Road Trip Recap

Like I said in my previous post, I spent the final 10 days of April traveling through North Carolina! It was so great being able to go from city to city, visiting different stores with Alley that sold Tevas. Our route looked a little something like this:

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I’m quite certain we hit every single REI and Mast General Store that exists in the state, which should warrant that we earn some kind of award from Teva for most miles driven. Ambitious, I know, but I don’t think I’m wrong.


I’ve been to Charlotte a handful of times in my life, but I haven’t spent as much time there as we did this trip. While we spent 4 of the 5 days there at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, we were able to check out some really cool spots around the city both in our off-time and on the 5th day as we hit stores around the perimeter.

One of my goals on the road is to find good coffee and good shops that can go on my recommendation list when people ask me about what there is to do in different cities. So, my favorite coffee here in Charlotte came from Not Just Coffee and Summit Coffee Roasters.

NJC served Counter Culture, which is an incredible company that trains, resources, and does business with wholesale accounts across the country. Along with Onyx Coffee Labs, Counter Culture is in my top 5 favorite roasters, so I was super pleased with the cappuccino I ordered at NJC. Summit Coffee Roasters was the official coffee company for Tuck Fest, and they served their own roast, which was really flavorful and fruity. To top it off, one of the baristas gave me a sample bag of Kenyan coffee, which is really delicious.


There’s not much to speak about when it comes to the RDU/Greensboro areas, unfortunately. It was such a whirlwind driving around these cities this trip, so it was convenient that they’re relatively close to each other.

From past experience in the areas, the best things going on between these two cities is (obviously) the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Greensboro Arena where loads of concerts happen.

If you’re looking for coffee suggestions, right outside of Greensboro in High Point is a local roaster called FosterHobbs Coffee. They work closely with Premier Productions, CCM’s largest promoter, and the company that puts on WinterJam & Outcry, so from the couple dates I spent with the crew I got to taste this great brand. Counter Culture also has a distribution center in Durham, in the metro area of Raleigh.


Ah Asheville. My favorite city in North Carolina. I grew up visiting this area growing up, since my family is from 20 miles west of the city. This, my friends, is NC coffee mecca (in my opinion). From High Five to Trade & Lore, there are so many different shops to enjoy and visit.

Trade and Lore Coffee

If you’re into the outdoor scene like I am, this is the perfect city around which you can center your travel, especially in North Carolina. You’re within 20 to 30 minutes of some great trails, parks, and outdoor features that are breathtaking.

I seriously could spend hours talking about how much I enjoy Asheville, so I’ll sum it up into a few short words: Go. Visit. This. City.


The last few days of the trip were around so many different cities with such a short time in each that it’s way too difficult to write something about each. Western North Carolina is truly my favorite area in the country (so far), and everything is so accessible. Whether you’re spending time in the Nantahala Forest or on Black Mountain, you’re never going to be disappointed.

If you’re traveling through the town of Black Mountain, you HAVE to go to Dripolator Coffeehouse.


I first visited this shop in Summer 2016, and every single time I’m around Asheville I make sure that I can go visit. The Iced Killer Bee (honey, vanilla, cinnamon latte) is incredible.

Nestled just 20 miles outside of Asheville is honestly my true 2nd home. From the time I was born, I’ve been visiting Waynesville almost yearly. Both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family are natives here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was related to the whole town. It has touches of commercial chain and small town vibes, from the necessities of grocery stores and fast food spots to the local artisan craft shops and diners that make the city what it is. And since Alley had a store to visit there, it was a must to stop and see the family.


This trip, obviously, was an incredible time of rest, travel, and enjoyment. But, it also birthed a wonderful new venture and something that gets me really excited.

Over the course of the trip, Alley and I said to each other multiple times, “This whole travel thing is fun. Let’s do this more often and write about this kinda stuff.’

So, I’m excited to announce the launch of Chasing Rays!


We love traveling, going on adventures, and doing all sorts of fun things. This new endeavor is a way for both Alley and myself to tell stories of all kinds that pertain to life on and off the road. You’ll find trip recaps (like this), gear reviews for the products that help us adventure well, and stories from and based on the experiences that we’ve had.

This is more than a blog though. Combining other social media outlets with the site, we want this to be a brand and avenue to invite people, both believers and non-believers, to enjoy the outdoors from a perspective of faith and the joy that comes from our beliefs. We want to encourage and empower others to take advantage of the world and resources around them, awakening awe and wonder for the things that we sometimes take for granted.

We’ll be posting regularly on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook, so if this sounds like journey you want to take, give us a follow and a like!



Weekend Recap: Tuck Fest 2018

If you’re anything like me, you know that you gotta work hard to play hard. For the past 6 months, I’ve been running and pushing hard at work, and it certainly was time for a vacation. I chose to take this time off to reset, rest, and prepare for the summer season (which everyone in the church world knows is a crazy time for student ministry).

So, the only way I know how to play hard is to get outside. And there’s nothing quite like the outdoors. The majesty of the towering trees, the intense colors of the scenery, and the uncontrollable nature of the roaring rapids are quite powerful reminders of just how small you are, as well as just how big God is.

This past weekend, I spent the majority of my time braving the elements while getting down and dirty out on the Catawba River.

Well… sort of.

Thanks to the team at On The Road And Off and their brands, I was blessed to spend Thursday through Sunday, the first half of my vacation, repping Teva and Fayettechill at Tuck Fest 2018, which is a multi-day festival that celebrates the outdoor lifestyle through competitions, exhibitions, demos, and live music at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here’s how sweet it looked:IMG_0954.jpg

However incredibly fun it was, we still had to work hard. Exhibit A: packing up and getting our displays (pictured above) moved out.IMG_2095.jpg

Yes, that’s me riding on the tailgate of our rep’s pickup. It was packed to the brim with everything we brought, and the gate & window wouldn’t close with the trash that we had to take to the dumpsters. Like I said: you gotta work hard to play hard.

This was my first exposure to the outdoor industry, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. We had so much fun connecting with other vendors, meeting attendees, and selling product to them as they made their rounds.

If you’ve never been to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, then I highly recommend that you make it a point to go visit. This is my second visit to the center, and even though I didn’t get to raft or get out in the water, just watching others is satisfying enough.

While there’s so much I could dive into about what I took away from the weekend, from sales techniques and visual merchandising to starting conversations and drawing people to our booths, the biggest takeaway is this: if you identify or create a need within someone, he or she will be more apt to your solution to satisfy it.

Think about it. Someone walks by our tent, and takes a glance at what we have going on. She’s wearing tennis shoes, and it’s pretty hot out so she has to be thinking, “I need some relief.” What do we offer? A solution to cool her off, starting with what’s on her feet. We invite her to look at our product, see what she likes, and simply ask her to just try on a pair of shoes that are her size. Immediately, she feels relief, and realizes that she needs these shoes, and she didn’t fully realize it before she sat down to try on a pair.

You can contextualize this to your industry, too. Think of your potential customer or client. How do you hook them initially? You find or create a need that isn’t being met in their lives that you just so happen to be able to meet. You hone in on your expertise and convince them they need your product, and voila: they can’t walk away without purchasing or investing in at least one or two units.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Can you see where I’m going with all of this? Speaking from a pastor’s point of view, we know that people around us have needs, whether they realize it or not. We know that we have the same exact needs, too. But, we know something more than the people around us do; we also know that the things that we seek to meet those needs, the needs that are deeper and sometimes the things to which we can’t put words, will never satisfy them. They were never created to satisfy anything deeper than their intended purpose, and it’s truly impossible for created things to meet the needs that only something bigger than us could ever satisfy.

