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Volume 35 Number 3

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ALSO in this issue: 64-Dancing in the Rain Erwin McManus’s business failure led to new faith, new life, and new believers. Interview by Paul Pastor

18-Can Neuroscience Help Us Disciple Anyone?

69-Discerning Is Only the Beginning

Brain science and the renewal of your mind. John Ortberg

When God called our church to relocate, we thought that meant a smooth transition. Boy, were we wrong! T. David Beck

23-The Sanctified Brain Growing in Christ ... above the neck. Robert Crosby

27-Faith and the Brain An interview with Dr. Andrew Newberg.

30-Growing Grace for Mental Illness One pastor’s story mirrors a burgeoning response in the church. Amy Simpson

43-High Anxiety My struggle with anxiety and fear no longer defines me. David Trigueros

46-Communicating with the Brain in Mind How neuroscience helps us engage people in an age of distraction. Charles Stone

35-Not in Her Right Mind How one church responded to an unexpected encounter with mental illness. Marshall Shelley

38-My Near Life Experience How a brush with death taught me to live fearlessly. Peyton Jones

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COLUMNISTS 5 - Drew Dyck 92 - Nicole Unice 94 - Skye Jethani 96 - Mark Buchanan

DEPARTMENTS 11 - Parse 51 - Toolkit 92 - Commentary 98 - Cartoon Contest

73-The Good Missionary What one African orphan likes (and doesn’t) about shortterm missionaries. Samuel Ikua Gachagua and Claire Diaz-Ortiz

77-Raising Hope And how it fuels innovation, creativity, and vitality. Ray Johnston as told to Andrew Finch

82-Signs of Life What happened when Joel and Rachel Triska moved into the depressed neighborhood of Deep Ellum. Interview by Drew Dyck

87-Where is God on Monday? Equipping the church for faith at work. AJ Sherrill

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Study the Brain Without Losing Your Soul


mechanism for cooling the blood—that’s what the philosopher Aristotle believed the brain was. Others in the ancient world were even further off the mark. The Egyptians saw the heart as the seat of intelligence. The brain, they believed, was mere “cranial stuffing.” Well, we’re not in ancient Athens or Egypt anymore. The brain is still the least understood organ in the human body, but we know a lot more than our ancient counterparts. And we’re about to learn a lot more. Neuroscience is in its infancy (imaging devices like fMRIs are barely two decades old) but our knowledge of the brain is increasing exponentially. What Copernicus’s heliocentric model did for our understanding of the universe, neuroscience promises to do for our view of the self. And, some say, our experience of God. How should Christian leaders respond? Is this new knowledge of our most vital organ friend or foe? First, some cautions. Beware the hype. Hardly a day goes by without breathless proclamations of what the latest brain study means. You’ve seen the headlines. Scientists announce the discovery of a “God gene.” Spirituality is reduced to serotonin receptors in the brain. A neuroscientist invents a “God Helmet,” a machine allegedly capable of producing mystical experiences. But often these claims turn out to be overstated or flatly false. A recent article on stated that though “brain imaging is being used to explain law, politics, even theology. It’s often hooey.” The thrill of discovery has a way of spurring overstatement. Just because an area of the brain “lights up” when you pray, doesn’t mean religious experience has been explained away. And just because our brains are “hardwired” for belief, it doesn’t follow that God is an illusion. Complicating matters is the fact that many of those trumpeting the latest findings hold materialist worldviews. There is no spirit or soul, they believe. The brain and mind are one. Everything about us is reducible to the synaptic firings between our ears. Of course we must reject this crude reductionism and be careful to distinguish between what the science is actually saying and what agenda is being advanced in science’s name. So that’s one mistake: to take everything scientists are saying about the brain as gospel truth. But there’s an opposite and equally dangerous error: to ignore it. Neuroscience has shed light on mental illness, addictions, and habit formation. Do we really believe it has nothing to say about discipleship? Brain studies have yielded tremendous insights into how we listen and learn. Do they have nothing to say about preaching and teaching? I believe wise leaders use all the tools at their disposal to more effectively pursue their callings—and brain science is a powerful tool. At Leadership Journal, we believe it’s so powerful that we’ve dedicated an entire issue to educating readers on crucial takeaways from the burgeoning field. The theologian Karl Barth is quoted as saying preachers should prepare sermons holding a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Perhaps in our day we should be holding the Bible in one hand and the latest brain study in the other. Such knowledge might seem beyond the purview of Christian leaders. But as Augustine said, “All truth is God’s truth.” And as we discover more about the brain, we learn how to minister more effectively to those under our care. There’s another benefit, too. The human brain is perhaps God’s greatest creation. As we learn more and more about it, our awe of God will only grow.

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Perhaps in our day we should be holding the Bible in one hand and the latest brain study in the other.

Drew Dyck Managing Editor



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JOURNAL Publisher Editor in chief Executive editor Managing editor Associate editor Art director Marketing director Marketing coordinator Administrative editor Editorial resident Editors at large

Terumi Echols Marshall Shelley Skye Jethani Drew Dyck Paul Pastor Doug Fleener Cory Whitehead Nick Tanner Jonathan Sprowl Andrew Finch Gordon MacDonald John Ortberg Senior editor Amy Simpson

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We know you’ve got some great captions for this cartoon by Dennis Fletcher. Send them in for us to share next issue. Winning entries will be published in the October 2014 Leadership Journal. See page 98 in this issue. Send your captions (as many as you wish), along with your name, your church’s name, city, and state, to:

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Paul Atwater, Bruce Boria, Eric Bryant, Mark Buchanan, John Burke, Adele Calhoun, Mindy Caliguire, Katherine Callahan-Howell, Dan Chun, Clark Cothern, Lillian Daniel, Mark DeYmaz, Lee Eclov, Dave Ferguson, David Fitch, Robert Gelinas, Dave Gibbons, Alan Hirsch, Carolyn Custis James, Dan Kimball, Mark Labberton, Marlene LeFever, Stanley Long, Max Lucado, Mike Lueken, Dave McDowell, Keith Meyer, Rich Nathan, Brandon O’Brien, Larry Osborne, Benny Perez, Kara Powell, Wayne Schmidt, Robert Smith Jr., David Swanson, Tullian Tchividjian, Jim Tolle, Steve Tomlinson, Angie Ward, James Emery White

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According to a recent study, Americans may not be telling the truth about their church attendance. But the real point of interest here isn’t just that headline; it’s where the exaggeration of church attendance comes from in the first place. For context: gauging exaggeration in a poll is notoriously difficult—after all, your numbers are only as good as people’s honesty. So to see how much exaggeration was present in people’s reported church attendance, this study gathered data by using two platforms—a phone interview and an online survey. In the impersonal online survey, participants were less likely to exaggerate their church attendance showing “much lower levels of worship attendance.” Why? Because of what sociologists call “social desirability bias”—the desire to exaggerate something about ourselves that we feel will impress others. We live in a culture where church attendance is dropping dramatically, but people still feel a strong bias to be perceived (even just by a surveyor) as attendees. Where does that hypocrisy come from? Is it positively or negatively motivated? If church is so socially desirable, why aren’t we attending it more? I guess we need another survey. —Data from the Public Religion Research Institute and The New York Times.



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Disney’s Ideas that Didn’t Work “The idea of Disneyland is a simple one,” opens the recently (anonymously) obtained prospectus for the legendary theme park, shared by the BoingBoing website. “It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.” The document, coming to public light for the first time, shows the creative inspiration and planning behind Walt Disney’s massive undertaking, a showcase for one of the most innovative visionaries of the 20th century. One interesting revelation: many of Disney’s ideas never made it to reality, either because of their impractibility, or their dubious appeal. Ideas such as a “scientifically accurate” rocket ride to the moon, a farm filled with (living) miniature versions of full-sized animals, boring attractions like a “miniature newspaper office” (“Please, Mom! I want to set the bold type again!”), and even a (legally and ethically doubtful) catalog to order your very own rare and exotic animals, which would then be mailed to your home. Laughable in hindsight. But the unrealized ideas of Disney’s park highlight a truth for innovators: your ideas that don’t work by no means invalidate your ideas that do. At least, so think the hundreds of millions of people who have found happiness and knowledge because of Disney’s crazy idea — Paul Pastor,

1. Shape Your Life Experience: “An entrepreneur is someone deeply engaged in life and willing to do the daily work of transforming it.” 2. Think Pragmatic Idealism: “We must be sensitive to the world we wish to see and conscious of the world as it is. The entrepreneur’s work, then, lies in connecting the two.” 3. Think Strategically: “An entrepreneur is a great strategist and a master at getting others excited [about the mission].” 4. Act Purposefully with Vision: “Vision is what we hope to do with the time that we have.” 5. Understand the Ecosystem: ”What organizations and individuals define your community? How do they relate to one another?” 6. Learn to Focus Your Energy: “It is easy to become scattered and distracted. Successful people develop the ability to focus and concentrate to maximize their resources and effort.” Your definition of success is far different from a start-up’s bottom line. But there might still be some wisdom to glean from this list. — Paul Pastor,

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“What we’re encouraging is for churches to grow deeper, to know the people in their congregation and neighborhood, and to be attentive to these people. Ultimately, slow is not about speed, it’s about attentiveness. Once we start to grow deeper in our knowledge of our place, our neighbors, and the people in our congregation, we’re able to respond and discern better what really needs urgency and what doesn’t.” —From “Mary, Martha, and Slow Church,” on

“[We Christian leaders] should know our neighbors’ names. We should shop at local stores and know where our food comes from. We should befriend the outsider and take the stranger into our homes. We should practice hospitality, generosity, neighborliness, and place-making. The Internet can be used to contribute to this end, but ultimately it cannot achieve this goal alone. That happens primarily ‘in the flesh.’”

