When the Tourist Becomes a Pilgrim

Petra, Jordan

Over the past days, I made my second pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel and Jordan.  I entered the state of Israel for the first time back in 2010 and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 2011.  Both earlier trips were huge in shaping my passionate love for Jesus, the Holy Bible and the lands in which God’s presence has dwelled throughout both the Old and New Testament.

Another trip to Turkey and Greece in 2012 set this flame ablaze again as we journeyed through the Book of Acts, into Paul’s letters and to all 7 Churches of the Revelation.  I snapped more pictures on those trips than I could ever look at.

For all three of these journeys I have been primarily a tourist.  There is nothing wrong with being a tourist.  A tourist takes a lot of pictures.  A tourist needs to see the ancient sites with their own human eyes to supply their imagination with visual images and landscapes.

A tourist on these kind of trips is like a baby getting to eat ice cream for the first time – they are not sure what it is, but it is sweet and cold and wonderfully good and they can’t seem to eat it fast enough.  A tourist arrives at one site and is so excited about what they see, they anxiously rush to the next, and to the next, and to the next to keep getting their fix.  I love being a tourist; there is nothing quite like it.

For this trip, however, I was no longer a tourist.  I became a pilgrim.  A pilgrim moves slower.  A pilgrim is calmer.  A pilgrim takes pleasure in seeing the giddiness of the tourist, but doesn’t have to feast at the buffet line of experience.  A pilgrim selects 2 or 3 things and relishes in their goodness, their completeness, at a deeper level.

Mt. Olives, Israel

The pilgrim’s journal is filled to the brim but their camera SD card…not so much.

This time I was a more of a pilgrim and less of a tourist.  And I liked that fact very much.  I moved at a different speed.  I sat down at the sites.   The texture of the trip for me wasn’t like an over-excited, crazy-wild Jack Russell Terrier, it was more like a solemn owl nestled atop of branch overlooking the beautiful forest.

What is a Pilgrim?
P – Pauses often to breathe and truly see.
I – Is in the moment, not the traffic.
L – Lingers in silence.
G – Grateful for pictures that others take because the camera sometimes doesn’t come out.
R – Reads, writes and reflects a lot.
I – Itinerary is not even on the radar.
M – Measures the experience not in days, stops, sites, or miles traveled, but in meaningful encounters with God, with His Word, and with others.

There was a simplicity to the study and depth of the trip.  My eyes were filled but more so my heart.  I love being a tourist, but being a pilgrim in the Holy Land is far more gratifying.  I hope I can continue growing as a pilgrim.

Serving from a Place of Fear

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Serving Christ from a place of fear.

Over the past several months, I have had numerous conversations with pastors, ministers, and key denominational leaders in various leadership positions.  These are men and women I highly respect and admire for their calling, their efforts to expand the Kingdom of God, and their passion to make Jesus’ name great.

But there is also something that worries me and brings me pause. Many of these amazing Christian leaders are serving from a place of fear.

There is a place within their hearts that are always cautious, afraid, anxious, and nervous about what people will think, what people will say, how people will respond.  This fear makes them second-guess everything they do and never feel as if their work before the Lord is satisfactory.

I have personally struggled with this type of fear (especially when I was on full-time church staff).  Honestly, it is strange to be afraid of the people you are trying to serve.  Are shepherds afraid of what their sheep will think about them?  I sincerely doubt it.

Yet when this fear sits in, there is no confidence and contentment in knowing you are doing the best you can with the resources you have, even though that is exactly what you are doing.  Instead you feel like you are constantly on edge waiting for the next criticism, the next complaint, the next condescending letter to come in.  You feel like you are always looking over your shoulder for someone to stab you in the back.  It is a terrible, gripping feeling.

As I reflect on these conversations and my own experience with this fear, my heart and soul goes to the Word of Life.  I think about the VBS theme verse for last year: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Great words from the Apostle Paul to a young man with a big responsibility of leadership.  But even beyond this sometimes over-used verse, I think about Paul’s words to the Galatians about himself.

He writes: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ?” (Galatians 1:10)

Could it be that when we continually bow down and seek the approval of man, we no longer, therefore, serve Christ?  Are these two approvals, that of people and that of Jesus, in opposition to one another.

