Archives For calling

It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in a hotel room at a Youth Specialties conference with my colleagues in ministry.  There were at least four of us staying in the Motel 6 down the road just to save money.  We didn’t mind sharing the room because we could not believe that we had gotten jobs as youth workers.  We were being paid to love on students and help them love Jesus.  All four of us had recently graduated from college, were friends from camp, and relishing the opportunity to take our place as the next generation of youth workers.

The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

We had all heard the statistic about the average tenure of a youth worker was 18 months, and most of had experienced that number to be a reality in our lives.  But this statistic would not define us.  We were in youth ministry for the long haul, not just 18 months, not even 3-5 years, were were going to be youth workers FOR LIFE!!

17 years later, I am the last of my four friends who is still doing vocational youth ministry.  And of the dozens of peers who are of similar age that I have had the pleasure of calling colleagues in youth ministry, I alone remain.

It seems like every young youth worker I talk with has a similar perspective to the one I had years ago.  And the truth is, that like my circle of friends, only a small percentage of them will continue on in student ministry into their 30’s, less into their 40’s, and none into their 50’s.

While this is the truth, this is not a sad truth.  I have no special honor for being the last of my friends who is still in youth ministry.  It is simply the way it is.  While it is ok for young men and women to speak boldly about things they do not quite understand, it is the implications of this false view that ends up limiting them in the long run.

Speaking boldly is part of the fun of ministry.  We love pontificating with our peeps, and really, anyone who will listen, about whatever the subject is.  We speak with great passion and conviction.  This should not be squashed, for passion and conviction are some of the important stones in a ministry foundation.  But sometimes this passion and conviction replaces wisdom and discernment and often proves to be a liability in the long run.

If youth ministry for life is your mantra, then my fear is that being open to all that God might have for your future gets put in jeopardy.  Calling is always seasonal.  Our lives unfold before us like a well written Choose Your Own Adventure book.  And because of this, the specifics of what sort of ministry we are called to do will always be in flux.

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Stepping-stones

Don’t you just hate it when people look at student ministry as a stepping-stone? How dare someone take our calling and belittle it to a mere hoop to jump through. I have had heated and passionate conversations with many colleagues around this topic, and as I write this today, most of those people have done just that. They used to be in student ministry and have stepped into another calling. The problem is, at the core of our being, we fear that it might actually be true, student ministry really is a stepping-stone.

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What is the top of the youth ministry world? When will you have arrived? Is it about the number of students in your ministry? Is it about working at a particular church? Is it when you get to travel and speak? Is it when you get to speak at main stage for Youth Specialties?

Every career has a ladder, and student ministry is no different.

Let’s just take high school education as example. The basic corporate ladder goes something like this; substitute teacher, teacher’s aid, class room teacher, head of department, assistant principle, principle. Then if you have sights higher than that particular high school, assistant superintendent, and finally super indent.

But this isn’t the top of the ladder. From superintendent, there is an entirely different ladder to climb ending with, who knows, the governorship or even the president of the united states.

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Over the last couple of years God has been developing some new dreams and passions in my life. Some of these dreams have turned out to be dead on arrival, like learning how to dub step. Some dreams are slowly maturing, like getting in touch with my emotional side. (I can’t wait to go and see Titanic in 3D by myself and just let the tears flow!)

But one passion that God has been developing in me is ready to be examined and refined. It is time to see if this new-found passion for writing and the dream of contributing to the larger Christian community is real and from God, or something God is using for this particular season in my life.

It started with a New Year’s Resolution

Back in 2010 I made a New Years resolution to become more professional. I used to find incredible joy in lowering people’s expectations of me, my ministry, and especially my intellect. Then I would find joy and security when I would surprise people by easily exceeding their low expectations. God graciously revealed that this is a cop-out and an easy way to hide. So as I wrestled with what it might look like to take communicating more seriously, I landed on writing as being the avenue to work out this resolution. But as I began to write, something strange began to bubble up inside of me: I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed completing thoughts, wrestling with deeper issues than adolescent-level theology, and being part of a larger conversation.