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In the Flesh

In a world of cell phones and social media, the church must model a more embodied life. An interview with Michael Frost “The core idea of the Christian faith is the incarnation,” writes Michael Frost in his recent book Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement (IVP, 2014). But Frost, the vice principal of Morling College and the founding director of the Tinsley Institute in Sydney, Australia, is worried that we’ve lost the rich implications of that doctrine in a “rootless, disengaged, and screen-addicted” world. We talked to Frost about what we’ve lost in our modern age—and how the church can bring it back. You begin Incarnate writing about the “defleshing” nature of modern culture. What do we lose when we lose embodiment? The use of web-based communication and social media, the existential homelessness of much of modern life, the sorting of people into tribes (political, theological, socioeconomic), have all played a part in defleshing the human experience. This is also apparent in the church. We are as capable of treating people as disembodied objects as anyone. We have a dire need to embody faith more obviously than ever, inviting Christians to take seriously the calling to enflesh biblical values. Excarnation makes engagement with the poor and the lost much more difficult. It contributes to the sense of dislocation experienced by many in suburban neighborhoods. It fuels the steady stream of unseemly Internet-based debates, and it only increases the pervasive impact of pornography and violent video games. Can tech ever be incarnational? Doesn’t it depend on how you use it? Yes, but the term incarnational literally means to do something “in the flesh.” Like any tool, technology is all about how you use it. Do an inventory of your daily or weekly tech usage to ensure it’s not consuming you and wrenching you from meaningful face-to-face engagement with others. Don’t check texts or websites while you’re connecting face-to-face with someone else. Limit your usage of digital communication, as a spiritual discipline. When limited to 140 characters much of our communication can lack nuance. We need to be careful about how we use it. Talk about the spiritual disciplines related to smartphones. Folks with smartphones need to be smart about their use. Utilize them for meaningful connection with others, but consider adopting a few spiritual disciplines when using technology. Why always text someone when you can call? Sure, it takes a little longer to call, but engaging someone with your voice is a step toward deeper connection than simply sending a text. Take regular sabbaticals from your phone. Develop a daily or weekly rhythm that frees you from the screen. For example, only check social media before lunch, or take Lenten fasts from technology or social media. Take screen-free Fridays (or whatever day suits you). And we need to model such

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discipline to our children, by developing rhythms that ensure we’re using the medium, it’s not using us. If the Internet vanished, what would the church lose? What would it gain? There are many incredibly important uses for digital connection. I live in Sydney and I feel genuinely connected to friends, colleagues, and associates around the world because of the Internet. My concern is that many people don’t think hard enough about the way technology is shaping interpersonal relationships. We need to live a fully embodied existence, in community, and in place. Using web-based tools is great, but so is walking your neighborhood, hosting dinner parties, volunteering at community gardens, sharing a table at a soup kitchen, playing with children, gardening, sports, games, and sex. You can’t phone those things in. What’s your advice to leaders struggling to disciple a digital, disembodied generation? Leaders should teach about the importance of embodiment, community, and place. God has revealed himself most sublimely through exactly these things and leaders should also model this vision. We should know our neighbors’ names. We should practice hospitality, generosity, neighborliness, and place-making. The Internet can be used to contribute to this end, but ultimately it cannot achieve this goal alone. That happens primarily “in the flesh.”



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Can Neuroscience Help Us Disciple Anyone? Brain science and the renewal of your mind.


By John Ortberg

or an article about ministry and neuroscience, it seems only right to begin with Scripture. So we start with one of the great neurological texts of the Bible: “David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth” (1 Sam. 17:49, KJV). Neuroscience has gained so much attention recently that it can seem like we’re the first humans to discover a connection between the physical brain and spiritual development. But way back in Bible times, before EEGs and HMOs, people had noticed that putting a rock through someone’s skull tends to inhibit their thinking. For those of us in church leadership, information about “the neuroscience of everything” is everywhere. How much do we need to know about it? What new light does it shed on human change processes that those of us in the “transformation business” need to know? Does it cast doubt on the Christian view of persons as spiritual beings who are not merely physical?


Neuroscience studies the nervous system in general and the brain in particular. Neurobiology

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looks at the chemistry of cells and their interactions; cognitive neuroscience looks at how the brain supports or interacts with psychological processes; something called computational neuroscience builds computer models to test theories. Because the mind can be directed to any topic, there can be a “neuroscience” of almost any topic. Neurotheology looks at the brain as we believe, think, and pray about God. Researcher Andrew Newberg has shown the brain-altering power of such practices as prayer by looking at changes in the brain-state of nuns engaged in the practice for over 15 years as well as Pentecostals praying in tongues. It turns out that intense practice of prayer means their brains are much more impacted by their prayer than inexperienced or casual pray-ers. To find out who the true prayerwarriors in your church are, you could hook everybody up to electrodes, but it might be a little embarrassing. Paul Bloom pointed out that we shouldn’t be surprised by this; the surprising thing would be if people experience a profound state without their brains being affected. Brain studies made steady progress through the twentieth century; my own original doctoral advisor at Fuller Seminary was Lee Travis, who pioneered the use of the electroencephalogram at the University of Iowa in the 1930s. But for a long time, no one could actually look inside a



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most of our behavior– typing, tying a shoe, or driving–is governed by habits imprinted on our brains. So is discipleship.

John Ortberg

is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.



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working brain to watch it in operation. That changed in the 1990s with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which allows researchers to track the flow of oxygen-rich blood (a proxy for neuron activity) in real time. Now it became possible to find out what part of the brain is involved in any given sequence of conscious activity, and how brain functions of liberals versus conservatives or religious versus non-religious people may differ from each other. It also became possible to find out if that guy in the second row whose eyes are closed when you’re preaching really does have something going on in his brain during the sermon.


“All truth is God’s truth,” Augustine said, and a deep part of what it means to “exercise dominion” is to learn all we can about what God has created. And there is very little God created that is more fascinating or more relevant to our well-being than our brains. Neuroscience has immense potential to relieve human suffering. Already neuroscientists have found ways to alleviate symptoms of Parkinsons and create cochlear implants. Our church had a baptism service recently and several of those being baptized were young adults who suffer from cognitive challenges. In each case their parents were in tears. For those of us doing ministry to be aware of advances in brain science is part of caring for those in our congregation. Research into the teenage brain made clear that the human brain isn’t really fully developed until people are well into their twenties. Previously it was thought that the teenage brain was just “an adult brain with fewer miles on it.” It turns out that the frontal lobes, which are associated with choosing and decision-making as well as with impulsecontrol and emotional management, are not fully connected—they lack the myelin coating that allows efficient communication between one part of the brain and another. This helps explains the ancient mantra of parents and student ministry leaders everywhere: “What were you thinking?” Churches can help parents of teenagers understand why a practice as simple as insisting their teenage children get a good night’s sleep is so necessary. They can also help parents set expectations for their teenagers’ emotional lives at an appropriate level. They can also remind church leaders who are doing talks for teenagers to keep them short! Neuroscience can also teach us compassion. For too long people who suffered from

emotional or mental illness have been stigmatized. Churches—which should have been the safest places to offer healing and care— were sometimes among the most judgmental communities because it was assumed that if people simply got their spiritual lives together, their emotions should be fine. Rick and Kay Warren noted after the death of their son: “Any other organ in my body can get broken and there’s no shame, no stigma to it. My liver stops working, my heart stops working, my lungs stop working. Well, I’ll just say, ‘Hey, I’ve got diabetes, or a defective pancreas or whatever,’ but if my brain is broken, I’m supposed to feel shame. And so a lot of people who should get help don’t.” Pastors can offer great help to their congregation when we simply acknowledge the reality that followers of Jesus do not get a free pass from mental health problems. Christians have brains and neurons that are as fallible as atheist neurons and New Age neurons. Beyond that, I’m thankful for neuroscience because it is helping us understand better how our bodies work, and that enables us better to “offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God.” Knees that spend long hours in prayer change their shape. So do brains.


One of the reasons it’s important for pastors to be conversant with the topic is that neuroscience is being accorded enormous authority in our day—not always for good reasons. I joke with a neuroresearcher friend of mine (who helped a lot with this article but wants to remain anonymous) that the easiest way to get an article published today is to pick any human behavior and … 1. Show which parts of the brain are most active when thinking about that topic; 2. Explain why evolutionary psychology has shown that behavior is important to our survival; 3. Give four common-sense tips for handling that behavior better—none of which has anything to do with #1 or #2. Precisely because neuroscience has so much prestige, those of us who teach at churches need to be aware of its limitations as well as its findings. It’s one thing to say that our brain chemistry or genetic predisposition may affect our attitudes or beliefs or behaviors. It’s another thing to say we are nothing but our brain chemistry. Sometimes writers make claims in popular literature that would never make it into a peer-reviewed academic journal. One example is a recent book, We Are Our Brains,


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which makes the claim that there is no such thing as free will, that our brains predetermine everything including our moral character and our religious leanings, so there is no good reason to believe God exists either. People may be under the impression that “science” has proven this. This is sometimes called “nothing buttery”; the idea that we are “nothing but” our physical selves. Yet let’s be clear: we are not just our brains. No one has ever seen a thought, or an idea, or a choice. A neuron firing is not the same thing as a thought, even though they may coincide. A brain is a thing, a human being is a person. God doesn’t have a brain, Dallas Willard used to say, and he’s never missed it at all. (Dallas actually used to say that’s why for God every decision is a “no-brainer,” but I will not repeat that because it’s too much of a groaner, even for Dallas.) Neuroscience can help us understand moral and spiritual development. It shows the importance of genetic predispositions in areas of character and attitudes—from political orientation to sexuality. But it has not shown that personal responsibility or dependence on God are irrelevant. It does not replace the pastor or trump the Bible.


