Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Listening Ear - Discipleship 117

Many of the posts that I have shared regarding discipleship may not be rocket science. Some of these topics, however, seem to have been forgotten, postponed or devalued in our well-intentioned pursuit to make disciples. Today's topic is one of these "no-brainer" concepts that I think we've forgotten.

I think one of the greatest parts of discipling others is that of listening to them. Jesus modelled this for us as He listened to countless questions and comments from not only His closest 12 comrades, but others as well (Nicodemus comes to mind).

What I am learning in youth ministry reminds me of this simple concept of listening to others. My wife and I were chatting today about the journey we've been on together for the last 6 years as a married couple. We both could point to times when we felt led by God in a certain direction, only to receive opposition from people regarding our pursuit. This whole idea got me thinking today about this concept of listening. Take the story of Job for instance. Job had the life that many of us dream of (independently wealthy, healthy family, friends and plenty of success). In an instant, all that Job had was taken from him. In this moment of transparency, Job doesn't blame God for his set of circumstances (although Job does ask God a lot of questions). In the counsel of his wife and friends, however, Job is encouraged to blame God for this trouble in his life. The story continues to unfold with the culmination of restoration as all that Job had was given back to him in God's timing.

What speaks to me about discipleship from the story of Job today is the "counsel" of Job's friends. These well-intentioned, thoughtfully spoken men saw this set of circumstances in Job's life as an opportunity to speak into him. It was like looking in a mirror this morning as I pondered this story. How many times have I seen grief, chaos and calamity as the opportunity to speak truth into someone else's life by using words. Yet what I failed to realize is that in this moment, those struggling with pain, grief, sorrow and hurt often do not need anything more than a listening ear. If you think about it, sometimes when we step up to speak, we may unintentionally be diminishing the work of God in that person's life. We know that God works through suffering in a way that we cannot comprehend from a human standpoint. But in our devotion to the task at hand and perhaps our zeal for the gospel, we forget to simply pause to listen to those who are in need.

Maybe we fall back into default mode during these times of crisis where we want to fill up the space with words so that it feels like we are accomplishing something. Or maybe we simply do not want to see this other person experience life to the full before we do. I wonder how much of what we do and say is motivated by something other than love? I know in those moments when I allow myself to be truly honest, I am shocked at where my motivation comes from at times.

How about this: the next time a friend or neighbour is experiencing darkness, pain or hurt do these three things - listen, pray and remain. Take the time to listen to them, to pray for them and remain connected not only with the person, but also with their pain or hurt. It may not be rocket science, but it seems to be something we've forgotten to practice over time. I think when we embrace these three practices we give God room to continue to work through this other person's life, and I know that I'd rather have God doing the transformation in another person's life then me trying to do the best that I can. Good intentions don't really get us very far, but the transformation of the power of God's Spirit alive and active in our world is what truly does the changing of lives. Maybe our role is simply to partner with what God is doing by letting God be God and us simply being who we were created to be: human beings made in the image of the Almighty who are yearning to embrace the life we were created to live...life to the full.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Little Too Much Salt - Discipleship 116

Have you ever had a meal that was too salty to eat? I know I have. One time in particular stands out in my mind. Invited over for dinner at someone else's home, the meal they had prepared looked amazing. Beef roast, potatoes, fresh peas and a garden salad. My mouth was salivating in anticipation of my first bite. I loaded up my plate with utter glee...and then came the first bite...TOO MUCH SALT!! The meat was so salty that I literally couldn't drink enough water to wash away the saline residue from my mouth. I shudder to think how much overage I had in terms of my daily sodium allotment!!

The last few weeks I have been blogging about the theme of discipleship as it is a particular passion of mine. Discipleship is a Christianese word that simply means devoted follower. The concept of a devoted follower or loyal fan is not a foreign paradigm for our society. Whether we routinely shop at the same set of stores for our wants or needs, or we religiously follow our favourite sports teams no matter how poorly they may be doing at the moment, we as humans are very familiar with the idea of being a devoted follower.

In the church world, our key emphasis is about helping to create disciples (devoted followers & loyal fans) of Jesus Christ. Much of what we do in church should reflect this mission of creating more disciples. I have to wonder at times though if the rest of the world, those that aren't familiar with or connect to the church, look at what the church is about and are truly excited about what they see...until they have their first bite and find that the salt is a little overwhelming.

In the book of Matthew (one of the gospels in the Bible), Jesus instructs his followers to be the salt of the earth. In this metaphor Jesus challenges those who seek to follow after Him to be a preservative and so bring out the flavour of the world at large. In cooking, salt is used in this way...but when you have too much salt it ruins the meal. Where we as the church become a little to salty (even for our own taste) is when we no longer consider how we can bring the people from the fringe or the margins into the community at large. When we are internally focused as a faith community, we become too salty and we lose our effectiveness and relevance in the world.

So what are some of the signs of a salty church? A couple come to mind. The first is a church that is steeped in Christianese. If a community of faith speaks a language that only that community understands, there is an immediate disconnect with the rest of the world at large. If we truly believe that the church isn't about being a secret club or society, then we must make the effort to develop a common language that is easily understood by people inside and outside of the faith community. I'm not advocating for the watering down of truth, but I am suggesting that how we communicate the truth about Jesus Christ must resonate with a broader spectrum than those who are inside the community of faith. A great example of this is a church that prioritizes serving the community in which they are situated. The motivation for this church's acts of service isn't self-preservation, it's all about intentionally loving the greater community and extending the invitation to those on the fringe to become a part of the community in some way. A great example of this is when a church actively participates in a community cleanup or restoration project in conjunction with the community itself. These actions create a common language from which the broader community (the church & the fringe) can connect with one another.

The second sign of a salty church that comes to mind is a church that has unspoken expectations of its' members. When we frown upon others for how they dress when they come into the church building, or for what colour their hair is, or for tattoos, or for some other aesthetic so-called issue, we shift our focus from what is important to what is irrelevant. Looking at the life of Jesus, He was a master at connecting with those on the fringe. One of my favourite stories is that of Zaccheus. Craving to see and experience who Jesus is, Zaccheus climbed a tree to view Jesus from a distance. Passing by the tree where Zaccheus was perched, Jesus stopped and extended an invitation to Zach to join the community. The story continues from this point and what is truly evident is that Zach's experience of Jesus led to life change.
Broken, battered, bruised and on the fringe. Is the church willing to invite people into the community who don't look like us or talk like us?

Think about this the next time you are anticipating a great meal: Are you too salty, or does your life possess just the right amount of flavour to enhance not only your own experience of Jesus but also that those who are on the fringe?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Giving to Gain - Discipleship 115

The Christmas season always bring with it a wealth of emotion and experience. There is anticipation for the opening of presents, the chilling with family & friends, and the eating of food. There is the solemness of another year having gone by so quickly. There is the thought of how fortunate one may be to not have to fight for your next meal. But what I am learning more about this Christmas than any other is the principle and discipline of giving to gain.

I am not referring to a health & wealth version of the gospel that is misleading to many who buy into this line of thinking. What I am focusing on is the idea of investment during the holiday season. There is much preparation that goes into Christmas. We plan food menus, gift purchasing, gift wrapping/unveiling, social activities and perhaps ways to give back to others through volunteering or serving the less fortunate. All of this effort and energy is an investment; we are giving of ourselves in order to gain something in return. It's not a bad thing to think about what you are getting out of an experience. It's good to be aware of the benefit that an experience has for your own personal growth and development as a person. I guess it all boils down to your definition or motivation for gaining something from an experience.

