I have recently taken up one of my favorite pastimes—woodworking. Thus far, I’ve built two desks, a coffee table, and am working on a few other projects. I was first introduced to woodworking in high school by my Ag Teacher; I enjoyed it then and enjoy it now. When I’m done, there is a sense of accomplishment, and the finished project makes the process well worth it.
For one desk, I needed to build X-braces into the frame for a farmhouse look. All was well and good until I realized that I am not that good with angels. I struggled to cut the angels correctly, and when I managed to cut a proper angel, I did not cut the board long enough. Whenever I seemed to make a bit of progress, I would have to back up a few steps because something wasn’t done correctly. (Eventually, I did get it right.)
When I’m building, each piece remains a work in progress until it is completed. Who determines when the piece is completed? Simple. The builder. The piece cannot determine for itself when it is finished. In a similar way, we too are under construction. Paul recognized this and wrote in Philippians 1.6: I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. God is not done shaping us into the image of our Lord Jesus. We all have a long way to go.
Students (and adults) often struggle with remembering that they are not there yet. They struggle to remember that they don’t have it all figured out and that God is still working on them. Many frustrations can be traced back to a failure to remember that God is not yet done with us. When your student fails, spend some time talking to him/her about the truth that God is the God of redemption (Eph. 1.7), who will waste nothing (John 6.12), and will always demonstrate grace (Ps. 103). And, as a parent, remember, God isn’t done with you, either. I pray that God will give you the grace you need to be the parent He has called you to be. May we all continue to allow God to be God as he continues to shape us.
On the journey,
Ready for the biggest understatement of 2020? Well, here it is: 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Businesses, Schools, Churches, and other organizations have had to quickly adjust to an ever-changing situation. Often, by the time we are used to the current problem (and the adjustments we’ve made), the problem changes. While this has been frustrating, I recall the words of a not so well-known philosopher: It could always be worse.
While things have been rough, many have done a phenomenal job at adapting. Experts and seasoned veterans from various fields have shared insight and advice for how to navigate this season in their respective fields. However, there is one group, especially in the Church world, that has been overlooked: New ministers in new positions.
What do I mean by “new ministers in new positions”? I mean those who have either: 1) Began their new ministries during the pandemic, or 2) Those who began their new ministries shortly before the pandemic. Of those two categories, I am in the latter. I began my new position on the first of this year. I had almost two and half months on the ground before this pandemic altered the way we do…everything.
Granted, there have been many helps published during this season. However, all the helps (to my knowledge) are geared toward those who have time under their belts in their current context. Leading and shepherding is much easier when you know your people…or can at least interact with them face-to-face. (Afterall, it didn’t take long for many to experience “Zoom Fatigue.”)
A Necessary Disclaimer: Before I go any further, let me make clear what this post is not. This post is not about gaining sympathy. Rather, it is about sharing my experience in the hopes that it will be an encouragement to others who find themselves in a similar situation.
There have been a few things that have been true in my experience and maybe yours, too.
New Job. New Community. No Real Community.
Adjusting to a new job can be difficult. You must commit new policies and procedures to memory, adjust to a new workload, and learn both the people you serve and serve with. Adding a pandemic complicates things. Building community during this season has been difficult. We were told (and still are) that it can be dangerous to be around others. Therefore, we are to keep our distance. However, we were not designed only for long-distance relationships. We were designed to live in community with others. Afterall, God himself declared that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2.18, CSB).
I am nine and half months in with this new position and I do not know anyone any better than I knew them prior to quarantine (except for some co-workers). Building relationships is a two-way street. Therefore, both groups must be willing to build the relationship. However, a relationship cannot be built if you have not met the other person.
I have felt like a foreigner in this new land. But God has been good. I have sought to maintain and strengthen current relationships with close friends. Yes, it has been lonely. But God has been good and God has walked with me through this season (though I have not always been the best walker).
If this is you, know that you are not alone. Know that others are experiencing the same issues because of a lack of God-honoring community (Zoom and PS4 just aren’t sufficient). Stay the course and work at building those relationships now that things are easing up.
I’m doing stuff, but it doesn’t feel like it.
Like others, I planned for Summer 2020. Then I cancelled many things for Summer 2020. I managed to pull off two retreats in July/August and then plan for Summer 2021. I used various avenues to connect with students (daily devotions, PS4, Instagram, Remind 101, letters, etc.). But I feel as though I have not done anything or made any headway—though I know that I have.
To this dilemma, I recall the words of a friend:
Student Ministry is the most unrewarding ministry in the short-term. You often do not see immediate accomplishments and responses. You’ll have to wait 5-10 years down the road. So, be committed for the long haul.
