Love or Obligation?

Why do we do the things we do? Is it because we feel like we have to do certain things? Is it because we feel like we would let someone down that we really looked up to or want to please if we didn’t? When I was in middle school I started to play the trumpet in the school band because my grandfather played the trumpet when he was a kid. I played trumpet because I wanted to, not because I had too. I played baseball from the time I could throw a baseball all the way through high school because I really like the game of baseball. My other grandfather played college baseball, all my brothers played baseball, and like most my friends, even had a favorite major league baseball player. I follow the game of baseball because I have a passion for it.

As Christ followers why do we do the things that we do? Think about the last time you went to church. Did you go because you felt like you had to or because you wanted to experience Christ with a body of believers? Do we read the Bible to get to know the nature and character of God or because we feel like we have to because that is just what Christians are supposed to do? Do we pray at meal time, around the table with our kids, because it’s what we have always done growing up or because we know God listens to the prayers of the righteous?

For years now I have wrestled with why Christians do the things that we do. At times I ask myself some of these same questions. It’s so easy to get into routines and lose the heartbeat behind the mission of it all. Jesus commanded believers to make His name famous and to make disciples of all nations. My prayer is that we obey the commands of Jesus because we love Him, not because we feel like we have too or Jesus will be mad at us. I have to admit this is much easier said than done. Life gets busy, work can be overwhelming at times, and 24 hours seems to little for all we have to do in a day. In the midst of all this is the why and how behind the what. I believe we tend to focus on the what more and God focuses on the why and how. We look more at the external and God looks more at the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 (HCSB), “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As a Christ follower, what drives us is the power of the Gospel that transforms lives. This is the difference in love and obligation. Love comes from a heart of desire and passion. Obligation comes from a heart of rules and regulations.

When we love Christ, His bride, and His mission…

1. We desire to know God more each and every day through His Word.

2. Serving others flows naturally from the heart.

3. We pray for others more than ourselves.

4. Leaders are equipped and resourced to make a difference.

 

When we have the tendency to feel “obligated”…

1. We “find” our Bibles only on Sundays.

2. We think of our own needs first.

3. For the most part, we pray selfishly.

4. We think more internally instead of externally.

 

My prayer is that we as the local church will grow in our love for Christ and His mission.

 

Life is a Journey

Life is a journey. In this journey we call life, there are ups and downs, mountain top experiences and valleys.  While we may never know “why” things happen the way they do, what doesn’t change is Jesus and His mission. Jesus is exactly who He said He is and we, as Christ followers, build our lives  on this foundational truth. In this journey we call life there are three things that I’m constantly reminding myself of, whether we are in a good season or a tough season.

1. God is sovereign and in complete control. No matter the circumstances, we must allow God to be God and not us. If things are going well, we can have the tendency to become prideful and think higher of ourselves than we ought too. If things are not going well we tend to get angry and play the blame game. Underneath it all, our natural sinful hearts love control. We want to know every little detail when it happens and how its going to happen. This is God’s job not mans. God is sovereign not man. God is holy, righteous, and pure, not man. Our pursuit should be one of Proverbs 3:5-6. We must trust in Him and not lean on our own understanding.

2. Find confidence and assurance in the fact you were created in the very image of God. Situations can change, life can change, and we can be left with many unanswered questions. What will never change for Christ followers is who we are in Christ. In the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:27) we find a very powerful truth: we were created in the very image of God. We were created to display the image of God and reflect His glory. While your earthly circumstances may change, if you are in Christ, your ultimate perspective will never change.

3. Read the Word of God now, more than ever. In the Word of God we find absolute truth. We find out exactly who Jesus is and how He dealt with praise from man and hardships from man. We see how He talked with people, ministered to people, and helped people see Him and His mission. I love the Word of God because every time I read it, it speaks to me. When reading God’s Word you will be convicted of sin, charged with a mission that is greater than you, and you will see the deep, deep love Jesus has for you. Whatever season of life you are in, read the Word of God now, more than ever. If you have never really read the Word of God on any consistent basis, start with the book of Mark. This is the shortest account we have of the life of Jesus and this Gospel was written to show Jesus as the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant. Next, take whatever day of the week it is and read the congruent Proverb. For example if its May 16th, read Proverbs 16.