For example, if the only reason you give a gift to someone on Christmas is so that you will receive one in return, are you really giving a gift? If the only reason you serve others is so that someone will notice your effort and give you a pat on the back and an ego boost, are you really invested in caring for others?

As I head into this Christmas season I find myself focusing more on this idea of giving to gain. Am I giving of myself to others in relationship in order to gain something in return? What is my motivation behind my desire to give? As a dad, I hope that my children see that as I invest in them or give to them, my desire is to gain a wider appreciation for being a parent. I do hope my children reciprocate my affection and care for them, but I do not love with this potential gain of love in mind. I simply love to gain a wider appreciation for love.

We're a week away from Christmas. What are you hoping to gain through giving this season?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Loving Justice - Discipleship 114

Today I am playing the role of both nurse and nanny as my wife is recovering from oral surgery, and my two children have chosen to pick this day as limit testing day! The kicker for me in this all is that empathy is not one of my strong suits. Compassion is something that I learn more about each day. Two of the people (outside of Jesus) that have the most impact on me in this fashion are my wife and my daughter.

With Bonny out of commission in terms of the regular routine around the house today, I'm subbing in where I can. Part of my subbing routine has included nap time (which is currently happening for the 3 aforementioned family members). My daughter Saydie has chosen nap time to push limits today. But during one of our many special conversations, Saydie's compassion has yet again overwhelmed her father's heart. I laid her down for her nap, only to hear her open her bedroom door and call out to me a few moments later. I trudged back upstairs and got her back into her bed. Hoping to give her some wisdom about nap time I uttered the words, "Saydie, it's time to get cozy in your bed. You have a nice cozy bed and you are so blessed because not everyone in our world has a nice cozy bed to sleep in." She stared up at me with a look of confusion and replied, "How come Daddy?" I shared with her about the blessing that we have as a family to have a home and cozy beds, and how not everyone in the world has the things that we have to use. Our conversation continued for a few moments with Saydie referencing our sponsored child Deborah and her desire to make sure Deborah has a cozy place to sleep each night. After a few moments of silence I asked Saydie what she was thinking about. Her answer kind of took be back for a moment. "I'm thinking about how we need to buy beds for little boys and girls that don't have a cozy place to sleep." Tears welling up in my eyes I asked my daughter, "where are we going to get the money to do this pal?" "Well Dad," she replied confidently, "we can use some of the pennies from my piggy bank...but maybe not all of them." I said to her that if she was willing to use some of her pennies, I would be willing to use some of mine. So once nap time is over, looks like we are going shopping for beds online.

Discipleship is a mutual learning experience for both the mentor and mentoree. In this particular story, my daughter Saydie taught me about compassion, while I taught her about stewardship and loving justice.

It's these relational moments that speak to more about God's love in action that program based connections ever could. How is your life reflecting a love for justice and a willingness to tangibly demonstrate that God is alive in the world today?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning from the Next Generation - Discipleship 113

Every person on earth has something to offer the community at large. Being a dad has taught me a lot about what it means to be a human being and a follower of Jesus Christ. My own children teach me about things like grace, mercy and forgiveness each day. What if we would take the time to listen to others more intentionally? Imagine what it may be like in church or in other places as the next generation is involved at every level of the organization as a whole?

This video is a great conversation piece on how we can learn from the emerging generations.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Simplicity derived from Complexity - Discipleship 112

As human beings, we are wired to search for complexity. But, if stay rooted in the complexity of life, things tend to get complicated. What if we were able to see beyond the complexity and embrace simplicity instead? Often times simplicity is on the other side of complexity.

Consider the Old Testament law...complex in nature, but simple in its' purpose; relationship. Jesus took this complex system of rules and regulations and widdled it down to two simple, easy to say (but hard to follow) commands: Love God and Love Others (Matthew 22:37-39).

The issue of helping to create fully devoted followers of Jesus out of people who may, or may not believe in God is a complicated issue. I can't help but think, however, that on the other side of this complexity there lies the rhythm of simplicity.

Check out this video to learn more about how simplicity stems from complexity.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Show Me - Discipleship 111

Proclamation and demonstration; two words that are used to describe the gospel in Christian circles. I have yet to meet an individual who's take on evangelism doesn't lean towards one of these two emphases. Those of us who follow Christ with our lives will identify with one of these two expressions of the gospel more easily than the other. Some of us will be comfortable with using our words (written or verbal) to communicate the truth about Jesus Christ, while others will be more keen on exercising the principle of love through tangible means.

When you examine the life of Christ, you will see that Jesus emphasized both of these practices in a balanced manner. There were times when He used words to speak truth, and other times His actions were the key in his communication strategy (um...like the cross maybe??). In typical Christian fashion however, we seem to think that the answer to the question of evangelism is a one or the other approach rather than a both and.

The narrative of scripture as a whole speaks to the pursuit of a way of life that is different than what is in our default human programming. From the nation of Israel, to Jesus, to Paul (and others) you will see this call to live life to the full; according to God's rhythm and design. Some scholars suggest that this is the very reason God chosen to set apart an entire nation for Himself (Israel). The purpose in being set apart from others, was for the nation of Israel to tangibly demonstrate what living life according to its' original design is meant to be. In our humanness, we Christians often take this gift of a new way to live and see it as a tool from which we are able to compare ourselves to others and justify how we interact with those who have yet to experience life in Christ. You see this time and time again throughout the biblical narrative. The nation of Israel reaches this crescendo where they believe they are better than everyone else. In that moment, they shift their focus off of following God and onto making sure others know how different they are. Rules, structure and strategy replace intimacy, relationship and freedom. People begin to de-emphasize the discipline of demonstration and prioritize the pursuit of proclamation.

Rabbit trail....imagine for a moment being on a first date with someone. Can you picture yourself trying to get to know the other person by simply explaining what you are against? "Hi Candace, my name is Bill. I don't drink, don't smoke, don't believe in cursing and don't agree with divorce or abortion. That's my in a nutshell!!" All of these issues are great conversation topics, but void of the demonstration of relationship (spending time together, listening, etc.), these issues become labels more than anything...and we all know how difficult it is to get rid of a label that someone else has put on us!!

What I'm trying to communicate here is that the Church in North America is erringly similar to that of the nation of Israel during one of its' crescendo moments. If you listen to the news, the world at large understands what the church is against, but do they understand what the church is for?

Revival begins with authenticity. If our culture is telling us anything at the moment, it is yelling to us as the church "show me before you tell me." Discipleship is about a balanced approach to telling and doing. If we, the church, desire to see revival come to Canada in a way that will rock our entire nation, I truly believe we must step our game in the demonstration portion of the discipleship equation. Let's earn the right to be heard, by demonstrating what the gospel is by how we live. North America doesn't need more well adjusted, well rounded, well educated Christians...we need radical, passionate, word-changing followers of Jesus!!

Changing the world begins with one choice at a time...choosing to do and to be exactly what the church is supposed to be!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Relationship Takes Time - Discipleship 110

In our fast-paced, instant gratification society, a relational approach to ministry and to life is a difficult concept to grasp. I blame the drive-thru for this cerebral war.

You sit in a line, in your car for the opportunity to order your food (breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks) and expect it to be ready at not only your beckon call, but also within your timeframe. Some restaurants have even begun to display stopwatch-type clocks that monitor the progress of your food delivery service. If your food is delivered outside of this random pre-determined number, you walk away with a free lunch!!

