Implementing Vocation

This year Trailhead had the opportunity to participate in a Vocation Infusion Learning Community. It was an amazing experience and is shaping the way we think about discipleship and a number of practices we’re implementing. Trailhead is committed to being low program, so our goal as much as possible is to work at infusing ideas and practices of vocation into the things we already do rather than creating new programs. Here are some of the ways that’s happening.

Vocation Interviews

We’ve created a space in our weekly liturgy for an interview or story. Our plan is to do a vocation interview at least half the time, and as much as 75% of the time. At Redemption Church in Phoenix they call this an “All of Life” interview. These interviews highlight the specific types of work people do. Our first three weeks have been with a guy who flips houses, a teacher, and a stay-at-home mom. After the interview we ask everyone who works in the same field to stand and we say a prayer specifically for their work. Here are the four questions we ask.

  1. Tell us about the work you do.
  2. As an image bearer of God, what is one way your work reflects God’s character and his work? (In other words, how is the work you do the same as the work God is doing?)
  3. What is one way your work gives you a unique perspective on the brokenness of the world? (Sin infects everything–how do you see this specifically because of the kind of work you do?)
  4. God calls us to love others as he has loved us. What is one way you are able to “love your neighbor” through your work? (In other words, what’s a practical way you bless people through the work you do?)

Vocation and Kids

We are working on a number of ideas in regard to vocation and kids. We want our kids to grow up understanding the concept of vocation as much as they are able and feeling like it is an important part of what it means to follow Jesus. In other words, we want to make disciples who would find it strange not to see every part of their life as touched by the gospel.

One of the first ideas we’ll implement is giving parents a resource to engage their kids on the area of vocation, and specifically work, in the home. Many families do some kind of conversation around the dinner table. In our family we share our high and low for the day. So we’ll give parents a list of questions (similar to the four above but with language that helps kids get it) and encourage them to share this with their kids once a week. Then, as the kids start getting it we’ll encourage parents to have their kids answer these questions at least once a week.

Apply Vocation to Preaching

We’re asking our Teaching Team to consider how the idea of vocation relates to what they are teaching/preaching as they prepare. When possible we want to use real-life examples from people in the congregation to tie what we’re speaking about from Scripture to the life people live throughout the week. Sometimes this fits better than others, but we are at least looking for those connections.

Vocation Infusion Team

There are quite a few other ideas we have coming away from the Vocation Infusion Learning Community, but we can’t implement them all at once, and some of them will never fit. So we formed a Vocation Infusion Team that will do two things. First, we’ll review the things we’re already doing to see how effective they are and talk about how we can do these things better. Second, we’ll continually be assessing if there are new ways we can infuse understanding and practice of vocation into the things we’re already doing.

The Flood, Gungor, and Biblical Literalism

This week a couple articles have become popular on social media that provide some good fodder for conversation about biblical interpretation. The first one was from World Magazine entitled “Gungor Drifts from Biblical Orthodoxy.” (Gungor is a band that focuses on Christian themes.) The second was a response from Michael Gungor on the band’s website entitled “I’m with you.”

There are a number of nuances to the issue, but at the core the disagreement is biblical literalism. Do we take the stories and metaphors in the Bible literally? The article is especially focused on the events of creation and the flood. (Michael’s response focused most on the flood.) There are books that have been written about these issues, so I have no intention of pursuing the minutia of the topic in a blog post, but reading these articles spurred a few thoughts that are important to me in approaching biblical interpretation.

Jesus is the Center

The Mennonite Brethren Church (Trailhead’s denomination) speaks of this as having a “weighted canon.” The Christian faith rests on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus has not been raised our faith is pointless–mere fantasy. There are things that must be taken literally if we are to have a faith that honestly reflects the overall witness of Scripture (not just a verse here and there) and the teaching of Jesus.

I spent some time in a denomination where some churches had lumped everything about Jesus into the category of myth. While some kind of humanistic religion remained, it was not Christianity. I’m not sure where the line is on what must be taken literally in Scripture, I do know it is before the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus.

