Less Can Mean More

 —  April 15, 2014 — 4 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 3.58.12 PMMinistry always changes because people always change. Some change is natural due to cultural influence while other change is simply a natural reaction to what was emphasized by previous generations. Either way you look at it, our focal points in our ministries are constantly evolving.

Or, at least they should be.

That said, here are two things I think we need to see LESS of in ministry to college-age people. I must warn you. At first glance, these may seem highly un-spiritual.  Just hear me out, because I think less of these two things means much more in others.

  1. Less focus on spiritual discipline.   I understand discipline is necessary for godliness, but we can also mistake discipline for godliness.  If we are not careful, placing too much emphasis on spiritual disciplines inevitably causes us to over emphasize what we believe to be proper behavior for Christians rather than the faith, love, and hope Christians ought to be motivated by. The fact is spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, etc. are byproducts of faith and not producers of it.  We must be very careful with this distinction and make sure we are not emphasizing behaviors vs. faith.  Younger generations are extremely sensitive to being behavior managed.  I discuss this extensively in my latest book, Losing Your Religion.  But, here I would simply say the less focus on behavior management systems that try to get people to do things for God lends more room for us to emphasize the motivations of faith, love, and hope that free us to do things because of God.
  2. Less focus on gaining more information.  Spiritual maturity is not defined by how much knowledge we possess. Memorizing Proverbs doesn’t make me wise.  Learning more about God and what it means to follow Jesus through the scriptures is, of course, important and especially for those that know almost nothing about scripture.  However, in my experience, our emphasis should be much more on seeking to embrace what we already know. So, to be clear, we are not negating knowledge, but instead, valuing it to such a degree that we actually emphasize embracing it practically.

I love new things, and I admire people who don’t settle for the status quo. I highly respect people that push it.

I think this is the way of visionary leaders.

Visionary leaders create new things and show little to no reliance on what other people have or are currently doing. They tend to be a bit rogue…in a good way.

I really appreciate those leaders that push the status quo through their creativity.

This guy is a PERFECT example. This is every bit of crazy, but it’s unique and stretches the status quo…by a long shot. Trust me, watch this.

- Chuck / @chuckbomar

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 8.41.25 AMWorking in ministry can be a challenging calling regardless of our circumstances. But it is even more difficult when we are working in an environment that is led by someone who has a different ministry philosophy than we do.  In youth ministry, this can often be the point of much friction. I’ve talked with countless youth ministers struggling with the philosophy of the leadership over them. They are not sure what to do. Most feel stuck. Many want to give up.

All ask for my advice in one degree or another.

So, what do you do if you differ in ministry philosophy with the leadership over you?

I will issue a few thoughts, but first let me say that I have been both a youth pastor (in 2 contexts) and I have planted a church of which I still pastor.  So, these thoughts aren’t favoring one side of the coin over the other, but instead my goal is to have them more focused on personal growth. These might seem a bit harsh at first, but here are some of my honest thoughts:

  1. You don’t need to be at the church you are at, so if you disagree with how the leadership leads or the direction of the church to the point where you can’t support it…you should leave. If you stay you will end up being divisive, regardless of how much you try to keep a unified face on.
  2. If you are staying at the church simply because you have no other source of income, I would recommend you seriously consider your “calling” to ministry.  This might be a point to elaborate on in another post, but I would be inclined to say that this is actually the reason you should resign.
  3. If you are staying because you “feel called to the kids in your ministry” then trust the LORD is in control and follow the lead of those over you. And, trust that He is going to teach you some things during your time at the church.
  4. If you think you should stay because you feel like God wants to use you as an agent of change, be careful. I’ve found some to be that agent of change, but it’s definitely the minority. In fact, in my experience, God keeps the youth pastor at the church so the youth pastor will change – usually toward more humility.

Chuck / @chuckbomar

Sexual Abuse and Faith

 —  March 21, 2014 — 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.36.16 AMLast night I had the pleasure of being a part of an event called, Loveology.  It’s actually the title of a new book that my friend John Mark Comer wrote.  I just sat on a Q&A panel for the event, but I endorsed the book and did so, not just because JM is my friend, but because I really believe in the book. It’s a critical message for our time, to be sure.

Anyway, there were 2,800 people packed into this theater for the night event. Phil Wickham led worship and John Mark taught a couple messages before we had the panel. People texted in questions and we responded. It went great. We laughed a lot, joked with each other…and then I cried some.

I didn’t expect to cry. There was just a question that came up that really got me. A person texted in a question about being sexually abused as a child and was asking for direction on how to break down the walls that has been built between her and God. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her exact wording of the question.

I know it was a woman, because she emailed me this morning. I apparently addressed the question with enough grace and understanding to allow her to feel safe doing so. For that I am very grateful.

