Vacation Bible School

20180523_124440Praise Day Bible Camp went by smoothly (outside of the Kindergarten kid who decided to jump and land on my foot). I was in charge of the Bible Story.  I recruited three young men to help me out and to make the day go quicker.  I can’t say enough good things about these young men.  Maddix, Max, and Caleb (with no advanced warning mind you) led small groups and Kagan activities, played the part of bouncer, and people listened.  I guess I shouldn’ be suprised that they taught like Maddix’s dad who is coaching his sprinters at state track; they disciplined and crowe control like Calebs dad, a county sherriff; and when they spoke to both students and adults, they listened, just like Max’s father.

“Like father,like son” can be a blessing or curse.  I was blessed today in sharing ministry with good men, because their fathers are good men.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6.4)

Mentor Monday: Calling (part 1)

cropped-dscn3561.jpgWith great trepidation, I discuss this particular subject. I have never heard an audible voice telling me to “go” and I have never had my alphabet cereal spell out a destination for mission work.  These are the thoughts that many have when we discuss a “calling” on their life.  As if the only real and true “calling” can come from some kind of metaphysical interaction.  It hasn’t helped recently that everyone who say’s that they were called by God to do something, has been pegged as a crazy person (think Michelle Bachmann in the 2012 presidential election).  So how can mentors tackle this subject?  It begins with knowing what a calling entails.

A “calling” [gk. kaleo] is an invitation.  An invitation to join a party (Lk. 14.16-25).  We are summoned to go on this great quest in trusting God to lead.  It is a challenge to follow God wherever he leads: be it your interactions with others (general calling); or your vocation and ministry [from the latin word vocar, meaning “calling”].  It is a request to let God be the one who chooses the direction as we let Him steer.  It is a beckoning to discover and enjoy the unknown to us, as God takes us where we need to go.  Jesus started off by calling four fishermen, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4.18-22; Mark 1.16-20).  The translation: “Come follow me and you will do things you never once imagined.”  Jesus was asking them to follow, to go, to journey with him to an existence that was farther beyond their ambitions.  Some have been specifically called in Scripture to do specific tasks (which I have written about elsewhere), but what about the men we are mentoring?  We too have calls on our lives, they just might not be spelled out.

The Christian has two different calls on their lives. The first is commonly called a general calling.  All Christians are called by God to live a certain way.  This calling is called a general calling, meaning it was for everybody at all times in every circumstance.  We were called to a life lived in relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 1.9); a life of holiness (1 Thes. 4.7; 2 Tim. 1.9); a life of peace (Mark 9.50; Col. 3.15; 1 Cor. 7.15); eternal life (1 Tim. 6.12); sanctification (2 Thes. 2.13-14).  Henry Blamires put it best describing a general calling as “the responsibility of all mankind to live as children of God.”[1]  In essence it is the call to live out among the rest of mankind the relationship that we enjoy with our heavenly Father.  We are to love one another (16 times we are commanded too); be at peace with one another (1 Cor. 7.15; Mark 9.50; Romans 14.19; 1 Thes. 5.13b); encourage each other (Hebrews 3.13; 10.25); speaking truthfully to one another (Eph. 4.25, Col. 3.9); honoring your father and mother, and countless others.  The commands, the stipulations that apply to all mankind are our General calling.  The Puritans had three levels of calling, and the first two [Abide in communion with Christ, and the common] are those that would be expressed in our general calling.

The second type of call is a specific calling. This call is individual to the Christian. No two specific calls are exactly the same.  This call is what we think of when we use the word vocation [the latin word vocare means “calling”].  Our specific calling is “God’s call to man to serve him in a particular sphere of activity.”[2]  Your specific calling is the area where God has gifted, placed, and prepared for you to flourish.  In this life we were created to thrive, not just survive.  Specific calling is the place where God has created us to thrive.  Jethani points out that our culture is moving towards this idea of calling.

Younger people today, perhaps more than previous generations, have a strong sense of their specific calling.  They believe God has called them into business; the arts, government, the household, education, the media, the social, sector, or health care, and they are often very committed to these venues of cultural engagement.  But when their specific callings are never acknowledged by the church, and instead only our common callings or the goal of the institutional church is extolled, the young feel like something important is missing.”

