How To Fight CCA (Christian College Aftershock)

One thing that small Christian colleges tend to do well: Provide Christian community. One thing that Christian colleges tend to do poorly: Prepare their students for how to cope with the loss of that Christian community. I went to a small Christian college that provided me with excellent Christian community. We had small groups, chapels, and Bible classes. Students debated theology in the cafeteria and talked late into the night about life, God, church, relationships, etc. It was wonderful to be surrounded by hundreds other believers; to be within 10 feet of a close, Christian friend at all times, to have dozens of potential Christian spouses surround you in the cafeteria; to hear conversations about God in every classroom and every dorm room – in other words – to be able to really do life together as Christians.

Then came graduation.

After spending 4 years of my life investing in and surrounded by a wonderful Christian community, all of the sudden it was gone. We all graduated. Some moved back home. Others stayed in the area. Others found good jobs and relocated. And in the midst of that, my Christian college community was gone just as quickly as it had come 4 years earlier. I began to experience something I’ve started calling Christian College Aftershock.

When you graduate from a small Christian college that has excellent community, you begin to experience spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental isolation. Your roommates and neighbors aren’t Christians anymore. And they aren’t your age. And they don’t want to talk to you. Your co-workers don’t share your values or your beliefs and certainly don’t want to talk about God or church with you. All of the sudden, you’ve left the “stocked pond” at your small Christian college and there doesn’t seem to be a potential spouse anywhere. And most devastatingly,  you just can’t seem to find Christian friends your age.

Maybe you graduated from a small Christian college and didn’t experience PCCSD. I certainly hope there are some of you out there! But if you’re like me and most of the people I graduated with – the struggle is real. Whether you have recently graduated from a Christian college, or are still enrolled in a Christian college, here are a few suggestions for how to fight the inevitable arrival of Post Christian College Stress Disorder:

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1. Think ahead and prepare accordingly.

When senior year comes around, life speeds up and graduation hits before you know it. Though by senior year your commitment to and love for the school community around you has probably diminished, you will quickly realize you’ve been taking it for granted for the last few years. For those of you still in college, spend time thinking ahead to life after college. Spend time investing in people and friendships that will endure through graduation. Maybe plan with your closest friends to try to live in the same place, go to the same church, and continue to share life with one another. Thinking ahead and preparing for life after Christian college will help reduce the effects of CCA when the time comes for you to don your cap and gown.

2. Learn what real Christian community is.

There is no better time and no better place to learn (both in theory and practice) what real community is than your 4(ish) years at a Christian college. Whether you’ve already graduated or are still in school, spend time trying to understand what real Christian community looks like – and what it doesn’t look like. Learn to share yourself with a community of people that are committed to God and to one another. Learn to build Christ-centered relationships. Read the Bible together and see what God has to say about what Christian community really is and what it is really supposed to look like. Real community involves studying the Bible together, talking to and about God together, walking through the good times and the bad times together; committing to one another, even through troubled times, disagreements, and suffering. You only get a few years immersed in the Christian college community so make the most of it by simultaneously enjoying it AND learning what real community is.

3. Join a local church during AND after school.

Christian community doesn’t revolve around Christian colleges, it revolves around the local church. Though it is tempting to give your life completely to your college community for numerous reasons, it is absolutely vital (and Biblical) that you get involved in a local congregation of believers. Your Christian school is not your church. The fact is, real Christian community includes people who are different than us – older than us, younger than us, stronger than us, weaker than us, different educational backgrounds, different ethnicities, different socioeconomic classes, and so on. Real Christian community is found in the local church. Plus, your Christian college won’t let you just hang around forever once you graduate unless you keep paying tuition!

One of the most important things you can do to avoid CCA is to join a local church during AND after school. Ideally, they are the same place and you can commit your life after college to the church you committed to during college. But depending on where you get a job, where your family is, and where God is calling you – this may not be possible.

