Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Newsweek Article About The Bible

I respect the fact that people have differing opinions and beliefs. I also am fully aware that there are always two sides to every story. But even though I'm not an expert theologian or a professional reporter, I can say this Newsweek article is highly unfortunate. Good for business I suppose, but potentially an unwarranted problem for those of us that know the beauty of the Church and following Jesus.  If you have not read it I recommend you do so at some point. I cannot take the time to personally address or affirm all the points made here on this blog post, but I will share a few thoughts on this, albeit blunt thoughts. College students will likely hear about this, so here are a few bullet points to maybe keep in mind upfront:
  1. Clearly stated bias. Thankfully the author clearly states his bias in the beginning. He doesn't state it as a "bias" and anyone somewhat disgruntled with the Church or Christianity will resonate with his statements, which is a bummer. But, those with some intellectual honesty can easily realize this is being written from a bias perspective.
  2. Not-so-good reporting. With the tone of getting to the truth, this sadly does not "report" much but instead states a particular perspective as the facts. And the author doesnt state sources but rather makes swooping statements like "all modern scholars." This is misleading to say the least because the author only listed straw-man arguments..
  3. Fantastic, but unfortunate rhetoric. By making his statements as irrefutable facts that don't have rational explanations and doing so in ways that make anyone that claims to believe in the authority of scripture as being total idiots, readers that are not well informed on the scrutinies listed will likely think the bible is completely discredited.
  4. Dishearteningly one-sided. This article assumes there are not opposing thoughts or deeper understanding and does so by not even mentioning other thoughts or that there are common and often basic explanations for such things.

If you would like to read much more thorough thoughts on this article I would recommend Al Mohler's blog or Michael Kruger's blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Debt To Attend A Christian School?

Okay, so, here is a bit of a "zinger" topic...one that can bring up some emotion. But, does anyone else struggle with how much Christian colleges cost?
Look, I understand they don't get state funding and they desire to have top-notch professors...and all that costs money. This is NOT necessarily a post saying they should lower tuition costs. I'm actually thinking of this from the other angle - the students who make the decisions to go the school. I value and appreciate the desire to get a "Christian" education and experience in college and I happen to think there is a place for it.
But...
Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.44.36 AMWhat about all these people getting youth ministry degrees and going $30-50k in debt for it? How does that make sense? What about those that just want to be a pre-school teacher or go into social work? The debt for these types of people just doesn't make sense to me anymore.
I can't tell you how many people I know that are completely strapped because of their school debt. For instance, people like my friend who's wife accumulated a bunch of debt to get a nursing degree...and yet now she just wants to stay at home with her children, but has to work 2 days a week JUST to pay for the debt. Such a huge bummer. Or what about another friend who went to a private Christian school to get a ministry degree, but recently had to back out of ministry because he wasn't making enough to pay for the debt?
The national average of school debt of college grads is $28,400, but for those attending private schools the average debt is just short of $40,000. The average cost to attend a private, non-profit four year college is $42,419 a year, including housing and meal plan. On the other hand, the average cost for an in-state public college is just $22,826.
To be fair here, I attended a private Christian college. But, I chose a different route: I worked my way through and paid as I went. Sure, it took me 7 1/2 years to complete, but I graduated with zero debt. For me, I figured that was better than graduating in 4-5 years and then having to pay school debt back for the next 10+ years. I'm not suggesting what I did is the best way for everyone...but I am a bit frustrated that so many people are simply defaulting to loans just to attend a private school rather than really thinking through other possible options. For some vocations, the cost of private school just doesn't make any sense to me anymore. Intimate involvement in a local church seems to solve a lot of the issues that drive people to attend private Christian schools.
Am I totally off here?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Discipleship Battles

I've always said, "Giftedness can get you places, but character will keep you there," for more on that, click here.
I believe that statement. But one of the toughest aspects of leading younger people who want to be in ministry is teaching them that being developed sometimes means limiting the use of "gifts." This can be viewed as hindering them, misunderstanding them, devaluing them...on and on. Now, to be clear, we don't want to (and cannot) unnecessarily hinder God using people. But, in leadership there is a balance. And this can be a relationally tough line to walk sometimes.
Here's the consistent bottom line issue I've seen the past decade or so: Millennials (and in many cases anyone who wants to be developed for ministry) can view the Church as an object where their "gifts" are developed rather than a subject they humbly serve. In other words, in the former view, the "gifted" person is at the center of the equation whereas in the latter view, other people (i.e. the Church) are in the center.