That deeper need? It’s the need for our own purpose. It’s the need to mean something in this world, and do something with our lives that goes beyond who we are as an individual. This is how the world sees the deeper need that those who know God understand as the need for Him.

At its core, if you boil down everything we do as ministers, we’re in the sales business. We make connections with people. We seek to improve people’s lives with our “product,” for lack of better wording. We make appeals day in and day out for the people with whom we come into contact to “buy in” to what we’re “selling.” Products in and from this world provide enjoyment, peace, and some form of satisfaction, but only for a moment. But, we know that what we’re “selling” is eternal, true joy, and true peace.

Within the next few days, I’ll be back with a full recap of the rest of the week, some sweet news about a new endeavor, and how you can get involved with it!

Thanks friends!


What The Enneagram Means For Your Ministry

One of the things I find most interesting is how understanding our personalities can make (or break) different areas in our life.

When it comes to our relationships, understanding how we’re wired is necessary to communicate do’s, don’ts, and don’t evens to our friends, partners, and colleagues. The self-awareness that comes with knowing what makes us run allows us to collaborate, delegate, and initiate with synergy like never before.

Before I move forward, let me acknowledge this: it’s very possible to get too interested in personality profiling. There’s a fine line between healthy observation and unhealthy obsession, and I’ve seen in multiple settings how these helpful tools can become a source of identity and empty fulfillment.

But, when used properly, personality profiling can blow the roof off of your capabilities. As someone serving in full-time ministry, I’ve seen such practices among teams leverage every ounce of productivity, leadership, and, most importantly, vulnerability to create a culture of excellence, innovation, and trust.

In just a few (not so) short thoughts, I’d love to show you why I believe that personality profiling can enhance and propel your ministry to the next level.


The beauty of tests like the Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthFinders, and Enneagram is that they’re diagnostic in nature; they help you get closer to seeing the real you, and give you a glimpse into how you can best use your personality to move forward. They take simple questions that are seemingly unrelated and use your answers to paint a wide brush stroke of who you are as a person, what fuels you, what drains you, and what you can do with that information. As a result, you can go into different settings, whether business, leisure, or somewhere in between with a solid arsenal of answers when someone asks you to tell them about yourself.

As I interviewed for a church in May 2017, one of the first things they had me do was take a series of tests (which honestly was one of the most painful 3 hours of my life, outside of the SAT). The first half was for their internal purposes, but the second half was purely for my self-awareness. While the results of the second half did go on file, they didn’t get sent to the recruitment team during the process, and honestly the staff members with whom I connected weren’t super concerned with them and how they related to the interview process; they were only concerned with me understanding the results that I received and learning how to apply it as I moved forward, whether as a part of their staff or not. It was great to see, specifically through an expanded Myers-Briggs test, how I’m wired in regards to the 4-letter classification.

However, if you rely on just the Myers-Briggs to fully evaluate your personality, I believe that you’re missing out on a deeper understanding of yourself and how even your spiritual side interacts with the world around you.

Enter the Enneagram, a 9-type powerhouse filled with layers of mystery, depth, and a whole lot of, “Whoa, it’s like this thing knows me.”

Stemming from the 7 deadly sins (with fear and deceit added to make 9), the Enneagram suggest that there are 9 core personality types at work within every single one of us. When it comes down to it, each type has a specific weakness that correlates to those 7 deadly sins. Here’s how it breaks down:

enneagram passions

(courtesy of The Enneagram Institute)

Before I dive further into the Enneagram, most of what I’ve learned about the profile comes from Ian Cron and the aforementioned Enneagram Institute, so for more information that goes more in depth, please please PLEASE: use these resources. Pay the $12 to take the full test on the Enneagram Institute website. If you’re looking to use this test as a resource, then you need to be properly assessed and outfitted with the right tools and knowledge.


Concerning the Enneagram, Ian Cron posits this thought in his Q Talk from 2017: we cannot truly know God unless we truly know ourselves.

Now, if you know me, I write out of my beliefs. What I say, do, and think originates from my worldview. I’m a Christian. I’m a pastor. I’m what the world calls, “pretty religious.” So, it proceeds from that vein that there’s a deep connection between knowing ourselves, the created, and knowing God, the Creator. I would argue that without knowing God, we cannot know who we truly are.

Therefore, in reciprocal fashion, we cannot truly know God unless we know how He’s wired us. We cannot have that deep connection with our Father until we take steps to know what makes us who we are, what makes us stumble, and what makes us succeed. The self-awareness that comes with knowing our personalities will inevitably created a heightened awareness of God within us, and we would do well to prioritize understanding our inner selves.

John Calvin, the famous Protestant reformer of the 1500’s, wrote in his seminal work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God,” as well as, “Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” This constantly circulating, constantly intensifying, constantly revealing intersectionality reveals that we can’t be who God made us to be unless we first dig deep into the recesses of our souls, only made possible by first entering into a relationship with the Creator.


For the Christian readers out there, we have a deeper responsibility than just knowing ourselves when it comes to our purpose. No matter what industry, vocation, or position you find yourself in, we all have the same calling: make disciples. We each have a ministry that is completely our own, and we must use our giftings and blessings in order to bring other people closer to Christ.

There are so many ways for us to use our personalities and gifts in order to reach others, so there’s no right or wrong formula. But, here are a few ideas and thoughts I have concerning how using the Enneagram can skyrocket your potential, both in your personal ministry as well as within the ministries where you serve.

Knowing your vices helps you love people better.

Sometimes, when we admit that we’re messed up, and figure out what our weaknesses are, we have more empathy for those around us. We come to place where we finally admit that we don’t have it all together, and we stop condemning other people for their mistakes because we’re right where they are too. We can stop being a slave to the “holier than thou” mentality, and finally do what Jesus calls us to do in loving our neighbor (see Luke 10:25-37).

As an Enneagram 2, I struggle with my pride. I can, at times, view myself as irreplaceable. I can be too self-absorbed and end up only looking out for me. Just admitting these things is painful enough, but what I can do in knowing my vices is point myself first toward the truth that we’re all in this thing together; we can’t do it alone, and we need each other. And by preaching this to myself, I can help others who are facing the same problems learn that it truly isn’t about “me”.

Knowing how you’re wired helps you plug into community better.

A holistic approach to who we are as individuals not only helps us see ourselves in the right light; it lets us know how we can best connect with others. Life isn’t meant to be lived alone, so it only makes sense that such a diagnostic method should help us ensure that we don’t have to go on the journey by ourselves. Using your vices, strengths, and tendencies, find people who have at least a basic understanding of what you’re going through. Take an inventory of your interests, and look for people who do the same things; more times than not, those people can relate to your struggles because they have similar wirings.

Knowing your strengths helps you lead better.

When we know where we excel, we can play to our strengths and go after situations, positions, and/or opportunities that excite our passions. Knowing your niche enables you to find people, positions, and places that will allow you to feel at home, and lead from a place of security instead of from fear. And that’s a really good feeling. To know that you can be yourself while doing what you love and moving forward with it is one of the most satisfying, gratifying, and electrifying feelings.

