Our Picks: Reasons for Thankfulness in 2020

Have you felt like this has been a year for the record books…and not in a good way? Have you found yourself wishing that 2020 would just be done? Have you been frustrated or discouraged for far too much of this year?

We get it, 2020 has been a difficult year in many ways. But if we think honestly about this year, there are also many things for which we can and should be thankful. This week we want to share with you reasons we are thankful for this year and ways we have seen God show up. Our hope and prayer is that you find this to be encouraging and uplifting, and that it helps you to think through the ways you have seen God at work in your life during this season.

Ministry is still occurring.

Even though this year has brought challenges and differences, ministry is still happening. Yes, it looks very different in some ways, but ministry is still happening. We are still able to fulfill the calling that God has placed on our lives, and in many ways we have been stretched and grown during this season as we continue to pursue that calling. Ministry hasn’t died, but instead is growing and shifting in how it is done for the better.

Students and families are hungry for what you offer.

Students and families desire community and the truth of God’s Word. And during this season we have seen that so clearly. Students want to be encouraged and challenged, families desire a place for their students to grow, and students want to be with people who love and care about them. This is an opportunity for us to rethink how we are getting the truth of the Gospel to our students and how we are looking to engage in community with them. This hasn’t stopped because it’s 2020, rather we have the privilege to rethink and reshape how we do this for our people.

More time at home with families.

I’ll be honest: in the beginning this was awesome. Working from home, just changing from lounging sweatpants to work sweatpants, having unlimited amounts of coffee, lunch dates every day with Elise. But as time moved forward, I realized I began to get frustrated because home and work were no longer separate. I no longer had a place to retreat to after a long day because I stayed in the same spot…well I moved from the dinning room table to the couch, but still. Eventually I took a step back (in thanks to meeting with our counselor) and realized that working from home is a huge blessing and setting boundaries is key. I set work times, I put my phone on do not disturb after hours, and created the space I needed. This then allowed for me to be more focused on time spent with Elise, to be all in. I got to spend my days with the person I am closest to and to truly do all of life together. This allowed for us to take advantage of the time we had together and to leverage it for the good of everyone involved.

God is still at work.

This is something I need to remind myself of weekly, and sometimes daily. It is so easy to be discouraged in 2020 and to find yourself feeling down, overwhelmed, and questioning if what you are doing is working. While connecting with leaders, parents, and students it has been easy to ask “what has been difficult” and “how can we serve you?” But it has also been encouraging to ask “how have you seen God working” and “what is going well?” Asking these questions has helped us to see God is doing amazing things and that just because how we do ministry has changed doesn’t mean that God has stopped working. It can be easy to just see the hard things, but it is also important to remind ourselves that God is working, even during those hard moments.

We have been forced to assess what is needed and working.

I know this isn’t necessarily the way we wanted to go about this, but if we were to look at 2020, many of us would admit we have taken a hard look at what we have done in the past and changed it. And in many ways we have been forced to change it for the better. This year has given us insight into how ministry should look and perhaps has encouraged us to change what we have been doing. I have found that the big programs and weekly gatherings aren’t the capstone to ministry, but rather small groups and discipleship. We moved from a large gathering to small group meetings and it has strengthened our program so much that we will continue in a similar model moving forward. This is something we would not have considered if not for 2020, and now we are reaping the rewards from it.

As we think through this past year it is easy to just pull back and say “2020 is a wash and I can’t wait for 2021.” I get it, we’ve been there. But if we do that, we ignore the power and work of Christ in our lives and in the world. We want to encourage you to take some time to step back and think through reasons you are thankful for what happened in 2020. What were moments that should be celebrated? What did God do in your life this year? What were ministry wins in this season? How has God stretched and challenged you? How has God provided and blessed you and your family? What were moments that made you smile?

These questions allow for us to step back from all the craziness and discouragement this year has brought, and instead allow us to shift our focus to what God has done in and through us. Yes, 2020 is one for the books, but it is also one where God has continued to move and do great things. Let us remind ourselves of what He has done and thank Him for the continued blessings He gives to us.

Ways to Decompress & Rest

Feeling tired from the past nine months? Are the pressures of doing ministry becoming overwhelming? Has your home become more work place than refuge? For many of us in ministry, the reality of doing kingdom work in the middle of a pandemic has been taxing and overwhelming. The constant push-back, disappointment, discouragement, and cancellation of events and trips has been difficult to say the least.

These things compounded by our own emotions, personal struggles, and realities we are facing can be felt deep within our souls. The more I have reflected on this time in our lives the more I am convinced that we as ministers of the Gospel must be decompressing and modeling healthy rhythms for those we serve. But the great question before us is, how? How do we do this well? How do we do this when time is at a minimum? How do we do this when our sacred spaces have all but been removed?

