Clearing the Soil

bradford-pear-400x533When we moved into our house nearly 12 years ago, I was introduced to a tree that I had only been mildly aware of in the past, the Bradford Pear tree. We had five of them on our property when we first moved in. The branches of the tree spread out far and they grew fairly tall. Aesthetically, they looked pleasing to the eye, but looks can be deceiving.

When Spring came around, the tree would bloom and the blooms would smell like someone had let air out of the tires of their car. They stunk. The blossoms would fall all over the ground and make a mess of the yard.

As the years went by and we experienced some significant storms in our area, I became more aware of the structure of the tree (once an engineer, always an engineer). The trunk of the tree remained fairly short while the branches extended far out. The problem with this structure is that the branches can’t handle excessive stress, when the winds flow and the rains and snows fall, they grow weaker and weaker until they finally succumb to the weight and collapse.

Our first Bradford Pear tree broke in the middle of a storm late at night. The next morning, as we were leaving very early for a trip up north, we drove down the street to encounter our tree blocking off one lane of the road. In my haste to remove the tree, I threw my back out and was miserable for the ride north and the first few days of our trip. Needless to say, we had the tree removed.

Years later, just after a storm, our second Bradford Pear tree fell over, nearly hitting the house. We proactively removed the rest of it with its brother tree which was right next to it, thankful that it hadn’t done more damage.

Our final tree lost a branch onto the front of our van, scratching it slightly but not as bad as it could have been. We had the rest of the tree removed and I honestly thought that I was done with Bradford Pear trees. Little did I know.

While the tree company had removed a significant portion of the trees, some of the root structure was left intact and continued to grow and grow, invading the ground and sucking the nutrients from the soil.

What was interesting to me was that in the places where the other trees had been in the yard, the plants and bushes around that area began to flourish and grow. They were no longer stagnated by the Bradford Pear but instead were able to take in what was necessary for their own growth. Soon, some of these plants which had been fairly small in the presence of the Bradford Pears began to show their capabilities for growth. They were no longer hindered by this large presence which somehow made itself look so looming and large, all the while being frail and fragile.

I’ve thought a lot about those Bradford Pears over the years, especially as I’ve worked in churches the whole time. You see, I’ve noticed that there are some people who inhabit churches who are very much like Bradford Pear trees. At first glance, they look looming and large, healthy and mature. They seem to have staying power and they appear to be beneficial to the environment. But then, in the midst of storms, you begin to see what they are really made of, that they are not as strong and sturdy as they came across.

In fact, just like the Bradford Pear trees, they took the nutrients from the soil, stunting the growth of everything and everyone around them. And as soon as they were removed, the environment changed. People who had once been overshadowed were now able to grow and flourish. They were no longer hindered.

Within the church, we sometimes go into panic mode when people leave. We begin to fear and think that there might be something wrong. We might wonder how we will survive without these people who, like the Bradford Pear trees, have given off an air of belonging and mightiness, all the while they are sick and diseased beneath the surface. They aren’t seeking to get healthier, they just want to suck the life away from everything around them.

I’ve witnessed what has happened when they’ve been removed (in some way or another, but usually by their own choice). While some might panic, the end result generally becomes addition by subtraction. Their absence is also an absence of negativity, of controlling behavior, of domineering, of an unhealthy presence. As soon as that is gone, there is room for growth.

But again, like the Bradford Pear tree, the root system can run deep and wide and if you aren’t careful and vigilant, the remnants of that unhealthy growth may linger for a long time afterwards if you don’t do the necessary work of digging deep and removing every last bit of those horrible roots.

In the many churches that I’ve worked in over the years, I have seen this time and time again. In my friendships with other pastors, I’ve heard their similar stories. Over and over again, the removal of unhealthy people was necessary for the church to grow in ways that had been stagnated by the unhealthy presence of those people.

Now, before you criticize me and tell me that this is graceless and unforgiving, consider some of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples when they would encounter unreceptive people. They would make efforts but they would eventually wipe the dust from their feet and move on. We can only do so much before we need to walk away and trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work that only he can do if it is work that he is supposed to do.

In my yard, I am done with Bradford Pear trees. I will never plant one in my yard. I continue to struggle with the root systems that lie beneath the surface, invading my yard and sprouting their life-sucking branches all over. But I’m pretty sure that I will continue to encounter people who act very much the same way within the church. I will continue to pray through my experiences with them, trusting that I will extend grace when I feel least like giving it. And when they leave and are removed, I may mourn their presence briefly but I will ultimately rejoice that in their absence, there will be room for good and healthy growth, something that was near impossible while they were still there.

