Thursday, January 31, 2019

Effective AND Efficient?


With the ten-year challenge trend floating around on social media, some of you may have noticed this post on our Facebook page. It's encouraging to the see the growth, and it's clear God has done so much in our little corner of his kingdom!

But growth alone doesn't really tell us much. I teach a class to our apprentices that we call Strategic Leadership. It gives me a chance to share things I learned in my graduate degree in strategic management and how those things intersect with ministry leadership. We have some great discussions! Today we were talking about the ideas of effectiveness and efficiency. Efficiency can be a wonderful thing. We find ways to minimize the waste of time and money and other resources. It can help churches and nonprofits carefully steward donations, help us all care for the world we live in, and help us maximize the time and money we have leftover when our work is done.

But efficiency has a dark side when it isn't sought in the service of true effectiveness. If we forget our original goals, the things we want to be truly effective at, efficiency can become a goal in itself. We've all been victimized, right? A favorite product suddenly isn't very good quality anymore when the manufacturer starts cutting corners to save money. A store that once had great service gets rid of half their employees and service suffers. You know the drill.

So when I look at our ten-year challenge photos, it raises the question in my mind, "what have we given up in the name of growth?" As I reflect, I am confident that we haven't sacrificed effectiveness in our calling on the altar of efficiency. We still try to study the scriptures one-on-one with every student who will agree to it, and most of those studies take 6 to 12 months to complete. We still invest about 120 hours per school year of teaching and personal coaching into every student that steps up to lead a core. We still celebrate real, meaningful friendships as the best context to live out the gospel on campus.

Our Winter Camp speaker, John Stackhouse, asked a lot of questions about how the FOCUS community approaches faith and ministry. His response (which was very complimentary) began with something like "How very inefficient. It sounds biblical!" 

I don't think it's actually inefficient. I think it's as efficient as we know how to make it (so far!) while still being effective at making and maturing disciples to God's glory. We haven't let go of that mission in the name of growth. I'm confident that we are BETTER at it today than we were 10 years ago. We have a better understanding of the gospel to share with students who need to hear good news. We are better at developing young leaders for God's kingdom and giving them the skills to succeed both in and beyond college. We are better at equipping young people to have real, meaningful relationships in an increasingly disconnected culture.

I'm excited about the next 10 years, and my prayer is that we will always be efficient enough as good stewards as we pursue maximum effectiveness in what the Lord has actually called us to!

Student Testimony




Stackhouse Talks

John Stackhouse (more info on him here), our Winter Camp speaker this year, did an amazing job communicating about the faith to our students. He's a top theologian who has been on ABC and NBC News, been interviewed by the New York Times, and has lectured at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.  But his humor and wit and ability to clearly explain things broke through the students' expectations of what a theologian would be like! (aka boring) He also pushed their buttons and challenged their thinking on many things. Lots of great conversations are still happening as they process the weekend in community.

He did five talks and two 1.5-hour Q&A sessions. If you'd like to listen, they're up on our website

Thanks for your support in realizing this vision. Here's to whatever the picture will look like in 2029!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Suffering and Spiritual Growth

It's easy to lose perspective as a middle-class, 21st century American. I'm reminded of a quote I heard years ago from a persecuted Christian in Romania: “Ninety percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while ninety percent of Christians fail the test of prosperity.”

As ministers, we don't have a magic exemption from this challenge. As I talk to the campus pastors on my team, I hear mostly the same middle-class American anxieties and worries that our peers and our students are expressing. We want to be well off and comfortable. We want rights and security. We often find true sacrifice and real suffering out of reach.

Each January, we prepare for the return of the students by retreating together as a staff to reflect and encourage one another. This year, we each read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in preparation. It was a chance to gain some perspective from a different time and situation. If you aren't familiar, Frederick Douglass was born a slave in the American South. He lived in slavery for over 20 years before escaping and becoming a prominent abolitionist leading up to the Civil War. He was a Christian, but he was also enslaved by those calling themselves Christians, and so he became a prophetic voice that still speaks today. He wrote, "I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others."

He exposed the hypocrisy of the church, a church that was all too often either silent or complicit in slavery. "Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference," and "they are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy."

As a staff, we reflected on what our own blind spots might be and whether repentance is in order. We reflected on men and women like Douglass who truly suffered for doing what was right, and how different their suffering is from what most of us experience.

We also spent time pondering and discussiong a number of scriptures that speak to our attitude and perspective on the difficulties and suffering we do face. James says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). Paul writes "we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Rom 5:3-4). And in Hebrews, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children... If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all... but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (12:7-11).

These and others tell us that some of what God wants to do in us is only accomplished through pain and not comfort, calling into question how diligent we are in trying to create comfort and avoid pain in our day to day lives.

Suffering is integral to the Christian life. It's a part of our identity as people who follow and imitate a suffering Messiah. This is something we as pastors want to do a better job of communicating to our community and to ourselves. I highly recommend reading Frederick Douglass' book if you haven't before (or maybe haven't read it since high school :). I know this older brother in the faith would minister to you as well.

Student Testimony


Tim is such a neat young man. He's someone I've had the privilege of spending some time with along the way, and I've watched him take his stand on the gospel, willing to pay whatever it costs. Like so many others, he has a strong Christian heritage from his parents, but at the university, he's had to choose Jesus and get to know him for himself.


Thank you for supporting and praying for the mission to reach college students like Tim. Great things are happening!

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