Do More! (Ministry Mondays)

I have been a college pastor now for a little over 1 year, and there is a lurking feeling that always seems close by. It is the feeling that maybe as a leader I am not calling the people I serve to do enough. Or maybe the feeling is that in becoming a college pastor, I sense I have joined a game. The competition is among churches to see who can be doing more, creating bigger vision, going higher, climbing over bigger obstacles, and changing the biggest part of the world. I am not saying I have actually been engaged in this competition; I’m simply saying I sense I am a part of it (if it exists at all).

I haven’t done this much, but if I meet with other pastors or college pastors, I feel like we are supposed to talk about the things we have done, are doing, and want to do. “We have grown this much, we now have this many small groups that are doing this much stuff in the city. Our goal is to see every soul on earth saved.”

Again, at the very least, this is just a personal problem. And the problem is, when I look at the vision of other churches, I don’t know that I have as big of a vision as them. I haven’t set as high of goals. Maybe in my ministry we don’t have as many small groups, we haven’t grown as fast or as much, and right now we would simply love to see a handful of people get saved in our city, let alone in Kiribati.

Here is the problem I see in this line of thinking: what I don’t feel the need to talk about is what, as a ministry, we talk about most often. I don’t feel the need to explain the heart of our preaching and teaching, or small group discussion, or what we tell our neighbors, the homeless, or the hurting in our city.

Our emphases in what we talk about when we talk about God (see what I did there?) is not the high life of church. It is basic. Important? Yes. But it is like the foundation that no one pays attention to once it is laid. The high life, the building, is that announcement you are making this Sunday about how you want to raise 2 million dollars to translate a Bible in the language of the Comoros people; or how you are going to end sex-trafficking entirely, in all the world (2 things I would love to be a part of if it goes down!).

But if that is the high life, I am not a part of it, unfortunately. My college ministry is on no track to translate the Bible for those who don’t have it; we don’t talk about how we are going to change the world, because honestly, I can’t even change my heart. Would we love to be a part of both of those things, of course! But we don’t have goals like entirely eradicating poverty from Waco. Does that make us small-minded? Because if that is “big,” consider us small.

But I don’t think all of that should be our center, or primary emphasis. My emphasis when I preach, or in small groups, or in discipleship groups, or in counseling, is what Jesus has done, not what we should be doing. It is about what Jesus accomplished, not what I hope we accomplish. By focusing emphatically and constantly on what Jesus has already done for us, I am trying to kill that nagging feeling produced by God’s Law that says we are not doing enough. I am trying to kill it by agreeing with it; “No, we have not done enough, and never will. But Jesus did do enough.”

Our vision, primarily, explicitly, implicitly, emphatically, and constantly needs to be what Jesus has already done, his enoughness, and the vision he already has and will carry out to make “all things new.” Maybe when this gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is our primary and permeating focus, we might just be a part of something eternally worthwhile, whether we classify it as big or small.

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Storming Hell (Ministry Mondays)

Equipping and sending out leaders is a key aspect of ministry. Leaders need to be investing in and equipping other men and women to lead in various capacities. This is no easy task though. You are looking for men and women who can lead others to storm hell with water pistols. It can be difficult to discern if someone is a leader-in-the-making, and I think God is quite pleased to use people we would least expect.

However, there is at least one quick way you may be able to tell if someone is not ready to lead: whenever a dude or gal visits with you and explicitly, or heavily implies, that they would like to be a leader in your church, that may be a sure sign they are not ready to lead anytime soon. If you have that happen, they may have just made clear that they are not in a position to lead.

The reason I say that “may” be a sign, is because it isn’t always true, but in my experience, humble and gifted leaders are usually the ones to not ask to be in leadership; they end up asking to do the dirty, behind the scenes work. Actually, they don’t even assume that is best. They trust themselves to other leaders to tell them what to do. The best leaders are great followers first.

They are the ones who, when given an opportunity to share about their story, talk far more about their sin, failures, and lack of achievements, rather than their growth and achievements. They talk far more about their radical need for mercy and grace than all the ways they seem to not need it.

They are the ones who don’t base their identity on how much they have accomplished “for God”. They don’t base their identity on how many “followers” they have, how many people read their blogs, how many successful Bible studies they have started, or how many people have met Jesus through them.

They are the ones who view leadership as something that can be done without a public platform, without a mic, without a small-group leadership role, and without a blog following (I just convicted myself. Dang.).

In my ministry right now, I’m looking for the guys and gals who are not so confident in their leadership skills. I’m looking for men and women who want to do anything, anything, to serve the purposes of God through the local church. If that means picking up trash, stacking chairs, setting up for church, or whatever, they are happy to do it.