God has placed in you a specific mix of gifting, ability, passion, and desire that is unequaled and unmatched by anyone else on the planet.  Our use of these things is part of our worship and service to God.  Dallas Willard reminds us that the use of our specific calling is part of our stewardship.[3]  Wayne Cordeiro warns that we often get confused about our calling: “It’s easy to get our callings mixed up with our careers…I recall hearing an old saying that still holds true today: ‘Your career is what you’re paid for.  Your calling is what you’re made for.’”[4]

At this point I feel it is necessary to interject a brief statement about the equality of all callings. Our culture struggles with what I call the pendulum paradox.  Our culture has eliminated the middle ground.  The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.  One the one hand, much of the Christian community has made a bigger deal than necessary about the height of the calling to serve in a Church (based in my opinion largely upon a misapplication of James 3.1).  When I was in college there was an unwritten hierarchy with located church work at the apex.  To work for a church is the only way to make sure that you are doing God’s work.  To that Dallas Willard argues:

“it is as great and as difficult a spiritual calling to run the factories and the mines, the banks and the department stores, the schools and government agencies for the Kingdom of God as it is to pastor a church or serve as an evangelist.”[5]

On the other hand, with the rise of bi-vocational ministry, the increase of the parachurch ministry (especially amongst this generation), and the amount of worldview training (helping people understand how their calling fits into the overall picture of God’s redemption of mankind), there is an undercurrent of distrust and disillusionment of located Church ministry.  In some areas, Church work has taken a nose-dive as a respected profession.[6]  Some believe youth ministry is nothing more than showing up to kids games, playing x-box, and being a paid best friend to a middle school student.  Some believe the pastor works only one day a week.  The work (if you can call it that) of minister has become a punch-line.  In a way of finding the equilibrium position of the pendulum let me argue the equality of callings.  The reformation mindset needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts.  For years the church instead of being a priesthood, had a priesthood.  Luther’s reformation argued for the priesthood of all believers, meaning we all had the responsibility of interceding, and serving the community of mankind for God’s purposes.  The youth pastor, the tire maker, the police officer, the stay-at-home mom, or the accountant has all been charged with the purpose of glorifying God and serving others.   As Tim Keller reminds us, “All work, according to God’s design, is service.  Through work we enrich one another and become more and more interwoven.”[7]

[1] Blamires, Henry.  The Christian Mind (Regent Publishers: Vancouver, 1963) 20.

[2] Jethani, Sky. “Uncommon Calling” Christianity Today. January 2013. pg. 52

[3] Willard, Dallas. Spirit of the Disciplines (HarperOne: San Francisco, 1988) 214.

[4] Cordeiro, Wayne. Jesus: Pure and Simple (Bethany House: Minneapolis, 2012) 39.

[5] Willard 214

[6] As one in this profession, I feel that I can be honest and upfront about the issues.  I will tell you that it is in part due to sin within the ministry, laziness of pastors, a perceived incompetence within the pastorate, and a weird mix of relatability/unrelatability of those in ministry with the parishioners.

[7] Keller, Tim. “Vocation: Discerning Your Calling” redeemercitytocity.com

 

Mentor Monday: Giftedness

kid and cowboy bootsI am not a fan of mass production when it comes to making disciples.  I think public education is realizing its own mistake in turning public schools into a factory that takes in kids and spits out graduates.  Mentoring is a highly personal endeavor and a Mentor helps his disciples FIND and UTILIZE their giftedness.  Of all the roles of a mentor and mentee relationship this is perhaps the most specialized and unique.  As Dallas Willard says in The Spirit of the Disciplines: “Everyone who has a pastoral role to others, whether as an official minister or not, must strive for a specific understanding of what is happening to those who come regularly under his or her influence and must pay individual attention to their development.” (247)  Giftedness comes in two somewhat overlapping areas, the first of which we will explore today.

Spiritual gifts are the “manifestations” phanerosis [1 Cor.12.7; 2 Cor. 4.2]) of the Holy Spirit’s work and power in the life of a Christian in order to build up the people of God. (1 Cor. 12.7; Eph. 4.11-12)  They are the evidence, the talents, and the abilities given by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling within the life of a Christian.  Every Christian has one, some have multiple, but only Jesus had them all.  These abilities are “gifts” (in the sense that they were not earned or achieved) from the Holy Spirit with the express purpose to meet needs.  It turns people from an inward focus, to an outward focus, from consumers to distributors.*

