When Ability Outpaces Character

SamsonDestroyTempleReDiscovered Word 15

Judges 13-16

A leader’s ability should never outpace his character. Strength and cunning cannot replace submission to God. Talent is no substitute for spiritual maturity.

Samson was the strongest man alive, but he was hollow at the core. He used his power to take vengeance and to satisfy his lusts. He forgot that his strength did not come from his hair. It came from God. He was appointed to protect Israel from the Philistines, to deliver them and lead them into worship. Instead he simply protected his own interests and didn’t really lead at all. In the final analysis, Samson acted like a Philistine himself. Brutish, angry, out of control, and godless.

He killed more Philistines in his death than he killed during his life. That’s not a glowing epitaph. It’s a tragedy. Samson is a vivid illustration of the theme of Judges: “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” God gave him every advantage and every opportunity, and he squandered them all. When a leader’s talent outpaces his character, the result is disastrous for everybody involved.

Like Israel, we are too enamored with talent and strength. We follow men and women who are gifted without asking whether they’re godly. Those of us who lead are often too quick to cultivate our skills while neglecting our character.

Character takes time to develop. There is no easy road to spiritual maturity. So we settle for a mirage. After all, who needs character when talent is so much easier to come by?

But that approach is a tragic mistake. Time and again, God’s Word shows us that He exalts character over strength. He often passes over the tallest, strongest, and most talented leaders in order to lift up the humble. He knows what we sometimes forget, that the humble person depends on God. It’s not that talent and maturity are mutually exclusive. It’s just that extremely gifted people sometimes have a harder time trusting God. Letting go of control is tricky, and it’s even tougher if you feel capable of being in charge all by yourself.

That’s why Paul’s qualifications for leadership don’t include qualities like charisma, height, good looks, eloquence, talent or strength. They are all about character. Gentleness, sobriety, peacefulness, self-control, faithfulness.

Character trumps talent every single time. If you want to make an eternal impact, if you want to lead in a way that benefits God’s people, cultivate your character first. Talent will follow if God wants you to have it. And if He doesn’t give it to you, it’s because you don’t need it.

For those looking for somebody to follow, don’t assume that the most gifted person is the best leader. Don’t make the mistake that Israel made, the mistake we too often make even today.

Ability should never outpace maturity. There is no substitute for spiritual maturity, no substitute for dependence on God, who exalts the humble and humbles the proud.

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What the Mark Driscoll Story Reveals About Every Leader

Two weeks ago World broke the story that Mars Hill Church paid a large amount of money to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage onto the New York Times best-seller list.

Mars Hill released a statement acknowledging the basic facts of the story, although they dispute the amount of money that World claims was spent on the best-seller campaign. Calling the campaign “unwise” but not “uncommon or illegal,” they insisted that it won’t happen again.

The story has raised a great deal of ire in the Christian blogosphere. Driscoll has always been a controversial figure, so in response to this latest news, some are gleefully shouting, “I told you so!” Others lament that the Christian evangelical leadership culture has sunk to a new low. Surely pastors and churches ought to be held to a higher standard than whether something is illegal or not. Beyond “unwise,” most people recognize the under-the-table marketing campaign as manipulative and unethical.

While I resonate with those concerns, I can’t shake the feeling that Mars Hill’s indiscretion shines a light into the dark corners of my own heart, and probably the heart of every leader. 

Everybody wants to make an impact. We sometimes confuse that desire with another, our desire to be liked and popular. There’s a prevalent lie abroad in our world, a lie that says the crowd’s applause is a signal that we’re making a difference. Of course that’s rarely the case. All too often agents of spiritual change are met with stony silence, seeming indifference, or even hostility. If you don’t believe me, just read the gospels and consider the life of Christ.

It would be easy to consider the Mars Hill story as an anomaly, just a story of one arrogant pastor or a wayward church. It would be similarly easy to chalk it up to our American celebrity culture, a culture that has clearly infected the local church in a bad way.

But I think the roots of the problem go much deeper. The problem is rooted in the sinful human heart, a heart that desires to please people instead of God.

I don’t think we worship celebrities because we’re American. We worship celebrities because we’re idolaters. We cannot see God, so we fashion idols in our own image. Then we dream that one day we can ascend to their pedestal and receive the adoration of other people, people who belong to God and are made to worship Him alone.

It’s all too easy to confuse the dim glory of man with the perfect glory of God. When we get the two muddled, we find ourselves seeking to be the Source of glory rather than a small reflection of it, and that’s when the real trouble begins.

