Where Are We Going?

I’ve always enjoyed traveling.  It didn’t really happen that much until I went to college, but then it hit me: I have friends from all over the nation.  What if I went where they lived?  I could experience and see different areas of the USA.  So I did just that.  As a result, I often asked where we were going.

It’s fitting I’m in ministry now, I guess.  That question should be a headlining question for those in ministry.  It’s a question I love to answer, and it’s one that I’ve asked every step of the way in my experience.  When I was a fresh new student pastor at a church in Norfolk, VA, I asked it.  When I was a church planter in southeastern Kentucky, I asked it even more.  As a semi-experienced student pastor in northern Kentucky now, I ask it often.

I suppose this is the reason for this blog post.  I realized that I haven’t put the answer to this question out to the public at large.  I’ve shared it with parents and student leaders, but not with everyone.  Now’s the time.

So.  Where are we going?

I’m glad you asked.

Before we jump in, let me give some background info: I started serving at The Mount in Williamstown, KY, about a year and a half ago.  We’ve had some success and failure, but that’s ministry.  I’m of the mindset that churches and ministries should dream big and take risks.  Honestly, I’m not interested in being in a ministry that doesn’t do that.  So here I am.  Even better, here we are.

The student ministry at Mount Olivet Christian Church is one that takes Ephesians 3:20-21 seriously: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”  The question that I’ve wrestled with is, “What does ‘immeasurably more’ look like for Students at The Mount?”  I’ve also wrestled with the question, “What can we do now to set up for ‘immeasurably more’ in the future?”  This all stems from the statistic that 70% of 6th-12th graders in Grant County, Kentucky, are not involved with any church or student ministry.  To me, this means that 70% of our 6th-12th grade students don’t have a relationship with Jesus.  30% do, and that’s great, but our work has been defined.

The mission of Students at The Mount (the name of the student ministry at Mount Olivet) is simple and identifies with the whole mission of the church: To lead students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  There are two key words here.  First is lead.  We can’t spoon-feed or drag students into a relationship with Jesus.  We can lead them, though.  Even further, students can lead other students into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is where the 30% comes in.  The second word is growing.  8 out of 10 students leave the church and faith altogether after high school graduation.  Our traditional youth ministry methods and efforts obviously haven’t worked.  So our youth ministry now must look and be different.  This is where “growing” comes in.  Let’s equip 6th through 12th graders now with the knowledge, skills, and passion to continue their relationship with Jesus through their 18-22 years, into middle and late adulthood.  We are intentional about our mission.

A mission is great to have, but if it isn’t placed into the context of a vision, then it isn’t that useful.  So our vision (what we want to see happen within the next 5-10 years) is simple: To create a different student ministry that students want to belong to.  Our mission will remain unchanged.  Our vision is time specific, though.  In 10 years, we will see where God is leading us at that point and probably shape another vision statement.  There is something important about putting this down where you can see it.  The reason behind this vision is shared in the previous paragraph; our student ministry must be different to achieve different results than the status quo.  The student ministry of the 80s, 90s, or 2000s simply will not work today.  If you don’t believe me, walk into any church with a fledgling youth ministry.  They can do a lot of events and have fun, but the students continue to leave Christianity because their faith just doesn’t work anymore.  My biggest prayer for Students at The Mount is that we don’t become a youth ministry that just has some fun and throws a little Bible in from time to time.  My second prayer is that I don’t mess up what God is doing.  Both will lead students into a diminishing relationship with Jesus, and that isn’t our mission!

Our mission and vision have to be accomplished through various strategies.  To that end, I know that laser-sharp focus is necessary for effective ministry.  Again, if you don’t believe me, walk into any church that starts groups/ministries/programs for every niche.  They’re a sinking ship.  So, we will focus on the following strategies to accomplish our mission and vision.

