Two Way Street: The Next for Next Gen (Part 1)

I got to get something off my chest.

As a Millennial, I’m starting to wonder if the church is exhausting the ‘next’ in ‘next generation’…if what she considers ‘next’ is ‘new’ and what she considers ‘new’ is ‘more’1.

‘Cause truth is: While I’m all about the emerging generation being poured into, I can’t help but think we, as the body, need to re-evaluate ‘next’ relative to God’s discipleship intent. Granted, I’m a part of the rising leadership community and have much to learn; still, the splinter lingers in the back of my mind:

Should the church replace, ‘The future of church leadership is the next generation‘ with ‘The future of church leadership is discovering the next for each generation‘ in its ‘life on life’ vernacular?

If ‘yes’, then I believe the Lord wants to unveil specific strategies on how we’re to walk this out. But before we can dive into application, we must first bask our context in the Word.

As always, let’s dig in…

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Starting in Psalm 1452:4

 “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (ESV)
One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty and remarkable acts.” (AMP)
Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts.” (MSG)
One generation will declare Your works to the next and will proclaim Your mighty acts.” (HCSB)
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.” (NLT)

Right away, we see why contrasting different translations is important when studying Scripture. For instance, if you read the ESV, HCSB, AMP, or a similar translation, you might interpret ‘one generation’ to literally mean one generation; however, in context, this is not what David is implying. Rather, David is stating how worship should be a successive and progressive tradition – a two-way street from which one generation can learn from another. Had David been posed with the idea praise3 could only be experienced from top to bottom, it would have been a compromise to adoration in his mind.

As such, the key takeaway here is delighting in God is not only at the core of who we are, but also the core of our unity…which cannot be reduced to a unidirectional expression.

Now, let’s collate this with the parable of the wineskins:

“’No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” ~ Luke 5:36-39 (ESV)

Exegesis applied, Luke is illustrating the fact no one can mix legalism with new faith or religious tradition with divine grace; however, in this case, let’s assume old wineskins apply to older generations and new wineskins apply to rising generations. When Luke suggests the old is good4, he’s not saying aged is better in all regards (though with wine, this is certainly the case) as much as he’s emphasizing the Ecclesiastes 3 reality that for each option, there is a season, a time, and a place.

In other words, what’s new and what’s established are not only meant to co-exist, but partake under the heading of ‘fresh’ or as Hebrew translates it, ‘mechudash’ meaning ‘renewed’. Accordingly, while the literal pouring of wine from new skin to old skin doesn’t make sense, when we consider ‘fresh’ relationally from God’s perspective, we can know God as faithful to renew fresh works in all men for cross-generational education and exultation.

Think of it this way: As disciple-making Christ followers, we can be like wine poured out as drink offerings (Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6) upon the sacrificial offering of faith; however, unlike wine, we can serve free from the yoke of wineskins seeking to compartmentalize how that faith operates in action! For example, if you’re an elderly leader, you don’t have to feel your place in church is limited to on-call mentoring and if you’re a teenager, you don’t have to feel disqualified due to youth. Christ in you…if anything is possible, who says you can’t team and serve alongside those twice or half your age? If God has called you, then go for it!

As the Spirit impressed upon me before writing this…

…how sweet it is knowing each generation has the capacity to pour into another? That no matter who is involved, as long as God is being praised and exalted, there is a place for His fresh work in all modes and peoples of life.

To tie this up, I’m all for Millennials, Post-Millennials/Zennials having their opportunity and time to step up. But I also don’t believe the retired generation has to be retired from leadership roles if they’re called and appointed in that season. History has constantly shown the emerging generation to approach the older ones with a ‘what about me‘ mentality. And don’t get me wrong. I get my peers looking around wondering who is willing to pour into them. But the flip side is also true. We can’t neglect pursuing places for those who naturally have more insight or pigeon-hole them where they’re not called as a plug-in for program.

After all, leadership is not a function of age, but a) a way the God can be glorified and b) an outlet for the fear of the Lord to be known. If the body wants to know the fullness of ministry as God intended, age can’t be a primary (key word) filter in finding the balance between giving/receiving…pouring in/pouring out. As long as you have breath, you not only have a purpose, but a place for that purpose to manifest.

