Prototype Pulpit has Moved!

Posted: August 18, 2014 by joshuanink in Uncategorized

After some thought, I am choosing to revive this project.  However, we’re gonna try something a bit different.  Prototype pulpit is now a vlog on YouTube.    Head on over to My new YouTube Channel to catch up.

download40 Days of Focus: Days 3-8

As I write this, I am wiped out.  I’ve been driving all over Omaha, lifting boxes and suitcases, and having in-depth, life altering conversations all day…   but that’s not why I’m wiped…

I’m wiped out because, today I witnessed God’s grace descend in a big way in the life of a young man.  He was in a hopeless situation, without much in the way of options, and was more than a little responsible for how he got there.  Questions I take for granted like, “where is my next meal coming from?”, or “Where will I sleep tonight?” had suddenly become his new “normal”.  Yet, in 24 hours, I witnessed him go from pit of despair to having all of his needs met, and a plan to move forward from that point.  I saw a handful of servants rise to the challenge and find him a way to get meals, a place to sleep that was warm, dry, and safe.  I saw people draft plans and expectations to get him to a place of responsibility and self-sufficiency.  Finally, I saw people take responsibility for their fellow man, rising to the occasion and filling needs as they came, whether it was providing shelter or carrying a bag.  In the end I saw a young man go from hopelessness to excited and hopeful in a matter of days, all because he came face to face with real, tangible grace.

Every single person that served this young man, knew that he was in this situation due to choices he had made.  Every single servant knew that they were called to help someone who put himself in this situation.  Yet, every single person didn’t care.  It didn’t matter.  It was all about how to get this young man back on the right track.  Whatever was in the past was forgotten, and all they saw was a brother in need, not just for tangible things like shelter and food, but also for someone to care enough to fight for him.

To those that were somehow a part of this process, whether directly or indirectly, and you know who you are, I say thank you!  Not just for taking care of this young man’s needs, but also for displaying life changing grace in your lives, and modeling that for the world to see.

Grace_wordleSo I’m wiped… not because I’m tired, or out of steam.  But because I’ve witnessed just a small taste of the kind of grace that comes from Christ, and the only real reaction to such a thing, is stunned, grateful silence.

Cynical Cat is CynicalI’ve always viewed myself as a bit of an outsider when it comes to the Church.  I typically don’t buy into the mainstream image of the American Christian.  I don’t listen to K-Love, I send my kids to public school, and I dislike how my country’s politics have found themselves leaching off my faith for the purpose of emotional appeal.  I typically dislike “Christian-ese” phrases like “I have a heart for _____.”, and it grates on me when I hear someone use the word “just” 14 times in a two-minute prayer.  I have simply written off popular Christian teachers like Chan, Giglio, or Warren for being too “mass-produced”, and often failed to even acknowledge any aspect of the teaching that they bring.  The only mainstream Christian  worship musician that I intrinsically trust is Crowder, because he consistently does things in a weird, new way… or is it because he wears a trucker hat and a beard…?  I analyze each an every bit of material for the most minute theological fallacy, looking for a reason to discredit the entire library.  I am distrustful, elitist, and arrogant when it comes to my faith life.

I am a cynical Christian…

Now, to be clear, there is a difference between open cynicism and having a heart for discernment being a discerning Christian.  We are absolutely supposed to be able to discern whether a teaching is true or not.  We must be equipped with the tools to evaluate claims made on Christ’s behalf.  However, discernment can easily cross over into cynicism when it is done to inflate ourselves instead; tearing others down to increase your personal sense of elitism.  Discernment elevates and protects the authority of Christ and his teaching.  Cynicism leads to elevation and protection of you own authority, cementing yourself as the only trustworthy voice.  One is about submission and one is about collecting social currency, or leveraging power. I am guilty of this.  I want to be the smartest person in the room.  I want people to know that I’m the smartest person in the room.  Unfortunately, that usually results in me attempting to discredit the competition.  This is Pride, pure and simple.  While it may mask itself as discerning wisdom, it is in fact, sinful.

So, how do we combat this?  Learn to be submissive to the Holy Spirit.  That is exactly what I am trying to do during this season of lent… to quiet down, and listen.  God uses imperfect vessels all the time for his teaching…  after all He uses me, and I’m about as imperfect as it comes.  I need to remember that I don’t want people throwing out what I have to say, because I stumbled in my theology at some point in the past, or because I occasionally act like an arrogant “know-it-all”.  The scripture that I teach every week isn’t about me.  I’m just the imperfect vessel…  The broken pot that carries the water for a time.

