Category Archives: college ministry

How Can I Change?

On Sunday I had the chance to preach at the ministry I served at for years. Here’s my message on Luke 19:1-10.


A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday

Preaching books are a dime a dozen. Its really hard to find a preaching book that either says something unique or says something important in a unique way. So I don’t have much confidence in preaching books – especially books that give you X number of ways to be a better preacher or books that promise to make you a better preacher. Such books are often filled with superficial pieces of advice or don’t really work. So when I saw Mary Hulst’s 841288book: A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday I couldn’t help but be super skeptical. Nevertheless, I picked it up, thinking, what the heck, if I get one helpful idea from this book it will be worth reading it. In all honesty – I didn’t get one helpful idea from this book – I got so much more. In fact, as I’ve said before on my twitter account, this is officially one of my new favorite books about preaching.

Why am I so enamored with this book? It probably has to do with the fact that its not like your typical 10 Ways to do X or 7 Simple Steps to Y or 4.8 Habits of people Who Z. This book is filled with substance, it is at the same time theologically informed and practical. You know its not like your typical X number of ways to do Q kind of preaching books when the author says the best way to make your preaching better is to make it biblical! So many of the “simple ways” books are so consumeristic and seeker-pleasing, but this book begins by saying the most compelling thing our preaching can do is to be Biblical! What a surprise!

The second thing Hulst says we can do to make our preaching better is to stop telling people what do to – and to start telling them what God has already done, i.e. make your preaching full of grace. Don’t say stuff like:

  • If your relationship with God really is important to you, you will make a commitment to talk to him every day.
  • If you want to take discipleship to the next level, you will join a service team.
  • Isn’t it time you start investing your money into eternity?

Instead your preaching ought to change from “this is what you need to do” to “this is what we get to do” language. Our callings are a grace given to us, “so preach grace. Preach it often and preach it well, and watch how God gets to work.” (65)

One of the most helpful practical chapter is her chapter on “Compelling Preaching.” In this chapter she addresses the preachers problems of having too much information and lacking a well defined (oral) structure in our sermon. She suggests (reminding me of Andy Stanley) that we should be able to articulate our entire sermon in one sentence. Or as I like to say – the main idea of your sermon should be tweetable. To do that we need to get clear on what the bid idea of our sermon is. Once we do that the points in the sermon should illimuate the one big idea. She suggest that “to give our sermons clarity we need to do that hard work of picking one idea and letting the rest, for now, stay in our study.” Easier said than done! Nevertheless this is crucial to good preaching.

Here’s a sermon I preached right after reading this book. You can hear it here or on iTunes (Soma Sunday Nights)

There is plenty of other great things which I could say about this book, but I don’t want to rob you of the opportunity of discovering these things on your own. So I will just stop here….Let me just say one more thing.

I rarely tell people – you need to go out and buy this book. However, this is one of those books that I feel like all preachers need to buy. I haven’t really found a preaching book that is so practical and at the same time so theologically informed. Because it is theological and practical, A Little Handbook for Preachers is my new go to book for handing to new preachers.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

15 Life Giving Habits for Ministry

I really didn’t expect things to be like this – but its simply the way things turned out. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing – it was just unexpected.

You see – this weekend is my friend’s birthday, and every year he plans a snowboarding/ski trip to either Big Bear or Mammoth. I really look forward to these trips. However this year I was coming off a really bad flu; so I figured that it was probably wise if I didn’t spend two whole days doing intense activity in freezing cold weather. So the whole crew went up the mountain and I walked (a few mile) over to one of my favorite coffee shops in the world, Looney Bean.

I started out doing my morning scripture reading and moved into reading some stuff on the Trinity by Stephen Holmes, then I made my way back to reading scripture. I was reading Psalm 23, sitting in a quaint little coffee shop, staring out the window at the beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevadas. And then I realized – I have just entered a 3 day period of forced sabbatical.

For the next 4 days I have no responsibilities at church. I have no real agenda. I get to hike, work out, read, spend time with God, and just relax. Its a time to recharge!

I started journaling about this – how the Lord has given me a few days to just be and not do. My tendency is to always do – in fact I originally brought my computer with me in order to get ahead on some work. But no – the Lord had other plans. He gave me time to rest and time to stoke the fire within me for Jesus. Those are two crucial habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate if they are going to make it for the long haul. I admit I’m really bad at stopping and doing those things – I tend to do them on the go. Anyway, there are many habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate in order to maintain a healthy walk with God in ministry.

Justin Buzzard recently wrote a blog in which he listed out 15 of these life saving habits – here are a few:

Prioritize friendship
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?

Disciple men
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?

Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?

Play big
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?

Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?

Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.
➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?

Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.
➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?

You can find the rest of these 15 Life-Giving Habits on Justin’s Blog.

What Does a Successful College Ministry Look Like?

Many college ministers are about to enter into a brand new season. For those of us who are starting new things on local college campuses there will definitely be a ton of pressure to provide “results” to the people back home at our churches.

“Recruit new students, get people to make decisions for Christ, put on big events that students love! Do more, get more, be more!”