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Stay tuned next time when I’ll dive deeper into the ‘next’ vs. ‘new’ vs. ‘more’ dichotomy as alluded to in my opening. Until then, be blessed and refreshed even when pressed and don’t forget to rest in His best.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Or visa-versa
  2. One of David’s favorite psalms
  3. In any form, be it discipleship/mentoring, teaching, prophesying, pastoring, etc.
  4. Or ‘better’ in some translations
Cover photo creds: The Beck Group

Messiah’s Misfits: Why The Name Says It All

So recently I’m reading 1 Corinthians 4 when suddenly it hits me…

…of all the chapters in all of Paul’s letters, arguably the greatest content on vocational perseverance can be found in v. 9-13 when Paul discusses the nature of true apostleship.

 Let’s check it out…

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (ESV)

It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.” (MSG)

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles at the end of the line, like men sentenced to death [and paraded as prisoners in a procession], because we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater], both to angels and to men. We are [regarded as] fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are highly esteemed, but we are dishonored. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are continually poorly dressed, and we are roughly treated, and wander homeless. We work [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When we are reviled and verbally abused, we bless. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure. When we are slandered, we try to be conciliatory and answer softly. We have become like the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (AMP)

Now, before we dive in, we must understand the broader context.

First, what is the nature of true apostleship? Going back to 4:1, we find the answer: Those who minister Gospel hope as servants/stewards/ambassadors of Christ no matter the cost. The Amplified breaks it down further describing these servants as those who are certain in adoration more than they are uncertain in anything else. Essentially, apostleship goes beyond the office of apostle and involves anyone who is willing to be salt, light, and life in places where there is none. If you are being a faithful steward of God’s call on your life, you’re engaging your apostolic anointing! Whether or not you have a mobile ministry is moot compared to God’s faithfulness being reflected in what you say and do as you draw people to Christ (Colossians 3:17).

Second, how do we abide in the nature of true apostleship? Verses 7-8 give us a hint when paraphrased: We have not only been given everything for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but every reason to trust the Lord as our portion (Psalm 73:26)¹. Accordingly, as we reference God in reverence², to live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) becomes the foundation to our perseverance and influence regardless of setting and trial. After all, “there are different kinds of [work], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:6).

Finally, we arrive at v. 9 where Paul employs some serious poetic license. Messiah’s misfits (MSG), prisoners of spectacle (AMP, ESV), an accident in the street everyone stands around and stares at…these are all powerful metaphors and similes reminding us there is no earthly honor in apostleship. If, by chance, we are pursuing any glory apart from what is rightfully God’s, our endurance will not stand, but if our satisfaction is rooted in being complete with Christ (Colossians 2:10), if our contentment is secure to His sufficiency, only then will we be victorious as dregs. It’s a paradox to the flesh, but one necessary for our dependence. When we are thirsty, we’ll see the need as being filled as opposed to satisfying a lack. When we are persecuted, we’ll know God is with us as one who relates as opposed to withdrawn as one who can’t. And when we’re struggling to make ends meet, we’ll rest in the mysteries of what God has and hasn’t revealed since our reliance is not contingent on self.

For some of us, it’s hard to accept what doesn’t make sense. It’s like we’re okay being misfits to sin, but not to the minds/culture tolerating it. I know for me, I’d rather be criticized for what I do wrong than be judged for what I do right. At least, with the former I can apply the correction and move on! However, I also know whenever I crave my work to be affirmed and my love to be reciprocated, I can declare God’s grace as sufficient, the fact I can joyfully boast in His power made perfect in my frailty (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). And suddenly those ‘weak as I eke‘ moments fade in something infinitely more…

…the sweet reality that I need JESUS! What a beautiful place to be!