Don’t just attend a local church on a semi-regular basis – JOIN a local church. Become a member – commit to the community and form a covenantal relationship with the church. Join a small group. Serve together. Do outreach together. Go on mission trips together. Eat dinner together. Hang out on weekends. Make the local church that you commit to your family and your home – through thick and thin. Though you will only be in college for a few years, your church membership and the relationships you develop there will last a lifetime. Christian college students – PLEASE join a local church and commit to being there every week. Hopping around from church to church or showing up once a month to a random place won’t provide you with real Christian community and won’t help you cope with CCA when you graduate. Find the church God is calling you to and then commit your life to the people there.

4. Root yourself in God and His Word.

Lastly, and most importantly, if you want to avoid being overcome by CCA you must root yourself in God and the Bible. Isolation, depression, anxiety, and fear may all come your way at some point, but it is God alone that can help us fight through these struggles. In your search for genuine Christian community don’t forget that the single most important relationship you have is with God, your Father, your Friend, your Creator, your King. To have the best friends and the best church in the world means nothing if you do not have community with God. True Christian community is only possible if you, your church, and the people around you are deeply rooted in God’s truth and value your relationship with God above all else.

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PCCSD may or may not find you when you graduate, I pray that it doesn’t – but I also want you to be prepared to deal with it should it come knocking. So think ahead and prepare accordingly, learn what real Christian community is, join and commit to a local church, and never ever forget that it should all be centered around God and your relationship with Him.

Have you already graduated from a Christian college? Have you experienced CCA? How did you deal with it? What wisdom would you pass on for current students? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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4 Suggestions For Your “Stretched Thin” Church

Most small churches and their ministry leaders are overworked. As I wrote about before in “5 Ways to Strengthen Your Small Struggling Church“, the average church size in America is 75 people and 99.5% of churches have fewer than 2,000 members. In almost every single one of those churches, a few dedicated people carry the majority of the weight and shoulder the heaviest burdens. Whether the root of the problem in your “thin-stretched” church is laziness, unqualified leaders, or sheer lack of manpower – a solution is needed to maintain healthy leaders and a healthy church. While there are a plethora of possible solutions, especially considering that every church and every situation is unique, here are a few suggestions for when your church leadership is stretched too thin.

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1. Take a step back and evaluate.

Most churches are trying to do too much, including yours. The temptation becomes even stronger to try to offer something for everyone when the majority of our consumeristic church culture expects the local church to provide any and every possible ministry. People leave small churches all the time because larger wealthier churches have more options. Please hear me small churches and small church leaders – Do not try to be those churches! You can’t do it all. Find what you do well and do it excellently. Take a step back and spend time evaluating the ministries and efforts of the church. Figure out what you do well and what you don’t do so well and refocus all your time and energy on a few things that you can do excellently.

2. Stop doing some good things.

If your church is stretched too thin and a small number of people are carrying the majority of the load, you will most likely need to stop doing some good things. The fact is, most of the ministries in your church are doing at least some good. But doing too many good things stifles your church’s ability to a few great things. After you have spent time evaluating everything that your church is trying to do, take a brave step and be prepared and willing to stop doing things that are ineffective or are simply taking too much out of your leaders for too little fruit. Will people be upset? Yes. Will people’s feelings get hurt when you decide to cut the budget from their ministry? Yes. Be cautious, be tactful, and remind people whose money it really is and whose church it really is. In order to give your burden bearers a breather, you probably will need to stop doing some good things.

3. Pray expectantly, work diligently. 

Don’t forget to spend time asking God to provide laborers for the harvest. He cares about the burdens of small struggling churches, especially those carrying more than their share. Pray fervently and expect God to provide exactly what you need in order to accomplish what He has planned for your church.

As you pray, continue to work as well. As you pray for laborers, purposefully and intentionally seek out potential leaders and laborers. Disciple younger believers and train them up in maturity and wisdom so that they be groomed for and step into leadership positions. Pray expectantly, work diligently.