It's this type of instant living that reeks havoc on any sort of relational pursuit in ministry.

Can you imagine if making friends was as easy as selecting a combo number from a drive-thru menu? Yeah, I'd like to order combo number 3...the one with two guy friends, one gal pal, and a free glow-in-the-dark sticker collection for the bathroom. And can you up-sized my combo to include a random to be determined friend selection at a later date? RIDICULOUS!!

The fact is that relationships take time...and lots of it. I've been married to my wife for a little over 6 years and I'm still learning more about our friendship and marriage each and every day. I've known Bonny for 15 years, but in that time I still don't know everything about her. My relationship keeps growing as I keep investing in it.

Our instant gratification society asks us to produce results immediately. Have you ever stopped to think how you measure growth in any relationship? Outside of the biblical description of the fruit of the spirit from Galatians, I don't know if we can quantify relationship by any sort of numeric value. I remember asking my grandmother how she and my grandfather made it to 50 years of marriage. Her answer surprised me, "I don't know." Does a number like 50 really mean their is significant relationship? I'm not entire convinced of that, but I do know that time does provide us with a greater opportunity for connection.

I think this is why retreats and camps are so popular for youth. Not only do they get to pull away and unplug from the normal routine (which any sane human being craves every once and awhile!!), but they also have the chance to spend a chunk of unbroken time with their peers. Length of time does matter in the development of relationship.

You know what kills a relationship? Unhealthy expectation. We cannot expect to move from A to Z in relational growth without identifying and experiencing all of the letters in between. When we hold unhealthy expectations of what a relationship is about, we doom it from the start. Unless we are willing to invest in relational connections without pre-conceived notions, I don't think we'll ever experience relational growth of any kind.

Let's not fool ourselves, the relational intimacy we crave takes time. Let's avoid the temptation to quantify our connections and allow the pursuit of relationship to be our guide as we attempt to navigate through life while making a difference and feeling valued along the way.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Learning Revolution - Discipleship 109

The way youth learn in our digitized world needs to shape how we teach and how we help youth learn in church and in youth group. Consider what this learning revolution means for your youth ministry and your own children.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing - Discipleship 108

Over the last several weeks my appointment book has been more full than usual. As I've toured around a variety of different restaurants and coffee houses, I've been observing life in action and learning much about the state of the church and the challenges we face in youth ministry moving forward.

Roughly 3 weeks ago our staff reluctantly said good-bye to two great teammates. During one of our farewell lunches, our staff team enjoyed the spoils that the Cheesecake Cafe has to offer. One of my teammates, Grover, went to use the washroom, came back to the table and encouraged me to write a blog about our Cheesecake experience and the church of today. Well G...here is the rant you were waiting for!! Upon our arrival I noticed several things:

1. The place was nearly empty
2. The decor & ambiance was extremely outdated
3. There was an expectation from the restaurant staff that this place had a relevant voice in the food industry

It was quite obvious that the Cheesecake Cafe had grown content with what they had become, and they did not seem to have any desire or vision to continue to push the envelope in the food industry. Instead, this food-chain seemed content to rest on its' laurels, or dance with what got them to the party in the first place. The Cheesecake Cafe relies upon their reputation for Cheesecake to draw in the consumer, instead of being creative about how to engage an emerging consumer base. Not only that, but their menu consisted of 15 pages of items...serving as a sort of buffet style dining experience "masterpiece."

This may be a significant leap to make, but don't some of these same observations about our Cheesecake Cafe dining experience seem erringly similar to what is happening in the context of the church?

Buffet Spirituality or Discipleship, seems to be the sign that hangs above most churches and quite frankly, the majority of youth ministries. Program is King and relationship is often difficult to be found. As youth pastors we have asked families for buy-in to a system that dominates the calendar because our mantra is busy = safe, happy & content.

I recently sat down and went through our current ministry calendar. Doing simple math, I calculated that we are asking for 25% of a family's calendar within a given year. This percentage did not include extended activity such as retreats or missions trips, but simply connection point activities that seem to still reign supreme in the realm of youth ministry. What is shocking to me is that this 25% (roughly 90 days) is drastically lower that what our youth ministry (and others) have often demanded from families in the past. I recognize that this 25% does not represent the entire allotment of time we have in any given year in terms of hours, but what it does represent is our expectation and definition for success in the pursuit of discipleship as a youth ministry.

Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was one of my favorite shows a couple of summers ago. Not only did I enjoy witty English banter, I also appreciated Gordon's passionate pursuit of simplicity in the culinary world. Often times Gordon would step into a failing restaurant's context and offer them a new perspective, one that was based upon serving "simple and honest cuisine." Massive menus were hacked and slashed until this achievement could be made. And it was during this process of refinement that these restaurants on the rocks found their identity once again.

I can't help but think youth ministry across the board is in a similar place in time right now. I think we've become known for our activity, our buffet-style ministry, that it is now really difficult for us to offer anything "less" than what we have previously been accustomed to. The only issue is that the "more" we seem to feel we are offering is in fact less. Sure the quantity may be there, but is the quality?

Frequency is a fantastic concept. But if frequency is the goal, would we ever have any depth to what we do? I may frequently visit the grocery store or shopping mall, but do my visits have any lasting significance unless I am focused during the time I spend at these places?

I guess I'm wondering if we've simply offered too much of a "good thing" in youth ministry, and we haven't had enough depth to what we've been doing which has led us to the place where we are at today; a place where the quantity doesn't seem to be enough and that quality simply isn't there.

Maybe it's time for our Gordon Ramsay moment in youth ministry. Perhaps we do need to refine what we do and rediscover our identity once again, so that we may forge ahead with renewed vigor and enthusiasm to make disciples who will revive the church and change the world.

Who knew cheesecake could make one think so much? Be blessed!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Simplicity from an unlikely source - Discipleship 107

Kiva is a micro-financing website I stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Being a part of world change means learning to adapt and grow in one's perspective. Check out this inspiring story and video. May you step away from this learning experience with a broader understanding of simplicity.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Story of Joseph - Discipleship 106

One story that has captivated my thought life over the last few weeks is that of Joseph. Many of you may be familiar with this story, but for those of you who are not, let me provide you with a short synopsis.

Joseph was the second youngest of 12 brothers. He was seen as his dad's favorite son, and his older brothers hated him for this reason. Sold into slavery by his own kin, Joseph wound up in Egypt (a foreign country) where he experienced more pain and suffering, while bearing witness to God's continued hand of providence in his life. Fortunate enough to be delivered twice from obscurity, Joseph ended up in a position of authority from which he could have enacted his revenge on his family. Instead, Joseph demonstrated compassion and mercy to his brothers, forgave them for all the treachery they had bestowed upon him, and released them from their burden of guilt. Uttering these famous words found in Genesis 50, "You intended to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best" Joseph demonstrated restraint, conviction and quality of character.

Have you ever thought about where this strength came from? I know I have. I do believe that it ultimately came from God working in and through Joseph's life, but my mind wonders if perhaps this strength or passion to be a man of character came from observing God at work in someone Joseph admired. We know from this story that Joseph was loved by his father Jacob, and in turn, Jacob loved his father. I wonder if Joseph never lost the image of his dad being a hero, and perhaps this is one of the main roots to his personal conviction to be a man of great strength also. Little boys always seem to idolize an older man, someone whom they look up to and feel inspired by. Sometimes it is a sports hero, sometimes it's a family member, and unfortunately less than the majority of a time it's a dad.