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Bottom line: If you’re a vocational leader, dare to see the identity of what you do through the lens of apostleship, through the lens of being a servant taking light into dark places. And if hard times come, don’t be surprised; rather view them as a sign you’re doing things right³. When you bless others in the face of voids and discouragement, remember the same Christ you ask to bless others is the same Christ who will honor your obedience. If you don’t fit in, remember you were never called to in the first place. Stand out, take what comes, and know the power of you standing through adversity will assuredly have a positive ripple-effect on those around you even if you don’t see it right away.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Note how strength in this verse has Hebrew roots to ‘rock’
  2. This form of dependence opens up the Romans 5:1-5 road (more on this in a future post)
  3. Assuming the hard times aren’t consequences of sin, shortcuts, etc.
Cover photo creds: Medium

3 Keys to Communicating Vision

When it comes to quality leadership, no question, one of the hardest challenges is communicating vision (i.e. important information necessary for growth and progress). From filtering content to personal interaction, the marriage of progress to relationship can be a messy process. Thankfully, where there’s a will, there’s a way, even if it doesn’t happen the way we want or when we want.

That said…here are three keys to communicating vision effectively…

  1. Say What You Need to Say

When casting vision, it’s important to remember conciseness is more valuable than eloquence. After all, a platform should never be about exposing what you know (i.e. show off), but rather what your audience needs to know (i.e. show how)…which brings me to my first point:

When communicating what an audience needs to know, start with what you need to say first.

More specifically, don’t just filter your content; break it down into lucid, bite-sized bits. That way, you can better discern what is necessary and what is footnote material before you communicate.

For instance, as a wordsmith in youth ministry, I’ve learned my best points, whether delivering a sermon or leading a team meeting, are best received when they lack syntactic ambiguity. In other words, when I use words and phrases that don’t mean different things to different people, not only do I enable my content to be coherent, but I empower my students to interpret it the way it was intended.

Bottom line: Vision doesn’t just point people in the right direction (i.e. makes it plain; see Romans 1:19), it shows them how to get there (bonus points if you include illustrations). Therefore, if you want your audience to capture the vision, make sure you say what you need to say and what your audience needs to hear, not what you want to say or what they think they want to hear.

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  1. Speak the Truth in Love

Yeah, yeah…you get this in theory, but if you’re like me in the sense this doesn’t come as easy in execution, remember you may be in a time crunch, you may have a lot on your plate; however, if you’re not communicating truth in love along the way, not only do you risk a discouraged team, but a disjointed vision split from purpose.

To piggy-back off point #1: what you need to say can’t be what you need to say if love isn’t a part of it. Sure, you may be brimming with epiphanies and award-winning ideas, but if vision isn’t vision without truth and truth isn’t truth without love, then vision can’t be vision detached from best intention.

Remember vision not only seeks the best possible corporate outcome, but inspires love among its enforcers.  Thus, if you aim to love, not only will team morale enhance, but  the bond between vision and audience will tighten as well.

Bottom line: 1) Without love, vision is nothing more than a good idea. 2) Vision, in the context of love, motivates people to keep pursuing it. 3) If you know the truth, speak it in love; if you don’t, love as you pursue it. Either way, it’s a win-win.

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  1. Make it Memorable

While vision, at its core, is the mergence of point #1 and #2, if it lacks conviction or captivation, chances are it’s not memorable either. Granted, truth should never be a function of marketability; however, while good vision knows its audience, great vision considers what they’ll remember.

Hence, it’s worth asking: how do you take an entire vision and frame it into something that’s easy to remember and hard to forget?

For starters, it’s always best to keep it simple and straightforward. Focus on syntax and word selection. Use correct grammar.  Be exact in meaning. Then, if necessary, add some flair and poetic license (i.e. turn it into a jingle, structure it ABC style, pose it with rhyme scheme, integrate a relatable metaphor/simile, etc.) Whatever method you apply, remember the goal is to make sure your audience can extend the vision. While making vision plain may seem contrary to making it memorable, if you consider ‘plain’ as the foundation, it will ultimately enable you to build your vision in a way people can understand and promote.

Bottom line: When vision becomes memorable, the impacts become inevitable.

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Photo creds: Trendy Bloggers, Giphy

Bye, [Bye]Vocational

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not easy marrying marketplace and ministry.

After all, when you consider secular expectations, the challenge of availability matching flexibility, how most church leadership models are structured…it can be tough-sleddin’.