4. Rest.

When a few people carry most of the load and the function of each ministry depends on the presence of one or two leaders, it is absolutely vital that those leaders remember to rest. The world won’t end if you cancel for a week. The church won’t die if you take a week of vacation. Sometimes your leaders may be able to go long stretches without needing rest, other times they may need more frequent breaks. Make sure that those carrying the majority of the weight know that they have the freedom to take a week off – to have a date night with their spouse instead or take their family for a trip on a long weekend. Make rest a part of the weekly, monthly, and yearly routine at your church. If you do, everyone will be better off and your church will be a healthier place.

 

In small churches we often talk about the 20/80 rule – 20% of the people do 80% of the work and give 80% of the offering. This reality is one that we must figure out how to deal with in our churches to avoid becoming unhealthy churches filled with and led by unhealthy people. These are just a few suggestions for churches where this is especially true.

What would you add to the list? How have you dealt with this problem in your church?

5 Easy Ways to Support Your Pastor

Perhaps you have seen this photo that has gone viral on social media (probably mostly shared by pastors that want people, if only for a second, to begin to understand the burden they carry):

blogger-image--1426972927Though no source is cited, I can tell you from my limited personal experience that I was surprised some of these numbers are as low as they are. While these statistics sadden and frighten me, considering I have been called into lifelong ministry, I am glad that this photo went viral, not because I want to throw a pity party or because I so desperately want people to understand the struggle – but because of the four words at the top: “Pray For Your Pastor”.

The fact is, your pastors carry a burden far heavier than most people can imagine. Isolation, fear, and frustration often hover over pastor’s heads like a dark cloud. Because this is true, we must support and encourage our pastors. Fellow pastors, we must pray for and encourage one another – and we must make that a priority in each of our lives. Here are five easy ways to support and encourage your pastor:

1.Pray for them daily.

Maybe it sounds cliche, but the fact is that praying for your pastor is the single most beneficial thing you can do for him and his spiritual and emotional health. For most pastors, just hearing that someone is praying for them makes a huge impact because so many struggle with isolation and rejection. If you don’t already, add your pastor and his family’s name to your daily prayer list and then let them know weekly that you are actually praying for them. It will mean more to them than you know.

2. Act out your prayers for them. 

After you pray for your pastor, find ways to be the answer to your own prayers. In his book “Prayer”, Philip Yancey says, “Bonhoeffer grasped the nature of prayer as partnership with God’s activity on earth…We cannot simply pray and then wait for God to do the rest.” It must be noted however that Bonhoeffer also warned against self-reliance on one’s activity so much so that we forget to rely upon the power of prayer. Yancey continues, “Praying can be a risky enterprise, I have found, as the Spirit often convicts me of the very thing I am praying about. ‘Lord, help my neighbor, a single mother, in her hard life.’ Hmm, Have I offered to take her son skiing lately? ‘Father, I pray for Brandon and Lisa’s troubled marriage.’ What am I doing to support them, keep them together, hold them accountable? …Sometimes, like the boy who asks his parents to solve a math problem while he plays video games, we ask God for things we should be doing ourselves.”

Though we must heed Bonhoeffer’s (and Yancey’s) warnings to not neglect prayer in favor of our own action, we must also not simply pray and hope that God does the work. As you pray for your pastor, find ways to act out your prayers, to actually bring them joy, to actually encourage them, to actually bless them.

3. Support them publicly, stand up for them publicly.

One of the most frustrating things about church ministry is that is always the dissenters and complainers that speak the loudest. Because this is usually the case, pastors hear way more about what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing better than the things they are doing well. If you agree with your pastors words, actions, and choices, let him know. Don’t only let him know, let the whole congregation know. Silent support does your pastor very little good. If the loud-mouthed complainers who knock everything your pastor does speak up, then you speak up even louder. Support and stand up for your pastor publicly – it could make all the difference.