Today, I want to share with you some ways to decompress and some tips for building healthy boundaries to protect your own spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Healthy ways to Decompress

  • Take a Sabbath. I wrote on this about a month ago, but the more I think about it and study Sabbath rest, the more I realize ministry leaders are not good at this. Let me encourage you to build this into your rhythms and find time to incorporate the Sabbath into your life.
  • Find a counselor. I could not be a bigger advocate for counseling. This is something that I firmly believe everyone in ministry should be doing. Having someone you can talk to who can help you think through difficult circumstances, help you see through the fog, and allow for you to have a place to freely express how you are feeling and where you are at is not only healthy, it is life giving as well.
  • Turn off your phone. This is a big one for me that I have talked about before. But so often our phones are tools that actually bring about more anxiety, worry, and doubt. Our phone buzzes with an email or text, and our hearts jump a bit. We see a message from a parent and we instantly wonder if everything is okay or if we messed up. While phones are great resources, they are also a direct avenue to our hearts and cause problematic emotions and thoughts to creep in. So consider turning your phone off or putting it on “do not disturb” on your days off. If this is something you believe you cannot do, then consider sharing that you will be doing this with your superiors, volunteers, and students so they know your rhythm. Or consider turning it off for a portion of your day off so you can focus on what’s important.
  • Find a new hobby that can be completed. This is something I have found helpful among ministry leaders. Our jobs are never done. Unlike many other careers where there is a metric to tell you when you have completed your goal or target, we don’t necessarily have that. What that means is we are constantly working to accomplish a task that is never fully accomplished. And that can be exceptionally frustrating. So consider taking up a hobby like lawn care, reading non-ministry related books, creating something, cooking, visiting all the new restaurants in your area, or trying to find all the ice cream places in your state and try them. Yes, some of these are crazy but who doesn’t like ice cream? But the point behind them is they all have a completion point. Doing something new that has an end goal will help you feel at piece completing something.
  • Write things down. This is huge, and I will be honest, I am not great at this. I don’t do well with journaling or putting my feelings to paper. But Elise is. She has journaled for as long as I have known her, and has done it for most of her life. Being able to write down how you feel, the tensions that are in your life, the victories, the low points, and just to put your thoughts to paper will help you to process and think through what is happening. It also gives you a resource to look back on and reflect on how God has answered your prayers throughout your life.
  • Pray. I am not throwing this in because we are Christians but because this is true. And I think often times we can be just as guilty as others when it comes to forgetting to go to God. We tend to do this in difficult times, but we must remember that we need to be praying constantly to build spiritual protection, awareness, and depth in our lives to help us weather the difficult moments. So let me encourage you to build healthy prayer rhythms into your life to help you decompress and process what is happening. Carve out time each day or throughout the day to take your requests, praises, and deepest longings of the heart to God.

Tips for Setting Boundaries

  • Be honest. Often times as leaders in ministry we aren’t honest with ourselves or our superiors about how we are doing. In order to actually be able to rest and decompress we need to be honest with ourselves that we need it. And we must bring in others to avoid getting to the place of exhaustion and burnout.
  • Take a spiritual checkup. This is so important for us as leaders. How is your spiritual walk with Jesus doing? And I am not asking if you are reading your Bible and going to church. I am asking if you are feeling nourished and refreshed by God’s Word and by His Spirit. Do you still find joy in your walk with Jesus? Is it something that is feeding your soul? These types of questions will help us to see where we are at in our relationship with Jesus and how we answer will be reflected into our physical lives as well (i.e., no time with Jesus leads to frustration and exhaustion, time with Jesus helps to remove the stress and weariness).
  • Bring in your spouse or close friends. Our spouses are wonderful people. Without them we wouldn’t know what to do. And our spouses know when we aren’t doing okay. But for some reason, we try to shield them from how we are doing and in doing so, alienate them and cause them to worry. Our spouses love us and we are a team. So be honest with them. Let them walk with you. Allow for them to be a sounding board of wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. If you are unmarried, find a close friend or group of friends you trust who will walk with you and you can bring in. Don’t try to go through this journey alone.
  • Ask for help. It is okay to admit when you need help. If you are feeling overwhelmed or like there is too much to accomplish, bring others in. Ask your volunteers to help with things. Consider bringing in some of your students to help run different aspects of your program or to organize that one closet that is always a mess. Go to your supervisor and be honest with them that you need help. Allow for others to step in and help you when it is needed.

The Elimination of Worry

Have you ever caught yourself fearing that an imagined worst-case scenario would become a reality? Has your mind wandered down a dark rabbit hole spurred on by one worry after another only to leave you feeling panicked and anxious? Maybe this doesn’t happen often, only once in a while, or perhaps this is a daily occurrence for you. Whatever the case, what do you do when you’re gripped in the throes of fear and worry?

I’ve had a front-row seat to the effects of rampant fear and worry in the lives of others. I’ve watched as it has dictated daily choices, job decisions, mental processes, and life perspectives. And I’ve had to choose to wage war against it myself because in seeing it lived out through others, I have seen its ability to control and consume. But even in seeing that, and choosing to battle it, I find worry still trying to creep into my heart and mind.