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It’s a…..baby!

This process of starting a new church that we are in, it feels a lot like waiting for the birth of your first child.

A friend and I spoke the other day and he brought this up to me. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The analogy is so spot on.

When you and your spouse are expecting a baby, you go through the procedures of eating right, caring for yourself, regularly visiting the doctor, and everything else that’s necessary to ensure a healthy baby.

As time marches on and you get closer and closer to the due date, the anticipation, excitement, and terror can be overwhelming. You can’t wait to meet this baby, to see his or her face, to hold them, smell them, cuddle them, just look at them. There is excitement over what it means, this new human being who will charge into your world, disrupting it and making it perfect all at once.

But there is also the terror. Not sure how many first-time expectant parents didn’t think at least once along the way, “Oh my goodness, can I do this? What kind of parent will I be?” If we all waited to have children until we were ready, we may never ever have children.

Waiting for a church to be born has felt similar, but I could never quite find the words to describe it until my friend introduced this to me the other day.

In less than two months, a baby church will be born. We are preparing for it. When it comes, it needs to be nurtured. We wait. We anticipate. We get nervous.

Ultimately, we follow the direction and leading that God gives us through his Holy Spirit. We trust. We pray. We plan.

And to be honest, as much as I thought and planned and hoped along the way before my first child was born, when it came down to it and he was born, most of those things fell away. The only thing that I cared about the most was that he was healthy and growing. The other things were just bonuses.

In much the same way, if things don’t look exactly like I thought they should with this church, I think I will have a similar approach, my number one desire is for a healthy “baby.”

Myself 2.0

I had lunch with a friend yesterday. Nothing unusual about that. Among the things we talked about was the Enneagram, self-awareness, who we are, we were, and who we are becoming. Kind of deep for lunch conversation.

The last few years, for me, has been a journey of self-discovery, figuring out who I am, figuring out what I am good at, figuring out what I’m not so good at, and seeking to become better than I was yesterday. There are certain tools like the Enneagram and StrengthsFinders that have been helpful in that self-discovery.

But, as one who considers himself a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s more than a pursuit, it’s a calling. If Jesus is all that I claim that he is, then I should be changed by him. He isn’t some random stranger that I meet on the street who has no impact on my life. If he is who he says he is and who I believe he is, then like so many of the people who he met throughout the gospels, the collision between my life and him should have an altering effect.

As my friend and I discussed all this, he shared that he was struck by where I was in my overall emotional health. As I thought about it, I said, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” I mean, the big theological word that people throw around is “sanctification,” the process of becoming holy and set apart, more like Jesus.

Funny thing is, I think that some Christians miss the “more like Jesus” part of that. They’ve got the “set apart” part down pat, but when it comes to being different like Jesus, we don’t often excel. We’re set apart and different but in a way that makes an onlooking world scratch their heads or shake their fists. I have a hard time believing that’s what was meant by being different and set apart.

I have often said to friends and those around me that I don’t want to be the person that I was five years ago. In fact, if I am really in pursuit of being changed, transformed, and different, then I shouldn’t be who I was. As I look back over myself through the years, I see changes. Some of those changes are good, some are not so good. Those not so good changes are the ones where I probably haven’t fully given myself over to the work of sanctification in my life.

It’s like training at the gym. It’s not often pleasant when we are going through it. There may be pain afterwards, but hopefully, what we are becoming is better than who we presently are. I think about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses around me. God has given me a lot of people that I call “rearview mirrors.” They act as aids for me to see those blind spots that I am unable to see on my own. But I’ve got to look at them and then heed what they say, just having them alone is not enough to make me better and to see the flaws that so desperately need to be changed and transformed.

Today is a new day and I am grateful for it. God’s mercies are new every morning. My constant prayer is that I will be just a little more different today than I was yesterday, that John the Baptist’s words can echo from me the way they did him, “I must decrease and he must increase.” It doesn’t mean that I lose myself, it means that I just become a more Christ-like version of myself. That’s what I’m going for.

 

Flexing Your Muscles

Strong male arm shows biceps. Close-up photo isolated on whiteAs I’ve grown in my faith as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that faith can be a lot like working out. When you are trying to get stronger and build muscles, you have to add more weight, do more repetitions, be persistent. If you simply just lift the same thing day after day, you may remain somewhat strong, but you will never get stronger. You certainly won’t grow and gain additional muscle.

