feel embodies their own journey with God.  It could be something that they received at their baptism or during confirmation, but whenever they discovered it has (hopefully) become a motto for how they live as a follower of Jesus.

For a while I was unsure whether I had a life verse or not.  There are tons of passages in the Bible that I love, but a “life verse”?  I wasn’t too sure about that.  And then I attended a staff training event with InterVarsity.  During one of our sessions together we were encouraged to pray for each other.  Eventually it was my turn to be prayed for by my team, so I sat in the middle of the group as the others gathered around and began to pray.

Suddenly, one of them said, “I’m getting the sense that I should pray a verse over you.”  And this is what she read:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”
~Jeremiah 1:4-10

I wish I could say that it was a lighting-bolt moment, a moment when the heavens opened and I heard the voice of God.  But honestly, I walked away thinking, “Wow that was cool,” and pretty much forgot about it after that.

That is until I began to transition off of IV staff and into pastoral ministry.  I was taking a look back over my 6 years with InterVarsity and saw a theme:  everywhere I went I was uprooting and tearing down, building and planting.  With each ministry assignment I was questioning old ways of doing things, offering up new and different paradigms, and calling out systems and structures that hindered our witness and were stalling people in their walks with God.  Without realizing it, this verse had become my life verse.

For those who have the prophetic edge to their ministries, I believe that this verse contains within it some important lessons.  But the one that I want to really hone in on is verse 10:  “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  Often, the prophetic calling is described in light of the first portion of this verse:  uprooting and tearing down.  Prophets are talked about as those people who stir things up, get things moving, and critique established structures and paradigms.

As such, being a “prophet” has become pretty sexy in our postmodern, post-churched society.  Nowadays anyone who has an opinion or a bone to pick is a prophet.  In fact, I think being prophetic has started to become a code word for simply being a jerk.  The truth is, just because we have a critique does not mean we are serving in a prophetic way.  Too often would-be prophets have simply absorbed our surrounding culture’s disdain for the church and cynicism toward any kind of structure.  Such an attitude is not redemptive and ultimately does more harm than good.  I say this as someone who has fallen into this trap so many times that I’m a bit embarrassed.  My first two years with InterVarsity I was, for lack of a better word, a jerk.  There was no humility in my work.  I was constantly cutting down what others had to offer.  I was being an idiot.

The truth is, the prophetic calling does involve stirring things up, getting things moving, and critiquing established structures and paradigms.  But it involves something else too:  building and planting.  Prophets are not people who are obsessed with attacking the status quo.  Prophets are people who are captivated by a greater vision of what could be. This is where their desire for movement and change comes from.  It is a putting off of the old ways of the world in the pursuit of the new ways of the Kingdom of God.

The image of building and planting is a powerful one.  Like trees planted near sidewalks, prophets break up the concrete as new roots take hold and the tree expands.  Prophets cultivate the growing of the kingdom of God and, as such, will critique and question things that would seek to hinder that growth, whether within or outside of the church.  But such critique is not malicious or self-serving:  it is always in service to the greater glory of God.

The reality is that being a prophet is hard work.  You can’t just come into a church or organization, spout off your angry platitudes, and run.  You have to commit to the long haul.  Uprooting and planting takes time, patience, gentleness, wisdom, and insight.  It takes submitting ourselves to the timing of the God who calls us.  And it often means that we need to know when to speak and when to listen.  We do all this so that the church might grow, not so that it will be torn down.

This is a calling that will take a life-time to learn.  It will be filled with disappointments and frustrations, difficulties and challenges, hurt, anger, pain, rejection and so forth.  We will make mistakes.  We will hurt others.  We will fall on our faces more times than we can count.  But it is also a calling filled with joy, excitement, and new life as we participate in the work God is doing in making all things new.  That is the life of a prophet and it is a life worth pursuing.

Tagged , , , , ,

What Does the Next Generation Want from Your Leadership?

AND book coverI have been reading the book AND:  The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay for our church’s strategic planning team and I came across one page that really struck me.  It spoke about what the next generation of church leaders wants from the present generation of leaders.  I was so moved that I literally highlighted the entire page, partially because this is exactly how I feel as a young pastor, but also because it is a reminder of what I need provide the next generation as I grow as a leader.  Here is what it says:

“Let me give you a few hints as to things that the next generation of church leaders probably don’t want or need from you:  your building (if it carries a big mortgage), your debt, the unchurched culture’s present level of disrespect and disdain for the church, and your parishioners’ apathetic consumer tendencies.  Younger leaders won’t want our iron-clad denominational loyalties, outdated ministerial codes of ethics, insensitive and unrealistic success measurements, or lengthy academic requirements that make them put real life and ministry on hold for a paper degree.  They won’t have much use for our massive wood pulpits, our pews, our individualistic communion trays, or our choir robes.

But here’s what they do want from us:  they will want your Bible commentaries and some use of your buildings, as long as it doesn’t carry a lot of cost or control over their lives.  Other than that, and a little cash, what they want most is your expertise, your mentoring, your encouragement, and a chance to hear the stories that will inform and inspire their leadership roles.  They want tangible memories of how you modeled sacrifice, humility, teachability, risk, and courage in the face of ecclesial political pressure.  They want to be inspired by how you gave away ministry, prestige, and power.  They want to be entrusted with levels of responsibility that make them desperate for God’s help.  They want freedom to invent new ways of cultural engagement, discipleship, and teaching without being belittled if they fail.  They want you to trust them to know how to reach their own generation.  In short, they want a concerned but nurturing coach and someone after whom they can pattern their faith and leadership.  The biggest gift you can hand down is faith.” (Halter and Smay, pg. 199)

Powerful words to live by and strive for.  Thanks to the teachers and mentors who have poured so much into me over the years.  You know who you are and you mean more to me than I can express.

PS Buy the book.  It is worth the read:)

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: