Categories
Culture

Place your bet

Photo by @ Alex via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few months ago I went to Las Vegas with my father-in-law for 24 hours. There are at least 4 things hilarious with that statement, right?

He was running a marathon and needed someone to drive with him from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. I went since it’d be nice to catch-up along the way as well as have lunch with my mom, who lives a mile from the Strip.

Since my mom lives there… I have been to Vegas at least 10 times. Normally, I like to people watch late at night. The joke has always been that I’m down $11 in slots lifetime and I’m mad about it. I’ve never really been into the games.

What I learned from 6 hours on the Strip

Unlike my normal late-night-people-watching, this trip had me up very early, checked out of my hotel, and walking the Strip by breakfast. With more than 6 hours to kill I wandered through a few casinos filled with old people playing slots and a bunch of dealers standing at empty tables.

Along the way I stopped at a Starbucks. As I sipped my mocha I entertained myself by watching a few scattered games here and there. In truth, like a lot of Christians, I feel really out of place on a casino floor. More because I don’t know what to do than that I don’t feel like I could enjoy it.

At one casino there was a small crowd around the crap table. It was a morning clinic explaining how the game worked. Perfect… I could kill an hour, learn something, and its free.

Here’s an observation from that clinic: There is a time to place bets. But once the time has passed it is too late for placing bets. You are either in the game or you are out. The shooter rolls 7 or 11 on his first roll, everyone with a bet on the line instantly doubles their money. If you think about it, every form of gambling has that same timeline. A time to place bets. A time when betting is closed. And a moment when a winner is declared. Cards, slots, horses, lottery, etc.

When you are playing in the game you have a claim at the table. You can win or you can lose. Your heart beats faster and adreneline pumps. The dealers chatter with you. And the cocktail waitress is happy to bring you a bottle of water or whatever you’d like on the house.

When you aren’t in the game you have no claim to the table. You can’t lose but you can’t win either. You’re on the sidelines as an observer. No pitter-patter of your heart. The dealers might not acknowledge you. And fat chance in getting a free drink from the waitress if you aren’t in the game. You’re just another tourist.

Gambling in Vegas is a lot like life outside of Vegas

It feels like people are so afraid of losing that they just refuse to place a bet at all.

  • College – Where do I want to go? What do I want to study?
  • Marriage and family– Is this the right person? What if it’s the wrong person? Should we have kids? If so, when?
  • Vocation – What do I want to do when I grow up? What if I don’t like it?
  • Location – Where do I want to live?

People aren’t shy about their shock with Kristen and I because we placed bets on all four of those categories early in life and have continued to “improve our hand” over the years.

The flip side, experience has taught: In order to win you have to place a bet in the game. And the window for placing a bet is limited. When the time comes to place a bet I already know I want to be in the game because sitting on the sidelines is too boring for me. There are risks and rewards… but I always know I want to be in the game.

Life’s winners and losers are in the game. But those who hold on, never placing a bet, will never know what winning feels like because they are too afraid to accept the risk of losing. And that, my friends, is losing every time.

Categories
Church Leadership

Pastor as Vocation

Confession: I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did when I worked in a church.

That is no knock on my friends in full-time vocational ministry.

It is more an affirmation for the myriad of people I know who have stepped out (or been pushed out) of their ministry job.

Leaving vocational ministry in a church for the great unknown is an identity crisis. These friends are left asking themselves, “Am I still a pastor?

I went through the same thing 2 years ago. You are OK. You are still very much a pastor, even if your paycheck doesn’t come from a church.

I’m here to tell you this simple truth: When you are a pastor you are a pastor wherever you go. It’s a calling and not a vocation.

My reality

I opened this by saying that I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did while I worked at churches. So what does that look like?