4. Stop criticizing their every move. 

Stop expecting your pastor to be perfect and to have a perfect family. No one is perfect, and no one has a perfect family. The stresses of ministry weigh heavily on a pastor and his family, which makes it even harder to live up to the unrealistic expectations that so many people have of their pastors. The fact is, you shouldn’t expect them to be at every meeting, every kids athletic event, visit every elderly person, make every hospital visit, always have a smile on their face, never get angry, never show signs of weariness or depression, and so on.

And when, already struggling with all these things, pastors have their every move, their every decision, their every sermon criticized – it wears them down quickly. Stop going up to them and telling them what would have made their sermon better. Stop complaining to them about things out of their control. Stop expecting them to be omnipresent. And PLEASE, stop whining about how awful something is without offering a solution.

5. Write them a short, simple, encouraging note. 

Take 5 minutes and write your pastor a short and encouraging note. I have saved every encouraging note and letter I have ever received from my congregation. They mean the world to me and they give me something I can go back and read during dark or frustrating times. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be long – it just needs to be encouraging. Let them know you are thinking about them, let them know you are praying for them. Very few things go as far as a short, simple, encouraging note.

 

These are just a few easy ways to support your pastor. What other ways would you recommend supporting your pastor? Pastors, what others ways can people support you and your families?

 

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Small Struggling Church

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The average church in America has 75 people in attendance on a Sunday morning. There are over 300,000 Christian churches in the United States alone. Of those 300,000, only about 1,600 (about 0.5%) of those are considered mega-churches (2,000+ members). Of the other 99.5% of churches in the country, many of them are small, struggling churches. Though small does not necessarily mean struggling, the two are often connected. If you are like me, then you have often wondered what simple, practical things you can do to help strengthen your church. I’m not talking about helping your church gain more attenders, I’m talking about internal strengthening that would help your church become more healthy, more Christ-centered, and more equipped to serve God obediently.

Here are some simple (though not easy) ways to help strengthen your small church that you love so dearly.

1. Pray Hard

Seek God genuinely on a personal level and then invite others to pray alongside you. There is immense and unfathomable power behind the prayers of humble, godly men and women. If you want to help strengthen your church, commit to praying daily specifically for your church and the people in your church. You’d be surprised how few people actually take time to pray for their church. Prayer, more than the rest of the things on this list combined, will help strengthen your church.

2. Pursue Personal Spiritual Growth

There is nothing that brings me more joy as a pastor than to see people in my congregation growing and maturing in their faith, especially when they are teaching themselves and pursuing spiritual maturity on their own. If you want to help strengthen your church, start by strengthening yourself. Seek to know, love, and obey God better every day and it will have a contagious effect on the rest of your church.

3. Keep Serving and Find New Ways to Serve

One of the common problems in small struggling churches is that the same people carry most of the load. If you are one of those people, soldier on. Make sure to rest and take a breather as often as you can, but continue to lead and sacrifice every ounce of who you are for Christ’s church. The temporary burdens of this world pale in comparison to the weight of glory that we will receive in eternity.

If you are someone who is not involved in every meeting, every ministry, every night of the week, then consider finding a new way to help lead and serve your church. Maybe it’s standing at the door to welcome people. Maybe it’s being willing to help with the always short-handed children’s ministry. Ask your church leaders what needs done, and then be willing to do it. One of the best ways to help strengthen your church is to find new ways to serve that build up the church and bring you joy simultaneously.

4. Start a Small Group or Bible Study

You don’t need to have exceptional teaching gifts to lead a small group, though it helps! Small groups of people that share life with one another, pray with and for one another, study the Bible together, and seek to be transformed more into Christ’s image daily together are the backbone of church strengthening. Ask a group of people to come to your house, share a meal, and read Scripture together one night a week. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be a huge thing – just invite others into Christ-centered relationship with you. If you want to strengthen your church, grab a few people and start meeting regularly as a small group. Maybe others will do the same!