When I find myself beginning to fear, I’ve noticed that whatever I worry about becomes my singular focus. I can’t stop obsessing over it, trying to solve the problem on my own strength, or pleading with God to do what I think will help most. It’s a sad attempt to involve Him only as far as I think He would be helpful. But ultimately, the worry and fear are still ruling my heart and mind.

So what can I do, what can we do, to fight to ruthlessly eliminate worry, and why does it matter? I recently spent some time studying Matthew 6, specifically verses 19-34. I was struck with some new concepts and ideas surrounding worry, and I would like to share them with you.

Ask, who is on the throne?

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus talks about earthly treasure versus heavenly treasure, and that what we treasure most will command our hearts. Then in verse 24 He tells us that we cannot serve the two masters of God and money, we can only love one. These verses come before Jesus addresses worry in verses 25-34. So what’s the connection between money, treasures, and worry?

If our true love is an earthly treasure, won’t that command our lives? Won’t we obsess over the money, the job, the house, the power, whatever it may be? And won’t maintaining, possessing, or increasing that treasure become our sole focus? We might try to lie to ourselves, but I think ultimately we’ll keep coming back to whatever it is that our hearts desire most. Whatever that is will command the throne of our lives.

My study connected 1 Peter 5:6-7 to the anxieties we experience and I was struck by its simple, yet profound truth. It says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.” Friends, the antidote to worry is to surrender to God His rightful place in our lives. If we choose to put Him on the throne of our hearts, before all the things we fear or desire, we can rest in the peaceful knowledge that He is not indifferent. He cares for us. The God who feeds the sparrow and clothes the lily in glorious array, “won’t He do much more for you”? (Matthew 6:30)

Memorize Scripture.

I think if we’re honest, the reality is that behind every fear and worry is a lie we have chosen to believe: I cannot trust God. That may sound extreme, but think about it. If you fear the loss of something, do you not believe that God will provide? If you feel like you have to solve a problem on your own, do you not trust that He has already solved it? If you fear what people will say about you or do to you, do you not believe that God has more control over your eternal soul than they? If you crave power and control, do you not know that you are subject to the power of an Almighty God?

If we examine our hearts, fear and worry have serious ramifications for how we view and relate to God. They can lead us away from submitting, trusting, and resting in Him. So what can we do? I think we begin by identifying the lies that we have allowed ourselves to believe. This may involve painful and ruthless honesty, but it is well worth it to weed out the lies that have crept into our hearts. After rooting them out, it is imperative to replace them with truth from the Lord. Identify a verse or verses that speak directly to the lies, worries, and fears you carry. Commit that verse or verses to memory, and recall them whenever you feel the temptation to worry tugging at you.

“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Create a mental picture.

Along with memorizing Scripture, you may find it helpful to use visualization to draw your attention away from worry and toward the truth about God. For example, when I feel tempted to worry about something in life, I want to close my eyes and picture Christ seated above all the things I want or fear. This visualization reminds me that Christ rules in my life, and He is more important to me than anything else. Another image I have used when I feel anxious at night and cannot sleep is to imagine God’s hand in place of my bed. I can lay down in His palm and know that I am held safe. This picture gives me a sense of peace and helps me release any worry or fear I may be holding onto. Mental pictures can help us take the focus off our worries and place it where it belongs.

Make a list.

If you find yourself struggling to trust that God is active in your life, or that He will provide, I encourage you to make a list. Write down all the times you have witnessed something you know only God could have done. Write down instances where God has answered a prayer, provided for a need, encouraged you, or helped you to grow. Continue adding to your list over time and you will craft modern-day remembrance stones (Joshua 4) that you can use to not only encourage yourself, but others when they are struggling. Any time you feel a tug toward worry or doubt, get out your list and read to help yourself remember all the ways you have seen God working in your life.

For many of us, the fight against worry will be a lifelong battle. It is not easily conquered or dispelled in a day. But with consistent perseverance, God will help us to overcome it. And the fight will be well worth it as we place our hope and treasure in the one true King.

How to Pursue Healthy Communication

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in our church’s main services on the topic of “sharing our story,” which was focused on how we can communicate the Gospel story in healthy and proactive ways. So often our communication styles are not helpful because we allow for a “me-centric” approach to conversations, and I was able to share how I believe Jesus desires us to have healthy conversations both within and outside of the church.

As ministry leaders, we must model healthy communication at all levels in order to help facilitate the discipleship process. Today, I want to share with you some ways we can engage in healthy conversations from an interaction between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. These tips are not all-inclusive, but are simply a starting point for how we can begin to navigate the conversations and interactions we have with one another.

Be someone who is willing to have conversations.

As ministry leaders we must be willing to engage in conversations, whether they are with people with whom we disagree, or people who share similar views. We must be willing to engage with people where they are at in a loving, Christ-centered way. Maintaining an open door policy in regard to conversations, questions, and direction will set the precedent that you are someone who is willing to walk with others.

Ask good questions.