Isn't it sad to think that the emerging generation is sometimes called the fatherless generation? For the first time in Canadian history, the nuclear family is in the minority...families with a mom, dad & children living together are an endangered species. We wonder why we are losing men in church or in society in general, and I wonder if it is directly related to the fact that we have lost sight of our dads as being heroes.

If you know the story of Jacob at all you would know that he wasn't a perfect person, or a perfect man. He was deceitful at times, and harsh at others. But through all of this history, Jacob's son Joseph still loved and idolized his dad in a healthy manner. In Jacob, Joseph saw a strength of character, a man of conviction and an agent for change...he saw his dad, and in his dad he saw someone he wanted to become more like.

Without Jacob demonstrating to Joseph want being a man of character and using his strength was all about, would Joseph have acted differently when given the opportunity to enact revenge on his brothers for the harm they inflicted upon him? We may not know for sure, but I would suggest that Joseph may have made a different choice.

Demonstrating not only what the gospel is, but how it transforms and transcends one's life is the key in any discipleship strategy. And in Joseph's case, this sort of demonstration happened within the context of relationship. Without relationship, demonstration cannot happen, and the desired product of discipleship cannot be attained.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Willing to be used? - Gianna Jessen - Discipleship 105

What is intended to harm us, God will use for good if we let God be God.

My wife stumbled upon this inspiring video of Gianna. Her birth-mom tried to abort her at 7 months...God used these catastrophic circumstances to do something amazing in her life and through her life. I believe God desires to use each of us to change the world. The question is do we see our circumstances as an obstacle or an opportunity for God to be God?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lessons from an Election - Discipleship 104

Yesterday the city of Calgary held its' municipal elections. I made several observations about this experience that I believe are key for the Christian church to understand in terms of discipleship and spiritual transformation.

1. Diversity - Diversity is our friend, not our enemy. When you think about how to engage people in the pursuit and relationship with Jesus Christ, diversity is the key. As someone who seeks to communicate God's truth in a relevant and inspiring fashion, I must be willing to change up my methodology in order to reflect the emerging culture that I am seeking to engage. There are times when we can view diversity as a negative thing. My family is ethnically diverse. My son is adopted and is of African-American background. What we as a family have learned is that the diversity we enjoy as a family unit is more enriching and powerful when we focus on how we are similar more than how we are different. While it is important to celebrate our uniqueness, we must also seek to build bridges where we are similar. As we continue to try and engage youth and disciple them in the way of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to embrace diversity in our methodology (teaching, leading, experiencing, etc.). Diversity helps to keep things fresh and brings the mystery of God back to the forefront of the Christian way of life.

2. Digital Jesus - If the church (and youth ministry in particular) is unwilling to represent an accurate image of Jesus Christ in the digital world, the image of Jesus may become distorted. This emerging generation communicates online. We share product reviews, stories, thoughts, feelings and a whole lot more digitally. As the body of Christ, we must understand that it is as important to demonstrate who Jesus is online as it is to demonstrate who He is offline. We need to embrace technological advances and see them as additional resources to aide us in our mission to share the gospel of Christ with the world at large. The scary thing is that if the church isn't leading the way in regards to shaping the digital image of Christ, it will be done by others...and the picture they create may mar the image of Christ and create more room for negativity in the realm of Christianity.

3. Authority - All authority that is given on earth comes from God. Whether or not we fully agree with another person's set of values, we must remember that God is in control, and His sovereignty is supreme. I'm learning more and more that authority and leadership test one's character. When we are responsible for not only ourselves, but a group of others (family, friends, etc.), it is our character that will lead us to success or failure. As followers of Christ, our character formation (our identity) must be rooted in our personal relationship with Him. Often times when we experience a failure of character, it is because we have rooted our worth and identity in something other than Christ.

Together can we lead the charge for change and become champions for the cause of Christ in the process of discipleship?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Empowering to Succeed - Discipleship 103

I stumbled upon this video from Ted.com and was instantly struck by some of the cross-over principles that one can apply to the church's pursuit of discipleship...and in particular, the discipleship of youth and their families by the youth ministry arm of the church.

The word empower has lost a lot of its' weight in our society today. Rarely do we see leaders given true autonomy in their leadership. We have checks and balances in place (good things) for our leaders, but sometimes its' these same systems that get in the way of true, innovative leadership. What if discipleship focused on resourcing people to succeed in living out the Great Commandment and Great Commission? How different would our "programming" elements within the church become? Would we have the courage to resource others to carry the vision forward, or will we fight for our system and allow structure to rule as king?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two Key Questions - Discipleship 102

At Thanksgiving dinner I had the privilege of reconnecting with cousins and other family. During our dinner conversation, we began talking about this emerging generation of youth and how to interact with them as it relates to the gospel. Heavy subject matter considering it's Thanksgiving (in Canada), but because of the passion my family shares for following Christ and considering what I do for a living as a pastor, these tangents often happen.

We began sharing about a youth rally that took place in our city this past summer. We spoke about the grandeur and wonder of this event, and then allowed our conversation to continue towards the subject matter of discipleship. I shared a thought that I wanted to expand upon in this blog because of the interesting reaction that I received regarding my comments. Keep in mind that the context for our conversation was discipleship of youth. I simply mentioned that youth are interested in first answering the how question before the why question when it comes to discipleship. One of the younger teenage members of our family gathering piped up and quickly agreed with my comment. It then struck me that this is totally the sort of reaction that Jesus' disciples may have had when they responded to his invitation to follow Him.

I've shared the thought in earlier blogs that youth are more drawn to the demonstration facet of the gospel rather than the proclamation portion. This uniqueness must not only inform how and why we teach, but it must also inform how and why we disciple. If we take yet another page out of Jesus' playbook, I wonder if we'd be more concerned about the journey that is spiritual formation than the road signs themselves. What I mean by saying this is simply this: When we overlook the simplicity of the gospel, we journey past it's original intent and design. At its' core, the gospel is the way, the truth and the life. When you think about discipleship using these terms, we're talking more about the questions of how and why. Let me be clear on what I am saying. I am NOT advocating that we emphasize behavioral modification in our ministry philosophy and strategy. What I am saying is that youth will be drawn to the gospel by what they see. This same desire will fuel their quest to answer the question of how they can journey with Jesus, while continuing to expand upon the question of why one should journey with Jesus.

This is the process of spiritual transformation; a journey that is an ever-evolving continuum based upon the simple foundation of the gospel as the way, the truth and the life. Using these definitive terms may help us to not only communicate what the gospel is through words, but also through deeds. If youth are looking for answers to the how & why questions, we must respond in the manner that Jesus did when confronted with these same questions. When asked to teach his disciples how to pray, Jesus demonstrated what a fruitful prayer life is all about. He referred back to this teaching when the disciples failed to cast out a demon from an individual that was suffering from possession. Jesus reminded his friends that prayer and fasting are key components in the exorcism process, and by his answer, he helped to connect the dots between the questions how and why for the disciples within the framework of a hands-on learning experience.

