definitionsOkay, so, we are making sure we are clearly defining terms we use in our ministries.  Using terms like “spiritual growth” without clearly defining them, in my opinion, can actually be damaging.  At best it’s ambiguous and confusing for those we lead.  If you missed my definition of “spiritual growth” click here.

In this post I will define “disciple.”  This is important to define clearly because:

1.  It is our identity as followers of Jesus – we are his disciples
2.  If we are to “disciple” someone else we must understand clearly what that means

Here is the definition I use in our church for “disciple:

someone who learns about and from Jesus so they can obey his teachings and teach others to do the same

We often talk about a “disciple” is a learner, but that’s just not good enough.  The goal is NOT to learn information!!!!!  The goal is to obey all Jesus has taught us (Matthew 28:18-20).  So, our definition must include more than just learning.  Secondly, the disciples that walked alongside Jesus were commanded to teach others, so our definition must include this aspect as well.  The goal is NOT to keep what we learn and do to ourselves, but instead to spread it as much as we possibly can.

Lastly, if we are to disciple people, this definition narrows our focus.  Our focus is on the teachings of Jesus, which the rest of the scriptures supports, and our goal is for those we teach to obey what they learn and then cause others to do the same.  If obedience and teaching others to do the same does not follow our “discipleship,” we are not truly discipling anyone.

May you continue to be clear and concise with what you say as a leader.

definitionsSome phrases or words or topics are commonly used in the Church:

  • “We need to grow spiritually
  • “We want to make sure everyone is being discipled…”
  • “We need to train people in evangelism
  • Spiritual disciplines are important for every Christian”

But using these phrases often doesn’t mean people actually understand what we’re talking about.  People might be able to use the terms in the right context and in the right ways, but if asked to define these things most would have a hard time doing so.  Well, I’ve realized more than ever we have to make sure these types of things are defined clearly and simply.  If not, all we do is train people in Christianese – a language we use that nobody really understands.

So, I thought I would do is provide the definitions I use in our church.  You might already have your own definitions that are concise and effective.  If that’s you, then maybe mine can just be something you compare/contrast yours with.  If you don’t have these defined concisely, I would recommend doing so immediately.  Leadership requires us to be clear.

The first word or phrase I will define in this series is: spiritual growth.

This phrase is tossed around a lot, but nobody really knows what we mean.  So I have defined it.  It may not be a perfect definitions, but I believe we can say we have grown spiritually

if the time it takes us to read scripture and embrace it is less than it used to be. 

This definition does a number of things other than just providing a definition:

  1.  It leans on Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 that says the goal of our teaching people about him and his ways is obedience.  We cannot feel like we’ve grown spiritually simply because we can regurgitate scripture.  Reading the bible makes us Christian as much as reading People Magazine makes us a celebrity.
  2. Implies that we need to be growing in our understanding of scripture.
  3. It insinuates actions need to be taken after reading.

How do you feel about that definition?  See any holes in it?  Any other benefits you see it having?  If you have defined it for yourself and ministry, please share it so we can all learn.

Rhetoric is a part of this conversation whether we like it or not.  I don’t want to get overly intellectual here, but I do need to explain one thing.  In today’s world, if someone is against same-sex marriage (or for traditional marriage) that person is being viewed as a bigot and oppressive.  This is powerful rhetoric that can apply a lot of pressure on Christians.  It will require us to be very careful with the words and tones we use in conversation.  It’s almost viewed as hateful to be “against” this or to be “for” only traditional views of marriage.  That to say, what we say and how we say it in the world, and more pointedly in relationships, is going to be critical.

Here are 2 things I think we should keep in mind if we want to navigate this conversation well:

Respect people.  If we want to be respected for our beliefs, we must also respect people who have different beliefs.  This is a fact of life: people have different beliefs.  That’s inevitable in so many ways and we ought not freak out when it happens.  But my point is that we can respect people even though we believe different things.  Again, the goal is not to judge the morality of non-Christians (see 1 Corinthians 5:12), but instead to proclaim the excellencies of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).  We are not pointing people toward proper behaviors.  We are respectfully pointing them toward Jesus.

Not condemning people doesn’t mean we condone their actions.  I have plenty of friends who are currently in same-sex partnerships.  I make sure I articulate what I believe in loving and respectful ways that keep our relationship in tact, where there is mutual respect for each other as human beings and where the doors for the gospel to penetrate are still left open.

My prayer is that we, as the Church, can navigate this conversation well and in a humble way that would honor Jesus.


