Jesus is Not the Best

Heresy?

Depends on how you mean it, I guess.

This conversation came up on campus again today.  I've blogged on this theme before, during the series on Hebrews

The occassion for the conversation? A Large Group series at FIU University Park on the Preeminence of Christ. (Yes, these students loooove theology).

Someone, willing to be honest about vocabulary limitations, asked what "preeminence" means.  The main meaning for "preeminence" is, of course, "a word John MacArthur uses because 'bestness' is not a real word." 

A secondary meaning: "bestness."

And we can talk about Jesus being better: better than the priests, better than every sacrifice, better than the best behaved of the best of us.  But better carries implications.

Jesus is not just better than these, he's not just the best.  He's the only.  There's no one like him.  He is unique.

What would happen if Jesus was just the best?

Give 'em Something Meaningful to Do

If a church wants to retain people in their 20's, she needs to rise to this challenge, made complicated by these three factors:

1) In many churches, the pastor does the only meaningful things
2) Many 20somethings stand unprepared to do much in the church
3) We don't know how to identify meaning in the mundane

The church needs to work on the first.
Campus ministry works on the second.
We can all work on the third.

This third thing - the meaningful in the mundane - makes all the difference. 

Every student who graduates from InterVarsity can move chairs in the church.  But most of them don't want to.  They don't want to waste their time doing mundane tasks.  (And let's face it, because they lack experience, they're usually doing mundane work in their 9to5's)

But I love moving chairs.  I love doing these mundane things.

I love the nuts-and-bolts work because the Leatherwoods and my parents and Pete helped me see that this work matters.  The infrastructure makes everything possible.  And that makes the mundane meaningful.

And for 20somethings who can't do much (or won't be allowed to do much or don't have time to do much), we need to learn to see how our mundane work makes the "meaningful" work possible.

Maybe mundane work is a figment of our imagination.

Is there mundane work in the church?

Know Your Role(s)

What's the most important thing for you to do this week?

This is a more complicated question than it seems.

This week, I worked on a post on the Time Management Matrix for Staffhacker.  I also took some time to work on the book I'm writing with my Dad.  And I wrote on YoSteve.

In my small role as a writer, small activities matter.

Writer. Father. Husband. Friend. Christian. Area Director.

If I'm not careful, I'll focus solely on my role as Area Director and take the rest on the fly.  But if I need strategic planning to do the most important things in my job, planning might help me do the Important (and not just the Urgent) things in my other roles.

What would change if you applied this question to all of your roles?

Use Words to Preach the Gospel

I met St. Francis of Assisi in Mr. Moran's Church History class.  I remember sitting in the back corner of the room and hearing this quote:

Preach the gospel always, when necessary, use words

Isn't that great?

But there's a myth and a misunderstanding in this maxim.  The myth: "You can preach the gospel and never use words."  The misunderstanding: "Non-verbal gospel communication trumps verbal communication."

Myth

The gospel stands primarily as a story: not a formula, message, moral code or way of life.  All those things - formulae, messages, codes and ethics - create curiousity about the gospel, but they are not the gospel.

You can't deduce the story about Jesus from the natural order.

Misunderstanding

If our good lives could tell the story of Jesus, Matthew and Mark and Luke and John could have saved their creative talents for more useful projects.  As I read through Matthew, I'm struck by the details he decides to communicate to his readers.  Details slow the narrative, complicate it.  But the story was necessary.

We like to think that the gospel can be preached without words because the thought of preaching frightens us.  We fear to sound condescending.  We fear to sound judgemental.  We fear to sound foolish. 

But perhaps love can drive out fear.

Does Campus Ministry Rob the Church?

"Always or sometimes or never."
Your answer can work like a lever
To move the Church
From her still perch
So we don't lose students forever.

Always - Thesis

"Campus ministry seems to divert talent from church ministry." 
"Campus ministry seems to disconnect students from local churches."
"Campus ministry seems to cost a lot of money."

That's a lot of Seems.

But if Seems were true,
Let Always think through
Why these talented people
Don't serve the Steeple
And instead collude
With streak-runners in nude
And invite you to join
And bring your coin
Even though
They know
It sounds rude.

Never - Antithesis

"Campus ministry seems to develop excellent leaders for the church." 
"Campus ministry seems to reach students uninvolved in a local church."
"Campus ministry seems to consistently operate on shoe-string budgets."

That's also a lot of Seems.