Faith is similar, it’s like a muscle. If you continue to limit yourself in your faith-stretching situations, your “faith muscle” will stay the same, it won’t grow. But if you allow yourself to step out in faith further than you have done before, you will see growth and you will get stronger.

Throughout the last fifteen years of my life, I have reminded myself (and those around me) of this time and time again. Fifteen years ago, I left behind a successful career in engineering to pursue a career in full-time vocational ministry. It was a step of faith. It was scary. It was a sacrifice. But if all I did over these last fifteen years was point to that, it would be like lifting the same amount of weight day after day, it wouldn’t make me stronger, it wouldn’t make me grow.

Instead, I’ve had to step out further and further, grab a little extra weight to grow and get stronger. I can’t keep relying on faith stories and faith leaps that happened a while ago, I need to allow God to grow me as I stretch further and further.

In Christian circles, people will talk about sharing their testimony. Growing up, that came to mean telling the story about when a person first met Jesus. Those stories were always great to hear, but I also wanted to know how that decision that had been made years ago was impacting them today. In other words, did it make a difference?

Where were the stories of God working now? Where was the evidence that what had happened so long ago was still having a profound impact on the present day?

That’s what I am constantly striving for. I want to make sure that I’m telling current stories of what God is doing. I want to make sure that I’m lifting a little more weight today than I did yesterday. It’s gradual and I think there can be a danger of getting excessive with it, doing it for the wrong reason or motivation. I don’t want to flex my muscles for my own glory, to win accolades and attention for me.

So, what kind of stories are you sharing? Are you still telling stories of years ago, about what God did a long time ago? Or are you adding on some additional spiritual and faith weight, letting God grow you in new ways so that you can share current stories of what God is doing today?

 

Reflections On Another Trip Around the Sun

Yesterday was my birthday. It was fairly anti-climactic. Save for the excitement of my children (at least a few of them) to open the gifts they had gotten for me, a few friends I saw throughout the day suggesting they sing to me, countless texts and phone calls, and a barrage of greetings on social media, it felt pretty much like any other day.

Once you hit a certain age, birthdays seem to become inconsequential. One day I’ll hit the age when I wake up in the morning and find myself grateful that I’m still breathing. Right now, I’m in the throes of life when waking up with one less ache than the day before is an accomplishment.

Looking back over the year, a lot has happened. I’m off on my own, trying to get a church off the ground as we move towards launching in September. God has continued to humble me through my children, my experiences, and the many people who have shared their lives with me.

While the lives of so many influential people cross my path via news articles, books, movies, musicals, and countless other medium, the question I continue to reflect on is, “What difference have I made?” Am I significant? Have I really made a difference?

I’m growing to understand more every day that setting out to change the world can be somewhat of a lofty goal, but setting out to change myself and to allow myself to be changed is a far more attainable goal.

That doesn’t mean I’m an underachiever like Bart Simpson, it just means that I’m doing the best to influence what I can and walk away from what I can’t. To be honest, I’ve always joked about grandparents when I’ve seen the, reach that age where they just don’t give a #$% anymore. You know, they back out of the driveway and don’t even care if cars are coming either way. They’re going for it whether or not you’re ready for them.

I’m not saying that’s where I am….yet, but I think I’m well on my way.

Life is far too short to deal with people who are perpetually unhappy and unsatisfied. I’ve spent far too much time in the past trying to appease these people, especially within the church. I’m convinced now that if Jesus himself, or even Peter, Paul, or one of the other apostles themselves came back, they wouldn’t be able to please them either.

The gravitational pull of each and every one of us in our depravity and sin is to live our lives completely for us and no one else. That pull extends into the church and creates toxic environments where everyone’s trying to get their way, kind of like a preschool playground.

So, I’m doing my best to be a little less selfish today than I was yesterday, and to be thinking about others. In the process, I’ve rediscovered what that looks like and how it makes me feel. I’ve realized that it’s far from easy, but it sure seems to make everything a little easier.

One more trip around the sun. Older? Yes. Wiser? I hope so.

Still pushing forward. I am grateful for the opportunities that God has afforded me and even more grateful for those who surround me. My family continues to help me grow, in love and life. God continues to stretch me in ways I would never stretch myself. My community of friends is a source of strength, challenge, and hope. Hope because I begin to see just what can happen when we give ourselves to community. It’s costly, yes, but it also provides us with benefits that are priceless.

