A Big, Stuffy Word for Spiritual Growth



And that word? It's sanctification. (okay, it might only sound stuffy to me, I get that)

When I hear that word, I immediately get anxious. Why? Well, because I picture myself in a Sunday School classroom and someone is asking me what that word means, along with other big (scary!) words like: propitiation, justification, and of course, hermeneutics. 

But then I also think back, with much embarrassment, to the times in college when I'd use these exact words to try and show people that I was a mature Christian. Oh, the depths of brokenness, friends! 


If you google, "What is sanctification?", you not only get a lot of results (over 6,140,000 in less than a second) but you're also not alone. To me, it's one of those terms where I know what it means, but I still get nervous when people ask for a (succinct) definition. 

In short, it's spiritual growth or better yet, God's plan for our spiritual growth. Which, we see clearly defined in Paul's letter to the church in Rome, as being conformed to the image of Jesus, by and through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in the famous Romans 8 chapter, I think we neglect the fact that the Holy Spirit is referenced in this chapter a lot. More than any other chapter in this entire book (er, letter). 

 I do like this word, because it forces me to think of Jesus and the Spirit. Personally, when I think of "spiritual growth" or "spiritual formation", my mind starts thinking of all the things that I can do to 'make this happen'. Which, in a sense, is antithetical to the Gospel as presented in Romans. 

As I studied this letter/book recently, I was overwhelmed with reminders that I play a part in this process, but it's not the first part nor the main part. God initiates, God sustains, God grows. How? Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is clear in the first eight chapter, and of course, expounded upon as Paul continues to flesh it out over the remaining sections his writing. 


If a college student where to come to my office and ask me, "How do I grow as a Christian?", my gut reaction and response would be to start a discussion on the spiritual disciplines. Perhaps it's because I'm a recovering workaholic or pragmatic to a fault, or maybe it's because I read The Power of Positive Thinking cover-to-cover at the ripe age of 11. 

Regardless, I think that Dallas Willard helps me refocus: 

"Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort." 

Like Paul, Dallas is saying that we don't earn it (or anything in the Kingdom) but in fact, it requires or invites us to participate. And as Paul demonstrates, God's will and revelation (but specific, special and general) mean that He is in charge. And He is the doer, in the Kingdom, not me. I am merely invited to be a co-conspirator. 

So, I hope to answer that student, that it's about beholding God, Jesus and the Spirit. It's about believing and trusting. It's about covenant, not fulfilling a contract. Yes, the spiritual disciplines are key, but they are almost a fitting reaction to the knowledge or understanding of the goodness of God and his grace, both in creation and also, in the life of Christ. 


If I focus my ministerial advice (or even personal devotion), on first, what I can do, I then miss out. Why? I have created a disordered narrative, wherein the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit are relegated. Thus, I force on myself a weight or burden that was not created for my shoulders. And that in fact, Someone's shoulder's have already carried.


Holy Spirit, may I collaborate with you, but let you lead my growth, my maturation and my walk with Christ. Help me to humbly and with obedience, follow you. And may I get involved, and put in effort (strive, even) but never from a posture of 'I'm the first to move' or 'I'm making this happen'. Instead, as a loving response, to a gracious King. 

This sixth chapter of Romans and its proper interpretation is not only imperative for your sanctification, but also for your sanity. 
Robert L. Deffinbaugh


A Theology and Framework for Conflict within Church Community



With such a heady title, you'd think I was going to attempt to write a dissertation. I am not. But, I think this is an appropriate title as I think through the development (or lack thereof) of my framework for conflict. In this article, I hope to highlight God's faithfulness and the path of maturation that He's lovingly called me to walk as well as inspire others to re-align their view or perspective of conflict, specfically within church communities. 


I usually tell people that my first encounter with the 'dark side of (pastoral) leadership' came when I was in college. It involved dealing with depression, navigating discord and trying to lead in a group that was splintering on more than one fault line, if you will. But as I think back to my time with my therapist (to which I'm thankful to God for, and consider a grace), it goes back to being a child and watching the pastor of my church get voted out (in a surprise turn of events) at what was supposed to be a mundane membership meeting. On a sad note, he actually moved out of his office that very day - and my parents consoled him while he packed his possessions in the back of his run-down car.

I share part of my story, because I think that aspects of it (those shared above, and many more) had shaped my theology of conflict more than I knew or would ever let on. 

In fact, it wasn't until years later that I discovered (in Scripture, and in experience) that tension and conflict - when done in a healthy manner, cane leave everyone better and cause personal growth and even, God to receive additional glory. 