Part of healthy communication is the ability to both ask and respond to questions in a proactive manner. Questions are a sign that someone is seeking knowledge, clarity, and understanding in regard to the topic at hand. Questions should not be feared, but welcomed, and the manner in which we respond to them will continue to establish rapport and trust with others.

In a conversation it is also beneficial for you to ask clarifying questions as you seek to provide wisdom and insight. Rather than simply providing answers, seek to understand before you respond. Asking good questions can help you uncover the heart behind the questions you are being asked, which will then allow for you to better minister to and care for your people. Asking questions will also help you avoid assumptions, which can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and ultimately a breakdown in communication.

Use encouraging language.

Throughout Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus challenges him to think critically about his questions. Jesus doesn’t respond harshly or negatively toward Nicodemus, even though the answers to his questions may seem obvious to us. As we engage in conversations with others, we must be mindful of the language that we use. Negative language will push people away and give them a sour taste, not only toward the church, but also toward the Gospel. This is not to say that we do not speak truth, nor engage in difficult conversations. However, the manner and conduct with which we approach these conversations can allow for a healthier, fuller, and more honest dialogue to unfold.

Practice active listening.

We are a society and a church that as a whole struggles to listen well to others. Often we say that we listen, but the manner in which we do is passive listening. Passive listening entails looking for flaws in the person’s conversation or argument, listening to win, and finishing sentences before a thought is completed. This type of listening is neither productive or proactive. This type of listening is harmful and will not establish trust or continued opportunities to dialogue, as people do not feel heard and instead feel devalued in the moment.

What we need pursue as ministry leaders is active listening. Active listening entails paying attention to the other person’s statement(s) and asking clarifying questions in order to deduce the heart issue. The clarifying questions will allow for you to gain a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as value the other person as you engage with their thought process and value their input. Active listening involves hearing the other person with a goal to understand them, before being understood.

Establish relational equity and trust.

It is important even prior to a conversation to be a person that others know they can trust because they have seen you model a trustworthy life. People should know they can trust you because you are not prone to gossiping or talking poorly about others, and they know that when they come to you they can expect the same treatment. This also involves following up with individuals, not in a nosy way, but in a way that demonstrates you care and value them enough to continue walking with them. This allows you to set the precedent that it is not a singular conversation, but a relationship that you value and respect.

Share your story.

It is important in healthy conversations to be transparent and vulnerable as you dialog. This requires tact and timing because we should not simply rush to share our story and in so doing, not allow others to share theirs. We should always defer to the other person and allow for them to share their story as they have come to us as a ministry leader. When it is appropriate, we can share our story of how God has worked in our life, or share other personal examples, to help others grow. It is important to remember the person came to you seeking clarity and understanding, not necessarily personal anecdotes, so be mindful of how much you share, and how long you share. You never want to dominate the conversation, but look instead to utilize your story to showcase the Gospel and its power.

The Importance of Sabbath

This past week I was asked a question that I’ve been asked often during this season: how are you really doing? As I was preparing to answer with my usual, “I am just taking it one day at a time” response, I was hit with just how spent I had been feeling. I was busier than ever and with more and more being placed on my plate, I was just feeling overwhelmed.

Later on, I began to process the reasons why I was feeling this way. Sure, I have been putting in more hours. Yes, ministry looks different and I am doing things I never expected to make sure it’s a success. Of course I am pouring out more than I ever have to care for the people I shepherd. And there will always be difficult moments and conversations that leave you feeling inadequate and deflated. But was that it? Were these the reasons I was feeling so tired, overwhelmed, and weary?

This past Wednesday I found myself listening to a podcast by my friend Walt Mueller from CPYU. It was podcast about Sabbath with his guest A.J. Swoboda. The conversation hit my heart in a way it hadn’t before. Of course, as a ministry worker I am familiar with the concept of a Sabbath and have worked to make one of my days off a Sabbath each week. But hearing them share about how during this pandemic ministry personnel are not adhering to this commandment from God just broke me.

Walt shared a comment from A.J.’s book on how the Sabbath is the only commandment ministry leaders are encouraged to break, when breaking any of the others are grounds for being fully dismissed from ministry. I realized that during this season I haven’t been resting well. I haven’t honored this commandment.

Instead, I have poured out everything to make ministry work during this season. I’ve put in more hours than I care to admit. My phone is always on. Email is going constantly. I have been available all the time without fail. While these all sound good to an extent, without the constant filling from a Sabbath, we will inevitably find ourselves drained and weary.

I want to encourage you to rest and to incorporate a Sabbath into your regular rhythm. Turn off your phone or put it on “do not disturb.” Do not do ministry work on your Sabbath. Bring your spouse and family into this with you. Let your co-workers and ministry leaders know what you are doing and lead out as you encourage them to do likewise. We are called to honor God not just through our work ethics and hours, but also through how we honor the Sabbath and apply it to our lives.

My prayer is that this post doesn’t add guilt, but challenges us all to apply the Sabbath to our lives and to allow the deepness and richness of it to overwhelm us in positive ways. I want to encourage you to listen to CPYU’s podcast and to allow God’s truth to speak to your heart.

