Leading Change and Creating Urgency

How do you lead people into change?

Campus ministry leaders always have big visions and great dreams.  We have big hearts.  We love God.  But so often we get stuck in these cycles, repeating the same conversations and same programs over and over.  Even though we feel like we need change, we usually get stuck with continuity (or change in an undesireable direction).

We talked a lot about this in our Area Director Training.  And here's one great idea ...

If you want change, you need to create urgency.

I first heard this idea from John Kotter's model in Leading Change, where he says that the first thing a change agent needs to do is establish a sense of urgency.  Last summer, I heard Bill Hybels put it this way in his talk at the 2010 Leadership Summit: "The first play is not to make 'there' sound wonderful. The first play is to make 'here' sound awful."

We often neglect this step, feeling excited about our vision or fearing to be viewed as manipulative.  None of us want to manipulate.

Someone smarter than me should think through that fine line between leadership and manipulation (anyone want to Guest Post?).  All I'll say here is that when you communicate honestly and transparently, people tend to feel moved, not manipulated.

In Acts 2, God and Peter created a sense of urgency in the crowd.  People gathered to Jerusalem from all over the world found themselves saying "What shall we do?" as Peter talked about the resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Staying put didn't feel like an option.  Waiting didn't feel like an option.

Where have you seen someone master the art of creating urgency?

The Leader Interprets

The leader interprets what's happening.

We saw this really clearly as we studied Acts 2 together this week.  In one swoop, the Holy Spirit descends on the gathered believers and empowers them for mission.  A crowd begins to gather, everyone looking for interpretation for what's happening.  Curiousity is swelling.  What will happen?

Interpretation.

Some start interpreting away the work of the Holy Spirit.  "Those folks speaking in tongues ... they're just drunk and babbling."  This interpretation could create distance between them and this strange, unusual work of God.  But it didn't spread.

Have you ever wondered why the "they're just drunk" interpretation didn't squelch the move of God at Pentecost?  Probably not, if you've ever read Acts 2.  Because Peter gets up ...

Peter provides another interpretation of what's going on.  "These people aren't drunk, as you suppose.  It's only 9 in the morning!  This is what the prophet Joel promised ... ".

Peter's interpretation of what was happening won out for three reasons: it better explained what was happening, it was kinder and more generous, and it resonated with the curiousity of the crowd.

As leaders, we need to become excellent interpreters of the world around us. 

"That 'No' you heard for your funding request was actually a 'Not Now'"
"That conflict with your student leader means he understands how you're challenging him"
"That prayer that doesn't seem answered ... look at it this way ..."

Great leaders provide clear, generous, compelling interpretations of the ministry.

Where do you need to provide some interpretation?

Will I Ever Not Be New?

Have you ever been "the new guy" or "the new gal"?

I'm at InterVarsity's New Area Director Training this week up in Madison, WI.  InterVarsity spends a lot of time investing in us as Staff.  In a job with low pay and huge pressure, these perks mean a lot.  And training feels like a perk.

I've been "the new guy" all year.  I don't know my way around the Division or the Region.  The rhythms are new, expectations surprising and culture different.  I've fumbled and stumbled my way through it and Jesus has done some amazing things for my Staff and for our students.

Being new has some benefits.  When you're new, you can create change much easier.  You have permission to make mistakes.  People listen to you as an inside-outside voice.

But being new also carries costs.  Keeping up with the new culture can be exhausting.  Frustration can set in.  You get tired of feeling like an outsider (because, let's face it, the insider-outsider is still treated like an outsider).  And you get tired of feeling like the bar is lowered, like your success is due more to low expectations than high performance.

While we're waiting for the "new" label to wear off, we have to remain patient, have to endure, have to keep moving forward.  And we must remember that this is practice, for one day God will make all things new.

What does it feel like to be "the new guy" or "the new girl"?

6 Steps to Build a Funding Team for Short Term Missions

This is the fourth post in a 4 post series on Fundraising for Short Term missions.  The previous posts introduced the topic and presented 3 Reasons We Avoid Fundraising for Short Term Missions and 3 Reasons to Fundraise for Short Term Missions.

We've seen the Why, now to the How.

Getting started is the hardest part.  For many of us, if we've committed to raising funds, we just send out a newsletter or, if we're a little more technologically saavy, an e-mail or a Facebook post.  But this rarely works.

What we need is a paradigm shift and a process.