I have found the approval of man to be so fleeting.  One minute you are everyone’s hero; the next you are everyone’s enemy.  But Jesus is not so fickle.  He is not so easily swayed.

He knows your heart, more than just your actions.  He knows your intentions and motivations, more than just the results.  Jesus sees your effort, even when things don’t come together rightly.   Shouldn’t He be the only one we seek approval from?

In the end when we’ve finished this race called life, no person from any church or any event is going to judge our service to the King, only Jesus will.  Maybe that knowledge will give us the kind of courage to serve not from a place of fear, but from a place of unflinching faith.

What I’ve Learned About KidMin While On the Road with LifeWay

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VBS Preview Event in Ridgecrest, NC

For the last several weeks, I have been on the road with LifeWay Kids training VBS leaders from around the country and North America.  We have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and will be in Florida this weekend.

There have been VBS leaders from every state in the union including Alaska and Hawaii and from our neighbors in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Once everything is finished, we will have trained nearly 6000 VBS leaders who will in turn train another 70,000+ leaders who will host and lead 3 million boys, girls, teens and adults in VBS this year.  I am overwhelmed by the power of multiplication and the enormous influence VBS has on Kids Ministry around the world.

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VBS Preview Event in Nashville, TN

Over the last few weeks of ministry, I have learned several important truths about those who lead and serve in Kids Ministry around the nation.

I have learned that…

1.  THEY ARE PASSIONATE.  These servant-leaders are absolutely passionate about their own personal faith in Christ and the work assigned to them by God in serving kids and families.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to help the next generation know Jesus and grow in Him.  Their passion and vitality is infectious.

2.  THEY ARE HARDWORKING.  These leaders go the extra mile and often do it without any appreciation or recognition.  Without exception, Kids Ministry is the largest people and volunteer network in the church.  It is usually the most demanding with all sorts of different needs among different age groups.  It is usually the most under-funded, yet all the while it is the single most effective evangelistic tool the church has at its disposal.  These leaders get it done week after week, year after year and I applaud them.

3.  Lastly, THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR HELP.  When a KidMin leader attends a training session, they sit on the edge of their seats hungry for any tip, any suggestion, any instruction we can give.  They take page after page of notes.  They listen with their eyes and ears and hearts wide open.  They are starving for anything that will help them lead better.

I have taught similar sessions for pastors, ministers and deacons and I promise you the sessions are not the same.  I am not slamming pastors (goodness, I am one), but the intensity level is not nearly the same as these KidMin leaders.  Pastors tend to generally appreciate the training but all the while are checking their phones, day-dreaming, catching up on some sleep, and running back and forth to the lobby to take a call.  Not so with the KidMin leader.  This is their chance to be equipped and they are in it full on.

My heart and soul goes out to these 6000 VBS leaders.  In the months ahead, they will labor to get volunteers, make preparations, decide about budgets, argue with the church maintenance staff, stay up late, get up early, all to share the love of Christ with kids and families.  We know their labor will not be in vain.

I am simply humbled and honored to be able to meet them, encourage them, and give them a glimmer of hope because I am a VBS salvation.  It still works and will continue to work for generations to come.

Back to the Big City

Back in 2010-11, I had the great honor of being called interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville.  We met and served alongside wonderful people for that year.  We loved getting to travel to the big city of Louisville each Sunday and eat breakfast at Whole Foods and then maybe another cool place for lunch.  We could run to the mall, go to Target, eat Krispy Kreme donuts, and drink Starbucks coffee from a real store, not just the little kiosk we have on our campus.

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Hurstbourne Baptist Church, Louisville

Well starting yesterday, January 26, we are back in the Big City for a new season of ministry.  I have been called to serve as interim pastor of Hurstbourne Baptist Church over in the St. Matthews area.

We have already come to love this congregation, having spent about a month with them back in 2013.

HBC has a great ministerial staff, men and women who love the Lord Jesus and love people as Jesus would.  The congregation is made up of multiple generations, both young and old.  We have an active ministry to kids and families all the way through teenagers and young adults.

One of the things I especially love about this place is their desire to be missional in the Jefferson country region by serving regularly at the Baptist Fellowship Center, teaching weekly ESL classes, and serving in all sorts of local mission projects.  If there is a mission project to be a blessing to another group of people, they are usually right on top of it.