Your strengths are what will be on display when you’re at your healthiest, so this is where taking care of yourself comes into play. When you’re self-aware, knowing how to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly within your soul, you have a deeper responsibility to dive deeper into your relationship with God, as we discussed earlier. When you as a believer are detached from the source of your peace and true fulfillment, these strengths and high points ultimately mean nothing.

In closing, I think my biggest admonition to those of you who have made it this far is this: know where you’re at with God. Knowing yourself is great and helpful, but only to an extent. You hit a ceiling of self-knowledge without a definite knowledge of the Divine.

So, wherever you are, whatever you do, however you do it, please take the time to assess your relationship with God. It’s okay to be where you are, but it’s not okay to stay where you are.

The Church’s Intended Purpose

I wrote this article for my friend and former student, Maddie Stiles, for her blog, and I’d love to share it with you. Make sure to check her out her writing and support her!

You can’t do life alone.

We know this, deep down inside of our souls. We have this deep desire to be in what we call “community”: a group of people rallying around a common idea.

As I mull around the thought of togetherness within our world, clearly my mind shoots straight to how the thing we know as “Church” should operate. Being a person who’s been around church my whole life, both as a member and a leader, it’s become my whole life. There’s nothing more that I want to do other than serve in the church, because, as Bill Hybels says, “The local Church is the hope of the world.” It’s the one thing that has and will withstand the test of time, and the one thing that holds this crazy life in balance.

But, if we’re honest as we think about the Church, it’s clearly strayed from what God intended it to be.

When God established the Church in Acts, it operated all in unity, no matter how far west it spread. Today, we seemingly operate toward a common goal in massive division, whether over theology, practice, or interest.

God didn’t create denominations. We’ve set points of contention all throughout our bylaws and constitutions (yes, churches DO have constitutions and governing laws).

The Church used to rule culture. Now, culture determines how churches can and can’t operate.

We’ve strayed far from the original design of this beautiful, wonderful, crazy, and massive institution. And that breaks my heart.

So, let’s answer these questions in the following words: how did God intend the Church to operate? How can we achieve that in this day and age?

How It Should Be

To see how the Church should actually operate, we have to go back to start of it all. Now, if you haven’t spent much time around this thing called church or don’t really know much about how it all started, let’s take a short crash course to catch you up.

The Church was started as a new chapter in God’s beautiful story of restoration, redemption, and rescue. This “chapter” can be found in the latter half of what we call the Bible, a compiled two-volume history of close to everything: how the world was created, how everything got messed up, what life was like back then, how God set aside a people to bring back to Himself, how those people kept messing up, how God actually brought a remedy to the problem, and what we’re supposed to do now.

So, in this transformative history book, towards the end of the second half, called the New Testament, we get to the installment of The Acts Of The Apostles, or “Acts.” Acts was the second of two history books written by a guy named Luke, an early 1st century physician who spent a LOT of time with one of the main characters of Acts, a guy named Paul. If Luke’s name sounds familiar after looking through the books of the New Testament, it’s because he wrote a first book that bears his namesake, Luke. Luke is about Jesus, God’s Son whom He sent as the remedy to the problem, and Acts is about how the world first learned about the remedy.

Okay, that SHOULD be a basic crash course to get you caught up to speed. As we open up the book of Acts and see the early church forming and getting started, the biggest qualities that stick out can be found here:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)

So, here’s what we find:

  • They were of one heart and soul.
  • No one was selfish.
  • They had everything in common.
  • No one had any needs.

This is what the Church was intended to be: a place where people belong and are taken care of. God’s design for the Church, a physical gathering of His people, was meant to reflect the way that the Trinity, the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, operated in harmony.

Now, I get that that’s a big idea to comprehend, even for the wisest, most learned scholars. But, it’s necessary to take into account that the Church is simply a shadow cast by God Himself, meant to turn us toward His heart and mind as we gather together.

In Christ, we belong. In Christ, we’re taken care of. And it’s only appropriate that, in God’s family and in the Church, the same thing happens.

How It Can Happen Now

These seem like pretty straightforward goals for the modern-day Church. It seems pretty easy to just be welcoming and take care of other people, right?

Well, on paper it’s easy. In theory, it’s simple. But, when it comes to execution, at least for me, it’s pretty complicated.

If we want people to feel like they belong, it takes more than just a simple, “Great to see you today!” as they walk through the front doors of the church. Coming from the inside, it takes years and years to build a culture that communicates that everyone is welcome.

If we want to take care of people, it takes more than just a simple, “What can I get you?” when we see someone in need. Our culture has politicized this notion, whether by putting it in the government’s hands or putting in the person in need’s hands. And, when our own preferences and human selfishness gets in the way, it seems like an uphill battle just to muster up the courage to step outside of our comfort zones to help someone who isn’t like us.

You see, over the years, the Church has gone through a major, unfortunate transformation. At one point, for thousands of years, the world around it sought insight and information on how to establish major tenets of science, government, and geography. As a result of the Church’s influence, the earth became round, the sun became the center of the universe, and kingdoms rose and fell. The Church changed the world.

But, as the Renaissance Period ushered in anthropocentric thought and man-driven beliefs, the Church’s role was shifted to the peripheral instead of remaining in the center. Humanism, the cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought, put a whole lot of emphasis on the goodness of people over the importance of supernatural matters. Rational thought trumped divine dependence, and the Church was marginalized to a portion of society, not a driving factor.

So, as we’re living 300 years after this shift, our minds have been conditioned not to be very focused on the original intent of something that our world has said is a commodity instead of a necessity. This history has made our execution of God’s intended purpose of the Church so complicated and so difficult.

Where do we fit into this massive narrative? How do we, knowing that the culture has been pushing the Church to the margins, make waves in culture to bring the Church back towards the center?

There are 3 practical things we can do to achieve the intended purpose that God designed for the Church. Now remember, they’re practical, not easy, so it’s going to take discipline and determination in order to make strides.

Know the God of the Bible.

You can’t effectively carry out something that someone wants without knowing the person. You can’t do what God has commanded His people to do unless you’re in a growing, deepening relationship with Him. Your relationship with Him cannot deepen unless you are pursuing a deeper knowledge of Him. Before you can do anything worth accomplishing, you have to know God. You have to read His Word. You have to seek after Him. That’s non-negotiable. But, as J.I. Packer writes in his aptly titled book, Knowing God, “If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.” Knowing about God isn’t an end, it’s a means to the greater end of God Himself

Live out what you believe.

Just knowing about God is part of the equation. Our knowledge should drive us to action, and the biggest action we can take is living out what we believe about God. If we believe that God is loving, we must strive to be loving. If we believe that God is kind, we must strive to be kind. If we believe that God is impartial, we must strive to be impartial. If we believe that God is light, then we must strive to be light. Our lives must reflect God and His character, which means that our character must be above reproach; we must seek to have high integrity and live up to a higher standard.

Teach others about God.

Finally, as we seek to know God and know more about Him and live out what we believe about Him, we must teach others to do the same. We have not learned what we’ve learned in order to keep it to ourselves. Jesus’ last commandment is to make disciples. Historically, we’ve made this command synonymous with “evangelizing people.” That’s just the first step in the process. The whole idea of discipleship can be found in the way that Jewish priests were trained and apprenticed. They devoted their whole lives to learning about the position, learning the laws, and learning everything in between. That’s what we must do as we make disciples: bring people into the family, then walk the journey with them.