The discipleship battle is really felt when someone thinks that to be developed for ministry means they should gain more exposure to decision making, they should gain more influence over people (particularly in teaching) and they should have more experiences in developing their giftedness. Those aspects can be and most often are part of developing people for ministry. However, experience in these ways can NEVER be a hindrance to developing character in someone. And, sometimes, limiting their exposures is what is best for the development of them as a human being. In my view, developing the person for ministry is less about giftedness and more about the leadership heart. And this is less and less cliche for me. In the development process there are many battles to be fought..most of which are not chosen by the younger person being developed.
Too often I see the development of giftedness being at the center of "leadership development." And, well, I think this is detrimental to those being developed. Being short-sited in the development of leaders in this way, in my mind, is simply poor leadership. Developing people includes both sides, but even though God using someone in the life of other people (i.e. gifts) is important, I happen to think God is more concerned about the heart of the person we are leading.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beginning of a significant cultural shift

We all know college has become an important and, in many cases, a necessary step for people to take in our culture. In 1950 only about 9% of 18-24 year olds were attending degree granting schools (which included those attending high school) whereas today 77% of 18-24 year olds are attending degree granting institutions (not including high school - for source click here). However you look at this and whatever we think might be the cause of such an increase, this is a massive cultural shift. Over the course of this trend there have been waves and cycles that have effected a number of things in both the Church as well as culturally, both too long to discuss in this post (to read more of on this subject, click here). For this post, I would simply like to share one shift in how college is viewed that I see having a tremendous impact on how we can minister to college-age people.
Put simply, the shift is that fewer people view a college degree as a right of passage.  What does this mean? Well, the bottom line is people/employers/etc are less concerned with a degree and more concerned with experience - or at least we are moving that direction. The shift that is beginning doesn't necessarily negate a college degree, but the key is to realize it's not limited to it. Actual work experience will increasingly become the most critical element in our culture.
I consult with churches, denominations as well as businesses that hire recent college grads. And although the degree can be important for many positions, employers are starting to see the benefit of hiring people with experience over those with degrees.
Does this mean employers are devaluing a degree? Not entirely, but it is losing some value.
It used to be that a college degree was a right of passage into the workforce. For lack of better terms, it was viewed (and still is in some cases) as a 'hoop' to get through to do what you want to do. It was viewed this way by all parties - parents, children and employers. Not to take away from the necessity of a degree for most middle-class suburbanites, but the reality is fewer people want to just get a degree...and I believe you will continue to see fewer and fewer employers viewing a degree as a necessity for positions in their company.
So, what does this mean for those of us in ministry?
Here are 2 things you might consider doing in your church with this in mind:
  1. Emphasize and promote work experience. Encourage college students to get work with organizations like GroupMissionTrips.  Organizations like this would give perhaps the most important "work experience." That is, experience with leading and organizing people. If someone wants to be an engineer, this probably won't be the biggest factor in an engineering firm hiring someone. But there are a lot of businesses that see experience like this as a HUGE benefit.
  2. Make intentional connections for students. Connect the students you know to real life people that are actually doing what your students want to do. Encourage older individuals in your church to offer internships and maybe even consider going to larger businesses in your area and ask if they have any internships available for students...and then you be the one to make the connection!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Church Staffing Grid

