Built to Build: The Call of Vocations (Part 1)

After previously discussing 1 Corinthians 4, I want to rewind a chapter and review our vocational identity – what God intends us to be on the clock.

While we will ultimately need guidance from Colossians 2 to unpack this in full, for now let’s start with 1 Corinthians 3:9-11 (ESV):

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Here, Paul, having emphasized church divisions (v. 1-4), is reminding the Corinthians to see Christ as their cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22), as the foundation of life on which new life can be built. Unfortunately, like the Israelites in Judges, the Corinthians are strong in flesh and weak in discernment. A people ravaged by schismatic impulses, they are plagued by paganism and a past rooted in idolatry. Certainly, Paul couldn’t have been too surprised to hear reports of such dissension.

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Yet, what Paul lacks in suspense, he makes up in candidacy, specifically we are servants designed for unity and God is the source and core of it all. What matters is not who gets this task and who gets that task, but rather why the task exists at all. For most of us, this makes sense, but to the Corinthians, a people who saw their value through who they followed, this would have been difficult to accept. Imagine your political preference and/or denomination of choice being your chief designation. “Hi, my name is Cameron and I’m a charismatic Republican.” A bit off-putting, right?­

Conversely, for Paul, affiliations meant nothing compared to eternal intent as evidenced in v. 9 (AMP):  

For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building. “ 

Like 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, this is powerful imagery concerning our vocational identity. We aren’t just God’s workers, but fellow workers on mission with Christ doing good works in Gospel partnership (Phil. 1:5-6). Concerning our colleagues and clients, they’re also designed for God’s assignments, but whether they know it or not should not deter us from working peaceably as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). As long as we accept the call to be Christ’s championing companions, we can embrace unity as helpers of joy (2 Corinthians 1:24) while perceiving our cultivation as an overflow of God’s goodness.

After all…

…we don’t work to lay the foundation; we work because Christ is the foundation!

Put another way, as co-laborers and vocational leaders, we’re meant to be laid on, not laid upon; hence, why Jesus says in Mark 3:25, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we don’t value teamwork apart from personal gain, our operations will be hindered having affirmed our identity as the foundation.

Again, this offers quite the paradox to the natural mind. Are we the foundation Christ, the master builder, lays or are we the slab plan built on Christ the foundation, by Christ the builder? Personally, I side with the latter, especially when I note the Psalmist and weeping prophet (i.e. Jeremiah) who perceived identity as predestined (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5), Christ’s work in them1 as destined, and God’s nature as perpetually present. Applying their worldview, we can rest knowing as vocational influencers, we can mature our reach knowing it is Christ in us who does the cultivating through our work.

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In other words…

He is the vine, we are branches…but we are also a part of His vineyard!

Sometimes, we get so discouraged being branches, we forget the beauty of the garden we’ve been planted in. This tells me not only do we need to know Christ as the foundation on which we stand, but also the cultivator who pours out seeing the growth before it happens.

Colossians 1:4 and 2:2 (AMP) captures this process beautifully.

We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] love2 which you have for all the saints (God’s people)…For my hope is that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in [unselfish] love, so that they may have all the riches that come from the full assurance of understanding [the joy of salvation], resulting in a true [and more intimate] knowledge of the mystery of God, that is, Christ…”

Combining these passages, we find the blueprint to living our vocational identity. When we’re overcome by disappointment, we choose gratitude seeking God in confidence. When we’re overwhelmed by hate, prejudice, and indifference we choose love seeking God in faith. And when we’re overpowered by unbelief and unforgiveness, we choose hope seeking God in His grace and power. In this way, we allow the towel (John 13: 1-9) to unfold as our hearts yearn to see others transformed and united by unselfish love. Granted, when we talk being on the job in the midst of funk and discrimination, this is easier said than done.

Then again, the whole point of Paul writing this is to encourage the Gentiles to desire unity with the Jews in hope to see them know Christ. And it’s this heart posture, I submit, we embrace as believing vocations on marketplace frontlines. Remember we are built up to build up, a process that with God knows no bounds.

As far as what we do between being built up in Christ and building up through Christ, Paul does give an additional template on this later in Colossians 2. For now, let’s pause and revisit the topic in next week’s post on how we contend for unity at work.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of reconciliation/sanctification
  2. The key to understanding this and other statements about love is to know that this love (the Greek word agape) is not so much a matter of emotion as it is of doing things for the benefit of another person, that is, having an unselfish concern for another and a willingness to seek the best for another.
Photo creds: FULLER studio

Dear Church: Get Real, Not Relevant.