All these things are fine and dandy. But at the end of the day – tons of new students, new converts, and spectacular rush week events aren’t the things that God is going to judge our ministries on. God is going to look at our lives to see whether or not we have been faithful to the callings and tasks he has given us. In other words success in ministry boils down to faithfulness to what God has called us to…

"Zero Week" at UCLA is a huge week for campus ministries. The same is true for colleges around the country.
“Zero Week” at UCLA is a huge week for campus ministries. The same is true for colleges around the country.

In Father, Son, Spirit, and Kingdom Robbie Castleman compares and contrasts the lives and ministries of two Old Testament Prophets – Jonah and Isaiah. Notice how she describes what it means to be faithful in ministry:

Jonah walked across Nineveh in a three-day ministry with a bad attitude and no love for the lost, and the city had a short lived revival that made the evening news. Today, Jonah’s results would merit him a TV show and a lifestyle that smelled like success. On the other hand, Isaiah hand a lifelong ministry that people ignored, tuned out, shut off and didn’t get. Isaiah ended up with a congregation of only about 10 percent of what he started with (Isaiah 6:9-13). Today Isaiah’s ministry would be subject to every suggestion and gimmick for a quick fix that would put him on the road to the kind of success that can be quantified and measured and then advertised. But with whom was God pleased? (FSSK, 105)

As you go out and work those college campuses, I would encourage you to remind yourself that God isn’t looking for you to generate fruit – that is his job – but he is looking for your faithfulness.

Summertime Shepherding (Pt. 2)

Summer is finally here which means that for us college ministry leaders it’s time to step back and take a break right. After all we have been running hard for about nine months, now we get three well-deserved months off. Am I right? Not exactly….

A few weeks ago I shared that this mentality towards summer is misguided. Jesus doesn’t take a break from shepherding us and just because programed college ministry takes a break that doesn’t mean that we take a break from shepherding either.

As we approach Summer we will get a chance to spend some great relational time with students that we might not normally get a chance to hang out with. For instance there might be students who come back home from school or there might be students who stick around but don’t have classes. Regardless of who it is, college students have more free time, which means they have more time to hang out, which also means that we will be able to spend more time being relational with them.

Pool Party - Pac Sun

However, our time spent with students can’t simply boil down to “hanging out,” although that is very necessary, we need a certain level of intentionality when we hang out with students in the summer. The way we are intentional with students in the summer might not be as formal as it is during the school year, nevertheless we need to be focused.

Time spent with college students in the summer doesn’t need to be formal, but it does need to be intentional.

One way we can be intentional with students in the summer is to take our role as shepherds seriously. Although the way we shepherd in the summer will largely be similar to how we shepherd students during the school year there are at least two summer specific aspects of the shepherding role that we need to emphasize, today we will hit on just one….

A Shepherd Protects – Acts 20:28-32

28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Here we see Paul saying farewell to the Ephesian elders that he had come to love while spending time in Ephesus. He is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will be severely tested. These are Paul’s last words to these elders, notice what he emphasizes:

  • The Holy Spirit has made these elders overseers of this particular flock
  • These sheep have been purchased with Christ’s own blood
  • Wolves will come and attack the flock
  • False teachers will try to draw the flock away

The Lord has entrusted us with a flock; and the flock he has given us is so very valuable to God. Its so valuable to God that he even sent his soon to spill his blood in order to redeem them. Jesus is passionate about these students, and he is calling us to have the same sort of passion for them.

But these students face an enemy, and that enemy wants to attack them and he wants to draw them away for himself. As shepherds we need to be on the look out for people and or things that will draw students away.

A college leader’s role as a shepherd/protector is especially relevant in the summer.

Summer can be a spiritually dangerous time for college students. Meetings usually don’t continue on into summer. Small groups don’t meet, so there isn’t much accountability for students who aren’t intentionally seeking it. Also there are less responsibilities (i.e. no class, no homework, etc.) so there is a lot more time to get into shady things. Laziness also tends to kick in during summer, which means that its even harder to stay on track with spiritual disciplines.

There are at least three types of students that the college leader will need to protect during the summer:

The Unintentional Student – When summer comes along the number of distractions for college students increase and so do the opportunities to ignore one’s faith. For this reason, a college leader’s role as a protectors is especially relevant. A college leader will need to keep encouraging their students to remain faithful to Christ and he will have to remind his students to keep pursuing Christ.

The at Risk Student – The college leader will also need to keep an eye out on students who are especially liable to slip up during the summer. Some students are barely hanging on to their faith by a thread, the only reason they haven’t fallen apart is because they have community and accountability. But the second that community gets disbanded that student’s faith is at risk. This student needs light touches throughout the summer, they need to be held accountable and they need to consistently be pointed to the gospel.

The Socially Unconnected Student – Its sad but its true, some students only have community because others are pursuing them. If it weren’t for weekly meetings and/or small groups these students wouldn’t have any friends or relationships. They are the students who will get ignored unless leaders intentionally pursue them. As leaders we need to remember who these students are, keep inviting them to things and help them to get connected with other students who are around during the summer.

