Tag Archives: community

How Mentors Change Us

A fantastic reflection on the nature of mentoring arrived in my inbox this morning via Richard Rohr’s Radical Grace newsletter.  It’s the clearest and most compelling explanation of how mentors change us I’ve ever come across.

“To be around your mentor is to be near the fire.  A fire does two things.  It warms you, but it also burns you.  If you don’t allow your mentor to burn you once in a while—if you’re not willing to bear a little offense to your ego and to be stretched beyond your comfort zone—then it’s not a mentor relationship from your side.  But a mentor also warms you.  They excite you.  They fill you with the curiosity, the adventure, the possibility and the hope that you can be more of a human being.  This is the thrilling part.  This warmth gives you a sense of your true self—of your best self.  That’s what you want.  You want your soul to grow greater and your ego to grow smaller.”~ Richard Rohr

This quote is adapted from the DVD session MENTORING, which is available here.  

I think I’m definitely going to pick up the DVD soon. I’ve listened to and read tons of Rohr over the past three years, and he’s become a “satellite mentor” for me and my journey.  He’s provided lots of warmth, and quite a few (good) burns along the way.

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Are Personal Devotions a Help or Hindrance?

When I became a Christian, one of the first things that was drilled into my head was the importance of daily, personal (i.e., individual) devotions.  I was encouraged to spend 10-15 minutes each day studying the Bible (usually through a devotional booklet of some kind), praying about what I’d learned, and jotting down ideas how to live out the principles and truths I’d been exposed to.  It was a practice that served me well as a teenager, and one that has continued to shape my spiritual formation as an adult.

However, over the past few years I’ve really begun to question the effectiveness of personal devotions.  Obviously they aren’t bad (millions of Christians would claim they are an integral part of their spiritual walk with Christ), but when I take an honest look at the times in my life that have been the most powerful in terms of wrestling with the Bible and letting it (re)shape me, there is one common thread: at least two or three were gathered (cf. Matthew 18:20).

In high school, my best friend Mike Garner and I would do personal devotions each morning (sometimes the same one), but we’d discuss it (and sometimes debate it) during our walk to and from school.  I can still remember particular conversations we had–moments standing on a street corner for an hour talking through an idea or Scripture.  For the life of me I can’t remember one personal devotional time during that same period in my life.

In university (Redeemer University College), our weekly dorm devotions were some of the most incredible, intense times of faith formation, and not because they were full of kumbaya moments either; they were often heated, challenging, and relationally demanding.  I can still remember conversations and interactions that even to this day bring back a flood of fond memories.  I know I did countless personal devotionals during my time at Redeemer, but once again, I cannot recall even one.

Even today, I might have to point to Elevate (Grindstone church’s high school group) as one of the most significant arenas through which God continues to stretch me in terms of my understanding of Him, His word, and His calling on my life.  I can say unhesitatingly that Monday nights with our Elevate leaders and students are amongst the most influential in terms of my own spiritual journey. 

I once heard someone remark that sermons (and for the purposes of this discussion, personal devotionals) are like meals.  Often, we can’t remember every meal we’ve eaten, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been the source of energy through which we’ve grown and been strengthened.  That’s why I wouldn’targue that personal devotionals are unnecessary.  But I have begun to push myself and others to consider some of their limitations:

a. Personal devotionals are one-dimensional.  The one-dimension?  you.  Like, literally, it’s just you in the room (well, God’s there, but you know what I mean).

b. Personal devotionals aren’t an intuitive learning style for many people.  Many people do not learn well in a context of social isolation and invidual reflection.

c. Personal devotions aren’t often energizing or interesting.  Because there’s no one there to build on your thoughts and reflections (or disagree with them), it’s easy to just go through the motions and check it off the discipleship “to-do” list.

d. Personal devotions often feel like an uphill battle.  Maybe this is the most telling limitation of them all.  Many people spend tons of energy trying to be faithful to a daily devotional habit, but with very limited success.  Maybe the continued frustration we experience isn’t because  we’re spiritually lazy or weak–maybe it’s because God’s Word was designed to be read, studied, and wrestled with (primarily) with other people and not in the corner of the room by ourselves.