Neuroscience has shown us in concrete ways a reality of human existence that is crucial for disciples to understand in our struggle with sin. That reality is this: mostly our behavior does not consist of a series of conscious choices. Mostly, our behavior is governed by habit. Most of the time, a change of behavior requires the acquisition of new habits. Willpower and conscious decision have very little power over what we do. A habit is a relatively permanent pattern of behavior that allows you to navigate life. The capacity for habitual behavior is indispensible. When you first learn how to type or tie a shoe or drive a car, it’s hard work. So many little steps to remember. But after you learn, it becomes habitual. That means it is quite literally “in your body” (or “muscle memory”). At the level of your neural pathways. Neurologists call this process where the brain converts a sequence of actions into routine activity “chunking.” Chunking turns out to be one of the most important dynamics in terms of sin and discipleship. Following Jesus is, to a large degree, allowing the Holy Spirit to “re-chunk” my life. This is a physical description of Paul’s command to the Romans: “… but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Habits are enormously freeing. They are what allows my body to be driving my car while my mind is planning next week’s sermon. But sin gets into our habits. This is the tragedy of fallen human nature. Self-serving words just come out of my mouth; jealousy comes unbidden

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when I meet someone who leads a larger church or preaches better; chronic ingratitude bubbles up time and again; I cater to someone I perceive to be attractive or important. Neuroscience research gives us a clearer picture (and deeper fear) of what might be called the “stickiness” of sin. It is helping us to understand more precisely, or at least more biologically, exactly what Paul meant when he talked about sin being “in our members.” He was talking about human beings as embodied creatures—sin is in the habitual patterns that govern what our hands do and where our eyes look and words our mouths say. Habits are in our neural pathways. And sin gets in our habits. So sin gets in our neurons. Like so much else, our neurons are fallen, and can’t get up. They need redemption.


You can override a habit by willpower for a moment or two. Reach for the Bible. Worship. Pray. Sing. You feel at peace with God for a moment. But then the sinful habit re-emerges. Habits eat willpower for breakfast. When Paul says there is nothing good in our “sinful nature,” he is not talking about a good ghost inside you fighting it out with a bad ghost inside you. Paul is a brilliant student of human life who knows that evil, deceit, arrogance, greed, envy, and racism have become “second nature” to us all. Sanctification is, among other things, the process by which God uses various means of grace to re-program our neural pathways. This is why Thomas Aquinas devoted over 70 pages of the Summa Theologica to the cultivation of holy habits. It’s why 12-step groups appeal, not to willpower, but to acquiring new habits through which we can receive power from God to do what willpower never could. Neuroscience has helped to show the error of any “spirituality” that divorces our “spiritual life” from our bodies. For example, it has been shown that the brains of healthy people instructed to think about a sad event actually look a lot like the brains of depressed people. “Spiritual growth” is not something that happens separate from our bodies and brains; it always includes changes within our bodies. Paul wrote, “I beat my body to make it my slave”—words that sound foreign to us, but in fact describe people who seek to master playing the cello or running a marathon. I seek to make the habits and appetites of my body serve my highest values, rather than me becoming a slave to my habits and appetites. What makes such growth spiritual is when it is done through the power and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s language remains unimprovable: We offer our bodies as living sacrifices so that our minds can be renewed.



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One of the great needs in churches is for pastors and congregations to experiment with discipleship pathways that address the particular context that we face. Pornography (and misguided sexuality in general) has always rewired the brain. But now porn is so incredibly accessible that men and women can be exposed to it any time they want for as long as they want as privately as they want. Each time that connection between explicit images and sexual gratification is established, the neural pathway between the two grows deeper—like tires making ever-deepening ruts in a road. Simply hearing that sexual sin is bad, or hearing correct theological information, does not rewire those pathways. What is required is a new set of habits, which will surely include confession and repentance and fellowship and accountability and the reading of Scripture, through which God can create new and deeper pathways that become the new “second nature,” the “new creation.” At our church not long ago, one of our members spoke openly about many years of shame around sexual addiction. His courageous openness stilled the congregation, and it led to the formation of a recovery ministry that is one of the most vibrant in our church.


Kent Dunnington has written a wonderfully helpful book, Addiction and Virtue. He notes that many federal health institutes and professional organizations assume addiction is a “brain disease” purely “because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.” However, playing the cello and studying for a London taxi license and memorizing the Old Testament also lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Shall we call them diseases, too? Dunnington says that addiction is neither simply a physical disease nor a weakness of the will; that to understand it correctly, we need to resurrect an old spiritual category: habit. We have habits because we are embodied creatures; most of our behaviors are not under our conscious control. That’s a great gift from God—if we had to concentrate on brushing our teeth or tying our shoes every time we did that, life would be impossible. But sin has gotten into our habits, into our bodies, including our neurons. Partly, we may be pre-disposed to this. For example, people with a version of the Monoamine oxidase A (MOA) gene that creates less of the enzyme tend to have more troubles with anger and impulse control. (If you have that version of MOA, you’re feeling a little testy right now.) This means that when Paul says “In your anger, do not sin,” some people are predisposed to struggle with



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this more than others. That doesn’t mean that such people are robots or victims or not responsible for their behavior. It does explain part of why Jesus tells us to “Judge not”; none of us knows the genetic material that any other person is blessed with or battling in any given moment. This also shows that the people in our churches will not be transformed simply by having more exegetical or theological information poured into them—no matter how correct that information may be. The information has to be embodied, has to become habituated into attitudes, patterns of response, and reflexive action. The reason that spiritual disciplines are an important part of change is that they honor the physical nature of human life. Information alone doesn’t override bad habits. God uses relationships, experiences, and practices to shape and re-shape the character of our lives that gets embedded at the most physical level. A few decades ago scientists did a series of experiments where monkeys were taught how to pinch food pellets in deep trays. As the monkeys got faster at this practice, the parts of the brain controlling the index finger and thumb actually grew bigger. This and other experiments showed that the brain is not static as had often been thought, but is dynamic, able to change from one shape to another. This is true for human beings as well. The part of violinists’ brains that controls their left hand (used for precise fingering movements) will be bigger than the part that controls their right hand. But wait—there’s more. In another study, people were put into one of three groups; one group did nothing; one exercised their pinky finger, a third group spent 15 minutes a day merely thinking about exercising their pinky finger. As expected the exercisers got stronger pinkies. But amazingly—so did the people who merely thought about exercising. Changes in the brain can actually increase physical strength. No wonder Paul wrote: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Every thought we entertain is, in a real sense, doing a tiny bit of brain surgery on us. Here’s a thought worth contemplating: what must Jesus’ brain have been like? Imagine having neural circuits honed and trained to trust God, to respond to challenge with peace, or to irritation with love, or to need with confident prayer. Here’s another thought worth contemplating: We have the mind of Christ. That’s worth wrapping your brain around.


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The Sanctified Brain Growing in Christ … above the neck.


By Robert Crosby

s a pastor I have often urged people to “get closer to Christ,” but I’m not so sure I’ve helped them know when they have. How can we help people know when they’ve gotten closer to Christ? Do external changes confirm that growth? What internal ones occur, and how can we recognize them? To ask the question in theological terms: If glorification is the goal of God’s work in our lives (Rom. 8:30) and grace is the means (Eph. 2:8) and sanctification is the process (1 Thess. 4:3) then what results are observable? How does intimacy with Christ change us? What impact does

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conformity to Christ have on our behavior and … our brains? I’ve had long conversations with other pastors and leaders over the years about spiritual transformation. Who else would you talk with about such a subject? Well, how about a couple of neuroscientists? That’s exactly what I did. The results were surprising and enlightening.


Dr. Andrew Newberg of Thomas Jefferson University is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science of spirituality and the



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If you contemplate something as complex and mysterious as God, you’re going to have incredible bursts of neural activity.

Robert Crosby

is co-founder of Teaming Life and Church Conferences ( He has pastored churches in New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts and is professor of practical theology at Southeastern University. His latest book is The One Jesus Loves (Thomas Nelson). @rccrosby.



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brain. He’s researched it for some twenty years. Although our discussion dealt with a bit of science and empirical research, it tapped a deep sense of wonder in me over just how limited my view of spiritual growth and sanctification may have been. (The interview “Faith and the Brain” is in this issue.) Later I spoke with another “brain guy,” Dr. Daniel Amen, coauthor with Rick Warren of The Daniel Plan, the bestselling book on faith-based healthy living. Amen is perhaps best-known as a favorite TED talk presenter on the subject of brain functioning. His clinic in California has carried out some 90,000 brain scans, including some on his own children, and he has discovered much on brain function and human behavior. His team also did the much-reported and discussed research not long ago on the National Football League and brain damage issues with its players. Most of what I’ve learned (and included in this article) comes from these two researchers.


