Relationships

Conversations in Mentoring

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This is a (long overdue) follow up to the post “Rhythms from Mentors.” John and Doc took an interest in me early in ministry and greatly influenced the years ahead. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. This post highlights some characteristics that made their mentoring effective.

Regular conversations
Both men established a regular rhythm of meeting with me. It was occasionally weekly but more often monthly. Their lives were full (as was mine), but both made an effort to connect regularly. The regular connection allowed us to build trust and a depth of relationship that enabled meaningful, “rubber-meets-the-road” conversations.

Direct communication
Neither John nor Doc is a “beat around the bush” kind of a guy. Both men lay their cards on the table; you don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. There’s no pretense in their interpersonal relationships, and both men are willing to be direct. Maybe it was the maturity of their years (both have a few decades on me), but neither was hasty or impatient while being direct. Clarity is a high value for me—so I thrived in an environment where both men had the courage to offer direct feedback. Passive-aggressive is no way to go. John and Doc modeled good conflict and healthy, direct communication.

Loving correction
A “woodshed” conversation is when you get taken to the proverbial woodshed for correction/discipline. A good woodshed conversation is correction done in love. John and Doc excelled in loving correction. As you can deduce from the previous paragraph, both men had woodshed conversations with me. Doc coached me in administrative leadership: “Make a decision. If it’s wrong, fix it.” John once took me to lunch and gently but directly told me, “I’ve never met someone with so many strong opinions about so many things. You need to learn to sit back and listen.” His loving feedback that first year in pastoral ministry enabled me to grow in patience, humility, and maturity … though life keeps teaching me I have a long way to go.

Confident risk-taking
You can’t have tough conversations if you’re insecure about the relationship. John and Doc were secure enough to be lovingly direct without worrying about what I thought of them. If they’d related to me out of a hope that I’d like them or approve of their leadership, I’d have lost much of the benefit of their loving correction. I’ve thanked both men over the years for their investment in me—particularly their willingness to risk the relationship for the sake of loving correction. They weren’t afraid of losing the relationship, and that somehow made the relationship more secure and their love more evident.

Kind affirmation
Neither John nor Doc is a man of many words. Yet both have taken time over the years to demonstrate their desire for an ongoing relationship. They’ve affirmed personal growth, encouraged me, and prayed for me and my family. They’ve always taken an interest in me as a person, not a project. While both men are a number of years my senior, they relate to me as a peer. Some mentors are “hey-let-me-take-you-under-my-wing, little guy” kind of mentors while others are “pull-up-a-seat-at-the-table, young gun” kind of mentors. John and Doc were the latter, and that has been such a gift. They gave me the freedom to make mistakes and lovingly came alongside me when I needed help.

Trustworthy friendship
John and Doc are just downright consistent people. You know what you’re going to get from them. Though I in no way deserve to be their peer—I am far their inferior in maturity, wisdom, learning, age, etc.—they have welcomed me as a friend. And it’s not only I who am the beneficiary of their friendship. Each placed I’ve served has gotten to enjoy my being a *little* less of a knucklehead because of their influence.

A Prayer for Today

Father, our world is broken, and we’ve proven time and time again that we’re unable to fix it ourselves. We weep with those who weep and hurt with those who are hurting. We pray for peace and justice for the family of George Floyd, and we pray for peace and justice in communities of color. These protests are an expression of pain. Help us respond with appropriate repentance—individually and corporately.

We also pray for justice for all lawlessness, and for the restoration of property and the peace of our cities. And we ask for the peace and protection of law enforcement, national guard, and other folks who are placing their lives on the line to stem the tide of evil. Would you give government officials wisdom to balance the need for justice, security, due process, and freedom of speech?

We intercede for African American members of our congregation that you would grant them peace of mind and grace in Christ. For men, women, and families who put their lives on the line each day in service—that you will give them courage and wisdom. These are such perilous times.

