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 ( 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 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.