Toby Mac

Toby Mac

If that’s true for me, then its true for others.  I need to let go of my need to be the smartest person in the room, and simply be submissive to the Spirit’s work.  Sure, I still think its silly that Toby Mac, a man in his 50’s, still dresses and talks like Justin Bieber…  or that Judah Smith panders to Sea Hawks fans in his opening prayer at Passion 2014…  or that stylistically, modern worship seems cookie cutter and over-produced…

However, God is using these things to reach scores of people with the message of Christ.  Yes, I must practice discernment to make sure that I’m hearing truth about God.  However, when that discernment gives way to cynicism and pride, I need to take a step back and get out of God’s way.

cross-lent-purple-drape-5Today is the beginning of the season of Lent, otherwise known as Ash Wednesday, the traditional 40 day period (not including Sundays) of focus that prepares the way for the reality of Easter.  Some people fast during this time, choosing to refrain from eating meat, or drinking soda, or using Facebook.  Some people use this time for personal reflection, choosing to focus on re-orienting their faith through study and prayer.  All of this serves to prepare the individual for the reality that is Easter.

So, I have decided to also launch into a period of reflection and focus as well.  But rather than give up something or set off on some epic, symbolic journey, I am going to commit to setting aside additional time each day to simply pray and ask God to prepare me for Easter…

… I know…   It sounds like a cop-out.   Follow me though, I think this might be cool….

I am terrible at letting my schedule fill up, and bumping out time for prayer and study.  I make myself too busy to stop and listen to God.  So I am using this season of Lent to change that.  I suspect that by changing my habits, something more might change in me as well.  For that reason, I am going to attempt to write a blog post every single day of Lent.  That would be a single post every day, for forty days, excluding Sundays.

I know what your thinking…

“You have only updated one in 6 months!  What makes you  think you can do a daily bog?!”  well…  i dunno.   Frankly, I don’t think I can, but I’m counting on you to keep me accountable.

So, I invite you to take this journey with me.  Take some time each day to listen to God speak into your life.  It may be through prayer, Scripture, personal reflection, or maybe even in a conversation with a friend.  But, truly take time to listen.  And I invite you to call me out if I miss a post.  In fact we may even have to come up with punishments for missed posts.  I’ll let you guys figure that out.  🙂

day-1Well, today is day one, and the thought that has been dominating my prayers and thoughts as of late has been on how to align myself with what God is already doing.

I serve as the NexGen (Young Adult) Pastor for First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, IA.  We are attempting to launch a series of ministries that reach the needs of the 18-30 year olds in this community.  The extent of these ministries have never been done at this church, or even in this city.  In other words, everything I do is new.  So, it’s easy to feel like a soldier charging the hill with a dagger in my teeth and an army at my back.  However, I have been convicted lately to take a step back and listen…  listen to what God is already doing in our community and come alongside it and add our resources to the mix.

Therefore, I have been spending a lot of time trying to re-orient myself into a position that can recognize and react to what God is doing, and what I’m finding is awesome!

I honestly feel like we are on the cusp of something huge in our city.  College students I talk to are hungry for grace, and people are actually interested in talking about faith issues.  I don’t know what God is planning, but I can’t wait to see it.  Sure, “church” is still seen as old-fashioned or close minded by many people in our generation, however Truth… actual Truth…  is being engaged a every level.  Students want to know why the bible is so important.  Engaged couple want more than just a piece of paper to proclaim their marriage.  People are waking up to the deeper realities around us, and are failing to be satisfied by the matter-of-fact answers offered by culture.   Truth is being sought after on a regular basis.  Our culture is primed and ready for a spark…  and then boom!  Revival!

I don’t use that word flippantly either.  I’m hoping for actual revival… and not just big shows under sweltering tents.  I’m looking forward to a re-emergence of faith from the generation that is routinely referred to as the lost generation.  I see a revolution on the horizon…

…Now I just need to find out how we can help.

See you tomorrow!

Because everybody is doing it… here’s my thoughts on this whole … Phil Robertson… thing…

Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty"

Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty”

This really isn’t a case of freedom of religion or freedom of speech.

Phil still has the same freedoms he had last week, and A&E producers also have the freedom to employ who they want. He is not facing charges, prison time, or FCC fines for his comments. He is facing the response of a private company. Phil will be OK. He has made enough money over the years to weather this storm just fine, and I’m sure that was why he was so comfortable saying the things he did.

