MTC Reflections – 9/29/15

September 29, 2015 — 2 Comments

I’m part of the second year cohort in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Here are some reflections from last week.

Interpreting the Prophets — Mike Goheen

This week we continued to explore the Old Testament prophets. Our class time was valuable and contained a number of helpful things, but one stood out above the others. Mike shared a diagram that helps make sense of what it looks like to live in covenant with God.

covenant perspective

1. God speaks his word to his people. This word contains promises, commands, and warnings. All of these express God’s heart, will, and character. And all are important for God’s people to hear.

2. God’s people have to choose whether to trust and obey God. Upon hearing the word of God, Israel had a choice. Would they trust God (leaning into his promises) and obey him (heeding his commands and warnings) or would they distrust God and disobey him?

3. God’s people experience either the blessing or cursing that accompanies their choice. If God’s people trust and obey, they will experience life, prosperity, and blessing. If they distrust and disobey, they will experience death, destruction, and curse.

Simple and Powerful

This doesn’t seem like rocket science to anybody who has studied the Bible for a meaningful period of time. Yet this diagram was immensely helpful for me. I shared it with our pastors a few days later and they also were helped by it. Here’s why I found it so valuable:

1. It reminds me that God speaks to his people with a multi-faceted approach. Sometimes gospel-centered people talk as though God only gives promises. But he also gives commands and warnings. These commands and warnings are not heeded in order to achieve relationship with God — we are already his covenant people by grace. Rather, these commands and warnings are good words that our Heavenly Father gives us in order to guide us into blessing and protect us from harm.

2. It links faith and obedience. When we hear God’s word, we will trust and obey or distrust and disobey. Either way, our trust and our obedience are linked. This strikes me as remarkably biblical. If we trust God, we obey him. To think that we can trust God while walking in disobedience is folly (1 John 1:6). While I rejoice that justification by faith alone has been so strongly recovered in what’s known as the gospel-centered movement, I often wonder if we under-emphasize how obedience must flow from genuine faith. One of the best articles I’ve read on how these are linked is “Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching” by Dr. Wayne Grudem.

3. It’s simple and easy to share. As a pastor, I’m continually looking for simple, effective ways to communicate with people. The best tools are sticky. This diagram is. I can imagine myself in a counseling or discipleship setting pulling out a sheet of paper and drawing this picture. I trust that many people will be helped.

I don’t know what God has for you or me today — but I know he wants us to hear his word and respond with trust and obedience. It will surely lead to blessing and life.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.


I’m part of the second year cohort in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Here are some reflections from last week.


The Prophets — Heath Thomas

Last week’s classes were taught by Heath Thomas, visiting professor from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We focused on the Prophets, and it was outstanding. I came away with a four key things I want to remember.

1. A prophet is a spokesperson for God, regardless of class or gender. The main job of a prophet is to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is what they are constrained to speak, as anything else could result in a heap of trouble (Deut 13:1-5). What is beautiful, however, is that God did not only speak through one type of prophet. There was significant diversity among the backgrounds of the people God spoke through.

2. God’s word was and is present in both Evernote Snapshot 20150915 072833the speaking of the prophet and the composition of the book. Many of the prophecies we have recorded in Scripture were spoken (preached) beforehand and then compiled into a book. While that may seem like our version of podcasting or transcribing, they key difference is that the prophecies were not necessarily compiled in the order they were spoken. Often the prophet or editors arranged material in thematic or other ways. Nonetheless, both the spoken oracles of the prophet and the final composition of the book are the word of the Lord. As Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16).

3. The Prophets show us a God who is both Covenant Lord and Cosmic King. God has authority over his people and over the nations. The Prophets show God in covenant with his people, offering salvation and warning against judgment. At the same time, however, the Prophets show that God is reigning over the nations and over all of creation. He is not simply the God of Israel, but the one true God over all. Micah 4:1-5 provides a beautiful picture of how these relate to one another, showing that the nations are blessed as God’s people are faithful to him.