The brain is involved in the pursuit of God. Newberg says, “Whatever happens to you as a person spiritually or soulfully still ultimately has to be comprehended emotionally and understood by your brain. If your soul has changed, it has to percolate up into your brain.” If sanctification is not an event but rather a journey, then one aspect of that journey is certainly the development of spiritual intimacy, of coming closer to Jesus. While that increasing “closeness” may be practiced in our spiritual disciplines, it is, of course, also perceived in our brain. “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). Amen, a professing Christian, correlates the health of the brain and the health of the soul. He views service to God and even sin through a biological lens: “A healthy brain increases the chances of having a healthy spiritual life,” he says. “But if your spiritual life is not developed, it can have a negative impact on the spiritual functioning of the brain. For example, if you engage repeatedly in pornography, it has a negative effect on how your brain functions. If you repeatedly give in to temptation, it makes you more likely to give in to it in the future. Conversely, prayer and meditation on the Bible have a positive ef-

fect, and more of it makes you more likely to practice it in the future.” The association of the mind and our spiritual life is not a new idea, although it is a new science, one Newberg refers to as neurotheology. The Apostle Paul associated life “in the Spirit” with changes in the “mind” (Rom. 8) and urged believers to be “transformed” (metamorphoo) by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2). He also wove the role of the mind into his appeal to sanctification to the Ephesian church: “No longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. … assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:17-23, emphasis mine). The word Paul uses repeatedly for “mind” is nous. The essence of this word is “the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining; the intellectual faculty” (Strong’s).


Brain plasticity is a rapidly emerging field and an interesting one in light of the process of sanctification. Amen says that plasticity “means your brain can respond to change. You’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better; regardless of your age. I can prove it with the imaging work I have done.” Nobel laureate Eric Kandel proved that neurons never stop learning, demonstrating the important field of neuroplasticity. Kandel showed that when any alteration in your environment occurs, your nerve cells will change in literally a matter of hours. When the stimulus around us is altered, the internal functioning of nerve cells changes, even growing new extensions called axons capable of communicating with other parts of the brain. But what does neuroplasticity have to do with God? According to Newberg, “Everything. For if you contemplate something as complex and mysterious as God, you’re going to have incredible bursts of neural activity firing in different parts of


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your brain; your brain is going to grow.” The Apostle Paul wrote that “letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Rom. 8:6; NLT). While Newberg does not profess to be a Christian, his wonder-filled view of the brain’s response to God and our thoughts about him is stunningly reminiscent of David’s awe: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).


In his book How God Changes Your Brain, Newberg cites specific areas of the brain that he believes help us grow in our understanding of God. He calls them the God “circuits.” These varied neural systems seem to be affected by our growing perception of God based on our spiritual journey and faith experiences. When I first read over this list, I was intrigued with the correlations that emerged between our external proximities and internal perceptions of Jesus, the sanctified body and the sanctified brain. According to Newberg one of the favorite phrases among neurologists is “the neurons that fire together, wire together.” In layman’s terms, when it comes to our spiritual development, the externals affect the internals and vice versa. The things Jesus did and said that drew people closer to him also changed things deeply within them, including the shape and functioning of their brains, or the God “circuits.” At the time I was working on a book, The Circles of Christ, that reflected on the concentric groups of people in Jesus’ life and the significance of their proximity to him. Neuroscience made this model came alive in a new way for me.

Frontal Lobe. This system “integrates all of our ideas about God” and helps us make ultimate decisions about life and about him. It is an executive functioning aspect that is associated with planning, motivation, and reward. It sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. • The Three (the place of Rejoicing & Suffering together with Jesus, best represented by the Mount of Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane, the two places that the Three—Peter, James, and John— were exclusively permitted to go) ignites the Amygdala. Newberg calls this a “God circuit” that helps us to create our “emotional impressions of God.” Located deep within the temporal lobes of the brain, it plays a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and our emotional reactions in life. • The One (the place of Sacrifice & Surrender to Jesus, where only one disciple apparently went, namely John the Beloved, following Jesus all the way to the Cross,) ignites the Striatum & the Anterior Cingulate. This system helps us “inhibit our fears” or the unwanted activity in the Amygdala and allows us to build a more confident faith. Newberg says this part of the brain helps us “to feel safe in the presence of God.” It also helps us inhibit unwanted or negative behavior and have a sense of empathy and wisdom drawn from all of our life experiences. Sanctification involves not only proximity to Jesus but also other vital changes in us, those of perspective and perception. It includes not only loving

Consider this:

• The Crowds (the place of Watching & Listening to Jesus, a place of introduction to him) ignites the Occipital-Parietal Circuit in the brain. According to Newberg, this is the system that helps us identify that God exists. Interestingly, it is the area of the brain responsible for the assembly of auditory and visual stimuli. • The 5000 (the place of Feeding & Healing, where we begin to receive from Jesus in our lives) fires up the Parietal-Frontal Circuit. This system helps us see ourselves and our comparative weakness and needs in light of God. It integrates sensory information such as touch. • The 70 (the place of Working for & Serving Jesus, of us joining Jesus in his ministry to others) ignites the Thalamus. This system helps us apply our faith to our view of the world around us and its needs. It relays sensory signals to other parts of the brain and aids in motor control and movement, to engaging our bodies in the works of faith. • The Twelve (the place of Leaving All & Following Jesus wherever he may lead us next) fires up the

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© 2014 Dan Pegoda.



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God with our “heart,” “soul,” and “strength,” but also with our “minds.” Sanctification changes the design of our lives, and perhaps the very configuration of our brains.


© 2014 Dennis Fletcher.

No two brains, however, are identical, and our physiological makeup is subject to sin, suffering, and weakness. At the 2012 Desiring God Conference, The Christian Post reported that Dr. Ed Welch, a counselor, said that Christians should remember that everyone is “brain damaged” to a certain extent and that everyone forgets things at times and has certain limitations on their intelligence. He said that “though the brain offers these limitations on us, the brain essentially, fundamentally offers no limitation on our sanctification.” Biblically we recognize that the brain alone cannot save us (Eph. 2:8), but it is fascinating to consider how God has wired the brain to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit when our spirits are willing. Our hope is that the sufferings Jesus endured in his earthly biological frame to purchase salvation and the power that raised him up will also “give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Rom. 8:11, NLT). Yet it appears that the process of sanctification

“The vulnerability of your sermon inspires me to share my own doubts ... about the depth of your faith.”



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Sanctification is more than a creed we espouse. It is a transformation that remakes us spiritually in our practices and even physiologically in our minds. that Scripture presents is one that science also is coming to confirm. Through their research on brain function, neuroscientists such as Amen and Newberg are clearly enjoying frequent discoveries in this field and gaining momentum in passing on these ideas. Certainly I am not the only one who has lived with the question about the process of sanctification, of how we grow closer to Jesus and what characteristics evidence that change. The apostle Paul felt it deeply; so much so that he compared his concern to a mother in the delivery room: “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” (Gal. 4:19, NLT). It was clearly something that weighed heavily on his mind. Paul also understood, however, that sanctification was not ultimately our work, but something the “God of peace” would accomplish and something with which we are called to cooperate. Sanctification is more than a creed we espouse. It is a transformation that remakes us spiritually in our practices and apparently even physiologically in our minds and thoughts. It reconciles and reshapes us on all fronts, even above the neck. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonian Church broadened the dimensions of spiritual formation: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24, emphasis mine). The apostle had no intention of settling for halfgrowth in the lives of those he led. Neither should we. From the Crowds all the way to the experiences of the Beloved Disciple himself, sanctification was found in a place, a closer proximity to Jesus. But it also came in the perceptions those intimacies effected. For the earliest followers of Jesus, holiness was all about wholeness – about “spirit … and body.” It was a process of grace that regenerated their souls and rewired their brains.


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Faith and the Brain

An interview with Dr. Andrew Newberg.


By Robert Crosby

ne of the foremost researchers in the field of neurology and spirituality is Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital, in Philadelphia. He has done empirical studies on brain functioning among a variety of spiritual practitioners ranging from Catholic nuns engaging in “centering prayer” to Pentecostals praying in tongues. The results of his work and others have confirmed that the human brain is “hard-wired for

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faith.” Repeatedly, for instance, neuroscience shows that prayer makes a noticeable difference in the physiological functioning of the brain. Newberg is known for his research in the field of nuclear medical brain imaging. In particular, he has focused on the development of neurotransmitter tracers for the evaluation of religiosity as well as neurological and psychiatric disorders, including clinical depression, head injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. He has appeared on numerous television news programs, been featured in Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times, and is author of six



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books. He has invested much in a field he refers to as neurotheology or “the study of the relationship between the brain and faith.” Robert Crosby interviewed him on the connection of “life in the Spirit” and the brain. How do spiritual practices or disciplines affect the brain? As you grow spiritually, as you change your beliefs, as you enhance your sense of compassion, for instance, this affects the brain. If you practice prayer a lot, for example, the data show that these practices actually change your brain over time. We did a study on meditation practice and found several things among people who had never meditated before. When they added meditation to their practices, such as focusing on a passage of Scripture, we saw significant changes in brain functioning.

during [prayer in tongues] we saw a drop of activity in their frontal lobes, which is normally active when the brain is focused on doing something, like speaking. Specifically, we saw increased activity in the frontal lobes (one of the areas in the brain involved with compassion and positive emotions) and there were changes in the thalamus, the part of our brain that helps us interconnect. Christians often speak of the “fruit of the spirit” delineated by Paul in Galatians—”love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and self-control.” Do you see these as functions of the brain? Put simplistically, there is a balance to be determined between your frontal lobe and the limbic system. The amygdala is the part of your brain that reacts with fear, hatred, anger, and other alarming emotions, but this also participates in the positives. The frontal lobe balances it all out. For instance, when someone cuts you off in traffic, your amygdala reacts with, “Hurt them now,” but your frontal lobe says, “Wait just a minute!” This is a neurological view of patience. Whether you call it “life in the Spirit” or becoming more compassionate, less reactionary, you are talking about trying to suppress the amygdala and trying to enhance your frontal lobe and the activity in the social areas of the brain.