Beginning with Jesus gives us a lens for viewing the rest of Scripture. Since these articles used the flood as an example, let’s run with that. How does the literalism of that event impact the truth of the gospel that is wrapped up in Jesus? If the flood were more myth than truth, would it negate the importance of Jesus from incarnation to consummation? Would it tell us less about the reality of the human condition and God’s desire for humanity?

One more point on this. One real fear for giving up literal interpretations of things like the flood or the creation account are that it is a slippery slope that leads to giving up the Bible as literal completely. Agreed. As I said above, I’ve seen it happen. So another question would be, does seeing some of the Bible as poetic or metaphorical necessarily lead to seeing it all that way? Can we commit whole-heartedly to the reality of Jesus, from incarnation to consummation, without committing to a literal reading of every story in Scripture? (I’m asking this honestly.)

Jesus is revealed in Scripture, so these questions must be taken very seriously. My hope in my life, community, and world is that he will be received as Messiah and King and that his kingdom will come. My framework starts with Jesus and works out from there.

Avoid Dualism

Is science pitted against faith? That is the message that can come across when we get into these discussions. The Bible says the world was created in six days; science says it happened gradually over millions of years (I am not even talking about evolution here, that is another debate, only about time). The Bible records 6,000 years of history; science says there are hundreds of millions years of history. The Bible says there was a flood that covered the whole earth; the geological record doesn’t support this. So must we choose? Hold on to the evidence of Scripture or agree with the evidence of science?

People on both the side of naturalism (as an ideology) and Christianity seem to answer yes to this question. The naturalist community wants to sever faith from thought for the sake of dismissing faith as a fairy tale. At times the Christian community severs faith from thought for fear of having to rethink things like creation and the flood. Both of these approaches embrace an unnecessary dualism.

God created humanity in his image as beings who have the ability to think rationally and to know things that go beyond that ability. We are meant to be beings who embrace and know through thought and experience. This is not to suggest that the biblical accounts are irrational either. The truth of all reality as expressed in Scripture does take faith, but it is also rational. All philosophies require faith at some point–Christianity, atheism, and everything in between. This is not a coincidence. Any explanation of the world requires both thought and faith because that is a reflection of our Creator.

We were created as whole beings, in the image of God, to function as a reflection of God who is both word and mystery. It is unnecessarily dualistic to say that we must set aside rationality or faith when they lead us into tension. We should engage that tension using both–trusting that God has given us rationality as a good gift but that it is unable to hold the full weight of reality (and that is true no matter what your ideology).

Start with a literal reading.

On Facebook I had a friend write, “I tend to go with a literal interpretation of Scripture unless it’s obviously not literal.” That’s not a bad way to approach the text. I would say that fits with my approach. I believe the Scriptures overall are not only God’s revelation of himself–his character and his work–but also an account of history. That history may not be quite as scientific as modern history, but that doesn’t make it less true. Much of the narrative of Scripture, especially the history of the Israelites and the Gospels are written as a recording of things that actually happened. Beginning with believing that to be true is a great place to start.

The questions come up when there is significant (even overwhelming) challenge to the literal account. Michael Gungor goes into some depth on this point in relation to the flood in his article. At the very least, there are substantial challenges to maintaining a literal reading of what happened. Does that make it impossible–no–and he says that. Does it make it problematic, especially if we are not required to hold to a literal reading in order to hold on to the truth about Jesus–from incarnation to consummation–perhaps.

Restored to Stay

community_v14This year I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a Vocation Infusion Learning Community (VILC) with a few others from Trailhead. I have been deeply shaped by the people, concepts, and applications from this experience.

Last night I spoke on the story of a man deeply marred by evil and the restored to wholeness by Jesus. Once this man is restored he wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to stay. The Christian faith is often talked about as one of going.

Go be a missionary.

Go to seminary.

Go to a new place.

Yes, there are times when following Jesus means going. But there is another theme in the life and teaching of Jesus that call on people to stay. To stay in their lives–families, neighborhoods, occupations–and to live and speak as citizens of his kingdom.

I’m deeply grateful for the ways the VILC allowed me to engage the idea of vocation and was excited to be able to share something of that last night. If you feel stuck in staying or see some disconnect between what you do all week and your life following Jesus, this might be worth a listen.