As we pursue bringing about the intended purpose of the Church, and as we seek to know God better, I end the way I started: you can’t do life alone.

While it’s possible to get through life on your own, truthfully, you’ll never live up to your full potential and live out your true design if you live isolated.

Church was never meant to be a solitary institution. Neither is it a spectator sport. That’s why, in order for us to achieve the goal that God set for His Church, we can’t sit on the sidelines by ourselves. We have to work together, and we have to work hard.

Every ounce of effort is worth it, and every step of the way will bring heaven here to earth.

You can’t do life alone.

How Can I Reach Students Better?

Have you ever gone to the mall on a Friday night to get some clothes shopping done, and ended up spending more time people watching?

Don’t lie to me. You have, and I know it.

Normally, the big things you see at the mall on a Friday aren’t people accomplishing their gift shopping or locals supporting small businesses. You see so much more than just these rare gems.

No, you see high school students out on “dates,” which means the guy is aimlessly wandering around with a cute girl from school until their moms come to pick them up before the mall closes.

They’re the most interesting creatures on the face of this earth. They want to act like adults, spend mom and dad’s money like adults, but have none of the responsibilities of adults. They think they’re older than they really are, more mature than they really are, and more competent than they really are. They love their independence, but can’t help but flock to attention. They scorn authority, but want to be the ones in charge. They’re the most intricate oxymoron in society, and we adults know it because we once were one of them.

These high school students, and middle school students alike, are the ones who fascinate me and break my heart in the world right now. I’ve spent the last almost 6 years (3 years vocationally) pouring my heart and soul into seeing these kids take the next step in their faith, including the first step into seeing who Jesus really is. I fought the calling I had for student ministry for a good while when I stepped back from it in 2015, but I’m more convinced now than ever that student ministry, middle school through college, is where my heart is.

Over the past 6 years, I’ve learned so much about how to relate to students that stand where I once stood. I’ve learned that the way I understand things isn’t how they understand them, nor is the way I understood things in high school the same way high schoolers understand them now.

For all intents and purposes, as I move forward, here’s how I define the “students” to which I’ll be referring:

A student is anyone including, but not limited to, those in 6th grade through 12th grade, and at times including post-secondary education individuals. These individuals are held to a high standard in the academic world, being tasked to complete rigorous course requirements in order to certify mastery in any given subject.

This definition seems a little like a no-brainer, I’ll admit. But, I think our church culture has gotten this all wrong. The big C American Church has belittled the potential and the power of 6th through 12th graders and unknowingly confined them to their age instead of their position. When churches call their 6th through 12th grade programming grouping a “youth group” instead of a “student ministry,” they grossly mistake what these students can do.

A “youth group” is just a gathering of young people. A “student ministry” is a discipleship community of responsible individuals who have the potential to disciple others, which the church recognizes.

So, I’d like to share 5 thoughts on student ministry with you that I’ve observed over the past 6 years, and thoughts that I think can change the way you reach students better in the church and outside in the community.

1. Go where they are.

If you want to know the people you want to reach, you must be in the environments and places that those people are. It’s no different with students. If you want to know more about your students, then at the very least you need to be at the places they are. Seeing students in their normal lives, without the careful scrutiny of parents or people who want them to be something they aren’t, will tell you a great deal about what they believe, who their friends are, and what they’re dealing with at any given time.

Go to the mall, see how you can get into their school lunches, go to their football/baseball/basketball/soccer games, etc., and you’ll see what I mean. Not only does that let you see who they are; it lets them see that you care. It shows them that you care enough about them just to show up, and that goes a long way when ministering to students in this day and age.

2. Be who you really are.

If you want to know who your students really are, what makes you think that you can be some self-righteous, holier-than-thou person who puts on the church mask when you’re around them? Another big component to student ministry is being the real you. If you fake your life around your students, they’re going to know. They can smell fake from a mile away, since they’re so used to fake people at school with them. Being a part of a safe environment means being a source of truth in their lives, and that starts out the gate by being the real you.

When you’re real with students, they’re going to see that you don’t always know all the answers, you mess up just like them, and you haven’t figured it all out, which is really comforting to them in the most roundabout way possible. They’ll see that it’s okay to not be okay, and that even following after Jesus like you are doesn’t solve all the problems in the world; instead, it gives them rest and peace when everything around them is chaotic and disheartening.

3. Don’t skimp on the hard stuff.

With students, it may seem easier to give a watered down, easy-to-swallow lesson that contains basic principles of faith, like “Love Others” or “Tell The Truth”, without any sort of depth or substance to it. You may think that they’ve sat for 7 hours in a classroom all day, so they don’t need another weighty lecture at a place where they don’t actually have to be, even if their parents said they had to be there.

In as few words as possible, that’s wrong. That’s the furthest thing from what they need. They need the hard truths of Scripture, even if they don’t always say they want it. When crisis strikes, or when what they’re learning at school conflicts with what you’re saying on Wednesday nights, where will they turn? If you give them the right tools through theology, apologetics, and a deeper understanding of the Bible, they’ll more readily turn to Jesus when hard times hit. Go deep in your messages, lessons, and conversations; you’ll see your students think more critically and more objectively, and, in turn, will take what you’re saying more seriously.

4. Observe their culture.

Culture is a really interesting topic when it comes to student ministry. Do we bring culture into the church, or do we bring church into the culture? It’s a concept that has stumped me as I prepare my messages and lessons, and have conversations with students at church and out in the open. But, the reality is that culture shapes so much of what your students do. And not just culture as a whole; their culture specifically determines what’s “cool” and what’s trendy to them. The things they hear on the trending Spotify playlists, listen to on the radio, watch on TV, and see on the Internet are the defining pillars of their world; as a rule of thumb, whatever we see in the media sphere is what we can expect to determine what our students think.

So, in order to understand students better, take the time to study their cultural norms. Listen to their music. Watch some of their TV shows and movies. Ask them what their go-to playlist on Spotify is. Figure out what voices they’re listening to in their world, and figure out how to tune in your ear for just one moment. By doing so, you’ll put your finger closer to the pulse of culture, being able to reach your students through the media they enjoy and to which they respond best.

5. Take them on the journey of a lifetime.

This, by far, is the most important thing I’ve learned. Old-school church says, “Do this. Be here at this time. Don’t have too much fun. Don’t do these things.” And old-school church has pushed students further away from church than they’ve ever been before. Don’t do the things that are old and outdated when you relate to your students. Don’t tell them just to follow Jesus; show them how. I firmly believe that if we walk alongside our students in the relationship with Jesus, then they’ll see the wonders and beauty of our Lord and Savior more clearly.

Everything in their world is pulling their attention in multiple different directions. Show them the brightness, the vibrancy, the sufficiency of a relationship with Christ. Don’t change the Gospel message to be more attractive; let your life show them that it’s attractive to you, and that you’d stake your life on it. Turn their heads with how much you love Jesus for Jesus’ sake. Invite them on the most exciting, most interesting, and most thrilling journey they’ll ever go on in their lives: a journey with Jesus.