Jesus embodied what it meant to be the way, the truth and the life. As followers of Him, we are not asked to be the way, the truth and the life, but to believe that Jesus is in fact who He says He is, and visibly demonstrate to the rest of the world (including this emerging generation of youth) what living according to the way, the truth and the life actually looks like. It's in this journey of spiritual transformation that the questions of how & why blend together.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Four Elements - Discipleship 101

I've been drawn to studying the early church community as of late. We've recently launched into a new vision and philosophy of youth ministry that is much more relational focused, and less corporate larger group gathering oriented. There are always snags when launching a new vision and philosophy during the implementation process, but using a basic framework from Acts 2:42-47 has helped us paint a picture for families, youth and leaders regarding our direction. What I'm learning is that the process of casting vision is never finished. We must constantly communicate the vision, the direction and the philosophy so that we may recruit many more champions to this emerging cause.

I guess it's like the ultimate marketing strategy. Whenever you want to gain momentum, you draw in other's to your cause. Working with this emerging generation of young people, I am learning more and more that they are indeed a cause generation. If you can communicate the vision in such a way as to engage their strength and their heart, you will have recruited many more champions to the cause.

Another thing that I am observing on an increasing capacity from this generation is the longing for a genuine, realistic community of friends & mentors. When you combine this longing with their God-given gift for causes...well let's just say that there is a great opportunity for growth.

There are four basic elements to community that seem to be rooted deep within this generation, and they are not unlike the four basic elements found in the early church community.

Early Church                                          EC's Contemporary Cousin
Devotion to the Apostles' Teaching         Creative Learning Experiences
Breaking bread Together                         Snacks & Food
Fellowship                                                Hanging out (Just Chillin'!!)
Prayer                                                      Prayer

The bottom line is that youth want to not only be taught, but be shaped by radical life changing experiences and communities. If our ministry to youth is not steeped in the four basic elements, I don't believe we are being fair or honest with them. Let's get creative in how we implement this age-old strategy into our contemporary world, but let us not lose sight of the fact that these four basic elements are the true strategy for any and all discipleship that the church should be engaged it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Web Video is Changing the World

Have you ever watched any sort of video on the web? Sports highlights, how to make videos, and other instructional communications are available to us at the touch of a button. In ministry we often speak about the attractional and missional models. While some might suggest one model is better than the other, I would contest that both of these models are under constant renovation...they are moving targets of sorts. Whether we are drawn to one context or another, like it or not, we use both of these models in one shape or form in ministry.

Today I find myself asking the question if we can utilize technology for attractional purposes, allowing crowd accelerated innovation to be the marketing strategy that continues to change how we do ministry. Check out this video. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Program or Relationship

I'm in a season of my life where my learning curve seems pretty darn steep. Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded with new insights regarding my own inadequate definitions of relationship, success and community. Perhaps that greatest thing that seems to be cleansing the palate as of late is this whole concept of relationship and program.

I'm knee-deep into my tenth year as a youth pastor, and I think I know less now that I did as an eager, young, fresh-faced college grad! I can remember thinking I had this whole ministry thing figured out before I had even began working with people in an "uncontrolled" environment (the church) instead of theorizing in class (the controlled environment). Everything I thought I knew about how to build and sustain a successful youth ministry has changed over the last 10 years, and I am so thankful for that!!

Early on, youth ministry was built upon the premise of program...the field of dreams mentality: "If you build it, they will come." Success was defined as providing the next best thing in terms of event type activity for youth to connect at. As youth ministers, we played the role of pied piper, but our end goal wasn't to have them follow us or necessarily make disciples, but to somehow pad our measurable stats in order to be able to justify our role in the church at the next congregational meeting!!

What I've learned about building ministry on a program is that it is simply unsustainable. One day, when resources are not easily available, the program will suffer...that and the fact that there will always be better entertainment available at one's fingertips. Maybe this is why so many marriages fail? We seem to set our relationships up for failure when the relationship itself is built on program and dependent on program for its' sustainability. I can remember when my wife and I first started dating...dinner out once a week (at least) at some new place to eat. Over time, we realized this was simply an unsustainable "program" element to our relationship that we couldn't afford. So we became creative in how we built upon our relational connection and detoured away from the dangerous program-based relationship.

Sadly, what has happened in youth ministry over time is that we've created a culture that is dependent on program. Thanks to the recent recession in North America, youth ministries all over our continent have been forced to be more creative...to re-create themselves and to reshape their value system and philosophies to reflect this shift in our culture. The crazy thing is that this shift is more geared towards where youth are today than the days of program-driven connection type ministry. Instead of relying upon the program to create the relationship, we are now recognizing that it is the relationship that creates the program (the system & philosophy). Consider your own family rhythm. There is a program quality to family life, be it vacation, extra-curricular activities or schooling of some sort. When the program qualities of a family rhythm are the foundation for the formation of relationship within the family unit, the relationship itself suffers. If, however, the pre-existing, non-program dependent relationship foundation informs the creation of program elements such as vacation, the relationship structure within the family unit flourishes. It's merely a question of motivation. Instead of using language like "Must I or Do I have to?" we begin to ask use terms such as "I want to and Can we and should I?" when we allow relationship to dictate the pace and flow of our lives.

Ministry that is sustainable is ministry that recognizes, protects and fights for relationship. When our focus shifts towards the program, the relational connection we so desperately crave will suffer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ideas that Change the World

The most inspiring observation that God has shown me about this emerging generation is that the capacity for caring, compassion and change they possess is incredible! This is the first real generation that is embracing this concept of a global village with renewed vigor and passion. If I were to try to assign a label to the youth of today (of which I still consider myself to be a part of even though I will turn 30 in a couple of months!!) it would be the term "Cause Generation."

If the youth of today have a mission, cause or crisis they can identify with...they mobilize their entire being to get behind it and the world around them changes as a result. You can see this dynamic play out in simple things like fashion trends or social cues, but even at a greater capacity when you find something that unlocks and engages their caring, compassion and appetite for change.

Today I stumbled upon another upstart organization that is bent on making a difference in our world...specifically targeting the end of poverty and the injustices that are a result of this pandemic. It's an organization called One Day's Wages. Built on the premise that with the simple donation of one person's daily working wage can change the world at large, ODW has gained an incredible amount of momentum in the war against poverty. The beautiful part about this not-for-profit company is that they are engaging all generations in their mission of change.

As the church, we can learn something about how ODW and other change agents are empowering people towards mission. The Cause Generation possesses all the gifts that are needed to impact our global community for Christ, but what they need are cheerleaders, guides and willing partners to help them realize how they can make a difference in the world at large. A Paul, for their Timothy.

As followers of Christ, I think we must find new creative ways (or older ways with a cultural twist) in which to empower this generation to lead the larger church. From food drives to intentionally caring for local communities, to raising money and awareness for global, national & local causes...we must tap into the pre-existent God-given gifts of this Cause Generation. I believe we stand on the premise of a turning point in our world's history. One thing I know for sure is that this emerging generation, the Cause Generation, will be leading the charge. If the church is unwilling to follow, the world around us may change, but the Christ we represent will no longer be viewed as relevant to the world at large.

Our youth are budding with ideas that change the world. Let's not stifle their creativity by offering them a perspective of a realist. Instead, may we fall ever more in love with Christ, and allow our love to see how inspiration for change and radical living isn't a curse, but a gift that we can observe and learn from in each other's lives.

The world is changing...will we grow, mature and change with it for God's honor and glory?

For more information about One Day's Wage, visit their website: One Day's Wage

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Made for Relationship

What if I told you that the purpose of the church is rooted in one word, what would you say?

