Top Relationship Advice for Dating Christians

Top Relationship Advice for Dating Christians
Top Relationship Advice for Dating Christians

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 5: The Beautiful Risk.

Over the years, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the top relationship advice for dating Christians (or those interested in dating). The list has emerged through countless conversations and discussions, and offers some great ground-level wisdom on how the call of discipleship should steer our journey through romantic relationships. This is not a list where it’s all or nothing—that is, in order to be a disciple, all of these ideas need to be in place. It’s important to remember that discipleship is a process and a journey. Those who have taken to heart even one or two of these principles have told me that it has had a dramatically positive effect on their life, and has helped immensely in the process of controlling their negative sexual habits and impulses.

Keep your passion for Jesus central. It’s easy to give Jesus priority status when there’s no competition. When we start dating, however, it’s common for many of us to slowly channel the energy that we’ve been investing in our relationship with Him into our newfound love. But Jesus isn’t our relational back-up plan, someone we put first until someone better comes along. He needs to stay central for us regardless of whether we’re single, dating, or married.

Relationships flourish when Jesus and His kingdom are the priority of both people, but falter when they aren’t. When Jesus is our first priority, our view of love, sex, and relationships is enhanced and enriched. But when Jesus is relegated to being our second, third, or fourth priority, our entire view of love, sex, and relationships becomes distorted. Knowing Jesus intimately is critical if we want to know what authentic, life-giving expressions of love, sex, and relationships look like. If we’re not anchoring our heart’s deepest hopes and longings in Jesus, our romantic relationships will always end up disappointing and frustrating us. We’ll be placing unrealistic expectations on our relationship that can only be fulfilled by God.

It’s a wonderful thing to fall in love and find someone with whom we can share our lives. However, we need to be careful that even good, healthy dating relationships don’t become stumbling blocks that cause us to forsake our first love (Revelation 2:4).

Don’t rationalize an abusive relationship. It’s common for many people (especially women) to find themselves in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives. Maybe it’s a boyfriend who is physically abusive, or a girlfriend who is controlling and emotionally manipulative. Regardless, I often see the rationalizing of major dysfunction. Many of us would rather put up with abuse and dysfunction in our relationships than be alone, so we go to great lengths to minimize or deny any abusive behaviour.

“Well, she’s not like that all the time.”
“It isn’t really that bad.”
“It’s no big deal. That’s just the way our relationship is.”

No relationship is perfect. Each one has its fault lines and issues, but there comes a point when a challenging relationship becomes a destructive one, and when abusive patterns have emerged that line has been crossed.

Sometimes denial can run deep. If we don’t identify and end the abusive relationship until it has run its course, we will be heartbroken and devastated. Or maybe we believe we’re the one sent into this person’s life to do the saving, to make them a better person, and so we wear the abuse as a kind of badge of honour. Maybe it brings us some kind of self-righteous satisfaction that we’re suffering for a greater purpose and are willing to love someone so “complicated.”

Regardless of your particular situation, if you are involved in an abusive relationship—whether the abuse is physical, emotional, or sexual—you need to end it. You know it’s unhealthy, and chances are it’s negatively impacting every area of your life, including your relationship with God. You should talk to a friend, parent, or pastor you trust who can help you transition out of your relationship.

Don’t believe that romantic relationships are the key to happiness and fulfillment. This piece of advice often comes from one of my high school students when we brainstorm relationship advice together as a group. All of us go through a stage where we assume we’re a boyfriend or girlfriend away from having it all. We believe that if we could find our “true love,” all the issues that bring us down will fade into the background. We believe that love, peace, and joy will flood into our lives and give us our “happily ever after.”

Falling in love and being in love is awesome, but if we think a relationship is what will save us from loneliness, low self-esteem, and purposelessness, we’re just wrong. No matter how good, godly, and healthy a relationship may be, it cannot fully satisfy the deeper spiritual hungers within you. To enter into any relationship with the expectation that it will be the key to a happy life is to place an idolatrous, unhealthy, and unrealistic expectation on it. This expectation will only suffocate any potential for the relationship to grow in a healthy way. We must never ask or assume another person can provide what only God can. When we stop looking to a relationship to be the key that will unlock the potential of our lives, we open up space for healthy relationships to emerge into what they are meant to be.