In the end, this story is not really a “sad” story about the state of American culture. It’s an “opportunity” to discuss these topics in a respectful and loving way. Reacting as if the Church, or our freedoms, are somehow being persecuted by Phil Robertson’s dismissal is simply not helpful…. and here’s why…

1)the Church is not being persecuted in the dismissal of Phil Robertson. One man is being removed from his position as an entertainer over philosophical differences with his employer. No one is forcing you to renounce your faith at the end of a shotgun. No one is threatening our solidarity as a Church. The secular world is simply continuing to be secular. If you want to experience true persecution, preach in SE Asia or the Middle East.

2) Persecution for your faith is not a bad thing!!! It means you’re doing something right. We should never run from persecution, nor be surprised when persecution happens. Jesus said to “pick up your cross and follow me”. That was before the crucifixion. So, in other words, following Christ means a death sentence, and taking it willingly and even joyfully. We need to rejoice in our persecution. Not stomp our feet and shout “unfair!”

So, regardless of how you feel about his comments. Please do not equate one millionaire entertainer having to terminate his contract as persecution of the Church.  If you really think that, then when real persecution comes, you will blow away like ash in a tornado.   

English: McCormick's Creek Inn Category:Images...

English: McCormick’s Creek Inn Category:Images of Indiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel with the Christian Student Fellowship team in Nebraska to the Campus Minister’s retreat at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer Indiana.  This was a wonderful opportunity to connect with other campus ministers and get an idea of what their various ministries look like.  I expected to be met with an arena filled with straight-laced pastors, each eager to share the models and programs they adopted to generate huge turn-outs at campus revivals.  I expected to be the untested rookie, humbled by the magic key that these men and women held to effective student ministry.  I have no idea why I expected this.  I have been preaching the need to abandon models and templates for years, focusing on relational ministry over event-based in nearly everything I write on the topic.  Yet, here, I expected to learn how to plan the perfect event.

Just a bunch of campus ministers singing praises.

Just a bunch of campus ministers singing praises.

What I was met with was a room of only about a hundred people who had a deep, palpable passion for reaching college students.  This passion precluded any personal pride that may have existed, and “magic keys” simply didn’t exist.  We were all rookies.  Whether someone was starting their first year of campus ministry, or entering their twentieth year working on the same campus, everyone was seeking new ideas, new concepts, and new encouragements.  Why? Because there is no template for honest relationship.  Each relationship was something entirely new and unique, and what was true for one relationship doesn’t necessarily apply to the next one.  In reality, a real relational minister must be willing to admit the each new relationship requires new investment, new rules, and there simply isn’t any time for pride or programs.   Here, I was standing in a room full of truly relational ministers, and it was indeed humbling, but not in the way I had expected.

The Campus House at the University of Missouri

The Campus House at the University of Missouri

We left on Monday evening, and drove to the University of Missouri in Columbia MO.  We stayed overnight in the “campus house”, a collection of dormitories, owned and operated by Christian Student Fellowship.  Early in the morning, we set off for an all-day drive out to the Indianapolis area, stopping to pick up another minister in St. Louis and for a much-regretted dinner at a roadside Mexican restaurant (We all paid for that one…).  We arrived at the Canyon Inn, in the center of McCormick’s Creek State Park, at around 6:00 pm, got checked in, and prepared for our first session.

Mark

Mark Moore

Mark Moore was our key-note speaker for the event.  Mark is a pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, AZ.  His preaching style is forceful and direct, holding your attention from beginning to end.  However, he seemed a bit too forceful at times, coming off instead as contrived fury.  All in all, what he had to say was spot on: as ministers, we have to take care of our own physical and spiritual health if we are ever going to be able to care for those we’re ministering to.  His advice was solid, focusing on ways to guard your time and make the greatest impact, while still balancing the realities of relational ministry.

BrockGolf

My Golf-cart buddy, Brock with his first Par.

The next day, I had the opportunity to play a round of golf with the Nebraska crew.  Now, I LOVE to play golf, but I am about the worst golfer to ever pick up a club.  Even using the name “golfer” to describe what I do is a stretch.  That being said, four and a half hours of hacking away at tall grass and searching for golf balls quickly turned into an opportunity to build real friendships.  As we each laughed over our terrible shots, conversation happens, ideas are exchanged, and epiphanies are had.  When we returned to the hotel, these relationships stayed, and conversation kept rolling.

Our Chariot...