Here’s to tripping around the sun one more time!

Who’s Changing Here?

I’ve been learning an awful lot lately, mostly about myself. Sometimes the hardest things to learn are about yourself. Self-discovery is painful and hard, but usually results in the most glorious and rewarding transformations if we follow it through to the end. Kind of like emerging from a cocoon, open it too early and you’ve just got a really ugly and deformed caterpillar, but if you let it emerge on its own, the result will be a beautiful butterfly.

Well, I’m no butterfly, but I’d like to think that I’m still in the cocoon.

I am the youngest of two children, so it should be no surprise that the world of raising three children is foreign to me (the world of raising one child would be foreign to me too, if I’m honest). But I struggle most with raising the child who is most like me. Oil and water, that’s how my wife describes the two of us (me and my child, not me and her).

In the midst of this child-rearing that I’m trying to do, my self-discoveries are rarely comfortable. More often than not, they reveal more of my imperfections and inadequacies than I care to admit. I’ve always said that criticism is autobiographical, the things that drive us nuts about others are usually present in us if we take an honest look in the mirror. There is probably nowhere that is evident more so than in raising children.

As I struggled through a difficult evening and subsequent morning of trying to understand what the heck I’m doing as a father, I spent a significant amount of time soul-searching. What was wrong with me? Was I as big of a failure as I felt like? As my child made me feel?

As I was deep in these existential thoughts, I came to a stunning realization that brought me further down to earth, humbling me once again, and helping me realize just how important other people are to me in my own formation and growth.

You see, as one who has focused a lot on strengths over the past few years, I am very aware of what I am good at doing and what I am not good at doing. I see my gifts and strengths and look for ways that I can use them generatively, to help others grow. But the irony of it all is that the lightbulb that went off in my head made me realize that the reason why God brought me to most of the people in my life isn’t really because I’m supposed to help them grow, but because they are supposed to help me grow.

Yes, I know, I’m so vain, I probably think this post is about me (….if you don’t get it, Google Carly Simon and You’re So Vain). In my journey to understand my strengths and look for ways to help others, which I think it still fairly noble, I failed to remember the mutuality that is (or should be) involved in relationships.

As I processed through things in my own head, with my wife, with a friend, I came to the conclusion that the people who have been brought into my life and who can cause headaches and difficulty aren’t necessarily there so that I can help them grow, but to help me grow in all those uncomfortable and difficult ways that I would never grow into on my own.

Not rocket science, you’re probably thinking. I know, but it’s a significant lesson for me to grasp. I am a work in progress. Growth may be fast at times, but mostly it’s slow and iterative. I may not see the results as quickly as I would like to. I can’t plug into the Matrix and have instant gratification by plugging in the “Patience Module” or “Self-discipline Module.”

So, when I stop and look at all the changes that I think I can help to make in others, I really need to first consider all the changes that are probably going to happen in me, if I really and wholly enter into relationship with others. Not always fun, certainly not comfortable, but way more rewarding than I could imagine.

 

Painful Growth

This month marks fifteen years in full-time ministry as a pastor. Having successfully navigated a career in engineering before becoming a pastor, I can say that engineering was much easier for me. I believe that pastoring is a calling, which isn’t to say that engineering is any less of a career, but rather that if someone thinks that they could do anything else other than being a pastor, they should try that first.

In those fifteen years of being a pastor, I have experienced lots of difficult times. I lost my parents. I experienced a church split. I sat through ordination exams….twice. Throughout those difficult times, I have seen myself grow. Of course, I would much rather have grown through simpler means than the ones that grew me, but that wasn’t the plan.

In my work as a pastor, I have experienced seasons or experiences of pain. Unfortunately, these seasons or experiences aren’t unique. I would guess that if you were to talk with other pastors, most of them would agree that they have had these seasons or experiences as well.

These experiences are mostly unavoidable. Sure, some of them could be avoided for a period of time, but if you live for any length of time, you will most likely face them all at some point.

Based on my own experience, these have been among the most painful things that I have experienced in ministry:

The pain of tragic loss

When my best friend from college lost his six month old to cancer, it was among the most difficult things that I ever had to face, and it wasn’t my child. I tried my best to be a friend who loved and cared without trying to offer cliche advice.

