Are You Too Busy?

These last five months of my life can be summed up in one word: hectic. I’ve been consumed with classes, work, church, friends, new obligations and developments.

Busy can quickly turn from productive to threatening. There are two times my spiritual life is directly under attack: when extremely idle or busy.

I want to explore five dangers of being too busy from my own life. Examine yourself for similarities.

  1. Strained intimacy with Christ. In the ebb and flow of life, reading the Bible can feel more like drifting at sea than diving in to a refreshing body of water, to be cooled and rejuvenated. The Word is rich. I begin to get anxious when my reading of the Bible becomes static.
  2. Driving through my prayer life. Buzzing through the list of request and needs is not a prayer life. Too often when I’m “going” nonstop, I fail to stop and spend restful time in prayer.
  3. Overlapping obligations. Writing while I’m in a lecture, reading while I’m hanging with friends, and doing study guides during a meal probably indicates there is too much going on. I need moments to catch my breath, and overlapping obligations only keep me running at a full sprint.
  4. No time for family. Not being able to answer calls, delaying texts message replies, and failing to think/pray for those I love most mean my priorities are beginning to shift. Family is of supreme value to me, but obligations can threaten to readjust my priorities.
  5. Lack of time to reflect on my spiritual life. Reflection and spiritual inventory are integral parts of my walk with the Lord. I love to assess where I am, think on what He’s been teaching me, and contemplate where He’s been leading me lately. When there is no time to process these key parts of my life, something needs to change.

Busy should be approached with caution. It’s not a badge of honor, so don’t wear it with pride. Be aware of its effect on your life and relationships. The devil likes to work when we’re active, not just when we are idle.

 

Called: An Early Reflection

If you asked my mother, she would tell you she’s known ministry was in my future for a long time. I guess it’s motherly intuition. She knows her son well and can sense where God is leading.

I think I remember asking about ministry for the first time when I was in second grade. Something along the lines of “hey Dad, think I’ll be a preacher?” He had to have laughed later at that question from a child.

This sense of divine obligation has taken many shapes and forms since those early childhood days. It’s a story written over a lifetime, not a moment or ultimatum.

When I was in high school, my sense of calling became more pronounced. My response was to try and create an image of how this might play out. My 18-year-old brain couldn’t do it, so I created ideas that were impersonal and impractical of fame and ministerial glory.

In my last year of collegiate studies, on Christmas break I received a book that changed my ministry paradigm. Eugene Peterson recorded his life as a pastor in a memoir titled The Pastor. It was the perfect combination of my favorites: memoir and ministry.

Over the course of three days, I journeyed through the seasons of ministry with a veteran. It was as if he were walking through his own personal museum, teaching me priceless lessons along the way.

For the sake of those in ministry preparation (or just for the refreshment of those in ministry), I want to share some quick lessons I learned from Eugene.

First, the life of the minister is not the life of an entertainer. Eugene believes the pastor’s job is best done in obscurity. This keeps ego in check and rids the pastor of vain motivations. To be called to ministry is to be called to a life on the fringes, hanging between the spiritual and the earthly…showing your people how to live with Christ in that tension.

Second, the formation of the pastor starts at birth and ends at death (or exit from the pastorate). God never stops growing the men He has called to shepherd. Like the flock, we must always be growing in Christ and into our roles as spiritual care-takers.

Third, the pastor is called to shepherd, not execute. What do I mean exactly? Pastors are no more CEOs than a professional athlete is an accountant. The call to lead is a call to care, guide, listen, cry, muse, coax, wed, and say goodbye. It’s carried out in relationships, not offices.

I could write many more, but I’ll close my list at three.

At this stage in my life, these are ideas that have yet to be put into practice. But, one day these will be my marching orders. For those responsible for the spiritual lives of others, I hope you’ll join me.

3 Questions to Ask About Your Priorities

Different seasons of life bring diverse challenges. When new things are introduced into our routines, sometimes we struggle to learn where they fit. Or, we just lose our ability to prioritize and suffer some unpleasant consequences.

Staying focused in life is not easy, but it’s doable. Here are three helpful questions to ask yourself when you need to prioritize.

  1. Is my relationship with Christ/the gospel still my most important priority? As Christians, we should always be striving to answer this question with a “yes.” But, we’re human, and there are times we lose our focus. What in your life has subtly become more important than Christ and the implications of intimacy with Him?
  2. Are any of my (family) relationships/friendships suffering right now because of imbalance in my priorities? There are times where we try to juggle so much that those we care about suffer from our absence. We will be spending eternity with people, so we should be living with them as a primary priority.
  3. How is my spiritual, physical, and emotional health? Has something been stealing your sleep? Are you eating right and exercising, or are you too busy? Correctly arranged priorities will allow adequate time to make sure we are taking care of ourselves holistically.

These are three simple questions, but I think our answers to them let us know of changes we may need to make. Take some time to think them through for yourself and adjust accordingly.

4 Reasons You Need to Consider Doing Ministry in the North(east)

This weekend I spent time visiting my family in Pittsburgh. Of course, on Sunday we attended their church. My parents are faithful members of a Southern Baptist church on the south-side suburbs of the city.

I regularly attended churches in the South for the first 16 years of my life. Spending the weekend in Pittsburgh (a city I lived in for five years) prompted me to consider some differences in the church culture from the North to the South, and the consequential needs found in the Northeast.

Here are four observations.