But if Seems were true,
Let the Never's think through
Why our leaders don't cherish
God's bride, the Parish
And why don't we teach
Those who preach
At whatever the cost
Because they were lost
To value the students we reach.

Sometimes - Synthesis

I don't mean to boast.
But you seem engrossed.
Our work is not through
We've got lots to do.
Why are you still reading this post?

Multi-ethnicity and Niche Ministry

I've been confused, reading after reading, by the New Testament's unapologetic portrayal of Paul's ministry strategy.

Here's why:

I find myself stirred by Paul's efforts throughout the NT to create a multi-ethnic church.  The gospel of Jesus breaks down the walls that divide Jew and Gentile in a way that is so thorough and unusual, the world takes notice.

But Paul starts off in every city pursuing a segmented strategy.  He goes to the synagogues first and focuses his efforts on the Jewish people. 

How does this niche ministry, this market segmentation, fit with God's bigger multi-ethnic purpose?

It's a step.

That's gotta be it, right?

When we forget that niche ministry is a step, a stage, temporary ... that's when we end up divided and divorced from one of most significant signs of the power of the gospel of Jesus: a multi-ethnic church ... and ultimately, the great worshipping multitude that no one could count.

What do you think?

Is all niche ministry temporary?

Two Acceptable Reasons for Niche Ministry

1) Location, location, location

Throughout the New Testament you see churches developing.  Without exception, churches served a local area.

Ephesus. Philippi. Antioch. Thessalonica. Galati. Colossae. Jerusalem.

When churches were planted, they were planted with the entire city in mind.  All were welcome.  And this was controversial.

2) Strategic and temporary training and mission

Throughout the Bible, specific people and groups get special attention for the purpose of advancing God's cause in the world.

This is where Abraham, Israel, the disciples, the 120, and the synagogue strategy come in.  These were all strategic and temporary.

It's so important to note the temporary aspect of niche ministry. 

The end point we're looking for isn't a 20something's Small Group, InterVarsity, Men's ministry, or even a church service.  In the end, we aren't gathered around a preacher.  The great multitude that no one could count gathers around the throne and before the Lamb.

Niche ministry always goes wrong when we forget that these structures are temporary.

Niche Ministry is Not A New Innovation

God chose Abraham.

God revealed himself to Israel.

Jesus called the Twelve.

The Spirit filled 120 at Pentecost.

Paul went first to the synagogues.

And people think that Bill Hybels and Rick Warren came up with the idea of niche ministry!

Maybe the problem isn't niche ministry per se.  If God, Jesus, the Spirit and Paul did it, it can't be evil through and through. 

But could there be something wrong with how we do it?  Absolutely.

More on this tomorrow.

Niche Ministry is Unavoidable

One could make a case that all ministry is niche ministry.

The church we attend and are beginning to love - Crossway South Florida - wants to be "a city within the City for the City."  Not for all cities.  We're focused.  And that's good thing, living within our limits.

You can't reach everyone at the same time.  Segmentation is a consequence of God's generous gift of human finitude.  To deny the existence of limits is to deny our place in the world.

Maybe the question isn't: to segment or not to segment?

Maybe we need to ask: what's a God-honoring way to segment?

Is Niche Ministry Strategy the Heresy of Our Age?

Can you flinch and nod at the same time? 

I can, but I didn't know it until this weekend.

A speaker at the Gospel-Life Conference this weekend suggested this idea: niche ministry strategy is the heresy of our age.

People who work in campus ministry flinch whenever we hear broad denouncements of niche ministry.  And this was the broadest and most denouncing denouncement I've every heard.  So, I flinched.

Is niche ministry strategy THE heresy of our age? Probably not.
Is niche ministry strategy even A heresy of our age? Not precisely.
Is niche ministry strategy potentially hazardous? Very much so.

I smell a Short Series of Short Posts.

Overwhelm Them With Generosity

At the Gospel-Centered Life Conference this weekend, JD Greear spoke about how the gospel of Jesus engages the wider world.

We in the church communicate the gospel and authenticate it to the world, with God's help.  We make it understandable (or at least try to).

But what does this look like? How do we do this?

I was surprised that JD gave specific examples.  Reformed teaching tends to stay in the abstract, wanting to avoid creating new rules and trusting the hearers to make proper specific application.  But JD's drilling down into specific examples really helped me.

One way we authenticate the gospel is through our generosity.

Now, when JD started talking about generosity, I thought he was going to start telling stories about wealthy businessmen buying cars for single moms or about the young couples buying groceries for their neighbors.  And I'm sure he could have gone down that road.