5. Make Church a Priority

God should always be at the center of your life. To the true believer, He is everything. If Christ is our all, then we must love the church as well, as Christ loves the church. If you want to strengthen your church, you need to make church a priority and be present as often as possible. I’m not just talking about just Sunday events – I’m talking about small groups, church picnics, outreach efforts, and ESPECIALLY Sunday events. Miss the football game. Teach your kids that church is more important than Sunday morning sports. Set an alarm, get out of bed, and get to church. If you want to strengthen your church, start by showing up, serving, and participating in as many things as you can.

These are just a few practical suggestions if you are looking for ways to help strengthen your small struggling church. What would you add to the list? How can people like you and me help strengthen our small struggling churches?

Netflix and the Christian Life

Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Netflix? It is one of the few (sarcasm) websites that allows us to appease our addiction to the idols of media, pop culture, escapism, and entertainment. Netflix offers tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes to its almost 70 million subscribers who have spent an estimated 100 million hours viewing today alone! That’s a lot of time and a lot of users. But what can Christians learn from Netflix?

netflixNetflix helps us understand a very difficult passage in Hebrews 6 concerning people who have tasted the Gospel and then fallen away.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. – Hebrews 6:4-6

First it must be noted that the word “impossible” should not be too highly scrutinized, God can and does do anything he wants. The author is merely making the point that it is extremely rare and very unlikely that a person would taste the Gospel, reject it, and then return to accept it again. It happens often that a person will “taste the Gospel” or in other words – taste the heavenly gift, share in the Holy Spirit, taste the goodness of God’s word and power, and still reject it. People can cognitively understand as well as have their eyes opened to the true meaning of the Gospel and then choose to deny, reject, and have nothing to do with it. Like parable of the sower in Mark 4, some seeds grow for a little while, but then are either scorched by harsh conditions or they uproot themselves and are drawn away into death by worldly desires. They believed the gospel for a little while, and then eventually decided they valued something else more than Jesus – either their comfort or the things of this world. And just like any food you try, once you have tasted something and hate it, it is very unlikely that you are going to want to eat it again.

I signed up for a free month subscription with Netflix some time ago. I got to enjoy all the benefits that a paying subscriber would, except for free. In a manner of speaking, I tasted the goodness of Netflix. But then, at the end of my free month I had to make a choice. I had to decide if being a full-time member of the Netflix community was worth the cost. I enjoyed all the benefits for free, with a low level of commitment, and now I had to decide if I liked what I had seen enough to pay for it – enough to commit to it. Netflix was more than willing to let me taste their membership (in fact they had so much faith I would love it, they offered me 3 more free trials). But after a time, they told me, “We are so glad you tried us out, but if you really want to be a part of this, it is going to cost you. We are going to need a commitment.” If I’m willing to pay the price, I can enjoy all the benefits of being a member of the Netflix kingdom. I had to measure it, count the cost, and decide if it was worth it to me. And if I decide that it isn’t worth the cost, it is very unlikely that I will change my mind in the future.

The same is true in the Christian life. God offers the free gift of salvation to anyone who is willing to commit to spending their lives rooted in and following Jesus. While His grace costs us nothing, it cost Him everything – the death of His own Son. To summarize Bonhoeffer, “Grace costs nothing, yet demands everything.” In order to fully be a part of God’s Kingdom, we have to commit our lives to it and we have to be willing to pay the price of obedience and faithfulness to God. Many of us have counted the cost and decided that no matter how great the cost, it is absolutely worth it to follow Jesus. Others will hear the gospel, respond to it positively, and then turn their nose up at it once they realize just how much its going to cost.

It is nearly impossible for someone to truly taste the Gospel, count the cost, decide it isn’t worth it, and then change their mind. Jesus himself tells us to count the cost before following him (Luke 14). It is a price that many people are not willing to pay (Mark 10:17-31). In one of the most profound paradoxes of all time, God offers his love, his goodness, and his Spirit freely to all, but we must be willing to pay the price.