Now, having been in full-time ministry for eight years, six of which are in the same location/community and organization, I don't feel like an expert but instead, like someone transitioning out of 'rookie' status. 

And I've both experienced and been in relationship with those that have experienced conflict, that managed it (and viewed it) in a vastly different way than I did. 

They struggled and it caused pain, yes. But they didn't view it (or the people bringing it about) as the enemy. But instead, as instrument of growth. 

It was a mentor that told me that conflict, like money, is ammoral. It's what you do with it that counts. 

Now, as someone leading and living with an anxiety disorder, I find this very hard to live out 24/7  but true, nonetheless. 

As I recently took a course in Conflict Management, and had several intentional conversations with older pastors (who'd been serving their local churches for at least two decades), I've come to realize a fact that I still categorize as scary. I'll never be smart enough or a clear enough communicator to 'work' my way out of conflict or disagreement. I've tried to, but I can't. And when I've played the appeasement game, the results are often disastrous (either internally or externally or both). 


I think that one way this course helped me, is that it forced me to look at the reality of the landscape in our country and how people's (changing) attitude towards pastors/clergy impacts the tone and relationship between conflict and authority. Additionally, the statistics provided and various studies shared, gave me a logical understanding as to what obstacles and opportunities lie ahead, as well as a third-person perspective on the role that conflict can play, in a positive way, if we allow it. And that we do that, though both strategic means and spiritual practices, of prayer and unity. 

Much of the material and sociological content, forced me to re-evaluate my own view of conflict and the role that my family of origin (FOO), culture and past experiences play in terms of shaping it. Additionally, it gave me a heart and lens by which to view people that are 'causing' conflict, in a Kingdom-way. 

In short, I've come to realize that conflict isn't sin and it isn't always unhealthy, that God will use it to grow people, that it's natural and that I may always be, in my flesh, opposed to it in all forms. And that, if I trust God, His purposes and intents will be made know. In doing so, then, it is not my role to change people's behavior, but to model (even, and especially, when they aren't listening to me). 


Briefly, here's what I wish someone had told me as a child, or in college, as I experienced the 'other side' of leading people: 

  • You are responsible to people but not for people. 
  • Not everyone will 'be on board' 100% of the time, that's expected. 
  • Don't fear conflict, but find people that 'do it well'. 
  • Never lead so that you don't get hurt, but also, don't lead in a way that your identity is wrapped up in people's relationship to you. 
  • Know yourself, and have a vision for people beyond one misunderstanding or agreement. 
  • Realize, as the course said, we are open and prone to criticizing because it's literally our job as pastors to help immature people become maturing followers of Jesus. 

Looking back, the course itself brought up experiences, anxiety and fear. But I don't have to live with that spirit as the leader. Why? 

2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

I may never run towards conflict, but my prayer is that I can be so close to God (and have such a heart for His church, like Paul), that I'd willingly engage in it for the sake of others and for God's glory. 

A Letter To Myself || Dear Primary Leader

If you've heard me preach or stumbled on one of my old blog posts (remember those things!), you probably already know that I love 'pre-written prayers'. Now, it sounds like I just admitted to advocating for a Spark Notes' spirituality, but that's not the case at all. And yes, I love spontaneous prayers (of all sorts!). However, there's something (for me, at least) special in praying the daily office, or the Anima Christi or reading + praying a prayer written by someone you trust. 

All of that to say, I was looking today (in my devotional time) for new and fresh ways to pray over the staff members of the ministry in which I lead. So, I turned to Google. 

And I came across this article from the folks over at 9Marks. It basically came out of a sermon in which someone lovingly preached a message on how church members can love and serve their senior pastor. However, I was looking for some tips or prayers or a framework to pray for those that work alongside me and on the team that I lead. 

So, I decided to write the article (dare I say, letter) that I was looking for. I borrowed the structure and some of the sentiments from Jeramie Rinne's original article, so I wanted to make sure to give him credit. 

A Letter To Myself || Dear Primary Leader

I'm not an expert. I'm far from perfect and in some ways, I'm barely leaving rookie status when it comes to being in full-time vocational ministry and serving as a primary leader. However, I think that a few of these things will help me to commit to praying more effectively for those on my team, and perhaps, they'll serve you too. 