1. Irresistible environments.  This might not seem like much, but it is.  If a student walks into a dingy and dirty room that could double as a storage closet, they probably won’t be back.  But if a student walks into an inviting environment where they are welcomed by friends and sense something going on, they will probably want to come back (and hopefully will bring a friend with them).  This doesn’t just fall under room engineering, though.  This is the responsibility of everyone involved with the student ministry.  Smiles and positive attitudes go a long way.  For Mount Olivet, it can be difficult.  We eat dinner in a lobby and share space with every other ministry in the church.  But we are slowly engineering every environment we are in to be one that is unique to students, whether it be through music, games that they can play upon arrival, and our leaders smiling and welcoming students as they arrive.  It will only improve from here, too.  This feeds into our mission and vision by giving students a different place (than typical youth ministry environments) to connect.

2. Small groups.  Great things happen within the context of community.  Students connect with each other and with leaders that want to see them grow in their relationships with Jesus.  Even better than that, these groups create their own unique type of culture.  Students might not want to share what they’re struggling with with their parents, but they can share it with their small group leader.  They also get to put handles on what was just talked about in youth group.  They can apply it to their own lives, process what it means, and hold each other accountable in the context of a small group.  Those types of things typically don’t happen in a large group setting.  So we love small groups!  This feeds into our mission and vision quite obviously: it allows students to grow in their relationship with Jesus with others.

3. Middle school and high school retreats.  I wanted to line this item out specifically.  We pour a lot of emphasis on these retreats for a couple of reasons.  First, students need an opportunity to disconnect from life as usual to focus on something spiritually.  There’s more growth that can happen within a weekend at a retreat than can happen in a month’s worth of youth group meetings.  Secondly, it allows students to connect with others that aren’t in their clicks and circles.  In other words, it broadens their horizons.  This is a good thing that can happen within an environment like a retreat.  This is why we partner with churches like Williamstown Christian for events like this.  It lets students see that they aren’t the only ones living out their faith at school, work, and home!  Our mission and vision is accomplished when students can grow exponentially at retreats.

4. Connection events.  Sometimes students that have never been to E4 (our Sunday night student gathering) don’t want to come because they’re intimidated.  I completely understand as I am an introverted person.  So we offer connection events that are completely fun and meant to help students connect with one another, building community.  Things like game nights, bowling, baseball games, concerts, etc. all feed into this, as well as our mission and vision.  The only fear I want to mention here is that we don’t want to become a youth group that is all about these types of events.  We already know that a busy youth group isn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy youth group.

5. Partner with parents.  We (SATM) have students for 2-3 hours a week, on average.  The rest of the time is spent between work, school, and home.  The bulk of that time, however, is spent at home.  This is why we want to partner with parents and equip them to lead their students into a growing relationship with Jesus (see what I did there?).  We know that what happens at home is more important and impactful than what happens at church, so let’s partner up.

Those strategies, obviously, help us accomplish our mission and vision.  But how do we know if we are actually hitting the mark?  Again, I’m glad you asked.  We want to measure the wins, because we know that “wins” determine how we are doing.  So the primary win is that a student is led to take ownership of their faith.  This means that they are doing things that are also wins for us: reading their Bible daily, regularly attending church/E4, take the next steps in their faith (baptism, serving, etc.), investing into and inviting their friends, and showing excitement for what the student ministry does.  If we can do these things, then I think we will be on the right track.

This is where we are going.  This is the type of student ministry that I feel like God is engineering here at The Mount.  Do you want to get involved?  Awesome.  Let me know.  If not, please at least pray for us.  This will be big, risky, and slightly crazy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Enjoy Your Iced Coffee

I went to Starbucks the other day.  I pulled into the parking lot, pulled up the app on my phone, and I looked to order my usual: a grande cold brew with a couple of pumps of classic syrup.  This is a pretty quick process; much quicker than standing in line, ordering, and then waiting.  I walked in, stood at the counter, and waited a couple of minutes for my mobile order to magically appear on the waist-high counter in front of me.  Eventually, a barista with an empty cup looked at me and said, “Sean?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“I’m sorry, Sean, but we have run out of cold brew and won’t have any until tomorrow morning.”

