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 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!