Now, I’m not a church consultant or ministry life coach; however, in my brief ministerial experience, I’ve come to realize while tent-making is often praised behind the pulpit in an evangelism context, it’s rarely incorporated to the fullest in a leadership context.

Case and point: I work full-time hours (7:00-3:30 pm) for TDOT Monday through Friday, where at the start of each day, I take the day’s game script, stack it against my church load, and do what I can accordingly for both. For instance, on slower days I create youth discipleship content, plan events, design social media promotions, and field church-related correspondence on my breaks, whereas on busier days, I keep a running ‘to-do’ list to better tackle my gameplan after hours.

The problem is: whether or not my day at work is busy/productive, I still miss out on the life that happens at church (i.e. staff meetings, luncheons, offsite special events, etc.) during my shift.

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Granted, I do have supervisors who meet with me on a quarterly basis to catch me up to speed with important information. Yet, while the communicational challenges can be frustrating, it’s the communal setbacks that offer the greatest potential for discouragement.

So while having flex or contractual hours would be ideal, I know in seasons like the one I’m in, I can only abide in what I can control, confront what I can’t, and trust God in both. Still…this doesn’t mean the divide is easy.

On one hand, I’m proud to represent the Gospel in a taxing work environment, to mature in my reliance upon God when I find my own strength to be nothing but weakness. On the other, I’m often downcast considering a) it’s hard to justify why I work where I do1  and b) to not experience deeper community due to a job I can’t stand on my own strength is a bitter pill to swallow.

So when it comes to the idea of a bye-vocational (i.e. leaving one job to fully pursue the other) life in place of a bivocational one, I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t intrigued considering the struggle to put forth full-time effort in part-time hours is [super] real…not to mention I’m the first Fry male in three generations to not know what full-time ministry life tastes like.

*Sigh*

I guess what I’m trying to say is: it’s hard being bivocational when the call itself seems to rob you of relationship. ‘Cause while many think bivocational ministry is all about tackling two different jobs, truth is: it’s just as much about influencing community and inspiring culture change as it is achieving excellence. Thus, how we cope when we feel our ‘spread out’ lifestyle is diluting our impact is worth discussion.

Of course, you can count on me to drill down on this in future posts, but for now, let me just say: for those of you working multiple gigs striving to keep joy afloat, understand you carry difference-making potential inside you…and that potential is not only going to come to fruition in the territory God has given you to tend, but is also never contingent on what you can’t control. Again, that’s the beauty of trusting God. Whenever we reach an end of the line, God grants us the slack to press on. Whenever we reach an unscalable wall, God equips us to ascend it. And whenever we’re overcome by a particular lacking, God meets us in our midst, fills us, and goes before us to make a way (Isaiah 43:16-19).

Yeah, I get how hard it can be craving community and passion outlets in the arid seasons of life, but remember God specializes in showing His power in hopeless situations. So if you’re reading this today wishing you could swap out a bye-vocational life in place of a bivocational one, I encourage you: allow God to fill up your empty canteen with encouragement and fresh perspective. ‘Cause I submit: where you are now is not by mistake, but by design and by grace.

Think of it this way: If you’re thirsty, what sense does it make to cut your water bottle in half when you could simply remove the cap and fill it to the brim?

Pretty obvious, right?

Yet, how many of you reading this are essentially doing the same thing by denying yourself full-fillment as a result of wanting the ‘bye’, not the ‘bi’?

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If you can relate, I encourage you: stop overfocusing on what you wish could be different in your life and embrace the fact God has you just where He wants you. Don’t fantasize about what it’d be like to customize your life. Instead, take joy in trusting the Lord’s lead and take courage in pushing through to the good stuff that’s coming (see Isaiah 58:11).

While I’m tempted to go on, I’m goin’ to push ‘pause’ for now and instead bid adieu with some parting questions:

1) What do you need to be filled with today?
2) What is capping the ‘containers’ God has placed you in?
3) Will you remove those caps and allow God to fill you up?