We also have a Korean church, KY Vineyard Community Church, led by a wonderful pastor Young Choi and his wife Youn, who is also our church pianist, that meets each Sunday @ 1:00 pm.

I am so excited about this opportunity and season of ministry back in the Big City.  If you live in the Louisville area and are looking for a church home, we would love for you to come and visit us at Hurstbourne Baptist.  Our Sunday morning service starts at 10:45 am.  You can find more information at HurstbourneBC.org.

One Class and a Vision for Making Disciples

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Each Sheet Equals One Small Group (picture courtesy of Adam Coleman)

Each of these pieces of colored paper represent one small group that will launch in the coming week.  Each piece of paper represents a small group leader who is starting a small group with the purpose of reaching and growing others in their faith in Christ.

There are 29 small groups comprising of nearly 300 people.  Some groups will meet on campus, others in local churches, one will be fully online.  The topics range from the Gospel of Mark, the book of Psalms, the letter to the Romans to building community, purity, and sharing your faith, to biblical manhood, womanhood, and growing in the disciplines of prayer.   The groups will meet in dorm rooms, in lobbies, in classrooms, and even while taking a jog.  The creativity and ingenuity is through the roof good.

For the next 12-13 weeks, my students will be doing what God has been preparing them to do for years – make disciples among all nations.  That is a vision I can get behind.

VBS Preview Ridgecrest 2014

A very special thanks to @LifeWayVBS for the invitation to come and share at the 2014 VBS Institutes & Previews.  Here are few pics from Ridgecrest, NC during the sessions I led.  (Photos courtesy of Ashley Abell.)

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When X’ers and Millennials Say No to the Building Campaign

Gen. X'ers and Millennials Balk at Building Bigger.

Gen. X’ers and Millennials Balk at Building Bigger.

I was having a great conversation yesterday with a 30-something pastor friend who serves on a megachurch staff.  His church is entering a 3 million dollar capital campaign to build additional meeting space for their church.  They hope to add a 500 seat chapel, a middle school area, and additional small group space.

The question we were discussing was whether or not building a bigger building, when the church already has a large facility, was good stewardship of financial resources.

While we could debate the price per square foot or the chosen capital campaign strategy, the bigger question was the moral imperative to build a bigger building for the affluent southwestern city-dwellers or give that money to build an orphanage in Ghana.  Actually the campaign amount could probably build and maintain 100+ orphanages in Africa.

Its seems to me that as the Builder Generation set the vision for a revitalized America after WWII, including suburban church growth, and the Baby Boomers inflated that vision with “mega” and “super-sized” versions of church buildings and campuses, Generation X and the Millennials are balking at the idea of building still more.

It is hard for the 20-something Millennial or 30-40 year old Gen. X’ers to invest these kinds of dollars into brick and mortar facilities.  If we are going to live radically simpler lives by choosing to reduce our own consumption and materialistic wants in order to give more time and money away to causes which defend the poor and needy and take the Gospel to the nations, then why is our church leaders asking us to build another monstrosity for our consumer pleasure?

The moral question of being a good steward and wisely use of God’s money makes building a 5 million dollar building for people who already have a building seem absolutely absurd.  When there are commercial buildings everywhere that are rent-ready.  There are schools districts looking to rent out their building on Sundays to generate revenue.  The Regal Cinema movie theater chain actually has an establish plan called “Theater Church” with numerous churches meeting in their theaters.

Dr. Thom Rainer has already predicted a trend toward smaller worship centers in the future.  He states that for the past 20 years he has seen Millennial Christians develop an “aversion to larger worship centers.”  He quotes one Millennial pastor as saying he hopes he never has to build a larger building.

In truthfulness, I feel the exact same way.  I hope I am never asked to sit on a building campaign committee or called upon to serve a church going through a building process.  While I know there are very good reasons to expand, I think there are numerous disadvantages.

And while growth demands expansion in all walks of life (e.g., cities, government, school districts, businesses, etc.), I believe there are lots of other options on the table before taking on millions of dollars of debt and asking your people to foot the bill.

Baby Boomers, I want to put you on alert.  Your building projects are not going to be funded by anyone under the age of 45.  If you and your Boomer friends feel called to build, go right ahead.  But don’t expect younger generations to contribute.  We just can’t stomach it morally.

It appears for the next 40 years or so the road to building bigger buildings is going to be closed for repair.

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