The Greatest Life Decision… The most important decision you can make in this journey we call life is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal LORD and Savior. Through His death and resurrection we can have eternal life. The Bible teaches us in Romans 10:9 (HCSB), “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  The Gospel in four short statements is God Loves – Sin Separates – Jesus Saves – We Receive. Accepting Jesus as your LORD and Savior is the greatest decision you will ever make. Allow Jesus and His message to transform you.

 

 

What College Football Teaches Us About People (And Ministry Implications)

I love college football. The atmosphere, the hype, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat, it’s all incredible. My ESPN app and I have a pretty good relationship from August to January. It causes you to be happy when things are going well or a bear to be around when things don’t turn out how you had hoped they would. There are always surprises in the season and it usually never ends the way you thought it would. I love the student section of stadiums full of college students with their faces painted. I love the marching band playing the fight song as their team comes running out of the tunnel. I love it.

I also love the local church. It never gets old seeing people come to a saving faith only found in Jesus Christ. My heart is full when worshiping along side passionate followers of Jesus. I rejoice seeing one minister to a family in need in the name of Jesus. It makes my day seeing someone give their life to Jesus and then publicly sharing their decision through believer’s baptism.

In both of these “arenas” I love seeing the next generation lead out.

Here is the all too often sad reality… people are way more passionate about things that won’t last or that don’t have any eternal significance. I believe we can learn a lot about people from observing the college football environment. Some of the same fans that are screaming for their team to go for it on 4th and 1… come in our doors Sunday morning for church. They lead small group bible studies, hold babies in the nursery, volunteer in student ministry, or serve as deacons. Therefore this leads me to this conclusion: It’s not a lack of passion its a lack of priority.

Allow me to explain…

1. People are full of passion.

Ministry Implication: People are full of passion; we must capitalize on this. If people are passionate about their team scoring a touchdown then they can be just as passionate about making the name of Jesus famous. What makes people passionate? I believe it’s the idea that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is 100% true and 100% bigger than anything we could ever do on our own. Jesus is that amazing. Jesus and His message are worth it.

2. People love community.

Ministry Implication: If people can gather around a common goal outside the walls of the church then why can’t they do the same within the walls of the church. Then, as a community of believers, make a difference in the world. Scripture teaches us where two or more are gathered He, Jesus, will be there also. He will be their to lead, guide, and direct us. He is the focus every single time we gather. Whether its gathering to worship or gathering in small group bible study, people love community.

3. People will spend time, energy, and resources on what they love.

Ministry Implication: More times than not, the issue is not money or time, it’s priority. Here is what I have learned about people since I have been on staff at a church, people will always make the time for what means the most. I even see this within leadership. I asked a pastor one time what his response would be if I told him, “I don’t have time for ‘that’ right now.” He responded with, “That tells me ‘it’ is not important to you.” Whatever we are most passionate about, we will run the hardest after.

4. People have the potential to be committed to something long-term.

Ministry Implication: Someone once told me, “The only thing this generation is committed to is being uncommitted.” While I understand the thought here and there is probably a lot of truth in this statement, I don’t fully agree. I, again, think they are just selectively committed on what really matters the most to them. A true, born and bred, devoted college football follower stays committed to their team no matter what. They just don’t show up on Saturday, they talk about it during the week and usually with others.

The bottom line…

I love the passion in college football fans. Again, I’m one of them. I love the fact that they put their all into it. What bothers me is when the same people who are “Christ followers” are too tired to go to church the next day. They say they don’t have the time to serve a family in need. After all… whatever we are most passionate about, we will run the hardest after.