The first step is finding their Spiritual Gifts.  There are three theories to finding your giftedness: 1) Testing for them is a common way to find and reveal your gifts.  Most tests are arranged as a series of questions, which are assigned a numerical value based on how well they describe the person taking the test.  There are multiple tests and evaluations that are out there.  Most range from 50-100 questions.  This method assumes that you are honest with yourself and know yourself well. 2) Another method of finding gifts is what Nike has made its slogan for years: “Just Do it!”  The best way to discover something is to try it out and see what fits.  If we continually just try the things that we feel gifted at, we may never discover a gift or a passion that has been dormant and unknown.  This can at times become frustrating as the pains of trial and error can wear on. This is the “grip it and rip it school” of thought.  3) Or you can point them out!  At some point, someone may need to point out a gift that has gone unnoticed.  There are times when we are the last one to see the truth.  I have a student whom I constantly remind that his gifting is leadership.  This student can influence those in her class to do anything.  She would and still does argue that she is not a leader, but everybody in the church can see what God has given her.  This is where you as a mentor may be able to provide direction, counsel, and illumination for your protégé.

Now that it is understood what spiritual gifts are in the student, it is imperative that they utilizing them. One of the best presents I have ever received was a 20 gauge Remington 870 shot gun.  My parents got me the gun for my 12th birthday.  The next step was learning how to shoot it.  The Spirit freely gives gifts to God’s people, but learning how to utilize those gifts is often overlooked.  Dennis Bickers, in his book The Healthy Pastor, make this observation about the Church:  “The church seems to be the only institution in the world that still believes it can ask someone to do a job without requiring training for that job…This training should include both theological education and training in practical ministry skills.”^  Training people to use their gifts more efficiently and effectively should take a higher precedent in churches across the nation.  If we are to take Paul’s words in Ephesians seriously “It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”  then as leaders and churches need to make it a priority to train, to prepare, people for service.  Peter reminds his readers, “Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4.10)  Mark Moore, my Acts professor at Ozark Christian College, had a tradition of bestowing the name of a character from the book of Acts on every one of his students in class.  He would say your name and then tell you what character that he sees you as.  With each character he would give background and how they used their giftedness to further God’s kingdom in the book of Acts.  If only we as the leaders in the church would follow his lead in challenging our people to use their giftedness.

In order to utilize giftedness, the first thing is that we must know the opportunities.  Often times our inability to help people utilize their gifts comes from our own disconnection from the body.  Mentors need to keep their ear to ground in order to know the needs opportunities within the body.  I have found that high school students are either: a) too busy to find their own ways to use their gifting; or b) not motivated enough to find ways.  Not being willing to use their gifts is not the issue, but my job is to disassemble all the barriers that stand in the way of using their gifts.  Make an effort to talk to the leaders in the church and know where the needs are.  Check with ministry heads and ask them where people have vacant positions.   Ask questions, make a volunteer opportunity board in the fellowship hall of your church, post them online, send them out via Facebook.  There are many ways to inform your congregation (and your students) off places to utilize their gifts.   One creative way I have seen this done is after having taken the giftedness test, a bulletin board full of note cards with their giftedness was posted.  Written on the visible side was the gift that was needed to accomplish the task on the backside.  For example, one side might read “service” and the other side might read “clean the restrooms once a month at the church”.  One might read “encouragement” the other side might read “send a note to each person from your congregation in the hospital”.  Knowing the opportunities for implementation of gifts really comes down to communication and organization.

Secondly we can create our own.  If your search for vacancies has proved fruitless, get creative in thinking and find an outlet.  “Our cultural hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur.”**  This is the generation that gave us Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook; David Karp and Tumblr; and the Instagram creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.  All entrepreneurs and all under the age of 30.  Most were under the age of 23 when they started their ventures.  This generation believes in creating the place where they fit.  Creating a place (and helping them create a place) for their giftedness to be developed and used takes a venture and vision, which the next generation of leaders can rally around.  Start with the gift and rule out nothing.

Finally, connect your disciple with those like-gifted.  After exhausting leaders, finding vacancies, and racking the brain to create and outlet for gifting, find someone who is gifted in a like manner and arrange a time for your mentee and them to get together.  When I first got to the church where I serve, most of our students were musically inclined.  I am very much not.  I didn’t know how to relate to them, how to lead them, of to implement their giftedness.  The church didn’t really have a great place for them to use their gifts at that time, but our worship leader assembled a youth band.  It was his leadership that showed me the necessity of connecting people with similar giftedness to create and to find a place to use the gifts that God has given.

