Just Thinking Out Loud…

You can’t really protect your thoughts once you’ve shared them.

So sometimes, it’s best to keep them to yourself before letting them out to walk around on their own.

Don’t Be A Fan

I’ve been thinking about symbols and logos and stuff a little bit lately. A symbol or logo visually represents something that may be difficult to visualize; typically a group or a company, but sometimes even a concept. Think of 3 arrows bent to point at each other in the shape of a triangle to represent recycling. The logo might not have an obvious connection to what it represents, but over time and with effective branding effort has come to be associated with it anyway. (Like an apple with a bite taken out symbolizing a particular computer company.)

With a group of friends, I’ve been reading a great book about being a disciple called Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. (Do yourself a favor and read this book.) In one section, he talks a little bit about a symbol of discipleship. If you had to choose a symbol for your discipleship, what would it be? [Stop and think about that a bit before you move on…]

Some may choose a desk or a Bible or a stack of books, calling to mind the way we learn about Jesus and grow.

Maybe you’d choose a snuggie, thinking of the comfort found in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

You might think of the way Jesus called Peter to fish for men, and use the symbol of a fishing pole or a net.
But in Luke 9:23, Jesus used an image that no one in their right mind during the first century would have used.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Keep in mind, this was before the resurrection, before the cross had become a symbol of victory, or a decoration, or just a piece of jewelry. There hadn’t been any religious sanitation of the cross yet. It was only a brutal device for public humiliation, torture, and death. That’s it.

If you want to be my disciple, Jesus says, you have to come die. You have to put to death the life you want to live and follow me into a new life. If Jesus said this today, it might be more like “Sit down in this electric chair and let me throw the switch!” Stuff like this caused Jesus to not have a lot of fans. Understandably, I’d say. Jesus didn’t build a stadium for fans – he wanted followers.

Maybe it’s time that we empty the stands, stop cheering Jesus on, and walk with Him through the way of suffering. Don’t settle for the life of a fan – pick up your cross and follow Him today.

Getting Old in Youth Ministry

I was once mistaken for the boyfriend of one of my students. It was my first Sunday in my first full time ministry and this Jr. High kid thought I was his older sister’s new boyfriend. It was at a sunrise service on Easter, and I don’t think the kid was into coffee yet, so I’m chalking it up to the morning fog! Still… it was awkward.

Another time, my wife and I were scolded for skipping out on a workshop session at a conference. Some power hungry intern (whom I am certain was mostly just concerned about the mortal peril to our souls as we wandered off alone) berated us for as long as his breath would hold out before we could get a word in to explain. Before we were heard, though, he wanted to know where our sponsors were. We just laughed (almost rudely enough) as we explained that I was the youth minister who’d just been making sure my students were finding their workshop locations. We were now on the way to the adult session with the rest of the big people. Again… awkward.

Yet another day, at another conference, I was mistaken for one of my students, again. We were awake and talking (not that loudly) in the dorms way after hours, when an intern (probably not the same one I’d imagine!) at the conference stuck his head in the door to tell us to shut up and go to bed. He looked around the room, sized us all up, and pointed a finger right at one of my favorite, full-bearded seniors and told him he needed to get his boys under control. This one wasn’t awkward for me at all, but it sure was for that student. I call it sort of a mentoring/training moment since he’s a youth minister now, too! That night, I died a silently laughing death from my perch on someone else’s top bunk before I headed back to my own room (which was completely quiet because… I had it all under control in there).

As I think back on these mis-identifications, I realize… it doesn’t happen much anymore. I’m more likely to be mistaken for being one of my student’s dad. And it might not even be a mistake, since my oldest child is firmly entrenched with the other 7th graders in our youth ministry and turned 13 yesterday!

So… how do you know you’re getting old?

Thoughts from Kinnaman’s “You Lost Me”

David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me (affiliate link) is an interesting look into some of the reasons so many emerging adults seem to be walking away from the church. While emphasizing the unique character of every individual story, the book wades through a lot of research into the similarities of those stories. Kinnaman points out that many of these young adults would not characterize themselves as leaving their lives of faith, or turning their back on God (though some would), but that they are looking for ways to live out their faith more meaningfully than they have experienced in the established church. Some are even creatively living out their lives in communities of faith that simply don’t look like the traditional North American church.

In my own experience as a youth pastor, I’ve seen the full array of responses to the newfound freedom that Christian youth discover after graduation day. I’ve had students graduate and find their way into ministries to Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, and even more exotic sounding places like Iowa and Wyoming. I’ve also had students finish High School and disappear into lives that leave no room for the church at all. Two factors that I’ve seen play into such divergent outcomes are illustrated by a couple quotes from the book:

A generation of young Christians believes that the churches in which they were raised are not safe and hospitable places to express doubts.

Students in the church have often been surrounded by a bubble of Christian peers (who are quietly wrestling with their own set of doubts). This bubble inevitably disintegrates as they all move away to colleges, enter into new work lives in various places, and just generally drift away from each other. Having felt like they couldn’t express their doubts, or ask some certain set of taboo questions inside the bubble, they often start looking for solutions outside of it, where they are sure to find a number of seemingly viable solutions. What if we learned to make the church THE place to wrestle with tough questions and doubts? What if we could teach students to make the most of the tension they feel between what they’ve been taught and their doubts?

