Headed for Sabbatical

May 9, 2015 — 1 Comment

A few months back I told my congregation that our elders have graciously given me a 10-week sabbatical this summer for the purpose of rest and recalibration. This decision was made last fall and is intentional and proactive—thankfully, it is not borne out of a crisis or difficulty.

I wanted to share a little about our plans and ask for you to pray for me and our family during this time.

THE PLAN

I will be preaching this coming Sunday (Mother’s Day) and then sabbatical begins on Monday, May 11. I will be out of the office and pulpit until July 20, and most of the time our family will be out of state.

The sabbatical will be a guided time for rest and recalibration. I’m working with an experienced coach who has guided many pastors through sabbatical experiences. He has been a tremendous resource so far.

Rest, the first component of sabbatical, often comes through retreat. This is why we’re pulling back from the typical demands of ministry and spending time in a different geographic region. It’s also why I’ll be suspending blogging, emailing, texting, social media, phone calls, and reading church-related books. As a leader and pastor, I’m used to constantly thinking, planning, connecting, strategizing, and anticipating what should be done. This season is designed to intentionally unplug from that way of thinking to experience emotional, physical, and spiritual rest.

The second aspect of the sabbatical is recalibration. I want to lead with strength and passion in the years to come, and I am confident that this sabbatical will help that happen. I will be spending extended time with God—mostly soaking in the Psalms—without the pressure of preparing anything. Additionally, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to spend good time together as a family and for a few mini-getaways with Molly.

HOW YOU CAN PRAY

Molly and I would greatly appreciate your prayers for us and our family during this time. Here are a few ways you can pray:

1. Pray for our whole family to experience rest and recalibration. Our hope is that Molly and the kids (Abby – 8, Caitlin – 6) get to experience some of the benefit of sabbatical as well. This isn’t the easiest thing with a 10-month old (Mary), but we’re looking forward to trying.

2. Pray for my time with God to be refreshing and reinvigorating. I want to lead with a full tank in the years to come, and I’m hoping God gives me some fresh perspective on my life and ministry in ways that will bless the church.

3. Pray for the opportunity to make some great memories as we drive, play, spend time with family, and see some other parts of the country.

4. Pray for the leaders of Gateway to lead with strength and conviction in my absence. I honestly don’t think it will skip a beat, but I know they would appreciate your prayers.

As I was singing during this past Sunday’s service, I was thinking about how much I love our church and how much God uses you all to bless me and my family. I do not take it for granted. I will miss our church, but I’m looking forward to this special time.

This past Sunday was Easter and I preached a message called “The History of Redemption.” The sermon was 25 minutes of only Scripture, telling the story of the Bible from beginning to end. It was a powerful day for our church, but for me it was a powerful few months of memorizing and internalizing the Scriptures.

I’ve been reflecting on all of this and want to share some truths that keep gripping me.

1. Jesus claims to be Lord of all.

Though the culture and world would have us believe that faith and religion are merely private matters, Jesus claims to be Lord over all things. Some verses from the sermon:

  • All things came into being through him. (John 1:3)
  • God…has in these last days spoken to us through his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his image and he upholds all things by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:2-3)
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me. (John 1:14)
  • And the government shall be upon his shoulder. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
  • On his robe and on his thigh a name was written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16)

These are staggering claims. They do not represent a Jesus who merely takes the wheel of your private life and infuses it with a bit more meaning or hope. Rather, they represent the one who rules over the universe that he spoke into existence with absolute power.

2. Without Christ, people are evil and hostile to God.

Since our first parents plunged the world into sin, we are all sick with the disease of sin. We sin by nature and we sin by choice. Two illustrations that accompanied the sermon (from Chris Koelle) depict this masterfully.

First, we see the idea that our very DNA is tainted by sin, broken and covered in thorns. This means that we are all “born this way” and it is no excuse.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Romans 8:20; Genesis 6:5)

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Romans 8:20; Genesis 6:5)

Then, while depicting the downward spiral of Israel away from God, we see an image of people sacrificing their children to the gods of Canaan. But look closely into the fire. Do you see how this practice continues today?

They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. (Psalm 106:37-38)

They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. (Psalm 106:37-38)

This kind of evil demands a response and, amazingly, God patiently offers kindness to sinners who deserve only wrath.