1. It's hard to love and care, without prayer. I fully believe this. It's true of students (I'm in student/university ministry), family members, your neighbor, etc. And I also believe that if you're like me, and for some reason God has placed you in the role of primary leader, one of your first and most important responsibilities is to love and care for those that serve on your team. That might feel weird, since most of the people like me in campus ministry 'got into it' to minister to students, the need and our role shifts dramatically when we're sitting in the number one chair. So, we need to pray. Sounds obvious, right? Well, a study that I recently heard (on NPR, I think) said that out of religious leaders surveyed, the majority prayed daily for less than five minutes. Brian Zahnd says it like this, "Prayer shapes and reveals our theology". I hope I'm getting that right, but good thing he doesn't read my blog! Anyways, how we pray (or when we don't pray), reveals how our heart is positioned or postured towards someone or something. 

I'll say it more personally. When I choose not to pray, I am saying something about either my affections for a person or my unbelief in God, to make a change. When I do pray, I am choosing to try to see people (and circumstances) from a perspective greater than my own: His. 

2. Pray the things you wished people prayed over you. I love when people tell me that they have been praying for me. Why? Because prayer makes a difference. Because praying for someone might be one of the most intimate spiritual moments this world offers. I especially love when people tell me one of the following: 

  • Today, I prayed for you to be encouraged. 
  • Today, I prayed for your family, that God would bring health and create great moments of joy. 
  • Today, I prayed that you'd feel close to Jesus, in times of criticism and times of success.

These are the things that, when people pray them over me, I feel most loved. And the things that others, who ask me how they can pray, I wish I had the guts to tell them!

  • God, bless the staff team today. That they'd find encouragement - in their calling, in their devotional time with you, in the words of those they minister to and by the Holy Spirit. 
  • God, bless the family of our staff team members today. That you'd bring health, restoration of relationship (if need be) and moments of joy. Help them to have fun moments, both loving others and being loved well. 
  • God, be with them. May the incarnational reality of Jesus be experiential and not just a theological construct. Help them to be aware of you, when they are criticized (fairly or unfairly) and when they have success (internally or externally). Remind them of your sweet presence. 

3. Pray that you'd see them properly (as God does), and relate to them as a royal priesthood. Just as Scriptures say that we should serve our leaders in such a way that leadership becomes a joy to them (see Hebrews 13:17). I think the inverse is also a characteristics of a Kingdom-minded person. The way I lead should be a gift of joy to those that serve on the team. I know I've failed in this area. But I want to grow in it. And so much of leadership, is perspective. And I need to lead from a Holy Spirit, Jesus-crazy-love, posture. Seeing those around me, especially those that serve with me, not as employees, as underlings, as colleagues, but as God does. Image bearers, royal priests and co-laborers. And I have to remember, it is (and should be!) meaningful and joyous to walk in my calling, and I have a say in whether that can be said of those that follow me. 

  • Jesus, help me to see people the way you do. The people I minister to, the people that give to our ministry, the people I pass by each day, the people at my son's school and the people that work with me, on the team. May I not view anyone from the perspective of my flesh - which is prideful and self-preserving and self-focused. But may I view people as you do. May I see their potential, remember their giftings, celebrate in their successes and mourn with them in their times of difficulties. Because we often undervalue and hurt those closest to us (our family, for most people), may I guard against that in how I relate to my friends, those you have called, to serve alongside me in this season. 


Where Do We Place Our Trust?

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God
— Psalm 20:7 (ESV)

As I read this today during my devotional time, I highlighted it and spent a few minutes thinking about this question. 

Where do we place our trust? 

And that in this passage, there is (and should be!) a contrast or difference wherein our trust is placed (as followers of Jesus) and where we see others place their trust. 

Eugene Peterson, in the Message, renders it as such: 

See those people polishing their chariots, and those others grooming their horses?

But we’re making garlands for God our God.

The chariots will rust,
those horses pull up lame—
and we’ll be on our feet, standing tall.
— Psalm 20:7-8 (MSG)

And I wondered what the modern-day equivalent would be. Perhaps it would be something like, "We see people preparing their resumes, dusting off their accolades and trusting in themselves - but we are trusting in the God who is both seen and unseen." I'm not a Bible scholar, but I think the heart of this message is that the reader (i.e. me, and you) should be challenged to ask ourselves this question vis-a-vis how we see those without our beliefs and faith, choosing to live their lives. 

And I don't think this passage is a slam or diss against non-believers (or not-yet believers), but I think it is a clarion call to remind us (i.e. me) that I'm supposed to be different. 

So, I think that I close my Bible and think, after reading this, that in order to say these words honestly (or sing this psalm, without any skill or pitch!), I need to evaluate (with the Holy Spirit) where my trust is placed. 

For me, the struggle is placing it on myself. And sometimes, on others. 

Yet, there is a beautiful (and at times, difficult) way in which we are called to live. Giving up control and trusting in God. For me, it's still a daily thing. 

I'm constantly being reformed, rennovated and renewed.