Our Chariot…

This is the aspect of the trip that had the largest impact.  These people didn’t have magic keys.  They didn’t hold some secret skill in relationship building.  They loved college students, pure and simple.  Beyond that, they were the same as me: trying to figure it out as we went along, and willing to mess up along the way.  The “secret” was authenticity.  They authentically love their students, and authentically want to see students come to Christ.  They are willing to pour themselves into these students, one at a time if necessary.  Now, I can’t speak for every college minister out there, but as for the people I traveled with, they brought to mind the quote: “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”

collegeAs I discussed in my last post, I was recently hired as the “NexGen” Pastor at First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This is a church that has been blessed with decades of stability, built on a real collective passion for worshiping our creator. With three full services, First Christian Church (FCC) easily serves over 1200 people each week. However, there is a definitive and highly visible gap in participation from adults from the age of 18 to 30. There are a few high-school graduates who have continued to have a part in the student ministry, as well as a few couples in their late twenties that have begun to raise families, but this generation is largely absent on Sunday Morning.

This story isn’t exactly unique…

Whether you call us (I’m 30, so I guess I’m included) “Millennials”, “Mosaics”, “Generation Y”, or “Stalled Adolescents”, my generation is leaving the church in droves. What is unique, is that the leadership at FCC saw it as a big enough need to hire a full-time pastor, devoted entirely to bridging the gap between the Church, and this next generation of Christian leaders… hence “NexGen” pastor…

…no pressure…

Now, Omaha/Council Bluffs is blessed with having over 11 different post-secondary schools (universities, colleges, community colleges, tech schools, etc.), and one of the largest schools in the area (Iowa Western Community College) is just a few miles from our church. Therefore, I have decided that my first goal is to build a ministry that serves those college students in our neighborhood, and move from there.

I have begun a campaign to learn as much about the specifics of college ministry as I can. The time and effort I have decided to put into this research phase will easily eclipse even the most in-depth papers for my Old Testament professor (whose name, believe it or not was Dr. Sprinkle). However, I believe the benefit in learning from those who paved the trail vastly outweighs the headache I will get from reading too much.

I am about two weeks into this project, and wanted to share some of the highlights so far. If you are considering starting a college ministry in your church, these might work as good starting points. Note: I am not claiming to be an expert in this field. I am just a guy staring at the giant mountain, and I’m looking for good footholds for the climb. Some may help, some my end up not being able to bear your weight at all, but at least you’re not climbing blind.

You-Lost-Me1-662x1024You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church, and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman

David Kinnaman is the current president of the Barna Group, a market analyst firm whose specialty is faith-based research.  In You Lost Me, Kinnaman lays out the hard-to-dismiss disconnect between the Church, as it is currently perceived, and Millennials.  With the full weight of Barna research at his back, Kinnaman shows us a Church in trouble, arguing that the data suggests that the current participation drop-off that seems to happen after age 18 is motivated by a full cultural shift and not merely teens asserting themselves.  In other words, the reasons for the current gap in millennial participation will fundamentally change the North American Church.  Either we will shrink in size and influence over the coming decades, or we will learn to frame Truth in a way that spans the generation gap, yet doesn’t diminish the message.  You Lost Me is accompanied by a myriad of study guides, small group studies, and conference tours.  So, access to the information, as well as churches who have used their materials, is wide.

In the book, however, not much is put into making the solutions to these problems practical.  The solutions that Kinnaman offers are awesome, but theoretical in nature.  But then again, Kinnaman is an analyst and author, and while he seems to have great pastoral instincts, he is not a pastor.  That’s not a bad thing.  Sometimes, we need the facts as they are, and not as we perceive.  Kinnaman is great for that.  I highly recommend using this book, or even the accompanied study materials, to introduce the problem to your church, or even yourself.  We have to see the problem for what it is before we can make any real strides in tackling it.

Warning: if you don’t like numbers and statistics, move along.  This is a book written by the president of an analyst firm.  Its entire reason for being is to process the results of faith-based statistical analysis of 18-30 year olds.  He does it in an interesting way, and it is certainly does not come off as cold and over-analytical, but you can only dress up a list of numbers so much, and lists of numbers don’t really hold my attention (I’m talking to you fantasy football coaches).  That being said, I recommend starting your quest here, if only to understand just what you’re up against.  Just, don’t stop there.

genx_xnGen Ex-Christian: Why Young People are Leaving the Church, and how to Bring Them Back by Drew Dyck

This was a paradigm shifting read for me.  Dyck…

I can’t even type that with a straight face…

probably because I’m a 12 year-old boy…

My good buddy, Drew illustrates the need for some reform in how we approach ministry in ways that are similar to Kinnaman.  However, Drew’s (yeah I’m sticking with that) solution resonated much more with me.  He contends that the reason for the gap is really a result of post-modernism, while much of the more traditional church still operates under a modernist framework, a fact that I agree with almost completely.