How do you apply the Sabbath to your life? What does your Sabbath look like?

How to Remain Strong in Difficult Times

If you are like me, the past six months or so have been difficult to say the least. You are probably feeling tired, overworked, frustrated, stymied, caught in the middle, confused, and isolated. And that may just be the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps you are feeling worn out, exhausted, burnt out, or maybe you are considering stepping away from ministry.

I get it. The last few months have at times threatened to overwhelm me. Even just normal “work stuff” has become more complex and layered due to the realities of living life and doing ministry during a pandemic. And if we allow for this to go unchecked in our lives, we will find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Today, I just want to encourage you. To let you know you are not alone. To tell you that we are praying for you. But I also want to give you a few tips on how to remain strong during this present season.

Start an encouragement file.

This was something a mentor of mine encouraged me to start. Ministry is hard and can be very lonely. And during those hard moments, the Enemy loves to play with our minds and hearts and convince us that we have failed and are worthless. So instead of letting the critical comments, anonymous letters, or hurtful emails dictate who you are and how you view yourself, start a file of the good things that have happened. Print out and save the encouraging and affirming emails, the letters and notes from your students, the Christmas cards from families, the pictures from trips and baptisms, and write down and store the memories that encourage you. Then during the hard times, pull them out, read them, and remember the good things God is doing in and through you. I love that Paul actually gives us a little glimpse of this in his epistles. In Philippians 1, Paul talks about the good things that fellow believers have done and reflects on how that encourages him even while he is in prison. We too can find joy and encouragement during hardship.

Take a break and be still.

You may read that and scoff, “yeah right…a break…right now?” Yes, a break right now. Whether it is an entire day, a thirty minute break from everything going on, a run, a workout, or a weekend getaway, take a break. Turn off your phone or at least your social media. Leverage the time to fill your tank and refresh your mind, body, and soul. Disconnect, fill up, and refresh even if just for a few moments. Allow yourself to breathe and rest because it is necessary, and more than it being necessary, being still and resting is a command from God. If we are not resting in Him and slowing down, we will burn out. So find time to rest and be still.

Bring others in.

Elise and I have talked often about the necessity for counseling, and this is especially important in the lives of ministry leaders. We need safe people to go to as much as anyone else. It may not be a trained counselor but it may be a trusted friend and confidante. Having someone you can go to and share about your struggles and frustrations is freeing and healing. But I would also encourage you to go to someone who not only hears you, but also offers counsel and practical advice. Go to someone you trust who is wise and understands, and will seek to guide and walk with you during these moments. Simply having someone to talk to will bring about peace and encouragement in your life.

Remember your calling.

God didn’t call you because you are perfect. He didn’t call you because you know everything. He called you because you are the right person for exactly where He has placed you. He knows your shortcomings but also knows your strengths. He knows your heart and passion because He gave it to you. He knows that the negativity has caused you to question if you are good enough. And through His Son, you are. Remember that God has called you to do good works that He prepared beforehand. You are called, chosen, and set apart for the kingdom of heaven. God has given you all that you need to lead others. Do not allow for this season to make you question your calling but instead to see it as an affirmation of it. If you felt fine, and if this life were easy, you wouldn’t be where God needs you. But the fact that life is hard, that your soul weeps for your people, that you are seeking wisdom and direction, are clear indications that the Spirit of God is at work in your heart because you seeing this world as He does.

Start a new hobby or activity.

This may seem odd to suggest adding one more thing to your calendar, but hear me out on this one. In ministry the work seems to never be completed. You can find yourself frustrated and overworked because the work is never done. One of the things I have found helpful is doing something that I can complete. I love cooking and cleaning, which sounds odd, I know. But when I look at it from an outside perspective I realize I enjoy it because not only can I complete something but it brings joy to others. I also found I enjoy candle making for the same reasons: I can see a project completed and watch it bless others. So let me encourage you to start something new and run with it. Maybe it is starting a workout program, maybe it’s going for walks, maybe it is actually taking a Sabbath, or starting a new book that is not related to ministry. Starting a new hobby or activity will not only be refreshing but it will also bring joy and health into your life.

Lastly, I simply want to share with you the words of Jesus to His disciples. Words that He shared to them when they felt like their world was caving in and they didn’t know what to do from John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Always remember that you matter and have value, and that Christ will sustain you. The King of Heaven and Earth has overcome everything, and gives that power to you through Him. My fellow laborers, take heart. This time will pass, refreshment and joy will return, and you will see the fruits of your labors. Be encouraged, my friends, for Christ has overcome this world.

Encouragement for this Season

For so many of us, life during the pandemic has been a struggle we could never have imagined. And trying to do ministry in the midst of it may have left you feeling more discouraged than ever before. Wherever you are in this season of life, we want to offer some encouragement, with the hope of lifting each other up so that we can continue to fight the good fight.

It’s okay to struggle.