There’s so much more I wish I could tell you about these things. There are so many more components to these five thoughts, but it would take books upon books to give you a fuller picture. Student ministry has changed my life, because God changed my life through student ministry. Through men like my student pastors, Ben Trueblood and John Paul Basham, and my leaders in middle and high school, Jake Holland and Donald Whipple, God gave me life in my deadness and changed my world forevermore.

In closing, if you’ve ever wanted to change the world, then get involved with those whose world is still being formed. If you want to make a difference in your community, get involved in student ministry. Be a volunteer at your church. Call your church’s student pastor and say that you want to help, even if it’s just standing at a door while students funnel into service. I urge you and challenge you to influence these kids for the better, because they’re our world both now and in the future.

5 Leadership Axioms That Will Make You Better

It’s no secret that I’ve slacked on the whole “blogging” thing. Whoops.

Looking over last year, I’m fairly certain I only wrote 7 or 8 blogs. Whoops.

Sometimes, in times where words just aren’t coming, it’s best to take a break. It’s wise to listen instead of trying to speak words that just aren’t there. And that’s honestly how I would describe 2016 for me.

But, today, I’ll be breaking the silence and writing on something that I’ve always loved reading about, but never enjoyed writing about. Something that I’ve lived and learned and applied, but never taught. If the stat, “You remember 90% of what you teach to others,” is true, then it would make sense that we should be eager to remember the things that we hold dear to our hearts, right? I spend so much time reading about and studying this idea, learning philosophies, and trying to do what I’ve learned, yet never shared with anyone what I’ve learned.

The idea is leadership. The simple truth that someone can step up and take ownership, and change the game for an organization. Leadership is something to which I’ve been called and something about which I’ve read and learned for the past at least 10 years. It’s vital to the way a group of people move forward, whether in a religious organization, business venture, or even just a small group.

I’m no John Maxwell, Dan Reiland, or anywhere close to an expert by any measure, but I’ve learned and implemented these ideas, and sometimes failed while trying them. Here are my top 5 leadership lessons that I would love to pass on to you. I’ll be explaining these in the context of the church world, simply because that’s where I learned them and learned how to implement them. They work in any setting, and can take you to the next step in your journey as a person, organization, or business.

1. Do, then Delegate, then Develop.

We all want to get the job done, don’t we? Part of putting on a weekly gathering involves a great amount of putting your nose to the grindstone and cranking out tasks that make each week possible. But, as your gathering grows and expands, welcoming more people into your midst and helping them get to the next step, there will inevitably be challenges and hurdles as you accommodate these new guests.

We understand organically that if we want something done, we sometimes just have to do it ourselves. We have to bypass, at times, involving other people to get certain tasks done; these can be things that only we can do, like preparing the weekly message or designing your programming schedule, or things that we’re available to do at any given time, like setting up chairs, running audio cables, or making the coffee for volunteers. That makes us, in that moment, doers. We operate on the ground level of leadership, trust, and planning, maybe not necessarily knowing any other way to get it done, who we can task with this undertaking, or how to plan differently. There’s nothing wrong with being a doer, but it isn’t the end of the process; it’s just the beginning.

Growing in leadership means getting people to follow you, and by empowering others to do tasks that can free you up to step up your game in other areas, you take the next step in the process: delegating. Delegators walk a very fine line between being lazy and not wanting to do something, and wanting to see others grow. As a delegator, you have a unique opportunity and deep responsibility to show people not only what to do and how to do it, but why it’s important that it gets done and how it can help others. Let them watch you do it first, then walk them through what you did. Next, let them do it while you watch. Then, finally let them do it on their own with no supervision.

At this point, you have a choice to make: you as a delegator can either let the person you’ve taught how to do the job just stop at being a doer, or you can become a developer and grow them into a better leader. A developer always looks at the people they’re mentoring in any capacity and chooses to look beyond the surface. They look into the heart and try to develop people into better leaders, and ultimately better people as a whole. They’re disciplers with a leadership focus. They walk the faith journey with people further than any other leader would dare to do. Being a developer means seeing the best in people, and wanting to bring it out, all while teaching them to do for other people what you’ve done for them.

2. Attitude affects everything.

How you think ultimately determines how you act. We tell our team members, our volunteers, and those under us constantly that our attitudes matter. We engrain into the DNA of our trainings that how we perceive affects how we carry out our tasks. And by all means, we’re completely right in doing so. If we go into an event, a meeting, or a training with a sour attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes. We determine what our leaders think about what we’re doing. We show them before anything ever starts how the situation will go. And if our leaders, who are our extensions and the main connection between us and the people in our churches, have sour attitudes, it’s almost a guarantee that everyone in attendance will have terrible attitudes, and therefore I would go as far as to say that we’ve failed as leaders and that that event is a failure.

But, if we go into a situation with a positive attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes in a different way. Our leaders will see that positive attitudes, and they’ll share the excitement we have. They’ll go into the event where our people see their smiling faces, enthusiasm, and charisma, and our people will be excited about what’s to come. They make our job easy of leading the event, and they’ll carry the vision we cast and the charge we give with joy and responsibility.

You see the difference between the two scenarios? It’s drastic. It’s the difference between success and failure, all because of your attitude.

Start each event, meeting, or training you hold by choosing to have a positive attitude, and you’ll see a change in the way your people will lead others.

3. True leadership begins with service.

Brent Crowe, VP of Student Leadership University, begins every conference the organization holds with this statement: “Leadership begins at the feet of Jesus.” As the organization seeks to train high schoolers how to be leaders as they grow, the one thing they ultimately focus on is not standing out in front, but meeting the needs of those in their care.

Leadership looks like a blast from the outside; you get to do the speaking, the vision casting, the planning, etc., and you ultimately determine what happens at the church/in your ministry. But, when you break down the ins and outs of leadership, getting into the details and peeking behind the curtain, that’s barely even 25% of the job. The real work, the real action, the real day-to-day is actually serving people. It’s a lot of one-on-one conversations about the mess going on, and a lot of emptying yourself to help people. It’s messy. It hurts. It’s unrelenting. And it’s extremely satisfying.

It’s exactly how Jesus modeled for us: He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed them. He took care of them in the tough times. He served His people. And that’s what a call to leadership is: a call to serve. If we aren’t willing to serve, then we ultimately aren’t willing to lead.

In this model, I’ve learned that serving your people always looks different for each person you’re leading. Serving one person may look like giving them opportunity to step up and fill a role, such as announcements or introducing the event as it kicks off, and serving another person may look like asking them to step down from a role that’s distracting them from their relationship with Jesus. No matter what it is, at the end of the day, serving your people always looks like empowering to do what they’ve been called to do and letting them do it. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re not leading. If you’re placing someone in an area where he or she isn’t gifted or called, you’re walking a path that will lead to his or her burn out.

Serve your people. Take care of them. Love them. Pray for them. Call them to better things than they could ever imagine for themselves. Empower them.

4. Own it.

As a leader, responsibility is the factor that determines how high or low you go in elevation. The more responsibility you can handle, the further you advance your leadership. As a result, if you can’t take responsibility for both the good and the bad things that happen under your watch, you can’t lead well. Whether we like it or not, the way a task, event, or other circumstance that we commission to take place goes ultimately falls back on us. It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones who are working directly with it or so distantly connected to it that it only is happening under the umbrella of the church, ministry, or organization that we lead; if our name is attached to it as the one in charge, then it falls back on us for how it goes.