Only date someone who has a passion for following Jesus with their whole lives. “Christians should only date Christians.” That opinion is repeated in countless books on Christian dating, and yet from my point of view it’s just not a helpful way of approaching things. The statement is clearly well-intended, but like many things within the church the attempt to simplify in order to communicate things clearly has created new problems.

For example, the overly simplistic categories of Christian and non-Christian can be an enormous stumbling block. If the discussion centres on dating Christians vs. non-Christians, we can quickly (and mistakenly) substitute “people who go to church” with “Christian” and unintentionally lower our standards to anyone who shows up to church on Sunday. But should a Christian relationship be validated by something as trivial as church attendance?

I think it’s much better to frame the discussion within the larger context of discipleship. If we want our central passion to be Jesus and His kingdom, does it make sense to date someone who doesn’t share that same intention? If discipleship to Jesus is something we take incredibly seriously, does it make sense to date someone who supports us in our faith but isn’t actually committed to it themselves?
No, it doesn’t. That’s why I encourage people to pray for and seek out someone whose passion for Jesus is profound, undeniable, and inspiring. That is the kind of person, that kind of disciple, is someone you should pursue. Too many people settle for someone who’s churched instead of prayerfully holding out for someone whose discipleship commitment expresses itself in dynamic, passionate, creative ways. If you want your love for Jesus to deepen throughout your life, committing to only dating (and eventually marrying) someone with a strong and vibrant faith should be non-negotiable.

Never settle. Personally and professionally I’ve never seen anything good come from relationships that started with, “Well . . . you’ll do.” That being said, I’m not an idiot; I know how difficult it is to be the only person without a boyfriend or girlfriend, and the ache that situation creates. But we need to have the courage to move into and through that discomfort, trusting God to somehow satisfy what we’re longing for, even if we can’t anticipate how.

Make a list of qualities you want in your future spouse, then work backwards. If you want someone who is fun, spontaneous, spiritually intense, wise, and playful, that’s not going to happen if you date someone who is some of these things, some of the time. Obviously this means we’ll have to do a bit of reflection on our future marriage partner before we start dating, but isn’t that a good thing? We date in order to allow God to help us find a kindred spirit with whom we can become a soul mate through marriage. If someone told me they were ready to date but couldn’t articulate what they were looking for in someone beyond being attractive and funny, I’d tell them they just aren’t ready to date. If we don’t know what we really want in our dating relationships, the likelihood of us settling for something “good enough” is exponentially higher.

Before I met my wife, I spent a few months putting together a list of character qualities that I wouldn’t budge on. If someone only had three out of ten, I wouldn’t date them. eight out of ten? Sorry. I wanted a perfect score. Why? Was I some kind of unreasonable jerk with an inflated sense of entitlement? No. I knew what kind of marriage I wanted, and I’d lived and learned enough about myself to know the kind of person I needed to hold out for. That didn’t make times of singleness easy, but because I had a razor-sharp clarity about what I wanted and needed, settling for anything else became much harder.

Avoid the Romeo and Juliet syndrome. Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers who were so in love they could never be separated. They quickly melted their own identities into each other and made each other their entire world. This syndrome is all too common in dating relationships. We’ve probably all known a friend who started dating someone and then stopped hanging out with everyone except their new love. All their spare time was spent with their Romeo or Juliet, and the relationships and priorities that were previously very important were disregarded and pushed aside.

The Romeo and Juliet syndrome is closely linked to the assumption that was addressed previously in this list (i.e., romantic relationships are the key to happiness and fulfillment). Out of this assumption we look to another person to be the emotional saviour we’ve been waiting for, and we do all we can to surround ourselves with this person as much as possible. This trap is easy for us to fall into, so my advice here is to put limits on the amount of time we’re spending with our boyfriend/girlfriend, so that we don’t (intentionally or unintentionally) make them the focal point of our daily routines and habits.

