If Not You, Then Who?

proxyIt’s one of my favorite sayings… “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

We have to go all the way back to the first-century Jewish scholar named Hillel to find the source of this quote and it is as equally applicable now as it was then.

“If not you, then who?”  It is time for us to truly step up and be the individuals God created us to be!  Someone has to step up.  If we don’t, then who will?  I challenge you to let that someone be you.  God has called you to be a great leader, willing to take charge and make progress now.

I’ve often found that, even if you’re faced with a situation you aren’t all that familiar with, someone in your circle of influence knows the process and techniques, and is just waiting for you to get them going.

So I challenge you right out of the gate… step up, get in there, and don’t be afraid to be the leader God has called you to be.  It may mean more work for you, but waiting won’t help, and will probably make things worse, which leads to the second part of Hillel’s quote…

‘If not now, then when?’  I have 5 children – 5 incredibly beautiful children, but I can share story after story of things they have done that have triggered certain senses in my nose to flare!  A little over a year ago we stepped into our Swagger Wagon and noticed it didn’t smell the greatest.  We honestly didn’t think anything of it and left it.  A couple of days went by and I eventually stepped into our van and it hit me like a brick wall – one of the worst odors I have ever smelled in my entire life!  We were scheduled to take our van on a youth retreat – and there was no way any student in their right mind was going to want to ride with us!  We cleaned out the entire van – top to bottom inside and out, and finally found it – a rotten bottle of milk that had spilled into the carpet of our van.  It was not a pretty scene…  We scrubbed, scrubbed, and scrubbed some more, but it took weeks of air fresheners and cleaning to get the smell of week old rotten milk out of our van!

I love middle school students, but there is just something about the way a middle school boy smells that makes me cringe at the thoughts of it.  On every packing list we create for our trips, I make sure to explain that Axe is not a replacement for a shower.  Middle school boys should be required by the government to shower at least twice a day!

I explained the use of Axe one day to a group of our middle school students this way…  As a father of five, we have gone through a lot of dirty diapers!  I sometimes wish we had kept track to see exactly how many diapers we have gone through. Can you imagine if I took those dirty diapers and simply threw them straight into a bucket – no bag – just straight in a bucket that sat by our kitchen table?  And every once in a while I would go outside, pick fresh roses, bring them, and throw them in the bucket with the diapers.  Something in me says that no matter how good those roses smell they will not be able overtake and defeat the power of the dirty diapers…  I believe the same is true with Axe.  I love the smell of Axe, don’t agree with the commercials, but love the smell.  But there is nothing in Axe that will completely take away the aroma of a sweaty middle school boy…

Problems, like diapers or smelly middle school boys, do not smell better with age.  They will not get any easier and they will not disappear.  Waiting will not make it go away, and will not improve your situation.

God has called us to step up now…  He does not want us to wait.  He is ready to empower us to be His hands, His feet, and His voice!  Nehemiah didn’t wait!  Daniel didn’t wait!  Peter and John didn’t wait!  Jesus isn’t waiting for you to do something miraculous to enter into a relationship with you.  He has already provided each of us everything we need and has called us to live out our God-given purpose NOW!  In order to live out our God-given calling and grasp ahold of the phrase, ‘If not me, then who,’ our lives must be filled with purpose and discipline!

First and foremost, God has blessed us with a purpose that goes beyond our own comprehension.  Each one of us was created with an exciting purpose…a purpose that goes beyond who we are and what we do!  In his book, Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren opens up with these words… “It’s not about you.  The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness . . . If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

It is not about YOU!  Our excitement in life must not be centered around who won the football game on Sunday afternoon.  We cannot discover our purpose based on how many friends we have on Facebook, what other people think of us, or even our own abilities and talents.