I’m no expert on the ins and outs of devotional practices throughout historic Christianity, but I do believe that the Scriptures have traditionally (and predominantly) been engaged with through community–where two or three are gathered.  In fact, I’d love to find out exactly when the evangelical obsession with personal devotionals came into prominence. 

The more I think about it, the more difficult it is for me to picture Jesus sending off his disciples to complete their personal devotions.  Throughout the Bible, community and spiritual formation seem to be assumed partners, not optional tag-ons or extra credit for keeners.  While men and women of faith clearly had an intensely personal commitment to God, worship, prayer and Scriptural study were collaborative, community disciplines.  To grow in their faith, people gathered–they didn’t scatter. 

Again, I want to be careful not to slam personal devotions, but I wonder what kind of difference it would make if I/we did fewer personal devotionals and did more collaborative devotionals–devotionals that were structured the same way as personal devotionals, but were done with at least one other person.

Clearly, this is done already: bible studies, small groups, etc.  But I’m asking a slightly different question.  I’m asking what difference would it make if the default mode of engaging the Bible was through community study and not, as it so often is, via individual study?

I know so many people (especially students) have an extremely difficult time reading/studying the Bible alone.  I think a lot of those difficulties can be traced to the limitations I cited above.  If we eased our emphasis on personal devotions and encouraged group or even tandem studies more, would more consistent and transformative encounters with the Bible emerge?  I’m increasingly suspicious that’s exactly what would happen.

Some immediate ideas I’d like to try:

1. Limit myself to 2-3 personal devotional times a week, while attempting to do a tandem or group devotional study 3-4 times a week.

2. Encourage students to take a hiatus from personal devotions and instead encourage them to study and discuss a devotional with a member of the same gender 4-5 times a week (i.e., tandem study).  This may include reading the devotional alone at one point in the day, but making sure to discuss it with your study buddy later in the day.

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The Challenges of the 18-25 Window

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders.

The window between the ages of 18–25 is full of progression, and is one of the most formative stages of our lives.  We experience growth throughout our lives, with each stage presenting new challenges and opportunities, but most people I know admit that these seven years are amongst the most powerful and soul-shaping.  That’s because a number of factors come together to form a perfect storm that ignites a quest, a spiritual expedition bent on working through theological and philosophical questions in ways that no other stage of life affords.  It’s often during these years that the following questions become urgent to resolve:

“What makes me different from my family or the people around me?”
“Am I lovable and am I capable of loving someone else?”
“Does God really love me?”
“Does God really like me?”
“What will I do with my life?”
“Do I matter?”
“Do I have something to contribute to this world that is of value?”

It’s not that these questions are necessarily new (we’ve asked many of them before), but what makes the questions different is the new vantage point we are exploring them from.  The questions haven’t changed dramatically from earlier years, but we have.  Socially, spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, experientially, etc., our world is expanding at an almost unmanageable pace.  The result is a kind of existential vertigo—a dizzying sense of confusion surrounding what has been, what is, and what is taking shape.

During this time, we often search for clarity on the four primary worldview questions:

  1. “Who am I?”
  2. “Where am I?”
  3. “What’s the problem?”
  4. “What’s the solution?”

These questions drive us to confront larger issues of identity, personal purpose, and meaning.  Getting clarity on these issues is challenging, however, because at the same time we’re bombarded by a myriad of voices offering advice, options, and opportunities—many of which are hollow and hopeless.  We get distracted and derailed, and after a while it’s easy to feel as if we’re just treading water, drifting in a sea of questions, potentialities, and uncertainties.

Adding to the complexity is the deconstructive movement that often emerges during this time as well.  Many of us begin to seriously question our faith, or walk away from it altogether.  We unearth serious doubts and suspicions, and find that the black-and-white answers of our childhood and the glib answers of early adolescence don’t help us cope with the growing realization that the world is much more complex than first imagined.  While the teenage years are often a time of physical rebellion (e.g., sex, drugs, drinking, etc.), now a kind of psychological/philosophical rebellion begins to take hold.   In almost every area of our lives, we’re asking what really matters and why.  We’re beginning to wonder if our lives are the result of our own intentional choices or the result of choices made for us.