Set boundaries. It’s really important to establish boundaries before we enter into a dating relationship. If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves in a literal free-for-all in terms of what is done, said, and experienced together, and this is always destructive to everyone involved. Healthy relationships need boundaries, and they need to identify and decide what boundaries are going to be in place as it relates to four dimensions of the relationship:

a. Physical. What physical boundaries need to be in place in order to protect each person’s dignity, reputation, and purity?
b. Emotional. What emotional boundaries need to be in place in order to ensure the Romeo and Juliet syndrome doesn’t take hold?
c. Social. What social boundaries need to be in place in order to ensure that each person is investing in healthy relationships outside of the dating relationship?
d. Spiritual. What spiritual boundaries need to be in place in order to ensure that each person is growing spiritually as individuals and not just focusing their spiritual growth on the context of their relationship?

Ideally, the couple should meet with a few older and more experienced couples to help them define what boundaries will be in place for them. These older couples can also play an important ongoing mentoring role in the new couples’ lives.

Learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes. As much as we parade around ideas of personal holiness, the biting truth is that imperfections and blunders seem to be the rule rather than the exception within our lives. Even during seasons where I feel an uncommon clarity of purpose, strong sense of conviction, and deep connection with God, I’m ashamed to admit how easy I’m seized by sins like lust, envy, pride, and idolatry.

But as I look back over my life, it seems to me that the only sinful slip-ups that have really cost me in the long run have been the ones I’ve stubbornly repeated, knowing precisely what I was doing. Proverbs 26:11 states, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” That’s the cycle that can destroy us if we’re not careful. So when we make a mistake, regardless of what kind or what severity, we need to realize that beating ourselves up is of limited value. Genuine repentance doesn’t always need to be a tearful exercise in self-pity. Sometimes it expresses itself with a clear decision and focused intention to put together a game plan to avoid repeating the mistake again. After reflecting on my own journey and many years of pastoral ministry, I’m convinced that God won’t let our mistakes define our lives if we’re willing to learn from them and seek restoration in Him.

Take three months between dating relationships to reflect and learn. The temptation to rebound with an immediate dating relationship after one has ended is enormous. Why? Because we’ve been in a relationship long enough that we’ve become accustomed to having someone to call, touch, and hang out with. To go from that to nothing feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us, and our first instincts are to get ourselves back into a relationship as soon as possible in order to avoid the awkwardness of readjusting to being single. But when we start relationships in order to avoid being single, we’re actually just using the new guy or girl for our own selfish ends. That foundation isn’t going to take us very far, and we should expect more heartache to come if we just rush into new relationships after ending old ones.

If a relationship doesn’t work (for whatever reason), it’s always important to take some time away from dating relationships and recalibrate our hearts and minds. We need to carve out time to reflect on what went wrong, and why. We should explore how we need to grow from our experiences in the previous relationship so that future relationships are healthier and more Christ-centred. Relationships teach us a lot if we’re willing to listen to the lessons. Be sure to carve out at least three months between dating relationships so that you can focus on learning whatever lessons God wants to teach you during your time of transition.

Break up well. This might be one of the most surprising and overlooked pieces of advice I share on the subject of building healthy relationships, but it’s so important. Nothing tests the genuineness of our discipleship commitment to Jesus than our willingness to refuse to blame, badmouth, or hurt the other person during a break-up.

A break-up usually results in a lot of hurt for everyone involved. Two people who once thought of each other as “true loves” now become enemies looking to strike back at each other. However, it’s exactly in this new and awkward context that Jesus’ challenge to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) comes into play.

If we’re the ones doing the breaking up, we need to do so in a way that minimizes the emotional damage for the other person. We’re going to cause hurt, so we need to be as gentle, reasonable, and kind as humanly possible. Being rejected is a horrible feeling, and we don’t need to escalate those feelings (even if we think the other person deserves it). We should strive to be gracious and kind, and after the break-up never speak badly about the other person.

If we’re on the receiving end of the break-up, the emotions that flood into our hearts are going to make it very easy for us to justify hatred and retaliation. We need to fight those impulses with everything in us. That doesn’t mean minimizing how much it hurts to have someone dump us, though; it just means refusing to let the hurt we’re feeling morph into a cancer of anger and bitterness. Getting dumped sucks, but striking back through hatred and retaliation won’t provide the healing we’re looking for. That can only be found when we pour our energy into our relationship with the One who is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18).