Much like money, I don’t think fame is inherently evil. It’s just very dangerous. It’s the love of fame and applause that leads us to all manner of evil. When we convince ourselves that any means are justified, as long as our message gets out there, we’re on the slippery slope to idol worship. It’s too easy to undermine the gospel by using questionable methods to make it known.

What scares and dismays me is not simply that Mars Hill used questionable methods to promote Driscoll’s book, but also that I see glimpses of that sort of darkness in my own heart. The only hope for me is the lavish grace of God, who reminds me that I’m significant because He loves me and gave His Son for me.

That’s the only hope for any of us who lead others, whether on a large or small scale. We need to constantly bathe in His light or we run the risk of trying to falsely manufacture our own.

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6 Character Traits that Real Influencers Have in Common

I’d be willing to bet that you don’t remember the last Tweet from your favorite author, pastor, or celebrity. You’ve probably forgotten that amazing viral blog post that was going around on Facebook last week. You might not even remember specific chapters or phrases from the most significant book you’ve read in the past year! In a world filled with noise, it’s hard to remember much of anything we read or hear.

On the other hand, if I asked you to name the most influential people in your life, you could probably tell me. You might be able to describe why they influenced you, and perhaps one or two key concepts they taught you. My hunch is a very small percentage of those influential people would be celebrities.

Reach is not the same thing as influence, although there is a connection between the two. Just because you can draw a large crowd doesn’t mean you’ll say anything important. The world is so full of loud voices that having a large audience doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make a lasting impact.

How can we have an impact that won’t fade away tomorrow or next week, when the next new thing grabs everybody’s attention? Here are a few characteristics that I think true influencers have in common: 

1. Consistency. I don’t mean that influencers speak frequently, or even that they speak or write at regular intervals. Instead, they have a consistent message. True influencers become known for repeating one or two concepts over and over again. For the apostle Paul, it was the message that Christ’s death and resurrection paved the way to know God, apart from the Law. For Brene Brown, it’s the idea that vulnerability can transform our lives. For Howard Hendricks, it was the concept that knowing how to study the Bible and apply it was foundational to life and ministry. Influencers beat the same drums so many times that you can’t forget what they’re trying to tell you.

2. Integrity. People who make a lasting impact center their whole lives around their key values. Anybody who looks at the life of a true influencer knows that they really believe what they say. How would you feel if you found out that Dave Ramsey had thousands of dollars of credit card debt? (That’s not true, by the way, but it gives you an idea of the importance of integrity). Influencers know that their actions are as important as their speeches, Tweets, and blog posts.

3. Generosity. Influencers aren’t greedy with their ideas. They aren’t overly worried that somebody else will steal their glory. A true influencer seeks to build others up. Jesus’ early followers knew that the Gospel was more important than any one disciple, so they trained others to understand and teach the Scripture (see 2 Timothy 2:2). As a result, their influence didn’t die out when they did.

4. Love. Influencers are more concerned with people than with anything else. They work hard to finish projects, but they ultimately work for the benefit of other people. When you read Paul’s letters, for example, you can tell that his primary goal wasn’t to write books, but instead to help people know Jesus. That motivation comes through in what he wrote, and it’s a huge reason people keep reading it.

5. Expertise. You don’t need a doctorate to make an impact on other people, but you do need the sort of quiet preparation that is often in short supply these days. Whether you want to be a carpenter, a writer, a speaker, or a businessperson, you’ll have to commit to self-development. My wife is a very skilled newborn photographer, but she didn’t learn her craft overnight. She practiced, went to workshops, and persevered in order to get better. The same is true with anything worth doing: If you want to have an influence, you’ll work for years to develop expertise. There are no shortcuts to a life of lasting significance.

6. Passion. Last but not least, influencers truly believe that they can change the world. For those of us whose message is the Gospel, it means that we care about it deeply. I’m a relatively introverted person, and I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve. But I still need to project passion and enthusiasm when it really matters. So do you if you want to make a difference. If you find your own mission boring, so will everybody else.

Whether you hope to influence one person or thousands, I think these six characteristics are essential. If you use social media, I think it’s possible to extend these characteristics into your online world, as well. Every tool at your disposal can be a medium for long-lasting (hopefully eternal) impact if you use it well.

Would you add anything to this list? I’d love to hear your examples of those who have influenced your life and how they exemplified these values!

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Is Seminary Really Necessary?

I regularly have conversations with young men and women who are trying to decide whether to go to seminary. I’ve noticed a recent trend away from formal theological training, particularly among young men who hope to be church planters or pastors. 

