Encouragement From The Word

Let God transform you

I have spent part of this week with a group of students from Presbyterian seminaries in Canada.  They are required to attend what’s called a Guidance Conference at some point in their theological education in order to be assessed in terms of their understanding of their faith journey, call to ministry and gifting.

It was 25 years ago now that I went through one of these conferences as a candidate for ministry, and I remember how nerve-wracking and grueling it was to be watchedat all times, so I’ve done my best when participating in these conferences to be friendly and not to appear like Big Brother.

What these conferences remind me of, writ large, is that the Christian life is not just about being informed.  It’s also about being formed.

It’s possible to shovel all manner of knowledge into people’s minds, and it may make them smart, but unchanged.  There must be an aspect of formation, whether in theological education for pastors or ongoing discipleship for congregants.  After all, you could get an axe murderer to memorize the Psalms and the Westminster Confession of Faith and that person, without the involvement of the Holy Spirit, would still be an axe murderer.

The Bible tells us, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12.2, NLT).

It is God who does the transforming, not us.  We do well to position ourselves for transformation, but the work of transforming belongs to God.

When God works to transform us, it changes our way of thinking, and therefore our way of living.  Faith not just about knowledge, but about character development.

We don’t send congregants to things like Guidance Conferences, but there are all kinds of opportunities that exist for God’s people to develop their character in the Lord:  conferences, podcasts, videos, online sources like RightNowMedia, as well as small groups and Bible studies at church, along with regular participation in worship.

September starts tomorrow.  It’s a time for fresh starts.  Why not determine that you will make time to prioritize your spiritual formation this fall?

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Biblical Messages

Seal of Approval

In a consumer society, it can be hard to separate our consumer-ness from our faith, but landscape-1427235701-ghk-seal-indexit’s easy to follow the sizzle rather than the steak.  In this message, based on John 6.22-27, we look at the fact that the Giver is more important than the gift.  Listen, or watch, below.

 

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: DIDN’T SEE IT COMING BY CAREY NIEUWHOF

There is a certain romanticism about Christian ministry.  Many – dare I say, most – 9780735291331people who enter ministry, especially younger in life (as I did), tend to have a view of pastoral leadership as something ideal:  we get to preach God’s Word, share in people’s highs and lows of life, and live as full-time disciples of Jesus.

While all of that is true, there are many other aspects to ministry that our romanticized view conveniently blots out.  They are not as fun, not as exciting, and often highly challenging.

Carey Nieuwhof, Founding and Teaching Pastor at Connexus Community Church (with campuses in Barrie, Orillia, and Midland, Ontario) has written a book which will be most helpful to all people in church leadership, especially younger leaders.  Having gone through a career change early on (he studied and practised law briefly before accepting God’s call), being appointed a student pastor while still studying for ministry, leading a congregation through exponential growth and eventually out of the denomination in which he had served, he found himself at one point – about 12 years ago – in a period of burnout, from which he initially wondered if he would ever recover.

I was keen to read this book, not only because Carey is a longtime friend of mine, but because the latter part of that story eerily paralleled my own.

When I started in ministry over 30 years ago, the church and the social landscape were vastly different.  I was educated to lead a church in a Christendom world, where churches were strong and pastors were well-respected.  Today, those realities, in the Canadian church at least, are long gone, and we live in a time where change is the only constant.  There’s a lot of adapting that needs to be done, by church leaders and congregants alike.

Younger leaders may find this season in history especially challenging, because they are starting at the bottom of a steep hill.  Didn’t See It Coming, while applicable to everyone, is especially helpful, I think, to those younger leaders who are starting out in the pioneering work of bringing in God’s Kingdom on earth.

Carey addresses cynicism – how we get there and how we get out of it; he addresses intellectualism – how we are trained to think but also need to learn to experience God’s goodness and grace; and he addresses character – how Christians, and especially church leaders, need to be honest and transparent about developing lives like Jesus.  Most of the rest of the book builds on these themes.

Readers of Carey’s blog (careynieuwhof.com) will find some familiar words in this book, as much of Didn’t See It Coming piggybacks on a number of Carey’s more popular posts.  But there’s sufficient illustrative material and extrapolation to warrant reading the book, even if one has already read the blog.  I am a faithful reader of the blog, and still gained insight from the book.

Carey addresses a number of issues about which I wish I had learned as a younger leader, especially before my season of burnout – topics like solitude versus isolation; personal growth preceding helping others grow; technology, with its ups and downs; and studying culture.

From his own experience, Carey uses this book to help readers avoid the pitfalls he faced.  While, by grace, he did not find himself in a situation of moral failure as some other prominent church leaders have, he has written Didn’t See It Coming as a tool to help other church leaders avoid the challenges that can lead to ministry-ending situations.

I recommend that all church leaders read this book.  It is not a long read, but it is a thought-provoking read.  It will be widely available as of September 4, 2018.

Didn’t See It Coming:  Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges that No One Expects and Everyone Experiences, by Carey Nieuwhof (New York: WaterBrook, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018).

Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher, electronically, of Didn’t See It Coming.

ADDENDUM:  If you want an ‘insider look’ at the book, you can listen to Ann Voskamp interview Carey about the book on his podcast here.  It really adds to the already rich nature of this book.

Encouragement From The Word

The elusive subway train

While on vacation in early August, my wife and I paid our first visit to New York City. It’s a fascinating place, great for people-watching, and I recommend that you go if you haven’t been before. (We found a place to camp in New Jersey that was very handy to the train that goes into Manhattan, so while not cheap, it was less expensive than taking a New York hotel room!)

Since the constant gridlock traffic that characterizes downtown Manhattan would drive any Canadian crazy, we relied on public transit to get us around New York. And we learned something fascinating: the New York City subway system is very confusing – even to locals.

We were in Fulton Street Station in lower Manhattan, and we wanted the Number 1, 2 or 3 train to head up to 42ndStreet.  It shouldn’t be too hard, we reasoned, since any one of those three trains would get us there.  But the platform we landed on did not have any of those trains; we weren’t interested in a trip to Brooklyn, so we started watching signs.  Every so often, as we walked along the platforms in the hot, sticky air, we would see a sign that pointed to the Number 1, 2 and 3 trains.

We went up stairs.  We went up elevators.  We went down stairs.  We walked across what felt like miles of platforms.  And this was all in the same station!  At one point, we encountered a lady who, in conversation, told us that she lives there, and she gets confused by the subway.  She wanted the same train we did, and she was as helpless in the process as we were!

Eventually, we found the right platform – no worries about getting my 10,000 steps in that day! – and made it uptown.  But oh, my, what a confusing episode.

Understand that for someone who is new to the church, who perhaps went as a child or has absolutely no faith background at all, walking into a church building on a Sunday morning can be a bit like my experience in the New York City subway.

It’s up to us to assume nothing, keep it simple, and be willing to help people navigate through a service that may be old hat to us, but not to our guests. This is true whether your worship gathering is simple and streamlined, or requires you to follow along in a book or a bulletin.  Whatever we do, it may be gibberish to someone who is new to the church.

Let’s do all we can to grease the path that leads to Jesus.  That way, our guests will be able to echo the Psalmist:  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122.1, NLT).