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Pastors are concerned about helping people get closer to God and cultivate their spiritual life. What have you learned about “life in the Spirit” by studying the brain? With spiritual practices, the more you do it, the more you do it. That is, the more people can be encouraged to prayer, to engage their church and the people in it, to do charitable work, the more these concepts become a part of how your brain functions. With ongoing practice, you can do these things more easily and you want to do them more. You become “wired” for it. Whether meditation, prayer, reading the Bible, discussing the Bible, or Bible studies, they change your brain, making you more receptive. Does our view or perception of God affect brain function? How so? Positive perspectives about God are good for the brain. However, negative perspectives about God can be detrimental, causing stress, anxiety, and can cause depression and negative emotions. This actually activates the amygdala and causes our stress hormones (cortisol) to be released into the bloodstream. Studies show that cortisol actually damages the brain. It blocks or breaks down the neural connections in the brain and makes it work in a poorer way. You have run brain tests of Pentecostals while they were speaking in tongues. That story ran on ABC News and drew a lot of interest. What was the experience like for you? Had you ever been exposed to that before? It was fascinating. Honestly, I had never known anyone who spoke in tongues. I was excited because I had never seen it before. I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it was like. Also, most of our research on meditation before that was boring because it was all internal. Speaking in tongues was different. This was an external practice, so we could witness what the individuals were doing. I was very taken by the power of this experience for the individuals. To watch a person I had just conversed with suddenly engage in speaking in tongues and become completely overwhelmed by it was fascinating. It brought tears. The neurological findings were interesting too. To see the changes in the brain as people spoke, or prayed, in tongues, was fascinating. The person lets go and surrenders to this spiritual experience. During this practice, we saw a drop of activity in their frontal lobes (the part of the brain that typically has increased activity during speech of any kind), which is normally active when we focus on doing something. The fact that this shut down or quieted during tongues revealed that their will was released and the experience sort of happens for itself.


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As pastors teach, preach and train their congregants, how does their work affect the brains of the people they seek to lead of influence? Very likely there is a profound effect. This occurs in several ways and on multiple levels. One of the first things about how the brain works is that within our brains we have what’s referred to as “mirror neurons.” These mirror neurons reflect whatever we see in our environment. Put differently, if someone smiles at us, there is a part of our brain that smiles as well; that smile is reflected in our brains physiologically. If you are in the audience listening and the pastor sounds loving and confident, then those traits are similarly now reflected in the brains of all that are listening.

Christians believe that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and that we are to take care of it. What are some of the things you do to keep your brain healthy, strong, and sharp? Regular exercise. There is no question this affects brain health. So I play a lot of hockey, tennis, and basketball. I eat well. I try to minimize my consumption of highly processed foods. I eat more of a plant-based diet. If you keep your body healthy, that should improve your spiritual life, as well. The brain also benefits from your being optimis-

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So faith is “good for the brain”? Absolutely. We found that faith in its broadest sense is the best thing you can have for the brain. Not only is religious faith good for the brain, but also the optimism and looking at the world in a positive way that people often associate with faith. Having “faith” that your life is going to be good, that you are going to be able to help other people—this is also good for you. In fact, optimism—hope—is a prominent predictor of your health and life. If that optimism is wrapped up in a religious context, evidence shows that people who are religious have lower levels of depression and anxiety. Also, when you have faith, it provides a framework for living and for understanding the world and it alleviates a lot of the ontological anxiety many suffer with, and it provides answers and a context for living. It is an interconnected meshwork for life. If you get social support from your church, that is also incredibly helpful for the brain.

© 2014 Scott Masear.

How have your studies and findings affected your own experience of faith and belief? What is your faith background? I was raised in a Reformed Jewish community. I got bar mitzvah-ed. My parents were very open about faith and belief. My dad had an interesting take on it. He always encouraged a belief in God, because he felt it was easier to start with faith than to have none at all and try to find it. He felt that one should start with a belief in God, but then ask questions which may not have one definitive answer. He encouraged me to go forth and take my faith background and learn about others—about Christians, Hindus, Muslims. Of course, the question comes about different faiths: Are we right, and are they wrong? In my own life, I look at it this way: Our brain, as wonderful as it is, is very finite, and we are trying to understand an infinite universe and an infinite God. We only perceive a small amount of that. I feel that we get such a small snippet of God and reality in our lives. There is no way for any of us to understand that fully. Our brains couldn’t handle it. So we do the best we can with what we have. There is a scene in the Jodi Foster film, Contact, that sizes up how I feel. In the movie, her boyfriend, a person of faith, says this: “She’s a scientist, and I’m a religious person, but ultimately our goals are the same. We are searching for the truth.”

tic and having faith. Enthusiasm is important, as well. I’m always excited about the next thing that is coming down the road. The last thing is to keep your brain engaged. This is very important. Challenge your own ideas and keep learning, no matter what your age is. Go back and get that degree. Watch a documentary on television. Read that book. Go to a play. Practice your faith and spiritual disciplines. Mix it up.

“Sorry I forgot to turn off my cell phone, Pastor, but I think the paintball gun was a little extreme.”



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Growing Grace for Mental Illness One pastor’s story mirrors a burgeoning response in the church. By Amy Simpson


he ministry rise of Brad Hoefs was meteoric, and his collapse was just as sudden. In one confusing episode, he went from successful pastor at one of the fastest growing churches in his denomination to a public disgrace. From family man to family embarrassment. He didn’t understand why, and neither did they. Growing up, Brad had watched his father deal with symptoms of manic-depression. His dad took medication, but the family wasn’t supposed to talk about it. Not understanding his family history, Brad, as an adult, spent months taking steroids prescribed by his doctor for a medical condition, not knowing that these steroids could have unfortunate side effects. Soon after, he began to have times of surging energy, creativity, and nonstop drive. It paid off. King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, rode this wave right along with him, growing from 800 to 3,000 in seven years. He lived under tremendous stress as pastor of a large church, and he had just endured a long and taxing fight with the city to purchase property that would allow his church to expand. Ironically, he had never felt more alive. He was invigorated by the challenges. At times he was so inspired, he would go away to a hotel and work day and night, barely sleeping, for four or

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five days at a time. He would come home with months’ worth of work done in five days. He was riding a wave of enthusiasm and productivity most people could only dream of. But with this soaring mood came something darker he couldn’t name—a sense that he was out of control. He needed grounding, to manage his racing thoughts and emotional flights. So without understanding why, he engaged in bizarre behaviors that seemed to help ground him. He sped at 80 mph along country roads at night, opened the car door, and touched his foot to the pavement passing by underneath. He visited places where people had been murdered. He went to dangerous locations late at night. The effect of these experiences? “I would feel bad. The guilt would bring me down so I could manage,” he said. Sometimes he drove all night and found himself eating breakfast in another city, with no idea of how he’d arrived, no memory of the previous eight hours. One night, driving around the city, he stopped to use the bathroom at a public park with a bad reputation. Here, in an incident he remembers too dimly for true recall, his dream life turned to a nightmare in the form of a citation for indecent exposure. Sitting in his car, with a ticket from a police officer in his hand, he felt something he’d never experienced before: a crushing and desperate depression that made him want to end



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I can’t ‘cope.’ I’ve got to live! – Brad Hoefs

his life. “I was ready to kill myself. I had a plan,” he said. Local media reported on the story of his citation, and his church and the community were shocked. “For the next three months we basically bled to death,” Hoefs says. No one could understand what had happened. Church leaders privately asked him to resign. Under his therapist’s direction, he told them he would deal with that issue later, and he went to a hospital in Michigan to get help. There he did get help, receiving a diagnosis that helped explain the last several months of his life: bipolar disorder, or what his father had known as manic depression. He learned that in the genetically predisposed, the steroids he had been taking can trigger a manifestation of the disease. In group therapy sessions, he heard other people describe the exact symptoms he had experienced—and realized that almost everyone in the group had been in trouble with the law because of uncontrolled symptoms. After his diagnosis, Hoefs’s wife, Donna, who had lost her mother to suicide as a result of bipolar disorder, confronted him: “I love you. This is not who you are. I know that. But I can’t live with you if you don’t do everything you can to get better. You don’t have to be perfect. I will stick with you as long as you’re working on your illness, but I can’t do it if you won’t do what you need to do.” Hoefs took this seriously and dedicated himself to treatment. As he began to stabilize, his psychiatrist talked with denominational leaders. She encouraged them to allow Hoefs to come back to King of Kings, not as a pastor but as a part of the church. This would provide an opportunity for others to understand mental illness, she said. It would allow healing and closure. But not all the church leaders agreed with this plan, and Hoefs was not allowed to return. That’s where grace took an unexpected turn.