And, Lord, may the church of Christ be a beacon of repentance, hope, and love, and a model for the kind of courageous peace and unity that we see in your Word. May our lives be marked by clear, compelling love for each other and the community around us. And give us opportunities to speak the hope of the gospel into the darkness around us. We ask that you would bring people into the family of God in this time of chaos.

Jesus, you are a Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief, and today is a reminder of that grief. You were broken, so that we might be whole; your blood was shed so we might be forgiven. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus the Savior who rose to conquer sin, death, and hell. Amen.

Rhythms from Mentors

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John and Doc (see “Mentors“) had distinctive patterns in their relationship with me. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. They demonstrated interest in my family and in me personally, outside the projects we worked on together.

Time together with John and Doc generally looked like lunch together, a cup of coffee, a “third place” of some sort. Neither ever made reference to the fact that he was mentoring me or taking me under his wing. I don’t think I was ever able to pay for my own meal (even when I’d insist), and both men were generous with their time and money to a fault.

Learning with John centered around conversation and reading—especially books and articles. John had us reading a book per month on leadership, management, and finance. Leadership and management learning has been a lifelong (adult) pursuit of mine, but my rate of reading definitely trended up as a result of John’s influence. John still sends articles and food for thought every week. Our reading together was occasionally Christian but was more often common grace wisdom that we embraced together from a Christian perspective.

Doc’s and my relationship grew as a result of several key projects we worked on together. I learned the importance of strategic intentionality and willingness to proceed on a course of action, even if it’s difficult or unpopular—as long as it was a wise course of action. We approached a bloated, outdated ministry program together and were tasked with bringing it into health and sustainability. Doc designed an excellent tool that helped us evaluate decisions and make them about the process and health of the organization as a whole, rather than personalities.

Both men combined a unique love for people with a direct style of communication. We’ll next examine what made their communication so effective.

 

Mentors

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Mentors. Everybody needs one. Smart people want one. Wise people know they’re hard to come by.

God has blessed me with good friends and mentors throughout my life. My dad was my first consistent mentor, and no one’s filled the gaping hole created by his passing in 2005. Yet God has graciously and consistently brought men into my life at each step along the way. Sometimes those men have been peers who have become close friends, but others have been older … more seasoned … men who have been close friends too.

Two of these “seasoned” men—Doc and John—played a vital role in my early ministry that continues to impact my life today. I refer to one or both of them regularly in conversations with other people, though it’s been several years since we’ve been able to spend much time together, due to geographical distance. Neither spent the bulk of his life in pastoral ministry (one was primarily in education, the other in finance), yet both exercised remarkable influence in my growth and development as a person, as a Christian, and as a pastor. Since both men turned 80 in the past year, I’ve recently begun reflecting on mortality and how fast relationships go.

John’s and Doc’s relationship with me didn’t exactly mirror each other’s. Yet both demonstrated consistent initiative in seeking a relationship with me. I try to reach out to them periodically to say thank you, but that’s a rather paltry way to attempt to repay such a debt. So I wanted to take a chance to reflect on their impact and what made them so influential in my life.

Having a mentor isn’t as simple as looking for one, and being a mentor isn’t as simple as trying to be one. So I’d like reflect on the legacies of these two men over the next few weeks and see what lessons we might be able to draw from them. Maybe God will use their lives to encourage someone else.

 

Transitions: Our Family’s Future

BannerIt’s been some time since I’ve blogged at all, let alone share any updates. Life has been a bit on the crazy side, and it’s been difficult to do anything beyond what I must do each day.

Since June of 2014, our family has ministered at Morning Star Church in Rockford, IL, where I’ve served as lead pastor. It has been an amazing joy to serve the Lord in Rockford. Hebrews 13:17 tells the church to allow leaders to serve with joy, not with groaning. Serving at Morning Star has been so much joy. What an amazing gift.