Okay, personally, I was over the whole acronym thing about 15 years ago. That said, for the first time in that time frame I have come up with one that I think works well. How's that for internal contradiction? Anyway, I came up with this a little while ago and has served as somewhat of a guideline for putting together my staff, and more specifically, the "pastoral" staff. However, I do believe this can serve as a guideline for any leadership team.
The way I say it is, "I believe every staff is held together by P.A.S.T.E." I would say that to have the best team possible we should have people in each of these areas. I've written brief descriptions of each below so maybe you can read through them and compare it to those on your team. Also, see where you might fit into the bigger picture yourself.
P - prophetic. This person tends to be concerned with having reverence for God and caring for the poor and needy (like the prophets in scripture). Additionally tends to speak into areas the Church tends to become complacent.
A - apostolic. This person is a starter of new things then gets others to run with it, likes having a lot of plates spinning and can generally boil things down into a simple vision people follow.
S - shepherd. This person is caring, a good listener and many will often give people hours of their time in counseling. When thinking of sermons, etc. this person thinks of about the people being spoken to.
T - teacher. This person can bring refreshing and practical perspective on the scriptures for those who are being taught.
E - evangelist. This person can cultivate the truth of the gospel into an area (whether that be an entire city or a neighborhood or a workplace).
Every person on my staff has at least 2 of these.  For me, mine are Teacher, Apostolic and Evangelist (not necessarily in that order).  How about you and your team?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Maybe we should change how we refer to the bible...?

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post called, "Pivot of Perspective On Bible Study" where I talked about a few different ways I've been talking to people about how they view the bible. Here I would like to throw out a few thoughts I've been thinking a bit through about how we refer to it in our speech.  We refer to the bible in a number of ways. We call it things like:
  1. Scripture
  2. The Bible
  3. The Word
  4. God's Word
  5. The Holy Bible
  6. Word of God
All of these are certainly good and well-meaning names and I am not saying we should change how we refer to it. Instead, I'm asking the question, what if we changed the way we referred to it? How could that impact how we see it impacting our lives? I have found the most common way we refer to it is, "The Word of God." We have time in the Word. We study the Word.
But the more I study it I'm starting to think maybe a more accurate and fresh description of it would be, "Acts of God" versus "Word of God." Now, I know that would be a bit awkward to refer to it by that name in the contexts we typically use the phrase "The Word of God." And I'm certainly not saying the ways in which we currently refer to it are inaccurate. But, just think about it for a second. We are not just talking about words here. We are, in fact, talking about actions God has taken.
Maybe referring to it (or thinking about it) as "Acts of God" would cause us to see how our actions should change? Maybe it would be a refreshing reminder that God took action toward and for us? Maybe it would also cause us to follow in action more than simply studying it does? And, maybe understanding it as Acts of God would reach much deeper into our affections/desires/feelings?
After all, we do say things like, "Actions speak louder than words."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started

I have been in ministry for about 19 years and I will say it's been an amazing journey. I have served as a volunteer, intern, Jr. High Director, College Pastor, Student Ministries Pastor, Children's Pastor, and I currently pastor the church I planted about 6 years ago. It has truly been a wonderful time and journey.
That said, there are a few things I wish I really understood before I started:
  1. Motivations matter way more than people tend to acknowledge. Sifting through my motivations and then making sure I don't allow my impure motivations to drive my decisions takes a considerable amount of effort and intentionality - far more than I like to admit.
  2. Being alone is way more normal in leadership than people realize. Personally, I never really feel lonely, but I do feel alone. I almost never move in a direction without a team totally on board, but I am always "ahead" of the team in ways...which means I'm alone a lot.
  3. Making meaningful decisions on Sunday is ludicrous. My head feels like Jello after I teach three times. The only thing I should do when I get home on Sunday is eat and take a couch nap. I wait until Monday (at least) to decide anything.
  4. There should be no guilt for turning off your cell phone. Sometimes leaders often think they need to be accessible at all times. That's actually called having a messiah complex and, well, last time I checked Sabbath was not a suggestion.
  5. You will never regret not leading things others can lead. Unless you have the need to control things, letting others lead is freeing and empowering for others. And, if you don't let others lead things and fully back away, you never develop leaders.
  6. Some people are called to be in leadership, but everyone is called to be in submission. I have really come to understand and appreciate the beauty of submitting to those God has placed over me.
  7. Trust is only earned over time...and there are always people that will never trust you no matter what you do.
  8. Comparing yourself to other leaders is the worst thing you can do. This not only steals the joy of being yourself, but it will also hinder your effectiveness in ministry. God made us to be who we are for a reason, and organizing our ministries around who we are (in strength and weakness) is the only way to lead.
  9. Leadership is a personal thing, but don't take too much personally. Sometimes people bock at what you do, but sometimes it's them that's the problem not you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