We must go back to creation in order to understand the purpose God has placed before us.  According to Genesis 1, our identity involved a “spiritual address.”  We were created in the image of God!  We were not designed in the image of a monkey, an elephant, or a spec of dust from the middle of the atmosphere.  We were created in the image of God, designed to live out our God-given purpose!  Life is not about our wants, our desires, or our needs.  It must be about what God wants, needs, and desires of us!  In Colossians 1:16, Paul writes, “all things were created by Him and for Him.”  We were created to bring Him honor and glory in everything we do and say.  We were created to be His workmanship… His hands and feet… His voice of truth… His instrument used to reach the world.  God has given us the command to go into the entire world, sharing the truth of Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”

Our complete purpose is found in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.  He displayed the ultimate example of what it means to “carry your cross daily.”  We must deny ourselves, carry our cross, and follow Jesus with our entire lives.

Honestly, I have struggled with this truth concept my entire life.  There is always something keeping me from a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Whether it was a high school relationship, college golf, working as a retail manager, doing ministry, or growing a family, I have consistently struggled giving up everything that I am and everything I have for the cause of Christ.  What does that look like anyway?  Do I have to sell everything I own and give it to the poor?  Do I have to live homeless, since Jesus was pretty much homeless?  Do I have to walk around smelling like I just left the garbage dump because I cannot waste money on a shower?  Do my children not play Little League Baseball because I could use the money more wisely?  Do I sell my iPhone and give the money to grow God’s Kingdom?  How far do I go to deny myself for the cause of Christ?  I could go on an on for days with questions just like these.

Living out our God-given purpose begins with a choice of accepting Him as our personal Savior.  We must realize we are nothing and He is everything.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is not one ounce of righteousness within us.  We not only need Christ in our lives, but we must desire Him above everything else.  He must be the reason we live, the reason we walk, and the reason we talk!  Our lives must be centered around who He is and what He can do.  Our relationships must bring Him all honor and glory.  There is nothing more exciting than to live a life of Christlikeness!

Second, we must live a life of discipline!  Why is it that we always lose the fire that is burning inside of us from missions’ trips, spiritual retreats, and even from accepting Christ as our personal Savior?  Why do we go back to living life the same old way?  Why do the wildfires built up inside of us gradually burn out?  Why does it seem easy to be able to jump out of the gate with the passion and desire to change the world, but by the third or fourth lap we are ready to crawl back to our lazy boys?

We have all seen sporting events where one team begins the game untouchable, yet by the end of the game they can barely make it up and down the field of play.  We have all known of somebody who has missed the mark of what it means to finish well.  They have lost the desire, the passion, and the discipline to keep up the good fight.

Unfortunately, we are training a generation to believe it is fine to lose.  I may offend some people, but I struggle with this.  God does not want us to be mediocre at anything!  He wants us to strive after greatness, being the best we can be at whatever we are involved in!  He desires for us to not settle for second place, but to strive for victory.  We must not settle for mediocrity.  We must not settle for second best, or as my brother calls, the “first loser!”  This must carry over into every area of our life, including our walk with Christ.

I challenge you to look beyond who you currently are spiritually…  Right now, envision what your life would be like if you clearly strived after the prize – the prize of victory – the prize of greatness – the prize of impacting lives on a daily basis for the cause of Christ – the prize of living your life to the fullest – the prize of being used by God in ways you cannot imagine.  Picture the world around you.  Picture your family and the difference the impact of a deeper relationship with Christ would make on their life.  What about that broken relationship?  What about that student that is struggling?  What about the legacy you could leave?  Why are we allowing the comfort of our own bubbles to get in the way of striving for the prize – the ultimate prize of victory in Christ?

At the same time, a life with Christ can be extremely grueling.  I am not going to say it is the easiest life you will ever live, because that is not true according to Scripture.  God’s Word tells us that we will be persecuted, ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and made fun for placing our faith and trust in Him.  The majority of the disciples were mocked, laughed at, stoned, and even put to death for their faith.  Stephen was stoned in a public setting for preaching the truth of the Gospel.  Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he refused to stop praying to the Creator of the Universe.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold.  We must be committed to a strengthening relationship with Jesus Christ, no matter the circumstances, no matter what others may think, and no matter what others may do or say towards us!

