A New "Spiritual Discipline"

 —  August 12, 2010 — 1 Comment

This has been something I’ve been thinking about for some time now. This post is more of a devotional, but certainly applicable to our ministries to college aged people.

When we talk about “spiritual disciplines” we are referring to things such as bible study, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc. These are great disciplines to develop and I would even say are essential to our faith. They ought to be a natural outflow of our faith, but we do need to discipline ourselves in each of these areas.

But I think we need to add something else to this list. And especially for us Americans. I think we need to add, “living by faith” onto this list. Why? Because living by faith takes discipline and in the land of independent journeys of life, liberty and pursuits of personal happiness we are overwhelmed by a cultural influence of safety and security. We feel most comfortable with our bank accounts full and feeling like we are in control of today as well as what’s to come. Worded another way, we feel best when we are walking by site, not by faith and fully dependent on God.

God has always called His people to be dependent on Him and Him alone. This hasn’t changed and never will. Yet we find ourselves constantly searching for the most secure and safe ways to move forward in life. We can really see how far off we are by taking a look at our prayer life. In praying and seeking what God wants us to do next or in a particular situation we sift through the pros and cons of each potential direction. And, whichever choice has the most pro’s for us personally, is easiest, safest, most secure or has the least amount of obstacles to overcome….we see this as being obviously God’s will for us. This can be the case (God leading us down this type of path), but we don’t even consider another path being God’s will.

And college age people don’t either because many have never seen anyone truly living by faith. Trusting God no matter the obstacle or hardship. Trusting God will ALL their finances and actually believing Jesus when he says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I believe leaders of college ministries around the country can be most effective if the discipline of living by faith is added to this list. It’s a discipline to consciously put ourselves in a position of faith and full dependence on God. It’s a conscious decision to discipline ourselves to think eternally and not earthly. Consciously giving away our finances rather than saving it for ourselves. If leaders can really begin to live like this I think the college ministry and the future of the church would be more impacting than ever before.

You might be saying, “Whoa…I understand what you’re saying Chuck, but we also need to be wise.”

I’d simply respond to you with the question, “Yes, but wise in who’s eyes?”

Thoughts On Book Reviews

 —  August 10, 2010 — Leave a comment

I don’t really enjoy reading reviews of things I’ve written or said. I end up encouraged or discouraged or worried because of being misquoted….I guess I go through all the emotions. So, generally speaking, I don’t read them. And I certaily don’t search them out. When people send me links to reviews or blogs that mention me I rarely click on it. I’ve prayed through what I wrote, feel good before God with what I wrote, and am okay with sticking to that.

But then there are times I click on the link.

Sometimes the reviews are not raving about how good the book is, but are fair and tactful with their critique. Some reviewers have obviously not even read the book. Some take one phrase out of context overreact and develop a whole theory on it. And then there are some that are very encouraging, having only good things to say about whatever it is I said/wrote. Up until now anyway (and I’m sure this will change at some point) the reviews for the book I co-authored with Reggie Joiner and Abbie Smith called, The Slow Fade, have been really good and encouraging. At least the ones I’ve seen anyway. At times the people mis-quote things, can take them out of context, switch wording around, etc., but for the most part what I’ve read so far has been pretty good.

I recently read through some and thought I’d include them here…in case anyone is interested. If you’re aware of others, good or bad, feel free to post a comment on it. I probably won’t click the link, but others might!

YouthWorker Journal, click here

Preaching Unleashed/Smart Ministry, click here

Crosswalk, click here

Examiner, click here

Simuleustisectpecator, click here – good besides them misspelling my name at the top :)

Anyway, there’s the one’s I’ve seen. If you don’t have a copy of the book and would like to read the first chapter, click here!

Para-Confused In The Church

 —  August 3, 2010 — 3 Comments

My experience in college ministry has taken me on a journey, for sure. How I started our ministry and my mindset when I first started is very different from today. These changes in my mindset and priorities are based on my experience of making some not-so-good decisions. And if I’m totally honest, based on a realization of wrong motivations on my part.

When I got hired at Cornerstone to start a college ministry I was very excited. I loved the church and loved the leadership. And, I was excited to start a ministry from scratch. But with limited experience (of making crucial mistakes) I would have to say I went about it wrongly. The truth is I created little more than a para church organization under the umbrella of a local church.

People visited our ministry and talked about how excited they were to see “so many college age people connected to our church.” This was exciting for me to hear….the problem was it wasn’t really accurate. You see, the majority of people weren’t connected to the life of our church. Sure, some were, but most were really just connected to our ministry. This is a direct result of the para church mentality I started with. I lost site of what it meant to be a ministry OF a local church, a larger body of people seeking to fulfill a common mission. Thus I was para confused.

I think this is a crucial mistake we tend to make in student ministry and possibly even more so in college ministry. We are often Para-Confused. We lose site of the larger whole we are supposed to be a part of and develop para-like organizations that operate, for the most part at least, separately from the church. We also lose site of the overall health of the people we minister to and focus more on the “growth” of our ministries (at least that is my confession to you). We are often on our own island, creating our own little world. We are, of course, connected in some ways…but if we’re honest about it we’re really running more of a para church organization than a ministry of a local church. And when this happens there is a heap of unhealth created.