Restored to Stay

Sin is not the first word

CFRC

We are sinners in need of the grace of God. It’s something I’ve heard since I was born. No, more than that, it has been the first word in faith in my life for as long as I can remember. I am a sinner. That is my fundamental state of existence. But recently I’ve had a revelation. It is an obvious revelation–one I should have had years ago. It’s nothing new. Things that are true seldom are. It is not something my teachers, whether in person or in books, have denied. But it is either something they did not say explicitly or I failed to hear. Sin is not the first word.

The beginning of the grand story is creation–imagination, word, breath, power–and it was good. Humanity is brought into existence and the first word is not sin. Humans are good. In fact, they are beyond good. They are made in the image of God himself–meant to carry on his work of creating, ordering, and flourishing. They are endowed with intellect, emotions, desires, purpose–and it is all good.

The reality of sin not being the first word does not diminish the reality or power of it. Humanity’s sin was to trust themselves to find real life instead of trusting that God had already given it to them. We continue on in the same sin that plagued our ancestors and it wreaks havoc beyond a nightmare. The world is broken; we are broken. Removing sin from it’s place as the first word about humanity does not diminish its destructive power. Unchecked it leads to death. Aside from the grace of God it has the power to tarnish the first word beyond recognition.

But in his mercy God has not allowed it to trample the earth unchecked. His grace touches the world, even for those who do not recognize it. But the full effects of his grace and mercy need to be recognized. They need to be accepted and clung to. Yes, it is essential that we trust in Jesus–in his death and resurrection–if we are to move toward the first word once again. He alone can dismantle sin and death. We have no hope of that on our own. Sin is not the first word but without receiving the forgiveness and victory of Jesus it can be the last.

Yet in him we have hope not only that we might move a bit closer to the first word but that the last word will resemble the first. The perfection of the creation will one day be restored in the consummation. Brokenness, despair, decay, injustice, and destruction will be banished. The first word will be spoken again.

But what does all of this matter? Why does it matter that sin is not the first word, or the last for that matter? As I have walked into this way of looking at things I have been amazed how profoundly it alters my perspective. Rather than viewing myself first as a wretch (though I often am one) I recognize that I am a part of the people meant to bear the image of God. Rather than viewing God as one who disdains my condition I see him as one who longs to restore me to what he meant me to be. Rather than thinking he needs to eradicate so many parts of me I see that his work is not about destruction but about restoration. His vision for me, for humanity, is that through the power of Jesus we could increasingly resemble the first word about us.

We are created as image bearers. Sin binds us and leads us toward death. Jesus dies and rises–providing the potential for victory over sin and death if we will receive it. When we put our faith in him he begins the work of restoring us to what we are meant to be and calls us to join him in the restoration of the world. One day he will complete this work himself. These are the words of the grand story of the gospel of Jesus.

A Reluctant Post about Hobby Lobby

I am reluctant to post on inflammatory issues–especially those with a political bent. This isn’t because I don’t have opinions, but because the medium of a blog (and even further, social media) doesn’t seem to accomplish much in the way of advancing the conversation. Yet there are a couple thoughts I wanted to share with the hope that they can contribute positively to the tide of reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Hobby Lobby to opt out of providing the morning after pill. Whether or not it’s really helpful–I guess you’ll have to be the judge.

Let’s be honest with our language and perspectives.

I am so sick of the crafting of language to barely tell the truth (or sometimes not at all). There are media outlets whose entire enterprise is characterized by this endeavor. For instance, to say that Hobby Lobby is denying people birth control is barely true. They are refusing to pay for one specific kind of birth control (morning after pill) because they have convictions that lead them to believe it is wrong. They cannot and are not keeping anyone from going and buying that pill. Now, a person could believe Hobby Lobby absolutely should pay for the morning after pill for their employees and have well-formed reasons why. But if we can have that conversation with honesty about what is happening we’ll get much further. When we mischaracterize a situation we basically negate any opportunity for honest dialogue. And there is no ideology that is innocent of doing this.