Not only have I enjoyed it, but a couple of people besides my mom have really enjoyed it as well. I have been blessed to have a community of incredibly supportive people in my life who ooze love and affirmation on me. This has been a great encouragement and has spurred me on to write much more consistently, to start this blog, and to write a book. But the more I write, and the more my mom loves it, I have started to have this sinking feeling.

What if I have deluded myself into thinking I am better than I really am? What if I am really like those awful singers on American Idol? You know, the ones whose moms have told them their entire lives what amazing singers they are The ones who have had no other constructive criticism to speak of. The ones who hear Simon tell it like it is, and who then protest in disbelief. And at the end of the day these singers stick it to the camera with every ounce of conviction in their soul that Simon is the idiot, and their mom was right.

I have come to really admire the contestants who put it all on the line in American Idol. They have a dream, they have had some talent affirmed, and they put themselves out there for the world to see. Most of them get the awful truth that their passion is simply their passion and nothing more. But for the select few, their passion is also a talent that is good enough for the national stage.

I am ready for my Simon Cowell moment

You would think that as I develop a passion for writing, the passion would be motivation enough. I enjoy writing; therefore I will write. But that is not good enough. I want to know where I stand among my peers. Am I good enough for the occasional church newsletter? Good enough for my friends to post something on their blog? Good enough to make it into print? Good enough to be a part of the national dialogue? Who knows?

Due to the prodding of some close friends and my wife, I am going to jump into the deep end and see where I stack up in the writing world. This weekend I am heading to Mount Hermon’s Christian Writer’s Conference. I will be rubbing shoulders with fellow writers, agents, and publishers. I have submitted book proposals and manuscripts to people who are legit in the writing world. I will have appointments with these people, eat meals with them, pitch my ideas, and have my five minutes to prove that I have what it takes.

I am really looking forward to getting a clearer picture of this new thing God has been developing in me. My mom thinks I am great, and if it proves out that people in the writing world agree, then this could be the start of a really fun adventure. If this passion for writing is simply a passion that God will use to shape and mold my heart and mind, I will celebrate that too by writing the best church newsletters I can. Either way, I am looking forward to God clarifying where I stand among my peers and moving forward in an appropriate way.

Thank you for being a part of this process

I am so thankful for my little posse of friends who have encouraged me in this blog and on this writing endeavor. I thoroughly enjoy dialoging with you about ministry, students, and culture. Thank you for putting up with my horrible grammar, and for pushing back when I push too far. Thank you for humoring me with this more personal blog post. And thank you Mom for being my biggest fan I would appreciate your prayers as I jump into this new world and hobnob with agents, publishers, and middle-aged women who have written Amish romance trilogies.

May we all be continually open to feedback, criticism, and encouragement as we seek to live more fully into being the people that God has made us to be. Blessings!

 

 

(This is a repost of a blog series I did last year, but thought it might be thought provoking based on some recent conversations.  Enjoy)

Why am I being left behind?

I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to watch other ministry professionals’ career take off and soar and wonder when it is going to be my turn. This feeling has plagued me throughout my entire career. It has looked differently over the years. Why did I get passed up for that job? Why is my group stagnate while the church down the street is booming? Why don’t I get to preach more? Why did that guy get picked to speak at that retreat? Why did they get to be a part of that cohort, and I wasn’t? Why did they choose her to write that article and not me? Why did my proposal get turned down, and theirs was accepted?

I recognize that at the core of who I am, I wrestle with envy. Now, part of this is of course sinful. Watching what others have and wanting that for myself. That part is part of my flesh that I must die to every day. But if we are honest, part of this battle is that there is a real vision of the person that God has made me to be, and I am in the birth pains of trying to work that out.