“Oh…OK.  Well…uh…”

At this point, I was faced with a choice (or a dilemma, depending on how you are dealing with it).  I could angrily storm out, accusing them of negligence because the app didn’t alert me that they were out of cold brew, threatening to go to the Starbucks in Crestview Hills because they can probably accommodate my desire for cold brew.  In this choice, I would likely offend the barista, but she deserves it, right!?

Or I could just get an iced coffee is an appropriate replacement.  My barista was thinking the same thing.

“We can make an iced coffee for you, or maybe an iced Americano.”

“An iced coffee is fine.”

Within 30 seconds, I had an iced coffee in my hands.  If I had chosen the former option during my choice/dilemma, I would have been driving through construction to another Starbucks without the guarantee of cold brew, leaving the barista in bewilderment (and maybe hurt over something she can’t control).  But now I was sitting in an air conditioned cafe, sipping a delicious caffeinated beverage on ice.  Plus, I am a gold card member.  I get free refills.  What a deal.

I work in the world of full-time ministry.  Often, my person is not just associated with me or my family.  It’s associated with an entire church.  This is probably why people like to tell me what’s right or wrong with my church.

That’s fine.  It really is.  I’m more than willing to listen and talk about the heart behind many of our strategies and methods of ministry.  I enjoy it, actually.  But I occasionally run into something that cuts me to the core.

Sometimes people decide to rid themselves of the association with a particular church because of one method of ministry or strategy.  It almost always results in hurt feelings, lost friends, and bitterness.

You’ve seen it be done.  If you’ve spent any time in church at all, you’ve heard jokes about churches splitting because of a disagreement of the color of the new carpet.  We laugh at it, but we laugh nervously, because we know it’s about 10 seconds from happening in most churches.  Maybe even the church we are plugged into.

I think this happens because we begin to hold the ministry methods we are most familiar with in a sacred spot.  As in: If we don’t do this, then we aren’t doing anything right.

But in reality, our ministry methods and strategies aren’t sacred.  In fact, very little is sacred within the church (gasp!).  The only sacred thing in the church is God and his spirit living within his followers.  Everything else (including you, me, and our methods) are not sacred.  They may be God-inspired, and hopefully they are, but they are not sacred.  They will change.  They will probably change way sooner than you think.

Plus, when Christians assume that certain ministry methods and strategies are implemented haphazardly, they completely and totally disregard the countless hours in prayer and study that the church leaders have committed to this decision.  Maybe the leaders are doing this thing because God has given them the ability to lead this church in the way that he wants them to.

Remember my fun time at Starbucks?  If I were to yell at the barista and storm out, what would it accomplish?  The cold brew would still be out, and I would be completely disregarding the barista’s attention to detail and her kind demeanor when telling me that there is no more cold brew for the day.

If we decide, as followers of Jesus, to storm out of a church because we think that a certain ministry method is wrong, then maybe we should pray that God would lead us into full-time pastoral ministry.  Obviously, we think we have the market cornered.

Sure, there are times when a ministry method might be wrong scripturally.  But that will be painfully evident to everyone around, not just 5 or 1o of your buddies that sit beside you in the pew.

Maybe we should recognize that the church is a living movement organized by Jesus himself, so when we don’t know the reasoning behind something, we should search for it by searching Scripture.  Take into mind the heart of the leaders.  If we really think that the leaders are maliciously leading the church astray in terms of methods and strategies, we have a bigger problem.

Maybe, instead of being angry, we should be happy with the iced coffee in lieu of the cold brew.  Who knows…maybe we will enjoy it and be on board with it.

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Coffee Cup Theology

I sat in Starbucks the other day.  It was packed.  To be fair, this particular Starbucks location had just undergone a renovation.  I’m sure some of the people there were there to check out the new bricks and mortar.  But it seemed like everyone else there had a different agenda.