I got something to say…

…and gotta get it straight before the sun goes down.

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If the church wants to be a city on a hill, then why is it trying so hard to be relevant?

Not to suggest the church should be indifferent towards evangelism or complacent in discipling; I’m just sayin’ since when did the church become ashamed of the Gospel? Since when did she start making it about you…and your receptivity to truth?

‘Cause truth is: the church was never meant to be culturally relevant or well-received, but contextually real and eagerly given.¹

For what we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know and understand the wonderful things God has given us.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 (AMP)

 “[So I have intended] to come to you, in order that I may reap harvest among you…both to the wise and to the foolish. I am eager to preach the gospel to you…for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” ~ Romans 1:13-16 (ESV)

Granted, most of you agree; however, in a time when church gets commission, but not Gospel…where truth is seen as content only worth its reach, it shouldn’t surprise us why many struggle to get God since what’s being modeled to them is more marketable than relatable.

Thus, it’s worth asking: How do we conquer the divide (be it deception, segregation, warped ecclesiology, etc.) in a way that gets us back to fishing for men without the bait? 

To answer this, we must accept…

  1. Relatability and relevancy are two completely different thing (more on this in a future post; ’til then, note Jesus’ interaction with outcasts (Luke 15, 1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 21, Mark 5, John 4).
  2. The world isn’t looking for church to be relevant; it’s desperate for something real, radical and revolutionary.
  3. When we’re reaching out, embracing in, and loving like Jesus, we never have to attract people to the Kingdom because it’s already there in front of them.

Remember the church’s call is to draw near to the lost like God, not draw the lost to find God.

Sure, our church may be in the midst of a powerful sermon series with catchy taglines to promote. But at the end of the day, what the world really wants is the reality of grace abounding as people love the way they know how.

‘Til then, I charge the church to get real about her entitled expectations. ‘Cause honestly, whether or not we’re in favor of a church’s peripherals (worship style, tech incorporation, service flow) or demographics (diversity), shouldn’t distract us from what ultimately matters – people fearlessly living and loving like Jesus…who are willing to resonate truth rather than make it relevant.

Remember Jesus didn’t die for you so you could be you; He died so we could be of same mind and heart so those lost and afflicted could join in. He didn’t die so you could be convinced how special you are; He died so you could tell others why they are.  He didn’t die so you could be served; He died so you wouldn’t have to worry whether or not you are.

And that, my friends, is what the Gospel is all about:  serving those deserving, giving to the living, bringing unity to community, telling not selling…I could go on.

Maybe you’re sitting there discouraged wishing things could turn around. If so, I want to encourage you tonight: while it may seem you gotta get your life in order to make a difference, you can make a difference in order to make a life.

Yeah, you may think you have nothing to offer, you make think your faith isn’t ‘attractable’, but given the Word says it’s who you are over what you have (1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 3:27-28), you never have to worry about having something to lose and nothing to give.

As for the church, I also encourage you: whether you’re pitching a product, promoting a series, or marketing a vision, never forget…

  1. The ‘me’ in ‘follow me’ (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17) is not about you.
  2. We’re called to make disciple-makers, not gain followers.
  3. Millennials don’t want your relevancy; they want your authenticity.

After all, when we “present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God”, we not only capture their attention, but their hearts as well.²

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Selah.



Footnotes

  1. Vaters, Karl (2016, March 30). “Forget Being Culturally Relevant.” Christianity Today.
  2. Dyck, Drew. (2017). “Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God”). The Aquila Report.

Cover photo creds: Pinterest 

5 Inspired Lessons for Today’s Youth Pastors

We live in a time when the church is radically changing, a reality no more evident than among today’s youth. Yet, while the challenge may seem intimidating, when we, as youth pastors, seek to better understand the times, we can discover powerful truth and application.

Granted, it’d take a year and a day to unpack them all so for now, let’s focus on five inspired lessons for today’s youth pastor…

1) Understand the boundaries of social media

It’s no secret today’s youth live and die by social media. Perhaps you’ve noticed more of your youth defining their identity by how many Facebook likes, selfie comments, or Instagram followers they have.

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Regardless, it’s critical we, as Generation Z youth leaders, understand how to use modern technology and social media in living the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ?

As I told our youth several times, the gravity of social media is self-centeredness if we’re looking to it for affirmation; however, if we choose to exude confidence in who we are in Christ, we allow social media to be the encouragement tool it was meant to be.