She feels like she is not deserving of God’s love. She struggles with doubt that she will experience redemption in this area. She wonders if she will feel whole enough to give herself to a husband the way she desires. In other words, she is wrestling with her identity in very real and, unfortunately, painful ways.

It’s amazing how much how we use our bodies, or how they are abused, affects our mind, theology and overall health. The truth is we are human beings who are intricately designed with a complex mixture of body, soul, emotion…

I guess, to save space here, I would say the following four things to you if you struggle with shame because of your past sexual experiences (whether or not you were a willing participant):

  1. Even though it can get very confusing at times, it’s important to remember that God’s definition of you is in no way affected by your sin or someone else’s sin against you if you are in Christ.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Sin always causes our view of God to be tweaked (Genesis 3:6-8 is a good example) and we must fight for an accurate view of God.
  2. It is rarely easy and it is rarely in our desired timing, but God does, in fact, redeem brokenness. There is limited hope apart from Jesus, but in Him we have much hope to cling to.
  3. Cling to the Church, don’t run from it.  God’s grace is expressed best through His followers (or at least it should be).  Find someone to reveal your brokenness to.
  4. If you have shared with someone and have not been responded to the way you feel necessary, don’t allow that to negatively affect your view of God or His people. People are people and there can be a huge variety of reasons why the person you opened up to didn’t respond in a manner you would deem appropriate. There is still hope and that hope is best experienced among God’s people.

- Chuck

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 4.41.50 PMI’ve had a few people ask me recently about how my kids are doing.  In each of those conversations the question is always phrased a little differently, but they all have stemmed from a concern for how my children are handling being a pastor’s kid, or a “PK.”

I appreciate the questions and concerns.  I know all too well that being a PK is viewed as a pressured situation to be in rather than a privileged one.  My wife and I are very sensitive to this issue.  As far as we can discern, at this time our children don’t feel pressure to be something they’re not simply because they are my kids.  We are constantly talking about how we can continue in this trajectory.

So, not that I have this figured out (by no means am I suggesting that!) and I certainly know that things can very well change as my children get older, but I thought I would list out a few things that my wife and I are trying to do to make being a PK more privilege than pressure for our children:

  1. We never ask them to serve at the church – or suggest that they should.  They certainly know what we are doing and we are very deliberate about explaining “why” we do those things, but never want to suggest they should do the same because “people will notice.”  Our children do ask to participate in ways.  For instance, rather than just going to the 11:30 gathering, they often ask my wife if they can go to the 10am gathering to help with nursery or with the toddlers and then stay for their class at 11:30.  We are also opening a coffee shop in our city and they have asked if they can come on the weekends to help out.  Those things are fun, but we leave that involvement up to them.
  2. We always talk positively about God.  We certainly talk positively about the church, expose our kids to amazing people…but we always talk about following God and joining in with what He is doing.  Regardless of what happens in the future, we want their focus to be on God, not the circumstances – good or bad.  My hope in this is that it sets a foundation that their accountability is it God, not others.
  3. We highlight the fun aspects of ministry.  For instance, we emphasize the beauty of helping the poor and often talk about ways in which we are doing that – we, of course, also include them in that.  When I bring them with me to speak somewhere, we always try to do fun things and somehow highlight the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t teaching.  I sometimes let them play in the church building on Saturdays – things other children don’t necessarily have the privilege of doing – although sometimes they invite friends to join in the fun. 
  4. Include them.  They don’t ask to be a part of everything, but the things they do we allow them to participate as much as they desire.  I also try to think of creative ways to include them.  For instance, when I have a new book coming out we do giveaways and allow my kids to choose the winners.  They also write a note to that person and “congratulate” that person for winning the book.  They find it to be really cool to be a part of that.  They will also run the “book table” for me sometimes – they really get a kick out of that.
  5. Celebrate their uniqueness.  We never want them to feel like they have to fit a mold simply because I’m a pastor so we make sure we encourage them on how they are unique.  We certainly work on character flaws as any loving parent would, but we are careful to not contextualize it as them being in a fish bowl.  That’s the last thing we would do.
  6. Encourage leadership.  We talk about leading people in the right directions, not behaving to please people.  That’s much more than semantics!

If you’re in ministry, what are some things you’re doing with your kids to make growing up in the church more privilege than pressure?

There is a new book out that I can’t wait to read. I’ll get to that in a minute.

I have written no less than 1/2 dozen posts here on the LGBTQ conversation. There is a world of complexities when dealing with this issue – and they are NOT all black and white. One of the worst things we can do to another person is make their struggle a universal black and white issue.

There is a black and white issue here that we should recognize, but it’s one that, unfortunately, few people articulate. The issue that we should be concerned about in our churches is not one of homosexuality, but one of porneia. This is the Greek word translated in most cases as, “sexual immorality.” It speaks of any sexual promiscuity outside God’s design for marriage. Homosexual behaviors can fall into this category, but the truth is heterosexual behaviors are addressed at a much greater length in scripture than any homosexual behaviors are. That’s black and white.