 

To order a copy of Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders, click here.

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“This church had a man crisis…probably”

I recently received an email from the president of our denomination association (www.agcofcanada.com), encouraging us to watch a short video advert for a new book by Darrin Patrick (Mars Hill Church–Driscoll edition).  The email was sent as a kind of “watch and be inspired” email that you get forwarded to you when a friend sees something and then says, “I’ve got to tell others about this!”

Now, I want to be up front and admit that I’m not a fan of the philosophy of ministry that seems to undergird Driscoll’s church, so my expectations were immediately…tempered…to say the least.

I’ll post the video first, then offer some reflections afterwards.

After repeated viewings, the message is of the video is clear: The health and effectiveness of the local church is causally connected to the “manliness” of the men within it.

Really? O_o

Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised by this assertion. Mars Hill Church (Driscoll edition) has carved out a niche of sorts hammering on and on about the necessity of a “godly” patriarchy (a view which I firmly disagree with). What surprised me, however, were the assumptions piled on top of one another.

“It was men that made this church come alive, and it was probably men who caused this church to die.” Probably? You don’t know? (I’m assuming not, because he reiterates that this is “probably” what happened at this church again at the 1:06 mark). Just my two cents, but you might want to do your homework and try to understand the actual reasons why this particular church died, before you launch into a solution.

I’m also saddened by a number of assumptions Patrick makes through the video:

1. Women are (apparently) a non-factor as it relates to the effectiveness and health of the local church.

2. Church dysfunction could be stopped if men in the church started “manning up” (i.e., move out of the house, get a union job, stop playing video games and stop masturbating).

3. Pastors are the actual root of the problem, because men take their identity cues from the pastors within their churches. So pastors, moreso than “regular joe’s,” need to man up (x2!).

All three of these assumptions are the classic “shame game” that evangelical churches are famous for. They sound “strong and bold,” but they are actually cowardly and weak. Transformation within churches will not happen through the words, “Shame on you!”

Is there a crisis of masculinity within the church? Undoubtedly! But Mars Hill Church (Driscoll edition) doesn’t offer a vision that comes close to a solution. At best (and I’m being very lenient here) it only offers a warrior archetype for masculine spirituality, which can be genuinely helpful for some men (especially adolescent males), but the warrior archetype is limited in its ability to propel men into deeper levels of genuine spiritual transformation, especially into the 40’s and beyond. I fear that all that’s being offered here is a Christianized version of “command and control” spirituality which Richard Rohr (a true master in the realm of masculine spirituality) actually believes to be the root of the masculinity crisis within churches. Ironically, Rohr believes an overemphasis on a “man up” theology will actually stunt the spiritual development of males, because the problem isn’t simply one of motivation.

Oh, and by the way–what does any of this have to do with church planting? Isn’t that what Patrick’s book is about? All I can say is I hope his book is going offer a lot more than a “wake up call” to men/pastors to plant churches on the foundation of “real men,” because I can think of a better Foundation for a church than that.

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More Teens Becoming “Fake” Christians

More Teens Becoming Fake Christians
More Teens Becoming "Fake" Christians

CNN posted an interesting interview with Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian. In her book, Dean argues that how the church currently engages the youth culture amounts to little more than a do-gooder, self-help “Christianity” that is utterly failing to captivate the hearts and lives of youth.

The article (found here) is excellent and reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: youth ministry isn’t working. It’s time for ministry that focuses on identifying, challenging and empowering emerging leaders within Christ’s church to come into prominence.

How does “emerging church ministry” differ from “youth ministry”? Head over to https://www.meredisciple.com/downloads.htm and grab the free PDF article “The Future of an Illusion” for my thoughts.

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Is faith irrational, sub-rational, or super-rational?

In scanning through some Youtube videos for a sermon a while back, I came across a channel produced by Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry spearheaded by a priest named Father Barron. I watched several of their videos, and really, really enjoyed them, especially the ones that took modern movies and explored their themes from a biblical perspective.