It’s really easy to own up to something that goes well. It’s easy to take credit for the things that are a success and garner the praise of those involved or observing. We can practically do that in our sleep. We want to be associated with things that win. But what do you do when something you’ve commissioned fails? Maybe even fails miserably and makes negative progress for what you’re trying to do? Do you step up to the plate and own up to the failure, or pass the blame to someone else? Do you walk into the meeting that your pastor, president, or executive has called to discuss the outcome of what you’ve planned and shoulder the weight of the failure, or try and explain why your assistant, associate, or intern messed everything up?

I’ve seen time and again how leaders, who have so much potential and so much clout behind their names, would rather keep their records clean and undefeated by throwing a loss on someone else instead of learning from failures and trying again, protecting their people from the pain and shame of being wrongly accused and hurt by the weight of failure (which was never their burden to bear).

You can spin failure all sorts of ways. This person didn’t do this task the right way. That person didn’t call to reserve the event space in time. This group didn’t come through with their commitment to set up. And it might be true that all those people did these things, but the harsh reality is that it ultimately falls back on you. The person didn’t do his task the right way because you didn’t tell him how to do it the right way. The person didn’t reserve the event space in time because you didn’t tell her how long you needed it on the day you wanted it, so she couldn’t book the space. The group didn’t set up because you didn’t give them all the information they needed to to get in the building and set up the way you wanted them to.

Own what you commission. Don’t pass the buck.

5. Fail.

This one is scary. I kind of touched on it in #4, but it’s so important in my leadership development that I want to give special attention to it. Failure is necessary to growing as a leader.

That seems contradictory. How can you move forward in your growth when, traditionally, failure is synonymous with moving backward or not moving at all?

I would argue that it’s the only way to move forward, and the only way to grow as a leader.

Failure is the best leadership teacher. It gives you something to look back on as you take the next steps in commissioning the next task, showing you what you should do now that you didn’t do last time, or what you shouldn’t do that you did. It gives you a plumb line to create a checklist for everything else that you do moving forward. It gives you credibility when telling other leaders why they shouldn’t do certain things when planning big events, or why they should always do certain things in the planning process.

Failure is a lens into our own souls at times. When we fail, we not only see the things that went wrong with the event; we see into the reasons why it failed, and more times than not it ends up being a pride issue. We were too proud to ask for help. We were too proud to give anyone else a piece of ownership in the event. We were too proud to let other people share in the win.

Failure isn’t fun, but failure is necessary to move forward. Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace failure with fervency. Welcome it, but don’t let it be more than a momentary guest. Don’t aim to fail, but don’t fail to aim for the best.

Be a leader that above all else is marked by a willingness to grow and learn. I would love to help you grow in your leadership, whether by conversations, having you spend time with me here in Nashville, recommending resources, or being a sounding-board for your ideas. Drop me a line, and let’s grow together.

Hold Up. Wait A Minute.

Remember what you were told growing up about paying too much attention to time passing?

“If you stare at the clock, it’ll only go slower.”

And just when you stopped really focusing on the clock and started focusing on what you were doing, just like that, time started to fly.

You didn’t realize it then, but you were staring at the plumb-line of your situation, waiting for it to end. You were focusing on the constant in your experiment while you waited for the variables to change. Time was your only problem, since you were essentially waiting for the next thing to happen, and you weren’t exactly satisfied with what you were doing at the time.

Almost every night at work, I find myself at some point watching the digital clock, and normally during my downtime after I’ve finished clearing tables or polishing silverware. It feels like an eternity for one minute to become the next, and I get extremely anxious for the time when my boss says, “You’re cut. Get on outta here.”

Even more anxiety-inducing for me is looking at the bigger picture. I earnestly desire to be in a place where I’m back in full-time, vocational ministry, serving in a local church as a staff member and making an impact in that way.

And then I look at right now. I’m bussing tables currently, about to transition into a job at a coffee shop. I’m honestly the furthest away from working in a church, minus the fact that I’m interacting with people.

Truthfully, I’m empty. As I write this, almost a week out of being at FUGE camps and doing ministry work, I feel so very unfulfilled with the rest of my life. At times, I feel like I’m in a place where I never should’ve gone, choosing to walk through a door that only looked attractive in theory, but not in practice. I question whether or not I actually listened to God’s voice when moving here to Nashville, or if I chose my own path and sought God’s blessing after the fact.

Maybe you’ve been here too. Maybe you’ve had a time in your life where you’re waiting for your goal and dreams to come to fruition. You’re asking God, “Why me, God? Why do I have to go through this now?” You’ve been faithful to seek after God, you’ve walked in holiness, you’ve held on to hope, but you’ve seen nothing come of it.

We go through times where God seems distant, quiet, or sometimes even non-existent. We feel like our prayers hit the ceiling and never make it to God in the first place. So what do we do with what we feel?

I can promise you that in the course of human history, especially in biblical history, we are not alone. We aren’t the only ones to have questioned God’s faithfulness, timing, and/or leading in the times of waiting. I would go as far to say that there is some instance or component of waiting found in all 66 books of Scripture. Ever since the Fall, there has been a sense of waiting for the promise to come: in the Old Testament, the promised Savior; and in the New Testament through modern times, the return of the promised Savior.

As I survey Scripture, waiting is prominent and sometimes prolonged:

  • Noah built the Ark, waiting amidst criticism and ridicule for the promised rain to come.
  • Abraham and Sarah waited until their old ages for Isaac to be born.
  • Jacob worked and waited 7 years for Rachel, but his uncle Laban tricked him into marrying Leah, and then Jacob worked and waited another 7 years in order to marry Rachel for real.
  • The Israelites waited 400 years for freedom from Egypt, and then another 40 years to get to the promised land.
  • The Israelites also had to wait for the promised land to be fully theirs, having to conquer the foreign peoples that inhabited the land before they could settle it.
  • Naomi’s sons died, and had to wait until her old age for her daughter-in-law Ruth to have a son.
  • Ruth herself had to wait on Boaz to redeem her.
  • David was anointed the next king of Israel, but had to wait years in order to actually become king.
  • Upon going into exile, the Israelites waited 70 years for their return back to their land.
  • The prophets wrote of their waiting for the promised Savior to come and redeem their people.
  • The Israelites once again waited 400 years between Malachi and Matthew, called the Intertestamental Period.
  • Jesus Himself waited 30 years before He began His earthly ministry, which lasted 3 years.
  • The disciples had to wait 3 days for Jesus to rise from the dead.
  • After Jesus ascended, they then had to wait until the Day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit.
  • Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica twice about waiting on Christ’s return: once about waiting while working, and once about working while waiting.
  • Paul waited many times for his own death, being imprisoned twice in Rome.
  • John waited on the island of Patmos in exile for his death, writing his gospel account and receiving his vision that was written in Revelation.

This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s pretty clear that waiting is woven into the very threads of Christianity. It’s at the center of our DNA. We wait for that which is to come, the time where we will, with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).

These echoes of waiting found within daily life, the waiting for time to pass and for the next situation to come, even further solidify that our longings are more than just surface level. We watch and observe our situations and wonder, “When will this ever end? When will I ever come out on the other side? When will what I feel You’ve called me to become reality?”