The Paradigm Shift

You are not raising money.  That's not enough.  It wouldn't be enough to just get the money.  Rob a 7-Eleven.  The money isn't the goal.  You're looking for something more.  We need to shift our thinking.

We aren't raising money, we're building a Funding Team.  You don't want donors, you want investors.  If people's hearts follow their money, you want to make sure you create space for hearts as well as dollars.

Making this paradigm shift - from money to team - does three things:
  1. Making the shift removes some of the tensions
  2. Making the shift amplifies the impact
  3. Making the shift brings in more money
Don't just raise up funds, raise up a funding team.

A 6 Step Process (that won't remove the fear, but will make it easier)

1) Commit to the process, not the outcome

God controls the outcome.  Our job is to be faithful.  Faithfulness is success.  This is a rule for ministry of every kind: evangelism, discipleship, preaching, missions ... even fundraising.  We don't control the outcome. 

When we fixate on the outcome, we become desperate and are tempted to manipulation.  Fear and guilt become levers we're motivated by in our fundraising.  And we fail.  Don't do this!  Commit to the process.

2) Pray

If you're going to be asking people to get behind you, to come on your team and to support you by funding your trip, ask God first.  This is low-hanging fruit.  No one loves you more than God, affirms you more than God, holds unconditional positive regard toward you more than God.  He is the one person whom, when you ask, nothing in the relationship is tense or risked.

And He provides.

3) Identify

Who are you going to ask?  Think broadly.  Be generous in your estimation and expect people to be generous.  Don't discredit people who can only give small gifts.  Don't decide for them whether or not their going to give.  Give them an opportunity.

Who are 5 people that come to mind that you could ask to join your team?

4) Notify

Don't jump straight to asking.  Give people a heads up.  Let them know what you're going to be doing and that you're going to ask them to join your funding team.  Here's a sample of simple notification ...
I'm trying to go to Haiti to serve orphans in a month and I'm really excited about it.  I'll give you a call this weekend to tell you more about the trip and see if you want to help me make it happen.
That heads up removes awkwardness for them (Why are they calling?) and for you (How do I bring it up?).

Here're 6 ways to notify:
  • Paper newsletter
  • E-mail
  • Facebook message
  • Text message
  • Announcement at Small Group
  • Tell your Mom (she'll be so proud, she'll pass the word)
5) Ask

Do this in person if possible.  Over the phone is okay, but awkward.  You have to wade through silences and give people space to think.  Make sure people know what you're going to do (build wells) and where you're going to do it (orphanage in Haiti) and why (the kids are at risk for disease because they can't get clean water).  Feel free to share the total amount you need, but don't feel like you need to explain where every penny goes unless they ask (and then be prepared).  Don't hesitate to suggest an amount ($200 or whatever you can do) ... this helps people know you aren't asking them to bankroll the whole trip.  Make sure you know how they can give (and whether their gift is tax-deductible).

Whew.

And while you're asking ...

I put the money part first, but remember, you're building a team.  Talk with them about how they might pray for your trip, supplies they might provide, ways they can follow your progress.  Do the hard extra work to really include them.

6) Report

If you can't or won't do this, don't raise funds.  People have to see how the trip went.  They need to know that their generosity and sacrifice meant something.  They need to hear stories and see pictures.  Don't keep all the joy to yourself.

And if you do this, they're more likely to go on a trip in the future and more likely to give to missions work in the future.  A lot of us don't give to missions because we feel like we're giving into a black hole, throwing our money away.

What steps would you add?  Would this help you?

3 Reasons to Fundraise for Short Term Missions

In yesterday's post, I explored some of the reasons we resist fundraising for short term missions trips: fundraising feels uncomfortable, unnecessary and impossible. But digging beneath these reasons, we uncover - rather reasons to resist fundraising - reasons fundraising amplifies the impact of our trips.

Let's take them one-by-one ...

1) Fundraising feels uncomfortable ... but remember the people


Short term missions, by their very nature, put us in situations where we feel uncomfortable. We experience exhaustion, strange food, cultural dissonance and even ... let's say ... bathroom issues. And why do we do it?

Discomfort is a price we pay for incarnation, for connection. We want a real connection with the real people we are travelling to serve. And think about those people.

For many of the people we serve when we engage in short term missions, our temporary experience of discomfort, our suffering, is their daily life.

We resist asking for help and money even as we bring help and money. We're ashamed to be dependent, vulnerable ... how do we think the locals feel?