4. Reading commentaries early in the study process is good. I have often felt bad that I consult commentaries rather early in my study, since you’re typically told to only do that after you’ve already come up with all your conclusions (as a kind of check/balance). A side discussion in class, however, showed me how this typical approach is overly individualistic and disregards the many wise insights that the body of Christ brings to understanding the Scriptures. We are arrogant and overly influenced by Enlightenment thinking if we imagine that we can come to all the best conclusions (mostly) on our own.


Surprises of Perfection

September 23, 2015 — Leave a comment

I was listening yesterday to Tim Keller’s final lecture in Questioning Christianity, a mid-week teaching series designed to show skeptics that Christianity makes sense emotionally, culturally, and intellectually. It’s outstanding.


As he spoke about the uniqueness of Jesus, Keller read the following quote. As best I can tell, it’s a quote from 19th century Scottish minister John Watson that Keller has updated. Either way, it’s spectacular.

Despite his high claims, he is never pompous. You never see him standing on his own dignity. He is tenderness without weakness, strength without harshness, humility without the slightest lack of confidence, unhesitating authority with a complete lack of self-absorption, unbending convictions without the slightest lack of approachability, power without insensitivity, enthusiasm without fanaticism, holiness without Pharisaism, passion without prejudice. Nothing he does falls short. In fact, he’s always surprising you and taking your breath away because he’s so incomparably better than you could imagine for yourself. Why? The surprises you get when you read the life of Jesus are the surprises of perfection. There’s never a false step, never a jarring movement. This is life at the highest.

Amen. I love Jesus.


MTC Reflections – 9/14/15

September 14, 2015 — 2 Comments

Last week began my second year in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Each week we are expected to journal about what we’re learning in class and the readings, and I intend to use my blog as a place to fulfill this assignment.


As this second year begins, I’m mindful of three significant things:

1. Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.

It was wonderful to be back with some of the dear friends that are part of my cohort. Last year there were two different cohorts, but this year remaining students have combined. It’s a great group of pastors and leaders from all over the state. I can already see how God will use these brothers and sisters to grow me.

I completed almost half of a degree through Reformed Theological Seminary’s Virtual campus and, while I appreciated the flexibility of being able to “attend” lectures and do work on my schedule, I sorely lacked the relationships that make learning so valuable and fun.

Not only are my classmates a tremendous blessing, but I’m deeply thankful for our faculty. In particular, getting to know Mike Goheen and his wife, Marnie, has been incredible. As they spend more time in Phoenix this year, I’m hoping to lean into them even more for wisdom and modeling a life of humility and boldness in the name of Jesus.

2. I don’t mind being a guinea pig. 

Everyone in high-level theological education knows that the current system has many flaws (too expensive, disconnected from the local church, trains academics more than pastors, too much busy work, hard to do while actively engaged in ministry, etc.). It’s one thing to observe these shortcomings and another to critique them. But it’s something totally different to forge a new path.

Forging a new path is exactly what Mike Goheen is doing. Though many significant people are participating and watching this experiment, it’s not a sure thing. Tradition is powerful and hard to change.

It may lead to an accredited degree, and it may not (but I think it will). Either way, I’m excited to be part of something that’s innovative and gutsy–makes for a lot of fun.

3. There’s a difference between the unchanging gospel truth and our theological reflections on it.

We had a great discussion last week about “doing theology.” Mike described it as reflection on the gospel and God’s word in particular contexts to equip the church, for the sake of the nations.

This highlights a few aspects of theology that are easy to forget:

“Reflection on the gospel and God’s word…” – Any time I begin to reflect on the gospel and God’s word, I should be open to correction. The gospel is like a vein of beautiful rock that runs deep below the earth. I can go down to mine it, but as soon as I come to the surface to describe it to somebody else, I need to see my reflections as what they are — imperfect reflections.

“…in particular contexts to equip the church…” – Theology isn’t done in a vacuum. It’s always done in a particular context and driven by contextual concerns. Consider for example how we might consider it essential to teach that the Bible is authoritative. This concern would not have existed 500 years ago, but is crucial today. The truth of the gospel doesn’t change, but the questions we ask as we approach it do.