3. Jesus offers scandalous grace to people who repeatedly dishonor him.

I often say that there aren’t good guys and bad guys, there are bad guys and Jesus. This is evident throughout the story of Scripture. We do wicked, dishonorable things, continually exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Despite this, Jesus offers amazing grace:

  • But he was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned aside–every one–to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
  • All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • And he said… “I will give to him who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things and I will be his God and he shall be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)

This grace is real and powerful. It can change lives and bless communities. But it is a limited-time offer. You get one life to accept this grace and joyfully bow the knee to King Jesus. Either he took the sword for you or you will take the sword.

4. The Bible threatens terrifying things to those who will not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus.

Because we think about faith in mostly private terms, when people reject it we often think something like, “Oh well. Too bad. They’re not going to be very fulfilled until they find Jesus.” Which is true. But much more is at stake. Consider these verses from the sermon:

  • But if that wicked servant thinks to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, then the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him into pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:48-51)
  • From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)
  • They will make war on the Lamb and the Lamb will conquer them… (Revelation 17:14)
  • And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Get the picture? This is not little Jesus, meek and mild, passively sitting on the sidelines. Rather, this is the Lord of all history who has poured himself out for sinners–who continue to reject his authority or his grace–promising to rule the world of evil by destroying all who will not joyfully come under his Lordship.

You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to believe it.

But it’s the way the world really is.

5. Christians will suffer greatly and be disliked by the world.

Somehow it continues to shock Christians that we are hated, mistreated, and misrepresented. But this sermon reminds me of these powerful words of Jesus:

  • You will be hated by all because of me but the one who endures to the end will be saved. A disciple is not greater than his teacher nor a slave than his master. And do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:22, 24, 28)
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-12)

I desperately want to connect with a culture that is far from God and needs his grace. I want to communicate in ways that are understandable. But I also must realize that many simply will not receive the message. They will hate it and belittle it. They will mock it. The days are coming (and are now here around the world) when they will arrest and fine those who will not capitulate to the winds of cultural “progress.” Buckle up. It’s going to be a tough ride.

Want proof? The man who put “The History of Redemption” together, Ronnie Smith, was murdered as a missionary in Libya in December 2013. I think God was preparing him and his family for the suffering they would face, and his widow boldly shared the gospel to the world as a result.

6. Jesus is on the right side of history.

We repeatedly hear that Christians are “on the wrong side of history.” The Bible is regressive and backwards, not appropriately adapting to fit our enlightened, scientific, modern culture.

I walk away from this sermon thinking, “No. Jesus is on the right side of history. He made the world. He sustains the world. And he is coming to renew the world. He will conquer evil, make war on those who oppose him, and make all things new. By his undeserved grace, he has brought me to himself. If I’m with him, I’m on the right side of history because history belongs to him.”

You can view the sermon, with the illustrations, here.

Do you ever feel like the urgent is crowding out the important? Like there’s so many things that have to be kept up with that you just can’t seem to get ahead?

I do. Everybody does.

I often talk with other pastors about how ministry is a “black hole” where there’s always more you could do. Over time, I’ve concluded that ministry isn’t unique — all kinds of people have demanding roles that seem to require being “on” all the time. Just ask a mom.

Personal Retreat Day

I’m not sure how it started but a few years ago I began a practice that has made a significant difference in helping me not just work in the ministry, but on the ministry: The Personal Retreat Day.

A Personal Retreat Day is a day set aside to recalibrate and refocus on what is important, big-picture, and vision-oriented.

Everyone needs a day like that every so often. If you’re a leader, you especially need a day like this. And it’s more doable than you think.

Over time, I’ve identified five simple steps that can help make a Personal Retreat Day a refreshing reality.

1. Put a firm day on the calendar.

This is the most important step, because without it a Personal Retreat Day will not happen. The urgent things of life will always give you a reason to do something else.

It can also be the most difficult step because you have to find a day that you can afford to be unavailable and other logistics have to be factored in. I want to schedule a day like this about every six weeks or so, but it’s hard to do it that frequently without some real intentionality.

2. Find a new location.

Personal Retreat Days happen best in a change of scenery, because it puts you in a different frame of mind that allows you to have a different focus. If you go to the typical places you work, you’ll end up doing typical work.

I typically try to get 45 minutes – 2 ½ hours away because that puts me out of my typical radius and it allows me enough time to enjoy the drive. The drive is a huge part of the experience for me, because I typically listen to something thought-provoking on the way there and then listen to my favorite playlist of worship music (while I sing along loudly) on the way back.