How we navigate this conversation will determine a lot in the future for the Church.  I would say this is a critical time and one that we must take very seriously.  Here are a few things I believe we must keep in mind as we converse with people about this subject:

  1. Make God’s transformation priority.  The only thing guilting or shaming people into conforming their behavior accomplishes is bitterness toward Jesus or us being attacked – or both.  In this conversation we have to embrace our theology at very practical levels.  Sanctification is God’s job (Philippians 1:6).  We cannot confuse God’s transformative work in a persons life with a person who conforms their behaviors so that they look like they’ve been transformed.
  2. Be careful to not judge non-Christians.  1 Corinthians 5:12 is very clear that it is not our place to judge people “outside” of the Church.  We cannot expect people who are not believers to act like believers.  Additionally, there are countless people within the Church that need to be walked with in this struggle and wrongly judging people severely hinders that.
  3. Truth is a Person.  In John 14:6 Jesus says that he is the truth.  In other words, truth is not morality nor is it simply doctrinal statements.  Truth is summed up in a Person and his name is Jesus.  That to say, as Christians, we proclaim truth (Jesus) to a lost world, not behavioral standards.  This line must be walked carefully.

Tomorrow I will post one more blog on this topic and then we will be on to the next…

To say that issues surrounding the LGBTQ movement are sensitive to navigate would be a gross understatement. Here are 3 mistakes that are often made in our ministries:

  1. People make “gay” jokes.  Statements like, “that’s gay” or “what are you, gay?” are exactly the types of things that will repel someone who needs to have a safe place to share. This will alienate kids and make you completely unsafe to talk to.  We come across as arrogant and condemning.  Huge mistake.
  2. People treat this issue as a simple one.  This is perhaps the most complex issue we are dealing with today from a pastoral perspective.  Mostly because it’s tied to identity in such strong ways.  We cannot make the mistake of trying to make it simple for people.  It’s not.
  3. People just point to the bible.  We can no longer just say we’re against “same-sex marriage” because “the bible says marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.” This may be true, but it in no way addresses or even acknowledges the emotional turmoil people are in.

What are some ways you are addressing this issue in a positive way in your ministry?

Conversation has to happen at every level of our churches about the relationship between the Church and the LGBTQ. The BARNA group will be releasing a study on how the views of Christians are changing toward the LGBTQ movement soon.  If you’d like to read an article about this from the Washington Post, click here.  LGBTQ would include at least the following groups of people: homosexual, lesbian, asexual, bi-sexual, transexual, the small amount of people born gender-ambiguous…and those that are “questioning” their orientation (that’s where the Q comes into the equation here).  These are all representative sexualities that are making up a powerful coalition to seek legally recognized freedoms and ultimately social relief from shame.

If this seems more complex to navigate than ever before that’s because it is.  Tomorrow I will post 3 mistakes we cannot make as we seek to navigate this conversation.

For now, here is a graphic that the BARNA group put out (as posted in the Washington Post article above).

Screen shot 2013-07-12 at 10.17.57 AM

question markI’ve worked with 18-25 years olds for over a dozen years now and one of the realities I’ve had to work through is the fact of having to walk alongside parents, too.  This can often be a time of deep relational tension and much of that comes from the hopes, dreams and expectations of parents not being met.  Their child might not be moving in the direction they think is best or had hoped for.  Or maybe their child isn’t moving in any direction at all.

In my book, Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 year olds, I list out the 4 following questions that I have asked parents to consider asking themselves.  Maybe you would consider them too:

  1. What do I value about my child?
  2. Do I allow my child’s life and results to reflect on me so much that they dictate my relationship with and my counsel to my child?
  3. Do I really value my child for who he or she is today, regardless of what he or she does or becomes?
  4. Do I place a higher value on what I personally want for my child than I do what he or she wants?

If you are trying to deepen your relationship with your college age child, answer these questions honestly.  If you do, you just might find you and your child’s worlds coming together in ways you have always hoped for.

question markCompanies and organizations often do “exit interviews” and they do so for many different reasons.  But the biggest one is that they get really honest answers.  They do this so they can learn, become better at what they do and more faithfully care for their employees.

I think student ministry pastors need to do this too.  Asking graduated seniors the following questions can help you become better at what you do, be more in tune with the actual needs of your students and provide a natural way for you to give a few things for them to think about as they move onto the next stage of education.  But mostly it’s about asking them questions and keeping your ears open.

Here are 10 questions to ask graduated seniors:

  1. What is one thing you would NOT want to see changed in our ministry?
  2. If you were me, what two things would you do differently in our ministry?
  3. What questions are you thinking through right now? (note: this is a good one to ask because it can clue you into which questions you should answer for the next years seniors!)
  4. What do you think the biggest need is of the students in our ministry?
  5. What aspect of our ministry do you think is the most effective in helping students grow in their faith?  Why that one?  Anything we can do better?
  6. What do you think the students at (name school here) want the most out of life?  What is a way that our ministry can meet/address that desire?
  7. What was it that helped you best connect in our ministry?
  8. Do you feel like you were invested in the way you expect churches to invest in people?  What could we do better?
  9. Was there anything in our ministry that made you feel uncomfortable or discouraged?
  10. Do you feel like you were encouraged in our ministry?  If so, what did you find to be most encouraging?