Let’s try to look at things rationally.

When it comes to inflammatory issues we get worked up and irrational! Passion is great–especially about things that matter, but when that passion leads to irrationality it shuts down any chance of conversation. Sometimes we need to stop whatever we’re reading or saying, take a few deep breaths, and calm ourselves down. It is wonderful for our passion to come out, but when engaging those who adamantly disagree with us, unchecked passion can become an insurmountable barrier to conversation.

If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way I’m sure we’d hear people sounding the alarm for the end of all religious liberty in America. As it is, people are decrying a massive step in the violation of women’s rights. Both of these rely on some pretty slippery slopes for footing–and those aren’t places where good footing is usually found. This isn’t to say that many small events can’t lead to substantial societal changes, but we need to check our runaway reasoning at times. Let’s try to be at least moderately levelheaded about the importance of events like this. It will help the conversation .

Let’s do our best to look at each other (and especially our ideological opponents) as people.

In engaging issues like the Hobby Lobby ruling, it is very easy to caricature our opponents and thereby cast them in a mold that allows us to see them as less than human. We assume the worst possible motives for the actions of those we disagree with–all sides are guilty of this. For instance, this post from Matt Walsh is well-reasoned and expresses many things that seem logical and true, but it does so with a tone that dehumanizes its opponents. I would challenge people on whatever side of whatever issue to be creative and compassionate enough to write and speak about their ideological opponents as human beings. Human beings who probably have a mixture of good and bad motivations for their perspectives–as we all do.

Why numbers matter, and don’t matter, in the church

Woman in Empty ChurchI have a confession to make–I am a pastor and I care how many people show up when we do something together as a church. This is especially true of our weekly worship gatherings. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to care about numbers–it’s shallow and egocentric. But truth be told, most pastors (dare I say all pastors?) care on some level about numbers. This has been true for me since my first gig in a church context, as a young adult pastor in a large church. We met together on Sunday nights and when there were 50 people there I felt great. When there were 15 I figured it was all falling apart. At my current church I face this issue especially during the summer months when our people are often on vacation or exhausted from a long weekend of activity. Sometimes we have a large crowd and other times it feels like a small group.

Ten years have passed from my first job as a pastor until now, and while I still care about numbers, I have had significant time to process and pray about the emotions that numbers inevitably arouse. I think my perspective has become more mature, at least at times. And there are some reflections on the topic I think are worth sharing.

There is a sense in which numbers should matter.

Numbers are not really numbers, they’re people. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and it might sound cliche, but stick with me. When we have people at our gatherings (or other places where people might see the collective life of the people of God’s kingdom) who are not living life in Jesus, it is something to be celebrated. And the more there are, the bigger the celebration should be. If our motivations are right then we are not celebrating the fact that a room, house, or park is full, but that there are many people hearing and experiencing the kingdom in some way.

And what of the number of people who are already living life in Jesus? Well, if we believe something valuable is happening in the time we gather as a people–something that is drawing us closer to God and shaping us into the kind of community God wants us to be–then we would rightly long for everyone to be there every time we gather. And if we do not believe this then we should just quit gathering completely. People don’t need help wasting time.

In the past ten years I have become profoundly convinced that Jesus longs for the reconciliation of all people to the Father and that the life of the church is a primary way, I think even the primary way, that he has chosen to help people experience his kingdom and the life it extends to all who enter it. In the past two years I have also been challenged on the role of the gathered church for those already living as followers of Jesus. I am increasingly convinced that the gathered life of the church is essential in our formation and witness. It is not the only thing, but it is an important thing. So numbers matter because people matter.

There is a sense in which numbers shouldn’t matter.

As much as pastors might strive against it, it is a difficult thing to gather together with the church only to find that a small percentage of the church is there. I have already discussed the reasons why disappointment can be a right response, but there is no denying that the disappointment often flows from less noble sources. Pastors can invest so much of their identity in how the church is doing that low numbers can be taken as an indictment of the pastor as a person. We internalize what is happening and struggle with it not because of the benefit of people gathering together but because of what we think it says about us. This is egocentrism and it is wrong. Pastors, we must repent when this is our reason for disappointment and discouragement over numbers because it is not about us and our egos. For those who are not pastors, understand that this is a real battle, and even for those of us who understand it is wrong and fight to destroy this line of thinking, it is much harder to eradicate it from our hearts.