At the end of the day, what legacy are you leaving?  What are you doing to finish strong?  I will never forget a conversation I had with a fellow coworker of mine back in 2011.  He was just leaving a funeral of a father of three boys.  As he was walking up the stairs to our church offices, I was walking down, headed home.  The conversation, which lasted only about 30 seconds, was brief and to the point.  He looked at me and challenged me with words that I will never forget, “What legacy are you leaving?  How will you be remembered?  I want you to think through those two questions…

I didn’t even know what to say, how to respond, or what to think.  As I evaluated my own life, I was scared to think of the legacy I was leaving.  If something were to happen to me, what would my children remember me for?  What would the students I minister to remember me most for?  What would be said at my funeral?  What would be encrypted on my tombstone?  And most importantly, what would be the words of my Heavenly Father when I came face to face with Him?

What about you?  What legacy are you leaving?  How will you finish?  How will you finish today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, and this life – the one and only life God has blessed you with?

Are you living out your God-given purpose, dedicated to a growing relationship with Christ?  Are you focused on impacting those around you for the cause of Christ? Why do you do what you do?

‘If not you, then who?’

Partnering with Parents: A Family Ministry Must

paretner-with-parentsWhen I first began my journey in Student Ministry, I had a mentor tell me that I will never be a successful Youth Pastor if I don’t partner with parents.  He said that parents would be my best friends in ministry, even if it seems like they don’t like me.

For the first few years I tried doing Student Ministry without parents – and never succeeded.  The only time I connected with parents was when they were in my office frustrated at me for not communicating clearly about an event, charging too much for a summer trip, talking about specific topics without their permission, or the worst – telling a student their parents didn’t know what they were talking about.

I learned pretty quickly that I had to do whatever it took to partner with parents.  I had to reach out to them, talk with them, go to lunch with them, get to know them, make myself available to them, allow them to speak into the ministry, and yes, even allow them to lead areas of the ministry!

Now, as a father of five children, I definitely see the importance of partnering with parents, from the perspective of a parent.

The moment our ministries become only about the children and students is the moment we begin missing the mark as leaders.  Each one of us has been blessed with an opportunity to not only reach students, but also and even more importantly, the entire family.  How can we partner with the parents God has placed in our ministry and empower them to become the spiritual leaders of their homes?

I now view our parents as our greatest asset – even more than having the quarterback of one of the local football teams attend our youth ministry.  Our leadership teams – from preschool to high school – are full of parents who desire to serve within their child’s ministry!  To me – one of the greatest success stories is to have parents as passionate about our youth ministry as their students!

Yes, it is neat to see parents passionate about ministry and they are extra volunteers for our ministries, but why would we want to partner with parents?

First, parents are the primary influences on the faith formation of children and young people.  They are the primary ‘impact people’ for better or for worse.

In their book, Partnering with Parents in Youth Ministry, Jim Burns and Mike DeVries write, ‘If we truly desire to be more effective in seeing the lives or our students transformed into the likeness of Christ, the greatest resource we have is the greatest influence in their lives – their parents.  Our goal is to come alongside parents to help them pass on the faith to their children… We should never underestimate the power of parents in the spiritual formation of their children.  If spiritual formation is the key – and we believe it is – parents are too valuable to leave out of the equation.  We need to bring parents into the circumstances and situations of their children, affirming and helping to re-establish parental roles in the spiritual formation of our students.’

In Think Orange, Reggie Joiner introduces the 3000/40 principle. The 3000/40 principle is based upon the observation that a typical child spends 3,000 hours per year with their parents and 40 hours per year in church-related activities. If we’re trying to build a master strategy to build faith and character in our kids, it makes a great deal of sense to leverage the 3,000 hours a year children have with their parents as opposed to putting all of our resources into the 40 hours kids spend at church.