3. Take a personal inventory.

The first thing I do when I arrive to my destination is some kind of personal reflection. In this time, I’m asking the question, “How am I doing…really?” I cannot lead where I am not going and I can’t call people to have a thing with God that I don’t have. So reflection and inventory are crucial.

One of my favorite inventories is a series of questions I adapted from a talk I heard years ago by Bill Hybels on “The Art of Self-Leadership” (turned into an article here):

  1. Is my calling sure?
  2. Is my vision clear?
  3. Is my passion hot?
  4. Is my character submitted?
  5. Is my pride subdued?
  6. Are my fears at bay?
  7. Is my pace sustainable?
  8. Are my physical and spiritual practices healthy?
  9. Are my ears open to the whispers of the Spirit?
  10. Are my gifts developing?
  11. Is my heart for God increasing?
  12. Is my capacity for loving deepening?

Journaling through these questions has proven helpful every time.

4. Enjoy some extra time with God.

As a follower of Jesus, I love spending time with him. But the demands of life make it hard to spend generous stretches of unhurried time with God. So use a portion of the day to spend some extra time with God. For me, this often looks like taking a long prayer walk, usually related to things that emerged from taking inventory. Other times, it means studying a portion of scripture that I’ve wanted to examine, reading a book that I’ve wanted to get to, or listening to a sermon.

5. Work “on” your work.

The E-Myth Revisited helpfully explains how leaders cannot just work in their work, but must work on it too. Spend the balance of the day stepping back from the daily grind of tasks, and think about the big picture.

What is your organization’s mission? What’s your role in it? What are the top few things that you bring that nobody else can or is responsible to do? Are you doing enough of those things to keep things moving in the right direction?

Think through the next 30, 60, or 90 days and ask two questions: What is already coming that needs my attention? What can I proactively do to move the mission forward?

Consider doing a 6×6 plan, where you identify the six most important priorities over the next six weeks. If you have an annual plan, spend some time reviewing it.

This space can also be used to work on a bigger project that you’ve had a hard time getting to in the typical routine of work life. I find that I often make bigger progress in shorter time when I do it on a day like this.

It’s Worth It

This practice has been so valuable to my personal life and ministry leadership that my wife often will gently and encouragingly ask if I have a retreat day on the calendar. She’s not just trying to get rid of me for a day–in fact, it’s often a little harder on her when I take these days. But she’s seen the value so much that she encourages me to do it anyway.

Tweak Away…But Do Something

These steps are what I’ve used and enjoyed, but they surely won’t be best for everybody. So tweak them as necessary and find what works for you. But don’t let your tweaks be an excuse not to do it. The practice of getting away is so helpful that I’d hate for it to be lost in the paralysis of seeking perfection.

[A Note to Those Who Don’t Have Much Freedom]

I wrote this post primarily for the staff I lead at Redemption Gateway, for those who lead at high levels, and for many other pastors who I have relationships with. I realize that many people don’t have the kind of job with the freedom to have a day like this “count” for work. A few thoughts:

  1. The more of a leadership role you have, the more important a Personal Retreat Day is. If you’re working in a job more as a doer than a leader, you probably don’t need this kind of day as much.
  2. If you have a boss, ask about the possibility of doing a Personal Retreat Day from time to time. Explain why you think it would be valuable not just to you, but the organization. Ask to experiment with it quarterly and test the results.
  3. If you are a leader and can’t get time away from your boss, use personal time for it. Take a vacation day or set up an occasional weekend day. Sure, that can be costly, but it will probably be worth the cost.
  4. If you are a mom (household CEO), see what kind of support you can get from your husband or others in a way that would allow you to do a version of this from time to time. Just a few Personal Retreat Days per year could work wonders for your soul and your home.
  5. If you just can’t do something like a Personal Retreat Day, then don’t. This post isn’t designed to make anyone feel bad or carry extra guilt. Rather, it’s attempting to share a helpful practice for those who can benefit from it.

Have you done a Personal Retreat Day? What has been helpful for you?

 

Amazon WarehouseYesterday I took our staff to tour the Amazon Fulfillment Center (it’s named “Phoenix 6″). “Fulfillment Center” sounds like a place where all your dreams would come true, but it’s really just a giant warehouse where Amazon orders are processed and shipped (maybe the same thing if you like shopping online).