“…for the sake of the nations” – Our goal in understanding the gospel is to equip the church for the sake of the nations. We never seek theological understanding for its own sake, but that we might be a more faithful people who can be used by God to declare his glory among the nations.

As I approach this year, I want to keep this approach to theology on my mind. I want to be open to learn so that I can effectively equip the church to bless the world.


the best wayWhat’s the best way to exercise?

What’s the best way to read the Bible?

What’s the best way to teach your children about Jesus?

What’s the best way to keep track of your diet?

What’s the best way to show appreciation to the volunteers in your ministry?

What’s the best way to plan your week?

What’s the best way to invest quality time with your kids?

What’s the best way to keep track of your personal budget?

What’s the best way to manage your tasks and projects?

What’s the best way to spend time in prayer?

What’s the best way to improve my effectiveness at work?

What’s the best way to measure spiritual growth in your church?

In most cases, the best way is the one you’ll actually do.

Don’t get paralyzed in trying to do something the perfect way — you’ll end up doing nothing.
Don’t let unrealistic plans keep you from doing something.

Figure out what you’ll actually do consistently over time. Then do it. That’s usually the best way.

I was recently asked by a pastor friend to recommend my top 10 most influential resources for pastors, church planters, or those aspiring to high-level ministry leadership.

He wasn’t looking for explicitly theological resources as much as tools that explore ministry design, pastoral leadership, and developing a disciple-making ministry. While a number of these resources flow out of rich theological reflection, they aren’t the kind of tools most pastors would get from seminary. Thus, I’m making the (somewhat dangerous) assumption that a pastor is grounded in the gospel, the Scriptures, and a robust theological understanding.

So, with that caveat, here’s what I would recommend (in no particular order):

trellisvineThe Trellis and The Vine (Collin Marshall & Tony Payne) – Beautiful vision for equipping and multiplying ministry through making disciples and training people. Chapters 2-3 are on a short list of must-read resources for all our new staff.


move bookMove: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth (Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson) – I’ve never talked to another pastor who read this book, but it’s one of the best I’ve read in the last few years. It explores how people actually grow in their faith. You can read my lessons from it here.


keller preachingPreaching to the Heart (Tim Keller’s audio lectures from Gordon Conwell) – Single best resource on preaching I’ve encountered. Also amazing for anybody who does counseling or disciples others (i.e. everyone).


heart servant leaderThe Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (C. John Miller) – Collection of letters from a mature, wise, prayerful pastor. So much is modeled through these letters, especially about prayer, family, love for non-Christians, courage to confront tough issues, and how the gospel actually changes you.



Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Bill Hybels) – Short, practical, wise nuggets from one of the sharpest leaders in modern church history. Each chapter is only a few pages, which makes it easy to read and easy to remember. I guess that’s the point of an axiom, eh?


center-churchCenter Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Tim Keller) – One of the highlights of this past year was working through this book with a cohort of pastors from across the country, guided by the staff of Redeemer City to City. It’s most of Keller’s thinking on gospel, culture, theological vision, and evangelism all in one place.


the advantageThe Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business (Patrick Lencioni) – Most of Lencioni’s books are short fables designed to teach crucial lessons in organizational life. The Advantage is his non-fiction magnum opus, an all-in-one book on the importance of organizational culture.


stanleyChoosing to Cheat (book or sermon by Andy Stanley) – This a game changer for prioritizing family and keeping things in perspective. In fact, when I heard Stanley present this content at a leadership conference, he said it was “the most important leadership decision he ever made.” What was it? Choosing not to cheat his family in the name of ministry.


what's best nextWhat’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman) – I’ve read many books on productivity and time management. This one contains all the best-of thinking found in those other books, yet comes from a gospel-centered perspective. Here’s my review of it.


innovatingdiscipleshipInnovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results (Will Mancini) – I read everything I can by Will Mancini and love the way he thinks. This is a little known read-in-one-sitting book that helps leaders identify their approach and strategy for disciple-making. I desperately wish I had read it before planting a church.


BONUS: The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – every episode is interesting, helpful, and chock-full of thought-provoking ideas (See other podcasts I recommend here).

What would you add?