I've been thinking about this subject off and on over the last several years, and I am more convinced each passing day the the focal point of what the church should be about is relationship. I recognize by saying this I open myself up to criticism from all kinds of different sources. Yes I do agree that we need to teach sound doctrine and provide meaningful worship experiences while seeking to remain relevant in the emerging culture around us. But I believe we can thrive in these three areas (and more!) when we root ourselves in relationship.

About a year and a half ago my family and I stepped away from the church we had served at for 8+ years. Not knowing where we would be headed next, we were drawn to prayer unlike we had been before at this particular moment in our lives. After several months of uncertainty and impending financial crisis with loss of income headed our way, God illuminated our next step and provided another ministry setting in which He asked us to serve. We found ourselves to be overwhelmed with thankfulness and gratitude, and we were greatly anticipating this next phase of our journey with Christ. It's been over a year since this transition time, and I still feel as energized and excited about serving Christ in our current ministry context as I did back on the first day I entered into this new position. I recently had the chance to share with my uncle about this transition that occurred in our lives. During our conversation my uncle asked a very pointed question which has again brought me back to this theme of relationship in church. I had mentioned that finding a new set of friends has been the most difficult part of the transition to serving in a new church, to which he replied: "but the church should be able to help with that, right?"

The interesting part about this conversation is that to my knowledge, my uncle has not surrendered his life to Christ, but yet he still could see the value of being connected to a group of people that supposedly shared the same set of values and potential priorities as a huge asset in regards to developing a new relational support network. But, in all honesty, is that what we currently find in the church itself? Do we find relationship and friendship in the church, or do we find the emphasis to be on preaching & teaching?

To this day, the teachers that have had the most impact in my life are those that I could identify with relationally. When a teacher would simply attempt to download information into my brain, I found myself to be apathetic in the learning process. However, if the opposite occurred and a teacher demonstrated a vested interest in seeing me be able to grasp a new learning concept, I would have a much easier time and much greater success in the learning experience itself.

I think the question we need to ask ourselves when it comes to this issue of what the purpose of the church is, is what did Jesus tell us we should be about? There are two great statements made by our Lord which are contained in the gospels. We affectionately refer to them as The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. These two statements are foundational pillars for the Christian faith. The first, the great commandment, mentions that we as followers of Christ should devote ourselves to Loving God and Loving Others (Matthew 22:37-39). When you think about love, in what context does it occur? Love cannot exist devoid of relationship. Whether this relational act is one of service, random kindness or some other more intense friendship like marriage, love outside of relationship is not possible. The second statement, which we call the great commission, provides for us the road map of the Christian faith. In this declaration, Jesus empowers us as His followers (the church) to go and make disciples. Typically we as the church have defined a disciple to mean a follower of Jesus. Unfortunately it is how we have defined a follower of Jesus that has clouded our purposed and detracted it from its' original intent.

As the church, we have focused on developing the knowledge base of our components. Our emphasis on teaching should be commended, but remember that teaching devoid of relationship does not have the same lasting impact as that which has occurred within the bonds of friendship. Take Jesus' original 12 disciples, for example. What was the purpose of this team? I truly believe the purpose of the 12 disciples was to experience what true relationship in a human context was all about, so that as they built the church they would be able to offer this same sort of relational connection (discipleship) to others. Jesus made disciples of His disciples by being their friend and teaching them everything God asked Him to (how to have relationship and how to pray). Jesus did not offer Peter any lessons on preaching or dynamic teaching seminars; Andrew wasn't asked to draw up a 12 month strategic process and learning curriculum for the early church; nor was Matthew asked to create a moniker or acronym, mission statement or set of values for this new wave of Christianity. Instead, Jesus asked these 12 men to make relational connections with others by demonstrating what living life to the full is all about.

Now to be fair, all of these things like mission statements, vision documents and other strategic processes are helpful...but devoid of relationship as their foundation, they don't amount to a whole lot.

Looking at the early church from Acts 2 & 4, there is a common theme that is weaved throughout its' dynamic experiences...relationship. Knowing that we as humans have been created for relationship, if we could rediscover how changing the world begins with a firm relational foundation, we may see the sovereignty and grace of God flood the North American church with the rich blessing of more souls being added into His kingdom each day in an unprecedented fashion. What is certain is that followers of Christ are called to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel of Christ within the context of relationship. It is God who is in ultimate control of the universe, but it is us who can control how we represent Him in our world through our relational interactions with our neighbors. Let us never forget that we were made for relationship.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I don't like being told what to do

During my hangout night with my kids we pulled out the guitar and were dancing around in the living room like clowns. I just started singing random lyrics and landed on a catchy phrase that I then sung over and over again in the presence of my children. It went a little something like this:

I don't want to be what you want me to be
But I do want to be what you don't want me to...yes I do

In these few simple words I found language to describe my own rebellious nature to a T!! As human beings we simply do not like being told what to do or how to do it. Unfortunately much of our society is based upon this very same premise that we have a love/hate flirtatious affection for. We like when someone is in charge, but we don't like when those in charge begin to dictate how or what we should do. We like safe things that don't push us too hard and don't demand too much from us. It's this very same portion of our human character that we bring with us into our relationships, our church and the world at large. We may not find working hard, but we enjoy when things are simple and easy to understand and to follow...as long as they don't ask us for too much.

Take this same sort of mentality and bring it into the world of faith and you can see the new dichotomy that is now represented. We don't like being told what to do, but to follow Christ we must be willing to live life according to his rhythm and design in a whole-hearted fashion. Our natural human tendency is to begin searching for compromise and concession, and in doing so we literally vocalize the very same thing that I was singing with my kids during our random dance mob!!

We like to have our cake and eat it to. We like to identify ourselves with Christ when it is safe and convenient to do so, but what it begins to ask too much from us, we shy away from embracing our faith to the full. The ironic thing is that when we embrace a life of complacency, we forfeit a life to the full and we doom ourselves to follow the perpetual pattern of strive, reach, learn, fail, repeat absent of a solid foundation from which to build our hopes, dreams and passions on top of. If the foundation is leaky...the whole structure will come down.

So what makes our foundation strong if we simply don't like to be told what to do. It boils down to question of what some call semantics. Jesus talks about relationship, which is based upon things like trust, friendship, forgiveness and love. Yet our default human programming marred by sin is set to pursue a do and do not mentality and use this foundation from which to build relationship. The foundation that is firm is that which is deeply rooted in the person of Jesus Christ in a relational fashion. The foundation that is easily shaken is that which is utilized a legalistic approach to define terms of success in living life.

I am far from having this all figured out, but tonight I gained greater insight into the fact that I simply don't like being told what to do. What's said about this light bulb moment is that I can see when I reject Christ because I feel He may be asking too much from me, instead of recognizing that simply being where He is will inspire me to become more like Him. My behavior is no longer on trial, but my willingness to call Him my friend is.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The New Wave of Education

Every day we use a vehicle to help us get from one place to the next. Sometimes these vehicles are tangible machines that we ride in, and other times they are figurative strategies and processes we use to help us achieve our defined success or goal.

The issue with any vehicle is that it needs maintenance and upgrading over time. Just like each of us will not drive the exact same vehicle for our entire lives, we will not use the same strategy, process or methodology all of our lives either. 