  1. Lack of resources. The North is statistically more unchurched than the South. So, finding gifted members to serve in a variety of roles is a difficult task to say the least.
  2. Expositional preaching is scarce. There is a need for expositional preaching in all parts of the country, and the North is no exception. Few trained men find themselves moving from seminaries to cities where there is promise of hard work and little fruit. This leads to a deficit in expositional preaching for these churches with small budgets and great needs.
  3. A different church planting strategy. I’ve spent the last seven years either living/traveling to Pittsburgh regularly, so I’ve had a front row seat to some of the issues church planters have to face while trying to establish a new congregation in a very un-Baptist context. Traditional strategies struggle to work there. Plain and simple. We have to get creative and lower our expectations when working in a foreign land.
  4. A disinterest in the North(east). Ministry isn’t sexy, but even the idea of ministry in the North is ugly. It’s hard, gritty work that takes years of patience and resilience. This tends to scare some called men away from working in these cities, even though the harvest is ripe.

I write this post with the hope of spurring some qualified men to think about ministering in the North(east). Although this context is difficult, there is much work to be done for the Gospel there.

If this challenge interests you, contact me and I can point you in the right direction.

 

Does Your Soul Wait? Reflections From Psalm 62

“For God alone my soul waits in silence” Psalm 62:1

We are not a waiting people. Our food is fast, our media LTE speed…Our culture is immediate. God is not. He works in the waiting.

We are a loud people. I can’t remember the last time I made breakfast without music on. My apartment is never quiet. I seem to always have music or movies on the background to keep my mind occupied.

What’s so magical about waiting? What happens in silence? I want to explore these questions with two concise reasons why we, like the Psalmist, should live a life of spiritual patience and quiet.

  1. Waiting empties us. Waiting makes us take inventory on our thoughts. What comes to your mind first when you are in an expecting season? A true test of the state of your mind is where it goes when you commit to waiting on the Lord to communion with you.
  2. Silence stills us. We must come to grips with what is going on in our hearts when we are surrounded by silence. When we stop stirring, much of what is happening within will rise to the surface. Only then, when the things of our hearts have been revealed, can we allow the Holy Spirit to deal with those untouched areas.

Now, let me offer two realizations for practicing these elements.

  1. Waiting takes work. Waiting in a time of devotional communion with the Lord can be painstaking. Although frustrating, this is truly a blessing. There is something intimate about pursuing the Lord with patience and expectancy.
  2. Silence calls us to deep prayer. Sometimes sitting in the Lord’s presence, meditating on His Word, is just what’s needed to rejuvenate our weary souls. I believe we are so overworked mentally and so connected through media that we don’t even know just how much our soul craves solitude. Let’s seek it; better yet, let’s seek Him through the silence.

Our time with the Lord can be rich, but we must learn to empty ourselves through patient waiting and solitude.

My 5 Hopes for the Church in the Future

Recently I’ve read some quality posts about the future of the American church. Unlike those authors, I don’t write based on the authority of years of church leadership experience. Rather, I write as many of my readers, a lay person who is a member involved in a local church.

See if you can relate to my desires for the future of the church. Here are my hopes:

  1. We will slow down. American life is fast paced, even in small Southern towns. From my view, it seems many modern churches have adopted the philosophy that constant church action stimulates spiritual and numerical growth. It feels hollow to me.
  2. We will try to be spiritually deep before we settle for practicality. Nothing is more practical than seeking a deep life in Christ. However, many churches and leaders settle for simple truths and bland statements in hopes of “relating” to their people’s needs. Humans have an incredible need for connection and depth. Because we have failed to slow down (point one), we’ve missed the opportunity to grow some of the deeper facets of a relationship with Christ.
  3. We will stop worshipping our leaders. The exaltation of speakers and singers has spread like a cancer. Many Christians are growing only as deep as the availability of resources from their favorite Christian. It seems our time scrolling through our favorite pastor’s twitter page holds more value than our time in the Word.
  4. We will start valuing all spiritual roles equally. Building off point three, I pray that we will start to see the counselor as important as the preacher, the nursery worker as essential as the worship leader, and so on.
  5. We will stop using “community” as a buzz word and start committing to the long haul. Community takes a long time to build. I’m convinced many churches fail at this because they don’t wait patiently enough for relationships to build over the natural course of time and life.

I am thankful that I’ve heard other Christians my age sharing the same sentiments. I hope we will bring some reform in these areas as Christ asks us to step up in our local churches.

No Such Thing as Super Christians (Part 2)

In my previous post I discussed the simple truth that no Christian is complete yet. We all struggle with life in various forms, and none of us is victorious over every facet of our lives.

Today, I want to discuss some practical how-tos based on that idea. Primarily, understanding this concept frees us from living under the self-imposed burden of perfectionism or legalism.

Here are a few practical responses:

  1. You don’t have to worry about spiritual appearance. Releasing yourself from desire to appear “holier than thou” means you can live with authenticity. Failure no longer has a hold on us because we understand there is grace for the times we stumble.
  2. You don’t have to worry about spiritual performance. Preaching to big crowds doesn’t earn bonus points in heaven. Putting on a fake smile doesn’t impress God. When you aren’t worried about being what you’re not or simply doing “big things for Jesus,” you’re free to be authentic.
  3. You don’t have to fear judgment from other Christians. Christian celebrity culture has muddied the water of holiness. Status and external honor don’t always mean someone is where he or she should be. Our relationship with the Lord should be dependent on His expectations, not those of others.

These are just a few thoughts, but I hope that they point you to freedom in your pursuit of Christ without external expectations. Our hearts need only to be devoted to the One who knows us completely.