Second, parents know their children better than we do!  They have the opportunity to have more ‘teachable moments’ with their children than we do.  Spiritual formation is more than just education – it is the learning and experiencing of faith in and through the folds and creases of everyday life.  The course of daily life must be the primary classroom for faith exploration, testing, and practice.

Third, for the most part, parents care for their children even more than us!  Here is a perfect example… Two of my nephews are in our middle school ministry.  I love both of them dearly, respect them, and have seen them grow tons over the past few years.  But when I go home at the end of the day, even though they are family and key students within our ministry, their parents display a love and care for them that I cannot even compare to.  It is the same with my five children.  We have some of the greatest preschool and elementary leaders I have ever met, but their love and care for my children cannot compare to the love and care I show to them.

If you have not already, each of you will come in contact with children who have parents that do not care for them at all…  One of the most difficult experiences I have ever faced in ministry is when a student shares with me the neglect, hatred, and lack of compassion their parent shows them.

When this happens, we first must remember – we cannot fix this problem over night.  It takes time, forgiveness, healing, and will often take hours of professional counseling.  As hard as it may be, never feel like you have to bear the burden of someone else’s hurt due to the mistakes a parent has made.

Even during these moments, we must remember that parents also need and deserve our respect, support, and help.  I have seen many of these circumstances reconciled due to the love and respect the family ministry leaders showed the parents!

So what practical things can we do to partner with parents and see the core of our families grow spiritually?

As family ministry leaders, we must establish a safe harbor for our parents.  The majority of parents will find safety when a church accepts their current situation and helps them make the most of that situation.  We must meet our parents where they are and affirm God’s grace as the foundation for parenting – trusting that God is actively pursuing all families – no matter their makeup, size, or background!

We must also build a compassionate community for parents.  Are you intentionally connecting with parents in meaningful ways?  I challenge you to create an environment where help is provided and mutual support is honored.  Develop opportunities for parents to connect and relate to one another – formally and informally.

One of the steps we are taking as a church is to develop an environment of community for our parents.  We are launching several Family Ministry Community Groups in the next several months that will involve parent mentors and small group material surrounding parenting of different aged children.  We hope and pray it opens doors for parents to share their struggles and grow in community with other parents.  We also believe it will create a culture of discipleship and accountability amongst our parents.

Another practical step to developing the partnership with parents is to provide activities that engage and empower parents.  Whether it is parenting workshops, annual parenting and marriage conferences, or weekly communication in regards to the week’s message – we must be creating a sense of urgency within our parents!  They are designed by God to be the spiritual leaders of their homes.  As church leaders, we must assist in empowering them to live this out on a daily basis!

One of our biggest wins as at Cape Christian Fellowship is our Fam Jam program.  It is a chance for kids to bring their parents to church to hear about the monthly virtue through an entertaining and comic service.  It involves skits, music, and tons of fun for the entire family!  Every month we provide follow up tools for our families to take and implement what their kids are learning in church.  We must constantly be giving parents the opportunity to reinforce God’s Word!

That leads us to the next practical tool… We must also provide constant support for our families.  Whether it is through a resource guide or a simple conversation – we must help our parents live out their God-ordained call as the spiritual leaders of their homes.  This can also be accomplished by teaching faith skills and practices to parents through baptism classes, Rites of Passage ministries, and parent meetings

Parents new to the church, or to church period, might not have a clue about buying a Bible or praying with their kids.  Don’t be afraid to offer a recommended resource list to parents to help them in their growing faith.

I recently came across an incredible web-based Rites of Passage ministry that has led us to develop an entire Milestones Ministry.  While children and students experience transitions, parents are also faced with change and challenges in their parenting journey.  The beauty of a Milestone or Rites of Passage Ministry lies in the extent in which the family and church work together to mentor children and students spiritually and emotionally during significant moments of life.  Through our weekly services, classes, events, training, and mentorships we will work to empower our families to become the spiritual leaders of their homes.