But instead, he reminded us of Paul in the Philippian jail.  Unjustly accused and unfairly abused, Paul had every reason to long for escape.  A midnight earthquake that knocked down walls and loosened chains was probably an answer to prayer.  Paul could have left the jail and no one would have blamed him.

But before he could leave, Paul notices the jailer, getting ready to take his own life, overwhelmed by his failure to maintain the incarceration of his prisoners.

And Paul decided to stay in jail.

His jailer was overwhelmed by Paul's generosity.  It's more than giving.  It's suffering willingly that authenticates the gospel.

If we're going to overwhelm people with generosity, we need to move beyond the idea that generosity is all about giving.  A joyful generosity that's willing to give up privilege and freedom radically reflects the gospel of Jesus, who sacrificed himself for us and for our salvation.

Where have you seen generosity linked with sacrifice?

Is Legalism the Same as Lawlessness?

I had a great time at the Gospel Centered Life Conference tonight.

Tullian Tchividjian preached on the Gospel and the Individual, how the gospel is both the ignition for the Christian life and also its fuel.

One idea that I found particularly interesting was this notion that both legalism and lawlessness are the same.

The Christian life is often pictured as an attempt to balance legalism and lawlessness.  Too great of a focus, dependence, and emphasis on law and rules and you end up in legalism.  That's one extreme.  The other extreme is lawlessness, stemming from too much grace.

But that's problematic.  Too much grace?

God's grace to us is so extreme, so radical, so undeserved, so ... so ... so gracious.  How can you have too much grace?

What if lawlessness didn't stem from too much grace, but from a misappropriation of a law, hiding behind a law, leveraging technicalities?  And isn't legalism, at its core, also a misappropriation of a law, using a law to make you feel superior to others? 

This is how Pastor Tchividjian came to the conclusion that lawlessness is just another form of legalism.

If you start from the assumption that there's no such thing as too much grace, you need another way to explain lawlessness (aka licentiousness).

Is there such a thing as too much grace?

Why Did Jesus Refuse to Turn Stones into Bread?

I love coming up with creative theories.

Here're some as to why Jesus refused to turn the stones to bread when tempted by the Devil, as recorded in Matthew 4 (note: some are more creative/ridiculous than others):

The Gluten Theory

Maybe Jesus lived on a gluten-free diet.  Sure, Celiac Disease wasn't as common back then, but who's to say?  I mean, he took on our frail humanity and stood in solidarity with us.  Even as he shared in our humanity, maybe he shared in our Irritable Bowels.

The Taste Theory

Maybe Jesus was really picky about his bread.  There's a big difference between stone-ground flour and stone.  Maybe Jesus saved his carbs for Nix Kitchen and Garden Sourdough Rolls (which are, incomprehensibly, unavailable in Florida).

The Powerless Theory

Maybe Jesus couldn't do it.  I mean, I can't change stones to bread.  I've never seen it done.  Maybe it's impossible and Jesus knew it.  That would make him a real "wise guy," right?  Knowing his limits and telling off the Devil.

The Solidarity Theory

Maybe Jesus wanted to stand with Israel, to hunger in the desert the way they did.  Maybe he was entering into their history, passing through the Red Sea of baptism, accompanied by the Spirit, into the desert.  The dependence on the Father's manna stands in contrast with every attempt to provide for self.

The Security Theory

Maybe Jesus didn't feel the need to prove himself.  After hearing the voice of the Father - "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I'm well pleased" - he has nothing to prove.  Jesus never seemed to go out of his way proving that we was the Son of God ... he was more occupied being the Son of God.

Want to add a theory?

Anticipating Rejection

It came up again on campus today.

We were talking about evangelism on campus and what it would look like for us to be a campus ministry that engaged in evangelism.  But it's so scary, that talking to strangers.

(But who said we had to start sharing the gospel with strangers?)

The conversation started down that well-travelled road: they aren't laughing at us, they're laughing at the gospel ... Jesus suffered too ... if we really believed the gospel ...

All this is very familiar.  This is how we gear ourselves us to share the gospel.

But what would happen if we experienced a mental shift?

Jesus told us to prepare for persecution, but he also said "the harvest was plentiful."

Why don't we live like this is true? I have 3 guesses...

1) The bad feelings associated with rejection outweigh the good feelings associated with acceptance and, for this reasons, the expectation for rejection weighs heavier in our minds.  So, we overestimate the probability of rejection.

2) We spend so much time criticizing and demonizing The Culture, we can't reconcile ourselves with a world that is hungry to hear about Jesus.