Acts 20:24 (HCSB), “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”

College Students and the Local Church

It has been finals week here for our local university. That means that several students are in “intense study” mode, “fill up the coffee mug a few more times” mode, and “pulling all nighters” mode. This became even more apparent to me when I recently visited a local coffee shop. It was full of college students that had their laptops, ear buds, smartphones, and textbooks. Every time I see college students, have a conversation with college students, or pray for college students I think about their place in the local church. It is such a critical time in life and I have a strong desire to see the local church reach out to this generation. The more I think about this, four statements keep running through my mind…

1. College students are real people. This statement may read a little strange. However, you would be amazed how many church members/attenders don’t recognize the college students in the church. Some see them as less significant due to them not being “faithful tithers.” Others see them as short-term members and turn their attention to people who will be at the church more “long-term.” Some have a heart to reach these college students. To these people I say thank you. College students are real people who need a vibrant local church to plug into.

2. College students have a story that comes with them. Every person represents a story; college students are no different. When they arrive on their campus a story comes with them. They bring joys, pains, scars, and victories from their life thus far. Following the same theme as my first statement the local church must do a better job of seeing this. I love sitting down with college students and figuring out where they have been and where they want to go. Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples” in Matthew 28. The key in accomplishing this most effectively is found in one word- relationship.

3. College students want to be a part of the local church as a whole. It’s great to have a ministry just for college students in your local church. What’s even better is to plug college students into the life of the local church as a whole. College students want to serve. They want  to be greeters, operate cameras, help pass the offering plate, hold babies, work with middle school students, help serve at senior adult banquets, and so forth. Giving them the opportunity to do this says “we love you and want you here.”

4. College students need the local church to love on them. Ultimately this is the bottom line. College students need mature, Christ following adults who are growing in their own personal walk to come alongside them. They need these adults to model for them what it means to love Christ more than anything else. They need these adults to model what a biblical husband, wife, father, mother, business man/woman, looks like. They need families who are willing to open up their homes and allow them to study, do laundry, and eat. (Free pizza is always a winner!) Some of the coolest relationships I have seen in the local church is an older adult-college student mentorship. Write cards, send emails, take them to Wal-Mart… be the hands ands feet of Jesus to them. You won’t regret it and I can guarantee you it will be as much a blessing to you as it is to them.

Four Priorities in Student Ministry

Lord willing we are about to enter a new year. With this brings fresh starts, plans, and directions. In student ministry it’s a huge task to plan out the most important aspects that you target in your ministry for the year. This is the case because there are many areas that are important to the life of a student ministry. As I was thinking about what should be some main priorities four things came to mind…

 1. Spiritual growth. There has to be visible evidence that students, families, and volunteers are growing in their walk with the Lord. Student ministries need to have a healthy balance between fun and growth but we must never sacrifice growth for fun. Jesus’ last earthly command was for His disciples to make disciples of others. May this be true of student ministries all over this nation and “to the ends of the earth.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

2. Ministry to parents.  Parents must be informed, involved, and influential in the student ministry. Parents bring a unique perspective to what you do as a student ministry. They are the people who spend the most time with the teenagers that make up student ministries all over the world. The local church must partner with and resource them in raising spiritual champions for Christ.

3. Ministry to leaders. Too many student ministries don’t thrive because they don’t raise and nurture leaders. Leaders are student pastors, parents, volunteers, and especially the students themselves. Teenagers must lead among their peers and have ownership in the student ministry. Developing lead teams is a great way to make this a reality.

4. Engaging culture. I believe the best way to engage the culture is to serve the culture. Allow the culture to see the body of Christ being the hands and feet of Jesus. Too many churches view culture as the enemy. Culture is not the enemy but rather our greatest mission field. There can be great teachable moments for teenagers when we allow them to serve in the world they know best.

 As a final reminder: student ministry is relationships. For spiritual growth, ministry to parents, ministry to leaders, and engaging culture to occur there must be relationship. That starts with a passionate, thriving relationship with Jesus. He is our foundation and where we must start and end.