Often they object to the concept of seminary on biblical grounds. After all, Jesus’s disciples never attended some formal school of theology.

Some are more pragmatic in their objections. “[Famous podcast preacher] never attended seminary, and look at his enormous and successful ministry today!”

I’ll acknowledge that seminary isn’t for everybody. However, I do believe that everybody hoping to enter some sort of public ministry ought to first build a foundation of godly character and theological knowledge. In fact, that’s the pattern I observe in the Scripture and in the lives of great leaders throughout church history. Seminary or no, a lifetime of ministry requires preparation. In most cases, it requires years of preparation.

I frankly worry about men and women of exceptional gifting who haven’t taken the time to deepen their knowledge and character prior to entering ministry. In too many cases, I’ve seen giftedness become a poor substitute for Christian character. When that happens, the result is either catastrophic moral failure or a slow loss of ministry vitality. That’s why I wouldn’t make [famous podcast preacher] a model for how to approach ministry training. It’s quite possible that he’s an exceptional case, somebody who is effective in spite of his lack of training rather than because of it.

While seminary training is not a cure for spiritual catastrophe, the training I received at seminary helped me to lay a foundation for a lifetime of effective ministry. Although it’s not the only way to prepare for ministry, it does provide certain benefits that are difficult to find elsewhere. Here are a few concepts I learned in seminary that may or may not have been part of the official curriculum:

1. I learned that I still have a lot to learn. I grew up going to church and listening to sermons. I joined nearly every youth group and college Bible study available to me. By the time I was finishing college, I thought I knew most of what there was to know about the Bible. I was horribly, horribly mistaken. After 4 years and 40+ courses, I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what there is to know about God and His Word. Realizing my own ignorance humbled me and motivated me to be a lifelong learner.

2. I learned how to think theologically. I tried to listen carefully to the way my professors structured their arguments and discussions. I didn’t always agree with their conclusions. In fact, seminary isn’t (or shouldn’t be) primarily about learning what other people think so you can parrot it for the next 40 years. Instead, it’s an opportunity to discuss biblical and theological concepts with others who are grappling to understand them. Although I learned certain facts and a great deal of useful information, what I really learned was how to think about God. I found that methodology was ultimately more more valuable to me than information.

3. I learned that knowledge and application are vitally connected. It’s a huge fallacy to assume that knowledge will always lead to spiritual dullness. When we pursue knowledge as a means of understanding God and representing His character, it actually enhances our ability to obey Him. The oft-discussed “conflict” between head-knowledge and heart-knowledge is actually a false dichotomy. Yes, it’s possible to be full of information while simultaneously being a self-righteous jerk. It’s also possible to be completely ignorant of anything theological and still be a self-righteous jerk. For my part, I’ve found that knowing more about God and His Word provides me with more and more reasons to worship and proclaim Him.

4. I learned how to endure when a task is difficult. In my opinion, this is the least-appreciated benefit that seminary provides. It’s not necessarily written into the curriculum, but seminary taught me how to persevere. It was difficult financially: Shannon and I watched our friends from college buy large houses and nice cars while we struggled to buy enough food for the month. Seminary forced us to examine our priorities: Would we commit to keeping our marriage strong, even though academic and financial pressures tempted us to work constantly? Would we persevere when well-meaning friends and family members asked, “Are you still in school? How long is that program, anyway?” The discipline it required to endure a four-year training program helped equip me for a lifetime of serving Jesus. Seminary isn’t the only way to learn that discipline, but it’s an effective way. There is simply no shortcut to character development, and I worry that too many young men and women are trying to find one. 

Should every minister attend seminary, then? Not necessarily. I do think, though, that too many people avoid seminary for the wrong reasons. Too many are eager to jump into leadership without taking the time to prepare. Seminary seems like an unnecessary delay, when in fact it provides some important training. The critical issue is this: Have I taken the time necessary to develop my mind, my character, and my spirit so that I can be effective for a lifetime? If you haven’t, then seminary is one excellent way to do so.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Obviously this post is not comprehensive regarding the benefits of seminary. What do you think, though? Is it overrated? Is it necessary? 

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How to Be Joyful (When You Don’t Feel Like It)

Last weekend, as I was relaxing with my family and preparing to preach on Sunday, I received the news that my 91-year-old grandfather had passed away. It just so happened that I was preparing to preach from Philippians 4:4-9, which begins with this command: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!'”