One of my favourite videos is Fr. Barron’s response to Bill Maher’s mockumentary “Religulous.” Actually, Fr. Baron doesn’t spend too much time cutting down the movie’s “arguments.” Instead, he focuses his efforts on exposing the problems with Bill Maher’s underlying assumption that religious belief is fundamentally irrational.

The entire video is worth watching, although it’s Fr. Barron’s reflections on the relationship between belief and reason (starting at 5:31) which are really rich and insightful.

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Do Christians Need the Gospel?

Gospel: ABCs or A through Z?
Gospel: ABC's or A-Z?

I was reading Tullian Tchividjian’s five-part blog series Worship Is A Big Deal and came across this gem:

“Like many others, I once assumed the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved, but after they believe it, they advance to deeper theological waters. But, as Tim Keller explains it, the gospel isn’t simply the ABCs of Christianity, but the A-through-Z. The gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life; it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.”

There is definitely a church-wide paradigm shift occuring related to what the gospel actually is and what it means to embrace it. I’m incredibly excited to see how these new discussions, explorations and insights will reshape the heart of the Christianity in the near future.

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Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make

Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make
Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make

It might be difficult for some parents to read through, but here’s a top ten list that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Over the next several days I’ll be expanding on each of these in succession, but for now, here is my top ten mistakes Christian parents of teens make:

10. Not spending time with your teen.

A lot of parents make the mistake of not spending time with their teens because they assume their teens don’t want to spend time with them! While that’s true in some contexts, teens still want and need “chunks” of one-on-one time with parents. Despite the fact that teens are transitioning into more independence and often carry a “I don’t need/want you around” attitude, they are longing for the securing and grounding that comes from consistent quality time.

Going for walks together, grabbing a coffee in order to “catch up,” going to the movies together, etc., all all simple investments that teens secretly want and look forward to. When you don’t carve out time to spend with your teen, you’re communicating that you’re not interested in them, and they internalize that message, consciously or unconsciously.

9. Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family.

The number of parents who wrap their lives/schedules around their teen’s activities is mind-boggling to me. I honestly just don’t get it. I know many parents want to provide their children with experiences and opportunities they never had growing up, but something’s gone wrong with our understanding of family and parenting when our teen’s wants/”needs” are allowed to overwhelm the family’s day-to-day routines.

Parents need to prioritize investing in their relationship with God (individually and as a couple), themselves and each other, but sadly all of these are often neglected in the name of “helping the kids get ahead.” “Don’t let the youth sports cartel run your life,” says Jen singer, author of You’re A Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either). I can’t think of many good reasons why families can’t limit teens to one major sport/extra-curricular activity per season. Not only will a frenetic schedule slowly grind down your entire family of time, you’ll be teaching your teen that “the good life” is a hyper-active one. That doesn’t align itself to Jesus’ teaching as it relates to the healthy rhythms of prayer, Sabbath, and down-time, all of which are critical to the larger Christian task of “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

8. Spoiling your teen.

We are all tempted to think that loving our kids means doing all we can to ensure they have all the opportunities and things we didn’t have growing up. This is a terrible assumption to make. It leads to an enormous amount of self-important, petty, and ungrateful kids. A lot of the time parents are well-intentioned in our spoiling, but our continual stream of money and stuff causes teens to never be satisfied and always wanting more. Your teen doesn’t need another piece of crap, what he needs is time and attention from you (that’s one expression of spoiling that actually benefits your teen!).

There are two things that can really set you back in life if we get them too early:

a. Access to too much money.
b. Access to too many opportunities.

Parents need to recognize they’re doing their teens a disservice by spoiling them in either of these ways. Save the spoiling for the grandkids.

7. Permissive parenting.

“Whatever” — It’s not just for teens anymore! The devil-may-care ambivalence that once defined the teenage subculture has now taken root as parents shrug their shoulders, ask, “What can you do?” and let their teens “figure things out for themselves.” I think permissive parenting (i.e., providing little direction, limits, and consequences) is on the rise because many parents don’t know how to dialogue with and discipline their children. Maybe parents don’t have any limits of boundaries within their own life, so they don’t know how to communicate the value of these to their teen. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to, because their own self-esteem is too tied up in their child’s perception of them, and they couldn’t handle having their teen get angry at them for actually trying to parent. Maybe it’s because many parents feel so overwhelmed with their own issues, they can hardly think of pouring more energy into a (potentially) taxing struggle or point of contention.