Student Pastors and Seminary

I have been thinking about this whole issue of theological education for those working in student ministry. Is it necessary? Is it optional? For a long time (and some still do) churches would hire a young, energetic, adult to work with teenagers that was “good with kids.” The students loved this person, some of the adults in the church did not understand this person, and this person usually did not stay in their role at the church for much longer than a few years. Now, let me say this, there are some amazing student pastors out there that have never touched any formal theological education. I have personally met them. I have worked alongside them. In fact, I know of some student pastors out there, with no formal theological education, that build relationships better, communicate better, and deal with issues that come along better, than student pastors with a theological education. However, I do believe it is very important for student pastors to at least be attending or planning on attending seminary. I come to this conclusion for several reasons but first let me state this. Seminary is not the end all of the end all. It is so much more important to have a heart for Jesus and growing in your daily walk with Jesus than it is to be sitting in a seminary class. Now, seminary can greatly aid in this process but I have met too many seminary students who do not serve in the local church in any capacity. To that person I say… “really, are you kidding me?” It is also important to note here that there is no way that seminary can prepare you for everything you will encounter in real life ministry. If you are reading this article and you are feeling called to be a student pastor then my advice is simple… do both; serve in the church and attend seminary. With this brings practical application and formal theological training. Here are a few suggestions or ways that this can be accomplished… while in seminary, serve full-time or part-time in a church, be a student ministry intern at a church, or serve a small group leader in a student ministry. Currently, I’m doing this myself. I’ve been married almost five years, I work as a full-time student and college pastor, and I take seminary classes every semester. It can be hard at times to do balance all this at the same time but it is doable, trust me. The key is time management, something that I have definitely not mastered yet. With all this being said here are a few reasons why I believe theological education is important for the student pastor.

1. Teenagers need a leader that is a learner as well. It has often been said a leader is a reader. A growing leader is constantly going to want to be learning new ideas and concepts. Now, there is the train of thought that says… “do I really need seminary to do this, can’t I just read books on my own?” To this I say it is also important, for a season, for the leader to be the student as well. I have gained a lot of valuable knowledge from professors pouring knowledge into me. Professors that were former/current student pastors themselves and could absolutely relate to the question I was asking or situation I was dealing with. Why? Because they are seasoned veterans and have been there and done that. Teenagers desperately need a leader that is constantly increasing in their knowledge.

2. Teenagers ask tough questions about theological concepts. I have been asked questions before, by middle school and high school students, that had I not had some sort of formal theological education, I would not have been able to answer it. Doctrine and theology can be hard for the pastor/ministry leader to grasp but we need to know these things. To many people are under the mindset that students can’t handle deeper biblical lessons or talks. Watered-down theology will not help a student grow to be the disciple of Jesus that they can be. 

3. Churches and supervising pastors do care. Let me start off by saying this is not always the case. One of the churches I previously served in I was told, “Do seminary if you want to, don’t do seminary if you don’t want to, it does not matter to us.” However, I have found more pastors, other ministry leaders, and churches do think it is important that their staff have formal theological training. I’m not saying you can’t get hired without it I’m just simply saying it’s important. After all what is seminary? It’s a training ground. Why would you not want to go get formal training in the area God has called you to. Countless pastors have told me how important it is to have my education. It will make more churches desire for you to be a part of their team, it will grow your network, and you will greatly benefit from the experience as a whole.

Let me end by saying this. It is also important for the student pastor or any ministry leader for that matter to be studying and know the current culture as well. Often seminary students can get in that “seminary bubble” and easily lose sight of this. They will know theological concepts back and forward but then have no idea how to relate them to a struggling teenager or child. To help myself with this I read movie reviews (or go see the movie if it is appropriate) of the best-selling movies, I read up on what is happening in the culture as much as possible, I stay connected to social media, and I listen to songs on the Top 40 charts, just to name some of the things I do.

All in all, I do believe formal theological education is important. It’s not the cheapest thing and it’s not the easy route to take, but at the end of the day I believe it is totally worth it.

