Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been thinking about holiness a lot lately. The word literally just means to be different. Christians are to be different, separate in quality, from the way this world is run.

Have you noticed how we tend to mark our spirituality or holiness by how we are in comparison to other people? Even non-Christians do this. If you start talking about God, Jesus, and sin people tend to have this common response: "Well I haven't killed anyone. I'm a decent person, and I try to do the right thing" as if them "trying to do the right thing" should merit entrance to Heaven.

It really is a silly idea when you think about it. In response to utter perfection, the God of the entire Universe, the One who gave us a mind to think about right and wrong at all, we have told Him that we actually have something to offer Him. It's like letting someone borrow 20 bucks and them getting all excited, thinking they've earned it. Then, after they've paid you back, wanting some kind of congratulations or gratitude because they gave you what was yours in the first place.

But we can't even give God a cent back. We use the verse a lot that says "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But I'm not sure we always realize how big a deal this really is. God created us to love Him, obey Him, and stay in fellowship with Him. But every time we sin we tell Him, "I really don't like your way right now. My way is better." The very fact that God forgives any of us at all is a testament to His unlimited love and grace. To say we don't deserve forgiveness is a gross understatement.

When you understand how big of a deal sin is, you understand just how amazing grace is. Religion is doing good works to earn merit, but that's not Christianity. We're all totally lost and in the same boat, but Jesus came to bring us all forgiveness. There is no such thing as a good person outside of Christ.

Moving on to Christians, I tend to still think the way the world does about this. As long as I'm more active or faithful than the person next to me, I'm doing good. And if I have higher moral standards than the world around me, I'm doing really well. But God didn't just call me to become better, but new altogether.

This world has been completely ruined by sin. Our way of thinking and doing life is completely flawed. So, when we come into Christ, it is not an improvement He's after but an utter renewal. It is a complete tearing down of the ruin, and a rebuilding of what we were meant to be in the first place.

I wish I thought this way all the time. I'm amazed at some of the movies we allow ourselves to watch as Christians, or the amount of time we just completely waste on ourselves. We even have one holiday a year when (in the name of Jesus) we spend large quantities of money on an overflow of materialism. There's a load of other things that we accept as good in our culture that trickles into our standards as Christians.

Are we comparing ourselves to God, or to the world around us?

I mean, just think about one area alone. How much do we laugh at sin? Tons of TV shows (that are completely culturally acceptable) lay waste to God's name and proudly glorify sin as a source for laughter and entertainment.

How do we expect to save people from a devil's Hell when we laugh at the very things that send them there?

I'm not trying to be legalistic here. I'm not saying we need to be mean Christian nazis who constantly look down on others for their standards and actions. But we do need to look inwardly. What are we honestly basing our standards on? What in the Bible have we completely overlooked and excused away because we just don't want to deal with it?

Renewal isn't an easy thing, especially in our pleasure-centered culture. America is all about you. You deserve happiness. You deserve lots of money and a comfortable job. You deserve retirement. You deserve a pretty spouse, and if they aren't pleasing you, you deserve to get a new one. Life is about you.

But this stands in complete contradiction to the Bible. Life isn't about us. It's about God. We're not even close to being the point. The Bible is not about people being saved. It's about God's name being glorified, and He is good. He is the point of life, and we are so privileged to enter into Him, to be friends with Him.

What in our lives is comfortable, but not holy? In what way have we been comparing ourselves to others, instead of looking up? What does pursuing holiness look like in our culture? If we're trying to be like Jesus, what needs to be removed from our lives? What do we need to be practicing?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Intentional Mentoring - Part 3

How To Mark Your Mentoree's Spiritual Progress

This is the final of my three-part post on intentional mentoring. This is in no way exhaustive, but I do hope it gives you some tools and thoughts in how to disciple another person.

When you're mentoring someone it can be difficult to know if they're growing or not, and if you're doing a good job. There's four main things I try to keep in mind to encourage in them. I try to encourage these things in whatever context I'm with them in: relaxation, Bible study, service, or ordinary life.

1. Understanding - This may be the most important. When I'm mentoring someone I need to make sure they're understanding the things of God. Do they really get what the Gospel is about and how it applies to them? Do they understand who God is? Do they understand what it looks like to live for Christ? Do they see what God is doing in this world, and how they're a piece in that puzzle? Do they have a clear understanding of the Bible? If the answer to any of these are no, I know what to focus on in our studies.

2. Action - Once someone understands the concepts of the Bible, it's vitally important to make sure they're living lives that reflect this understanding. Are they serving others? Are they kind in speech? Do they love other people? Do they genuinely care for how other people are doing? Do they hold lives of integrity based on their love for Jesus? Are they praying and reading their Bible on their own? Are they sharing their faith with others? Are they taking the things we're studying and trying to match their lives with it? What am I doing as a mentor to encourage them to live like Christ practically? Am I modeling this? If the answer to any of these is no, then I have something to talk to them about. I may even have to specifically show them what living like Christ looks like (like, "hey follow me, watch as I genuinely listen to what this person has to say before I answer them.")

3. Desire -
I also want to make sure that this person is not just understanding the facts about God and applying them, but that it also reaches their heart. This is a real intangible one, and can be really difficult to know how to encourage. Some people just aren't emotional people, and that doesn't make them less spiritual. But do they have a deep desire and conviction to love God and please Him? Is my teaching and example stimulating this desire or choking it? When they are excited about something about God (even if you find it immature or incorrect) try to encourage their excitement. Zeal is a good thing, because you can then direct it at falling in love with Jesus and living committed to Him.