I think sometimes we can convince ourselves that if we’re struggling, we’re not doing something right. We can subconsciously believe that things related to our faith should come easy, should feel a certain way. We can believe that struggle is a sign of weakness, and as leaders in the church, shouldn’t we be the strong ones who do not struggle? I think the devil likes when we are here, when we think we’re alone and no one else will understand, when we think we must project an image of strength. But the Bible says something different.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

If struggle, or weakness, means Christ will be all the more glorified through us, then it is not something to be reviled. If it humbles us to see that we can only serve by God’s grace and power, then it rids us of unhealthy expectations and feelings of pride. Our natural tendency is to resist things that are unpleasant or difficult, but instead we should challenge ourselves to look for God in those places. Ask Him what He is doing, what He wants to teach us, and what He wants to accomplish. This will give meaning and purpose to the painful places in life, and quite possibly help us to see that there is a point to the struggle.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

You are needed.

Ministry jobs can be extremely thankless. In fact, they can be some of the most painful jobs because everyone is a critic and their criticism can be easily directed at you. If your personality type takes critical comments to heart, it can be difficult not to get bogged down in the mess. You might begin to question yourself, your abilities, even your calling. But the truth is, God’s “gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29), and He has given you your unique gifting for a purpose.

But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills. For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. … But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.

1 Corinthians 12:11-14, 18

The truth is that you are needed within the local and global church. You have a unique calling, a gift ordained by God for you to use in service to Him. Because of this, you have a special part to play in His kingdom work, regardless of what anyone else says. You may not hear it often enough, so let me say it: Thank you for what you do. You are important, valuable, and necessary to the body of Christ.

Don’t give up.

Some of the most painful moments in ministry have been the ones where I’ve watched people walk away. Not just from me, or from the church (though those hurt immensely), but from Jesus Christ. To have someone you once looked up to, or counted as a co-laborer, give up on their faith and walk away is jarring, discouraging, and can leave you asking a million questions. We could get into a conversation about whether their faith was genuine to begin with, but in the end only God knows. The important thing for us as ministry leaders is to carry out the work we have been given, to fulfill our calling, and to fight with all the power of heaven to never give up.

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

Ephesians 6:10-17

There may be seasons of life where you have to take a break from doing full-time ministry. You may need a season of healing, time to recuperate and allow God to heal the broken places. Those are good, necessary things. But I want to encourage you, especially in the moments of pain, do not allow your heart to be pulled away from God. Let Him be the source of life, light, and restoration. Find others who love Jesus and can walk with you, helping you to remain rooted and focused on Him. When human relationships fail you, because undoubtedly they will, remember that the ultimate fight is not against humanity, but against the darkness.

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell. Though an army deploys against me, my heart is not afraid; though a war breaks out against me, still I am confident.

Psalm 27:1-3

In these difficult times, we want you to know that you are not alone. Part of the reason we started Kalos was to create a safe place where we could help nourish and build up the student ministry community. We want to encourage and support you, and for all of us to be able to support each other. If you would like prayer for a general or specific need, please contact us. If there is a topic you would like us to cover in a future blog post, please let us know. We are in this together for God’s kingdom and eternal glory.

5 Tips for Navigating Current Conversations

Our current cultural climate has sparked many a heated conversation. If you utilize social media, no doubt you’ve at least witnessed, if not engaged in, an online debate that at one point or another turned ugly.

As representatives of the Gospel to our students and the world, we must frequently ask ourselves: How can I reflect Christ Jesus in all of my interactions?

In this week’s blog post, we want to offer encouragement and some simple suggestions for navigating conversations in a healthy, God-honoring way. Rather than simply disengaging, we want to interact in ways that will show people the heart that Jesus has for the world.

1. Seek to reflect Jesus Christ.

This may be the most simple and obvious suggestion, but it is no doubt the most difficult. It involves challenging ourselves to operate beyond our natural tendencies, personal opinions, and cultural assumptions.

The best way to reflect Jesus is to know Him, so starting each day in the Word and prayer will help to orient your thoughts and attitudes toward Him. Before engaging in conversations, ask God to give you words to say that will bring Him glory, and ask Him to help you treat each person like an image bearer. This simple step can help rein in a heated response or gut reaction and cause us to refocus on what truly matters.

May we remember that the advancement of the Gospel is more important than anything else we may hold dear.

2. Avoid making it political.

Issues within our culture are often assigned a political bent, and based on where we fall politically, we will see these issues differently. But before an issue is a platform, it is something that affects human lives and hearts. As a representative of the Gospel, may we challenge ourselves to care more about other people than about our political leanings.

Instead of looking for ways to spark (or win) a debate or argue a political point, seek to emulate God’s heart for people. Demonstrate His presence, His care, and His ultimate solution for all humanity’s problems–salvation through Jesus Christ.

May we win more hearts to Him than political debates.

3. Meet people where they are.

For the daily issues we encounter, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. People will experience and deal with problems differently. Rather than assigning the same cookie-cutter solution, or writing off someone’s struggles, seek to meet people where they are and help them in that place.