Whatever the reason, permissive parenting is completely irreconcilable with a Christian worldview. I certainly do not advocate authoritarian parenting styles, but if we practice a permission parenting style we’re abdicating our God-given responsibility to provide guidance, nurture, limits, discipline and consequences to our teen (all of which actually help our teen flourish long-term).

6. Trying to be your teen’s best friend.

Your teen doesn’t need another friend (they have plenty); they need a parent. Even through their teens, your child needs a dependable, confident, godly authority figure in their life. As parents we are called to provide a relational context characterized by wisdom, protection, love, support, and empowerment. As Christian parents we’re called to bring God’s flourishing rule into our family’s life. That can’t happen if we’re busy trying to befriend our teen. Trying to be your teen’s friend actually cheats them out of having these things in their lives.

Sometimes parents think that a strong relationship with their teen means having a strong friendship—but there’s a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed. You should be friendly to your teen but you shouldn’t be your teen’s friend. They have lots of friends, they only have one or two parents—so be the parent your teen needs you to be.

5. Holding low expectations for your teen.

Johann Goethe once wrote, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat as man as he can and should be, and he become as he can and should be.” All of us rise to the unconcious level of expectation we set for ourselves and perceive from others. During the teenage years, it’s especially important to slowly put to death the perception that your teen is still “a kid.” They are emerging leaders, and if you engage them as such, you will find that over time, they unconsciously take on this mantle for themselves. Yes, your teen can be moody, self-absorbed, irresponsible, etc., but your teen can also be brilliant, creative, selfless, and mature. Treating them like “kids” will reinforce the former; treating them as emerging leaders will reinforce the latter.

For an example of how the this difference in perspective plays out, I’ve written an article entitled “The Future of an Illusion” which is available as a free download from www.meredisciple.com (in the Free Downloads section). It specifically looks at my commitment to be involved in “emerging church ministry” as opposed to “youth ministry,” and it you may find some principles within it helpful.

4. Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement.

This one is one of my personal pet peeves (but not just because this is my professional gig). I simply do not understand parents who expect and want their kids to have a dynamic, flourishing faith, and yet don’t move heaven and earth to get them connected to both a youth group and local church.

I’m going to let everyone in on a little secret: no teenager can thrive in their faith without these two support mechanisms. I’m not saying a strong youth group and church community is all they need, but what I am saying that you can have everything else you think your teen needs, but without these two things, don’t expect to have a spiritually healthy and mature teen. Maybe there are teens out there who defy this claim, but honestly, I can’t think of one out of my own experience. As a parent, youth group and church involvement should be a non-negotiable part of your teen’s life, and that means they take priority over homework (do it the night before), sports, or any other extra-curricular commitments.

Don’t be the parent who is soft on these two commitments, but pushes their kid in schooling, sports, etc. In general, what you sow into determines what you reap; if you want to reap a teenager who has a genuine, flourishing faith, don’t expect that to happen if you’re ok with their commitment to youth group/church to be casual and half-hearted.

3. Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation.

While youth group and church is very important, another mistake I see Christian parents make is assuming them can completely outsource the spiritual development of their child to these two things. I see the same pattern when it comes to Christian education: parents sometimes choose to send their children/teens to Christian schools, because by doing so they think they’ve done their parental duty to raise their child in a godly way.

As a parent–and especially if you are a Christian yourself–YOU are THE key spiritual role model and mentor for your teen. And that isn’t “if you want to be” either–that’s the way it is. Ultimately, you are charged with teaching and modelling to your teen what follow Jesus means, and while church, youth groups, Christian schools can be a support to that end, they are only that: support mechanisms.

Read Deuteronomy 6 for an overview of what God expects from parents as it relates to the spiritual nurture and development of their children. (Hint: it’s doesn’t say, “Hand them off to the youth pastor and bring them to church on Sunday.”)

2. Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen.

It’s sad that I have to write this one at all, but I’m convinced very few Christian parents actually express genuine love and “like” to their teen. It can become easy for parents to only see how their teen is irresponsible, failing, immature, etc., and become a harping voice instead of an encouraging, empowering one.

