Shepherding Our Singles

 

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…

1 Peter 5:2(a)

 

 

Looking at the trends today in the US we see that there is a growing trend of Singles; men and women are staying unmarried longer than any other time in US History. Currently, as of 2015 there are 109 million singles in the US making up nearly 45% of our total population. Viewing this chart (here) we see that the gap between those married and those unmarried has shrunk quite a bit since 1950.

Not only is this trend in the United States growing, it is also growing in our churches causing us to pause and think, perhaps for the first time, how do we best shepherd this demographic within our body. There seems to be a growing discussion amongst church and their ministers around this topic. Recently 9Marks released their new journal titled Pastoring Singles due to this growing demographic within our churches helping aid us in thinking of our Singles.

Lately I have had multiple conversations with local pastors asking the same question, “How do we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” Having thought through this question as well as speaking with many singles on the subject, I would like to provide a starting place for us:

Speak to Who They Are Not What They Are

When speaking to those under our care and in our churches who find themselves unmarried, we must remember to speak to who they are. Who are they? They are first and foremost adopted children of God (as believers) and as such our brothers and sisters in Christ. Speak to them as such!

What are they? They are single, a label that is on them defining their current season of life but not one that is defining all of who they are. This is one of many labels that are making up their life as a whole, don’t narrow down their whole existence to this one label.

Ask Better Questions

I believe we are asking the wrong questions of our singles today. We ask them, “Are you dating? Why aren’t you dating? What about so-in-so?” While I feel that if Paul was here today he would walk into most of our churches and see the group and singles and ask, “You are all single? Where are you going? Who are you discipling? How are you advancing the Kingdom?”

This again helps speak to who they are as a brother and sister in Christ and not simply speaking to what they are and assuming that every single is looking to date and every single is in season of life to be dating. The first set of questions are ok questions to ask if you have a close relationship with singles in your life and are having these conversations on top of many other conversations.

Have Higher Expectations

We have a generation of singles today that want to be challenged and held up to a higher standard. Many singles I talk to, have the sense that the expectation of their church is that they are simply good church members and attenders until the day they are married. These singles came up in youth groups and college ministries where they were challenged not to let anyone look down on them because of their youth (1 Timothy 4:12); now feel they get to “big church” and their expectation is to be a good member.

The singles in our churches have special gifts and talents for the betterment of our church bodies. Leaders use the singles under your care, have high expectations for them. Allow them to worship the Lord and serve the local body according to their giftings.

Churches, leaders and ministers as the culture continues to trend in this current trajectory it will become more and more important that we think on and begin to answer the question, “How can we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” This population is growing and in many of our churches will continue to grow. Let us shepherd this flock well, in this season of their lives for His Glory and the betterment of our churches.

Top Three Reads of 2016

December 31, last day of the year, a day to reflect back on the previous year, as we look forward to the next. Many of us are planning for 2107, anxiously planning new years resolutions some we will keep and some we will break by January 31. The end of the year is also a time for list, you know we all love them; “MY TOP 10 ______ of 2016!”

As I look back on 2016 here are the top three books I read that had the biggest impact on me and why:

  1. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

The racial reconciliation message given to the mass audience is individual reconciliation. That is, individuals of different races should develop strong, committed relationships. There is also need to repent of individual prejudice. These are the means reducing racial strife and division. Missing from this formula are the system-changing components of the original formulations. the more radical component of reconciliation espoused by early black leaders and many of the current leaders – to challenge social systems of injustice and inequality, to confess social sin – is almost wholly absent in the popularized versions.” 

Unless you were living under a rock for all of 2016, one thing we were reminded of is that America continues to have a racial divide in our country, and unfortunately this carries over into the Church. There is a reason there is the often quoted line of: “the most segregated time of day is Sunday service.” Its becoming more and more evident that it is time for the Church to begin thinking through and addressing racial reconciliation. This book impacted me by helping me better understand the issues in the American church as well as how our “cultural toolbox” (the lenses by which we look at things based on our context) affect the way we see or don’t see.