The education system we know is changing. The way we teach and instruct in church must change also. This video contains some creative thought and research behind this new wave of education, and I think the ramifications for discipleship in the Christian church are huge. The question is, will we catch the wave, or miss it?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Multi-Generational Question

Today I had the opportunity to sit in on our Senior's luncheon at the church. I listened to stories, music and laughter and thought to myself how much value this age group has a part of our larger congregation. During a break between the program & lunch, I slipped into the washroom only to be stopped by an older-gentlemen, one of my senior friends. While exchanging pleasantries, our conversation quickly drifted towards a shared passion of ours...ministry. This man's grandson had grown up in the youth ministry I was a part of, and he was now in ministry role as a worship pastor in BC. We shared a little bit about how we were praying for his success and joy in ministry, and then my old friend shared a piece of insight with me that has really got me thinking today. He shared with me that his grandson was recently given some encouragement by his Sr. Pastor in which this pastor admitted to my friend's grandson that as a church they didn't realize that quality of character they were getting in him as a pastor because of his age (he's only in his 20s). My older friend beamed with pride and uttered, "sometimes us old guys don't give you young guys enough credit."

That simple statement has hit me like a ton of bricks. The trend of the church in recent history has been to compartmentalize ourselves from one another due to age, affinity or status of some kind. In doing so, I think we've weakened the body of Christ unintentionally. When you think about a herd of zebras roaming the African plains, it's those animals on the fringe of the community (the lame, the sick, the weak, the young or the old) that are often attacked and killed by predators. As a body of believers, we've created these silos and rigid structure that have allowed us to do some wonderful things, but I'm left asking myself this question of at what cost?

With this younger generation rising up to lead the world around us and the church itself, have we created an organism in which they are now questioning their fit? If you look back at the history of the church in general, you will find defining moments in our history that have become pillars in the process of spiritual formation for the church at large (Luther's 95 theses, the Reformation, etc.). I think we are entering into one of these defining moments as a church and I believe that it is the younger generation (the teens and young adults of today) that are leading this charge. This emerging generation is the first generation that views Christianity in a negative light, not because of who Jesus is or what the Bible says about truth, but because of what Christians have chosen to be known for over the last 40-50 years.

I can't help but think that segregation has brought us to this point. We have yet to learn that discriminating others due to race, age, culture or preference is not the language of love, and quite frankly is not the language of Christ. Instead we seem compelled to continue the cycle of repackaging old shoes and trying to pass them off as new ones.

If companies do not hire people with the same birth year, why do we believe that doing ministry in this way would be any more civilized or powerful than that ridiculous notion? We have got to find the common ground, meet each other there and learn to celebrate our differences with mutual respect, love and mercy.

I don't know what the answer to the multi-generational question is, but I wonder if it simply begins with all of us getting together and figuring out how we are going to move forward together.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thoughts on Discipleship from a Cashier

Most Fridays my family and I head off to Superstore on our weekly quest to replenish our cupboards, fridge & freezer with nourishment. Today was no exception. We meandered our way to our local stop and shop, all the while planning what sort of creative fun we may find for ourselves on this long weekend.

After wandering through the aisles and selecting a variety of goods, we ventured into the chaos that can be checking out from any grocery store...the cashier. We, however, selected what we thought would be the most efficient lane, only to found out our cashier was in training. Normally I would be frustrated by this mental blunder, but today I saw this as an opportunity to observe a scenario that should impact the way I think about discipleship in church, particularly in youth ministry.

What struck me the most was how this cashier's supervisor would calmly and adeptly step in to guide her fellow employee in training when prompted to do so...and in that moment lies the key to my lightning bolt experience for today. This supervisor wouldn't hover around the person in training, but would remain at a relatively close distance in order to lend a hand and provide some guidance when prompted to do so. This supervisor understood that unless she allowed her in-training co-worker to succeed (and fail) on her own, she may not learn how to be effective in her role as a cashier. Wrong numbers may have been punched, or entire orders cancelled along the way, but all the while, this in-training professional was learning how to succeed in her vocation.

I began to think about the shift that is taking place in the church today, and how I see it as a positive move towards true discipleship. More and more churches and youth ministries are beginning to focus on creating relational environments that spawn intentional disciples for Christ. Gone (or should be gone) are the days of emphasizing a program driven, activity oriented made to order "recipe for success" and ushered in is this new era of collaborative learning experiences in which mentors, mentorees and multi-generational expressions of worship are the focus. In this shift, discipleship is seen more as an organic response to deepening relationships with God and with others than any sort of program based teaching environment. Like this Superstore supervisor, as pastors, leaders, parents and others, we must seek out opportunities to engage, empower and stimulate this next generation in practice of spiritual formation. What is difficult about this new approach to discipleship is that it is far harder to measure success in terms of numbers, or guided curriculum study. Instead, our quest for success hinges upon seeing the development of spiritual fruit over time in the life of an individual. We are no longer able, nor should we be, to celebrate "check-list" success with our tangible measuring devices (conversion, baptism, discipleship class, etc.).

What's crazy to think is that there is actually no guarantee that the "system" will produce an authentic disciple of Christ. At best, we could hope for success in the form of downloading information into the brain of another person. Unlike our cashier friend, emphasis on the application of knowledge is not the focus at times of discipleship systems based on practice or habits. Instead, we must put our hope and trust in the relationship that is created between the disciple, the disciple-maker and God. In this unique relational connection is where true spiritual growth happens...within the bonds of community (two or more). When we create moments where community connections happen, discipleship is evident. These experiences provide us with teaching moments to communicate the "why", refine the "how" and de-emphasize the "what." The questions of who, when and where are predetermined as we connect people together in the bonds of relationship for the purpose of discipleship.

At the end of the day, this Superstore supervisor will end up with a disciple of her own...a competent cashier who is able to navigate the waters of the service industry with confidence and clarity. And in her moments of need, the cashier will be able to rely on the relational infrastructure that provided her with the experience she needed to find success.

I never thought I would learn to much from standing in line at a Superstore...but I did. My hope is that I will continue on this journey of discovery and remind myself that the process of being a disciple is an unending adventure, but one that truly does provide a full life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Character is What Counts

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, delivers a unique address at a graduation ceremony for Princeton University. Check it out!

Character is What Counts

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Simplicity Re-visited

I've had several conversations about the subject of simplicity over the last few days, and I have drawn some conclusions from my observations that I wanted to share in this post.

Simplicity is counter-intuitive to our human nature. What I mean by saying this is that we are wired to pursue something that is more complex than something that is simple. Simplicity is defined as having a laser focus. This means that we know what our target is, and everything we do needs to reflect our pursuit of this target. But it is our love of complexity that prevents us from fully embracing the pursuit of our target.

Think about being in love. When I finally admitted to myself that I loved Bonny, my focus and target was laser clear. Now that I had my target in sight, I need to make sure that my actions reflected my pursuit of her. Every step I took was motivated by love and the courage to fight fear. My identity was shaped by my pursuit, or what I valued...and in this case it was a relationship with my future wife.

Complexity is easier to pursue than simplicity. Not only because simplicity is counter-intuitive to our human nature, but also because the pursuit of complexity gives a tangible (albeit flawed) identity. We wear our "busy" or our "complex" as badges of honor...and for some of us, our definition of success is based on our schedule or appointment book. Busy for the sake of being busy is actually counter-productive.

Each of us longs to be a part of something. Complexity is the drug that gives us a false sense of security and identity. When we define ourselves by what we do, we lose sight of who we really are. Our identity is who we are, and it may inform what we do, but it is not dependent on what we do.

My kids are my kids no matter what. When they scream, yell, or throw food...this doesn't change their identity. Their identity is firm and set in being my children...I am their dad and they are my kids. As a dad, my role is to let them know that my love for them in consistent so that they do not question their role as my kids.