Now, much of this mentality doesn’t start with us. It can be in the culture of our church in general. Our church might be compartmentalized to such a degree that hiring is done with the understanding that someone will come in, focus on only one specific area, “grow” that area or ministry, and do their own thing. Thus, we come in as a hired “professional” or “specialist” in an area. And when this happens the bottom line is we are hired to run/launch a para-like organization.

If you know anything about me, you know I don’t think this is best. But even if this is the culture of your church, it doesn’t have to be the culture of your college ministry. And I’d suggest it shouldn’t be. Local church ministry is one organization, a local body of people, involved in life-long discipleship. Cradle to grave. And as a leader of a college ministry your role must be one of assimilation. We bring people into our ministries from high school and make sure they’re assimilated into the life of our (or a) local church context.

Here are two questions you can ask yourself to see whether or not you’ve become para confused:

  1. Do I view the church as a means for me to grow my ministry, or do I view my ministry as a means for growth in my church?
  2. Am I just as concerned about making sure people are connected in our church once they leave my ministry as I am getting high school graduates connected to our ministry as freshman? Another way of asking this question might be: Do I view my ministry as an end, or a means to an end?

Free Training

 —  August 2, 2010 — Leave a comment

If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of what I refer to as, “Non-Mentor Mentorship” I’d recommend you checking out this website! It gives a ton of thoughts, has some forthcoming resources and has free training – namely a seminar I did at The Orange Conference this past April on this issue (see the left margin for a link to that seminar).

I’ve talked about this idea for the past couple years in seminars, have written about it in my forthcoming book, College Ministry From Scratch, and articulated the overall philosophy directly to people of older generations in the book I co-authored with Reggie Joiner and Abbie Smith called, The Slow Fade.

If I had to say there is one thing that has the most impact in our college ministries, it’s this. That’s not to say other programmatic elements aren’t useful and fruitful. It’s simply to say that this, in my opinion, has the most long-term effect.

Why I'm Going Offline

 —  July 16, 2010 — 1 Comment

Here’s just a few things I did in the last 2 years:

  • Uprooted and moved my family 1000 miles north to Portland, Oregon
  • Planted a church from scratch. To list details of what this takes would be completely ridiculous, but let’s just say I’m not bored.
  • Written 2 books (and currently writing another), 9 articles, at least 5 other college ministry resources, and who knows how many blog posts
  • Traveled to and taught in at least 18 states and 28 different cities (some more than once)

All this and my wife still likes me. That’s amazing. Well, I think that’s a testimony to the type of wife God has given me!

But the truth is my family and I need a break. I’m not burned out, but I don’t want to be either. I try (key word there is “try”) to keep up on email, Facebook messages, twitter mentions and DM’s, blog posts and comments, on and on. I think these things are ultimately helpful and I plan on continuing this part of my ministry. However, Sunday afternoon (after teaching at Colossae) I will be completely disconnecting from all these things for the next two weeks.

I’m going on vacation with my family. I’m not bringing my computer – I won’t even open it. I didn’t even want to bring my cell phone, but my wife talked me into that in case we happen to need to get a hold of one another. I’m sure it will take me 4-5 days before my brain shuts down, but I’m praying it will. I want to take naps, play with my kids, laugh as a family, and spend hours upon hours putting together Hello Kitty puzzles, building forts, and having tea parties with my girls. And I’m really looking forward to sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful Oregon summer weather, with my wife after our girls are asleep and just talking for hours with her – and not about ministry stuff.

I want and need to disconnect entirely. I have a lot to do before I get there, but I am looking forward to this time. See you August 2nd…

Over the years I’ve had hundreds (if not thousands) of students come through my college ministry who have grown up in the church. Some really do well searching through and embracing their faith on their own. Others struggle to such a high degree that they leave the church all together. But then there is a group that not too many leaders or books address and talk about: those still around, but are apathetic and bored.

What do we do with these students? How can we encourage them to be passionate about their faith?

Here are a few things I’ve seen contribute to people being in this place and some thoughts on how to help them:

  1. Thinking they know more than they actually do. Many college students have a facade of knowledge. They think that because they know some about scripture, that they know scripture. This is easy to confuse, but it’s a big difference. We need to help them understand the difference. Not doing so creates an arrogance that can quickly lead to apathy. In a loving way we need to keep asking questions about how the scriptures apply to every day life. When we do this, they typically realize they don’t know as much as they think they do.
  2. Not embracing/seeking to live out what they do know. There are some people who do know a lot about the scriptures, but are bored with their faith. This tends to be because they’re not trying to live out what they know. If they were, they’d be anything but bored! In these situations we need to help them differentiate between simply knowing information and having godly wisdom. Godly wisdom comes through life experiences of seeking to live out the truths of scripture. In a loving yet firm way we need to confront them with this reality. Some think the scriptures or church are boring….but maybe it’s just their “faith” that’s boring. I’ve found it to often make a difference when I explain this and then show them how my faith is anything but boring.
  3. Thinking they are spiritually mature. I’ve found that clearly defining spiritual maturity really helps in this. I’ve began using the following definition for spiritual maturity: the time between hearing and obeying God’s word is less than it used to be. This definition really helps in this situation.
  4. Thinking through who they are and what they believe. I sometimes make the statement that college-age people are constipated. I don’t mean to be crude, I am simply saying that many are stuck in life. They are processing through so many unanswered questions and at times this can be entirely overwhelming – causing them to lose passion for pretty much everything. In these situations we need to pay the price of time and walk slowly and patiently with them. Your presence and example can be the thing God uses to bring them to a point of passionate conviction.

Pressure in College

 —  July 9, 2010 — Leave a comment

I recently read an article titled, “Depression, Lack of Social Support Trigger Suicidal Thoughts in College Students” (click here to read the full article). The article highlighted a research project of face-to-face interviews with 1085 incoming college freshman and then did annual follow-ups throughout their 4 years in college. Here are some of the stats that came from this research project:

  • 151 (12 percent) said they had pondered committing suicide at least once
  • 37 of these 151 contemplated suicide repeatedly.
  • 27 of the 151 had actually attempted suicide at some point – either before or during college
  • 22 of the 151 reported planning a suicide before college, but never attempted

Regardless of how over/under-whelming those stats are to you personally, there is one thing the article notes that I think is important to keep in mind:

The risk for major psychiatric disorders peaks during late adolescence and early adulthood, especially during the transition from home to a life of partial independence, the investigators say. Being away from one’s family and friends coupled with the stress of new social and academic pressures can exacerbate depression and anxiety and, in some, could become the proverbial final straw that triggers suicidal behavior, the researchers say.

As far as factors attributing to this the article points out the following:

Among these factors…lack of social support — described as feeling unappreciated, unloved and uninvolved with family and friends — emerged as one of the most powerful predictors of persistent suicidal thoughts, even in the absence of other risk factors. Other risk factors included having depressive symptoms, exposure to domestic violence in childhood and having a mother suffering from depression, all of which made students more likely to ponder suicide.

I just think it’s really important to keep in mind the pressures, emotions, and internal processing going on with the people we are working with. Here are a few questions you can ask students to get a feel of the pressures they’re facing:

  1. What do you feel like others want from you?
  2. What do you think others want for you?
  3. What commitments do your parents have that you also want to shape your life?
  4. What commitments do your parents have that you don’t want a part of your life?

There’s a balance we need to keep in leadership. The balance is between unnecessarily recreating wheels and being creative and innovative in creating new ones. Many leaders are stuck on one side or the other. Those stuck on the side of “never wanting to create new wheels” can end up missing what God might be uniquely calling them to do. The flip side are those stuck on never looking at what’s already out there. These leaders can end up spending too much time trying new things, few if any work, and can simply spin their wheels ultimately being ineffective.

It’s easy to be innovative when there’s no model to follow. But in most cases there is something out there already we can look to. And, we look for them with vigor. This is not a problem in itself, but it can rob uniqueness and innovation. There’s a balance to keep.

Innovation, to me, is about me individually seeking God for what He’s uniquely calling me to do. Sometimes that’s something that I’ve never seen or heard of before. Other times it’s the opposite. Either way, I need to be in tune with God. In other words, I want to be an innovator.

There are 2 times in leadership that I believe we need more innovation:

  1. When we face immediate pressures. These pressures can be anything from needing more space to pressures put on us from people. In these times we tend to automatically revert back to our own experience or what we’ve seen or heard of being done in another context. This is not necessarily bad, but I believe in these times we need more innovators. In these times I ask myself two questions: What are we seeking to protect, promote or encourage? What’s gained and what’s lost in this decision?
  2. When we’re dealing with unhealthy cycles. These cycles can be people church shopping, hyper consumerism, generational chasms in our churches…anything. In these times we tend to not fight the battles to correct these cycles in our people and continue doing the same things. In these times we need more innovators.

There is a price to pay for innovation though. I’ve seen it play out in two major ways:

  1. Churched people not agreeing. I’ve found that this brings people to question us. There is a distinction in this though. Instead of humbly asking questions, they question the decision. This can be tough to decipher through and can even cause confusion, but this is where a true “innovator” can stand firm on God’s calling.
  2. Being caught on the defensive. When we are doing things differently, people tend to ask why we’re not doing the things they are used to. This puts us on the defensive, forcing us to explain why we’re not doing something. Innovators will change the focus from the negative to what they are protecting, promoting and encouraging and they do so because they firmly believe God is calling them to those things.

This comes from a webinar I did yesterday for the Southern Baptist Conference in the state of Texas on Innovation and Implementing New Ideas (to listen to that, click here). If you haven’t checked out some of the things they’re doing to train and equip their leaders, you should check it out. They are doing many great things.