If you can humor me for a minute. Assuming that we have done the hard spiritual work of dying to our fleshly envy, what is left is some unrealized vision of who we might be if we were fully living into the person God made us to be. And what I want to do is figure out who that person is, and then run after it with all my might. So when I use terms like, “advance” or “move upward,” I am simply saying that there is a larger call that is being pursued.

What I have noticed is that there are some poor theology, laziness, and fear of failure that justifies why many of my colleagues and I are stagnate in our professional development and not living into the larger dream God has put in our lives. This is what I mean:

Poor Theology
:
When I look around at my peers and see the fruit of their ministries, the opportunities they have to speak, the invitations to be a part of special cohorts, the books and articles that they publish, I think that it must all be spiritual. These people are faithful to their calling and God has blessed them. Now while that is entirely true across the board, what is untrue is that it is simply a spiritual matter that they are advancing in their careers.

A book that has changed my life is Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In this book, Gladwell challenges the assumption that it is simply hard work that moves people along the path of career advancement. And in the Church we can add, God’s will. But what Gladwell observes is that people are born into unique settings with unique connections that allow for certain kinds of success.

Going back over my list of people who I am envious of, I realize that many of them have had very unique opportunities based on their unique connections. Working at a mega-church, or being friends of a well known and connected pastor, or being related to someone connected are the easiest and main ways people advance in careers in ministry. On a side note, once you are given the opportunity, it is imperative that you come through and do a good job. But if the connection is made and you can adequately accomplish the task given, doors begin to open for you.

Now you have opportunities to speak at camps and retreats, present at conferences and trainings. And as you do this well, more and more doors will open up to you.

But what about the people who did not land in a context that allows them to make connections and advance in ministry. There are many youth workers who are in this camp, who excel in their small-unconnected context, faithfully serving. For most of my career in ministry I have found myself among the unconnected. God has given me a vision of what kind of youth worker I can be, what unique things I can bring to the table in my local context and beyond. But if I land in the place where I actually think that it must just be God’s will to only do X or only be Y, then I am afraid I will be missing out what God actually might have in store for me.

What is the dream that God has put in your heart?

I love the story of Joseph who had a vision of himself where he was going to be someone respected and bowed down to by his brothers. It was a dream given to a spoiled kid. Because Joseph shared that vision of who he was going to be in an immature way, he paid the price. He was sold into slavery, wrongly accused and spent years and years in prison. But sure enough, as God was refining his character, the vision of what God originally put in his heart, finally came to fruition. A similar account happens with David who was anointed at a young age, but doesn’t live into that anointing until years later. Even Paul was given a vision of who we was going to be in the church, but it took years of trials and testing until that was proven true.

I firmly believe that God gives us certain visions of who we are to be in the body of Christ. There is no hierarchy of visions or places God calls us into in His body. The body of Christ is so diverse and made up of so many unique parts. The vision God has given me will be different the vision God has given you. So, no mater what the calling God gives us, we are to be faithful to pursue that calling with all of our hearts and will all of our strength.

Too often, we simply affirm that God has given us a vision to do something or be someone, and then we sit and wait for our big break. We can not be passive in this pursuit of our calling. God rarely grabs passive people waiting for him to show up. We all know that it is easier to steer a car in motion then one standing still, and the same must be true as we work out our calling. We cannot rely on poor theology and passively stand by as our our dreams wither and die. We must get off our butts and work hard to pursue God and work out our calling.

Next we will look at our natural bent toward laziness and the status quo and how that squashes our abilities and opportunities to advance toward our call.

Part 2: Laziness
Part 3: Fear of Failing

When I was a freshman in high school, I knew I wanted to be a youth pastor.  I was on my 3rd youth pastor in 3 years, and I wanted to be the one that would stick around for the long haul.  At this time, my dad was a pastor and he had, for the first time, an associate pastor… who was a woman.  I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t sure what I thought about a woman being a pastor at MY church.  It could be fine at other churches, but I wasn’t sure that I really gave her the credit more than being the one to send out the birthday cards, do hospital visits, and help with communion here and there.  SUPER ironic since I was the one who was feeling called to ministry right around that same time… and I was starting to embrace my own woman-hood.