Fundraising helps you enter into their experience, grow in your understanding. And it may allow you to have a bigger impact. The extra money could be put to good use. Your experience may give you extra patience with the people you're serving, more insight into the Giver-Receiver dynamic.

2) Fundraising feels unnecessary ... but remember yourself

One of the people most helped by short term missions is the person who goes.  I've been deeply shaped and challenged through my experiences in Costa Rica, New York City, DC and Bequia.  My view of community, the church, God's mission, poverty ... these all reflect my experiences in short term missions.

Challenging our view of money is one factor in these trips.  Our money ... so we're told ... is ours.  No one else has a claim to it.  Not the government.  Not our neighbor.  It's ours to give as we choose.  This cultural story about money collapses when we engage in short term missions and we're brought face-to-face with people who don't have much but are still called "Blessed" by the Lord (for more on this, check out this post).

If you knew that God was going to remold your view of money, what better way to get the ball rolling than fundraising?  Break the "what's mine is mine" line by asking someone to give generously to benefit someone else.  Once you've asked someone else to give generously, you're more likely to give generously yourself.  And if you're already giving generously, maybe asking someone else is your next, challenging step.

3) Fundraising feels impossible ... but remember the church

Short term missions without fundraising splits the church.  There.  I've said it.  I hesitated to, but it's true.  How can a church truly be united if 10% of the church has this powerful, formative experience and everyone else is left out?

Now, some might say that the rest of the church can pray.  And they're right.  But they won't.  Jesus says that "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:21).  And I would apply that passage in this way in this case: if you won't give money toward a trip, you won't really pray.  And I mean "really pray."  You may pray at a formal meeting or once when the team crosses your mind, but powerful intercessory prayer always follows some sort of investment.

The gifts may be small (some people don't have much to give), but if you want the whole church to be impacted by the trip, the church needs to invest in the trip financially (and here I mean each individual in amounts large or small, not the missions committee).

And when people have given, they're a part of the trip.  They can look at that running water in the orphanage and know they helped make that happen.  They can hear the stories and know they helped people go.  They have a share.  And it's beautiful! (In this way, God, who gives us everything we have, has a share in all our generosity)

I know these are controversial ideas and unusual applications ... incarnation, leverage, investment ... but they've helped me.

What do you think are good reasons to fundraise for short term missions?

3 Reasons We Avoid Fundraising for Short Term Missions

For many of us, when we make the decision to go on a short term missions trip, we've already figured out how we're going to pay for it.  We'll use savings, divert vacation money, put off large purchases, ask our parents.  Fundraising isn't on our radar.

Not only is fundraising not on our radar, we resist the suggestion that we should fundraise for short term missions.  Faces turn red.  Brows furrow.  Beads of sweat begin to form.

I did some digging into my own resistance a few years ago when Amy and I went on a short term missions trip to Bequia (a small island in the Caribbean).  And I was surprised by what I found.

Here are three of the reasons I was dodging fundraising for a short term missions trip:

1. Fundraising felt unnecessary

We had money in the bank and never took vacations.  Double income no kids.  We could pay for the trip ourselves.  It felt greedy, skeezy to fundraise a portion of our trip.

2. Fundraising felt uncomfortable

Asking people for money without giving them something in return is always uncomfortable.  We live in a reciprocal economy.  There's no such thing as a free lunch.  And asking for money opens you up to awkward questions (Why don't you just send money instead of going?  Why is the trip so expensive?  Why don't you have your own money?).

3. Fundraising felt impossible

We already fundraised as a part of our campus ministry work.  And we felt like we'd already asked everyone we knew to help us serve as missionaries to the campus.  And so many of our friends seemed strapped for cash.

What other reasons could you think of to avoid fundraising for short term missions?

Short series: Fundraising for Short Term Missions

Every summer Christians all over America participate in short term mission.  Going for a week or two to another place, they try to make the world a better place.  We love short term missions.

And fundraising may or may not be a part of them.

I had the opportunity to do a short training last week for the summer missions teams of West Pines Community Church and Crossway Church.  These churches are sending teams to Haiti and Guatemala in partnership with local ministries.  Last year they provided clean drinking water for an orphanage and built relationships with the kids.  Stuff like that.

Amy and I can't go on the trips, but we wanted to help however we could.

And I do a lot of fundraising.  So I pulled together this short training.  Covering why and how we fundraise for short term missions.  The training was challenging, but worth doing.