It was amazing.

The first thing you notice is the size of the place. Ginormous.

We later learned that this center is 1.2 million square feet (just over 27 acres), stocks over 19 million items and has over 8 miles of conveyor belt zipping items around to be handled by the 1,500 “associates” who work there. This is one of 50 fulfillment centers Amazon has around the world and specializes in small to medium sized items (no big appliances or electronics here).

AmazonConveyerOur team loved it and would highly recommend you schedule a tour.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Communication and good signage are crucial. A warehouse that size is complicated and dangerous. To help people, there are signs everywhere. There’s even a whole section devoted to “team development,” which is largely focused on communication and creating signage. There are signs for everything: safety reminders, cultural values, right and wrong ways to do things, and wild statistics about the company.

Keeping people on the same page requires having good communication and visual cues that remind people about what’s important.

2. Sometimes efficiency requires disorganization. Besides the scope of the building, the most jaw-dropping part of the tour was seeing how items are stored in the warehouse. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIREDThere is literally zero organization to it. Items are not arranged by kind, name, or category. One compartment I looked at had a chocolate fountain, a cat toy, a Minecraft board game, and a few of the same book about American history — all next to each other.

Why? Well, Amazon has realized that the time it would take to organize all their incoming products would not be worth it and would actually slow them down. So the “stockers” just put stuff wherever it fits on the shelf and their computer system tracks where it is.

I’m still processing what the implications are for leadership in the church, but I think it means that sometimes we can get paralyzed by being organized and it actually slows down our effectiveness.

3. Well-designed systems are essential for growing organizations. Our tour demonstrated a profound achievement of computer programming. These systems track items, tell “pickers” where to find them, move items to the “packers,” and ensure that items get to the right place. Without these systems, Amazon could not process a fraction of the orders they do.

Similarly, growing churches need to be able to develop intentional processes to help ministry get done more effectively by more people.

AmazonPicker4. People are always essential. The computer systems are impressive and allow many things to get done well. But the Amazon warehouse demonstrated that you can’t replace people. Even in some of the other warehouses that have robots do some of the “picking,” they need humans to make intelligent decisions about what is needed.

In the same way, churches can never rely on systems and processes entirely. People are the glue that truly make things happen.

5. Good leadership invites everyone in the organization to take ownership. Many of the company culture signs I saw related to taking ownership. From day one, every full-time Amazon employee is given stock. Through Amazon’s Kaizen program, employees at all levels are invited to make suggestions on how to improve things.

If every good idea has to come from the top, an organization will be limited. But good leadership invites input and shaping from everyone.

Which of these lessons stands out to you the most? Why?

Gran TorinoAs the year ends, I’m marking the end of my first semester of seminary through the Missional Training Center. One of my assignments has been to pick a movie, and reflect on its strengths and weaknesses as a metaphor of the role and character of Jesus in the story of the Gospels. I picked Gran Torino.

I enjoyed Gran Torino the first time I saw it and now I enjoy it even more. Walt Kowalski is a kind of (surprising) Christ-figure and I got a kick out of analyzing him.

Here’s my 9-page paper, in case you want to read my analysis. The thesis is that Gran Torino thoughtfully explores a number of themes that also emerge in the Gospels like:

  1. true righteousness
  2. standing up for justice
  3. disciple-making
  4. sacrificial death
  5. resurrection
  6. the meaning of life and death.

Click here to read more.

I’m excited to participate as a panelist this Thursday for The Gospel Coalition Arizona’s one-day event focused on expository preaching. If you’re available, you should consider joining me.expp-tgcaz-slide2

I have valued expository preaching for many years. As a college student I grew immensely under faithful expository preaching. It was not only authoritative but also a helpful model for how to engage with the Scriptures on my own. So, when I became a preacher, I eagerly practiced expository preaching.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and heard many conference messages on the value of expository preaching. While these resources have been valuable, they often seem to be preaching to the choir. People who attend conferences put on by Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Ligonier or 9 Marks tend to be people who already agree with these ministries’ approach to preaching.

So, when I read a book written by leaders from Willow Creek — the church that pioneered and popularized seeker-sensitive ministry — and heard them advocate for expository preaching, I was amazed.