3) Maybe this has nothing to do with a fear of rejection.  Chalk it up to selfishness, busyness or something else.  Do we even spend enough time thinking about other people to worry about rejection?

Why else do we anticipate rejection?

False Gods and Child Sacrifice

As an aside during Andy Crouch's talk at Staff Conference, he shared this thought:

All false gods demand child sacrifice, eventually.
I've been reflecting on this statement some today as I read through Matthew.  The slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 reveals in some way the strength of humanity's desire to resist the reign of God and the depths we're willing to go to to maintain our own sense of control over the world.

It's horrifying.  But it's not a one-time event.

What false gods are being worshipped when children are sacrificed to abortion and unjust war?  What false gods are being worshipped when children are allowed to live, but are pushed to the fringes of society?  What false gods are being worshipped when I'm too busy or distracted to spend time with my son?

Where do you see child sacrifice in our culture? 
Can you spot the false god?

3 Reasons We Avoid Community Colleges and Why Those Reasons Don't Matter

Community colleges represent a unique challenge for campus ministry. 

Walk around your average community college and you'll be hard pressed to find any campus ministry presence.  If you do, you'll be hard pressed to find a campus minister.  And if you do manage to find a campus minister, you'll be hard pressed to find someone working there full time.  Seriously ... hard pressed.*

Ministry at a community college is difficult, but that shouldn't stop us.  And here's why:

1) Lack of demand

Students at community colleges often pop in and off campus.  They aren't really looking for community or for friends.  They already have friends.  And they usually aren't looking for a campus ministry.

It's easy to feel that there's no demand for what we do.

But the reality is that where there's little demand, there's little competition.  Walk around on campus at a big, four-year, state school and dozens of organizations jostle you and vie for your attention.  Take the same walk at a community college (or a recently converted community college) and there's very little.  Just you and students.  A few organizations, but the noise is so much less.

This is a special opportunity.

2) Funding and alumni

Campus ministry staff don't charge students and rarely take up offerings on campus.  We rely on donors and partners, local churches and alumni.

But community colleges rarely have stong alumni financial bases.  The students who get high-paying jobs often transferred to 4 year schools and, if they send money back, they tend to send it back to their last school.  And so we stay away, thinking we can't fund campus ministry in these places.

But the reality is community colleges can support campus ministry.

A lot of community college students graduate and get paying jobs.  They don't spend a decade in grad school.  Why can't they support us?

And a lot of community college students have deep roots in the local community.  Churches send their students to the local these schools.  Why can't they support us?

This is a special opportunity.

3) Respect

This is the sticky wicket. 

We are respecters of persons.  The four-year schools and big universities have money and influence, so we give them respect.  We show them respect by showing up.

And we avoid community colleges because we think they have nothing to offer us.  No one asks us if we're there.  No one looks disrespectfully at us if we're not there.  No one would take us seriously if we were only there.

But God is there.  And he's no respecter of persons.  He's wildly at work on the unreached edges of the world and I'll be honest, I've never seen as much hunger for God on campus as I have when I've walked around campuses where no campus ministry exists.

This is a special opportunity.

What other reasons have you heard for avoiding community colleges?

*One of the main reasons I came to South Florida was because I wanted to work on campuses without a strong campus ministry presence.  Since moving down here, I've been so encouraged to find people with the same heart and vision: Paul, Gus, Danny, Bill ... to name a few.

The Dream Act: Will this influence our legacy?

Thirty years from now ... or maybe sooner ... the demographics of our campuses have shifted dramatically.

Perhaps most noticable will be the large Latino presence on every campus.

Reading Dr. King today has me wondering how history will see us.

Listen carefully and you can hear similar language echoing in the white evangelical church around the Dream Act that echoed around the Civil Rights Act in the 60's.

"We're about spiritual things, not politics."
"We have to obey the law of the land."
"The time isn't right for this."
Now, I never want to compare apples and oranges.  I actually wrote my dissertation on comparing apples and oranges.  So I know how easy it is to make this mistake.

The Dream Act and the American national conversation about immigration is a different conversation from the one that happened in the 1960 around Civil Rights.  I know they're different conversations.

I think the Dream Act, in theory, is a just and right thing to do.  And I think that, if we support it as a campus ministry, it would build a ton of trust with the Latino community, trust that will be significant given our desire to serve Latino students. 