I’ll just let the mic drop there…

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Footnotes

  1. in light of how I was created

Cover photo creds: ThomRainer.com 

3 Ways to Cultivate a Reproducible Ministry

When it comes to the bivocational life, no question, leaving a legacy (heck, just staying the course) is hard work. I know for me, finding time, energy, even resources…can quickly become challenging tasks when life seems to bottle up in any one area. With that said, I also know when we center our attention and effort on cultivating a reproducible ministry, we ultimately discover the mindset, heart, and tools necessary to be maximally faithful in our respective realms.

So while the topic of “reproducible ministry” may seem like a daunting topic to some, by embracing these three basic points, you’ll find achieving the dream by and through God is completely possible.

1) Spread the “wealth” – No, I’m not talking about financial delegation; rather, I’m talking about sharing leadership opportunities with the rest of the body.

I know, I know…that’s blasphemy, right? *Sarcasm*

Well, as sad as it may seem, there are still quite a few ministers who abide by the archaic notion that preaching and teaching is a one-man, uni-directional gig; however, when we look at what effective Kingdom-centered, missionally-minded ministry looks like, we find the common denominator lies not in sustainability, but in reproducibility. As Pastor Jim Harris, Discipleship Pastor at Grace Chapel, once said about cultivating a thriving, disciple-making culture, “What we do needs to be reproducible. If it’s too complicated, then it’s not mission-minded.”

In other words, a healthy ministry isn’t obtained through showmanship; it’s accomplished through partnership…and the fostering of an environment where God can ‘water’ the saints in their 1 Corinthians 12 anointing. See the difference?

So if you’re hitting a wall in the area, ask yourself, ‘Am I trying to sustain results by an over-concentration of my spiritual giftings or am I looking to help others retain and reproduce truth?

‘Cause truth is: God gave everyone different gifts for a reason. I know for church leaders we tend to assume the church is a customized stage, but once we realize it’s actually a distribution center designed for all people to discover their identity and calling in Christ, our place of influence will sync up to a place of power as well.

My advice: ask the Lord to purify your motives…and to grow your fearlessness in connecting with people. Trust me: I know it can be easy to hide behind the podium; however, if you truly want to reach people, then you must commit to meeting them where they’re at so they can better see the kind of life they’re meant to live. That’s what reproducibility is all about.

2) Simplify the process – While this may seem painfully rudimentary, for a ministry to be reproducible, it’s fair to say it must be…remember-able (or re-memorable), right?

Unfortunately, I find many who think sound teaching is directly proportional to how “deep” and sacerdotal the content is. Yet, when we look at Jesus’ approach in his ministry, we find him using familiar language and relatable illustrations to drive home his points. In other words, Jesus didn’t aim his words over people’s heads; instead, he targeted their hearts for the sake of life change. So when I say “simplify the process”, what I’m really talking about is doing whatever we can to enable our word and effort to take root …whether we’re teaching people how to pick up their cross, follow Jesus, and fish for men…or using specialized planning apps like Evernote/Evernote web clipper/Penultimate/Logos Bible in tandem to better content construction.

My advice: integrate point #1 into point #2 (i.e. speak less, share more, and “partner” everything). You’ll find the more you do so, the more you’ll develop into the koinonia leader1 you were called to be.

3) Stir the rising generation – While I could write many a post talking about following Christ and what real change looks like, it’s all moot if we neglect the fact that mission assumes “3” 2 (i.e. to the third generation) and daily testifies the Gospel. Again, if we’re more concerned about our own flavor and style (as if you could put a patent on it), then we’re not going to come close to inspiring the emerging generation; if anything, the rising youth of our nation are sharp enough to smell inauthenticity a mile away. Yet, if we want to leave a reproducible legacy, then it’s imperative we view and live discipleship as God sees it and how Jesus executed it.

My advice: integrate point #2 into point #3 by allowing God do His part in wooing people to His heart and by being 100% responsible for the role He’s given you (i.e. surrendering, obeying, yielding…prepping in advance…preaching through books/genres of the Bible often, etc.3) You’ll find as long as you consecrate your focus  on empowering young people to speak the truth in love in the way God has you, He’ll make fruitful your effort.

Footnotes

  1. Thanks to Marty Duren for this point’s inspiration
  2. Shout-out once again to Jim Harris
  3. Case and point: our youth group is going studying the parables through the storytelling method)

Cover photo designed through Canva