This is the time in our lives when all of the struggles, all of the questions, all of the anxieties and uncertainties need to become secondary to Jesus’ call of discipleship.  It’s not that the struggles and questions we face are unimportant, it’s that they’re so important that to refuse to ground them in the person and power of Jesus is reckless.  Trying to figure out life on our own sounds heroic to some, but we don’t hold the answers to what we’re dealing with—Jesus does.  We can run from that truth, but we need to know that if we do we’re running down a dead-end road.

To purchase Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders in either paperback or eBook format, click here.

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Staying Rooted in Jesus

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9: A Tree of Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1–4

How do you and I stay rooted in Jesus? How do we remain connected to Him so that we can experience this great life and extraordinary hope regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? How do we keep Jesus’ call to discipleship front and centre, especially when we are assaulted by countless distractions and difficulties? How do we avoid being overwhelmed and choked out by the cares and worries of this life? Staying rooted in Jesus begins with and is sustained by a commitment to four priorities.

Engage the Bible everyday. Whether it means reading, studying, discussing, or memorizing, staying rooted to Jesus means staying rooted to the Scriptures. We need to continually stretch our understanding of what the Bible says and how that should play out in our lives. The gospels should be read consistently and carefully, because declaring ourselves to be disciples of Jesus means we’re trying to embed the values, attitudes, and priorities of Jesus into our lives. The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and discussing the Bible is a value most Christians agree on but few actually practice. However, everyone I see flourishing in their discipleship walk is engaging the Bible everyday.

Develop a strong prayer life. Developing a strong prayer life is very challenging for most people. Personally, prayer is an area I read about, talk about, and think about more than I actually do anything about. Prayer is very hard for me, because quite honestly it feels like a waste of time. It feels inefficient and sometimes ineffective compared to physically doing something, but I’m pushing myself beyond those faulty assumptions. I’m in the process of exploring different forms of prayer because I want to develop a strong and intimate relationship with Jesus. This intimacy will never happen if I neglect communicating with Him honestly and openly. Although it may not be easy for us, taking time everyday to share our hearts with Him—and taking time to listen for His still, small voice—is critical to our growth as disciples.

Invest in a local church. I will be the first to say that church can suck. You know it and I know it. But here’s the reality: I’ve never, ever met someone who powerfully inspires me to love and serve Jesus who isn’t invested and connected to a local church. I don’t think church is some kind of magic bullet when it comes to discipleship. However, I believe that discipleship outside of a church commitment just doesn’t work. I also know how tempting it is to bounce around and check out the latest ministry, church, or preacher. But discipleship requires roots, and you can’t grow deep roots if you’re continually uprooting yourself in order to be a part of the next new thing. Therefore, if we are serious about discipleship to Jesus, we have to make it a priority to plug into and invest in a local church community.

Serve others. Following Jesus as a disciple means continually reminding ourselves that in Jesus’ kingdom leaders are the ones who serve (Luke 22:26) and greatness is measured by one’s ability lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13). Our days are filled with opportunities to bless and serve others in both simple and profound ways, and Jesus calls us to adopt a servant heart that places our preferences secondary to the interests and needs of those around us. Jesus said that His kingdom is one that will be characterized by servant leadership (Matthew 20:25–28), so if we aren’t consistently serving others we’re operating out of ego and self-centredness.

These disciplines, however, may strike us as overly simplistic or obvious. Because of this, it’s common for us to overlook them in order to look for something that sounds deeper and more profound. But these four practices form the foundation—the root structure—of the Christian faith. If we ignore, dismiss, or abandon them, we’ll soon find ourselves feeling old, gnarled, and lifeless.

After years of discipling, mentoring, and observing many young adults, I’ve noticed a huge difference between those who just talk about these things, and those who actually do them. Jesus said a disciple is someone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24, emphasis mine). It’s easy to extol the virtues of Bible study and prayer, hold lengthy conversations on the nature of community, and discuss new justice initiatives. However, none of these things lead to transformation in Christ. Those who have been truly transformed are those who have consistently done these things and not just talked about doing them.

 

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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