Some of our favorite things about Rockford:

  • Morning Star Church (it’s hard to put into words what a gift Morning Star has been to us)
  • The people (such a welcoming community, and we’ve made such dear friends inside and outside our church family)
  • Our home (God gave us a beautiful home in an amazing neighborhood, right by the Rock River)
  • Anderson Japanese Gardens (a Rockford gem)
  • Beef-a-Roo (if you don’t know Rockford, you won’t get it, but just trust us)

Yesterday was our final day at Morning Star. We are headed to serve at Ashley River Baptist Church in Charleston, SC, where I’ll be senior pastor. The Lord has answered so many specific prayers and directed in remarkable ways to bring us to this point. We are so thankful for the Lord’s leading and pumped to serve in a congregation and community to which God has so clearly led us. He’s already begun to give us good relationships there and answered our prayers for a home that would allow our family to love and serve our church and community. Ashley River, we’re thankful for you and looking forward to serving together.

So, Rockford, goodbye. It has been sweet. Charleston, look out—here we come!

Photo Credit: Figment Photography

What the Bible Says about Family Worship

While it might seem like a given that families should pursue Christ together at home, it’s also easy to dismiss an idea like this as too burdensome. But not only is family worship at home a good idea, it’s commanded and modeled in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 

It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than this, does it? Teach your children at home, when you’re out, when it’s bedtime, and when it’s time to get up.

Psalm 78
Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

This psalm highlights the importance of family worship by telling us again that it’s commanded for parents to teach children, and it’s through parents teaching children that the next generation learns about God’s greatness.

2 Timothy 1:5
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Paul tells us about the important role that Timothy’s mom and grandmother played in leading him to Christ. The faithfulness of parents and grandparents plays a vital role in passing on the faith to succeeding generations.

Conclusion
These are just three texts of many in Scripture that highlight the importance of passing on our faith to others. In these instances, the ones receiving the benefits are children in the home of believing parents. If you don’t have kids, you could pass along your faith to someone else—your spouse or some friends:  What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

A Better Path

In a world that’s characterized by increasing polarization, with both ends of the spectrum complaining about how terrible the other is, we can choose a different, better path.

Rather than interacting with people who annoy us as if they annoy us, what if we caught a vision for how Jesus treated people that seemed like an inconvenience? What if we begin to treat irritations with mercy and grace?

And then imagine that our actions have the power to affect the way others interact. If there’s ever been a day that needs people to show mercy to those that don’t deserve it, it’s our day. Instead of viewing differences as obstacles, view them as opportunities for mercy and grace.

Sometimes people can’t hear the truth, because of our lack of mercy. If people reject Jesus, let it be because they reject him and his message, not because we’re so pugnacious or politically-affiliated that they can’t even hear the words of good news.

Are We Listening?

As our nation is embroiled in yet another controversy that is sweeping the airwaves and social media, I’m reminded how little I know and how ill-qualified I am to speak winsomely and helpfully to the issues of the day.

Some words from James that seem especially appropriate for white Christians in this moment: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Before jumping into the latest controversy take some time to ask (with a humble, open spirit) someone with a different skin color and perspective what they think about the protest. It’s possible that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Then consider engaging further in a loving, respectful conversation with an actual person, and leave the social media outrage to others.

“If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).

What Are “The Wounds of a Friend”?

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

1. The wounds of a friend come from a posture of humility.
If we have something difficult to say, it’s communicated best after we’ve dealt with the beam in our own eye. It’s hard to sense humility from someone who approaches us when we’re hurting, so we tend to lash out because of pain. But a true friend identifies with us in our pain, even when they’re telling us hard truths.

2. The wounds of a friend are best built on a foundation of relational trust.
The only way to build trust in a relationship is time and personal investment. Sometimes the threat is so great that you must speak, but if at all possible, wait to speak until you’ve loved faithfully and sacrificially.

3. The wounds of a friend are rooted in a desire to benefit another,  not fix something that irritates me.
We often tend to address what’s personally annoying, but a true friend is willing to cover irritations in love, while lovingly addressing patterns that are harmful to another person. A true friend bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, when it’s a matter of personal irritation (1 Corinthians 13:7). When a matter threatens someone’s soul or personal wellbeing, a true friend attempts to restore in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-2).