He was/is right. Though this season has caused me to feel as though I’m not doing anything of value, I know that I am. I know that my “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15.58, CSB). Friend be encouraged. Your work is not in vain either. Keep pressing forward.
But, by God’s grace, I’ve adapted.
God has been faithful to provide all that I need when I need. Granted, I have not always recognized his provision as I should have. Even so, by his grace, I’ve been able to keep on keeping on. By his grace, I’ve made adjustments. By his grace, some criticism has come with helpful insight and some action points to do.
A friend has often said that God does not call us to the easiest, but he does call us to the best. That has very much been the story of this season. Though it has not been the easiest, our Lord has seen fit to lead us through this time. So, we echo the words of David: Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me (Ps. 23.4, CSB).
God is still enthroned.
In the last two weeks, my Pastor has preached from Isaiah 6. Both times he has reminded us that God is still enthroned regardless of who is in office or the things we face. God is still glorious and is faithfully ruling over all things. Be reminded of the Word of the Lord from Isaiah 6.1-4 (CSB):
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. (2) Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. (3) And one called to another:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies;
his glory fills the whole earth.
(4) The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Friend, if this has been a difficult season for you as you navigate a new ministry, know that you're not alone. Make it a point to talk to a trusted friend or your Pastor about your experience during this season. Know that I'd love to hear from you, too. While I may not be able to offer much, I can offer to pray for you. Stay the course.
On the journey,
P.S. If you've read this post and are not the "New Guy," but you know someone who is, make it a point to reach out to him/her and check in and give some encouragement.
Lately, I’ve been reading two books: The Crucified Life (A. W. Tozer) and The Cross of Christ (John R. W. Scott). Tozer dealt specifically with what it means to live the crucified life and Scott dealt with how the Cross, on which our Lord was crucified, impacts our lives daily. As I have read, I have become keenly aware that we tend not to focus on the call of Jesus to come and die.
If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. –Jesus in Mark 8.34 (CSB)
Notice, Jesus told us that the goal is to follow him. But, how do we do that? Well, he gave us the instruction manual: We must deny ourselves, take up [our] cross, and then follow him. For his audience, they clearly understood what he meant, as crucifixion was a regular part of living in the Roman Empire. Their minds would have jumped to any one of the crucifixions that they may have seen. They understood that Jesus was calling them to die. And not only that, but that Jesus was going to lead them there. He showed us how it is to be done…he didn’t just tell us, but he also demonstrated.
In the interest of honesty, the call to come and die is a tough one. At other points, those around Jesus would echo the exact same thing when they heard other teachings (John 6.60). Truth be told, this is hard for us, too. I know it’s hard for me; it’s actually discomforting. However, my discomfort does not negate the call of the Lord Jesus.
You may be thinking: “So, does Jesus call me to physically die for my faith in him?” Well…yes and no. Your life may be required of you and it may not be. There have been many Saints who have not had to give up their physical life for their faith. Likewise, there have been many throughout the centuries and even today that have given their life for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (and have done so joyfully).
Regardless of whether we must give up our physical life for the Lord Jesus, there is a call to a daily death. A daily death to the habits and tendencies of the old nature that remain (Rom. 12.1-12), though the old nature has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2.20). We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice…but that is never convenient. Tozer wrote that he never knew a man who found it convenient to die. Frankly, neither have I, nor do I find it convenient.
But why the call to die? I’ve been walking through the “I AM” statements in John with my students. Last night, we were dealing with John 10.1-10. As I got to verse 10 (A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance), I was reminded that we must first die to the flesh and the things of the world before we can have life and life abundant. But why must we die first? Simple. The flesh must be dealt with and it is only dealt with when we identify with the Lord Jesus and recognize that, in Christ, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2.20).
Yes. This is a hard thing to grasp and even harder to do. I’ve often heard that “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the alter.” Yet, we are called to place ourselves there. We are to go humbly and obediently to whatever cross the Holy Spirit has chosen for us. We are to trust his wisdom and judgement. In the words of Tozer:
The only cure for our worldliness is the cross. We cannot put ourselves on the cross. We cannot choose the cross on which we will be crucified….[There are] various kinds of crosses—gold, silver, brass, wood, paper. The only thing they have in common is that they crucify. How the cross will be used in your life is at the discretion of the Holy Spirit….Our responsibility is to yield to His wisdom and allow Him to do the work without any advice from us (“The Crucified Life”, pg. 143-144).
I simply argue that the cross be raised again