Here's the plan:
  • 3 Reasons We Avoid Fundraising for Short Term Missions
  • 3 Reasons To Fundraise for Short Term Missions
  • 6 Steps to Build a Funding Team for Short Term Missions
Check this series out if ...
  • You want to do short term missions
  • Your church does short term missions and you get requests from missionaries
  • You want to understand a little more about how InterVarsity does fundraising
What comes to mind when you think about fundraising?

Leaving the land of silence

People react to stress and strain in different ways.  I react with my voice, or lack thereof.

As stress increases, I talk more and more ... until stress reaches a certain point ... and then I shut up and shut down.  I don't notice I'm doing it, but it happens every time.

But what's on the other side of the silence?  Anger perhaps?  Reasoned speech?  Prayer?  Nothing?

There's this great line in Psalm 94.  I ran across it today:
If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
I feel like this somedays, on hard days.  I feel like my soul is being slowly dragged, ferried across the river into the land of silence, to live there forever.  Have you ever been to the land of silence?  It isn't a dark place, though it is lonely.  Safe, right?  But isolated.

God calls us away from the land of silence, but through the valley of the shadow of death.  The invitation to settle in to the land of silence never goes away.  But God is our consistent help, calling us into prayer, reasoned speech, even anger ... connection and communion.

At the speech of God, the cosmos leaps into existence.  Speech is powerful.  Silence, like darkness, absence.  The soft, loud, musical words of God draw forth echoes in us.  Prayer and worship.  Witness and fellowship.  Not silence.

Who do you know that needs to be called out of the land of silence?

Parenting through the fear

As a first-time parent, I've felt a lot of fear.  Kids enter the world fragile.

Will normally snores, like both of his parents.  One night, I woke up and didn't hear anything.  I sprang out of bed and over to his basinet, trying to balance the panic at not hearing him breathe with the desire to not wake him. A hand on his back - rise, fall - and I knew he was ok.

Every night, when I'm home, I walk into Will's room before I go to bed.  I keep the lights off and tiptoe so I don't wake him.  Standing by his bedside, I feel love ... and responsibility.

Even though parenting provokes fear, Will needs me.

Biologists tell us we have three options when faced with fear: fight or flight or freeze.  When faced with the fear of parenting my commitment to my marriage keeps me from taking the flight option.  If I walked out of the house, Amy would kill me.  But the freeze option ... that's harder to avoid.

Freeze and maybe the fear will go away.  Maybe someone else will pick up the crying baby, play with the baby when you're exhausted, change the baby.  And Amy often does.  She moves forward ("fight") when I freeze.  But Will needs a Dad.  And so I try to move forward too.

Parents, how do you parent through the fear? Sons and daughters, what difference would it make if we knew our parents were afraid, at times, when we were growing up?

Mentoring Men

One of the highlights of my work is mentoring men. 

Guys struggle to know what it really means to be a man.  Guns, sports and cigars?  Success?  Leadership?  A decade ago, Christian guys were camping in the woods with swords, trying to figure out what it means to be a man.  Today, they're fighting over the meaning of "kephale."

I get to help.

I get to help college guys figure out how to live in the world as men.  And even better, as Christians. 

Mentoring doesn't have to be the core of my job.  There's a way to do campus ministry without mentoring.  Focus on systems.  Training events.  Great strategy.  You can build a big group, see students follow Christ, do some great ministry without ever mentoring someone.

But why would you?

Here're two great reasons to mentor...

1) Filling the gaps from childhood

So many guys missed something growing up.  Parents can't pass on everything.  For me, it was practical around-the-house kind of stuff.  Mowing the lawn.  Plumbing.  For other guys it's how to show respect, how to learn, how to keep your word.

We've all heard the myth that parents can teach their kids anything and everything.  And it's just not true.  Parenting overwhelms us.  There's so much we don't know or don't know how to pass on or forget.  Spend time with 20somethings and you'll see gaps left by parents, even from the best and most intentional parents. 

2) Providing a new pattern

Our theology tells us that even the best parents have been broken by sin.  Their best parenting and best intentions fall short.  They may try to image God to us, but their image is a broken image, shattered (even so slightly).

Quality mentoring helps us create new narratives and scripts, correcting elements that we inherited broken.  Sometimes this involves correcting expectations, reframing "wrong" to "different," pushing for forgiveness and reconciliations, listening and praying for healing.

Can you see how this would have a big impact on young men?

Happy Anniversary

Amy and I have been married for 5 years today. 