Mentors make it a priority to help their disciples discover their gifts and to put them into practice.  Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1.6).  A simple reminder for Timothy to exercise, to take care of, protect, and implement the gift that God had given him.  Paul had called Timothy out in his previous letter, making sure that his gift would not be neglected (1 Timothy 4.14).  When is the last time that a leader stepped in a held someone accountable for not using their gifts to the fullest extent?  I can’t think of the last conversation I have had as a youth minister, with a student, confronting them on a neglecting of the gifts that God had given them?  At a birthday party recently, I watched two young girls (3 and 5) open up every one of their presents.  They did not find excitement in the $50 Barbie’s or the $70 All American girl dolls, but it was the 50 cent tissue paper that they enjoyed throwing around the room.  If I had brought one of those presents I would have been frustrated knowing that I could saved a ton of money and went with just the tissue paper.  How much more does God feel seeing a gifting that he has placed in us go dormant and atrophied from lack of exercise?  The role of a Mentor is to help their student to discover their giftedness, by testing, opportunity, and telling them.  The next role of the Mentor is to find opportunities for the student to use and implement the Gifts that God has given them.  When I coached, I always told the athletes that my job as a coach was to put them in a position to succeed.  I’m not going to play the shortest kid on the team as a center, or the slowest person on the soccer team at forward.  As a mentor, it is my responsibility to help our students to find areas to serve where their gifts are used and their passions are fed.

*Keller, Tim.  “Discerning and Exercising Spiritual Gifts” redeemercitytocity.com

^Bickers, Dennis.  The Healthy Pastor (Beacon Hill: Kansas City, 2010) 138.

**Deresiewicz, William. “Generation Sell” Nov. 12, 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/the-entrepreneurial-generation.html>

Mentoring Monday’s: Prayer

 

prayerNever mistake activity for achievement.”  Keeping busy doesn’t mean that progress is being made.  In mentoring youth or men, the same is true.  We can fill schedules with meetings, take them out for dinner, suggest books, do Bible studies, or take trips, but at its core, a Mentor must pray for his protege’s. Two things strike me about the prayer life of Paul:

  • Paul prayed for future leaders. During their first missionary journey through the province of Galatia, Paul and Barnabas circled back through the towns they had just visited and appointed (cheirotoneo) elders for the churches that they had planted.  These men were committed (paratithemi – literally the word means to “lay down for” or “place”) to the work of the Lord and men whom Paul and Barnabas trusted to lead the church.  Paul understood the importance of the leadership in the fledgling churches of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and he bathed those commissions in fasting and prayer (Acts 14.23).  During the third missionary journey as Paul and his team are traveling around the archipelago of Greece, he longs to speak with the men whom he spent two years with in Ephesus.  Ephesus is kind of like Grandma’s house, you don’t just stop for 2 minutes, so Paul has them meet him in Miletus (Acts 20.17).  When the Elders arrived, Paul gave them a final commission and training.  They knelt and prayed together because they knew they would never see his face again (Acts 20.36-38).  In his last bit of training for the eldership of Ephesus, Paul prays.  Finally, as Paul is headed toward Jerusalem, his ship docks at Tyre (Acts 21.5).  In the city Paul finds some disciples who urge him not to continue onto Jerusalem.  Paul will not be dissuaded, but before he leaves he prays with the disciples and with their families.  The people Paul leaves places are always covered in his prayers.   Perhaps he was just doing what was modeled for him by the disciples and Elders in Antioch (Acts 13.3).  Mentoring is about training people and then releasing people to use that training.  Training people to do what you do and them letting them do it.  It is our responsibility as mentors to pray for the people we are training.
  • Paul’s prayer life was consistent. Paul’s prayer life was of all things consistent and continual.  When he writes to his Trainee Timothy: “night and day, I [Paul] constantly remember you in my prayers.” (2 Timothy 1.3), he writes not as an isolated instance but as a spiritual habit of praying.  Spending time in prayer is not something that ebbed and flowed with Paul.  After Jesus appears to him on the road to Damascus, Paul spends three days praying waiting for Ananias to show up (Acts 9.11).  He and Silas prayed through the night in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16.25).  Throughout his letters, Paul’s prayer life and teaching is on display: to the Ephesians, “I haven’t stopped remember in you in prayer” (Eph 1.16) and “pray on all occasions” (Eph. 6.18); to the Colossians “I haven’t stopped praying for you” (Col 1.9); to the Thessalonians, “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5.17) because we “constantly pray for you” (2 Thes. 1.11); to the Roman Christians, “at all times I remember you” (Romans 1.9-10) and “be faithful in prayer” (Romans 12.12); and to Philemon,  “I always thank God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 4).  Paul displayed a passionate prayer life to the churches and the disciples.  Consistently he was in prayer for the people and for the churches.  Randy Gariss, pastor of College Heights Christian Church had this to say about the importance of prayer in the leadership, “You don’t want to be part of any church where the leadership doesn’t regularly fast and pray together!”  Paul was reliable in his prayer life, knowing that prayer would have the greatest influence on the people he was leading.  Prayer for the people we are leading takes the least amount of effort on our part, but returns the greatest gain in their life.  Letting God take control of the situation, bending His ear constantly, and offering up our followers to Him, will accomplish more than any of the lessons we give.  If we want to lead the next generation of leaders, and answer the question “Who’s Next?” we must make sure that we are mentors and leaders who pray.  Constantly they must be covered in prayer, daily they must be lifted up, and continually we must display for them a life devoted to prayer.