2. The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine

“Mark this down if you can. Silences, not just sentences, form the work of pastoral ministry. Wise pastors are listening preachers.”

I couldn’t recommend this book high enough for those in ministry or those aspiring to be in ministry. It was a refreshing kick to the gut, over and over again. As it reminded me that I can’t and don’t have to do it all; that there is a God and I am not Him. Yes we all know this, but many times we need to be reminded of this truth. Being reminded of what God requires of us is to be faithful and obedient with what He has before us; and that He supplies all we need to be faithful and obedient is freeing.

3. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

“Martin Luther King Jr. called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.”

This book more than anything taught me how to listen. We are not good listeners in our day, we want to immediately add our commentary, offer unsolicited advice, tell the speaker why they are wrong, etc. Oftentimes loving my neighbor well is simply sitting and listening to them; to their hurts, to their concerns without telling them why they are wrong or what they should do. We all have been shaped and molded by the context that we grew up in, and rarely understand those of different contexts, therefore we must listen with open ears and hearts. This book helped me be a better listener, as I seek to understand that which I do not understand because I did not grow up in that context.

Reading shapes and molds us, helping us to think better and understand more. These three books have had a great impact on the way I think, the way I learn and understand. Looking forward to all that 2017 will teach me.

 

Seeing the One

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Afterward Jesus found him in the temple

~ John 5:14a

 

 

For many in ministry the idea of serving the multitude is either exhilarating or paralyzing. We get excited about serving and meeting the needs of the masses or we find ourselves overwhelmed at the task in front of us, wondering where do we even begin.

I’ve recently been reminded that the crowds are made up of individuals, individuals who have specific needs, longings, and wants. Individuals who need personal attention, conversations, and time. True ministry begins in the small, meeting with the individuals in order to serve the crowds.

Many times while Jesus was walking the earth we see Him going to the individual, in order to connect with them personally, to bring them into the Story He was writing. Yes, there were times we met the needs of the crowds, such as when He fed the five thousand in John 5, or the four thousand in Matthew 15.

But how many times do we see Jesus going to the individual, in order to minister to them. In John 4, we see Jesus going through Samaria, in order meet with a woman at the well, that no one else would go to. In John 5, we see Jesus going to the pool of Bethesda, where we are told there was a multitude of invalids, and yet Jesus went to one, an individual and asked him if he wished to be headed. Once healed the man is thrown out of the synagogue, and we see that Jesus seeks him out, individually again, to restore him and welcome him into His Story. We could look into many more scenarios, such as Jesus calling His disciples, individually, etc.

Whether we find ourselves, leading churches, home groups, Sunday School classes, or meeting with a group of friends for discipleship, lets remember that each group is made up of individuals. Individuals whom are each unique, with different needs and wants. Let us not be so excited about reaching the masses that we neglect the individuals; nor be so overwhelmed by the crowds that we never seek to get to know the individuals. We are where we are because at one time, the Lord used someone to reach an individual, us. Let us also go to the individuals.

City of God in Our Cities

FullSizeRender-7“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. ~ Jeremiah 29:4-7


Three weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching in Visakhapatnam, India. This is a summary of my notes from that Sunday. 


All of us here today are writing a story, for ourselves personally, for our families, and as a church. From the beginning of time there is One who is writing a Greater Story, and our stories only have life and purpose when our stories line up with His. He is writing a story that ends with a new heaven and a new earth and peoples from every tongue, tribe and nation gathering around the Throne worshipping Him. And He has invited us into this story to play a part, not because He needs us, but because He loving allows us to play a part. We remember that although we are currently living here on earth, that this is not our home. There is coming a day when we will see the Lord face to face and our dwelling place will be with Him (Revelation 21).