When my friend called to ask me to do the funeral, I knew that it would be one of the most difficult things that I would ever have to do.

Trying to wrap your head around the pain and hurt in this world without throwing out trite answers is tough. Yes, sin has tainted the world, but that’s not the most helpful answer that a grieving family wants to or needs to hear at the height of their pain. Helping families cope with loss is one thing, tragic loss always seems to make it harder, at least in my opinion.

The pain of people leaving your church

This seems so small in comparison to the point above, but as I’ve talked with other pastors, I haven’t met one of them who has said that they enjoy it when people leave their church. The more personally connected you are with the people whom you shepherd, the harder and more painful it is when they choose to leave. While I have never been divorced, I can say that having friends walk away from my church is the closest thing that I’ve felt to a divorce.

No matter how long I’ve been a pastor, it always feels like a shot in the gut. People tell me not to take it personally, but it’s really hard. When you pour your life into something and someone walks away from it, it’s kind of hard not to take it personally.

The pain of seeing someone waste their potential

Leaders should have a knack for seeing potential in people. I’ve seen this in good coaches, teachers, supervisors, whoever. When that potential is identified, a person is made aware of that, and that person just shrugs it off, that’s painful to me. I see that as a person embracing mediocrity, not being willing to do the hard work of growing but instead being content to remain as they are.

I wish that I could say that this was limited to those who are young and foolish, but sadly, my experience has been that I’ve seen it mostly in people who should know better, people who have even grown up in the church. There’s not much worse than seeing someone who believes that they are a mature and growing disciple of Christ with thirty years of experience when in reality they are just an infant who has repeated the same year thirty times over.

The pain of having people say things about you that aren’t true

I can fully admit that I am stubborn. I can also admit that I have a hard time letting go of things. But one of the most difficult things that I have struggled to let go of is when someone says things about me that aren’t true. It’s not just the saying of untrue things, it’s also the unwillingness of people to actually hear or learn the truth.

This has mostly happened when someone had a preconceived notion about me or when someone has generated an opinion about me based on a very limited experience. No matter how hard I’ve tried, there is no convincing them that they should take a second look and get to know me. I become a justice monster then I feel that injustice is being done to me.

There may be a lot more painful things in ministry, but a decade and a half into this, these are the top four experiences that have been most painful to me.

Like I said, I’ve seen growth come out of all of these experiences, but it’s been painful growth, growth that I would rather have come any one of a hundred other ways.

How about you? What have been some of your most difficult growing experiences?

To Boldly Go

One consistent piece of wisdom and advice that people have given me regarding church planting has come from those who have done it before. Over and over again, they have said that church planting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done in life, if not the hardest, but one of the most rewarding as well. The rewards are not always or often as visible as you would like them to be. The costs exceed what you are sometimes willing to pay.

As I look back at a challenging week, I can relate to those who have gone before me and passed on this wisdom.

I’m reminded of personal trainers who push you beyond where you would push yourself. It’s the rare breed of person who might push themselves to the point of greatness, exercising self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-control. The rest of us need a village around us to help us reach those heights which seem unattainable on our own. The strength by which we arrive there would not have been conjured up on our own, it has to be supernatural.

The other day, I looked at my wife and I said, “We would be nowhere if it weren’t for prayer.” We have known this during other seasons of our life but the truth of that has been hammered home to us once again. When we have faced challenges in our life together, prayer has been one of our first courses of action. We continue to affirm this and know that something happens when we pray, both individually and corporately.

I look at where I am and I am grateful for those who surround me. Cheerleaders. Encouragers. Achievers. I feel like I am made to look greater by those with whom I have surrounded myself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I am learning something new every day. I am growing in ways that I didn’t know I needed to grow or that I was not willing to allow myself on my own. This crucible of leadership is not for the faint of heart. Enter if you are called, all others need not apply.

The wisest man in the world, Solomon, wrote in his book as the teacher that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. There is power in community. We reach new heights when we ride on the wings of others.

I am changing. I am transforming. The growth and transformation is not without pain or discomfort. But I believe that the outcome will significantly surpass all that I could ask or think or imagine.

Parents as growing guides

Growing WithI have sat back and observed the helicopter parents that seem to be so prevalent within our society. I’ve witnessed those parents who seem to be living vicariously through their children’s experiences. I’ve wondered whether the children who are on the courts and fields alongside my own children are there because they legitimately have a love and desire to play a sport or because their parents are banking on their kids securing an athletic scholarship in the no too distant future.