While we wait, what should we do? How should we act? How do we make the waiting go by faster, or at least make the best use of our waiting?

  • Seek biblical holiness. The only way that God can move you from where you are to where He wants you is if you’re actively pursuing Him. If you aren’t seeking a deepening relationship with Jesus above all else, then you won’t be able to experience the beautiful things that God has in store for you, nor will you be able to understand why you went through the situations through which you went.
  • Don’t neglect the spiritual disciplines. Don’t stop reading Scripture, don’t stop praying, don’t stop worshipping, don’t stop serving, don’t stop engaging in community. These are the practical ways you can seek biblical holiness, and these are the ways the you continue learning more about God’s character.
  • Listen more than you talk. Both in your spiritual walk and relationships, make sure you’re taking the time to listen to the observations and words that God and your friends are saying. God uses people in our close circles to speak His truth to us in unexpected ways. Test what you’re hearing against Scripture, and press into the truth.
  • Ask hard questions. Assess where you are in your life, and ask yourself the questions you’ve honestly been avoiding. Are you actually following what God wants, or asking Him to bless your isolate choices? Is the life you’re living now the one that God has for you, or have you created a life independent of Him? Don’t stop asking until you’ve found the answers.

Yes, I’m empty. Yes, I’m frustrated with how things are right now. And yes, I have a holy discontentment with not being in ministry. But I have to wait. I have to press into my relationship with Jesus. I have to work on myself and make myself ready for what God has next.

Here’s where I ask you for help. I don’t normally do this, and haven’t ever really done this in a blog post. I honestly hate asking for help from anyone because I like being self-sufficient and independent.

  • Please pray for me. Pray specifically that a door would open up to return to full-time ministry. Pray that God would work a miracle in my situation to allow me to get back into working at a church.
  • If you’re reading this and you’re on a church staff, looking for a staff member to work in the creative arts/communications areas, please contact me. I’d love to send you my résumé or CV.
  • If you’re on a church staff and know a church looking for a staff member to work in the creative arts/communications areas, please contact me as well.

To make it easy for you to get in contact with me, please fill out this form and I’ll get back with you ASAP.

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I don’t care where it is. I don’t care in what capacity. I don’t necessarily care about how much I get paid.

All I care about is getting back into the work to which God has called me. All I want is to do the work I’m wired to do.

I’ll keep you updated as this journey continues on. I hope to have something for you soon, but I can’t and won’t make promises. All I ask is that you pray.

Doubt And The Fight Against It

 I’m naturally a skeptic. It takes a large amount of convincing for me to believe that something is happening, or that something is real, without seeing it for myself. 

The list of instances in my life like this is a mile long.

  • I was skeptical about moving to Nashville actually working out back in February.
  • I was skeptical that Trump was actually going to win the Republican nomination. Still kind of skeptical that it’s real, but that’s beside the point.
  • I’m still skeptical about the fact that I’m where I’m supposed to be, and that I’ll be able to either get back into ministry or do anything with music full-time.
  • I’m skeptical about finding any job other than working at a restaurant.

I could continue, but that would be belaboring my point.

If I’m super honest, sometimes I still have doubts about if God is listening or working in my life. There are times when I feel like my prayers are just utterances into the air, and times when I can’t feel God’s presence.

Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you’ve had your doubts about God, or about God being present at all. Maybe you’re there right now, wondering if your tough situation will end soon, if you’ll get a job, if your prayers will be answered at all.

After being in church ministry for a few years, and sitting in lectures upon lectures about the different denominations, what they believe, and why they exist, I feel like I’m finally able to call myself a church history nerd. Here’s why that’s important: our current denominations have division and find their existence over how God’s presence is manifested.

While I know enough to be dangerous, I am no expert. These are just surface level explanations about the differences; nothing exhaustive, just basic information.

  • Baptists, while not outright denying the continuation of the spiritual gifts, hold to a stance that, in summary, amounts to the fact that God works primarily through Scripture, more or less limiting revelation to the canon.
  • Pentecostals/Charismatics rely more consistently on the spiritual gifts, maintaining that revelation and inspiration are still occurring independent from Scripture.
  • Presbyterians are primarily staunchly in their stance that revelation is only through Scripture, and that the spiritual gifts were only for use in the early Church.

Like I said, not exhaustive by any means, but the major denominational stances differ quite vastly.

On the regular, I find myself asking for signs. I seem to be asking for God to prove His existence. Yeah, I led a ministry and led within ministries, but I have my moments where I lack faith and ask for signs.

This isn’t new to God. This isn’t some newly asked question of Him. In fact, it’s probably the most commonly asked question in our prayers, not just in present days, but in days of old as well.

  • Moses met face-to-face with God, showing the Israelites that this was a sacred practice of meeting with God.
  • All throughout the Old Testament, God’s presence was physically manifested in the Holy of Holies in the Tent Of Meeting, making it a regular practice for the Jews to ask God’s Spirit to fall.
  • When the Israelites went into exile, there was a physical exit of the presence of God from the temple, leading the Jews to ask for God’s presence to return.
  • Jesus even said the Jews were a people of signs and wonders.

Look at John 4:48, when Jesus was talking to the woman at the well.

So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

God knows that we are looking for proof. He knows that we want some sort of tactile representation to confirm that He’s real. He knows that I still have my doubts when times are hard and I can’t feel Him working.

From personal experience, here’s what I’ve learned about this subject: God never leaves us, but there are times where He does allow us to listen to ourselves in order to see our selfishness. By letting us hear how self-centered we are, He reminds us that His life and His operation is about Him and not us.

It’s like He places a mirror in front of us to really see who we are, revealing our weaknesses and our imperfections so we can stop and say, “Okay, God. I’m listening. Some might call this what John Chrysostom called the “Dark Night Of The Soul,” where God seems distant and quiet but is in fact just as close as He has ever been.

The truth, however hard it is to remember, is that we as believers are never without God’s presence. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have unfettered access to His grace, mercy, and love, and we can approach the throne without hesitation.

When it seems like God’s presence is absent, here’s what I tell myself:

  • God will never leave nor forsake me (Deut. 31:6).
  • As His temple, His Spirit dwells within me (1 Cor. 3:16).
  • There’s nothing that could separate me from Him (Rom. 8:31-39).
  • God’s timing is perfect, and His answers always come when they’re supposed to (Rom. 5:6).

Yeah, it sometimes really sucks when things are so far from being ideal, and when it feels like God is silent, but we have this hope that God is for those whom He has redeemed, and if we seek Him, He will be found.

Does This Sound Like Your Church?

When I was a kid, I would have my mom buy the huge boxes of cereal. Why? To my childhood eyes, they looked SO cool.

On the Fruity Pebbles and Froot Loops boxes, there was always some sort of celebrity, like Shaq, and the backs always had some cool design.

Once, I got so focused on the box, I almost forgot that there was cereal on the inside. It was only for a few minutes, but if I had not snapped out of it, I would’ve kept staring at the packaging while the good stuff remained untouched.

It’s quite a funny thing, to focus on the packaging and leaving the contents alone instead of actually partaking of what’s inside.

But I see it all too many times with churches. They focus way too much on the church itself instead of the REASON for the church. They run campaigns about the church, their mission statements are purely about changing how people think about church, and they have sermon series dedicated to talking about church, but there’s zero mention of the name of Jesus, no proclamation of the Gospel, and no call to repentance in Jesus’ name.