4. Following your example - I want to see that someone I'm mentoring is actually trying to follow my example. If they're not, I have to ask myself what kind of example I am leading. Can I really tell them like Paul did, "imitate me as I imitate Christ"? This can look like a lot of different things. One of the guys I was mentoring started to take on my teaching style, and it would have been really easy for me to poke fun at him for not being original or something. But instead I rejoiced that he looked up to me enough that he wanted to be like me. Mentoring is trying to bring someone closer to Jesus as you're trying to get closer to Jesus, so it's good if they're trying to be where you are.

I hope these things help stimulate some thought about discipleship for you. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts if you're willing to share them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Program-based to Discipleship-focused

Paul asked me to share my opinion about how a youth ministry could transition from being program-based to being discipleship-focused. Let me first say that my ideas are completely theoretical since I have almost no full-time ministry experience in the States. So take it for what it's worth.

First of all, I would like to define terms a little better. I think it should actually be program-focused to people-focused. Because here's the deal: with programs you're successful as long as (a) you have lots of programs and (b) people are showing up. But when you're focused on people, your ministry is only successful if people are becoming more like Jesus.

In most current models, you can come to church and be "involved" all your life and never experience any actual spiritual growth at all. And worst of all, no one will even notice. One Sunday night in a large congregation I ended up talking to an elderly woman who had been coming all her life. When I mentioned I might like to go to Mexico to do mission work she said something like, "all those people want is your money." Here was a woman who came to church all her life but hadn't made it past step 1 of the Gospel. She was still racist for goodness' sake! Something's wrong with what we're doing if you can call a ministry successful when a large majority remain untransformed by the Gospel.

Moving on to youth ministry, you may not like my ideas. Anyway, here's my four steps for transitioning.

  1. Get everyone on board. You can't press forward with anything in a church until the congregation understands what's going on and why. Spend some time teaching and preaching about the nature of the church, as well as the problems with what we've turned church structure into. Explain that the church is a family, and that quality matters more than quantity. Then explain that in light of these facts we will have to change (ow, the church cuss word) the structure to make our church more like what God wants.
  2. Integrate the ages. Separating people by race has been somewhat abolished (we still have white and black churches) but we have completely segregated churches by age. Youth are basically in their own church, and we have classes divided up into 20s, 30s, young marrieds, 40s and so on. In our culture youth are raising themselves with almost no adult influence whatsoever. What should be the solution? Kill the youth ministry. It's not healthy. Stop separating everyone by age and move people together. The Church is a family, but we don't act like one, and neither do we gather like one. Classes, small groups, and fun activities should be mixing ages and not segregating them.
  3. Impress on parents their responsibility for their childrens' spiritual growth, then give them the tools to do it. In our culture we have handed off virtually every aspect of parenting to "trained professionals." Right or wrong, when it comes to education on science, history, English, math, and so on we have brought them to a school for other people to do it. We teach them sports by enrolling them in leagues. And we train them in spirituality by handing them off to youth ministers. But God has given that role to parents. Regardless of what we do with science and sports, It is the parents' responsibility to impart the glory of God to their children. Parents are the youth ministers in God's eyes, regardless of what we have paid other people to do. However, in my experience many parents are clueless in how to parent their children, let alone disciple them. They need to be trained in godly parenting and discipleship.
  4. Facilitate times when the older are with the younger in smaller numbers. Though parents have the primary responsibility of imparting the glory of God to their children, some people don't have godly parents. The Church can be that family, full of acceptance and an adopting spirit. I am so thankful that people have adopted me in the faith, welcoming me to their homes and sharing their lives with me. We should facilitate times where the older can impart their wisdom, transparent faith, and lives to the younger. This doesn't mean that the older are perfect, just more experienced. Whether its Life Transformation Groups, small groups, or assigned mentors, this should be pursued. You are hindered in growing in your faith if you're never around those with more maturity than yourself.

Our culture has failed miserably at the older imparting wisdom to the younger. For example, my dad has built houses all his life. He can build a house from the ground up, and in fact he's done it many times. But guess what? I couldn't build a house to save my life. I didn't learn building homes by osmosis, like just being around my dad would make me a skilled builder. I have to be taught. So you know what? His building skills will likely die with him. They won't continue because he hasn't passed them down.

What about handing down living for Christ? We have done exactly the same thing. We have largely focused on our private spiritual growth, but we must be concerned about the next generation. Have we learned nothing from Israel? How could a generation rise up that "did not know the LORD" so quickly? The people of God did not pass down and invest in the next generation, and we are doing exactly the same thing today. The worst part is that our own church structure actually promotes this.

Youth go on camps, have devotionals, classes and everything else with almost no adults present. There are some adults who go along with these things, but in my experience these are usually the ones who never grew up anyway. They're trying to "relate" to the kids, and so are not helping them mature at all. They're just gaining from the kids' immaturity.

We need godly men and women who will invest time in their own children first: training them to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And we need churches that don't just focus on evangelizing the outside, but making real Christians of the people who are already there. We need churches that adopt their own in the faith with all the love and adoption the Gospel creates.

"We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." - Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12