I went on to a great Christian college in the late 1990’s where women in ministry was accepted, but not necessarily “championed”.  Again, this fit me perfectly as I kept walking through my own call to ministry, and felt confident in being a youth pastor, but heck-to-the-no on ever being a lead pastor, let alone go to seminary.  My dad, uncle, brother and his new fiancé were all seminary graduates, and there was no need for a youth pastor to go to seminary.  My excuse was that I was not an “academic” person.  I also had no desire to learn Greek.  Inside, I think that a big part of my heart also felt that I was afraid of being a young, single, female in a seminary world.  I had not known of any other women my age who had gone to seminary.  I think the older woman that was my dad’s associate had gone to a seminary back in the day, but that was strange to me.  The Christian community around me did not have very many strong models of women in ministry for me to step into the shoes of.  It was easy to use the excuse of, “Oh, I’m just going to be a youth pastor, and you don’t need to go to seminary for that.”

I am sad to now step back, more than ten years later, and realize that I dumbed down not only my call to ministry and my profession… “just being a youth pastor”, but I also didn’t have the courage to be secure in recognizing that God calls both women and men, single and married, young and old to ministry… and to seminary.

Seminary was a time for me to be in a place where women in ministry was championed and supported.  It was ironic that my male peers were the ones in classes who would be the vocal leads for supporting women called by God to serve in all aspects of ministry.  During my three years in Seminary, I lived in the city where my dad’s associate from 15 years prior was now a lead pastor in the neighborhood of my school.  I felt proud that she was the Senior Pastor, and I started to feel proud to be called into full time ministry, myself.

Women in Ministry is a topic that seems taboo for many to speak about.  Opinions are strong, emotions are felt, and theology needs to be strong and supported.  I am so thankful for the Evangelical Covenant Denomination for championing and being a secure voice for women in ministry.  I am also thankful that the seminary was a place where I was challenged to wrestle with what I believe about women in ministry… as I KNEW I WAS called to be a woman in ministry.

There are some great resources that not only our denomination has written on women in ministry, but also women I now admire as women on ministry have written that I would encourage you to check out.

1.     Called and Gifted – published by Covenant Publications in Chicago, IL.  This is a reaffirmation of the biblical basis for the full participation of women in the ministries of the church that the Evangelical Covenant Church stands by. www.covchurch.org

2.     How I changed my mind about Women in Leadership – Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals.  Alan F Johnson is the author.  Contributors include Tony Compolo, Bill and Lynne Hybels, and John and Nancy Ortberg.  Published by Zondervan.

3.     Gifted to Lead: The art of leading as a woman in the Church – by Nancy Beach.  She shares her story of being a woman in ministry of a large and growing church with an all male staff.  Published by Zondervan.

 

Lisa Holmlund has served in Student Ministries for more than a decade in Colorado, Washington, and California.  She is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and currently serves as Pastor of Student Ministries at Montecito Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California.

Many of us in ministry feel like there is an unrealized call on our lives. I know, at least for me, I have certain things God has put in my heart to do and to be. Most of them have to do with my local context and some have a larger scope.

What I have noticed is that there are some poor theology, laziness, and fear of failure that justifies why I am stagnate in my professional development and not living into the larger dream God has put in my life. Instead of just understanding why we are stagnate in living more fully into our calling, we must be proactive and put some effort and energy into our pursuit.


I recently read Seth Godin‘s new book Poke the Box, which has inspired me to come up with a list of some things I can do to get off the couch and start moving forward, living into the youth worker that, I believe, God has called me to be. Maybe these will be helpful for you too.

Get off the couch: This is pretty straightforward. Sitting around dreaming and thinking and planning is only worth something if you at some point get off the couch and put that plan into motion. Everyone has an idea, everyone has a plan. But it is rare for someone to actually do something with it.