The book was Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. In it, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson share their most significant insights about how people grow, based on research across five years, 1,000 churches and over 200,000 church attendees across all kinds of denominations and traditions. Move was filled with insightful lessons and is a must-read for anybody in pastoral ministry.

Hawkins and Parkinson identify five best-practices that were evident in all the churches that demonstrated the highest degree of spiritual growth. One of these best practices is “Embed the Bible in Everything.” The authors argue that while many churches believe the Bible is important, not all of them really make the Bible part of everything they do.

This diagnosis didn’t surprise me, but the prescription shocked me. According to Hawkins and Parkinson, what is a key strategy for churches to help people love the Scriptures?

“Make the Bible the main course of the message. While there is great debate over the most effective way to teach God’s Word, a number of best-practice churches lean toward the expository-teaching style… The most important takeaway about teaching from best-practice pastors is that they all start the preparation of their messages with Scripture… Their starting point is the Word, followed by application to the world.”

There it is. Leaders from Willow Creek advocating for expository preaching. How could this be? I kept reading and it made more sense.

After hundreds of thousands of surveys, do you know what was the #1 factor in spiritual growth was for people across the spectrum of spiritual experience?

Engaging personally with the Bible.

Furthermore, do you know what was the #1 thing people said they wanted from their church?

“Help me understand the Bible in depth.”

Of course, expository preaching isn’t the only way to help people engage personally with the Bible or understand it in depth. But it is a proven way that, perhaps, you should consider.

Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love all that it allows me to do. I hate how much control I let it have over my life. So when a friend told me about the possibility of creating a distraction free iPhone, I was intrigued.

distraction-free iphone

Image Credit: Lifehacker

So I looked up the article about it and decided to try it for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, I liked it enough to try it for another week.
Now, almost two weeks later, I don’t see myself going back any time soon.

I still have quite a few apps on my phone, but the big distractors are gone: email, web browser, Facebook, Twitter, news apps, and Feedly (an RSS reader).

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. I have much less self-control than I think (i.e. systems trump intentions).

When it comes to technology, I can be the self-delusional addict who says, “I can quit at anytime.” Not true. If email is accessible, I will check it. If Twitter is on my phone, I will open it.

2. My default became to reach for the phone in any downtime.

It’s been amazing how many times I’ve reached for my phone in the last week — not because I really needed something, but because it had become habit. This often happens when I’m waiting for something or when, at a restaurant, the person I’m with goes to the restroom. Having a distraction free iPhone has slowly begun to change this habit.

3. My life isn’t any worse without constant social media and news updates.

Despite it’s many dangers, social media has a valuable place. I appreciate how it connects me with people. But I don’t need it all the time. This past week has shown me that my life isn’t any worse without constant updates. I don’t miss anything really important. I can still check these things and stay connected when I’m on my computer, but I don’t need it 24/7.

4. I feel more present.

This really is the main reason why I wanted to try a distraction free iPhone. I want to be more truly present around people I love, especially my family. I want my kids to know that they are more important than your Facebook update. I don’t want to be a slave to looking up whatever crosses my mind. I want to more fully engage in in-the-room relationships, and this is helping.

Will this last?

Good question. I don’t have any plans to go back. Interestingly, Jake Knapp (the author of the original post) just wrote an update, “My Year With the Distraction-Free iPhone,” and he’s sticking with it.

What do you think? Have you tried anything like this? If so, let me know.

 

This past Monday was a special day for our family. Next week our second daughter begins Kindergarten, so it was the perfect time for her to experience her first rite of passage.

Simply defined, a rite of passage is “a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life.”

rite of passage

Chef David Traina talks with Caitlin about creativity

For our family, I’m thinking to create special experiences at 4 key stages in our kids’ lives:

1. Beginning school — preparing for a life of learning.
2. Turning 10 — preparing for a life of purity.
3. Turning 13 — preparing for a life of decisions.
4. Turning 18 — preparing for a life on your own.

So far, we’ve taken our two oldest daughters through #1 (more details below). It’s been wonderful so far, and I’m looking forward to how God will use the experiences to come.

Why Rites of Passage?

1. Special moments deserve special attention. These key transition moments should be celebrated and enjoyed in intentional ways.

2. Big moments create meaningful memories. We tend to remember more when something is a big deal. Thus, rites of passage are wonderful opportunities to shape our kids with important lessons through special memories. These memories also create markers that can be referred to in the future.