There is no doubt that parenting isn’t for cowards. There is no doubt that there are parents out there who have no concept of their own growth and transformation alongside their children on the journey. But if we embrace a faith in Christ and truly seek to be changed and transformed on this journey, we should also be seeking to be transformed in places where we may somehow think we’ve arrived, that includes parenting.

“As parents and caring adults, we often feel the gap between us and our kids widening as they become teenagers and young adults. Maybe it’s just that they’re growing up. But we fear the gap is also a symptom that we’re growing apart.” So write Kara Powell and Steve Argue as they begin their latest book “Growing With.”

Powell and Argue say that Growing With parenting is an attempt to close this growing gap between parents and their maturing children. Growing With parenting is an attempt to seek transformation not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. As maturity seems to be trending older now, meaning that children are arriving at certain life experiences later than their parents, there is a need for parents to understand this, learn from it, and seek ways to help rather than hinder their children on those journeys.

With this in mind, Powell and Argue suggest three dynamic verbs by which parents can best help their children and themselves as they move through this journey: withing, faithing, and adulting. It is around these three verbs that “Growing With” is written.

There is a constant tendency to want our children to experience things similarly to us, but we have to understand that the world is different. We need to hold on more loosely to our own ideals and dreams and allow our children to develop and mature in a path that may look vastly different from our own. As the authors write, “Growing alongside our withing, faithing, and adulting kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs.”

Powell and Argue, through their research, lay out guidelines by which parents can best facilitate their children’s growth through these three phases of withing, faithing, and adulting. They helpfully identify the various stages along the journey by labeling both children and parents. Children move from learners to explorers to focusers while their parents move from teachers to guides to resources. Because everyone is different, there is an overlap in all of these stages as children are transitioning from learners to explorers to focusers. Just as children transition through these stages, so do parents transition and there is overlap through their stages of teachers to guides to resources as well.

Just as there is awkwardness and uncertainty for our children as they move through these stages, so is there awkwardness and uncertainty in our own transition through the stages of parenting. We will not always get it right, we are not perfect, we will fail. Powell and Argue are not ashamed to share their insights which have come from both successfully navigating those transitions as well as unsuccessfully navigating. There are plenty of insights that come from the learnings that have been gained from failures and mistakes. I appreciate the humility and candidness with which the authors come, sharing their own imperfections to encourage the rest of us that even the “experts” don’t always get it right.

The authors use a helpful diagram which lays out a picture of the journey through all three stages of withing, faithing, and adulting as children move from learners to explorers to focusers and as parents complete their own journey as teachers to guides to resources. The inclusion of this diagram throughout the book is a helpful reminder to the reader of what the journey may look like and just how fluid these processes become.

Humility and grace are required for this journey. Growing With parenting cannot be achieved by parents who are seeking only for their kids to avoid certain things or for parents who simply believe that filling their children with Jesus when they’re young will somehow propel them forward and fill them up for the rest of their lives. Growing With parenting seeks for faith to be more than a noun. Faith is also a verb.

There are so many insights within this book, more than a short review allows me to share. Having read Kara’s book “Sticky Faith” years ago and also having been privileged to have been part of Sticky Faith cohort through the Fuller Youth Institute, the principles which are laid out and shared in “Sticky Faith” and also in Kara and Steve’s book “Growing Young” are cumulative, the build on one another. While reading these other books isn’t a requirement to read “Growing With,” it is helpful to be familiar with the concept which the authors lay out.

Part of the Growing With journey for parents is about allowing your children to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It’s also about giving children the space to make decisions that don’t always align with your own values. The authors share insights into the most effective ways to do this and, through their own research, share the statistics and rates of success. Not surprisingly, some of the methods that may have been labeled as “tried and true” in the past are proven, through research, to not be nearly as effective as they once were thought to be.

Powell and Argue do their best to tackle as broad of a spectrum of experiences as possible in “Growing With.” They share insights about identity issues that emerging adults may be struggling through, particularly in the area of LGBTQ. While this might cause some readers to squirm, I appreciate the authors’ sensitivity and understanding that this is not an issue to be swept under the rug, but rather one to hold and acknowledge, regardless of where you stand on the specifics of this identity and the Bible.