The juxtaposition of grief and joy shaped my sermon in some significant ways. Living with the tension between loss and hope, between death and new life, sharpened my thinking about what it looks like to be joyful in the midst of our fallen world. I thought I would share the sermon with my readers this week, as it expresses what I’ve been thinking about lately. In this case, I think the spoken message communicates my thoughts more clearly than would a long blog post.

I hope you find this message encouraging and helpful: 


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Ordinary Greatness Bible Studies

Yesterday was an exciting day for me and two of my fellow pastors. We received the first hard copies of our new Bible study series. They are available on Amazon now, and they’ll be available for Kindle on October 30th. The author royalties we receive will go back to the ministry of Grace Bible Church, in order to allow us to grow as a church and to be more effective in communicating the Gospel around the world. Although I rarely (i.e. almost never) engage in this sort of promotion on my blog, I am so excited about this that I had to let you know a bit about these studies.

The series is published by NavPress/TH1NK and is titled Ordinary Greatness. Each of the three studies examines the life of a different biblical character: Gideon, Daniel, and Peter. They are generally geared toward youth and college students, and particularly toward young men. However, we’ve done our best to write studies that are broad enough to be useful to anybody.

If you have ever used any of Grace’s Bible study curriculum, you will find the format of these studies familiar. Each lesson is divided into three sections: Look It Over (Observation), Think It Through (Interpretation), and Make It Real (Application). Our goal is to challenge those who study these characters to dig into the biblical text deeply and to wrestle with how it applies to their lives.

Here are some of the endorsements we received for these studies: 

“A good set of character Bible studies is hard to find. THE ORDINARY GREATNESS series is rich in its engagement with the text and directing users to practical reflection. This is a solid tool for spiritual growth.” — Dr. Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary

“Change is inevitable, but the right kind of change is special. God is the agent of lasting change in our lives. This series will help identify the changes God wants to make in you by showing you the changes He has made in biblical heroes.” — Gregg Matte, pastor, Houston’s First Baptist Church

“ORDINARY GREATNESS is a series that invites people to know the Word of God thoroughly, interpret it accurately, and apply it passionately. This is a key resource for anyone looking to break new ground in their knowledge of the Bible and their intimacy with the Lord.” — Timothy Ateek, Director, Vertical Ministries, Waco

“Many studies of biblical characters are designed to inspire and encourage, but this one aims at something different: transformation. By continually driving us back to God’s Word and pointing us to the person of Jesus, the ORDINARY GREATNESS series provides the perfect antidote to the boredom and inward focus of our day.” — John Dyer, Th.M., author of From the Garden to the City

It is our desire that God will use these studies, and more importantly His Word, to transform your life and to make you a more effective servant of Jesus. I hope you will consider using one or all of these for yourself or your Bible study group. Thank you for your continued support, not only of this project but of Grace Bible Church and this blog. It’s a privilege to connect with you each week and also to offer you tools and resources like these.

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How to Stay Awake During Sermons

I used to take it personally when people fell asleep during my sermons. Like many preachers, I spend a large portion of my week preparing, and it’s demoralizing to see nodding heads and heavy eyelids. At times, I’m tempted to thump people on the head, or to set up the “cot of shame” at the front of the auditorium. Anybody who drifts off would publicly walk to the cot of shame and sleep in full view of those present. (I would never do this, but the thought has crossed my mind more than once.)

Although the problem might be on my side of the pulpit — and I certainly strive each week to improve my content and delivery — my perspective changed a few years ago when I noticed people sleeping while trying to listen to one of the most gifted and exciting preachers I know. The sight was both comforting and horrifying. If people could not stay awake during his message, the problem isn’t simply poor preaching.

Most of us struggle at times to listen to sermons, even when they are compelling and well-prepared. Yet few disciplines are more important than hearing and responding to God’s Word. The blessing of God begins when we “look intently” into the perfect Law and apply it to our lives (James 1:22-25). We can’t do that if we’re asleep.

So how can we listen to God’s Word more effectively and stay awake on Sunday morning? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Become a reader. Those who regularly read books are in the habit of concentrating on sustained intellectual arguments. When you read, you learn to think in a linear fashion, so a 45-minute exposition of Romans 3 is no longer such a mental strain. If the longest content you read is 140 characters, you will have a hard time paying attention to a sermon, because you are not accustomed to critical thinking.

2. Prepare ahead of time. Ask your pastor to tell you what he will be speaking about for the next four or five weeks. (If he doesn’t know, then part of the reason you can’t pay attention is because his messages are poorly prepared). Look up the relevant passages on Saturday night. Pray that God will help you understand them. Read them and make observations. Show up prepared with questions, and listen to discern whether your pastor answers them. If he doesn’t, talk to him after the message is over. This exercise will help you to truly engage with the sermon.