But supporting the Dream Act would confuse and, perhaps, alienate some of our conservative students and Staff, who we also love and value, who have been trained to equate Republican and Christian.  Given time, we might be able to create a less costly foundation for a political stand, but this would require us to sit on the sidelines now.  Is justice delayed really justice denied?

It's a tough situation ... not tougher than the 60's ... but still tough.

But it does raise an interesting question.

When do campus ministries need to go out on a limb on a political issue?

What Else is There to Do, Dr. King?

Every year, at least once a year, I take a few minutes to re-read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I always find his words stirring, challenging, as relevant today as when he scribbled them onto the margins of a newspaper to smuggle out of the jailhouse.

In the letter, he writes of extermism, just and unjust laws, and the challenge for God's church.  In this letter, and elsewhere, he lays out wise next steps for America and the Church as our society moves toward a deeper and richer experience of freedom and brotherhood.

But that's not what caught my attention in my reading this year.

Right at the end of the letter, just before his patient and gracious closing, Dr. King says this:

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

One of the things that made Dr. King so remarkable was his unusual responses.  I mean, Dr. King, there are many other things you could be doing while alone in a narrow jail cell: questioning God, scheming to get out, sinking into depression, daydreaming.  Write-think-pray ... what a way to respond!

I've yet to spend time in jail, but I have (and am having, in some ways) significant seasons of constriction.  How I wish my response to these seasons was "to write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers!"

How do you respond to seasons of constriction?

God is Generous

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. - James 1:5
What do you do when you lack wisdom?

Asking God isn't always my first impulse.  I'm much more comfortable reaching for a book, jumping on the internet or talking to a friend.

I had a good friend who wandered into the Duke Gardens one night, desperate for wisdom.  He prayed and called out to God for half the night, but nothing happened.  After this, my friend's face fell and he went away sad.  He thought he had his answer: God doesn't care.  That was the day that broke his faith.

I've been hesitant ever since to encourage people to go to God seeking wisdom.  Thinking they've found wisdom from God, I've seen people jump into materialism and Mormonism and bad relationships.  But that's nothing compared to the disappointment, the people who walk away from their seeking thinking that God doesn't care.

But God's concern over and over again appears in Scripture.

And it James it comes across blazingly clear.  God wants us to have wisdom.  He wants us to have wisdom so much!  He wants us to have wisdom so much, he'll give it to us himself.  He doesn't make us earn it or go through intermediaries.

And why should we believe that he's generous? 

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? - Romans 8:32

There's a Difference Between Learning and Loving

Have you ever walked away from a sermon disappointed, saying "I didn't learn anything new"?

This happens to me all the time.  Whether it's a book or a sermon, I often catch myself tuning out to the familiar.  And, sometimes, I wonder how I'm doing to make it for another 20 or 30 years without getting so bored I totally unplug.

But since when did being a Christian center around the entertainment of learning?

In fact, throughout God's Word, learning about God and God's story always has another purpose.

We learn so we can love.

Love God.  Love neighbor.

Love enemies and wives and each other.

And if I still have room to grow in the love department (and I do, we all do), maybe I haven't finished learning.  And if I'm struggling to learn, stalled, maybe I need to grow in how I love.

Loving helps us learn and learning should help us love.

If we equate the two, we miss out.

Let's learn and love.

You Can't Do Everything

I hate saying "No" to good things.

It's harder, isn't it?  You can justify saying "No" to bad things pretty easily. 

"If I kill him, I'll go to jail."
"If I don't eat that, it'll go to waste"
"If I cheer for them, I'll go to hell"*
Saying "No" to good things requires a different skill.  It requires prioritization and often subjective prioritization.

This came up three times today.

Meeting with a local pastor, whose church sounds amazing, I had to decline his offer make his church our home base.  We've already committed somewhere else.  We like our church.  We actually really like our church. (Seriously, if you're near Davie, you should check Crossway out). 

But it was still hard to say "No."

The second time this came up was on campus.  One of our sharpest leaders caught on to the fact that Christian students bouncing from meeting to meeting kept people from actually living obedient lives.  There's a big difference between learning about Jesus and following him.  If we want to develop disciples of Jesus, we have to be able to teach people to say "No," even to good opportunities to acquire knowledge.

But it will still be hard to say "No."

The last instance of saying "No" came while hanging out with some new friends.  We were having fun, great, deep conversation.  While we talked, the temp dropped and the wind picked up.  Time slipped away and, before I knew it, it was time to go home.  As I stood up and said my farewells, I didn't want the moment to end.  It was good!  But so was going home, seeing my wife, playing with my son.