For some, the agenda was enjoyment.

For others, the agenda was spending time with friends.

Even for others, the agenda was a place to catch up on some emails while enjoying their delicious cold brew.

I was there with my wife.  Our agenda was to spend time together, doing something that we both enjoy.  Eventually, one of our friends walked in.  We welcomed him, got caught up on life, and enjoyed each other’s company.

It’s funny how coffee shops work.  There’s a collection of people from all walks of life, coming together for a brief time to congregate around a cup of liquid (and maybe even a doughnut or a cookie).  Some arrived with friends, some arrived with family, and some arrived alone.  Some of them even wandered in off of the street, seeing the people inside and smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  They all have a common purpose: to enjoy this experience.  Sure, some people are hitting a drive-through or grabbing a coffee to go.  But for a short few minutes, they get to participate in the experience that most coffee shops have.

For many people, a coffee cup isn’t just a container that holds hot liquid.  It’s a symbol of friendship and community.  People willingly leave their homes to go to a place to sit over a cup of coffee and talk to someone else.  What happens over a cup of coffee is a sacred thing, and I think it has been engineered in us by the Creator.

Jesus sat around a table with his followers and broke some bread and shared a cup to explain what was about to happen to him.  Out of all the symbols, materials, and things to use in this world, he used what is found on a table.

What was found on that table can be found on a table now at a coffee shop.  Not just material things like food and a cup, but non-material things.  Like friendship.  Service.  Love.

Maybe what happens over a cup of coffee is bigger than what we realize.  Maybe people congregate over a cup of coffee because it is a desire set within them by their Creator, and was played out by Jesus himself.

Maybe we would be wise to acknowledge that within our churches.

Just think of all the times Jesus sat with his followers around a cup.  Just think about all the times that Jesus sat around a cup with tax collectors, sinners, and people like you and me.  Jesus was on to something.  The Son of God had it figured out.

Once again, maybe we would be wise to acknowledge that within our churches.

People who are coming to our churches for the first time (or second or third) are coming to see and hear about Jesus.  They might not know it yet, but they are also coming to connect with you and me.  Do you know what would really enhance that and encourage that connection?

You guessed it.  A cup of coffee.

It’s something that we can grab hold of while we worship the One who created us.  It can give us a sense of comfort during a particularly uncomfortable time (like visiting a new church).  The aroma and taste helps us connect with our memory, making us realize that everyone here is in the same boat (sinners in need of grace).

Then we read about and hear about Jesus, who obviously put great emphasis on what happens around a cup.  We’re connecting with him, and with the other people around us.

Before you know it, we have a church that’s moving, living, and active.

So maybe the best thing we can do this Sunday is to brew a pot of coffee, pour a couple of cups, and hand it to someone who walks in.  Maybe that’s what Jesus would do.

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Orange at The Mount

I should have two high school diplomas.

Let me rephrase that: I should have a high school diploma and a Sunday School diploma.  I went through my county’s educational system, K-12, and walked across a stage in 2006 to shake the superintendent’s hand and receive my piece of paper.  It was a great time, as many friends and family members were there to celebrate with me.  13 years of schooling finally equaled into an achievement, and I was headed off to college to get another diploma.  I’m very thankful for that.

Sunday School was a little different.  I started when I was probably 5 or 6 years old.  There was a little country church across the road from my home, and I would go to Sunday School there with my aunt as my teacher. She did a fantastic job (which is great, seeing as how she was also my kindergarten/1st grade teacher at my elementary school).  I learned all kinds of things: Abraham moving, Isaac, Noah and the ark, David and Goliath, Jesus walking on water, the resurrection, and the missionary journeys of Paul.  I even learned Paul’s first name, Saul.  For a young elementary kid, I felt like I was a walking biblical encyclopedia.