I’m not impressed with those skilled with words, good on a mic, or popular with people. I’m impressed by those who simply want to serve Jesus by doing whatever needs to be done. Those are the ones I want to give a platform to, so that others may have an example to follow.

Give those kinds of men and women the mic. Give them the small group. Give them the leadership mantle. Because those are the men and women want to follow; those are the ones I trust to follow as we storm hell with water pistols.

Divine Perspective (Ministry Mondays)

C. J. Mahaney, one of my favorite preachers of all time, one from whom I find much gospel-refreshment and equipping, has a great sermon on being diligent to find evidences of grace in others (and for sure, in ourselves).

As a pastor, my job is not to first and foremost find what is wrong in someone (that is not hard to do in a sinful world with sinful people. It wouldn’t take you long to find one of my many faults). What I need to be diligently seeking is the evidences of God’s grace in people’s lives. I need to gain a proper perspective of what God is doing in the midst of how I, and my friends, are consistently failing.

C. J. illustrates this point with the following (amazing) letter sent home from a daughter away at college. Enjoy…

“Dear Mom and Dad,

Since I have been away at college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date but before I do please sit down. Are you sitting down? It is very important that you sit down before you continue reading this letter.

I am getting along pretty well now that the skull fracture and concussion have healed. I got them when I jumped out of my dormitory window when my dormitory caught on fire shortly after my arrival. I only get those sick headaches a couple of times a day. Fortunately, the fire in my dorm and my jump was witnessed by an attendant at a gas station. He ran over, took me to the hospital, and continued to visit me there.

When I got out of the hospital, I had no place to live because of the burnt out condition of my room. So he was kind enough to let me share his basement bedroom apartment with him. It’s sort of small but very cute. He’s a very fine young man and we have fallen deeply in love. We are planning to get married. We haven’t set the exact date yet but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.

Yes, mom and dad, I’m pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same tender love and care that you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay is that my boyfriend has an infection that I carelessly caught from him. I know, however, that you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind and thought not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours I know that your often expressed tolerance will not allow you to be bothered by that.

In conclusion, now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dorm fire. I did not have a concussion or skull fracture. I was not in the hospital. I am not pregnant. I do not have infection. There is no boyfriend in my life. However, I have failed history and science. I wanted you to see these facts in proper perspective. Proper perspective changes everything.”

If you are in Christ, in the midst of all of your sin, and mine, there are traces, evidences of God’s grace. As much as you may be trying to hold on to a particular sin, as little as you may feel you love God, as weak as you feel your faith is, I beg you, find those traces of grace. Don’t fix your eyes on how you ought to love God, but remind yourself that you do love God, however little your love may be. Don’t fix your eyes on how strong you wish your faith was, but remind yourself that you do have some faith. Why is that important? Because only, only! God can cause someone to love Him and believe in His Son, however slight it all may be.

Your weak love and faith exists because God loves you and has worked that faith and love in you. Rejoice in that. Rejoice in the grace of God for you. Then, fix your eyes upon the great love of Jesus for you, for only in doing that will your love and faith for him grow strong.

Help us Lord Jesus, in your abundant, raw grace!

Incarnational Evangelism (Ministry Monday)

Last week I listened to a panel discussion around college ministry and the goodness below was probably my favorite part, concerning something I have thought about for quite some time.

I used to be primarily an evangelist sniper. I don’t know a ton about snipers in the military, but I assume the big idea is: get in, take a shot, and get out. A don’t know why a sniper would want to stay hidden for any longer than he needs. The goal of a sniper is to get the job done with one quick pull of the trigger. And when snipers take their shot, they are on the trajectory to give up their hidden location, which means they need to get out.

tract 1I either was trained as an evangelist sniper, or I just didn’t pick up what was being put down (which is a legitimate option I consider). I learned to find my target (some random person), make my approach (usually walking), take a shot (share the gospel), and get out (deuces). Tracts were what I was used as my round. All for the purpose of communicating the gospel of life.

My heart’s desire, though muddied with sin, was to introduce people to Jesus. However, over the course of years, sharing with hundreds of people, I rarely saw people meet Jesus. I’ve always hoped that hundreds met Jesus out of my sight, my conversations having been used by God. But I don’t know. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

I’ve always heard and/or thought the “opposite” approach, “relational evangelism”, is ineffective or a copout; either too slow to reach the masses, or just a way to make friends in the name of evangelism without ever actually sharing the gospel. So for years I stayed away from it. But for a while now, my thinking has been reforming.