This is especially important when interacting with your students. It can be easy to lump students all together, and therefore think that they should all feel the same way and deal with their issues similarly. However, things like personal experience, home life, and mental health, will cause students to view the world and their problems very differently.

This is why it is extremely important to invest time into understanding others before we seek to help them or offer solutions. Some ways to do this are outlined in the following points.

4. Ask questions, and don’t assume you know the answer.

The only way to get to know someone is to learn about them, and the best way to uncover their needs, hurts, and life experience is to ask questions. Don’t assume anyone has had the same life experiences you’ve had, and don’t assume they respond to problems the same way. We are each complex individuals, and even though we may have similar life experiences or beliefs, we are all different.

In fact, to make assumptions is to cheat yourself out of knowing someone else, and to rob them of the opportunity of being known. Assumptions cheapen relationships, and cause us to miss out on the gift of knowing each other. Even if you think you know the answer, ask. Allow others to open up, to share about themselves, and to get to know you, too.

May we seek to know each other, rather than assign labels and assumptions.

5. Listen to understand before responding.

Many of us have experienced this type of conversation: no matter how many times you try to explain something, the person you’re talking to is more concerned with their response than what you are actually saying. This leaves you feeling frustrated, unheard, and ready to give up on the other person. And unfortunately, these types of interactions frequently happen in a church context.

Let us do whatever we must not to become the person who responds without listening. You may have the Sunday School answer, but to do this is to ignore the person and focus on making a point, which is ultimately dehumanizing. Instead, challenge yourself to pay attention to others, to think about what they are saying as they are saying it, and to ask clarifying follow-up questions. Active listening demonstrates your care and regard for others, and shows that they are more important to you than simply winning a debate. It can also show that you hold them as more important than yourself.

Seeking to understand others is a way of building bridges between us, rather than walls. Bridges are a way to connect not only with each other, but to introduce others to the God whom we serve. May that be our ultimate goal in these days and the days to come.

Ministering to Students Experiencing Depression

Depression can be defined as feelings of dejection and hopelessness that typically last for more than two weeks. A study released in 2019 showed that the rates of teen suicide and depression drastically increased from 2007 to 2017. According to a nationwide poll by the University of Michigan, one third of parents believe that they have at least one child who suffers from depression.

When we think about the implications that this has on our students and families, it should give us pause to step back and assess how our students are doing.

It is clear that depression is a major issue in our communities as doctors are seeing a rise in cases of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts that are at epidemic proportions. Our students are hurting, and we need to know how to love and care for them during this volatile time. So how do we do this well?

Be a safe person.

Students want to have people in their lives they can trust and go to in difficult times. It is helpful to think about how we reflect this value to our students and show them that they can come to us without judgement or criticism.

When we love our students well and show them that we are there for them, they will be more prone to share what is truly going on. This will then allow for us to administer direct and appropriate care quicker because we know the true issue. Create intentional conversations during everyday activities, and take an interest in your students’ lives as you engage with them. This will show them that you are on their side and truly care about them and what they are dealing with.

Be real.

Students want people in their lives who are authentic and transparent with them. When it comes to shepherding our students, we need to empathize and sympathize with them and let them know it is okay to not be okay. It is okay if they feel hurt or are depressed, but it isn’t okay to stay there and let it grow and fester.

Be honest with your students and let them know that you understand. Don’t look to judge or criticize, but listen and seek to understand. Tell them that they are loved and valued, and that you will walk with them through this. Make sure that your actions mirror your words because students are looking for authenticity and relationships.

Know the signs.

It is important to know what we are dealing with, but how do we identify depression? There are numerous resources online about the symptoms of depression but some key identifiers include the following:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Withdrawing from friendships
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of energy or drive
  • Poor performance in school
  • No longer finding pleasure in things they once enjoyed

No one symptom immediately denotes depression, but if the symptoms are prolonged (present for more than two weeks) and noticeable, it may be time to dig in and ask your student how they are really doing.

Seek to understand.

As you talk to your students, listen for key phrases and watch for reactions and emotional responses. A great way to understand your students would be to think through asking questions like these:

  • What feelings are you experiencing?
  • When do find yourself feeling that way?
  • When did you first start feeling this way?
  • When do these feelings seem strongest?
  • How are your friendships going?
  • Has there been a big change in your life recently?
  • Have you lost anything (i.e. friendships, a family death, a pet, grades, etc.)?
  • How often are you on social media?
  • Are you being bullied or picked on? When does this tend to happen?

These questions will allow you to better understand what is happening. They are not the culminating factor to your conversation, but instead allow you to invest, assess, and better respond to your students and their struggles.

Utilize Scripture.

We cannot minimize the power of Scripture when it comes to our daily lives. I am not advocating that we simply tell our struggling students to read their Bible and pray more, but I would always encourage that we use Scripture as our basis for truth and growth. Some great Bible passages about depression and working through it include: Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 30:5, 11-12, Psalm 46:1, Hebrews 4:15-16, 1 Kings 19:4-6, and Psalm 42:5.