To point out one porneia behavior over another may be done out of ignorance by some, but sadly in many cases it seems to be little more than bigotry. On the other hand, discipling people who are gay is not for the bigot, but for the follower of Jesus. For those of us that want to lovingly guide people toward the ways of Jesus, in any issue, we understand discipleship as being much more than walking people through a curriculum once a week. It’s every bit of the word, “messy.”  It’s anything but black and white. Everyone is different. Their fears, concerns, and questions are unique…and befriending gay people is no exception.

I recently read an article that expressed some of the growing complexities we are seeing in our context. It was written by a gay man who just found out his partner was a trans* woman (a man in transition to become a woman).  He was concerned about what this made him…heterosexual now? It was complex, but it was honest. It was an article that explained the emotional complexities this man was going through and the questions he was honestly wrestling with.

Now, this may be an “extreme” case for some of us, but make no mistake about it – every gay person is riding a number of emotional roller coasters that are unique to that individual – and especially those in the Church.  If we want to lovingly relate to people, whatever their struggle, we need to pay the price of time with them. That’s when we become certain that this is not black and white.

There is a new resource out through Simply Youth Ministry that I am looking forward to reading.  It’s called Ministering to Gay Teenagers: Practical Help for Youth Workers and Families.  I would recommend checking out the video from the author (Shawn Harrison), reading the description, and purchasing the book.  I don’t personally know the author, but I am looking forward reading his book.

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Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.05.56 PMCollege students can sometimes get a bad rap for being flakey.  Although I understand how leaders can have this perception, I’ve actually written about how this is often not the case when we look a little deeper into their search for identity and belonging (for more on that, see the following two books: Worlds Apart or College Ministry 101). But, on the other hand, college students, like all of us from time to time, can certainly get to the point where they are so over committed that they don’t follow through.

The trick is to know the difference between a flakey person and a someone who is just over committed.  It’s a critical distinction because we would approach each issue entirely differently.

Here are 5 signs that students might not be as flakey as they are just over committed:

(1) They’re actually apologetic about being late.

(2) They always seem stressed or rushed.

(3) They can never seem to remember what you talked about last time you met.

(4) They talk about what they “have” to do way more than what they “want” to do.

(5) They are usually tired.

I’ve found the following to be beneficial when working with over committed people:

  1. Be an e-brake.  Literally ask them to stop and take a deep breathe.
  2. Be a listener.  Ask them how they are really doing and don’t give advice unless they specifically ask for it.
  3. Pray for them.  After listening, just ask if you can pray for them.  Pray for peace, wisdom with time management and focus on what truly matters.

We can often encourage people more by just being present and supportive than we can by giving a bunch of unsolicited advice.

Chuck / @chuckbomar

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.36.11 PMThere’s no question that cultivating inter-generational relationships is an obstacle many churches are seeking to overcome. We can get people from different generations to sit in the same room at the same time, but this doesn’t mean they are “connecting.”  If we desire to cultivate inter-generational relationships, we must ingrain at least the following 5 values into the culture of our churches. Here they are and some thoughts about each one:

  1. Value of Family.  We cannot alienate people by language. When we speak of “family” we ought to focus on our theological family more than nuclear structures so that we do not alienate singles, college age people, or children who unwillingly find themselves in a broken home. The bottom line is healthy nuclear families are not an end, they are a means to an end.
  2. Value of Responsibility.  We must help older believers understand their responsibility to invest in younger people.  We cannot consider ourselves successful in ministry if we don’t focus on this. The bottom line is measuring faithfulness in ministry must include how we hold people accountable to the standards of scripture.
  3. Value of Others.  We must help people embrace the call of the gospel to focus on others, first.  If people think their faith is about them they will then think the church exists for them and thus will not interact inter-generationally unless they feel like it benefits them. However, a gospel-centered person seeks to give community to others before seeking it for themselves.
  4. Value of Quality.  We must begin finding ways to measure quality of relationships. We typically only measure quantitative elements in ministry. Churches that are helping cultivate inter-generational relationships are finding ways to measure quality. The bottom line is measuring quantity is not necessarily a sign of success for spiritual leaders.
  5. Value of Difference.  We must embrace our unique differences, but also value the differences of others (personality, giftedness, etc) to the point where we intentionally pursue those different from us. Churches have traditionally structured around affinity because we are inherently attracted to those just like us anyway.  However, embracing the value of difference would lead to us to also structuring toward diversity.  I’ve found that if we structure to promote and protect diversity, affinity naturally happens.  But if we only structure around affinity we tend to lose the beauty of diversity, which ultimately leads to generational disconnection.

Chuck / @chuckbomar