Much like Abraham and Sarah who were called out to a place or land they did now know, we are being called out to a new city a heavenly one; so they had their gaze set on it and did not return to where they were being called out from (Hebrews 11). Our eyes are to be set on that day to be looking/ longing for that day to come.

But in the waiting, we as the Church have a purpose, to be a City of God within our cities. The Church has a purpose in our cities as part of the Greater Story.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

The Lord is speaking to those in exile from Jerusalem, who find themselves in Babylon, a place that is not their home. Much like today the Israelites find themselves not home, and they are going to be there for a while.

So what does the Church do in the waiting?

Be Planted Where You Are

Verse 5aBuild Houses and live in them

This is a long-term command, the Lord is telling them to set up roots where He has planted them. As we remember the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there!” That is be committed to where the Lord has you, finding rest in the truth that it is Him who has placed us wherever we find ourselves. Whether we love the city we are currently in, or want our as soon as possible, He has placed us in our cities for a purpose.

Verse 5bPlant Gardens and eat of their produce 

Not only are we to be planted where we are, we are also to contribute to the society and the culture of our cities, wherever we find ourselves.

Be About the Cultural Mandate

Verse 6 – Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease

In Genesis 1 & 2 we see the Lord create Adam & Eve then gives them the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 2:15 –The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Also connecting with the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)

The Lord continues this original command telling the exiles that as they wait for deliverance, to be home, they are to marry and have children; to fill the city with the people of God.

Adam and Eve were to fill the earth and seek to make it look like the Garden; we as the Church in our cities are to seek to fill it and be apart of the Lord’s work of restoring all things to Himself

Be About the Welfare of the City

Verse 7 – But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Welfare = Shalom / peace

 

We as the Church are to seek the peace of our cities. All aspects of peace, that we as the Church in our cities will seek to push back evil. To where we see injustices we will push back for the greater good of the City. That we as the Church in our cities would stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. That we carry out the Great Commission in our cities by brining the Gospel to those we work with and shop with and ride the bus with that all may know Him, the author of peace.

Ultimately the Church is called to be Salt and Light in our Cities so that the watching world will take notice and praise God for it (Matthew 5:13-16).

He has called to Himself making us His own, and is preparing a Heavenly City for us; while we wait for that day He has placed us as a light on top of a light stand in the midst of cities, so that all may see and give Him glory!

While we wait, we must be about the Greater Story that He was called us to, to be a City of God within our cities!

India 2016 Recap

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Praise the Lord, all nations!

Extol him, all peoples For great is his steadfast love toward us,and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord!

~ Psalm 117

There are trips that are easy to put into words and there are trips that a week and a half later you are still seeking to fully process them. The trip we took to India falls into the later category. If we were to sum in up in one phrase it would be God is Faithful. He is faithful to use His people; He is faithful to equip and prepare His people; and He is faithful to sovereignly control all things in the midst of chaos.

The trip consisted two different parts, while a group of ten loved on two hundred-sixty children through a VBS, Richard Brindley and I were loving on and teaching one hundred and twenty Village Pastors.

Vision Natives Training Conference: The Church and its Leadership

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“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:14

While in India, Richard and I had the humbling task of training one hundred and twenty pastors from surrounding villages, some who came from the city and some who came from 400km away. We were asked to teach on the subject of The Church and Its Leadership, where we would over four days pour into these pastors on what the scriptures says about the Church, how it is to be set up, what are the qualifications of leaders as well as how do we raise up leaders from within our bodies in a biblical way.

Through it all the Lord remained faithful to use us to encourage those He has called to the task of ministry for the sake of the Gospel in their villages. These men, as we begin to converse with them, we would see that they were tired, and here to be reminded of their calling and find encouragement. These men came in weary, tired and the Lord ministered to them greatly, through worship, His Word and prayer. Was a humbling experience to be allowed to be a small part of what the Lord is doing in and around the world. To be able to open up His Word to speak to His People as He offers rest, encouragement and strength so they can carry on with their calling.