3. Rites of passage force parental intentionality. Thinking through a special experience devoted to celebrating and forming our children requires intentional thinking about who are kids are and what lessons we hope to impart. This kind of intentionality is tough in day-to-day life.

4. They are fun! That’s a pretty good reason.

How to do Rites of Passage

1. Decide when is appropriate. My moments are above, but yours may be different. Think about your family and decide what’s best.

2. Determine what you hope to communicate. Each rite of passage experience should be fun, but it should also be formative. For our kids pre-kindergarten experiences, we decided we wanted to share with them four important lessons they would need for their entire life of learning. While there was some overlap, we customized these lessons to the needs of our specific kids.

We wanted our oldest to learn:

(1) Endurance — being able to keep going when something is difficult.

(2) Fun — enjoying what you are experiencing.

(3) Courage — doing something you are afraid of.

(4) Trust God — believing God loves you and will take care of you.

For our second daughter, we kept lessons #1 and #4 but changed the others to better fit her needs:

(2) Teamwork — depending on other people who can help you.

(3) Creativity — using your imagination to create new things.

3. Design the experience. Figure out what kind of experiences (a) are reasonable to do, (b) would communicate creatively, and (c) sound fun. The experience need not be expensive, though it might be worth it if you’re only doing a few in a kids’ lifetime.

For our kids’ pre-kindergarten experiences, we created an experience that would correspond to each lesson we were hoping to teach. As you can see, some were more involved than others:

(1) Endurance — a morning hike up “A” mountain in Tempe. Quite a feat, especially with no complaining.

(2a) Fun — swimming at Mesquite Groves Aquatic Center, a local pool with a small water park.

(2b) Teamwork — a blindfolded obstacle course through a local playground/park, directed by the voice of sister, mom and dad. Also, a 300 piece puzzle that required help.

(3a) Courage — a horseback riding experience with an acquaintance who was so gracious and kind.

(3b) Creativity — a backstage kitchen tour with our friend, Chef David Traina, at Liberty Market followed by a chance to create her own pizza.

(4) Trust God — a “real” Bible, with name engraved.

As you design the experience, think about the people you know, resources you have, and places you could go. Also, for both #3 lessons, I found that people were eager to help us create these experiences with limited cost once they heard what it was about.

4. Deepen the lessons with reminders. Because these moments are so memorable, they provide many opportunities to remind and reinforce the lessons. Even today we can say to our oldest, “Remember when you rode that horse and needed courage? Here’s another chance to be courageous.”

It’s quite likely that not everyone would enjoy something like this. It fits my entrepreneurial, learning-driven personality really well. We have a blast doing it. That said, rites of passage are not a moral imperative. They also are not a golden bullet that are guaranteed to produce some particular result. But so far, they’ve been a lot of fun!

What are some ideas you have for rites of passages?

 

matt walshI cringe when I see friends post and share links to Matt Walsh’s blog. Not because I’ve never posted cringe-worthy stuff — I’ve done plenty, even recently. But I cringe because I think Matt Walsh’s writing is usually bad for the soul.

And I’m concerned that he may not be having a good effect on people I love and respect.

If you’re not familiar with Matt Walsh, he’s a young, conservative, religious blogger whose specialty is 1,200+ word diatribes about social issues. He’s kind of a young, male, religious version of Ann Coulter.

While Walsh is articulate and makes a number of points I agree with, here are three reasons why I believe the overall effect of his work is soul-shrinking.

1. Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit, especially love.

With the possible exception of faithfulness, the majority of Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In particular, Walsh’s tone rarely reflects the supreme Christian virtue of love. Now, he would likely disagree and say that it’s loving to point out error, and I agree that it is (which is why I’m writing this). But it’s unloving to point out error in a way that is unloving.

It’s a bit like the street-preacher I witnessed in college who–when challenged by a gay activist about love–shouted, “I do love you, you miserable wretch!”

Consider these Biblical passages and ask whether love matters:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)

For a Christian to imbibe and celebrate arguments that reflect truth but almost completely lack grace runs contrary to the goal of spiritual growth (love) and the model of Jesus (John 1:14).

[Note: I’m not saying that Walsh lacks the fruit of the Spirit in his personal life–I don’t know him. I’m only discussing the tone of his writing.]