When a church focuses more on themselves than Jesus, then the church has lost its focus altogether.

Hear me out on this: I love the concept and institution of the church. It’s a body of Christ-followers united around the purpose of glorifying God and living in community while growing in godliness and pursuing holiness. I’ve worked in churches for years, and I yearn to be back in church ministry, serving the community and working side-by-side with other pastors who seek to glorify God.

So why exactly does the (global) Church exist? How did the Church come to exist? What’s its purpose?

Here are some facts about the Church, which is defined as the global body of believers.

  • The Church is called the “bride of Christ” (Jn. 3:29, Eph. 5:22, Rev. 19:7), which Paul uses to instruct husbands how to love their wives just like Christ loves the Church in Ephesians 5.
  • Colossians 1:18 says, “And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church.”
  • Throughout Acts, we see how the Church is supposed to function: taking care of those that belong to it, welcoming new members in who have repented and been baptized, and spreading the message of Christ to the ends of the world.
  • According to Revelation, when Christ returns, He will come back to save His Church and be one with them.

It’s clear in Scripture that the Church is meant to be the agent of reconciliation and grace through proclaiming the truth.

So, in light of this, how is the local church supposed to function?

It seems like a no-brainer at times, but this is where Scripture doesn’t necessarily speak. Any mention of church is almost exclusively in reference to the global Church. So, we must turn to principlization and look at the overarching themes and principles of each mention.

  • The majority of the New Testament, written by Paul, is letters to individual churches. So it’s clear that the local church was always a part of the plan.
  • They operated autonomously, yet still under the supervision and guidance of Paul (or Paul would send Timothy, like he did to Ephesus).
  • There was a universal way to operate in regards to discipline, membership, and pastoral care.

But the biggest thing about the individual churches? It was never about them in the first place.

Their entire purpose, mission, and vision was never to change how people viewed the church, but to lift Jesus high and see people meet Him.

Pastors: if this sounds like the church where you serve, then you and your staff need to take a long, hard look at your mission statement, core values, bylaws, etc., and reevaluate the real focus of your operation. Before you plan anymore events, write any sermon series, or create any budgets, you need to set aside a solid chunk of time where you take a fine-toothed comb and rake it over every governing document that constitutes the way your church operates. You’re idolizing a non-profit 501(c)(3), not worshiping a living and mighty God, and if you continue in this pattern, you will be the church that Ephesus became when John wrote Revelation, who abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:4).

Church members: if this sounds like the church to which you belong, where there’s more talk about and focus on the church itself instead of Jesus, then run. Leave. Get out. Talk to your pastor and tell him that the church has lost focus, then prayerfully search for another church in your area that is preaching the Gospel, serving the needs of the community, and promoting Gospel-driven community within the church.

Pastors, I Have A Bone To Pick With You

Have you ever seen a flock of sheep out in a pasture? Or, better yet, have you ever met a shepherd whose job is to lead a flock of sheep?

9 times out of 10, you probably haven’t. Which is normal, since we live in a very urbanized society where shepherding isn’t really a prominent part of the economy.

The job of a shepherd is quite literally to herd their sheep, keeping them from danger and leading them to food, water, and shelter as the occasion arises.

Sheep are stupid animals. Honestly. If they aren’t led in the right direction or kept in check, they wouldn’t survive. They’re natural followers and have no clue how to make the most of their existence on their own. Without a shepherd leading them, there’s no way they’d make it another day.

The term “shepherd” doesn’t just apply to literal sheep-herders. For those who are leaders in Christian ministry, whether as pastors, directors, or lay-people given authority, we are considered shepherds as well.

Check out 1 Peter 5:2. Peter, as in THE Peter who was Jesus’ disciple, is writing to a group of Christians who were scattered throughout different regions of Western Asia.

[S]hepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

Those who are divinely appointed by God to lead His people have a charge to shepherd them with joy and excitement, doing what will keep them safe and pursuing God more deeply and more fervently.

Being a shepherd isn’t an easy job, though. It’s not glamorous. It’s normally thankless and, especially in ancient times, it was frowned upon by society.

So it’s quite interesting that we as pastors are called “shepherds”. I use “we” because I have served as a pastor, and I have been in the trenches and the mess leading the flock of God.

Why are pastors called shepherds? Because, like shepherding, the pastorate calls us to do uncomfortable things.

The uncomfortable thing I want to discuss specifically is leading the flock into righteousness and into holiness.

Pastors, this one is for you. This post is solely for you. Church members, I want you to hear what I have to say too. You need to encourage your pastor. You need to lift him up and build him up so that he can continue to serve you. You need to support your pastor and help him walk in the biblically mandated position without hesitation.

I’m just going to shoot you straight, pastors. I have to a bone to pick with you. I’m calling some of you out for your preaching.

Your preaching may be funny, witty, memorable, hard-hitting, etc., but you’re lacking the Gospel altogether.

The Gospel makes things uncomfortable. Paul even says that “the word of the cross [the Gospel] is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). It’s supposed to make things uncomfortable. And it’s necessary in leading your flock.

If your sermon lacks a clear Gospel call, then your sermon is no more than a motivational speech on how to live morally.

What do I mean by Gospel call? Here’s what I mean:

  • We are dead in our sins and trespasses, and as a result are not in relationship with God
  • To repair the broken relationship, God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, take the punishment we deserve through death on the cross, and raising three days later to conquer death for us
  • This sacrifice has satisfied the wrath that we deserve and therefore has enabled us to be in a relationship with God once more 
  • A relationship with God is open to us if we confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior, believe that Jesus is that Savior, and surrender our lives to Him

The fact of the matter is, the only way that people can live out what you’ve preached on should hinge on whether or not they’ve responded to the Gospel through receiving salvation. If your sermon can be applied independent to the Gospel, then your sermon is lukewarm and ineffective.

I know I’m being harsh. But you have been given charge over people’s spiritual development. Yes, at the end of the day, it all depends on God, but He has entrusted you to lead and shepherd His people to godliness and righteousness. By leaving out the explicit presentation of Gospel, you are minimizing the importance of and the primacy of this good news within your church, and ultimately your personal life.

Some of you might say, “But we are living the Gospel out with our lives.” You cite the St. Francis of Assisi quote, Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.

Let me stop you right there.

First of all, St. Francis of Assisi never actually said that, according to research and biographical information. His life was actually focused heavily on explicit declaration through preaching. (For more reading on him, check out this article from Christianity Today)

Second, mere moral living (which we often call “living the Gospel”) never actually results in salvation. Here’s what Paul says on the matter:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)

Paul doesn’t say, “For everyone who sees someone living the Gospel and being impacted by that will be saved.” He cites that faith comes as a result of the Gospel being explicitly proclaimed.

Pastors, I want you to see people repenting of their sins and following after Jesus. I want you to live above reproach and live according to the biblical mandate. I want you to be able to hear Jesus tell you face-to-face in glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

None of this is ever achieved divorced from the explicit proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your sermons will be no more than pithy sayings and wasted breath without the Gospel.

I leave you with 1 Timothy 4:16, which says:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 

Rewrite your sermons to include the doctrine of God’s glorious, miraculous, mysterious salvation, and extend the invitation for your hearers to partake during your next sermon.