2) Don’t take peoples’ prolonged absences personally

If you’ve been in ministry long enough, you’ve probably noticed some families checking out for extended periods with little to no communication. Naturally, when this happens, our first instinct is to wonder why; however, as hard as it may be, it’s critical we not take their absences personally.

For one thing, just because you’re a minister doesn’t mean you’re entitled to know every intimate detail of a person’s life. Furthermore, church commitment can’t always be measured in attendance. The reality is life gets crazy and for some, a breather from church can be of benefit.

I remember during my second year as youth pastor when a family disappeared for months without any heads up. Without any leads or intel, the head-scratching was real. “What triggered this? Did something happen? What can be done,” I often thought.

However, after a get-real prayer time with God, it hit me: my role was not to maintain them, but to sustain them…not to keep them in church, but en-couraged!

You see, up until that point, I had been interpreting withdrawal as a function of ego…as if someone else’s distance was my fault; however…

…once I surrendered the right to fully understand outside situations, only then was I able to find the balance between letting go and reaching out.

3) Integrate youth leaders into communication

No question, one of the most exhausting tasks of any youth pastor is getting everyone on the same page. I’m sure many of you at some point have wondered, “Even when I communicate face to face, I have to repeat myself over and over again!”

However, as frustrating the struggle may be, when we filter this challenge through the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ”, we discover how empowering youth to connect with peers can improve communication.

I recall a youth leadership meeting during which my student leaders discussed this issue having realized the need for a better internal and external communication process. As they decided, for the internal process, each youth leader would receive a monthly contact list of sick, struggling, or frequently absent youth to text or call. Likewise, with the external process, each youth leader would invite a friend at school (or outside the leadership core) into the promotion of community events. In this way, not only could adult leaders focus more on parental/professional communication, but also youth could share in the responsibility while fortifying relational bridges as disciple-makers.

One of my favorite examples of this took place when our youth teamed up with the children’s ministry in a recent vacation Bible school promotion outreach. At first, all participants met at the church to pray and inquire of the Lord where to go and who to target. Then, after reaching a spiritual consensus, we broke into groups dispersing into different parts of the city from nearby apartment complexes to local businesses, strip malls, and parks.

From a PR and publicity perspective, the outreach was a huge success resulting in the most attended VBS in our church’s history; however, for our youth, no question bonding with younger peers while recognizing their value in community service left the greatest impressions.

4) Don’t stress about relationships

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It’s inevitable. At some point, boy meets girl, boy asks girl out, and before you know it…bam! You have a dating relationship along with endless gossip fodder on your hands. As some of you can attest, the stewardship of purity can be a hard road to navigate from anxious parents and their content expectations to distracted youth and their thirst for acceptance.

Yet, it’s in these circumstances we must remember our role is not to parent but to partner with parents in extending their standards. As you’ll inevitably find, not only will this establish trust between pastor and parent, but also empower the parent to love as Jesus loves and the youth to love what Jesus loves. Not to mention the door will be opened for healthy dialogue to take place regularly.

For instance, during my third year as youth pastor, one of my youth worship leaders started a dating relationship with a fellow youth leader. At first, I felt zero qualms about the development, but gradually, I noticed an uptick in PDA and subsequently, my discomfort in how it could potentially translate. Eventually, a youth parent called me up asking why I wasn’t doing anything to ‘snuff the flame’ out. In response, I told him my responsibility wasn’t to parent, but rather invite the parents involved into the conversation of helping these youth live above reproach.

As it turned out, after discussing the matter with the appropriate parties, each side came away with a better scriptural understanding of what stewarding physical affection looks like.

5) It’s not about quantity, but quality

How many of you have ever been asked “How big is your youth group”? Probably a number of times, right?

Yet, while the question may seem shallow, we must remember:

  • Faithfulness is not a function of church size.
  • The purpose of church is commissioning community1, not boasting numbers.

If you ask me, I’d rather have 10 passionate youth who understand the Spirit-led life, versus 50 youth looking to be entertained on their weekly pit stop.

After all, pastoring youth is all about cultivating a Gospel-driven culture, not an agenda-driven ministry2.

Selah.

Footnotes

1) Specifically, community extending the territory of God’s presence

2) Cultivating a place where God’s presence can be known (i.e. demonstrating heaven on earth) is our purpose. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to elevate any pursuit above serving the body in a way the Kingdom is expressed.

Photo credits: whoworship.com, cbbc.com, chastity.com