Take advantage of resources.

There are resources at your disposal to help in cases of depression or in trying to identify if depression truly is affecting your students. The first is talk to people in their lives like teachers, small group leaders, and parents. They may be able to provide additional information or resources to you.

You should also know trusted counselors in your community. Begin reaching out to various counselors and counseling offices before the need exists, which will allow you to be better prepared and equipped when needed. In building these relationships, you will find others who share your values and/or beliefs and can be sources of professional help for your students.

Make sure to build your own resources and knowledge as well. Utilize online resources, books, medical journals, and ministry tools to help you have a more comprehensive understanding of depression. In doing this you are not only increasing your knowledge but also equipping yourself to be a better care giver for you students.

It is also important to encourage utilizing modern medicine. It is never a bad thing to seek out help and treatment, and for some cases, this is highly encouraged. They are able to diagnose different causes and symptoms we may not see or know about, and can therefore better treat them and help our students live better.

Depression is hard. It is a difficult road for anyone struggling with it, but we have the privilege of standing in the gap for our students. We get to love them, care for them, and point them to Jesus in all things. My prayer is that these thoughts help you to better step into your student’s life and walk with them through the difficult moments.

What resources have you used to help your students who are battling depression?

The Spiritual Upward Spiral

I want to talk to you about a way I think about growth in Jesus; at least, about how spiritual growth has taken place in my life. In describing this, I will use the picture of a spiral.

Picture in your mind a spiral staircase. Imagine that you are above it, looking straight down on it, like you are looking at a blueprint of a building’s floorplan. The staircase will like a wheel with spokes. The “spokes” are the steps, and the “rim” of the “wheel” is the handrail. It also looks like a clock face. The steps are like the hands of the clock and the they point to “12 o’clock,” “1 o’clock,” “2 o’clock,” “3 o’clock,” etc.

As you go up the stairs, you pass “12 o’clock” several times. The first time you pass it you are low on the stairs, the next time you are a little higher, and then you are higher yet as you pass it a final time.

This has been a helpful picture for me in understanding how God has grown me in Jesus. The different “o’clocks” I have encountered on the way up are key truths about God and His plan for my life. Things like: God loves me, God is faithful, I must trust Him, Jesus took all my sin, heaven is real, the Bible is God’s sure Word, etc. As God leads me along in spiritual growth, I find myself coming back to truths I have known for a long, long time. Truths in most cases which are quite simple. But now I am at a different place in my life, “higher up the spiral staircase;” that is, God has grown me since I first heard that He loved me and now I am learning about His love in even deeper and broader ways.

Let’s keep going with the truth that God loves me to illustrate further what I mean: God loves me. Well, who, having been raised in Sunday School from childhood, has not known this from earliest memory? One of the first verses we memorize as children is John 3:16, the beautiful revelation of God’s love for the world. And yet the depth of God’s love is something I need to learn about more and more as I walk with Jesus.

A globally known and respected theologian of the last century was asked later in life, “After all your study, what is the greatest truth you have learned?” His answer? “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Those, of course, are lyrics to a simple, well-known children’s Sunday School song.

The Apostle Paul talked about God’s love in this way: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV).

If that is the way it is with God’s love—so deep I need His power to grasp it, then I need to return to it often in my forward and upward progress in Jesus.

Here is my second example: God’s kind and repeated command, “Do not fear.” The fact that God repeats this so many times in the Bible (I have never counted, but someone has said that this word from the Lord is in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year) tells me I need to revisit it over and over and over again.

When I first encounter it, my life may be going very smoothly and so I easily, and perhaps glibly, agree, “I don’t need to fear anything!” But then, later at another point in life, I find myself in circumstances that are generating fear in a whole new way, in a deeper, disturbing way. Now I need to learn more from God about how He helps me with my fears.

This brings me to some past sermons. In one, we studied the well-known account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in John 13. Christ’s call upon His followers to serve is something we need to revisit over and over as we progress in Christ.

The sermon before that was from 2 Peter 1 where Peter says, essentially, I know you already know all this but you need, desperately need, reminding. Remember to add to your faith the seven key qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Remember.

One way this picture of a “spiritual spiral” helps me is by reminding me that there are not an infinite number of truths I need to know and master in order to mature in Jesus. It seems that there are a somewhat limited number of really basic truths which I need to learn. As I come around to those truths again, like on the ascending staircase, I learn them again in a deeper and fuller way, and then even more as I come around to them again.

God leads us to revisit fundamental truths about Him and His will for us. And, as we are at different places in our lives with each visit, we learn of Him in new ways. It is like an ascending spiral, the ascending spiral of spiritual growth. He is leading us upward and onward to our final destination—becoming mature Christians who are given a rich welcome into glory to live with Him forever!

Tom Loyola is a senior pastor at an Evangelical Free Church in Iowa. He and his wife Sue Ann have partnered together in pastoral ministry since 1984 and are the parents of two children. Tom received his Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys reading, running, oil painting, and a good movie.