By the grace of God I have grown in this area over the past ten years. Especially in that first job I found it nearly impossible to keep numbers from defining me. However, more recently God seems to be allowing me to move past this. I remember one Sunday at my last church when the weather was bad and eleven people showed up on a Sunday morning. In earlier days that would have been debilitating to me. But as God was working in me in this area I was able to adjust, engage God with those eleven people, and be truly moved closer to them and to him. Experiences like that continue to allow me to sever my identity from the numbers and trust God to work whether there are twenty or two hundred.

Two Idols

There are two ways we can make idols out of numbers. The first is what has already been discussed–we use numbers as the measure of our worth–whether as pastors or churches. Instead of rightly giving God glory for the people he draws to himself we celebrate ourselves for the “good work” we’re doing for him. The American Christian culture is no help in this regard. We exalt the churches who grow large and their pastors. They are the ones who write books and speak at conferences. We assume that they are the best examples of the healthy functioning of communities of the kingdom of God, often without deeply exploring what’s happening in those communities. We have fully accepted the American culture of fame into the church. This doesn’t mean those large churches aren’t healthy kingdom communities, only that we very easily and regularly idolize size for the sake of size.

The second idol is somewhat the opposite. We can react so violently to the first idol that we swing entirely the other way and idolize stagnation. We lift up our lack of growth as proof that we don’t idolize numbers. But what is normally behind this idolization of stagnation is comfort and safety (those, in fact, may be the real idols). Interestingly, these are two other deeply entrenched values of American culture (along with fame). We like being small for our own sake, not because it proves something about our faithfulness to Jesus and his kingdom. I do know of churches who are committed to remaining small while seeing the kingdom grow and expand so they are continuously planting churches. That’s great! I really resonate with that approach and see great value in not growing too large, but I hope it is not driven by my own sense of comfort. The kingdom of God expands and grows (like a mustard seed or yeast in dough) and we are all called to be a part of that, whatever the size of our church community.

Hope

My hope is that as we are able to value numbers for the right reasons, and not for the wrong ones, we will dispose of either of the idols they can create. With Jesus we will long for the expansion of his kingdom and the reconciliation of people to God because it is part of his restoration of all things. May his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Why So Critical?

Lately I have been reading articles or thoughts people post to Twitter or Facebook fairly regularly. While I enjoy the links to things I probably wouldn’t otherwise read, I’ve noticed that especially in the realm of Christian commentary a majority of pieces are largely based on criticism. Five things that are wrong with… Why __________ is wrong. What I don’t like about…

Now there is a place for criticism. Not all is right with the world and being thoughtful about things is a beneficial exercise. At the same time, it seems we followers of Jesus aren’t great at seeing the good in things. I admit this is often how I look at the world too. I am quick to point at the aspects of something I view as poor but slow to point out the parts that may be beneficial. Why is it that we are so critical?

Pride.

We always think we could do something better, that our answers are right (often without exploring the thing we’re disparaging), and we subtly assert our intellectual and practical superiority over others. For example, I used to be very critical of large churches. I knew all the reasons they were evil, or at least less than, and enjoyed pointing out those problems. Now, while I have never been the pastor of a large church, just being a pastor makes you realize that there are difficulties with any form of church. I still have my preferences, but I also understand that it’s not as easy as I used to think.

The main thing I’m trying to work on in this regard is truly seeking understanding before leveling criticism against something or someone. Like I said before, there is a place for criticism, but that place is after true understanding, not before it.

Lack of Creativity.

Sometimes we pick on other things because we have nothing positive of our own to pursue. We have no imagination or creativity so we find the flaws in the imagination and creativity of others. I struggle to have respect for those who sit on the sidelines and disparage others when they are unwilling to get in the game themselves. Think the church is messed up? You’re probably right. So do something about it. Plant one of your own if you want. (And then soon you will find out people think you’re doing it wrong.) Upset with your city leaders? Find out how you can engage positively with things in the community.