Do you intentially set aside time to tell your teen how much you love and admire them? Do you write letters of encouragement to them? Do you have “date nights” where you spend time together and share with them the things you see in them that you are proud of?

Your teen won’t ask you for it, so don’t wait for an invitation. Everyday say something encouraging to your teen that builds them up (they get enough criticism as it is!). Pray everyday for them and ask God to help you become one of the core people in your teen’s life that He uses to affirm them.

1. Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not
cultivating within yourself.

When I talk to Christian parents, it’s obvious that they want their teen to have a thriving, dynamic, genuine, life-giving faith. What isn’t so clear, however, is whether that parent has one themselves. When it comes to the Christian faith, most of the time what we learn is caught and not taught. This means that even if you have the “right answers” as a parent, if you’re own spiritual walk with God is pathetic and stilted, your teen will unconciously follow suit. Every day you are teaching your teach (explicitely and implicitely) what discipleship to Jesus looks like “in the flesh.”

What are they catching from you? Are you cultivating a deep and mature relationship with God personally, or is your Christian parenting style a Christianized version of “do as I say, not as I do”?

While having a healthy and maturing discipleship walk as a parent does not garauntee your teen will follow in your footsteps, expecting your teen to have a maturing faith while you follow Jesus “from a distance” is an enormous mistake.

You are a Christian before you are a Christian parent (or any other role). Get real with God, share your own struggles and hypocrisy with your entire family, and maybe then God will begin to use your example in a positive and powerful way.

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The Four Stages of Masculine Spirituality

Richard Rohr
Richard Rohr

For the past three years I’ve been taking in as much Richard Rohr as humanly possible.  Rohr is a true seer: one who “sees” rightly through the lens of God’s grace and goodness.  His insights often haunt my imagination for days, and few writers have helped me understand the nature of the soul’s journey more than him.  I subscribe to his daily meditation, and today was a great one for men (and those who love them) to reflect on coming out of Father’s Day weekend.  It’s Rohr’s summation of the four stages of masculine spirituality.

“People in historical India recognized four stages of a man’s life.  The first stage is student, where one is a learner and takes in life.  The second stage is the householder, where he marries, raises children and learns to love and be faithful to his partner. We Westerners for some strange reason consider this second stage to be the whole deal and the end of all life.  People spend the remainder of their life fixing up the house, waiting for their children, and then grandchildren to come home and visit them.

 

But there are more stages in India, which I even saw in a church window in Bangalore.  The third stage is called the seeker, or “forest dweller.”  This is the man who, after raising a family, takes them beyond their small world to a much bigger picture—just by growing up himself!

 

Most Americans are not very connected to the rest of the world; we’re not normally connected to anything except next week and practical problem solving.  This, among other things, keeps us from stage four, the wise man. The wise man puts the inner life together with the outer life, the small family together with the big family, his masculine together with his feminine. The sage, or wise man, thinks globally and lives and acts locally, but now inside of that much bigger picture.”

  

This quote is an adaptation from Richard Rohr’s book Daily Meditations, but if you are interested in reading more about the unique shape of masculine spirituality, I’d recommend reading Quest for the Grail, From Wild Man to Wise Man, Adam’s Return, Men and Women: the journey of spiritual transformation (CD), and How Men Change (CD).  All of these resources can be purchased directly from the Center for Contemplation and Action storefront here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mere Disciple Now Available!

Available Now!
Available Now!

Hello everyone,

The day has finally come!  Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders is available for purchase.

You can buy your copy of Mere Disciple two ways:

1.  Go to www.meredisciple.com and follow the link to buy the paperback.  

2. If you’re in the Hamilton area, email me (jstrong (at) grindstonechurch.com) and we can arrange a time for you to drop by my office and pick up a copy.

After recouping costs for the production and publishing of the book, I’ll be donating 50% of the profits from all book sales to Grindstone church.  Grindstone’s influence on this entire project is incalculable, and this is just one small way that I can give back to the community that has invested so much in me over the last six years.