We're going to go out an celebrate, to mark the day.  But today is a day pretty much like everyday.  I'm working.  Amy took Will on a playdate with a friend.  The dogs get walked, the trees get watered and the diapers ... they get changed.

What makes today special?

Nothing.

At least, nothing necessarily.  Today is special for me and for Amy, but not for everyone.  Today is special because of our specific histories.  Today is special for us, in part, because it's not special for anyone else.

We could choose not to celebrate our anniversary.  Last year, we went to see the A-team movie ... more of a date night than an anniversary celebration.  And this is a fine option.

But anniversaries provide special opportunities ... opportunities to look back and to look forward.  To connect.

And this isn't just true for marriage anniversaries.  In InterVarsity, we celebrate folks who have served students for 5 years (and 10 and 15 and so on ... ).  The anniversary is an excuse, an excuse to say "Thanks" and remember past accomplishments and to talk about the future.

What's been your best anniversary experience?

Help in relationships

Playing the groomsman last week brought back lots of great memories ... and presented challenges.

Groomsmen have lots of responsibilities.  We wear tuxes and make sure the dance floor is full.  We throw a bachelor's party and help the groom prepare for the wedding and the wedding night.  We play pranks.

But what happens when the wedding's over?

One way of looking at a wedding is as if we're gathering people to commit to supporting us in our marriage.  Their presence signifies their approval.  Their gifts show their blessing.  They stand with us.

In this way, a wedding is a lot like a baptism.  In a baptism, the church says "we see what looks like real faith" and "we want to help you follow Jesus."  The church stands with us through our baptism.

Standing with us may imply a responsibility for accountability and discipline.  It may come with financial burdens.  It may require sacrifice and discomfort.  But we ask ... expect ... the church to stand with us.  And, as the church, we stand with our friends.

What sort of help should we expect from the church in our relationships?
What sort of help should we expect to give to our friends?

Thus endeth this relationship series ... thanks for sticking in there!

Bodies, Community and Relationship Stories

Bodies appear all around the story of Christian theology.  Have you ever noticed this?

The church is a body and we are the parts.  Eyes, ears, limbs.  We are different from each other but connected to each other.  This union between members of the church has implications for the story we tell about about romantic relationships.

I've written about this a little bit in the Humble Accountability series.  What I do influences you too ... and the opposite is true, true enough to spark rhymes, inspire.

Our theology of the body of Christ means that we already have a web of deep relationships.  The pursuit of romantic relationships out of a story of lack and incompleteness ... that should be foreign to us.  We are complete in Christ, complete in his church.  Singleness is an option.

In the same way, our theology of the body of Christ means we have the potential to be in deep relationship despite our brokenness and despite the sinfulness in our partners.  Even though the stories we hear around marital union make it sound impossible, if the church is possible, so is marriage.

The community of Christ reshapes our relational narratives.

Where do you see stories that need reshaping?

Were you set up?

If it's okay to wave the red flag when a relationship seems unwise, what do you do when you think it would be a-mazing?  We've all had friends who we thought would be perfect for each other.

This is one place where the cultural distance between the biblical authors and our present day really pops.  Arranged marriages seemed so normal.  But not any more!

Many singles hate being set up because it communicates ...
  • There's something wrong with you because you're not married
  • You can't find someone on your own
  • Leave us alone, Ms. Thirdwheel!
Others like being set up for these reasons ...
  • There's less work involved if you don't do the asking
  • We're gonna support you in this
  • I'm free to walk away
Brokenness is scattered all around relationships.  And this brokenness isn't constrained to romantic relationships.  We struggle to trust our friends and family.  We struggle to know "what to do with" our single friends.  We want to help.  We want to be left alone.  We don't know what we want.

What's been your experience with setting up?

Who's got the eye?

Love is blind.  Marriage isn't.

In ancient Greek mythology, the Graeae passed around one eye.  Three sister, one eye between them.  Lots of opportunity for fighting and comedy.  And this is kind of what we do.

When our friends start dating, hormones course through their veins and the sparkles of attraction make it impossible to see straight.  Cupid's arrows wound and cripple, even as they fill us with the courage to move forward into relationships.  And this blindness reveals why we need Christian friends as we move into relationships.

It takes a good friend to tell us a relationship is unwise.  It takes a good friend to wave a red flag.  It takes a good friend to be honest about what they think (see Proverbs 27:6).

We don't have to agree with them, but it helps us to know what they think.

Do we have an environment where this kind of input is encouraged, valued?

Can you be a Christian wingman?