Make a schedule to start: Want to do something that is horrifying? Pretend you are a lawyer and every 6 or 10 minutes jot down in a notebook what you have done. It is scary and sad to realize how much time gets waisted looking at Facebook, updating twitter, getting coffee, going to the bathroom. If this idea is going to come to fruition, then you must actually come up with a plan. Make a schedule of your time and follow it, or all you will have to show for yourself is a cool profile picture.

Don’t just start new things, finish them: We love starting new projects. Whatever that project is, during the honeymoon, while we are inspired, while it is exciting and while it brings us life, we are all bout it. Starting projects, series, books, school, writing, any of it, all is great at first. But unless you finish, it is meaningless. The completing of projects is the key to turing your idea into actually something of value. To pull this off, it usually means dividing up a large project into smaller projects. This gives the thrill of starting, with the sense of accomplishment by completing it, and building towards your final goal.

Become project based: Developing an efficient system or model becomes death. Once a system gets in place your only task is to find people to fit in the structure and manage. In Godin’s book he calls that the factory model. Ford did this and did this well. But companies like Apple didn’t just find a way to make a great computer, they had great projects. And when those projects were done, the closed up shop and started on the next one. This allows you to be dynamic and flexible. This model also allows you to work much more effectively because you are working toward a stated goal that can be completed, evaluated and celebrated.

Take a risk: Godin says that if there is no chance of failing, then it isn’t a risk. This isn’t a license for stupidity, but a gut check on what we are willing to try. If we have bigger dreams and ideas then being middle management in a bureaucracy, then at some point we are going to have to try something new, take a risk, put yourself out there, and potentially get shot down. But it is only when we take risks will we be able to live into the dreams that God has placed in our hearts.

Get outside feedback: Most people have spent their entire lives getting softball feedback. Our mom’s have told us forever how smart and handsome we are and the rest of the world hasn’t had the guts to shatter our fragile ego, so they follow suit with nice generic affirmations. You see this tragedy over and over again on American Idol. It wasn’t until Simon lays down the law and gave real and honest feedback did those singers have any sort of chance to either develop as an artist or close up shop on that dream. We all need Simon’s in our lives, people who will give us honest feedback.

Protecting yourself from criticism is the worst thing you can do. Invite criticism and critique from everyone around you, from your boss, your staff, your volunteers, your students, parents, everyone! If you are worried about their feedback, then you have some motivation to pull it together. Plus many eyes will help you see things you would never see on your own.

Take responsibility for your future: The bottom line is that you have been given a vision by God. Do you get that? The creator of the universe has made you for a specific purpose with a calling that is unique to the history, gifts, and passions that are only yours for a context that is just as unique. What a crime to miss out on that because of our laziness or fear. Let us say no to passivity. We can not wait to get picked, to be discovered. If we are going to be the person that God has called us to be and to do the things that he has called us to do, the we MUST get off the couch and put our ideas into action.

No more blogs for you today. Get after it!

Continued from Part 1: Poor Theology
Continued from Part 2: Laziness
Many of us in ministry feel like there is an unrealized call on our lives. I know, at least for me, I have certain things God has put in my heart to do and to be. Most of them have to do with my local context and some have a larger scope.

What I have noticed is that there is some poor theology, laziness, and fear of failure that justifies why I am stagnate in my professional development and not living into the larger dream God has put in my life. In my last post I looked at poor theology and laziness. But the biggest hang up might be something even more paralyzing, the fear of failing.

Fear of failing:
Our culture has absolutely no place for failures. Ok, there is a place and that is usually on the Jerry Springer Show. For most of us, that is the last place we want to end up. We are a success rich context where doing well is expected, and being excellent is preferred. Failure, is unacceptable. But there is a huge chasm between being a failing and being a failure. While it may be true that failure is unacceptable, failing is a needed exercise if we are ever going to excel in anything.