I can't do everything.  And neither can you.

Why, then, is it so hard to say "No"?

*Despite my commitment to the Duke Blue Devils, I have no desire for Carolina to go anywhere warm

Blogging as a Form of Spiritual Discipline

Blog for whatever reason you want.  Or don't blog at all.

I love blogging, but it isn't for everyone and my way of doing it isn't for everyone.

I have no intention of monetizing the blog.
I don't spend a lot of time thinking about traffic.
I rarely edit or re-read my posts.

For me, blogging is a spiritual discipline.

Blogging is a regular rhythm in my life that draws me back to God, causes me to turn my attention to him. 

Now, this may not come through in every post.  But before every post, I've spent time engaging with God.  And what I write reflects a facet of that engagement.

Blogging, as a spiritual discipline, has been wildly helpful for me in the midst of so much life transition.  Shifting from community to loneliness, from preaching two or three times a week to two or three times a semester, into parenthood and management and big-city-livin'.  The rhythm of blogging has helped.

What rhythms help you regularly engage with God?

Rejoicing in the Pain of Others

Have you ever watched America's Funniest Home Videos?

No episode would be complete unless someone gets hurt in a way that would impede future procreation.  This always gets a laugh.

We  laugh at the pain of others, at least in the small scale.

But I've noticed a trend, recently, in myself ... to rejoice in the pain of others.  Have you ever caught yourself doing this?

"I told you so," "You deserved it," and "What goes around, comes around" form the language of our rejoicing in the pain of others.

And, as satisfying as this can be at times, from a different perspective it's entirely abhorrent.

A year ago, the world cringed when a famous tele-evangelist made a flippant comment that Haiti deserved the devastating earthquake. He made us feel uncomfortable, made some people sick.  But before we condemn him, let's look at ourselves.

We make comments like that all the time (sans the pactwiththedevil).  We may not always laugh, but we gloat and gossip and look on approvingly.  And although we don't admire this trait in others, we do it ourselves.

Why?

Maybe it's a psychobiological evolutionary holdover from our openly competitive genetic past.

Maybe it's a reflection of our sublimated desire to lash out at others, a desire we're unable to live out because of our religious beliefs and social norms.

Maybe it's something simpler. What do you think?

Why do we sometimes rejoice in the pain of others?

How Did Jesus Do at Finding the Right People?

Find the right people at the start.

Church and chapter planters cling to this idea.  So do all entrepreneurs.  If we can just get the right people from the start, everything will work out fine.

At least, this is what we tell ourselves.

But what happens if you get the wrong person on the bus?  A real stinker.  What happens if you get, say, a Judas?

This thought occurred to me last week and took a huge load off my shoulders: Jesus started out with a Judas - the Judas - but this didn't derail his mission.

Do we really need to find the right people at the start?

3 Reasons Why People in Ministry Struggle with Sabbath

Sabbath rest is commanded by God.

Alec Hill, InterVarsity's President, challenged us to develop a sabbath rhythm.  He gave a couple of theological reasons to keep a sabbath, then jokingly mentioned that, bytheway, it is the Fourth Commandment.  We all laughed.  And cringed.

Why do people in ministry struggle with to get Sabbath rest?  Here are three reasons:

1) Prioritization and the Myth of Availability

The work-life rhythms of the bulk* of people in our country have them only available on evenings and on weekends.  Now, evenings aren't a problem.  Sabbath rest doesn't mean that we can't work hard.

But our inability to engage in ministry during the week has as much to do with us as with the availability of the people we serve.

We secretly believe that work-life should take priority over our spiritual-life.  The value of balance escapes us.  And so, we don't push people when they say they're unavailable.  We don't look for gaps in schedules.  We don't ask people to wake up early or stay up late.

So, we work nights and weekends.  That's not too bad.

2) Our "Real Job" Complex

I feel guilty taking Monday off.  Even after I've worked a full weekend.  Even after I've been out of town, working 17 hour days 13 out of the last 15 days (which I have).

I worry that donors will think I'm wasting their money if they see me and my family walking in the park on a Monday afternoon.  I worry that students won't take me seriously if I'm playing xBox while they're in class.  I worry that God will think I'm lazy if I sleep until noon (which I did).

Ministry jobs are real jobs.

We need to get this into our bones if we're to engage in Sabbath rest.  People who work real jobs get real days off.  And they deserve the time off.  People who work and work and don't get time off are slaves.  And they deserve to be freed.