Fast forward to high school, when I was attempting to live out my faith in a public high school.  I did a terrible job of it.  Actually, I did very little to live out the knowledge I had of the Bible.  I was still learning about the Bible in Sunday School, but that knowledge usually stayed in the room, where I could pick it back up the following Sunday.  After all, I had to go to school and go to work, right?  There was no time to think about the Bible between Sundays.

Fast forward even more to the end of my senior year of high school.  I had just declared that I was going to Kentucky Christian University.  A lot of my classmates questioned my decision.  They wanted to know how a guy like me could go to a place like that.  I didn’t seem to know much about the Bible.  Sometimes it seemed like I didn’t even know Jesus.  But I had gone to Sunday School nearly all of my life and was active in the church.  I should have had a Sunday School diploma at that point.

Do you see the problem I had?  I knew all kinds of stuff about the Bible, and I could even rattle off some verses from memory.  But I wasn’t living it out at all.  That led me to this question: What good is the knowledge if it isn’t applied?

I think that still happens in the church today.  Actually, I know it still happens.  You’ve heard the statistic: 70-80% of teenagers leave the church whenever they get to college.  Why?  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s because they have no clue how to live out what they have learned.  Their biblical knowledge affects the brain, but not the heart.  And if it doesn’t affect the heart, then we might have wasted our time.

In recent weeks at The Mount, we have been rolling out a strategy to fix this.  It’s called the Orange strategy.  Why that name?  It’s because it combines two critical influences: the church and the home.  A kid will spend about 40 hours this year at church.  They’ll spend 3000 hours at home doing next to nothing.  Why not combine these hours and influences so their lives will be changed?

What a kid will learn on Sunday can be applied on Monday-Saturday with this strategy.  They’ll be taught how to do it, and parents will be equipped to encourage and help their kids live out their faith day-to-day.  The result will be stronger followers of Jesus, better families, and a faith that will grow beyond their 18-22 years at home.

We’ll do this with our kids ministry on Sunday mornings.  We’ll do it with our student ministry on Sunday nights.  Even our adults will be doing this with our worship services and home groups.  This is a comprehensive strategy that will help grow all people in our church.

As a matter of fact, we already employ this strategy in our student and adult ministries.  But we will get better, because this is too important to slack on.

In order to make this happen, though, we need as much help as possible.  You can volunteer to help with our children’s ministry and never see a kid.  We have positions open like designers, security team members, registration team members, and hosts.  If you want to be more hands-on with kids, then sign up to be a storyteller or a small group leader.  We also need substitute small group leaders if you want to help but have a crazy schedule.  Stop by the Orange table on Sunday and sign up.

Trust me on this.  You do NOT want to miss out on what is about to happen in our children’s ministry!  You have the opportunity right now to get in on the ground floor and help us do something revolutionary.  We’re going to grow like crazy, and we need your help to make this happen!

If you have any questions at all, just let me know.  You can email me at sean@mountolivetchristian.org.  You can also stop by and see me on Sunday.  I look forward to you helping out!

Thank you all for your support in this and for helping us make a difference.  Let’s advance the Kingdom of God!

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Politics 101: Stop It

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a very political post, but it’s not about any particular candidate or party.  It’s about the political apathy that has seeped into American culture and how it can destroy things.  This post is written from a place of passion for me, and might step on some toes or just straight-up make you mad.  I try to keep posts like this to myself, but I felt this one needed to be shared.  Read at your own risk.

I’ve been labeled as a nerd for most of my life. I guess a variety of things have contributed to that: I love to read, I can watch Star Wars on mute and recite every line, and my childhood was centered around becoming a meteorologist. I’m not bitter about it at all. In fact, I know that I enjoy things that not a lot of people do, which usually is the basis of being labeled a “nerd.” It’s fine.

I also love politics. Not just political TV shows like The West Wing (which you need to watch on Netflix immediately because it’s that good); I love everything about politics. The drama, speeches, debate, strategy, history, vision-casting, and a plethora of other things all contribute to this love. In the past, I have been labeled as a super-nerd because of my love for this. But I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the past few years. Instead of people just writing me off as a super-nerd, I’ve been receiving some anger. As in, “How can you like this trash?” or “What is so great about this ______.” It’s odd.