In order for criticism to be valuable it has to arise out of investment. Criticism without investment is lazy and worthless.

We Care.

There are times when our criticism comes out because we deeply care about a certain topic or people. This is good. There are things in the world that really matter and many of them are not as they should be. Before we level criticism I suggest we ask two questions. 1) Have I sought to truly understand the person/issue/organization I’m criticizing? 2) Am I willing to be a part of positive change if that opportunity becomes available. If we ask these questions first we’ll be much more likely to engage in criticism in ways that actually matter.

What in the world is a vocation infusion?

Work LifeNear the end of last year I was invited to apply to be a part of the 2014 Vocation Infusion Learning Community (VILC). The idea of vocation and it’s importance for living a life of holistic discipleship is something I’ve been engaging for a few years, so I thought it was a great opportunity. I applied and our church was accepted along with fourteen other churches of various affiliations and sizes. What in the world is a vocation infusion you may be asking. Well, that’s why I’m writing this post–to talk about what it is and share a little bit about what it means for Trailhead.

First, we’ll look at vocation: 1) a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling. 2) a function or station in life to which one is called by God: marriage, job, neighborhood, etc. (I include both of these definitions here because I believe both are important in the conversation about Christian vocation.)

I would summarize vocation as a Christian’s calling into the entirety of their life. As disciples of Jesus we are meant to live as citizens of the kingdom of God in every moment of life. Our new life in Christ is to touch and transform everything we are and everything we do. A primary aspect of vocation is our work since we spend the majority of our hours working (no matter what our work looks like). One important part of understanding this well is Tom Nelson’s clarification that work is primarily about contribution, not compensation. Just ask a stay-at-home mom. So vocation is about the intersection of faith and work. From there the concept moves into the other spheres of our lives–which we are called into by our King–marriage, friendship, recreation, rest, etc.

The fundamental push of the VILC is to expunge the divide between Sunday and Monday from the life of the church and individual Christians. The Church has often taken one of two approaches to people’s lives outside of Sunday. One is to be silent. We focus on atonement, salvation, righteousness, and other biblical themes without connecting them to the lives of people in any significant way. This approach naturally digs an insurmountable canyon between the “spiritual” life and the rest of life. The second approach is to view our vocational spheres (our jobs, marriages, recreation, etc) as nothing more than fields for evangelism. This is not to say we should not be witnesses for Jesus in our vocational spheres–indeed, we are to be his ambassadors all the time. It’s just that this is not the whole story.

In her phenomenal book, Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman outlines four aspects of Christian vocation that form a more holistic perspective when taken together.

  1. Ethics: How do we do our jobs (and engage the other aspects of vocation) in a way that fits with the moral/ethical way of Jesus? Are there decisions we make differently or actions we won’t take because of our faith in Jesus?
  2. Evangelism: We believe that people need to be reconciled to God through Jesus. This is something we attest to through words and actions everywhere we go–including the workplace.
  3. Enrichment: We are able to grow as people through our work–whether it is dealing with challenges or engaging opportunities. Seen rightly, work is one of the things God uses to grow us into the fully restored people he wants us to become.
  4. Experience: “Work has both intrinsic and extrinsic meaning and purpose. That is, the particular work someone does, in and of its own right, is of theological value.” In other words, the work we do matters because it is a part of our purpose as people made in God’s image to contribute to God’s world. This is the aspect that is most often overlooked. (There is important theology behind this point. It is not my aim to address the theology in this post, but I will do that in another one soon.)

Vocation, rightly understood, involves all of these aspects of how we engage our work (and again, other areas of vocation). When we allow any of these to fade, whether the inherent value of work (as has often been the case in Evangelical churches) or evangelism (as has often been the case in Mainline churches) we lose a significant part of true vocation.

So that’s some about vocation, but what about infusion?