All of these are great concepts, but to me the last one is the most important.  As family ministry leaders, we must create a culture in which the God’s love shines through every one of our conversations and relationships.  You do not have to wait for your pastor or ministry director to approve this one!  We must be intentionally creating relationships with parents – showing them you care for who they are as individuals.

One last thought… creating a ‘family-friendly’ culture begins with you.  If you want to bring about change, start with yourself.  If you have children, let others see you partner with your children’s ministry and other adults who work with your kids at church.  Be intentional about sharing the impact those partnerships are making in your family.  Use whatever platform you can find or create to tell parents that God rejoices when parents lead family time with God, pray with their children, and worship with their kids inside and outside of church.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to have kids spend time with their parents.  Rather, the goal is to equip and motivate parents to be their kids’ teachers, shepherds, and heroes!

Developing Spiritual Discipline Amongst Leadership Teams: Part 1

SpiritualDisciplinesSlideOver the past several years, God has shown me the significance of developing spiritual discipline amongst our leadership teams.  Successful ministry cannot occur without our leaders working every day to become more like Christ! 

‘Spiritual discipline’ sounds like a phrase from another era of history.  Whenever a book is written or a sermon is preached on the subject, people wonder if it is a subject only for ancient saints or a group of monks cloistered away in a mountain retreat.  But we must understand that spiritual disciplines play a significant role in our spiritual development.  They represent practices of our faith that give us the opportunity to interact with Christ.

After accepting Christ as our personal Savior, our faith is developed over time.  Certain spiritual disciplines help us become stronger in our faith.  Unlike spiritual gifts, which are provided to us by the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines are more like finely honed tools that aid us in our spiritual journey.  Yet each of the spiritual disciplines takes time and effort to develop and incorporate into our daily lives.

How Do Spiritual Disciplines Work?

A spiritual discipline is a good habit that allows you to remain open to God and become more like Christ.  Discipline is one of the hardest things for us to learn.  Think of some of the finest athletes… Most of them have a strong sense of discipline, because they have to build up strength, endurance, and skill to be good at a particular sport.  Surgeons spend years developing their surgical skills and learning the human body so that they are able to skillfully fix what is malfunctioning in the body.  Our favorite writers have the discipline to sit down every day to write, edit, and re-write until the story is right.  They hone their language skills and their ability to see a final product in all of the chaos of storytelling.

That’s what spiritual disciplines are to our faith…

Spiritual disciplines exercise our spirit, mind, and emotions so that we become closer to God.  They help us see His will for our lives more clearly so that we can live the life He desires for us.  The more we practice these disciplines, the better we get at them, and the stronger we make our faith.

Spiritual disciplines also help us simplify our faith.  How often do we feel discouraged because we don’t quite know what to do or if we are making the right decisions?  Spiritual disciplines have a way of clearing out the unnecessary things so we can get back to the basics.  Sometimes we overcomplicate things, and growing closer to Christ on a daily basis can keep us from making our lives more difficult.

Practicing spiritual discipline also gives us the strength and ability to keep our eyes on God.  When we focus on God, we stop letting other things get in the way of who He desires us to become.  Our lives find clarity when we stay disciplined in our faith.

In John 13:35, Jesus says, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’  True spiritual discipline begins with our understanding of what it means to love as Jesus has loved.  As ministry leaders, we must set the bar high when it comes to the spiritual discipline of our teams.  It takes prayer, dedication, and a compassionate heart for those we are leading.

We must answer the following two questions in order to see this practically carried out.

  1. What is the purpose in developing spiritual discipline within our own lives?
  2. What practical steps can we take to develop spiritual discipline amongst our ministry teams?

In I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Paul provides enough information for several weeks’ worth of messages out of these 4 verses.  In tomorrow’s post, I will walk through 3 simple points we can all take and apply to our daily walk with Christ as ministry leaders and will break down the practicality of spiritual disciplines amongst our leadership teams…

Part 2: Monday