Secondly, young adults seem to be unwilling to be spectators week after week. They want to be something, to mean something, and merely showing up for church functions doesn’t seem to be offering that sense of meaning. The opportunity here, is that a life of discipleship can offer exactly what so many are looking for. If the church can re-learn what it means to be a disciple and to make disciples, there is great hope for this young generation’s relationship with the church. In a closing chapter full of suggestions for connecting Millennials with a deep and vibrant faith, Francis Chan offers this:

The days of merely bringing our friends to an event so the pastor can save and disciple them need to end. New churches must be formed where all believers are expected to do the work of evangelism and discipleship. The generation sees the potency of a church where pastors equip and shepherd disciple-makers rather than service-attenders.

To put it simply, we’ve set expectations far too low to keep younger Christians interested in the church. If we want to do a better job keeping young adults connected to the church, maybe we need to take a fresh look at what Jesus means when he talks about his church and what he really means when he says things like, “Come, follow me.” and “Go, make disciples…”

7 Ways Not to Appreciate Your Pastor

Since it’s Pastor Appreciation Month, you may have already noticed a few suggestions floating around the internet about how to show your pastor how much you appreciate them. Just in case those ideas aren’t doing it for you, and you’re wanting to come up with something on your own, I wanted to offer a few of my own suggestions… to avoid. These gifts may say “We appreciate you.” in your mind, but your pastor will probably view your generosity in a whole different way.

  1. Get him that great new character tie on sale at the pharmacy. Yes, I know… who doesn’t like that little Frankenweenie dog, right? But resist the urge. Just pay for your bunion pads & foot scrub and go home.
  2. Pick up two sets of bunion pads & foot scrub – 1 for you and 1 for him. You may think this a modern day equivalent of washing his feet, but I’m pretty sure he’ll just get a little weirded out by the whole thing. Besides, when it comes to proper foot care, brand preference is everything, right? And don’t even think about going down the tandem pedicure road with your pastor.
  3. Offer to help him polish his resume. Does this really require any explanation?
  4. Socks. While it seems that socks may be the gift that’s (almost) appropriate for any occasion, they’re really not. Your pastor probably has a specific brand and style he likes, and unless you know what that is, don’t even try. And if you do know what that is, he may just get a restraining order and ask you to stalk someone else attend some other church.
  5. A portfolio full of the evidence that documents when he started recycling his old sermons. He already feels a little guilty about this; there’s no need for a reminder at this time.
  6. A hard drive full of the evidence that he’s been ripping off Rick Warren sermons for the last 6 years. Again, with the guilt! There are some great points in those messages… a lot of great points.
  7. A hundred dollar bribe to skip the annual stewardship series that’s coming up next month. Seriously? You’re going to have pony up big time to miss those nuggets of fiduciary wit… or take that early season ski trip to Vail again. It worked last year.


Visiting Revive In Bismarck, ND

Have you ever had a reason to go to North Dakota?

Evidently, a lot of people lately have found a reason to not only go there, but to move there. Recent oil developments and all the commerce that goes with that have led to an influx of people relocating to North Dakota.

As for me, I guess I never really had a reason to go there, which is why I’d never been to North Dakota… until this last weekend. So… check that off my list of states I haven’t visited yet. We found that Bismarck is booming, the hills are rolling, and ND is short (highest point is only slightly above 3500′). I loaded up into a van with 9 others from WestWay (which included our friend Lola, who loves North Dakota for just about every reason possible) to drive the 500 some miles from here to there to help out Revive Christian Church. It’s a new church that’s just started up in Bismarck and we went to help in whatever way we could. I knew I’d be leading worship, but we also ended up putting together office furniture and doing some roofing and helping with some set up and tear down stuff. The roofing went really slow (the old paper was put down with about 37 staples per square inch that had to be pulled out!), so we didn’t get as much done as we hoped, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. They were able to pull together some people to keep working on it Sunday afternoon, so it sounds like they’ll be finishing up in time to beat whatever weather may be on it’s way.

Revive visit
After a great morning & weekend with Revive Christian Church.

It was a little strange, trying to plan a worship time for a bunch of people I don’t know and who don’t know me. It was awkward trying to find music that would help people express their hearts to God without knowing those people. I was reminded that worship isn’t about me and what I know or about any particular group of people that are gathered and what they know – it’s about God. So we sang together about God and His love for us, and our mutual commitment to Him. But as strange as it was to choose music for strangers, can you imagine being led in worship each week by yet another stranger? There’s a connection between a worship pastor/leader and the congregation that they haven’t got to experience yet. As a new church, Revive is still searching for someone to lead worship in a more regular role.

Would you join me in praying for Revive’s permanent worship leader. Maybe that person’s already in Bismarck, maybe not… Maybe they’ve already been a part of a Revive service, maybe they haven’t heard of Revive yet… but right now, God is working in someone’s life to give them a reason to go to North Dakota, too. And pray for Revive, as they continue to seek to help people move closer to God.