Now I could write for years on the gap between post-modernism and modernism, and how it relates to the church, but I will spare you all that reading here.  The bottom line is that the Christian worldview isn’t “Modern” or “Post-Modern”.  It is something different, altogether. So, arguing about how post modernism is killing the church, or how modernism is keeping the church from being effective are completely fruit-less.  The reality is that Christianity isn’t really a worldview, or a philosophy, or an ethic, or a building.  To the follower of Christ it is simply reality, a reality based on love and grace.

This is why Drew’s solutions don’t address too many program/template issues with the church.  His tactics are far more fundamental in that they are about cultivating relationships, and learning individual stories.  It is about grace and love on a person by person basis, and not about marketing, gimmicks, or trends.  Drew’s ideas require investment in the complete person, not simply the culture.  However, the reality of church leadership is that we often have to work within organized structures that require our organization to be transparent.  Drew offers little help here.  His ideas are more about building bridges with individuals, one relationship at a time.

college-ministry-from-scratchCollege Ministry From Scratch by Chuck Bomar

(OK, confession:  I’m only about halfway through this book, but I’m loving it so much I decided to list it here.)

Bomer served as a College Minister under Francis Chan.  This book is written from the perspective of someone with his feet on the ground, navigating both the realities of the culture as well as navigating the realities of church organization.  There is very little talk about “post-modern shifts” or “market research”, however there are solid gold examples of bible study ideas, excuses for visiting campuses in the name of ministry, and how to focus on discipleship rather than numbers.  I am not finished with this book yet, but I have already found it invaluable.

Bomer points out that the role of college ministry should reflect the role of college, itself: to transition individuals into full adulthood.  The only difference is that college ministry should help individuals transition into adulthood in the Church.  Therefore, tackling issues like vocation, identity, and independence are vital to the college minister.

However, it doesn’t have much to say about why the culture gap exists in the first place.  Therefore, I recommend reading this after one (or both) of the previous two books I mentioned.  This is tactics pure and simple.  YOu already know what you have to do, and you already know why.  Bomar works on giving us the “How” in that equation.  I will update you when I finish reading it.

1360093768Get in Touch with a Local Para-Church Campus Ministry

I am writing this from the second row in a 15 passenger van, riding with a team of campus ministers from Christian Student Fellowship, a para-church organization that operates campus-based ministry all over the area.  I bumped into their area coordinator a few days ago, started talking about what they are doing, and the next thing I know, I’m attending a week-long retreat with his team.  This gives me the opportunity to make several connections and hear many different models for college ministry.

Too often, ministries “compete” for participants.  I find this incredibly disturbing.  The realty is we are all in this together, and we should not be competing with each other.  the more teams that are united, the more people we can all reach.  Organizations like Campus Crusade, Navigators, and Christian Student Fellowship are everywhere, and they are more than eager to make new connections with other ministries.  Reach out, touch base, and share war-stories.  These men and women can be your greatest ally in getting on local campuses.

Campus Ministers Retreat

As I said above, I’ve been given the chance to attend the Campus Ministers Retreat out in Indianapolis this week.  This will be a chance to meet campus ministers from all over the country and hear what they have dealt with in their ministries.  In fact, over the next few days, I will be posting updates from the retreat.  Who knows, maybe I will make a connection that will ultimately shift how I will do College ministry at FCC.

Events like this are obviously amazing resources for information and fellowship.  If you have a chance to go to a conference, convention, or retreat early in the ministry planning process, TAKE IT.  There has never been a ministry that failed because the leaders had too much information, or too many connections with other pastors.  It is our job to unite and come together for the sake of THE ministry, not just MY ministry.  So, why not go to the biggest concentration of college ministry leaders that you can find?

My office/bedroom tonight.  Then tomorrow, back on the road.

My office/bedroom tonight. Then tomorrow, back on the road.

Well, I’m settling into my dorm room at University of Missouri: Columbia.  Tomorrow, the eight of us (7 from CSF and myself) will drive through to Indianapolis, stopping in Quincy, IL to pick up one more, topping our group off at nine.  We will be checking into the event tomorrow afternoon.

Well, off to bed…Stay tuned…