This summer, our elders graciously gave me (and my family) ten weeks off to enjoy a sabbatical. It was a life-changing experience that I’m deeply thankful for. I’ve been back now for just under a month and continue to process all that we experienced and learned.

On my first Sunday back in the pulpit, I shared eight lessons from the sabbatical. All of these remain important, lasting lessons. Nonetheless, after more reflection — and especially after returning to ministry work — more lessons have emerged.

So, below are the eight lessons I shared that Sunday, followed by five additional lessons. (I’ll be brief with the first eight, since I shared a whole sermon about it that you can watch for more thorough explanation).

1. We are amazingly loved. Our church family was remarkable and generous in both sending us away and welcoming us home. Wow.

2. Information overload is self-inflicted. When you live without social media, you’re really not missing much. Perhaps a future post will address this more.

3. It is impossible to “do it all.” We often think, I have to, It’s all important, and I can do it all. But those lies should be replaced with the truths, I choose to, Only a few things really matter, and I can do anything but not everything.

4. Great people focus on eulogy virtues, not résumé virtues. This idea comes from David Brooks and–even though we all know it’s true–it’s awfully hard to live out.

5. I’m far less important to the church and far more important to my family than I thought. Our staff and volunteers led the church amazingly well in my absence. But I realized that my family needs me more than ever.

6. The moral revolution is underway. A lot changed this summer in our culture. Are Christians ready?

7. You and I need the church. We saw how much we need the church to help us experience community, transcendence, and — most of all — Jesus.

8. The nations rage and God laughs. In our fallen world, we rage against God. He laughs and is not worried.

— 5 More —

9. “The most important gift I can give is my transformed and transforming presence.” This phrase came to me repeatedly through our time with Jim Cofield from Crosspoint Ministry as he coached and counseled us throughout the summer. It’s not something I’d never thought of, but it landed with significant impact. I can design great ministry, organize helpful sermons, and empower a strong team — but the very best thing I can give in leadership or life is my own transformed and transforming into the image of Christ presence. This requires time and space to prioritize the care of my soul and nobody will prioritize this for me.

10. Emotions are real, important, and complex. The animated film, Inside Out, was big for our family this summer. It highlighted the importance of emotions and how all the emotions work together and matter for the thriving of a person. Because of how busy, driven, and practical both me and Molly are, we have not appropriately valued our emotions or given space to identify and understand them. The movie woke us up to this reality and gave us a new dinnertime conversation game with the family where we ask everyone, “What was a time today that you felt (anger, disgust, joy, sadness, fear)?”

11. Going to church may not feel worth it if you don’t know people or have something to contribute. This summer was the first time in my life that I repeatedly went to church with my family in the same vehicle. We went to five or six different churches and — more often than not — it felt like an ordeal. The services were OK (not great), the preaching was OK (not great) and we didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t already in our family. Add that up, and it showed me why even more Christians are attending church less regularly. This strengthened my convictions to (a) work hard to create excellent worship services that help people experience the majesty of God, (b) help people at our church make meaningful connections and contributions.

12. Strong preaching takes significant preparation. I was particularly mindful not to be in “evaluation” mode as we visited churches (didn’t bring my evaluation form). Nonetheless, I was struck at how “meh” the preaching was across the board. In every case it was true information, but in many cases it felt like the preacher hadn’t prepared enough. How can I tell? Well, as a preacher, I know the preparation difference between when I have worked the content into my soul and when I have just worked it into my mind. I’ve too often only done the latter. I’ve returned with a commitment to more thoroughly preparing both myself and my sermons for preaching.

13. I function much better with a meaningful routine. While I have loved the flexibility of vocational ministry, this summer showed me how much better I function with routine. When I have a solid routine, I’m more likely to prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent and I’m more likely to make good choices in the moment. Additionally, I’m learning how an easily repeatable morning routine is crucial for avoiding decision fatigue. As I’ve returned from sabbatical, I’ve formed a consistent morning routine and have also put much more firm boundaries in place for when I start and stop work every day (more on that in a future post).

Thanks for your prayers and for reading. Hope some of this serves you. If you have questions or would hope for a future post based on one of these topics, let me know by commenting below.

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.


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.


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?