Monday, November 02, 2009

Called: Consider the Cost

What does it mean to be called to ministry?  How do you know?  Charles Spurgeon gave some help to his students regarding this very question.  Over the next four to six posts I will be going over some of the criteria for understanding calling.  Why should you read these?  There are two reasons, first, to evaluate yourself in light of these things, and second, to help you determine who in your ministry might be called into ministry.  Hear it goes.
                “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing, desire for the work.:
                When I was nine, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.  To be honest, I still wouldn’t mind that line of work.  I love to fly and I would love to get my pilots license, some day.  When I was thirteen I decided to become a youth pastor or missionary.  Over the past 15 or so years of ministry there have been a lot of days where I wanted to quit and do something else.  I bet Spurgeon had those days too.  I can even remember a couple of weeks where the only thing that kept me in ministry was the realization that I was not qualified to do anything else.  I would have to start over in whatever profession I switched to. 
                Those days seem to pass and most of the time I get reenergized and the passion for ministry returns.  As we read the book of Acts I can’t help but think of the passion that kept the apostles and Christians going.  The days when I feel like quitting are usually because I got a couple of bad phone calls from some parents, frustration with “church politics”, or maybe I just flat out got tired.  A bad day for Stephen got him stoned, Peter and John were thrown in prison, others were beaten, and still others were dragged before ruling councils and the like.  Still their passion burned.
                This passion, this all-absorbing desire is not a whim or some kind of passing thought.  These desires are well thought out considering the costs of ministry.  Those costs can be significant.  Ministry is not only hard on one person, but it is hard for families.  It’s earthly rewards are, generally speaking, not significant.  When asking yourself if you are called, begin by considering the cost.


                There are all kinds of transitions.  This isn’t necessarily about a new church, it could be moving into a new position in the church you are in, transitioning your programming, perhaps you have a new boss, or maybe you are in transition in your personal life.  Transitions are always difficult to navigate, but they can also have a huge impact on you and your ministry.  This is not something I like to talk about much, because I don’t think it is necessarily good, but I have served under 5 different Senior Pastors (a few of those times, they changed, not me) and had one stint in church planting.  I have been in my current position for only 14 months not only in a new ministry but a new state (CO).  We are also in the midst of making some very significant changes in our programming.  We are in the midst of all kinds of transitions.

                Some of the transitions I have been through have been painful, but most of them have been positive and good.  I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to share a few principals I’ve learned regarding making successful transitions.

  • Don’t take it slow, but don’t go too fast either!

Yeah, I know it sounds like I can’t decide.  In reality, I can’t, at least not for you!  I have heard a lot of guys suggest that you shouldn’t make any changes in the first year.  I’ve heard others say you should make changes early in your transition when you are on your honeymoon. 
                I’ve actually done it both ways.  Both ways have some merit to them and depending on your circumstances both methods could work.  So what is the overriding principal?  Know your culture and know what is expected.  In my current situation change was expected.  I needed a little time to get my feet under me and begin to understand the culture, but once I did changes started to come.

  • Big change, Little change

There are different kinds of change.  Some changes might be small, like starting to use countdowns before a program or setting up tables instead of chairs.  These kinds of changes are relatively small.  Then there are changes more like what we are doing right now.  We have cancelled Sunday morning programming for our Senior High and we are changing to what we call “House Groups”.  It is important to think through the impact of the kind of change taking place.  If you are transitioning into a new ministry make small, high impact changes early and save the big changes for later when you have a better understanding of the culture in which you are now ministering.

  • Vision is Everything

Whether you are transitioning into a new ministry or considering transitioning to some new programs make sure you understand the vision of your church and how either you or the new programs fit in.  Once you understand that vision and how your vision fits in, communicate your vision endlessly! 
          Transitions are huge in so many ways.  A good transition gives you credibility and a bad one will raise questions about your leadership ability.  I don’t think I have ever made a perfect transition, but I have learned that there are exceptions to almost all conventional wisdom.  Know what is expected and what is likely to be the response by all involved.  Listen to conventional wisdom, but make sure it will work in your context.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Smile on My Face

                I recently took some college/career types along with some High School Students on a trip to San Francisco for a mission trip with CSM (They did a great job).  The trip was really good.  You can read about it at the Theology, Lockers, and Life blog if you are interested.  When I arrived home I was faced with a tore up basement (it flooded while I was gone, thanks to one of our elders and some good friends for helping get everything dried up) and an empty house.  My wife and kids had left for Minnesota for two weeks.  I believe this is the longest time I have been away from them.   I miss my family.
                My personal thoughts have a purpose.  I sit here with my two dogs lying on the floor next to my bed with a quiet house.  No kids playing and no wife to cuddle with before falling asleep.  I have never really lived alone.  I went from a house with parents and four brothers to a college dorm with a roommate.  After a couple years of that I got married.  Perhaps for the first time in my life I am realizing how much God has wired us for relationships.  Earlier tonight I connected with my family through Tokbox a video conferencing web site.  It was great to see their smiling faces.  About twenty minutes ago I looked at a photo from our vacation early in July and saw my son holding a fishing rod with Mt. Massive in the background.  It put a smile on my face!!
                My family makes me happy (most of the time).  I love them and I know they love me.  In the midst of all this I hear the words of Jesus resounding in my head, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Some days that doesn’t seem so hard, but most of the time and especially during moments like this one it is not only hard, it makes me question my own love for Jesus.
            A little self reflection from time to time can be good for the soul.  I want to keep this short so I am going to wrap it up here.  What if you had to choose between your loved ones and Jesus?  What if you had to give up that which is most precious to you in order to follow Jesus?  At this moment the very thought creates pause in my spirit.  Yet, I want more than anything for my family to follow Jesus with that kind of love and passion.  Perhaps my own love and passion for Jesus needs to burn hotter.