3 Tricks To Managing Emails

If you're anything like me managing email is nothing less than burdensome. Add onto that Twitter DM's, Facebook messages, and text messages...at times there is just too much to respond to for a personality like mine. I've made some adjustments in the way I manage social media that has helped, but I have also learned a few "tricks" to managing email. Some of these may not apply to you or your context, but maybe you would get an idea or two that could help.

So, here are three quick "tricks" I use:

  1. Close the door.  When I respond to an email I make sure I don't have anything left for me to do when I click send.  If I don't have all the information I need to get back to the person, I wait until I do before replying.  This cuts way down on the back-and-forth emails that tend to be unnecessary.
  2. Hit the Delete button.  After I respond to an email I immediately delete it from my inbox.  I use Mail on my MacBook, so if I need something it's technically saved and retrievable.  But the bottom line is after I send the email I know I don't have anything left to follow up with.  In other words, I know if there is something to follow up on it's the other person.  My staff also knows that if I forward them something because they can better respond to it, it's deleted out of my inbox and therefore they are solely responsible to make sure the ball doesn't get dropped.
  3. Stop the Nonsense.  I think inner office email is largely a waste of time.  I just prefer to talk to people.  So, on our staff we don't communicate through email.  We actually talk to each other.  Even if we have a document to give feedback on (whatever that may be) we don't do so via email, but rather through Google Drive.  This helps cut down on the number of emails and helps all of us avoid the dreadful "reply-all" never ending trail of useless information.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Millennials And Money

We all grow up being told we "can do whatever we want to" if, in fact, "we work hard enough." As we grow, we think if we can just jump through the hoops of education then we will be prepared for the workforce.
But if that was true, why do companies have ongoing training programs?
The fact is a college degree is pretty much necessary for someone to get a full-time job. Even in the trade industry, there is usually some sort of schooling necessary before getting a job.
But to think that these things prepare you for the work you will be paid for is crazy. Sure, there is a foundation developed in ways. But just as seminary doesn't prep someone to pastor and lead a church, neither does a college-level degree prepare people to interact effectively in the marketplace. We all need to start somewhere.
This is where I find the rub to be in many cases. I find many college graduates thinking they should be paid more than they are making when they get out of school. Certainly not all, but a growing number it seems. In my discussions I have found a core thread that seems to lead to this conclusion: they have jumped through all the necessary hoops we have told them they needed to jump through and therefore feel like they deserve comfort.
But who can blame them? Most of them were raised with this mentality!
Well, I recently read an article that may bring some settling to this issue for some. There is something about seeing real-life numbers and this article surprised me a little. One of the topics hit in this article was the median income for Millennials. Here are 10 major cities in the U.S. and how much Millennials (people between the ages of 25-34) make on average in these cities:
  1. Raleigh, NC: $31,899
  2. San Diego, CA: $30,196
  3. Dallas, TX: $29,830
  4. Denver, CO: $32,422
  5. Boston, MA: $33,659
  6. San Francisco, CA: $36,119
  7. Chicago, IL: $30,061
  8. Austin, TX: $30,816
  9. New York, NY: $31,703
  10. Washington, D.C.: $42,226
Are you surprised by those numbers?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Loveology

My friend, John Mark Comer, has his first book release today.  It's with Zondervan and it's called Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the never-ending story of male and female.  I gladly endorsed it by writing:

"In a time when people are drowning in a sea of definitions, my friend John Mark Comer has brilliantly defined love, marriage, and sexuality in ways that find rescue in the ways of the kingdom and teachings of Jesus.  This is a much-needed tool in a culture where so many lack clarity."