There’s a lot of feeling behind politics. Most of it is negative. I guess I can understand why. My parents’ generation probably hates politics because they lived in the aftermath of Watergate. My generation (at least the mid 20- and mid 30-somethings) probably hates politics because they saw a superstar President fall out of grace with the nation after an affair in the 1990s. There’s been some dark stains on the political stage.

But isn’t that life? I like to think that I’m mostly good. But guess what? I have some dark stains. You? You’re probably alright. But you have some dark stains, too. Our places of employment, our homes, and our families all have dark stains.  It’s just the way life goes.

But it’s different with political people. Our view of the political process is tainted with this negative view that absolutely no politician will ever be able to climb out of. This leads people to say things like:

“Both candidates are terrible. I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.”

“They’re nothing but a bunch of liars.”

“Voting is irrelevant. It will make no difference.”

Sound familiar?

Our political jadedness is slowly ruining the political process in America. We’ve left voting up to a small percentage of the state and nation. For example, if 10% of people in Kentucky vote in this month’s primary election (which is realistic), that means 440,000 people of the 4.4 million in the state are making the decision of the future of the Commonwealth.

Just take a look at the Kentucky primary election in 2011, the last Governor election year. 2,917,836 people were registered to vote. Out of those registered, only 304,923 people voted. That’s 10.4%. Those 304,923 people dictated which candidate would run for office for high-power positions, like Governor.

Fast forward to November 2011, and the general election fared a little better (but not really). 2,944,602 people were registered to vote, but only 842,528 showed up at the polls. That’s 28.6%. These 842,528 people determined the course of Kentucky for at least the next four years. Are we OK with that?

How about the issues? Some think that issues won’t really change, as politicians are “just a bunch of liars.” But this is blatantly ignoring factual evidence. In 2008, when President Obama was first elected, we had an embargo against Cuba, swarms of boots on the ground in Afghanistan, and health care was the same as it had always been. Regardless of what you think about these changes, you must admit that things changed. In the case of healthcare, things changed dramatically.

Let’s look at just Kentucky. Governor Beshear, when elected in 2007, had a struggling education system. So he pushed forward an overhaul, known as 2009 Senate Bill 1. SB1-09 created standards for Kentucky students to work towards that might just make them more marketable to employers post-high school, and help college acceptance rates. Regardless of what you or I think of these issues, we have to admit that things changed. So to say that things won’t change under a political leader is to ignore evidence and history.

Some people hate the mud-slinging and smear campaigns that candidates run against each other. I understand. It can drive me crazy, too. But as much as everyone complains about it, there’s a reason that they keep running those ads: it works. Again, the evidence supports it, so we can say that we hate it, but we watch (and share) every mud-slinging ad that comes out.

Finally, there’s the lying. When people tell me that a candidate lied, I always want to ask them when. Usually, they can’t name a time, but it’s the cool thing to say, so we say it. Obviously, “promises” made on the campaign trail are going to be broken. But let’s be honest; these aren’t really promises. When a candidate says that they will work hard to do something, or persuade Congress to pass something, it’s a hopeful statement.  A hopeful statement and a promise are not the same thing. We make candidates out to be evil, as if they are making promises just to break them because it’s fun. This line of thinking has to stop. If they do actually break a promise, we can do something about it: elect someone else.

I think it’s become the “cool thing” to hate politics and act uninterested. This is really unfortunate. History proves that the political process in America was an experiment to see if people could actually democratically elect leaders in a republic. It worked. Until now. All for the sake of the “in” thing.

Yes, I’m railing against this mindset. It upsets me when people use these ignorant excuses as to why they don’t participate in the political process, especially since it requires so little of you. Watch a debate, or visit a couple of candidate’s websites. See which one you can support. If you can’t support one, find someone you can support and throw your support behind them! Then, take 10 minutes and drive to your polling place and push a few buttons. I hope that our national laziness hasn’t gotten to the point that we’d let a few voters dictate the future for the rest of us.