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Vacation Bible School

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“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:16

While Richard and I were speaking at the Pastor’s Conference, ten members of the group spent the week pouring into the lives of about 260 children; many of whom had no personal relationship with the Lord. Only around ten of the children were known to be believers in Christ; while of the eighteen teachers working at this school, ten are professing Christians. Many of the teachers and children are practicing Hindus, living without the hope and love of Christ. The team could feel the weight of the situation, and the glorious opportunity to shine Light in the midst of darkness. With this in mind the team sought to impact the lives of not only the children and teachers, but anyone they encountered in hopes of leaving behind an understanding of Christ’s unconditional love. Twice a day for five days, they would meet with the children and center every lesson on how each child was created to be special and the one, true God saw them, knew them, and loved them deeply.

Seeing the pictures and videos, and hearing the stories each evening made their success clear– this team did a phenomenal job. Each member sought new ways to engage, entertain, and ensure that the biblical truths of the gospel would be remembered. Watching the team transition from being shocked the first day at the amount of children and scheduling issues, to passionately loving the children to the point of tears on the final day, showed commitment and dedication to serving others in order to serve the Lord.

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Small Taste of the VBS (Video)

Taj Mahal

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“He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead…”

~ Matthew 28:6-7a

On our final Saturday in India, we all hopped on a train from New Delhi to Arga, a two-hour trip, to see the Taj Mahal. Let me tell you, nothing about this 7th wonder of the world was disappointing; completely worth the hectic travel circumstances we all endured. The Taj Mahal is a wonder that many in the world will not have the opportunity to behold. However, as we stared in awe, we marveled at the fact that the tomb was built-in 1632 (pre-power tools). This beautiful tomb was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife. As I was struck by the beauty and looked in astonishment at the details, I kept remembering that this is just a tomb. This particular tomb is still full, but there is a tomb that perhaps to the human eye is not as glorious, but is infinitely more astounding than the Taj Mahal. King Jesus’ tomb is empty, but because He is risen, we have the privilege of being welcomed in and adopted into the Holy Family. A love story unlike any other. One leader built a home for his favorite wife to wither away as he eventually would do the same. Another King came as a servant, willingly went to the cross, died, and rose again in order to prepare a place for us to not just die and become ashes, but instead enter into eternity as His bride, the Church.


“The overriding reason why we should take other people’s cultures seriously is because God has taken ours seriously!”

~ John Scott


Resting in His Faithfulness

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Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

You, me, your co-worker, my neighbor, the lady at the supermarket, we all have them; special gifts that make us come alive. Those gifts and desires that we long for opportunities to use them. They are part of who we are, and come naturally to us, and that is because we have been created this way. All of us have special gifts and talents the Lord has specifically designed us with; the reason we have these longings is because He created us to express them and use them, to serve the Church, and to honor Him.

Over the past ten days I have been reminded that much like everything else in our lives we can completely rest in His Faithfulness regarding our gifts and talents. We can trust Him, because if He has created us with these specific talents and longings, He will provide us opportunities to express them. David writes in Psalm 139 that God, formed our inward parts, knitted us together, and that every day we would live He wrote out for us before there was anything in creation. This is an intensely personal God being extremely active in creating us.

If He has hardwired us with these desires and talents, we can trust Him for the opportunities to use them. We don’t have to stress over when will we get to express them, we don’t have to wonder will the opportunities come, they will because He was written them out for us before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16). We simply have to be faithful and obedient in our pursuit of Him. When we are faithful in our pursuit of Him and faithful in our exercising of our gifts, He is faithful to provide those opportunities.

Since He is the One gifting us, shaping us, and writing out our days we can trust Him with our gifts and talents for opportunities to use them. I spent the past ten days with a team in East India using our gifts and talents the Lord has granted us for kingdom work. There were several on the team that a month ago this opportunity wasn’t even on the radar, but yet the Lord opened the door, provided the means, and made much of Himself to strengthen His Church. Our role was to walk in obedience and faithfulness by putting in the appropriate preparation time, and then to trust Him.