Think of any task that you have accomplished, any skill that you have mastered, all of them have come with small failures along the way. Everything from learning how to ride a bike, to spelling tests, to leading a small group. None of those things happened correctly the first time. But when we raise the stakes and start exploring a calling into something a little more risky or challenging, we seem to forget that failing is part of the process of development.

When we begin to explore our calling and the challenges start to stretch us past our comfort zone and current skill set, this strange thing happens. The rhythm that has worked for our entire lives in everything we have ever learned all of the sudden becomes a spiritual matter. Success or failure no longer depends on hard work or trial and error. We become hard line Calvinists and throw down lots and let the outcome be the revealing of God’s Will.

Sidebar: I am not saying that God’s will is not part of discerning your calling or that He doesn’t use open and closed doors, or that you should not have the input of your community and confirmation from the Holy Spirit. I am simply saying that we / I often use a failed attempt as God closing a door instead of me just totally whiffing an opportunity.

The cold hard truth is that we are prideful people with sensitive egos. And it becomes second nature for us to protect them at all cost. But if we are going to move forward, live into the person that God is inviting us to become and do the things that he has given us visions for, then we must get over ourselves and remember the lessons from our earliest days. When we fall, we brush our selves off, learn from our mistakes, and take another crack at it.

Part of the hangup might be that the only stories that we ever see are success stories. We look at someone as successful as Oprah and think she just showed up as the most influential person on television. We rarely hear about Oprah’s early career, when she was fired, worked at a lousy show, had failed episodes, and really bad hair. We only see the final product. Oprah is Oprah not in spite of her many failures, but it the failures themselves that contributed to the honing of her skills and deepening of her character.

God has give you and me a very real vision of the person that we are to be and the things that we are to be doing in the Kingdom of God. The sad reality is that many of us won’t ever live into that person because of this ridiculous fear of failing. At the end of the day, what is the big deal anyway?

We have to get over it! This fear is paralyzing and only plays into our naturally lazy alter ego. The only way forward is to begin to celebrate failing. Failing means that we are taking risks, trying new things, stretching ourselves past our current skill set. Failing means that we are no longer just dreaming or talking, but we are actually taking action. And every failure gives us an opportunity to learn, to develop, and move ever closer towards our calling.

What is the worst thing that could happen if you fail? Aside from doing something incredibly dumb or illegal, the worst thing that will happen is simply a bruised ego. Protecting your ego has to be the biggest stumbling block in moving forward. The person God is calling you to be doesn’t just happen, that person is developed and that development happens only through risk and failing, and then some more risk and failing and then more risk and succeeding.

Risk is scary and no one likes it, that is why it is called risk. We have to retrain our brains, and begin to celebrate it, even schedule it in. All of us have different things that we are called to do and consider different things risky. Having a picture of what God is calling you to do is only the beginning. Taking a step towards that goal, risking rejection and failing is part of the process. Failing only becomes failure when you stop moving toward that goal.

When I was younger and still trying to find ways to be relevant and cool, I took up skateboarding. There was a park by our church and I thought this would be a great way to connect with some of the local students. What I quickly learned about skateboarding is that if you are going to be good there will be pain. My dream of being a skateboarder for Jesus was shattered after just one attempt at an ollie.

The real question is: How much pain are you willing to inflict upon your ego to fully realize your God given dream?

I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to watch other ministry professionals’ career take off and soar and wonder when it is going to be my turn. This feeling has plagued me throughout my entire career. It has looked differently over the years. Why did I get passed up for that job? Why is my group stagnate while the church down the street is booming? Why don’t I get to preach more? Why did that guy get picked to speak at that retreat? Why did they get to be a part of that cohort, and I wasn’t? Why did they choose her to write that article and not me? Why did my proposal get turned down, and theirs was accepted?

I recognize that at the core of who I am, I wrestle with envy. Now, part of this is of course sinful. Watching what others have and wanting that for myself. That part is part of my flesh that I must die to every day. But if we are honest, part of this battle is that there is a real vision of the person that God has made me to be, and I am in the birth pains of trying to work that out.