“God told me I had to stand with him and not leave him by the side of the road.” Karen Reynolds speaks with tremendous conviction about her part in the story that came next. She was the worship leader at King of Kings, and as she watched events unfold, she knew there was more to the story than a moral failure. “I had known Brad longer than anyone else in the church. His family was family to



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me. I knew something was really wrong. He had been escalating in behavior; he was in dire need.” She resigned her position, and she and her husband decided to follow the Holy Spirit. They weren’t alone. A group of about 20 people, all part of King of Kings, felt the same conviction: There is more to this story, and we must do something to help. They all had something else in common: “All of us had some family member with a mental health issue or had struggled with a mental health issue ourselves or, because of professional training, were more open to believing this was not a make-believe thing,” says Ruth Belmont, one of the original members of this group. “My husband and I weren’t looking to get involved,” she says, “but God wouldn’t leave it alone for us. We had to obey.” This group gathered in a home each week to pray for Pastor Brad and his family. They prayed for wisdom and direction. They began to worship together. Their numbers doubled to 40. Then grew to 50. Eventually this group decided to quietly leave King of Kings and form a new church—the best way, they believed, to minimize the damage of potential conflict. They discovered that God had brought together a disparate, oddly connected group of people who had all the variety of gifts they might need: a pianist, worship leaders, and a missionary who was a gifted preacher and could serve as interim pastor. But the new church wanted a permanent pastor, and they specifically wanted Brad Hoefs. As the church began to form, they found friendship in Ambassadors Worship Center, a multi-racial interdenominational church pastored by Martin Williams, who invited the fledgling Lutheran congregation to worship with them on Sundays in the school cafeteria they were renting. “They told us we didn’t have to contribute tithes or anything; they just wanted to love us. They wanted to stand with Pastor Brad,” Belmont says. Williams had met Hoefs, but they weren’t close friends. So why did he feel such a calling to support those who were seeking to restore Hoefs? “I’m a Galatians 6 guy,” Williams says. “I believe in restoration and the return to important use by God in a person’s life. And I believe it takes spiritual people to restore spiritual people.” Williams has a background in sports man-


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agement. “When you have a great player who gets injured, you don’t just retire them; you rehabilitate them,” he says. “Brad is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. He’s very creative. He has an incredible mind to understand the Bible, how to reach people, and how to grow churches. The body of Christ worldwide needs this guy, needs this gift.” But there was one more piece to the puzzle. Williams didn’t have a deep understanding of bipolar disorder, but he had seen it before. Three years earlier, when he was working as an associate pastor, his senior pastor had been diagnosed with manic depression, and Williams had seen this pastor work through his own diagnosis. “I just figured the bottom line is, let’s stick together until we find out what this is and then let’s get back to the original assignment.” On Christmas Eve, the two churches together rented a Marriott ballroom for a special service. Some had fasted in preparation for a prayerful and prophetic time of discerning God’s direction. During this service, the people of Ambassadors Worship Center gathered around those who had left King of Kings and anointed them with prayer and confirmation of their calling. “We felt there would be lots of people who would benefit from a church that Brad would pastor, intentional about showing God’s power in restoring people,” Williams says. So he and his church sent out this new congregation: “You can’t sit here forever, can’t wait for the city to get over what happened. Now is the time.” “During that service, we all agreed a new church had been born that night,” says Belmont. So the new group wrote a charter, rented a banquet facility, and began holding services just two weeks later. And they gave themselves an apropos name: Community of Grace.


Community of Grace officially called Hoefs as their pastor, but they barred him from doing any pastoral work until he was well. He was not allowed to teach, preach, or lead worship. They paid him a bit more than he had received in his previous position, and they told him to get well. “We were not going to give up on him,” says Reynolds. “We were called to stand by him and help him get better.” “They loved us. That’s all they did,” Hoefs says. “They came along and started to understand, along with my doctor and my therapist, and the healthier I got, the more they wanted me to be their pastor.” So he worked on getting better, and after 18 months he began to ease his way into pastoral duties. Seven years later, after his nephew was injured in a bus crash and he accidentally took a double dose of medication—followed by a skipped dose to “make up for it”—Hoefs had a relapse. And a

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MENTAL ILLNESS STATISTICS AND THE CHURCH In 2010 Leadership Journal conducted a survey of 500 churches, using the National Alliance on Mental Illness definition of mental illnesses: “medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning” and “often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” We asked about their personal and pastoral experiences with mental illness. In 2014 we conducted the same survey again to get an updated look. On most points, responses were very consistent. In both years, 98 percent of respondents said they had seen some type of mental illness in their congregations. And the percentage that said mental illness is openly discussed in a healthy way within their churches (12%) was unchanged. But there were a few interesting points of change: • In 2010, 7 percent of survey respondents said they were never approached for help in dealing with mental illness. In 2014, that rose to 12 percent. Does this reflect a general decrease in the number of people going to the church (historically the numberone place people go) for help with mental illness? • In 2014, only 44 percent (53% in 2010) indicated that their church sometimes responds to mental illness by ignoring it. The percentage who said they have made special allowances to accommodate the needs of a person’s mental illness grew (from 30% to 41%). At the same time, those who said they sometimes ask people to leave their churches, either temporarily or permanently, because of mental illness, doubled (from 8% to 17%). • The percentage of church leaders who said they personally provide pastoral counseling/treatment for mental illness decreased (from 61% to 51%). • These four years saw a small decrease in the percentage of church leaders who indicated their congregation believes the following about mental illness: - It’s indicative of demon possession/demonic influence (2010, 20%; 2014, 15%). - It’s a reflection of a spiritual problem that must be treated spiritually (2010, 31%; 2014, 26%). - It’s a behavioral problem caused by a person’s bad choices (2010, 29%; 2014, 27%). • Church leaders in 2014 were more likely to indicate that they have personally suffered from some type of mental illness (63% vs. 55% in 2010). 35 percent had experienced an anxiety disorder, the most common type of mental illness in the United States (23% in 2010). 44 percent said they had suffered from a mood disorder such as depression (39% in 2010). The percentage indicating such mental illness was present in their families (81%) did not change. —Amy Simpson



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second citation. That’s when a small group of pastors, led by Jim McGaffin of Liberty Christian Center, came alongside Hoefs and committed to meet regularly for accountability. “We’re not going to hurt you,” they said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep you standing.” And they have been standing with him for 11 years. Hoefs realized he had to take steps to preserve his health long-term. He gave his wife and his accountability group full access to his doctors. “I had to choose to believe that I couldn’t trust my brain. My mind is not the problem. I have the mind of Christ. But when my brain doesn’t function right, I’ll be out of my right mind, and I’ve got to trust some people around me who love me and are going to point it out.” He tried joining support groups, but he was depressed by the utter lack of hope he found there. “They were always using the word coping, ‘I’m trying to cope with this.’ And I thought, I can’t cope. I’ve got to live.” So he started a Christ-centered support group at Community of Grace and named it Fresh Hope. Hope is what it’s all about: “I tell people when they’ve just had their first episode, or they’ve had their third or fifth episode and now they’re going to do something about it, ‘You have the choice to fight to make sure this is the sickest that you ever get.’ I don’t think people understand that they have a choice. There’s a huge amount of hope.” And contrary to common fear that a mentalhealth support group might kill a church, after starting the Fresh Hope group, Community of Grace experienced 110 percent growth in one year. That group has now helped about 500 people. And now Fresh Hope, which Hoefs didn’t plan as more than one group at Community of Grace, has grown beyond his church, city, and state. It has become a nonprofit ministry that continues to grow nationally. And God has healed the relationship between King of Kings and Hoefs and Community of Grace. The two churches have even hosted events together.


Amy Simpson

is senior editor of Leadership Journal and author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church (IVP, 2013).



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Fresh Hope isn’t the only church-based ministry for those dealing with mental illness. Retired vice president of Wake Forest University Bob Mills sits at the helm of Transformed Minds, a network of mental health professionals, influencers, and individuals whose lives have been altered by mental illness, who share a passion for a more Christlike response to mental health. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical


For information about the ministry organizations mentioned in this article, check out their websites:

Fresh Hope

Mental Health Grace Alliance

Transformed Minds

When Pastors Pray

studies at Baylor University and author of Grace for the Afflicted, has partnered with others to form the Mental Health Grace Alliance. Headquarted in Waco, Texas, with a branch in Los Angeles, the alliance offers support to people with serious mental illness and their families. Like Fresh Hope, the Mental Health Grace Alliance is founded on hope and the promise that people with mental illness can thrive and enter a recovery process that helps them manage their health and restore a sense of purpose. “Our growth has been amazing,” Stanford says. “I believe it’s simply a reflection of a great need that has been long ignored by the church. Presently there are few faith-based options for individuals struggling with serious mental illness. But I do believe we are at a tipping point. The church’s response toward those with mental health problems has generally been negative, but I’m starting to see signs of change.” At the same time, some pastors are opening up about the ultimate mental-health taboo: their own mental health needs. Pastors Rick Warren, Perry Noble, Frank Page, and others have written about their own or their family’s struggles with mental health problems. Ministry and mental illness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the pressures of church leadership put clergy at elevated risk for anxiety disorders, depression, and other problems. Among the most powerful tools in that fight are the stories so many have to share. As people like Brad Hoefs openly discuss mental illness, their stories will teach in ways that facts, statistics, and arguments can’t. As churches like Community of Grace respond in love and understanding to people who need support, such churches will become havens for people who are poised to receive some of God’s most striking redemptive work. Grace is, after all, our best reason for hope.