3. Get some sleep! Particularly for college students, the habit of staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on Saturday night fatally damages your ability to listen well on Sunday. If you have not slept on Saturday night, you will certainly sleep on Sunday morning. If you find that you cannot go to bed early on Saturday, consider attending an evening service on Sunday. That will allow you to sleep in on Sunday morning and be alert when you arrive at church.

4. Take notes. Bring a pen and some paper. Jot down the pastor’s key points. Can you identify the main point of his sermon? How does he develop his argument? What are the stories and illustrations he uses to convey his ideas? Actively writing will often help you to listen.

5. Pray that God will help you understand His Word. I am listing this last, but it should probably be the first item on your list. Understanding the Scripture is a supernatural activity, guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). When you wake up on Sunday morning, ask God to speak to you that day through your pastor as He explains God’s Word.

I’m curious to hear from you. Do you find it difficult to listen while your pastor preaches? Why or why not? What do you think we pastors can do to help the situation? (Be nice to your pastor in the comments — please don’t throw anybody under the bus).

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Evangelicalism’s Gender War

I’ll start by saying that my church is complementarian in its understanding of gender roles. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, it simply means that we believe the Bible assigns different roles to men and women in the church and in the home. Most complementarians don’t believe that women are inherently inferior to men, but instead that they are called to serve God in different ways. At a popular level, most people associate complementarianism with the call for wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-33) and the prohibition against women teaching or exerting authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

The contrasting position is called egalitarianism. Egalitarians generally (and I use the word “generally” because I am making broad generalizations here) believe that every leadership position in the church ought to be open to women and to men equally. In addition, they do not (generally) believe in different roles for men and women in the home. In other words, the call for wives to submit to their husbands is usually understood to be a culturally bound command, one that applied in Paul’s day but does not apply directly to today’s Christians.

The question of how men and women ought to interact at church and at home is a deeply personal and intensely practical one. It’s a topic that the Scripture talks about a good deal, whether or not we agree on how to interpret it. For that reason, I’ve been dismayed at the shape of popular discourse on this issue over the past few years.

Instead of debates about the biblical texts themselves, I’ve noticed that most of the public discussions about gender roles have turned into an evangelical “battle of the sexes.” For example, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has taken a lot of heat for his seemingly chauvinistic remarks about women and about men whom he finds, well, unmanly. The pattern here is repetitive: Mark Driscoll says something that his critics consider offensive, they jump in to say he’s a bully or a jerk, and he either apologizes or defends himself. The same thing happened recently when John Piper said publicly that Christianity ought to have a “masculine feel” to it.

On the one hand, these discussions can be useful. They bring the issue of gender to the front of our minds and hopefully challenge us to rethink our own positions. The problem, though, is that these sort of attacks and counter-attacks never really address the root issue from the biblical text. Instead, they’ve degenerated to a discussion of who is “masculine” enough to lead the church and whether masculinity is better or stronger than femininity. Such discussions become confusing quite quickly. For example, what defines true “masculinity”? Do I need to be an avid hunter or bodybuilder to be considered a “real man”? If so, then my own masculinity (as an introverted and slightly artistic type) is suspect. On the other hand, if I believe in complementarianism, does that automatically make me a power-hungry bully who wants to make all women subservient to my authority? Does masculinity inherently threaten women by its very existence? Of course not.

The real issue, which is seldom discussed in public these days, is whether passages like 1 Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5 prescribe different roles for men and women. It’s simply not about whether men are better than women or vice versa. Unfortunately, that’s how it’s often been framed, or at least how each side is interpreting the other. Instead, we need to look carefully at the passages in question and ask what they prescribe in terms of gender roles. That’s really the substance of the debate that needs to be taking place.

Don’t be sidetracked by the caricatures and name-calling that’s dominating this discussion in the public square. The debate shouldn’t be so much about how one position or the other makes us feel, but instead about how faithful it is to the biblical text. That’s true of any theological debate, but particularly one relating to a topic that is so personally applicable.

The reason I hold a complementarian view is simple: I believe the biblical text warrants it. I don’t think I hold my view because I hate or dislike women. Just like most egalitarians don’t hold their view because they hate or dislike men. The recent public scuffles might have led some to believe otherwise.