Scott and Margarette married yesterday. Amy, Will and I drove up for the wedding and had a really great time.

One of the highlights was serving as a groomsman. Scott's friends started to become my friends as we pranked, prayed and partied the evening away. During the evening, I encountered the title question.

One of the aforementioned groomsmen, a handsome and single fella, started talking to a bridesmaid on the edge of the dance floor. My instincts told me he was about to ask her to dance when ... out of nowhere ... another bridesmaid joined their conversation, talked for a few moments, then led the first woman away. My new friend flopped down in a chair next to me and confirmed my suspicions ... he was, indeed, "making a move."

What's my role in all this?

I could have intervened: asking the interloping bridesmaid to dance, inserting myself into the circle and providing conversational ballast, creating a distracting scene and giving my groomsman buddy one more chance to ask the woman to dance. You know, wingman stuff.

Can a Christian be a wingman with a clear conscience?

Short series! What's the role of Christian friends in romantic relationships?

Book Review: We're in this Boat Together

I love business books.  I've read everything by Patrick Lencioni, books about moving cheese, even an attempt to describe The Greatest Salesman in the World.

For a recent training meeting, I was asked to read We're in This Boat Together by Camille Bishop.  The book is based on her doctoral dissertation and focuses on generational identity and leadership change.  It's a quick read (4-5 hours) and delivers the data in a fun and well-packaged fiction narrative.

I would recommend reading it if ...
  • You've never really thought about generational identity and how different generations differ in leadership style and corporate presence
  • You enjoy fiction and learn well through story telling
  • You haven't yet read Emerging Hope or The Leadership Jump by Jimmy Long (he covers most of the same material in his books, with a little more depth and a little more ministry focus)
Some of her key insights ...
  • There are generational differences
  • The forces behind those generational differences (events, trends, etc...)
  • How different generations will process leadership transition

As a Millenial leader and someone working in management, I found some of her characterizations to be a little bit off.  I mean, we love technology, but not even I need to use my GPS to get home from work.  She missed (or didn't really capture) the way technology has been used to tighten connection, facilitate communication and bolster community.  But those generalizations and misses are the cost of clear communication.

My guess is that the folks she best understood were the Gen Xers, particularly female Gen Xers juggling family and leadership roles.  That feeling of being pulled in multiple directions while having a deep commitment to community ... I think she captures it in a moment or two of the book.

That said, I'd recommend the book to anyone who's not in the Millenial generation (though if you don't know which generation you're in, it'd probably be good for you to take a look at too).

What resources do you find helpful as you think about generational differences and leadership?

Don't Judge ... but why?

"Don't judge me."

These three words pack a solid punch in our culture.  No one likes to feel judged, especially when judged unfairly and especially when judged by religious people.  Somehow, Carrie Ann Inaba and the judges with Dancing with the Stars get a pass on the "Don't judge me" cultural mandate, but you and I don't.

Our culture has several reasons for pushing back against judging: a relativism that says "to each his own," a lack of trust in authority and authority figures (the ones who judge), an awareness of the ulterior motives behind judging.

But are these biblical?

The Bible seems to have firm beliefs about some rights and wrongs.  The Bible seems to honor authorities (in government, church, cosmically ---> God).  But this last one ... the ulterior motives ... that has some potential.

In Romans 2, Paul rails against the hypocritical judgements in circulation at the time.  Jewish Christians judged Gentile Christians for not keeping the Jewish ceremonial laws and for being sinners.  But, as he begins to make his case, Paul sees that those who sit in judgement, do the same things themselves.

In this case, judging isn't about discerning right from wrong, but about elevating one group above another.  "You do bad things, so you're not as valuable as us.  You do bad things, so you're not as close to God as us.  You do bad things, so I don't have to include you in my Good People's Club."

Frequently, this is the course that judging takes.  A specific infraction or sin is identified and the offenders are knocked down a notch.  Less than full citizens in the kingdom of God.

But this judging won't fly.

If we're better, it's only because of God's kindness, tolerance and patience.  If we're better, it's because we have unfair advantages and are playing with a stacked deck.  If we're better ...

But the reality is that most of us are not better.  We're the same as those people over there, the ones we like to condemn.  And the gospel of Jesus bounces us all down to the same level, the level where his grace and mercy and love abound and abound and abound.

Don't judge me.  Not because there's no such thing as right and wrong.  Not because all authority is corrupt and can't be trusted.  Don't judge me because you and I are the same.  If you judge me, you're judging yourself ... and taking the role of God.