Simplicity is a value for my family, it's counter-intuitive to who we are, but as a value we are in pursuit of it and moving more towards our true identity which is found in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gaming, Behavior & Identity

This is a video of an interesting idea that is beginning to shape our culture in a new way. What do you think about how gaming or participating in games of any kind can help to influence the world in which we live? For me the larger question is about where our identity lies. If we are rooted in Christ, our Christ-like identity informs how we live. How can we use this cutting edge cultural shift to influence others in the ways of Jesus?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Relationally Handcuffed?

Has age specific ministry handcuffed the relational growth and development of youth and families?

I have been thinking about this question over the summer. Having been around the church in a vocational capacity for near 10 years, I've heard this oh so famous line from youth and young adults time and time again: "There is on one my age here." In fact, I believe there was a time or two that I uttered this same thing. It's interesting that one of our cultural norms has so drastically influenced our perceptions when it comes to friendship and relationships. Growing up in a small rural community, I didn't have the luxury of options; neither in the relational world, nor the task oriented world. I learned that in order to satisfy my longing for community, I must be willing to engage others relationally that I perhaps would have avoided had I had another option. At family gatherings, I would hang out with cousins younger and older than me (male & female) and spend countless hours building lifelong memories. In church, I learned that I needed to be able to engage others in conversation...seniors, peers, and other adults. Our youth group would at times combine Jr. High & Sr. High so that we had a critical mass to play epic games such as Mission Impossible.

All the while I never felt left out or stunted relationally because I didn't have a ton of relational options. Instead, I learned that each and every personal connection was a chance to learn and grow relationally. I remember my good friend Reuben, who was retired at the time that I met him. His hobby was polishing stones and creating hand made jewelry. One mother's day I asked Reuben to help me create something special for my mom. After school I would bike to his house and together we'd work on this project at co-habitants in the endeavor. In the end I received what I intended to from this connection (a home-made piece of jewelry...Happy Mom's Day), but I also experienced a by-product of this connection that didn't fully materialize until later on. I learned how to interact and connect with people 4 times my age. I learned that as a young boy, I have something to offer those older than me and those younger than me in a relational capacity.

I sometimes wonder if at the end of the day we're not ripping each other off when we constantly pigeon hole ourselves into age-specific categories. If we never give youth the opportunity to learn how to develop relational connections with people older and younger than themselves, it's no wonder after graduating high school they may not see a fit for themselves in the church world...because they don't know how to intentionally connect with anyone outside of their age group.

As we head into the future, I wonder if we somehow need to correct this navigation error in some capacity. When you think about it, up until high school graduation, the only "programmed" relational connections kids may have with people significantly older than themselves are with their teachers, their parents, grand-parents, aunts & uncles, other relatives, people at their place of work and maybe a smattering of people from their church (if they go to one). Most often, these connections are with people who are in an authoritative role of some sort...and you all know how we as humans tend to feel about those in authority (re-read Genesis 3 in case you need to jog your memory). Instead, we have got to find ways where youth, young adults, kids, seniors, and adults connect together as EQUAL partners in the mission of God. I believe this is the only way to demonstrate to young people that they have value in the relational church community as a whole. As a community, we need to be involved in the creation process of this kind of community for the betterment of not only ourselves, but the greater community as a whole. One such movement that is somewhat "sweeping the nation" right now is the idea of a community garden. The purpose behind the activity is to have neighbors connect with each other in creating a monument as a symbolic representation of community. The beautiful thing about gardens is that they need upkeep...and the relational connections made during the inception of the garden itself can continue to be fostered year after year after year as the community gathers to invest in the growth and maturity of not only the garden, but the community itself.

As a young person learning to develop relationally, I must lead the charge through my willingness to create and develop opportunities for myself to develop on a relational level with those outside of my "age group." Volunteer in kids ministry, hang out at a seniors luncheon, go to the mall during the middle of the day and have coffee with others. Stop and talk to your mechanic, be nice to the waiter or waitress, and spend time connecting with your kids. These are just a few of the ways I can think of to begin growing in this capacity. Great movements of change begin with one person defying the status quo and rising against the cultural norm because he or she has had enough. Well I've had enough of the old adage that says we need to function in age specific silos in order to experience life to the full. It's time for a change...who's with me?

Changing the World Through Gaming

Sounds crazy right? What if we were able to engage the issues we face in our world with the same tenacity and commitment as we do with gaming? In church we wonder where all the men are...maybe we need to rethink how we invite them to participate in the mission and vision of Christianity using creative ideas and solutions such as those presented in this video. I don't personally endorse her take on the evolution of humankind, but nonetheless, her ideas provide us with an interesting challenge and perspective on how to engage the emerging (and so-called lost) generations of both men and women in the mission of God.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Great White Buffalo

This morning I spent time at the youth booth at our church in between and after the Sunday morning services. As someone who enjoys observing people, this opportunity provided me with a great vantage point from which to observe my fellow humans. There where several things that caught my eye (no, not girls, actual things!!), but none more than the underlying need that perpetuates much of what we do as humans...relationship!

Relationship is at the core of who we are. We want to be known and to know others. When we come to any sort of social gathering (church or otherwise), those of us that have some sort of connection with others feel like we belong...but those of us who do not, seem to wander around searching for the elusive desire...our Great White Buffalo.

A mom and her two daughters popped by the youth booth to say hello to me. The oldest daughter is already in our youth ministry, but I had not met either her mom or sister beforehand. They introduced themselves to me and we exchanged some pleasant conversation. As they were leaving I was joking around with the youngest daughter about not knowing her name because she isn't in youth ministry yet. She replied, "Yeah, but when I am, you better not forget my name!" Her reply was laced with a little sarcasm, but a lot of truth. In this moment it once again dawned on me that the most important thing we can offer another person is a relational connection. I believe that what truly draws people to know who God really is, is relationship. Jesus told His disciples that the world would know who He was by the way they showed loved to each other...by their relationships. This got me to thinking, how much do we invest in developing relational connections with others? From a church perspective, we invest money in lights, staff, sound equipment, cameras, seating areas, food, effects and other things. But at the end of the day, how much of this stuff helps us to foster relational connections with others?

You know what makes me feel like I belong somewhere? When someone knows my name! Imagine this for a moment...when you walk into a gathering of people (Christian or not) people know your name and extend relationship to you, because that is the primary reason for the group to gather together. Sometimes we lose sight of the entire focus of the greatest commandment that Jesus gave to us...we are called to both love God and love other people, and in God's economy these two pieces are of equal value. Our church gatherings can sometimes focus on the first part of this commandment and neglect (albeit unknowingly at times) the second part. If what we truly desire is relationship, what do we need to do to ensure that this value is something we actually pursue instead of something we can point to and say that it means something to us?

I'm learning more and more about the pursuit of this Great White Buffalo that is relationship...and I can taste a revolution on the horizon. Be the change you wish to see in the world...who's with me?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Relational Influence

Each of us has the capacity to influence others for good or for bad. Consider this: how can you use your relational influence to create world-sized movements that grip the human heart to the very core? As Christians, the hope we have in Christ is the ultimate motivation for restoration, truth and life to the full. How is Jesus shaping the way you live? How is your life creating a world-wide movement in the name of Christ? Enjoy the video!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leadership Dynamics

As Christians, we are called to be people of influence in the world around us. Watch this video and consider how you can be a person that inspires others to grow relationally and spiritually through connection. Enjoy!!