Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stepping Out

I spent this past weekend speaking at a conference youth camp. Let's stop right there.

I don't do youth camps. As I have explained to countless people, I am not called to youth ministry and clearly God has not equipped me for anything of the sort. My specialty is adult ministry. I tend to be terrified of anyone under twenty. I think it has to do with the fact that I know young people can see right through me, down to my very soul, and are unknowingly aware of every fear and insecurity I possess.

There is this other thing as well: To say I am a reserved person is about as big an understatement as you can get away with without inciting laughter. If you have ever even peaked into a youth camp, reserved is not a word that you would tend to use unless you were saying something like, "the area in the back of the room is reserved for people who are too reserved to worship like everyone else." Youth worship with such reckless abandon that it makes a bookish introvert like me run for cover faster than a turtle in a mosh pit.

So, how I found myself this weekend at my second youth camp is a mystery of God I cannot quite explain but one I attribute a little to the influence of my friends Rusty Freeman and Ryan Barnett. The odd thing is that Rusty and Ryan know me pretty well so there is a mystery in why they would think I would have any chance of adding something to the life of these kids.

At my first camp this past winter, I did my best to fit in, preach well, not get hurt and not look like an old man who had, in senile confusion, wandered into the wrong camp. And all in all, things went pretty well. But this time, I made a different choice. If I was going to do this, I had to do this. I had to believe there was some reason that I had been asked, some reason that God had clearly called me to say yes, some reason I was there. So this time, I decided to enter into the time, not carefully, but with as much reckless abandon as the kids I would be worshipping with. This is a lot easier with mentors to look to. My friend Mark Swayze and his band were leading the music and if anyone knows how to lead worship with reckless abandon it's Mark. Rusty also has somehow maintained the ability to worship with the same energy as the kids year after a year.

They both know something really important - they are leaders and people are looking at them and to them. Some kids at camp need no help getting into the spirit of worship. But there are always others, especially kids who were born with that same "I'm more comfortable reading in my room" personality that I was. They will follow the lowest energy person in the room. It is a shame if it is me.

So this time I made a different choice. I decided from the first night to sing, dance, pray, kneel, forget that anyone was watching me but God. I decided when I stood up to speak, I would say what was on my heart even if it wasn't in my notes. I decided I wouldn't vet every word to make sure that it was perfectly theologically astute. I decided to share stories that my congregations haven't been allowed to hear. I poured out so much that, when I was done, my throat hurt, my head hurt, my back hurt and I felt spent.

I don't keep a ranking but this was clearly in the top five of the most amazing spiritual experiences of my Christian journey - Because I stepped out and let go.

On the last night of the camp a young girl came forward to pray with me. In tears she thanked God for bringing her to the camp and bringing me to the camp. She then repeated to me, clearly, the themes that ran through all of my messages and related them to the struggles she faced in her life. And then we prayed together. That alone was worth the whole thing.

I don't do youth camps. As I have explained to countless people, I am not called to youth ministry and clearly God has not equipped me for anything of the sort.

Okay, well maybe.

What does this look like for you in your life and ministry?
What are you afraid of?
What is outside of your comfort zone?
What might you need to let go of to serve in a way that God is calling you?
Who is watching you?
Is there anything you are doing that might be getting in their way?
What might God be calling you to?
Who might God be calling you to be?

See you at camp.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Don't Panic!

Exodus 32
1When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 

I have been pondering this passage this week. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reading through Genesis and Exodus hearing the old stories anew again. This is such a powerful narrative in the early story of God’s people and their struggle to be obedient. As I was pondering it, it called to mind another story, this one much more secular. Last week, I watched the movie, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Really, the movie is not very good which is unfortunate because the series of books on which it was based is amazing. It came to mind because of some of the most important words in the book, words imprinted on the cover of the fictional Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy upon which the story is based. Those words, “Don’t Panic!”

God speaks those words to us in one form or another over and over in scripture. Scripture also blesses us with stories of the unfortunate things that happen when we do panic. Exodus 32 is one of those stories. Moses has disappeared up the mountain a little too long and the people begin to get nervous. I guess that is to be expected. Here is the truly tragic part of the narrative: their leader followed them. Aaron allowed their panic to drive his actions and those actions were deeply disobedient.

This is an important biblical lesson on leadership. It is human nature - the people are going to get nervous, the people are going to panic. However, it is not our role as leaders to react to their panic. It may be our job to respond in ways that reduce anxiety and bring comfort. But it is also our job to remain obedient in the midst of the uncertainty. Aaron had the choice to say, “I trust God and I trust Moses. Remain calm. Things will be okay soon.” Instead, he followed their lead and forged the idol they desired.

This scripture is powerful in the area of ministry that I work in. I try to help churches develop systematic plans to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The hard part of this is that it almost always involves change and that change takes some time. Here is why most churches will fail to make the change: at some point along the line, it will seem too hard or feel like it is not going to work and the people may panic. The leader has a choice: push on or turn back.

Where Aaron failed, Moses got it right. In Exodus 14, the people have barely left Egypt when things turn rough and they panic.

10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 

But instead of following the crowd, Moses says,

13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Once we believe that we have heard and are following God’s vision for our church, we have to lead with that kind of trust and show that sort of trust to the people.

Churches will always face these moments. If a church implements a new visionary plan for discipleship, there will be a moment where it doesn’t feel like it is working. There will be a moment when it seems like it is too much of a strain on another part of the system. There will be a moment when it will seem like it should be creating more results faster. During these moments, people may panic and want to create a new idol or go back to the safety of Egypt (even if it didn’t work.) It becomes the leader's job to assess, to comfort, but not to react. It is the role of the leader to say, “Do not be afraid, stand firm.”