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I’ve primarily been focusing on missional communities over the last few months, but I wanted to take a quick break and post on another topic.

Am I Called

Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with people who are interested in pursuing vocational ministry or who are in a season of transition.  These conversations have given me the opportunity to reflect on discerning calling. As I’ve shepherded people through these conversations, there are three primary questions I’ve been helping them ask:

Who am I?

How you answer this question can give a great deal of clarity to the next steps a person should consider.  This question has two answers – the first is your theological identity, and the second is practically how you are wired.

Theologically, by repentance and faith in Christ, you are forgiven, you are a new creation, an adopted son or daughter, you are fully righteous before God in Christ, and you are a citizen of heaven. Therefore your identity, worth, approval and righteousness do not depend on what you do, but what Christ has done on your behalf.

We therefore ought to approach seasons of transition with a great deal of freedom, trusting in God’s providence that the current circumstances are his ordained will for our good! It is always refreshing to speak with someone who has a firm grasp of their identity in Christ.

As a son or daughter of God, we also trust in the sufficiency of God’s word – if He has commanded it, we must obey. If He has forbidden it, we must not do it.  If there is no explicit command, then we are given principles in God’s word to apply, the Holy Spirit, the community, and our own experiences and desires to work from, all the while recognizing God’s goodness to provide these things for us.

This leads us to answering the question in a second way.  Practically speaking, in addition to the above, it is helpful to have a handle on your personal theological convictions, philosophical approaches to ministry, and practically the gifts and personality traits that make you unique.

I’m convinced that missional communities are an extremely effective way to make disciples in America.  For one reason or another, God has given me a very analytical brain, and I love to create order out of seeming chaos.  I also really enjoy developing and coaching people, and am very capable at leading large scale organizations. If I were in a season of transition, I would certainly take those things into consideration, and probably not pursue a vocation as a counselor.  God just hasn’t made me that way.

What do I need?

The second question I’ve been challenging people with is “what do you need?” In assessing new opportunities, consider your own development. What experiences would help you to grow? Are there particular life circumstances that require special consideration? Are you in a healthy place spiritually, or are you struggling in your faith?

As you answer questions like those above, I think the fit a particular role or opportunity can come into focus.  If you are early on in your ministry or professional life, you may not have a lot of understanding of who you are and how you’re gifted, so it’s good to engage in a place that allows you to explore that gifting.

if you are emerging from a particularly difficult season of ministry, perhaps being a point leader for a new ministry or a strategic change is not the best place, as it will demand extra amounts of time, emotional energy, and thought capital.  Consider a place or an opportunity that will allow you some time to heal from past wounds and recover to an emotionally healthy place.

Also, I think it is incredibly important to answer this question regarding your financial health.  If you’re deeply in debt (say from college loans), then it may be difficult to pursue a support-raised opportunity.  Perhaps it is God’s providence to give you a season to establish financial health, and thereby allow you to pursue vocation ministry down the line.  If you have a whole bunch of kids (like me!), then you need to consider if an opportunity can allow you to support your family.

Knowing what you need developmentally and financially are helpful questions to have answered as you consider opportunities in front of you.

What do I desire?

Having answered the first two questions, I think it’s also really important to consider the basic question “what do you want?”  We often have a tendency in the Christian world to over-spiritualize our desires or to be needlessly afraid of them.  I can guarantee that I have sinful motivations in my heart for just about everything I do, but there are also lots of desires that God has placed in me.

I want to provide for my family.  It is a noble and godly desire, but it also can often be driven by my desire for control and comfort.  That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek to find a stable job that pays the bills and puts food on the table.  There will always be mixed motives in anything!

In my experience, it’s helpful to identify my desires, search my own heart as to my intentions behind them, and invite my community to help me process through my desires in light of God’s word.  I need people who will be honest with me, and I think you need people who will be honest with you about what they think about your desires.  I’d strongly suggest you bring these kinds of things before people who will actually challenge you – don’t surround yourself with yes men!

Also, allow God’s providence to chasten your desires – if you want to preach to thousands, but God hasn’t given you an ability to preach to more than 5, then submit yourself to His providence that you may not get what you want!

Conclusions

I have always tended to the overly pragmatic, and am a fairly decisive person, so there may be plenty more that needs to be considered.  That being said, whenever I speak with someone who is interested in pursuing ministry, the more clearly these kinds of questions are answered the more likely a person is to have clarity in decision making and joy in the process.

What else should I help people consider?

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If you’d like some help in answering these questions, especially as it relates to ministry, I’d highly recommend you look into The Austin Stone Institute!

The Lobby – Day 2

April 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Today has been another encouraging and challenging day of conversation, and has left me with some good thinking to do.

Session 5: Mission and Community

We began the day today talking through the idea of mission, and how it plays out in community.

My friend Spence Shelton gave me the opportunity to share the story of The Austin Stone and the strategy we employ of missional communities.  After some processing with Mark Howell, I have a stronger appreciation for how the context of our church has dictated our strategy, and that it certainly is not perfect.  