Questions for Reflection:

    • Which students could use some extra attention over summer?
    • Who are the students that are vulnerable to stray unless you are intentional with them over summer?

What I’m Currently Reading – May 22nd

Right now I have several books that I am making my way through right now. As is usually the case some are a bit more academic, some are more devotional, and others are more ministry oriented. I find it helpful to mix things up in that way. (Also I am in the process of working through Church Dogmatics, but that might take me the rest of my life…)

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by David Setran and Chris Kiesling

As surprising as it may sound, this is the first book of this type that I have ever read. I usually don’t delve much into sociology, and this book relies heavily upon the social sciences, but I am finding this book absolutely fascinating. Although I already knew much of what their research has found (from anecdotal and personal experience) I have found it very helpful in understanding what the major issues are that the college students I work with are facing. Also, since I am an “emerging” adult I am learning quite a bit about my own beliefs. I honestly didn’t realize how well I fit the mold of an “emerging adult.”

Here is the Amazon Blurb: Here two authors–both veteran teachers who are experienced in young adult and campus ministry–address this new and urgent field of study, offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be spiritually formed into adulthood. They provide a practical theology for emerging adult ministry and offer insight into the key developmental issues of this stage of life, including identity, intimacy and sexuality, morality, church involvement, spiritual formation, vocation, and mentoring. The book bridges the gap between academic and popular literature on emerging adulthood and offers concrete ways to facilitate spiritual formation among emerging adults.

Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict by Chris Keith

I just received a copy of this book from Baker Academic, so a review will be coming out shortly. I have always thought that Jesus conflict with the religious leaders revolved around the Temple – namely Jesus’ critique of the temple institution and Jesus claims to supplant it. I am really interested to see what Kieth sees as the core of the conflict between these two parties.

Here is the Amazon Blurb: How did the controversy between Jesus and the scribal elite begin? We know that it ended on a cross, but what put Jesus on the radar of established religious and political leaders in the first place? Chris Keith argues that, in addition to concerns over what Jesus taught and perhaps even how he taught, a crucial aspect of the rising conflict concerned his very status as a teacher.

Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers

This volume contains Athanasius’  The Life of St. Anthony, St. Jerome’s The Life of Paul the Hermit, and the collected sayings of many of the desert fathers. So far I am about half way through The Life of St. Anthony, lets just say this hagiography is a bit over the top. Nevertheless, I am finding myself strangely encouraged by reading this embellished biography. I am finding myself encouraged to spend more time in prayer and to focus more on spiritual discipline. I am finding myself encouraged to imitate some of Anthony’s characteristics, namely his devotion to prayer, his reliance upon Christ’s power, and his insistence on getting rid of sin in his life. I guess that is why Athanasius wrote the book though…. If you can get past the over the top elements of some of the material in the book you will certainly find yourself encouraged to grow in your relationship with Christ.

They are People too! – Getting to Know Your Campus

Ministry – whether its parish ministry, youth ministry, ministry in a mega church, or ministry in a community church – is all about getting to know your people.

When you do college campus ministry that truth does not go out the door. However, what you need to know about your people changes a little bit. Yes you still need to know your students personally. You need to know what makes those individuals tick. You need to know what their passions and likes are. You need to know where each student likes to hang out. You need to know what kinds of classes the students take, and who their professors are. However, knowing who your are ministering to goes a step beyond simply knowing students personally – you need to know the institution you are ministering in.

This might sound a bit strange, but its true….

College Campuses are a lot like people.

Yes, even though they are institutions, college campuses are a lot like people. They have history, they have tradition, they have a story behind why they were formed. They have little quirks about them that you can’t learn simply by reading up on them. They have things that they are passionate about and things that they really dislike. They have relationships with other schools. They have beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, what is valuable and what is worthless. Again this might sound weird – but college campuses are a lot like people so you better get to know your campus.

Much like people, college campuses also have beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, what is valuable and what is worthless.
Much like people, college campuses also have beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, what is valuable and what is worthless.

As you do ministry on campus here are a few questions you should ask yourself and others about your college:

1- What is your college’s story?

  • When was the school founded?
  • Why was the school founded?
  • Who founded the school?
  • What has each president emphasized during their term at the school?
  • Did this school model itself after another school?

2- What cultural idols rule the school?

  • What one word best characterizes your school (party, tolerance, free thinking, etc.)
  • What are students passionate about?
  • Does the school care about sports?
  • What are the most popular majors?

3- How does the gospel address your school’s story and idols?

  • What does the school (not just the students) assume the world should be like?
  • What sort of behaviors does the school (not just students) deem as being wrong?
  • What does the school think the “good life” consists of?
  • How do they hope to accomplish or bring into existence the so-called “good life?”

As you go about ministering to students on campus, don’t forget, you don’t simply minister to students, you minister to an institution as well. That institution has its own story, its own idols, and its own version of the “gospel.” So ask these and many more questions about your school – doing so will help make ministering to your college a lot more effective.