UPDATE: One reader wondered if I could cite any specific examples. Here’s one: In a recent post titled, “Police officers aren’t the ones destroying the black community,” Walsh criticized somebody as “a ridiculous fool,” “a liar,” and “a lunatic” with “an enormous dose of idiocy.” This name-calling is mean-spirited and harsh.

2. Walsh’s specialty is making a point rather than a difference.

Andy Stanley was the first person I heard say, “It’s always easier to make a point than it is to make a difference.”

Christians are invited to make a difference in this world. We are adopted by the Father, justified by the Son and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We are loved with excessive, scandalous, prodigal grace. This propels us to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God, living in ways that are transformed by him rather than conformed to the world. Through love, service and relationship we have an opportunity to make a difference.

Or we can just make a point.

Matt Walsh is all about making a point. And, often, his point is a good one.

My concern is that in an increasingly divided ideological world — where we can always find somebody to listen to who we agree with — Christians will follow Matt Walsh’s lead, thinking that as long as they said the right thing they were faithful, even though little difference is made.

Rather than Walsh’s model, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s instruction:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV)

Note that this doesn’t mean criticism (“correcting opponents”) is bad itself. It means that correcting opponents in a quarrelsome, unkind way is a problem.

3. Walsh’s blog confirms all the suspicions skeptics have toward Christians.

In his book, unChristian, David Kinnaman lists the assumptions that many non-Christian people have about Christians that–according to them–make Christianity less desirable:

  • Christians are hypocritical
  • Christians don’t have meaningful relationships with non-Christians
  • Christians are antihomosexual
  • Christians are sheltered from the world
  • Christians are too political
  • Christians are too judgmental

Whether Christians agree about these perceptions, they exist. And Matt Walsh’s tone plays right into every one.

As one thoughtful reviewer suggested, image-management isn’t really the primary goal Christians should have. No matter how faithfully we follow Jesus, we will always be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Nonetheless, Christians should know that publicly sharing Walsh’s posts will likely decrease, rather than increase, the effectiveness of their witness. If you have skeptical friends who follow you online (like I do), sharing articles that lack love and make a point instead of a difference will not help influence friends the way you might think.

Conclusion

Adults will read and share what they want. I have no interest in policing the media that people consume, like and promote. But as a pastor who wants to see Christians grow in their love and make a greater difference in a skeptical world, I’m concerned that reading Matt Walsh will be counter-productive.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Read the lessons from Day 1 here.

Day 2 of the Global Leadership Summit was great. Because of some other commitments, I was only able to attend the afternoon — but it was still worthwhile. In fact, my 8 year old daughter joined me for the afternoon and asked if she could come to the whole thing next year because it was so interesting. Below are the lessons from Day 2.

leadership summit

Ivan SatyravataTHE POWER PARADOX | IVAN SATYAVRATA

#1 – The western church has something to learn from the rest of the world — after all, it’s bigger.

“Thank you for being humble enough to listen to the voices from the majority world.”

#2 – Leadership inevitably involves power. What matters is whether you use the power to serve others.

“There is no leadership without power. Great leaders hold a scepter in one hand an a towel in the other.”

 

tylerperryWHEN LEADERSHIP MEETS INSPIRATION | AN INTERVIEW WITH TYLER PERRY

#1 – Attitude matters more than talent.

Better to pass over the most qualified person with a bad attitude and take the less qualified person with the best attitude.

#2 – Forgiveness is harder than people make it sound.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to experience abuse and betrayal and the same amount of energy to forgive the abuser—you can’t just flip a switch.

#3 – Laughter is a huge leadership asset.

You can use laughter as anesthesia to prepare for the real message.

#4 – God is with you even when there is criticism.

“The Bible says that God prepares blessing in the presence of our enemies. So when I’m criticized, I just think, ‘OK, watch me eat.'”

*Note: This session was the surprise highlight of the event for me. I was really impressed by Tyler Perry and it made me want to watch more of his work.

 

Louie GiglioTHE MOUNTAIN | LOUIE GIGLIO

#1 – God works despite our uncertainty and incompetence.

“Just because I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have something amazing planned.”

#2 – It’s often more helpful to focus on the next step than the whole journey.

“You don’t have to know everything about how to get up the mountain, you just need to take a next step.”

I’m thankful to the folks at Central Christian Church for hosting a terrific event and for their generosity in allowing me to attend. If you ever get a chance to attend the Global Leadership Summit, you should.