Why I Think “Sunday School” Can Still Work

There is a lot of talk in ministry today about what is the best way to disciple believers. If you attend a more traditional church the program probably used the most to aid in this process is called Sunday school. If you attend a more progressive or contemporary church the program probably used the most to aid in this process is called small groups, connect groups, life groups, or something of this nature. Some churches have both sunday school and small groups. With that being said, answering the question, “Which one works better?” can be an interesting topic to discuss. The crack on sunday school is that it’s to old school and this generation does’t like it. The crack on most small group ministries is that it is too fellowship-driven and that it does not have enough actual Bible study elements to it. Some churches still do traditional sunday school but just label it something different with the hopes of illiminating any pre-conviced notions. So, which one works?

I have been apart of church staffs who have had the traditional sunday school model and churches who have had a dynamic small group ministry. Personally, I believe both can work effectively if they are laid out, planned, and processed effectively. I also think you must consider your church’s context. A traditional sunday school model may not be the best model for a church plant who rents out space at a local school on a weekly basis. But to say, “Sunday school is just an old school way of doing ministry and it doesn’t work anymore” I believe is also the wrong way to approach things as well. For the sake of this blog post I’m going to focus on why I believe sunday school can still work. Maybe later on we will tackle the small groups idea.

Here are five reasons why I believe Sunday school can still work:

Sunday school classes study the Word of God and that is the center of the focus. 

Sunday school classes are missions and outreach minded.

Sunday school classes develop new sunday school classes.

Sunday school classes build deeper relationships with each other outside of actual sunday school time.

Sunday school classes are exciting and people want to attend them.

I believe it is unfair to say either sunday school or small groups are ineffective. Again, the ultimate goal is to develop believers in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Whatever model works best for your church… go for it! if that is sunday school…great! If that is small groups that meet in homes through out the week… great! The key is to not knock something just because you believe its “old school” and doesn’t work anymore. More times than not it would work if it was done with passion and purpose.

Bible Study Elements

The Word of God is a precious gift we have been given to read, treasure, and “hide in our heart.” For those of us that have been given the great burden of teaching the Bible on a regular basis, it is important to have a system for how we will accomplish that. The following is for Bible study leaders and is the way I prepare to write/teach a Bible study lesson. This is not how I prepare an actual sermon but yet a small group Bible study. It’s also not the way but yet a way. I hope this encourages you and gives you helpful, practical ideas on how to teach the greatest book ever written. 

1. Introduce It.

  • Begin the Bible study with some sort of creative component that can tie in with the bottom line or the Scripture text itself. This can be a game, a personal life story, an activity, or so on.
  • The point here is to be creative and to not begin the Bible study with, “Open your Bibles to…”
  • Don’t spend too much time on this section but enough time that you connect with your audience. This will build credibility and keep your audience engaged.

2. Bottom Line It.

  • Find the central theological truth in the text and build your entire Bible study around it. Write it down, analyze it, and pray over it.
  • Your audience will have a hard time remembering every little thing you teach. Therefore, it is crucial to leave them with one central truth that is short, catchy, and biblically sound.

3. Study It.

  • Next, you want to dig deeper into the text. You can do this by writing down any questions, confusing ideas, or interesting thoughts you may have about the passage.
  • Write out biblical principles, commands, and encouragements for believers from the passage. Also, write out what it specifically teaches you about the nature and characteristic of God.
  • It is also very important to place the text you are studying in context. Consider such questions as …what was recorded in the previous verses and the verses that follow your particular text? What was the writer of the text trying to convey to that audience? Answering these questions will help you understand better the text you are studying.

4. Apply It.

  • Bringing personal application to the text is just as important as finding the theological truth(s) of the passage. We must know how to live out Scripture in our everyday life if it is going to make any difference at all.
  • Write down one thing you can encourage your audience to work on the following week based off of what you have just learned.
  • Write down personal prayers or prayer concerns for others that come to mind as you study the text. Pray over these the following week as well.

5. Conclude It.

  • This would be a great point to reiterate your bottom line. This again is the main theological truth you want your audience to walk away with.
  • End with any closing challenges and thoughts you have. You may also want to introduce the next Bible study lesson if applicable.