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Not in Her Right Mind

How one church responded to an unexpected encounter with mental illness.


By marshall shelley

he worship team was making its way off stage, and Pastor Mike was making his way up when he noticed movement on one side of the auditorium. A woman he’d never seen before, with flaming red hair, stood to her feet, eyes shut, face to the sky, hands in the air. At the top of her lungs, she uttered unintelligible syllables: “Ah shalamakea lohiritu. Gristomay tomballo. Lavamar formallat sisternia.” Pastor Mike was as stunned as everyone else. “This was a 135-year-old Baptist church where this sort of thing had never been done,” he said later. “Other than the woman belting it out, you could have heard a pin drop. A few in the congregation looked at me as if this was something staged, a creative sermon intro. But it wasn’t. “As the woman continued, everyone looked at me, eyes wide, as if to say, ‘Do something! What are you going to do about this?’ The truth is, I

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had no idea. Nothing like this had been covered in seminary or ministry conferences. And I’d not been in churches where such utterances were practiced.” With a silent prayer, Mike slowly walked over to the woman, as attentive as possible to what was happening. With her eyes closed, the woman didn’t see him coming. When he got to her, Mike gently laid his hand on her shoulder to let her know that he was there. With that, she switched and began speaking in English, but still with a voice that carried to every corner of the room: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Ancient of Days, the Lion of Judah. Mighty are the works of my hands, and marvelous is that which is made. Great in glory and in majesty.” While her presentation was disruptive, Mike didn’t hear anything that was irrational or unbiblical, so he simply let her continue for a moment



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‘i usually don’t walk out of worship just glad to be alive. but i am today.’

Marshall Shelley is editor of Leadership Journal.



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or two (“although it seemed like an aching eternity,” Mike said). Then he noticed that sitting next to her was a man who seemed very uncomfortable, touching her arm trying to coax her down. The woman continued, “I love my daughter with a great love, and though she has been in treatment, even now my favor rests upon her . . .” Mike bent down to quietly ask the man, “Is she speaking about herself right now?” The man nodded. So Mike asked, “What is her name?” He responded, “Darlene.” “At that moment I had my first clue what was happening here,” Mike said later. With that, Pastor Mike turned to the rapt faces in the congregation and with the benefit of the microphone said gently, “Church, this is Darlene, and she is our guest today. I think that we should pause right now to pray for her.” While Mike prayed, with his hand gently on her shoulder, Darlene continued speaking forcefully. Mike asked that God would touch Darlene in a special way, bringing comfort to her mind, clarity to her thoughts, and calmness to her soul. And that God’s Holy Spirit, the spirit of peace, shalom, would be evident in her life. As he finished praying, to everyone’s surprise and relief, Darlene also brought her prophecy to a close. As Mike described it later with a grin: “As I said ‘Amen,’ she sat back down and rejoined the service already in progress.” Though he doubted if anyone would remember anything he had to say that morning, it seemed essential to press forward and reestablish a sense of normalcy. He preached on Ephesians 1. At the end of the service, Darlene and her companion exited immediately, before Mike or anyone else could talk with them. Afterward everyone wore nervous smiles. “I usually don’t walk out of worship just grateful to be alive, but I am today,” one woman told Mike. Others made a point of telling Mike they appreciated that Darlene had been treated with compassion. “We could have taken the service back lots of different ways,” Mike said, “but the Lord enabled us to find one that treated her with honor as a person.” That week, after a few phone calls, Mike learned that Darlene had a treatable mental condition, that she had gone off her medication, and that had prompted her behavior on that Sunday morning. “Knowing her situation enabled us to respond with greater understanding,” Mike said.

Public disturbances such as this are rare, but other less dramatic encounters with mental illness in the church are increasingly common. In fact, mental disorders are the number-one cause of disability in North America. Some of the most common are mood disorders, depression, autism, and attention deficit disorder.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 25 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That’s about equal to the total percentage of people diagnosed with cancer each year, those living with heart disease, people infected with HIV and AIDS, and those afflicted with diabetes— combined! Because many mental illnesses (like depressive episodes) are short-term and not chronic, a higher percentage of people are affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives. The mentally ill often feel they are on the margins of society, but they’re actually in the mainstream! Serious and chronic mental illness is less common, but still present among 6 percent of the population, or 1 in 17 adults. Those mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessivecompulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. If your church is typical, on any given Sunday one in four adults and 1 in 5 children sitting around you are suffering from a mental illness. Many are under the influence of powerful antipsychotic drugs and their side effects. In a Leadership Journal survey of pastors, 37 percent indicated that someone in their congregation had suffered from a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. In most cases, those with mental illness do not themselves present a direct danger to the church. In the rare cases in which there is a real threat of violence, churches often get a restraining order, which can be enforced by the police. Most often, those with mental illness complicate church life in other ways. They may indirectly generate problems because people in the church will differ dramatically over how much accommodation the church should make for them. For instance, in one church a girl with a form of autism had a service dog, without which she had difficulty coping in a group


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setting. Her parents assumed her dog would be welcome in the Sunday school room. Normally that would’ve been true, except that another child in that Sunday school class had an allergy to pets. The two mothers, determined to protect the welfare of their two children, forced the church to decide between the two. Each mother saw it as an “us or them” situation. If a person with a mental illness has tics or involuntary vocalization, how much tolerance does the church have for disruption of the worship service? If a child with ADHD wants to dance during the music or wander onstage … or if a person with schizophrenia “has something to say,” will that be permitted? Given the pervasive presence of various forms of mental illness, how can church leaders respond in ways that benefit the persons with mental illness while not derailing the overall ministry of the church? Pastor Mike took some key steps and learned some ministry-altering lessons. Knowing that it was up to him, as pastor, to guide the church’s response, Mike met on Monday with the church leaders to process the experience, pray, and plan their next steps. “For better or worse, the church was going to be watching me to keep the peace, set the tone, and interpret what has happened. I knew I needed to do that right away—addressing both the personal and theological issues that the Sunday morning experience had raised.” On Tuesday he sent an email to the congregation, mostly to set the tone. “They knew we had made it through the disruption, the woman had been treated with kindness, and order had been restored—but they also needed to know that I was still smiling. People carefully watch their pastors. Are they worried? Is there something to fear? They needed to be assured that I was confident, faith-filled, and excited to be back with them the next weekend.” In the email Mike wrote: “Someone once said that ‘If you have the Word without the Spirit, you’ll dry up. If you have the Spirit without the Word, you’ll blow up. But if you have the Word and the Spirit, you’ll grow up.’ I can’t wait until next Sunday because we’re going to have both the Word and the Spirit.” He indicated that next Sunday he wanted to share with them some reflections on the unusual circumstances of the week before. “They needed to hear from me that this was going to end up being a good thing,” Mike said. The next Sunday morning, Darlene was nowhere to be seen (“but I promise you, we were looking,” Mike said). Attendance was high. “People were eager to find out how we were going to handle what we had been through.” So in the service, Mike took ten minutes to have a “fireside chat” with the congregation. He shared how it was important that they do everything they can to treat everyone with respect, even those that stretch us out of our comfort zone.

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“Often we get opportunities during the week to practice that. This past Sunday, we had an opportunity to all practice it together. And I want you to know how proud I am of you,” Mike said. “We’ve focused on embracing outsiders,” Mike said, “And we’ve worked hard to reach out and welcome in new kinds of attenders—the homeless and poor, excons and drug addicts. We’ve been learning how it is sometimes too easy to simply serve the needs of the outsider and keep them at arm’s length. The real test comes with how you welcome them into your own community. “Darlene’s visit was a watershed moment for us. We needed to see, in real time, how someone would be treated if they didn’t exactly fit into our comfort zone. Could we welcome such people, treat them with grace, and still keep the church together? Darlene showed us that we could. It was a turning point, a defining moment.”


But that’s not the end of the story. Several months later, a very quiet woman with dark brown hair came up to Mike after the service with her Bible in hand. She seemed very shy, and she thanked Mike for the service. Then she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” “I’m sorry,” Mike said. “I don’t think I do. How do we know each other?” “The last time I was here, I stood up in the service to say something,” she said. “You’re Darlene?” He would never have recognized her. Gone was the flaming red hair. Gone was the loud voice. “Yes,” she replied bashfully. “That’s me. I’m better now. But I don’t want people to think of me the way I was the last time I was here.” Mike gave her a warm hug and welcomed her back. For the next several years, until she moved to Idaho, she was part of the church, faithful every Sunday and helping with community service projects. “Although Darlene became a part of the congregation, I never pointed out who she was,” Mike said. “No one recognized her, and she never brought it up with anyone else. It was obvious that God was working in her life. But I wasn’t going to reveal her previous connection with our church. That was a story she could tell if she wanted to, but it wasn’t my place to reveal it. “To this day, no one ever realized that quiet, meek Darlene was the same wild-eyed prophet from that unforgettable Sunday. But the church embraced brown-haired Darlene, and it was also embracing those like the fiery-haired prophet, far more than they ever could have known.”