I’m really excited to see my dream to write my own book become a reality!  I hope Mere Disciple becomes an important part of your own discipleship journey.

In his dust,

Jeff

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Ideas for loving God Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength

Ideas for holistic discipleship
Ideas for holistic discipleship

This year I worked with Matt Pamplin and Brent Schinkel to come up with a list of ideas on how to grow in each of the four loves. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength demands that we grow in our root type, but then also demands that we learn to love God through the other types that don’t come naturally to us. However, it can be hard to think of ways to grow beyond our root type precisely because we tend to gravitate towards activities that come naturally to us. This list has been created in order to provide some suggestions on how to stretch ourselves beyond what comes naturally to us, so that we can learn to love and experience God more deeply and holistically.

Heart
-Have a conversation with someone about their spiritual journey, and really listen.
-Spend some time goal setting and dreaming about your future. Ask God to give you a “sanctified imagination” that dreams big and is caught up in what is possible in Him. Cultivate a sense of “what could be” if God really got a hold of your life and heart. Allow what comes to mind inspire and excite you.
-Set aside some time once a month to connect with a formal/informal mentor.
-Write an email or letter of encouragement to someone.
-Invite a friend or someone from church over for lunch/dinner and spent time getting to know they and their story.
-Set aside time to connect with your spouse/child/a friend and do something FUN together.
-Write poetry/music that speaks to the current state of your heart before God.

Soul
-Spend time in silence, in reflection, in meditation. Use worship music if sitting in silence is too difficult for you.
-Taize style of worship (check it out: www.taize.fr ).
-Make a prayer list of people in your life that you want to pray for everyday. Each day spend 10 minutes prayer through your list.
-Silent walk through creation focusing on your surroundings.
-Journal. Journal about anything. Try reflecting on dominant themes, images, impressions, etc., God seems to be putting before you again and again.
-Disciplines of abstinence (giving up something for a set time). Give up the TV, texting, junk food, lattes, video games, etc., for a week. This forces you to confront habits and impulses that aren’t healthy and tend to numb the soul. It will also strengthen your appreciation of the good things God has give you.
-Spend time in prayer asking God for what you want (James 1:5-8).

Mind
-Read a book that challenges you intellectually. We recommend: The Cost of Discipleship by Deitrich Bonhoffer, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.
-Take a course at a local college or university. Regardless of the subject you’re studying, how does the knowledge you’re taking in expand your view of God’s greatness and goodness?
-Sunday at church, take detailed notes and the discuss and debate the message with a friend.
-Memorize scripture (large or small chunks).
-Subscribe to a podcast and listen to it during the week. We recommend “The Meeting House” (Bruxy Cavey), “Mars Hill Church” (Rob Bell), and “Redeemer Presbyterian Church” (Timothy Keller), all available through iTunes.
-Begin a “Discipleship Journal” where you record the “big ideas,” Scriptures and teachings that have impacted you.
-Host a learning party. Pick a theological question or issue, ask everyone attending to investigate the topic on their own, and then come together over good food and drink to discuss any insights, frustrations, questions, etc.
-Watch a movie, and then set aside time to reflect on the themes and issues raised in it. Discuss with a friend or group how a Christian should approach these issues.

Strength
-Do one (small) thing to help a housemate/friend/family member that they’ll never notice or be able to thank you for.
-Take a spiritual gifts inventory that can help you identify how God has gifted you to impact others. Google “spiritual gifts inventory online” for a number of free sites that offer questionnaires to get you started.
-Buy a friend/pastor/church volunteer/stranger a coffee or tea.
-Volunteer within your church.
-Volunteer within your community.
-Begin giving regularly and sacrificially to the church you’re a part of.
-Exercise. Whether you’re walking, hitting the gym, running, trying out yoga, etc., exercise is an important component of honouring God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).
-Cut out all junk food for one week and note any alterations in your mood this leads to.
-Sponsor a child through World Vision or Compassion International and write letters to your sponsored child.
-Be disciplined to go to bed on time. The better rested we are, the more energy we have through which to love and bless others.

Do you have more ideas we can add to this list? Share them below!

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What adults can learn from kids (Adora Svitak)

Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

About Adora Svitak:
A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 12) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy.

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