Just imagine the future if a majority of Americans voted! Instead of just accepting the two-party system, we might be able to elect a third party president if he or she reflected the mindset of America. Or we might cause candidates to move to the center, where a majority of Americans are. We might not elect a radical republican or democrat, or we might! It’s our choice!

I’m actively involved in the political process. I volunteer for campaigns and research way more than the average American. That’s fine, and I will label myself a nerd for that. I’m not asking anyone to do any of that, unless you really want to. I’m asking you to do exactly what the framers of our Constitution asked you to do: something. For the future of our state and nation for the next four (or more) years, reject the political apathy that’s “in” and go vote.

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The Art of Sinking

I really can’t listen to “Oceans” by Hillsong United without getting a little teary-eyed now.

It’s a beautiful song, packed full of daring truth, with a resolve to push followers of Jesus beyond their made-up “limits” and actually do something that matters. But there’s another reason that this song gets to me.

For mine and my wife’s tenure in Middlesboro as church planters, it was our anthem. We felt like we were some of the ones being called “out upon the waters.” We knew that we were in the “great unknown where feet may fail.” The story of Peter walking on water towards Jesus, then falling, but then being saved, was at the forefront of our minds. We knew that we were in the midst of a life-changing work, and that literally anything can happen.

At least I thought I knew. I would belt this song out at church while we still lived in Grayson, right before we moved to Middlesboro. I was ready. We were ready. After all, we had asked God to call us out upon the waters, and he did. Clearly.

Fast forward some time later, and we were packing up a U-Haul, leaving Middlesboro. I was crushed, and I felt like that, like Peter, I had slipped under the waves.

I don’t want to dwell on this, as I’ve dealt with this in past blog posts. And I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about it. But I feel like this song, which inspires this feeling, should come with a disclaimer.

If you ask God to call you out upon the waters, he will.

I know this sounds too elementary, but it’s a truth that needs to be wrestled with. If you ask God to use you to do something bold and drastic, he will.

I’m not saying that you will plant a church, or even move to a city where you don’t know anyone. But you will be face-to-face with a situation where you will freeze with fear, yet look forward with anticipation and excitement. I don’t know what that is for you, but you probably do. And you will, like Peter, step out of the boat. But there is a risk involved.

If you step out upon the waters, you might sink.

I’m not being negative. I’m being truthful. Of course, God is there to save you, just like Jesus did with Peter. But it might happen. It’s not fun, it is painful, and you will flail about like you are drowning (partially because you are).

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t want it any other way. My wife and I could have played it safe and stayed where we were. But ignoring God’s urging on my life would have driven me crazy. Plus, I would not be anywhere near where I am now spiritually. I’m definitely not saying I know it all or have it all figured out (sound familiar?), but I do know that I am significantly further along than I was pre-Middlesboro.

Peter sank like a rock.  So did I.  And you might, too.  But it’s OK. God is right there with us.

Christians every Sunday shout out this anthem, but I don’t think they realize just what they are asking. They are asking for something wonderful, but they are also asking for something that could sink them. This means that worldviews, pride, thoughts, inklings, and previous knowledge are all shattered. Sinking like Peter means thinking like Peter in that moment. All he could say is, “Lord, save me!” So it was with me, and so it might be with you.

Maybe this needs to happen. I’m convinced that if more followers of Jesus sank like Peter and shouted out for saving, the world will be a drastically different place. We would all be further along in our spiritual journey than what we previously were, and our insignificant pride and insufficient worldviews would be shattered. The end result? A better and stronger follower of Jesus.

I do not think it’s a coincidence that 1 Peter and 2 Peter, found towards the end of the New Testament, are so full of wisdom. Peter didn’t write these texts as a hear-say piece. He wrote them with almost a grandfatherly wisdom, for generations and generations to read.