If you can humor me for a minute. Assuming that we have done the hard spiritual work of dying to our fleshly envy, what is left is some unrealized vision of who we might be if we were fully living into the person God made us to be. And what I want to do is figure out who that person is, and then run after it with all my might. So when I use terms like, “advance” or “move upward,” I am simply saying that there is a larger call that is being pursued.

What I have noticed is that there are some poor theology, laziness, and fear of failure that justifies why many of my colleagues and I are stagnate in our professional development and not living into the larger dream God has put in our lives. This is what I mean:

Poor Theology
:
When I look around at my peers and see the fruit of their ministries, the opportunities they have to speak, the invitations to be a part of special cohorts, the books and articles that they publish, I think that it must all be spiritual. These people are faithful to their calling and God has blessed them. Now while that is entirely true across the board, what is untrue is that it is simply a spiritual matter that they are advancing in their careers.

A book that has changed my life is Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In this book, Gladwell challenges the assumption that it is simply hard work that moves people along the path of career advancement. And in the Church we can add, God’s will. But what Gladwell observes is that people are born into unique settings with unique connections that allow for certain kinds of success.

Going back over my list of people who I am envious of, I realize that many of them have had very unique opportunities based on their unique connections. Working at a mega-church, or being friends of a well known and connected pastor, or being related to someone connected are the easiest and main ways people advance in careers in ministry. On a side note, once you are given the opportunity, it is imperative that you come through and do a good job. But if the connection is made and you can adequately accomplish the task given, doors begin to open for you.

Now you have opportunities to speak at camps and retreats, present at conferences and trainings. And as you do this well, more and more doors will open up to you.

But what about the people who did not land in a context that allows them to make connections and advance in ministry. There are many youth workers who are in this camp, who excel in their small-unconnected context, faithfully serving. For most of my career in ministry I have found myself among the unconnected. God has given me a vision of what kind of youth worker I can be, what unique things I can bring to the table in my local context and beyond. But if I land in the place where I actually think that it must just be God’s will to only do X or only be Y, then I am afraid I will be missing out what God actually might have in store for me.

I love the story of Joseph who had a vision of himself where he was going to be someone respected and bowed down to by his brothers. It was a dream given to a spoiled kid. Because Joseph shared that vision of who he was going to be in an immature way, he paid the price. He was sold into slavery, wrongly accused and spent years and years in prison. But sure enough, as God was refining his character, the vision of what God originally put in his heart, finally came to fruition. A similar account happens with David who was anointed at a young age, but doesn’t live into that anointing until years later. Even Paul was given a vision of who we was going to be in the church, but it took years of trials and testing until that was proven true.

I firmly believe that God gives us certain visions of who we are to be in the body of Christ. There is no hierarchy of visions or places God calls us into in His body. The body of Christ is so diverse and made up of so many unique parts. The vision God has given me will be different the vision God has given you. So, no mater what the calling God gives us, we are to be faithful to pursue that calling with all of our hearts and will all of our strength.

Too often, we simply affirm that God has given us a vision to do something or be someone, and then we sit and wait for our big break. We can not be passive in this pursuit of our calling. God rarely grabs passive people waiting for him to show up. We all know that it is easier to steer a car in motion then one standing still, and the same must be true as we work out our calling. We cannot rely on poor theology and passively stand by as our our dreams wither and die. We must get off our butts and work hard to pursue God and work out our calling.

Next we will look at our natural bent toward laziness and the status quo and how that squashes our abilities and opportunities to advance toward our call.

Part 2: Laziness
Part 3: Fear of Failing

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  Psalm 119:105

The other day I had a great breakfast with a young youth worker.  His name is JD and he is right in the middle of working out God’s unique call on his life.  He is paid very part time by a church in our area and lives in intentional community where he, and his peeps are striving with all their might to reconcile the difficult teachings of Jesus with their lives.  (You know the ones;  blessed are the meek, the poor, not serving money, sharing possessions, etc.)