Some donors might not get it.  Some students might not get it.  But God gets it.  We need to realize that we work real jobs and not feel compelled to punch the M-F/9-5 clock in order to validate our work in ministry.

3) We love our jobs

If I wasn't working for InterVarsity, I would be doing this stuff for free during my free time.  So would most of us.

We could make more money and have more status elsewhere.  We could find easier work to do.  But we love this work.  And time flies when you're having fun.

And when work is fun, it's hard to stop and rest.

Work existed before the Fall.  So did Sabbath rest (God rested).  The Sabbath restriction isn't in place because work inherently tortures.  We need rest even from good work, from fun work.

What else?

Why do you think people in ministry struggle with Sabbath?

Theological Call vs. Personal Call

Theology alone cannot sustain us.

In the Chapter Planting Crash Course yesterday at InterVarsity's Staff Conference '11, the training team shared strategies and techniques that help new campus ministry leap into existence. 

Planting new campus ministry is an art, not a science. Yesterday we were introduced to paint and canvas and brushes.

And it was really exciting.

But it takes more than technique and strategy to plant a campus ministry.  And I knew that.  I think we all do.

We all acknowledge that, although we plant and water, God gives the growth.  Praise God for that!  It's such a huge load off of our shoulders.

But a lot of us move forward on the basis of our theology, transforming our good theology of God's sovereignty and involvement in the work of planting into a Theological Call.  Our theology compels us.

And this is a good thing.

But theology cannot sustain us in the work of planting campus ministry.

We need a connection to God.  We need relationship and intimacy with Him.  We need to hear his voice and feel his joy and be fully filled over and over and over and over again with his Spirit.

And we need him to call us personally to the work.  A Personal Call.

The Personal Call may not be audible, may not be specific, may not be explicable, but it's needed anyways.  We need this sense that God wants us to be doing what we're doing.  We need communities that affirm that we're doing good work for God. 

I still need to tease this out, to think more deeply about this...and I apologize for being so vague.  But when I heard this yesterday, it so deeply resonated with my theology-loving heart.

What do you think it means to have a Personal Call?

The University: Jerusalem or Babylon?

Christiians love to compare the University to Babylon.

Some use the apocalyptic reference and refer to universities and colleges as enemies of God's church.  These people avoid universities and colleges, or send their children to Christian schools, where everyone's a Christian and no one sins.

Others (and I often find myself in this camp) connect with the University as a place of exile: it's foreign, challenging, and we're called to be a blessing there.  Read Daniel 1 or Jeremiah 29 and you'll see powerful and relevant images of faithful, missional life for university students.

Alec Hill, the President of InterVarsity, gave a wonderful talk on this theme a few nights ago.  As campus ministry staff, we're sent by God to bless the university, in the same way the exiled people of Israel were called to bless their captors in Babylon.

But I'm curious about this analogy.

I don't feel like I'm in exile at the University.  Not anymore. 

I've been in the University setting for 10 years now, as a student and a grad student and a campus ministry staff.  It feels like home, and I'm comfortable there.

So I wonder.  Is the University Babylon or Jerusalem? 

Is the University the place in which we've been carried off into exile or the place of our heart's longing?

On Making Mistakes

I'm a perfectionist.

Not a former perfectionist. Not a recovering perfectionist.  A full-fledged, raging, out-of-control, drive-my-wife-crazy perfectionist.

My perfectionism doesn't extend to everything or everyone.  Most perfectionist are selective in their high-standards-having.

Do you know a perfectionist? Are you one yourself?

Making mistakes is particularly difficult for me.  I freeze up, get frustrated with myself. 

There's a scene from the movie Tommy Boy that really captures my experience, frustration bubbling into comic chaos.  If you haven't seen the film, it's worth a watch.

Somehow my frustration over making mistakes connected with my relationship with God.  Although in my head I know this isn't true, in my heart I feel like I'm worthless when I make a stupid mistake.  I find it difficult to pray when I make a stupid mistake.

It's as if the God who forgave rebellion and lawlessness and cruelty can't endure being around me when I've done something stupid, as if I embarass him and he needs to take a little time to cool down and get over it.

It's difficult, when you know your heart-response to something doesn't match your theology.  Difficult, but real.

But something strange has been happening in me.

Yesterday, I missed my flight to Staff Conference.  I misread my itenerary and showed up (in Ft. Lauderdale) in time for my connecting flight (in Dallas).  This led to a day of flying stand-by and running through airports.

But it was okay.  Actually, I was okay.