Truthfully, as I read 1 and 2 Peter, I’m thankful Peter sank. As I look back on my journey thus far, I’m thankful that I sank, too. And I’m sure that if the same happens to you, you will eventually find it in yourself to thank God for the past events that soaked you.

So, sing this song with all your might next Sunday. Just be aware that God might actually do what you ask him to.

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Linus Knows Best

I just finished a large end-of-the-semester-type paper for one of my classes.  I attend a Southern Baptist seminary, and the paper was, more or less, attempting to take down a piece of their theology.  I didn’t do this with malice or anything; I just really do disagree with them on this issue.  However, it wasn’t always like that.

(And before anyone asks, no.  I will not tell you what this particular piece of theology is.  I don’t want to offend half of everyone.  Yet.)

I spent half of my childhood actively in the church.  I picked up bits and pieces of theology here and there, and it was fine.  I had no framework of reference, so if a pastor told me that the Bible says ____, I believed them.  Why would I not believe them?  I viewed their word as the gospel truth, and everything was great.

I then went to college.  I attended a Christian university, and majored in ministry.  Within my first semester there, everything was shattered.  The things I had believed for so long were slowly getting demolished by an actual study of the Bible.  I then tried to defend my beliefs like any good Christian would do, but I couldn’t.  Things weren’t going my way, and I had nothing to back me up.  I quickly discovered that saying, “My pastor said _____,” or “my church taught me ______,” did not hold up in an academic setting.

I did not know where to turn or what to do.  I wasn’t mad at my church or pastor; I was mad at myself.  I was mad that I could be wrong about certain areas of theology.  I had built this belief system (that, looking back now, was not biblical at all) that could be shoved down by a quick few sentences from someone.

There’s debates and taking sides of issues in theology.  What I was experiencing was just me being wrong.  I did not have biblical beliefs.  I had “churched” beliefs.

“Churched” beliefs got me in trouble.  I might have been able to throw a verse or two that were utterly ripped out of context, but that’s it.  I was experience part humiliation, part anger, and part helplessness.  The professors and students I had been talking to weren’t mean at all.  This was all on me.

I had two responses here, which may sound familiar: fight or flight.  I could fight, meaning that I had to go back to the Bible and actually read it for myself, studying and talking to people along the way, to see what I really believe.  Or, I could leave my college.  Transfer and get new friends.  Even just drop out, altogether.

Guess which one I chose?

I’m glad I chose to fight.  It made me a better follower of Jesus.  I experienced an earth-shattering thing in college and everything I believed was torn down.  With God’s help, we rebuilt it.  I still do that today.

One of the thoughts I kept coming back to in my paper for my class mentioned above was about the problems we have in the church of 2014.  Could it be that we simply have not thought for ourselves for the past 50 years and just went with what the pastor said?

Don’t get me wrong.  Usually, pastors are educated and very informed.  They make great conclusions and hypotheses, and can teach you about theology with little preparation.  However, if we just take a statement as is, without knowing any background information on it, then what is it worth?

Nothing.  It’s worth nothing.

I still say that one of the best things that’s happened within the past few decades for the church is Rob Bell.  He shook things up with a few of his books, associations, and videos.  He said things that made the church mad, and when they went to tell him how he was wrong…

…they couldn’t do it.  We couldn’t do it.  So, we had to think.  We had to read the Bible for ourselves, and actually view it through the lens of context.

I’m not bashing Bell.  I love the guy.  I don’t agree with some of his statements, but I don’t 100% agree with any popular church leader’s theology (even Andy Stanley).  And that’s a good thing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should start thinking.  Actually, we should resume thinking.  We, as a church, did it for 2,000 years.  We just stopped at one point.  Let’s pick that habit back up.

And if you’re going through that earth-shattering and life-changing event that has broken down everything you thought was true about church, God, and Jesus: good.  It sounds harsh, but you’re going to be a better follower of Jesus because of it.

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