I love any time that I can get with JD because he is both smart and deep.  And while this makes for great conversation, it is his character that ends up encouraging me, challenging me, and spurring me toward Christ.  He does not settle on just finding the right answers, but is making the hard choices as he strives to live them out.

As much as I love JD, we could not be more opposite in our season of life, the calling God has put on our heart, or the manner in which that calling is worked out.  I am a married man with two kids and am called to love and serve the suburban institutional church.  JD is a single man living in intentional community and proximity to other young adults to work out their faith together as expand their community to the poor and marginalized.

Although we come from such different places in life and have such different callings in the Body of Christ, our friendship grows.  This affection grows because, despite our exterior differences, we share a similar understanding of calling and recognition that we are always in process as we move closer and closer towards Christ.  In our time together we touched on four good truths to remember as I continue to work out my own calling.

1) Take the plank out of your own eye. I am naturally a cynical and judgmental person.  It is always easier for me to take someone else’s idea or work, and then point out all of the errors.  (not grammatical ones of course, as obvious by my posts)  And while it always make me taller by standing above someone else, this judgmental attitude stunts my own growth.

You see, the more effort I spend pointing out others’ issues and faults, the less time and effort I have for my own.  If I am going to be all God has for me to be, the bulk of my work has to be done in humble self reflection.  Then and only then can I begin to see that the world does not revolve around me, and not everyone is supposed to have the same gifts, same perspective, and same calling as me.

2) We have unique callings on our lives. Because our world is so complex and because God has made us all so different, it makes sense that we should all have distinct and unique callings on our lives.  Not all of us can be called to the urban poor, or to Mongolia, or to fight sex trafficking, or to suburban students.  In fact, there isn’t even a higherarchy of calling.  There is a simple and humble recognition that God has uniquely made us and uniquely called us, and our job is to be faithful to whatever that is.

3) Our calling it to a very unique and particular group of people. Part of our conversation today revolved around Rob Bell’s newest book.  It is causing quite a firestorm, and JD was mentioning that John Piper even questioned his salvation.  (This is an entirely different post for another day) But what stuck with me is that Bell is called to be a prophetic voice to his people.  His people and context is the Dutch Reformed ultra churched people of Grand Rapids.  Piper is called to be a prophet to the greater Minneapolis region.  Their context requires different sorts of content and presentation.  And this is true for me in my context.

The way in which I share the gospel story is very different than my friends who are doing student ministry in other parts of the country.  And if I had friends in other parts of the world, I would realize my telling of the story is even that much more different.  The same is true for the manner in which I program my student ministry.  Our calling is often to a very specific group of people in a very specific context.  We must be on our A game as we seek to contextualize the gospel in our area, and be gracious to our sisters and brothers who are working out different callings and passions in different contexts.

4) We work out our calling by staying in motion. Thankfully God never paints for the entire picture of our life or gives us a road map for the next 50 years.  The passage in Psalms is a great reminder of how God reveals the calling he has on our lives.  He is a lamp to our feet.  God is usually really great about showing us the next step or maybe next two, enough to move in a direction.  But the path will not get further illuminated unless we start to walk down it.

If we wait until we know all the answers we will be stuck where we are forever.  If we speak out of turn and are too bold with where the path takes us, there is a good chance we will be eating some humble pie someday.  I have found the best way to discern my call is to start moving in the direction it seems like God is leading.  And sure enough, God always seems to reveal the way.

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The best part is that my time with JD was more of a blessing to me, then me imparting wisdom toward him.  When we intentionally rub shoulders with people who are passionate about their faith and intentional about working out their calling, we can not helped but be sharpened.  We so need community  when we work out our calling, and I am so thankful for my diverse community that continues to refine, encourage the dynamic implications of my eternal call.  Thanks JD.

 

(this is just because i couldn’t get it out of my mind all day, enjoy)