Around minute 21:30 of the discussion, Rupert Leary, a college pastor, begins to talk about how to best communicate the gospel with non-Christians. His wisdom is as follows.

His revolutionary (for some of us) idea is that we must do incarnational evangelism. He says that incarnational presence is a “non-negotiable”. Incarnational is a big word meaning essentially in this context to be present with people. Jesus is God incarnate in the flesh, or God with us; God present with us.

He says we must build relationships with non-Christians on their turf. Too often we want non-Christians to come to us, our church gatherings, our church events, etc. Yet no American missionary who wants to reach people in Africa tells the Africans to move to America. They go to them. And we must also. We go to non-Christians, build a relationship with them if they want, and stay with them.

Leary applies Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Matthew 4:19 that he will make them “fishers of men” to say that we must be patient. Incredibly patient and incredibly present. Fishers of fish must be patient and stay present, and so must we. Leary tells his college students to aggressively pursue relationships with non-believers and wait months to talk about spiritual things, unless they bring it up. If you learned evangelism like me, that practice probably makes you nervous.

You may be nervously thinking, “I bet this Leary guy and his church doesn’t reach very many people!” Well, you may be very wrong. The church he pastors at has the goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050 (click). I doubt a church-planting church like that would allow a college pastor to be on staff who doesn’t really have a heart to reach a lot of people. Know what I mean?

Evangelist snipers have it easy. I don’t need to know the gospel in a very comprehensive way, because I have a tract. I don’t need to then know how to communicate it, because I have a tract. I don’t need to hang around sinners and their sin (as if I don’t sin anymore), because I am in and out in maybe 10 minutes. I don’t need to expose my life to someone else, because I am not going to hang around very long.

Sounds like this kind of evangelism may be my copout sometimes.

In-and-Out evangelism doesn’t seem to work in our culture. In today’s culture, people are not primed and ready to listen to a message as massive as the gospel for 1 minute, stare at an aesthetically boring tract, and then suddenly surrender all (of course, the Spirit can do whatever the heaven he wants to do; but God uses means to save, and I am arguing maybe we need to change our “means” to better reach more people).

When someone tries to convince me of something, I naturally want to know something about them. Do they really believe it? Can they answer some of my questions? Do they really care about me believing what they believe? That all takes time. In the same way, I think we need to recognize that non-Christians want to get to know other Christians, learn more about what they believe, ask questions (some of which may stump you and me), and dialogue more. We should stick around for all that.

It takes deep love to walk with a non-believer, listen to their questions, and receive their rejection for weeks, months, and even years. It is not that hard, in America, to give your memorized schpeal for a minute and walk away. It is hard to stick around; to do incarnational ministry for a long time, like Jesus did.

We should get in people’s lives, show them our transformed lives as a testimony to the gospel, let them see how much we need the gospel everyday, communicate the gospel, and call them to repent and believe in Jesus. As we do it, let’s not put a timeline on it. Stick around for the long haul. Be present.

Ministry Monday

Introducing Ministry Mondays. Each Monday (or most) I have decided to write a short-something about what I am learning about leadership and pastoral ministry. When I want to write something about leadership, I often think, “What do I know and who cares? I’m 24! I haven’t even been a pastor for a year yet!”

While not all of that holds weight, because God uses stubborn, difficult sons like me, I have refrained. However, Ministry Mondays are reserved for my reflections on what I’m learning from older, wiser, less-good looking, better-educated, and all around better ministry leaders.

This week I watched the above video: “The Biggest Mistakes Young Preachers Make”. Tullian Tchividjian, Voddie Baucham, and Russell Moore all discuss mistakes they have made and mistakes young bucks like myself tend to make.

The best thing for me from the video is at minute 6:17, when Baucham says the more you preach the more you realize you need patience. You need patience because early on in preaching, you think your sermons are going to fix everyone’s problems, but you start to realize they don’t.

Then he takes it a step further and it was this step that I took away as a piece of preaching gold. He said when you preach even longer, you realize your sermons are not just for them (the church/crowd/whoever), but they are just as much for you. You are saying things that you need to hear over, and over, and over again.

I feel this so much when I have the opportunity to preach. I say things that address problems I have dealt with the very week I was preparing the sermon! I say things, feeling like I should have the specific life-area “down”, but I don’t. I’m right there with the sheep, fighting, failing, and being forgiven by my Savior.

Eric Mason, a pastor in Philadelphia, once said it best when he explained that when you preach, you are preaching to yourself, and the listeners are just eavesdropping. I realize more and more that my blogs, sermons, tweets, and updates are all opportunities for free eavesdropping as I preach to myself.