On the flip side, it was fun to challenge people with the idea that often our forms contradict our intentions, and in many ways we need to challenge the consumerism that is widespread in our churches.  I pray that there would continue to be a spirit of humility and gracious critique between our churches!

Session 6: Measurement

I’m a data nerd, so I always enjoy conversations around measurement and effectiveness.  There was a great dialogue on the idea that “metrics motivate your thinking, stories stir the soul”.

Measurements should include both quantitative and qualitative data, and leaders need both stories and data.  Stories are encouraging, but are easily used as anecdotal justifications for something that may not really be working.  Data, without stories, is to easy to misinterpret or make say what you want it to say.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of the conversation was that everyone struggles to capture stories.  The most effective churches at capturing stories were those who incentivized them.  Apparently a little bribery goes a long way!

Session 7: Tough Issues in Group Life

This discussion was probably the most spirited that we’ve had, because it dealt with much more personal and sensitive issues for many of us.  The specific dialogue centered around sexuality in the life of the church, and how our communities and leaders respond in circumstances of sin with both grace and truth.

The church doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to same sex attraction, so how do we lovingly engage people in the church and those outside the church?  This discussion cause me to reflect on Jesus, and how he practically ministered in different circumstances.  Specifically, I thought of the woman at the well, and how Jesus addressed not only her sexual sin, but pointed to the unfulfilled longings of her heart that were designed to be met by Jesus himself.

The conversation also brought to mind the woman caught in adultery, and how Jesus dealt with the accusing crowd who lacked mercy and love, but also corrected the adulterous woman by exhorting to go and sin no more.  I pray that I myself would minister like Jesus, lovingly yet firmly, and also that our churches would not be like the self-righteous Pharisees, but the gracious Savior.

It was another fun filled day!

The Lobby – Day 1

April 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

It’s been a great day gathering with so many thoughtful and humble leaders here in Atlanta.  Today was centered around four different discussions:

Session 1: Disciple Making

Our first discussion centered around the idea of making disciples, and Rick Howerton provoked some good healthy discussion and serious reflections on whether or not our systems were actually producing healthy disciples of Jesus.

In processing through the different viewpoints that individuals had, my primary takeaway is that we need to allow Jesus to speak for himself through the Word.  It’s easy to distill discipleship down to a set of practices or core values, but fundamentally people need to encounter the real Jesus in His authoritative Word. To be a disciple of Jesus means we must find Him in the Word!

Session 2: Small Group Strategies – Multisite

In our second discussion, we split up into different strategic challenges we are facing as we lead in groups ministry, and I was particularly helped in our discussion on groups in a multisite church.  Everyone agreed that there is no “best-practice” yet, but all of us agreed that we needed clarity and simplicity to effectively lead in a complex environment.

My key takeaway from this discussion was particularly in the area of culture – how do you not only foster common practices, but common culture in a diverse set of contexts and campuses?

Specifically, as we continue to bring new people onto our team, whether staff or volunteer, we need to not only articulate our culture, but foster experiences and pose problems that help people understand why our culture is the way it is.

Session 3: Strengths and Weaknesses in Different Models

In our third session, we discussed the various strengths and weaknesses of our systems for groups.  It was really helpful to hear where others are succeeding and struggling, and how their systems are helping and hindering their ministry.

My key takeaway in this session was understanding the different tradeoffs in groups systems in general.  They primarily come in two flavors – connection-oriented systems and development-oriented systems.  Connection types are really effective at reaching into the unconnected and the lost, but struggle to maintain groups over time and cultivate depth.

Conversely, development-oriented systems are great at creating depth and longevity, but really struggle to connect new and different kinds of people.

The reality for most of us in the groups/discipleship world is that we must continue to adapt over time, and there is no problem free model, and my friend Mark Howell conveys so well.

Session 4: Trends in Culture

In our final conversation, we spent most of our time dialoguing through some cultural trends that directly affect ministry within the local church.  Primarily, we spent time on the impact of the virtual world with respect to community, and some implications for how we engage thoughtfully and theologically to a world dominated by new means of communication.

I am cautious, and yet also somewhat eager to see how we can leverage the tools of technology to strengthen the local church, as well as engage people whom we may not have been able to without these new tools.

There’s more to come tomorrow!

NewImage

This week I will be spending time with many of the best and brightest small group thinkers in the country at The Lobby. I’m so thankful for our gracious hosts, North Point Community Church, and my friend Bill Willits.

What questions would you love to ask guys like Steve Gladen, Bill Donahue, and many of the fathers of the small groups movement?  Let me know, and I’ll make sure and get them asked!

My friend Sean Eppers posted some content on the Woodlands Point Pastor’s blog that Tyler David and I did on “Ministry vs. Discipleship” for one of our staff meetings awhile ago.  Below is a sample:

Ministry Discipleship
Reactive Proactive
Ministry tends to involve a much lower level of relational investment, and for both parties there is a relative degree of anonymity Discipleship requires a high degree of vulnerability for both parties
Meets immediate, felt needs Transforms lives and success is replication
Often times leads to immediate results and draws crowds Often painstakingly slow and difficult with one step forward and two steps back

You can find the rest here.  Thanks for posting Sean!