Infusion means introducing and instilling one substance, idea, or focus into something that already exists. For instance, a new principal at a school might infuse a responsibility to be kind to all into the culture of the school. So when we talk about vocation infusion, we are asking how churches (and in this case Trailhead in particular) can infuse a holistic understanding and practice of vocation into the life of our community. How can we shape the church and live our lives in a way that gets rid of the Sunday/Monday gap? This has been the focus of the VILC gatherings (we’ve had two and have two more). We are being challenged to assess our current posture toward vocation and then think strategically about how we can gain a fuller understanding that can lead to more fulfilling practice together (the vocation infusion plan).

The VILC seeks to do this through lectures about the theology of vocation, stories of churches and communities where it is already happening, and each participating church sharing the things they’re trying. One simple idea that has been shared is doing “vocation interviews” at Sunday gatherings. During these interviews the churches have asked questions that help to draw out the implications of all four aspects of vocation from people in a variety of professions. Other churches have shared how they commission people into their jobs in the same way we might traditionally commission missionaries. I find a lot of value in this since if we understand our calling rightly we are all ambassadors (or missionaries) for Jesus and his kingdom, not just those who go to another country to do it.

So what does this mean for Trailhead?

On the whole the answer is I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that we want to be a people who are intentionally living in the way of Jesus and that means the idea of vocation–and perhaps how our faith impacts our work in particular–is essential for us to engage. We can’t do this through a sermon series once every few years–it has to be a part of our shared language and practice (our culture). I don’t know exactly what it looks like for this to happen, but the VILC is giving us some great ideas (Todd and Anne are participating in the gatherings as well). I also look forward to conversations about this where we can figure it out together. This is one of a number of things I’m excited about as God leads us together into the future he has for us.

Exponential Top 6 (and Bottom 1)

#6: Vince Antonucci talking about greeters.

Who has designated greeters when you walk in? Walmart does. Do greeters who have to be friendly really make anyone feel welcome? It’s important to have friendly people available for people who want to engage (and I’d add it would be good if we’re all friendly toward people we haven’t seen before), but greeter as a job is a little weird. Instead, think about the places where you feel welcome. Why? What can you learn from that?

#5: Dave Gibbons and his vision of a large woman.

Dave Gibbons was sharing about the way the Holy Spirit sometimes breaks in when we learn to listen to him. He was in a cab, wanting to keep to himself, when God started giving him visions to engage the cab driver. One of the first things he saw was a very large woman. He hesitantly asked the cab driver, “I don’t know how to say this, but is there a large woman in your life?” It was good hearing a story of how God used Dave during a time where he really didn’t want to say anything. It’s worth being obedient to God.

#4: Danielle Strickland

I’d never heard her speak before, but she was awesome. I was deeply struck by her challenge to really see people. Not to stereotype them or think we know them, but to view every person as a unique person who is loved by God and is likely to surprise us if we get to know them. It seems simple, but the more I consider what it takes to really see people like that, the more I am convinced it is an immense challenge. (She was really funny too, which is always an added bonus.)

#3: Michael Frost and the questionable life.

Michael shared about what it means to live a missional life (and some of the ways that word has become misused). He said that for those who are not gifted supernaturally as evangelists, we should be living lives so deeply influenced by the values of the kingdom of God that we are regularly questioned about why we are the way we are (living a questionable life). And when that happens we need to be able to talk about Jesus like he matters. He has a free ebook that talks about this and outlines five practices of truly missional people.

#2: Propaganda.

I can’t find the spoken word he did at Exponential online, but here’s one from another conference.

#1: Oscar Muriu.

I have failed to be influenced by non-Western Christians, but Mr. Muriu’s talk helped me understand in no uncertain terms that I need to be. He was someone outside the incessant consumerism and individualism I swim in and he spoke like it. “Is what you’re living for worth Christ dying for?” And he backed that up with twenty minutes of biblical, Spirit-filled conviction and exhortation. Powerful. Powerful. I just hope I and many others who were there do more with it than clapping for him when he was done.

#-1: Not adjusting the program.

After Mr. Muriu’s powerful and convicting talk, they went right into a skit that was supposed to be funny about photo-bombing. I wish someone would have had the wisdom/courage to change the program and skip it. I know that would be immensely hard with all the planning and all the people it takes to pull off a program like this one. I also know I probably wouldn’t have the guts to call an audible in that situation, but I hope I can become the kind of person who would.