4. The wounds of a friend are the fruit of courageous love.
It’s hard to tell people something they don’t want to hear. Someone who humbly and lovingly opens your eyes to blind spots in your life is a loving and courageous friend, one worth hanging onto.

5. The wounds of a friend come with healing balm (even though they hurt).
Wounds hurt. There’s no way of getting around this. But because we’re approaching a friend in love, we also stick with our friend to help salve the wound, bind it, and help it heal.

One Church’s Response to White Supremacy in Charlottesville

Many of us are aware, while some possibly are not, that there were marches and protests by white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. Chants, flags, racist symbols, and violence shouted as loudly as the protestors themselves that white supremacy isn’t merely a figment of black America’s imagination. Today, I’d like to share some words regarding racial events that have increased in violence and visibility.

At times I haven’t known what to say. The truth is that I’m insecure about speaking into racial issues. My experience has taught me that people from all ends of the spectrum are upset—some because they think I talk about nothing but race and others because I don’t really know how to talk about it at all. And there’s some truth in that; I’ve made a muddle of it enough times to know I don’t really know. It’s easier to just be quiet. But I do know Jesus, I do believe the gospel, and it seems that the gospel is intersecting public life at this pressure point.

So I’d like to take a moment to speak for all of us here at Morning Star.

Scenes like the ones we saw this weekend grieve us. They should grieve all Christians. Men and women made in the image of God publicly and brazenly demeaning and attacking other men and women made in God’s image is a deeply disturbing, anti-Gospel image. Because we believe the gospel, we condemn racial sin of all sorts and the lie of white supremacy in particular. It is an abomination worthy of eternal punishment in hell. We hate it because God hates it. It doesn’t need to be soft-pedaled and shouldn’t be given any modicum of acceptance in Christian churches, and it’s not acceptable here.

God has blessed our congregation with a number of families and individuals of different ethnicities and skin colors. It’s one of the things I love about our church family. It’s like a little taste of heaven. But most of us don’t have the shared experience of being black in America. Because of this, it’s easy to be blind to much of the experience of people of color within America. So we should be humble in our response to these events. We must grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep. We must also condemn what God condemns. We must not allow our brothers and sisters of color to fight these battles on their own. There are some moments that aren’t clear. The events of this weekend were crystal clear.

God hates the fallacy of racial superiority. He hates racism enough that he poured out his anger on his own Son to punish the sin of racism and to redeem racist bigots who repent of their sin. Jesus shed his blood to unite all people—equally condemned before the justice of God and equally gloriously redeemed by the grace of God. Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they sang a new song (to the Lamb), “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

So how do we respond to this weekend?

First, we declare that our unity is in Christ and that all people of all color are welcome and loved here. We eat of one body and drink of one cup. And to you who have been threatened by these events, know that it’s not you, it’s we—or more colloquially … us. We are one in Christ, we love you, and we stand with you.

Secondly, we deny that any human being is inherently superior to another, and we gladly affirm the dignity of all humans—whether we differentiate by race, mental ability, gender, age, or any other measure. Because all people are created in God’s image, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We gladly condemn racism in all its forms and white supremacy, in particular, including its most recent iteration in what’s become known as the “alt-right.”

Thirdly, we cry out to God for mercy. We pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus. The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

So let’s take a moment now and pray for peace and pray for our gospel light to shine brightly in a world shrouded in darkness.

Will you pray with me?

“Father, our hearts were grieved this weekend as we saw what unfolded in Charlottesville, VA. We pray for your peace to reconcile divides that seem unbridgeable right now. And we ask for wisdom for the events of today. On the one hand we’re inadequate and small, yet on the other we want to love and serve those we know, those we can help. Root out the vestiges of superiority of all sorts that remain in our hearts, whether that relates to gender, race, religion, income level, or anything else. Have mercy on our nation, we pray. And give us courage to stand firm in the gospel even when the cost of discipleship seems near and dear. So we pray for wisdom and grace and courage and above all for peace. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, amen.”