With a mentoring relationship comes the commitment to pray for your disciple daily, asking God to direct and guide them, to work in their lives and transform them, to teach them and to encourage them.  Prayer needs to be a top priority within the mentoring relationship.

To often, especially in mentoring relationships, life can run renegade.  It gets away from us as we plan meetings, teach lessons, and invest in our relationships with those we are pouring into.  Let’s not forget that we have our own lives to lead, families to manage, and work to do.  Often the first thing to go is our prayer time.  There is a great statement in the middle of the Book of Daniel, which demonstrates the kind of prayer life that we as leaders need to cultivate.  Daniel 6.10-11: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room were the windows opened toward Jerusalem.  Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.  Then these men came as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”  If someone wanted to catch you praying, could they?  Would they be able to find me, as a leader, in consistent prayer for the next generation of leaders?

Mentor Mondays

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The Next Generation

The case could be made that the ministries of some of the greatest men in the Bible, pinnacled as they anointed and mentored their successors.  Moses had a great run standing up to Pharaoh, but it was his mentoring of Joshua that would fill more pages of his story than anything else.  Elijah spent his days in the middle of a crumbling kingdom, trying to re-align their moral compass and pushing himself to the brink, but his ministry climaxed as he found Elisha to pour into.  Try to read through 1 & 2 Timothy without noticing the instruction, the guidance, and the direction that Paul was trying to impart to his protégé Timothy.  

When studying the lives of these people it is best to put them in juxtaposition with one another, which led me to this study.  Many have sat down an attempted to write a character sketch of Paul or of Moses.   I too studied their lives in an effort to understand them.  Every study I undertook ultimately left me disappointed.  Paul and Moses had an impact that lasted well beyond their day.  Without even taking an account of the quarter of the Bible being written by their hands, it was the way they influenced the people around them that had a great impact on the future of Israel and the Church respectively.  What did Moses and Paul do in mentoring the next group of leaders?  What methods and actions did they undertake?  

Moses and Paul didn’t just expect mentoring to happen.  Moses was told by God to appoint Joshua as his successor (Numbers 27.18) and Paul called Timothy his ‘dear son’ (2 Timothy 2.2).  These relationships didn’t appear “organically” as some in churches have expected.  Organically is often a word used in place of “unplanned”, “unintended”, and “accidental”.  Timothy and Joshua were certain of their roles and their relationships with their leaders.  Pastors need to become more intentional with raising up leaders to succeed them.  In Judges 2 a startling picture is shown when “another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”  The previous generation/the older generation, the one who had seen the walls of Jericho fall, the Jordan River parted, the manna and the quail daily, the fire at night and the cloud by day leading them, departed, gathered to the fathers, died.  The next generation wasn’t prepared by that generation.

It is vital for the survival of Biblical manhood for us to be future thinkers. We need to be daily asking the question: Who’s next?  The purpose of the next few Monday’s is to help us avoid the issue that plagued Israel so long ago and answering the needs of young men: Providing Leadership for the Next Generation.  Failure to do so will materialize for us the way it did for Israel in Judges. “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2.10)  After an entire generation, ones that had seen the Jordan dry up before them, the walls of Jericho fall, the sun standing still, the manna and quail daily, the pillar of cloud and fire, had passed away…the knowledge of the works of the Lord was not passed on to the next generation.  For the next few weeks, on Mentoring Monday, by leaning on the lives of Moses and Paul (and by proxy their mentees Joshua and Timothy), I want to provide a framework for mentoring from the Biblical text.