At some point I hope to spend more time on this blog specifically surveying the critical passages, but this post is just a reminder (to me and to my readers) that the real goal is to study what the Scripture says. That’s where sound conclusions and applications come from, not from aligning ourselves with the loudest voice in the latest debate. It’s a serious issue with serious ramifications — it doesn’t require personal drama to make it relevant or important.

How do you feel about the topic of gender roles in the body of Christ? Are you confused by the recent discussions or interested in them? 

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4 Things I Learned From Ministry “Failure”

Immediately after finishing seminary, I was hired to lead a large and thriving college ministry. The previous college pastor (who is now my senior pastor and boss) was an excellent teacher and leader. Under his leadership, God had allowed the ministry to grow. When I took the job, the college ministry had two Sunday morning services, constituting more than 1000 students.

During my first year, though, attendance dropped. Attrition was especially high in the early service, which met at 9:15 in the morning. I tried everything in my power to diagnose and solve the problems, but I was ultimately unsuccessful. I was preaching week after week to about 50 people in a room designed for 500. About eighteen months after I became the college pastor, we shut down the 9:15 college service. It had effectively died a slow and painful death.

I felt like we had taken a large step backwards, and I felt like a failure. I really hoped and expected to take the ministry to the “next level” (which I equated at the time with a bigger group) and I felt like I had let everybody down.

In hindsight, though, I see how God’s hand was active throughout that time. He used those events to shape me and to prepare our college ministry for a new generation of students. Here are a few things I learned from my “failure”:

First, I had to reconsider my definition of success. Before our attendance dropped, I would have given you the standard ministry line that “numbers aren’t how we measure success.” Easy to say when the room is full. Hard to believe when it’s empty. My understanding of success truly had to change. Yes, we wanted more people in the room. However, I was forced to define my ministry in terms of faithfulness to Christ’s command to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). I worked on building strong relationships with a few dedicated student leaders, and I tried to trust the Lord that He would use the few to reach the many. Even if our Sunday morning numbers never increased again.

Second, I had to recognize that most of my circumstances are outside of my control. Control of my own life is an illusion. I can only make decisions about how to respond to the circumstances God places in my life, but I can’t change most of the actual circumstances. In hindsight I know a few of the reasons our services lost momentum, but I still don’t understand all of them. And the parts I understand aren’t factors I could have changed anyway. I spent way too much time that first year worrying about why people were leaving instead of shepherding the people who were there.

Third, I came to understand that what I do doesn’t define who I am. College pastor is my job title. It’s not my identity. It’s not even my life’s purpose. I am first and foremost a child of God, saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. My purpose in life is to know Jesus and to make disciples for His kingdom. I can do that whether I’m a college pastor, an insurance salesman, or a plumber. I think God directed my life into vocational ministry, but if He directs me to another job it won’t fundamentally change who I am or what I’m called to do. Experiencing struggle and failure at my job reminded me of that truth.

Finally, I learned that sometimes failure paves the way for something better. I don’t mean to say that every financial loss will be replaced with more money, or that every job failure will correspond to some sort of worldly success. But I have learned that failure might be God’s way of paving the road for you to fulfill His purposes more effectively. In our case, shutting down that 9:15 service forced us to rethink how we reached students. We created smaller elective classes and reinforced our mid-week small groups. We started a second college service at 6:00 in the evening and drew in a whole different group of students. Over time, the ministry has grown, but more importantly it’s structured in a way that better meets the needs of this generation of students. And when I move on from this job I fully expect that the next guy will rearrange things as well. Sometimes something has to die before something new can be born.

I could list more of the lessons I learned during that time, but those are some of the most useful ones. I’m curious: Do you have a story of failure? If so, how has God used it in your life?

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A New Social Network for College Students

Microsoft launched its new social network yesterday, called So.cl. It’s interesting to me because it’s exclusively for college students, much like Facebook was in its early years. It seems a bit more specialized than Facebook, because it’s intended primarily to be a learning tool. Students will pool their information and interests to build projects and ideas online. It’s intended to be a supplement to classroom learning, and in some cases it will apparently replace the lecturer/listener model.

I’m not sure what to think about the idea. I wonder how many students are interested in an education-focused social site, especially if they’re not required to use it for class. It doesn’t seem like education (or even learning in the traditional sense) is the primary value of social media, and I wonder if people will really sign up to use it that way. I’m also not sure it adds any functionality that Facebook lacks — it even uses Facebook’s social graph.

I’m curious what my readers think about this one:

Do you think social media really have the capability of furthering a person’s education?
If you’re a college student, would you be likely to give this a try? Why or why not?

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