When Courage Fails Us

Pen and PaperLast Sunday evening I sat on a cushy chair in the front row of the room where our church gathers. I had just finished walking people through Jesus’ arrest and trial–trying to shine light on the character of the kingdom of God. There was a list on the screen I had put together. On one side was the heading “Kingdoms of the World,” and on the other “Kingdom of God.” Under each heading were a few words I felt fell out of that story. I was sitting there because I had asked people to consider where they saw themselves on that list and to listen for what God would want to say to them about that. After thirty seconds sitting there it occurred to me that I should do what I had asked of everyone else.

I looked up at the list and almost immediately my eyes, mind, and heart were drawn to the fourth word under the “Kingdom of God” heading–courageous. Just as quickly, I realized that I was being led to that word not because I am a shining example of it, but because I’m not.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

And…

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis

Since Sunday I’ve been thinking about what keeps me (and maybe others) from being courageous.

Being liked is my highest value.

Being courageous means doing the right thing even when it is not easy. Apologizing when I’m embarrassed and want to avoid whatever happened. Saying things I believe to be true with all my being when I know others will disagree.

The fundamental reason I fail to be courageous is that I care what other people think about me more than pretty much anything else. This isn’t what I’d tell you if you asked me what I care about most. My heart doesn’t beat faster at the thought of being able to make people like me. But whenever I have an inkling someone doesn’t like something I’m doing or saying tension begins to rise in my chest. When someone is short with me I begin imagining what I’ve done to upset them and why they won’t want to be around me anymore. I am tuned into how people view me far beyond reality and it shapes my days.

I am trying to stop. I’m trying to learn to trust that love and kindness toward others are enough. That I don’t need to base my life on my view of how they view me. I even have some wonderful people who are trying to help me change. They’re loving me in the midst of my failure. They’re reminding me that I am already loved deeply by the King and that I don’t need to seek approval elsewhere.

I hope I can be transformed, because I know until this changes in me I will struggle profoundly to be courageous.

I am slow to act.

I used to be pretty impulsive, and still can be at times. But I’ve noticed a trend in my life. There are times where I know the right or good thing to do and I don’t act on it right away. I file it away. I think about what conditions need to come together to make it the right time. And most of the time the time that passes erodes my courage until there’s not enough left to do the right thing.

I know patience is a virtue. There are times when the right thing to do is to wait. But when I know the right thing to do and talk myself out of acting for ignoble reasons, it is not patience but cowardice.

I’m not sure courage is worth it.

There are times I have stepped out courageously in my life. Many of these times it has been due in large part to my wife’s willingness to take my hand and do it with me. And as I think back on those times, the first thing to strike me is how it didn’t turn out the way I hoped. There was always a vision, a hope, that drove me to courage. I saw what could be, or should be, and the cost didn’t matter. It was the right thing to do. Yet those visions have never been realized.

This is both a truth and a lie. It is truth because I can’t remember a time when courage has led exactly to the place I thought it would. There have always been differences–deficiencies–between what I hoped for and what actually materialized. But it is a lie because there has been tremendous good that has come from these courageous acts. It is true that the good was not exactly what I imagined, but to say courage has not been worth it in my experience would be to deny love, friendship, purpose, adventure, healing, and growth. The reality is that tremendous good has come from doing what I knew was right, the times when I have done that, and it is a trap to view courage as not worthwhile because it didn’t always lead where I thought it would.

I don’t like pain.

Acts that are easy don’t take courage. By it’s very nature courage calls us to do things that will likely cause us pain and cost us convenience. I like comfort and convenience. I don’t think I’m alone in that. But failing to be courageous for the sake of comfort is pretty boring. The truly good things in life almost never come through ease or cowardice. Discomfort, even pain, when experienced because of courage is often the path to life.

A Renewed Pursuit

The good thing about all this reflection is that it has sparked a desire in me for courage that has been absent for a while. By God’s grace I will continue to pursue a more courageous life for the good of others and the good of the kingdom of the King I love.

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