What would change if this equality was the reason we refused to judge?

Let Go of Some of Your Stuff

Amy and I spent some good time over the last couple of days helping Amy's mom let go of some of her stuff.  We cleaned her attic, threw some stuff away, made some great donations to the local Salvation Army.

I found the process really interesting.  Jane (Amy's mom) is already really clean and hasn't accumulated a lot of junk.  If you've seen Hoarders, you're probably tempted to mispicture what we were up to.  If you walked into Jane's house, your would find it well-organized, uncluttered and neat.

But she let go of a lot of stuff.

When walking around the house and asking "Is it neat? Is it orderly? Is it clean?" the stuff was safe.  But Jane started asking a new set of questions and the stuff got let go.

Will I use this?
What do I actually have?
Why do I keep this?
Do I need all of this?
What other ways do I have to preserve this memory?
Is this worth putting on a truck and moving?
Would I buy this if I saw it in a store?
Would someone else enjoy this stuff?

These questions helped Jane let go of some of her stuff.

And we all have stuff.

Some of our houses are packed with stuff.  Attics crammed.  Closets full.  Bookcases overflowing.  Our homes feel small because they are accomodating all of our stuff.

Some of us have stuff that can't be stored in an attic.  Emotional stuff.  Relational stuff.

If you let go of some of your stuff, you might be a better host, a better friend, a better parent.  You might feel more free, less worried, more able to focus.  Connecting with God might even be easier.

What are some questions that would help you let go of some of your stuff?

3 Tricks to Help You Pray

"Dear God," I start.  Prayer begins like a letter this morning.  How do I verbally communicate that this letter has a comma - personal - rather than a colon - business?  My mind starts wandering, thinking about letters I need to write.  E-mails.  And before I know it I'm not even close to praying.

Do you want help with your prayer life?  Would you like to pray longer, with more focus? 

Here are some tricks that have helped me:

1) Pray out loud

This may sound like a no brainer.  Or it may sound weird.

Many of us only pray out loud when we pray with other people.  And that makes some sense.  When we're with other people, praying out loud allows them to join us in prayer.  But what about when we're alone?

Praying out loud has been a tradition in the church for millenia.  People prayed The Lord's Prayer, St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer, and spontaneous prayers ... whatever came to their mind.  Silent solo prayer may be the norm, but it's not the only.

Pray out loud and you'll find yourself better able to focus.  Give it a try!

2) Write while you pray

Bill Atkinson showed me a prayer journaling technique I've found really helpful.  Prayer journaling seemed like a great idea to me, but I could never get the hang of it.  Instead of trying to write out your prayers (which can be too slow and not quite private enough), follow Bill's advice and write down the first letter of every word you're praying.

Here's what the Lord's Prayer would look like:

OFwaihhbtntkctwbdoeaiiihgutdodbafuotawftwtaualunitbdufe.
Again, this helps me focus.  Give it a try!

3) Plan to pray ... and get specific

When I struggle to pray, it's often because I'm trying to cram prayer into some imagined empty space in my schedule.  There's never any real, good, empty space in my schedule.  The empty space is junk space, space after something or before something, space where my mind won't be free or focused.

Plan to pray and you'll find prayer more enjoyable, easier.

When will you pray?
Where will you pray?
What will you pray about?

Answering those questions and planning to pray always helps me.  Give it a try.

What tricks help you pray?

Self-centeredness kills curiousity

Scanning the shelves at Barnes and Noble the other day, I ran into an edition of Paradise Lost that contained notes by C.S. Lewis.  In addition to being an apologist and a popular fiction author, Lewis was also a literature professor and an expert on Milton.

Check out this reflection on Satan in Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost:
Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself.
We all feel the tug of self-centeredness.

But self-centeredness kills curiousity.  It's hard to learn about anyone or anything if everything bends back toward yourself.

Have you ever bent a conversation this way:
You are sitting with a friend, listening to them tell a story.  The story reminds you of something you've recently heard, seen or done.  You respond to their story with your story. 
At best, your friend feels heard and understood and your connection is deepened.  Most likely, your friend feels topped, like you're competing and is too busy fishing for their own story to pay close attention to yours.

Curiousity about the world.  Curiousity about other people.  Self-centeredness kills both.

What do you do to minimize self-centeredness and maintain curiousity?

Ungenerous Generalization

We can do a lot of damage when we talk about actual people as if they're theoretical people.