Here is an exert from the back cover as well:
This is a book for singles, engaged couples, and the newly married---both inside and outside the church---who want to learn what the Scriptures have to say about sexuality and relationships. For those who are tired of Hollywood's propaganda, and the church's silence. And for people who want to ask the why questions and get intelligent, nuanced, grace-and-truth answers, rooted in the Scriptures.

Go get it here!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

4 Reasons I Want Our Youth Pastor To Fail

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 1.05.17 PMI know that title may sound a bit odd, but I mean it.  I literally want our youth pastor to fail in our church. As the pastor of a church, I say this because I believe failure does at least the following 4 things:
  1. Gain needed wisdom.  Good decision making today is usually the result of poor decisions made in the past.  The truth is we don't learn as much from our successes as we do our failures and the more we fail, the more we will succeed.
  2. Shows consistent innovation.  I push our staff to try new things.  Some will work, some won't.  That's okay.  I love Facebook's slogan on this issue: "Move Fast And Break Things."  This phrase is painted onto the walls in their facility.  I don't want to negate our past experiences (see #1 above), but I also don't want our staff's thought processes to start with what they've seen.  We want to think about our context, our people and then work toward something unique to those that will help us move forward.
  3. Keeps us humble. Success doesn't necessarily mean we will become arrogant, but I've never seen success develop humility the way I've seen failure do it.  When a leader has failed in the past it produces humility and wisdom.  Someone who has not failed a lot is going to lack both.
  4. Develops team.  Failure makes us realize that we need others around us.  We realize the beauty of inviting people to speak into situations and ideas.  Most of all, over time we realize that people have better ideas than we did.  This is when leadership is developed and team atmosphere becomes exciting.
Do you think you are failing enough?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

3 Things Every Christian Might Consider

New Year's resolutions are tough and mostly because we don't follow through with them.  Everyone knows that.  But there can be some health in changing up a few things in our lives, especially when it comes to keeping our faith fresh and vibrant.

So, here are a few things you might consider changing up...

(1) Your medium for reading.  I've always considered the bible to be interesting and, frankly, I love reading it.  BUT, if I'm honest, I've realized that there are times when I stop reading it in a fresh way.  So, one thing I've found to help is changing the medium I read it on.  I found changing from my physical bible to my iPhone to my iPad helps keep it fresh.  Even though the words are the same it can be like reading them for the very first time every time I switch to a different device.

(2) The version you read.  Sometimes reading a different version of the bible brings new perspective.  I usually read from the ESV, but sometimes I switch to NIV or NAS or even The Message.  They basically say the same thing, but every once in a while the different wording of sentences brings fresh perspective.  You don't necessarily need to switch versions entirely, but from time to time it can help keep things fresh by reading different versions.  If you haven't already, you might consider downloading the YouVersionApp.  It's free and is a very easy way to switch up versions.

(3) When you pray.  I've found that setting a specific time aside each day to pray sets me up for epic failure.  Plans change or I get tired and then miss the time.  All sorts of things happen where I inevitably miss the time.  Then I just end up feeling guilty.  So, what I've found to be helpful is to use things like driving time to pray.  It's something I'm going to be doing anyway, so I just try to make use of the time.  For you this might be going on a run or walk, or going to the gym.  So, you might consider changing up when you pray so that it ends up being in a time frame of something you're ALREADY doing.  For me, getting in my car has now become a reflective time more than anything...and I always seem to find myself in my car, so I try and make the most of it.

So, hopefully this will be helpful for you, in some small way, in keeping your faith fresh this year.  I'm hopeful mine will be fresher and more exciting than ever before.