As we are in pursuit of Him and seeking to honor Him with our lives, giftings, and talents, let us remember that He is the one writing our stories. Because He is the One writing, we may be given opportunities that we don’t expect; He may lead us to places we never could have even thought of, and He can be trusted in those moments. For He has prepared these moments for us to make much of His Name and to bring us ultimate joy.


He has wired us with special gifts and talents that we may worship Him in the use of them.


The Greater Story

FullSizeRender-4And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

~ Genesis 1:28

 

Its simple to do, the alarm goes off in the morning maybe you hit snooze, or maybe you jump out of bed and begin your day of work, errands, meetings and before you know it the day is over and you’re back in bed wondering if you accomplished anything at all. Asking if tomorrow will be the same busy pace as today; if this is what you will do with the rest of your life? Will the bills be paid this month? Will my co-worker annoy me again tomorrow? Is this all there is?

What about the future? Will I work here forever? In 5 years or 10 years, where will I be? In the same city? Same Job? Will I be married? Have Kids? Will I be retired? These questions and many more run through our brains, keeping our focus simply on ourself, and on trying to write and finish our stories.

But, there is a Greater Story being written, one that is being written across the course of history, since the creation of the world, and we have been invited in to play a part. From the Garden in Genesis One and Two and the First Commission of, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it;” that is to Edenize the rest of the world to look like to Garden; that all of creation may be brought to the footstool of Christ in worship. Through the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, and into God’s glorious working of redemption as He establishes His dwelling, dominion, and dynasty over and with all creation across the pages of the Bible. To today and into the future, God is writing a story, one that is more glorious than anything we could write ourselves and we have been invited in.

To see the Greater Story we simply have to look around, to take our eyes off self and our small stories. Only then are we able to see the Greater Story and how our stories play a part in it.

Earlier this month I traveled to Guatemala and was reminded yet again that the Lord is doing a great work in and around the world, and we have been invited into the story to be active participates not simply spectators. Seeing the Greater Story play out and actively participating along with others left me encouraged.

Encouraged by:

  1. Gospel: The Gospel crosses boundaries of language, cultures, and all barriers and simply does work. The power of the Gospel is going forth in lives that have been forever changed by it, and into lives of others never leaving them the same.
  2. Students: Seeing former students the Lord allowed me to opportunity to pour into over the years, take time away after the school year to go and participate in the Story.
  3. Missionaries: Being around and serving alongside those who have stepped out in obedience into the Lord’s Greater Story, left me greatly encouraged. As I had conversations with them and many shared how they don’t know where they will be in a few months but currently the Lord has them in Guatemala and that they trust if the Lord shuts that door He will open another for them to walk though.
  4. Creation: Guatemala is beautiful, to stare in awe and remember there is a Creator God that spoke all of this into being and who holds it all in His hands.
  5.  Changed Lives: To hear the stories of lives that have been changed by the Gospel and to see how they are now participating in the Greater Story.
  6. Love: Love of God’s people. Love for friends to come to know Him. The love and joy that only comes from the Father impacting and filling the lives of those around us.
  7. Friendship: This trip created friends amongst those who were strangers at the beginning of the week. Centered on the Gospel not only are friends but family. Brothers and sisters in Christ who have been called to be active participates in the Greater Story.

There is a Greater Story being written, and we have been invited in to be active participates for the Glory of God and joy of His people. The people of Guatemala helped remind me of this. We are all writing a story, and our story only has purpose and fulfillment when it is part of the Greater Story, let us look up and see.


“The church has become the theater of the gospel, and in this theater, there are no passive spectators, only engaged participants, acting out what is in Christ.” 

~ Kevin Vanhoozer