Think of the labels that get thrown about in our daily rhetoric and discourse: Illegal aliens, Gays, Republicans, This generation, Catholic priests, Miami, Canadians, Gentiles.

Okay ... "Gentiles" doesn't get tossed around too much.  But perhaps we can learn something from an out-of-use label.

Labels, stereotypes and the various generalizations we use allow us to operate in the world efficiently.  Psychologists discuss heuristics and marvel at the way we sort and categorize the world.  These short cuts fail us from time to time but, 99 times out of 100, prove helpful.

That 1 in a 100 can hurt.

In the ancient world, the early Christians struggled with the "Gentiles."  Jews knew God, had experience with him and the entire Christian community believed that Jews could be made right with God through Jesus.  Jesus was a Jew.  But most of the world wasn't Jewish.

The non-Jewish world ... the "Gentiles" ... had started to respond to Jesus.  They believed in him, worshipped him and wanted to be included in his community, the church.  But "Gentiles" as a group were the people who were "foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11-22).  The generalization that applied to them was decidedly ungenerous.

A huge part of the Apostle Paul's contribution to Christianity consisted in his articulation of the gospel of Jesus in a way that included everyone, even the "Gentiles."  His theology created a huge circle. [For more on what I call "Circle Theology," check out this post: "Point Theology, Circle Theology."]

You see this openness especially clearly in his Epistle to the Romans.  Over and over again in the first chapter, he talks about the inclusion of the Gentiles (see v. 5, 14-16, and on in later chapters).  All need rescue, any will be welcomed, all can be included.  The gospel of Jesus is big enough to include both Jew and Gentile.

This relates directly to the present day.

Although we don't talk about "Gentiles" very often, a lot of us have people we don't expect to be included in the church through the gospel of Jesus.  I know Democrats who don't see how Republicans can be included (given their lack of concern for the poor).  I know Presbyterians who don't see how Pentecostals can be included (given their lack of concern for theology).  I know elderly folks who would be shocked if the young were included (given the wild rebelliousness of today's youngsters).  But the gospel of Jesus is big enough for all of these.

Who else do Christians mistakenly exclude though ungenerous generalization?
How does the gospel of Jesus shape the way you include people?

Freedom in Flexibility

What forces push churches to the point of non-missional flexibility?

This question, worded differently, popped up in a conversation last night.  Three guys ... cruising on a boat in the middle of a lake ... stories of churches becoming rigid, getting stuck, losing sight of their mission.

Some churches had to make payroll.  Others started focusing on a building.  Still others had traditions to uphold and people who stuck around long enough to remember and rely on those traditions.

InterVarsity has flexibility all over the place.  Mostly volunteers, no buildings, rapid change and turnover as students graduate and move on. 

Sometimes this flexibility drives me crazy.  I dream of a campus ministry with a predictable income stream, the status and stability of a building and the respectability of institutionalization.  But if these things get in the way, they need to go away.

Today, I'm grateful for my flexibility.  It removes the option of laziness, but generates hope for the possibility for success.  And we shouldn't forget that our flexibility brings freedom.

What do campus ministry folks miss out on in their flexibility?
What can churches do to be more flexible?

Don't Get Political?

What makes an issue a "political issue"?

As a missions organization, we try to stay away from "political issues."  We have other priorities and believe that the deepest change in lives and the world doesn't come through the political process.

So...
Are "political issues" the issues that are of lesser importance?
Are "political issues" the issues that don't directly relate to religion?
Are "political issues" the issues that divide people and could hurt popularity?
Are "political issues" the issues that politicians talk about?

Our InterVarsity chapters engage with issues of sex trafficking and income inequalities as an element of our evangelistic Proxe Stations.  Check out this video to see what some InterVarsity chapters are doing: OSU Price of Life Summary.

Are these political issues fair game?

InterVarsity filed an amicus brief in a US Supreme Court case last summer, advocating for the court to allow InterVarsity groups to "exclude from membership students who refuse to sign a statement of faith and adhere to the tenet that sexual activity should not occur outside of marriage between a man and a woman."  The gay community sees this exclusion as discriminatory.  Read more about the case here: Court Limits Campus Ministry.

Is this a political issue?

What about immigration and it's accompaniments?  The Dream Act had the potential to radically reshape our college campuses and impact generations of young people.  Current students prayed.  Potential students held their breath.  Last winter it collapsed.  This summer, it's being reintroduced to Congress.

What will InterVarsity do with political issues like this?

How do we decide when to get political?