Having not only read their books but having also sat under their teaching, I can honestly say that Kara and Steve offer parents the triple threat of information. They have been educated in this area, they have done extensive research in this area, and they have the experience of being parents themselves of emerging adults who have been on this journey. The insights and wisdom that they offer doesn’t come from some ivory tower of academia but it is seasoned with the scars and lumps that have been gained from knowing firsthand what this all feels like.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that there are times in “Growing With” that some of the statistics and additional information presented can feel burdensome. But admittedly, I am a bottom line person who can too easily become entangled with peripherals, so I appreciate a straightforward presentation of material. I often feel the need to read every sidebar, note, and insight within a book. I don’t imagine that the authors expect that same approach from every reader, but they also know that there will inevitably be those readers who want this additional information so that they can journey down the rabbit hole towards a better understanding of the conclusions reached in this book.

For readers who are longing to see not only the growth and development of their children but also their own growth and development, “Growing With” is a must read book. Nowhere along the way will the reader feel as if they are being lectured or talked down to, instead, they should feel as if they are being the gift of two humble and loving guides who are seeking to help others navigate and negotiate the difficult journey of parenting in the 21st century.

I highly recommend this book, not only to be read once, but to be kept on your shelf for constant reference as you navigate the rough waters of parenting. I also recommend that anyone who is part of a local church, whether in leadership or not, read this book as well. Based on what we read in Scripture, the task of parenting should not be limited to those who are biologically or legally responsible for their children. If we truly care about the growth and transformation of Christ’s church in this world, then we should also be considering how we are investing in her next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Love People, Solve Problems

As I’ve been on this church planting journey that I’ve been on, I’ve tried to surround myself with some quality mentors and leaders from whom I can learn. I’ve done enough life and ministry at this point that some of the arrogance that I once had in my twenties has been rubbed away and I’ve come to a place of acknowledgement of my own limitations and inadequacies. I have been incredibly blessed to have a few mentors around me who have spoken truth, life, and encouragement to me.

Last week, I met with one of those friends and mentors for lunch. I was updating him on where I am in the process and telling him some cool God stories that had taken place. God stories are the ones that you know could only happen by God’s power and hand, not by my own talents or abilities.

As we shared stories and caught up, he felt led to share some insights with me. He told me that he wanted to share something with me that had been helpful to him which he thought would also be helpful to me.

He said, “Remember, love people and solve problems.”

As the words escaped his mouth, he let them hang there for a minute. I’m sure that the look on my face hinted at the activity in my brain at that moment. I was trying to wrap my head around just what that meant.

When he had seen that I had struggled long enough to decipher his saying, he launched into his own experience of embodying those words. He said that he had at one time tried to solve people and love problems. But he realized that was fruitless and just led to frustration.

You see, ministry in general can be frustrating. Heck, any occupation that deals with people can be frustrating, so who am I kidding. If you deal with people, you will find yourself at times angry, frustrated, and wanting to give up. You will see them as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved. The achievers among us will want to fix them, to solve them, to help them reach their full potential and forget all about one of Jesus’ greatest commands: to love them.

I can be very task oriented. I can easily see a problem and move to fix it rather than trying to understand why it’s there. In my effort to move to solution, I forget that there is flesh and blood before me, someone to be loved and not fixed.

This friend and mentor knows me well enough by now to know that this same lesson that had proved some monumental and crucial to him was also something I needed to hear and embrace.

You see, focusing on loving someone and solving the problem pits me against the problem rather than the person. When we see the problem, even if that means there is conflict between us, we join together to do our best to find out how we solve the problem together. If we look at each other rather than the problem, all we will see is each other as the problem and then try to fix each other to accommodate our own preference or mindset.

It’s too easy to get caught up in looking past people to solutions and completely forgetting how valuable and important those people are. Loving people takes time and compassion. It takes empathy and care. Loving them and solving problems means investment. If we fail to love people and solve problems, then when we fail to solve a person, we simply discard them or walk away, excusing this abandonment as necessary because of the lack of growth and movement we saw.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that somewhere along the way, someone loved us rather than trying to solve us. They took the time and invested in us, seeking a solution to a very real problem but seeking that solution through us rather than in us.

There is only one person who can solve and fix people, and that is God. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. The more that we try to do it, the more frustrated we will find ourselves becoming.

What will happen if you go into your day seeking to love people and solve problems. I know that in just the few short days since this truth was hammered home to me it has made a significant impact in me. It’s hard to rush towards solutions when you are simply trying to love someone.