  • Removed of the stigma of “going to talk to my pastor” I give a great amount of pastoral counsel. Instead of people coming to my office for that we meet at coffee shops, my house, and even bars. (Gasp!)
  • I love teaching at youth group. I don’t do it often enough to get into a groove… which keeps it from feeling like a grind.
  • I totally miss filling the pulpit. At the same time I’ve learned that I probably preach too much and act too little. I have a lot more time to do ministry rather than prepare a message.
  • We’ve rediscovered authentic relationships. When you work at a church your life is full of people who claim to be your friends– but it’s a positional thing. When you are a nobody in your congregation you have to develop friendships the old fashioned way. Better yet: When the positional ones come along you don’t feel obligated.
  • I’m ministering to people in my life that are a part of my neighborhood, work life, adult small group, and students in my youth group.
  • Straight talk, no B.S. (Stealing a line from a politician) That’s kind of how it feels. Free from the weirdness of people probing and constantly feeling like I’m answering every question on behalf of the church, I can just let it fly. Want to know what I think or what the Bible says? I don’t need a “church filter” anymore.

Conversely, when I was a vocational pastor I was constantly thinking to myself, “This is it? I rarely spend time with people. All I do is run programs. I want to be with people and do ministry!

Interesting how freedom from the work of running a church has lead me to doing more pastoral ministry, right?

A global perspective for the naysayers

My fellow Americans, live in an ethnocentric culture. And American church culture is even more insular than American culture. Those of us who are in that culture have a very hard time seeing outside of it. So when I say things like “It’s a calling and not a vocation” most people in the church have no frame of reference. So while we’ve tied the concept of “I’m a pastor” with “I get paid to work at a church” we really get messed up when we no longer work for a church.

Two things to chew on…

Within Christianity: Outside of major Westernized countries almost no one who is a pastor does so vocationally. (Bi-vocational is the norm) In fact, the fastest spreading Christianity is spreading is absent of vocational staff and mostly without resources like buildings, Bibles, Bible study materials, etc. I’ve been pointing out the inverse relationship between church growth and church spending for months… but no one is lining up to cut their church budget/staff to see their church grow.

Other religions: Outside of the Christian church most religions are run by either volunteers or people who have taken vows of poverty, sustained only by the meager donations of people in their care. The Latter-day Saints are an excellent example of this. Very few people get paid within the Mormon church and yet it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Categories
Church Leadership youth ministry

The Youth Ministry Gap

mind_the_gapAfter 18 months of working at Youth Specialties and interacting with youth workers around the United States (and everywhere else) it’s finally sunken in: There are two different things called “youth ministry” with a major gap in the middle.

Professional vocational youth ministry: When I talk about youth ministry this is often my default. These are youth ministries and youth ministry leaders who have formal education, continued training, experience, and live their whole lives thinking about youth ministry. When you talk to them about youth ministry they think of models, books, authors, speakers, ministry ideas, successful programs, historical viewpoints, on and on.

This youth ministry is pretty sophisticated. Like any profession people fall into schools of thought. They have models for doing youth ministry. They have personally written and can defend philosophies of youth ministry. They run programs which implement their well thought out and defended philosophy of ministry. They train volunteers to be proteges for their school of thought. They have opinions about whether a certain models is getting stronger or dying.

For the 20% or so of youth workers in America in this category those nuances matter to them. They are on the leading edge of thinking about Youth Ministry 3.0.

My Church Youth Ministry: They just want to know how to minister to the kids in their church. When they e-mail me or call our customer service line they don’t want to talk philosophy or are even aware that there are different ways of doing youth ministry. They are calling because they have 15 seventh graders in their Sunday School class and they need a curriculum that will work for them. When you ask them about what they are trying to do with the group… you’ll hear the dead air or the exhale and then they’ll say, “We’re Methodist, what works for Methodists seventh graders?

They don’t know or care about philosophies of ministry. They don’t know or care about ministry models. They haven’t heard of Saddleback or Willow Creek. They go to First United Methodist Church of Middletown– that’s it. They may know that some churches have full-time youth workers but they don’t really care. They have a full-time job outside the church. They have a kid in high school. And the pastor thought they were pretty loving towards teens and asked them to minister to their kids friends. They give of themselves to invest in the kids in their church and that’s amazingly awesome.

ChasmFor the 80% or so of youth workers in America who fit this category, youth ministry is pretty matter-of-fact. There are kids who show up on Sunday morning or Wednesday night and they do what they can to minister to them.

Minding the gap: There are not big steps in between the two groups of youth workers. It’s a gap with a chasm, not a ladder to the next or even a bridge.

It is literally two different things we call youth ministry in America. They all care about the kids in their church. One group is purely interested in the kids in their church. While the other also cares a lot about the greater profession of youth ministry.