I didn't freak out, didn't get frustrated (overly), and was even able to talk to people around me.  And on top of all that, I could pray.  For a perfectionist, this is a big deal.

Two things have helped me around my mistake-making:

1) I made a mistake months ago (showed up really late to a really important meeting with my boss and my boss' boss and all of my new collegues) and was received with grace and kindness.  I wasn't shamed or made to feel guilty.  My apologies fell to deaf ears.  And, for some reason, this was liberating.

2) I've been reading the Old Testament and watching God forgive Israel over and over again.  And, as I mentioned already, forgive them for really horrible things.  Somehow, this time, I'm starting to believe God's grace, not only for my sins, but also for my mistakes.

5 Options for Bloggers During Conferences

This is conference season for campus ministry.  I just got back from LaFe10 and am headed out to InterVarsity's Staff Conference tomorrow.  Some of my students went to Impact's Atlanta Conference last week, some went to IHOP's onething and still others are at Passion right now.

As someone who's gotten into blogging this year, I've noticed some trends when it comes to bloggers and conferences.  Bloggers tend to opt in to one of these five options during conferences.

1) Don't blog

Take a vacation.  Focus on the conference.

2) Blog everything

Think of this as the play-by-play.  Set lists, speakers, links to content, notes. (Some folks call this Live Blogging) Go for it.  Share the experience.  Bless your readers who can't make it to the conference.  Blogging is a gift, after all.  Give and give liberally.

3) Summarize content

This is, perhaps, a middle position.  And this is how most pro-bloggers blog conferences.  At the end of the day, give an outline and some solid quotes.

4) Continue blogging as usual

Pretend you're not at the conference.  Hope no one notices.

5) Comment

In contrast to the play-by-play, you could provide color commentary.  You don't have to comment on everything and you won't re-create the conference experience on your blog, but you might find that sweet balance between blessing your readers, sharing your life and processing what you're learning.

Which style is most helpful for you?

Don't Ask Students to do Something You Won't Do Yourself

I don't have a lot of rules for campus ministry, but this is one of them.

Anyone can stand up in front of a group of students and tell them what to do.  But hypocrisy often creeps in at this point.  The brave and holy life is easier to describe than live.

I try really hard to do everything I ask students to do.

And I get really excited whenever I see a collegue follow this rule.

This week at LaFe10, a collegue of mine challenged students to live the brave and holy life.  She talked to them about character and gifting and stepping up to the plate.  She (along with her team) challenged and inspired the students.

Asking people to step up to the plate and take advantage of opportunities is the easy part.  We can all do that, right?

Well...the day after the conference, She had a tough choice to make.  Someone from our team needed to report on the conference to 100s of InterVarsity Staff at our Staff Conference in St. Louis.  This is a great opportunity to be a bearer of good news and step up in public as a leader in LaFe.

My friend had a dozen good reasons to ask someone else to do the presentation.  But she didn't.  She's going to stand up in front of over a thousand InterVarsity Staff and lead.

"Why?" you might ask.  She wanted to apply her talk to herself.

She didn't want to ask students to do something she wouldn't do herself.  That's a glimpse at the brave and holy life.  That's the sort of character God gives and can use to deeply impact students.

Who do you know with this sort of character?

Three Effects of Unbelief...and then some

During his first talk at LaFe10, Ryan Pfeiffer generated conversation about the impact of unbelief.  From his perspective, "the root of the world's problems is unbelief."

This is a huge claim.

And Ryan explained why he thinks unbelief causes so many problems:

1) Unbelief blinds us to the truth about Jesus
2) Unbelief redirects our worship toward idols
3) Unbelief hardens our hearts

On a few weeks, I hope to have links available so you can watch Ryan's talk yourself and really dig into each of those statements.

But after Ryan's talk, I have to be honest, I was a little confused.  What did this have to do specifically with the Latino community.  The talk, even if true, would be applicable and helpful for anyone.  Why deliver it specifically at LatFe10?

We Latinos regularly face the temptation to blame our problems on people and things other than unbelief.  Our problems get blamed on our families, political policies, la migra, corruption, Republicans, unjust employers, societal racism, entitlement ... the list goes on and on.

But what would happen if we dealt with all of these things, but didn't make a dent in our unbelief?  Would our problems go away?

No, Ryan touched on a nerve.  We Latinos feel in special and powerful ways the temptation to look for other sources of salvation besides Jesus.  We struggle to believe that Jesus and faith in him can really impact the world's problems.

What if unbelief really was the root of the world's problems?