Human Arrogance

I had an interesting conversation with one of my High School Students about the influence teenagers have on culture.  It was her belief that teenagers set the standards for culture.  They have more influence on culture than any other age group.  Certainly when it comes to pop culture there is some truth to what she thinks.  It is also true that pop culture has some influence on culture overall, but what kind of impact do teenagers have on the culture overall?

I think the popular thing to say here is that they are the trend setters and they determine where culture will go.  There influence is so significant and important that we must pay close attention.  I am not so convinced.
The title of this piece may have tipped you off to my view.  People are naturally arrogant, as a people we tend to think we deserve everything and the world revolves around us.  Actually the truth that mankind is arrogant is a Biblical truth.  Arrogance is why Satan fell from heaven (Isaiah 14:12-14) and it was arrogance that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:5).
The truth is every age group has an impact on culture.  Parents raise kids and impact the current culture, teachers teach them, and so on.  Only adults can vote and impact the political culture and they pass laws and bills that impact us, impact teens, and impact our ability to do ministry.  Culture is all encompassing.  What students are taught in school has a huge influence on what they believe in almost every area of their life. 
For those of us in youth ministry we tend to have a passion for teenagers.  We love to hang out with them.  They are old enough to ask great questions and dive deeper into their faith.  They have the ability to begin owning their faith and they make decisions that will impact the rest of their life.  They are still young enough to be influenced and we want to be part of that influence and help them become men and women that honor God.  In the process I wonder if we sometimes unintentionally send the message that the world is all about them. 

So what am I saying we should do?  I don’t exactly know.  I know your not suppose to say that when you are writing something like this, but it’s true.  I think there are some things we should be doing in general, but I don’t know if our narcissistic culture can be easily changed.  Here are a couple general ideas:

  • Make sure when we worship it isn’t about what God has done for us as much as it is about who God is.  I realize the two cannot be completely separated and really shouldn’t be separated.  It is however easy to become too focused on the “what God has done for us” side of the equation.
  • When we teach, make sure we are teaching a God centered theology and not a man centered theology.  This Christianity, Jesus thing is not about living our best life now or figuring out how we can manipulate God to benefit ourselves.  It is about realizing that the God we serve is sovereign and deserving of worship in spite of what circumstances we find ourselves in.
  • Draw students to a cause bigger than themselves, namely the cause of God’s kingdom.  This is so countercultural that I believe they will be attracted to something so farfetched, so different, and so huge.
  • Be willing to challenge the cultural norms with Biblical truths.  I know it sounds obvious, but I think some of us don’t want to offend so we become shy with the truth.  Be kind and gentle, but don’t be afraid to be blunt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Needed Vacation

                Recently my family and I took a much needed vacation which is why it has been a little longer since the last newsletter.  You know how everyone comes back from vacation tired and speaks of needing a vacation from the vacation.  Well, we actually made that part of our plan.  We came back a little early to relax and get some things done around the house before it’s time to go back to work.  One of the things I had to do was take my “Herby Blue Ramcharger” (as my son calls it) in to pass emissions and get plates.  Before I took it in I changed the oil and put a new air filter in to make sure it was going to pass.  I put the used oil in a container in the back to take it to the parts store (Yes, I change my own oil among other things).  On my way to get the emissions checked I got pulled over, then I failed emissions because of the gas cap, quick bought a new gas cap and went back to do it again (passed the second time), then trying to get to the doctor for a 3:30 appointment the used oil container spilled all over my vehicle.  I have to admit I kept going over my day thinking it was top 10 in worst days of my life.
                In the end I realized it wasn’t even close.  I’ve had much worse days.  I kept looking at the oil all over the floor and realized it wasn’t on the driver’s side, so at least it wasn’t getting on my shoes.  My truck did pass emissions and with a little power washing on the inside it will be just fine.  My wife ended up cooking some great chicken.  Last, I am still on vacation and tomorrow I will get all of that fixed up. 
                So why am I writing this.  I have had those days in youth ministry.  Days where I go home and if I was honest I would curl up in a fetal position or cry on my wife’s shoulder like a little baby.  More often than not if I think about the day and the things that went wrong there is a silver lining somewhere.  Things didn’t go quit as bad as I thought or at worst I learned some lessons that will help me in the future.  Sure, I feel like quitting, but if I just sleep on it for one night and get back at it the next day things begin to take care of themselves and after a couple of days or weeks it all gets worked out.  God is faithful and if we continue to work for His glory and trust in His provision it will work out.