This article is excerpted from Ministering to Problem People in the Church, by Marshall Shelley (Bethany, 2013).



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6/18/14 4:05 PM


My Near Life Experience How a brush with death taught me to live fearlessly for God.


By Peyton Jones

still don’t know how to die. You’d think having done it once I would have some expertise on the subject. Most people punch a one-way ticket to the Great Beyond, but mine was a return ticket. The surgery was scheduled. Death was not. It came abruptly and unannounced. There was no shuffling in line, security checkpoints, or waiting at the gate. It came without warning. I was unconscious when I stopped breathing. I had gone under the knife to remove nose cartilage occluding my airway. You don’t typically write a will before undergoing a routine nasal surgery, but I went into cardiac arrest from a reaction to the anesthetic. For 20 minutes, I was gone. The medical team fought to bring me back—and finally did. Thank God for the resuscitating powers of defibrillation, atropine, and ambu bags. My experience on “the other side” didn’t reflect much of what I’ve read on the subject. If I’d paid for my ticket, I would have felt a bit ripped off. No tunnels of light. No angel wings flapping. No grandparents telling me to relay messages to

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loved ones. Who knows, maybe I died wrong. All I know is that it impacted me profoundly. In the opening chapter of the C.S. Lewis novel Perelandra, the narrator observes a change in the lead character Ransom after he’s returned to England from Mars. “A man who has been in another world does not come back unchanged. One can’t put the difference into words.” This has certainly been true of my experience. To this day, I can’t talk about it with tears forming in my eyes. At the time of my experience, I was living in Wales doing missions work. The word that comes closest to describing what happened is what the Welsh call the hiraeth. The ancient Celtic word has no English equivalent. It usually refers to someone longing for their homeland. And yet even that doesn’t quite capture the word’s meaning. It’s something deeper. Like many Welsh words, hiraeth is better felt than explained. The hiraeth is the tug in the chest from an invisible cord reminding the traveler that he’s sojourning on a distant and foreign shore. This is the word I uttered during the neurological check after the crash team revived me. I’ll never forget the fascination and awe I felt



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confessing, “I’ll have the hiraeth for heaven for the rest of my life.” I knew it then. I was changed forever by setting foot inside of forever, if only for 20 minutes.


after 20 minutes they’d restored a pulse. They felt successful. I felt they’d failed me.

When a patient regains consciousness or awakes from general anesthetic, they don’t just snap back to full consciousness. Mental orientation is regained in stages. The brain gets its bearings slowly, piecing together what just happened after a mental reboot. Every time a person is knocked unconscious, the brain resets and goes through system processes like a computer. Orientation typically occurs in the following order: Orientation to self (x1) Orientation to place (x2) Orientation to date (x3) Orientation to situation (x4) When I was an RN, we charted that the patient was oriented x3 if they were fully aware, while paramedics add the fourth designation because it’s associated with temporary memory loss right after trauma. Because self is generally first in the reorientation process, we first ask, “Can you tell me your name?” Then, “Do you know where you are?” But I seemed to skip these steps. Before I could open my eyes, I was oriented x4. In fact, I was still oriented to heaven. It felt like some of it had come back with me. The physical trauma of dying lasted weeks, but eternity’s afterburn lingered much longer.


Peyton Jones

is the founder of New Breed Church Planting and author of Church Zero (David C. Cook, 2013).



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I wonder how many patients that are revived from dying wake up disappointed. That was certainly the case with me. I just didn’t want to be back. It felt like I’d just endured a grueling international flight, been taxied to the gate, allowed to disembark, and after stretching my legs a bit, been forced to board the aircraft again to be flown home. I remember screaming inside my head, wishing my mouth would work. I would have shouted for them not to resuscitate. After 20 minutes of working on my body, they restored a pulse. They’d felt successful. I felt they’d failed me. I struggled with whether to write about my experience. I feared that sharing it would somehow cheapen it. My grandfather served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne during WWII. Over the years he declined to

speak about his war experiences. Perhaps he feared that no one would understand the complexities of a world far removed from this one by the circumstances of war. Perhaps he didn’t want people dissecting his psyche or analyzing his trauma when the faces of fallen comrades are still so vivid. When somebody shares a near death experience, others rush to turn your story into proof for or against the existence of God and heaven. It’s like recounting your war experiences as a veteran, reliving your buddies being caught on barbed wire, ripped open by bullets, only to have somebody trample what you’ve said by twisting it into an argument on the ethics of war. Perhaps, like a war veteran, I feel that you had to be there to truly understand. My biggest fear, however, is that others will misunderstand an experience so personally profound and transformative. Some want me to pen a book on an already saturated subject so I can cash in on the experience. Others declare that what I experienced is theologically impossible, while skeptics speculate that it was the re-firing of my neurons inducing religiously themed hallucinations. I’m a rational person. I’m a former psych nurse. I’ve explored all of the angles. But I’ve come to grips with the fact that I may never fully understand what happened to me. Paul shared his own experience without possessing certainty of what had actually transpired: “whether in the body or out, I don’t know” (2 Cor. 12:3). If Paul was uncertain about his experience, then you’ll have to forgive a little fogginess about my own.


Far more significant than what happened when I died was what happened when I came back. My eyes fluttered open, but I didn’t need them to regain my orientation. I scanned the nurse’s face, then the room, and the crash cart. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what had happened. My mouth wouldn’t work yet. I couldn’t move anything but my eyes. Nurses bombarded me with usual questions, but when my jawbone reluctantly slipped back into submission, my first words were of exclamatory praise: “I’ve just seen the King of Heaven!” Nurse: “Oh, were you dreaming then?” Me: “No. I was there.” The Nurse glanced nervously at the others in the room. Me: “I’ll have the hiraeth for heaven for


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me make sense of what had happened. Where the commentators had struggled with obscurity, I now experienced clarity.


People always want to know what I saw. It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t allowed to keep my visual memories anyways. I was allowed to keep my orientation though. Where I was; what I felt; what I was doing. Over the next six months, long after the drugs wore off and the pain left my body, the glory of my experience began to dim. Even Moses experienced the slow fade. Still, I have souvenirs from my journey. Let me share a few with you. 1. Sensitivity The two weeks following my experience are hazy. I slept nearly two weeks straight, barely emerging from my room, waking only a few short hours a day. My body was wrecked. When the cells in your tissue are deprived of oxygen for 20 minutes, you feel like a train ran over you. My body was healing itself when I slept, but whenever I was awake, I was in his presence. During those times I was in the secret place of The Most High, flooded with peace, and intimacy with God. I had a voracious appetite for spiritual things and wanted to read. I felt drawn to A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. Reading, however, was like navigating an obstacle course. I couldn’t read any book of spiritual depth without stopping to worship, weep, and pray after only a few paragraphs. I felt like David marching the Ark of the Covenant through the gates of Jerusalem, marching a few

© 2014 Erik Johnson.

the rest of my life.” I knew he was doing the neurological check, and went along, but he asked me if I spoke Welsh. I remarked that I’d taken classes but was a poor language student. Having an American accent always sparked conversation in Wales, and he asked me what a nice American boy was doing in a Welsh town like this. I told him that I was a missionary church planter and without hesitation, proceeded to tell him about the love of God. I didn’t do it like a wacky person. The cold call evangelism that I witness usually makes me cringe. Here, sharing the gospel had never been so easy, so natural, so unforced. It flowed out of me, and it had a powerful effect … because I was affected. And it was infectious. They wheeled me up to the recovery unit, transferred me from gurney to bed, showed me the pain control button, and left. I lay there in my bed for two hours like a shell-shocked man and wept. I wept for the loss of what I’d felt. I wept for the loss of the beauty. Wordsworth reflected on the beauty of God reflected in the natural world remarking that it brought “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” But what of the supernatural world? More than anything I wept for the loss of what Rich Mullins prayed for, “When I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home.” And although I wept for my heavenly home, it felt as if I’d been allowed to bring back a few souvenirs, and those souvenirs were worth the journey. That night a young man recovering from eye surgery in the next bed struck up a conversation. I recounted to him what had happened and we talked until 2 a.m. until I was too exhausted to stay awake and tell him about God anymore. Then he reached across the space between our beds, tugged on my arm, and pleaded with me to stay awake and tell him more about the gospel. I’d only read about this kind of response in the pages of Scripture. Something was radiating from me. The difficulty was in trying to explain what had happened. Up until that point, I hadn’t tried to explain it to a Christian. When my wife visited the unit the next morning with a box of donuts, I stared at the box as I tried to tell her about what I’d experienced. Each false start was interrupted by tears. I couldn’t recount the experience without breaking down. It took ages for me to look into her face and tell her about where I’d been without feeling I was betraying it. My feelings had no frame of reference and I struggled to communicate. I felt like the man healed of blindness who described men as “trees walking.” So I grabbed the book of Revelation as if it were an English/Heaven translation handbook. Suddenly the ambiguous passages in Revelation that daunted me before were helping



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steps, only to stop and offer sacrifice. I learned that Tozer had practically written the entire manuscript of his spiritual classic on a train after it had been delayed overnight. Tozer confessed feeling as if the content had been deposited into his mind faster than he could write. When they picked him up on the platform the next morning, he remarked that he didn’t mind being held overnight because he hadn’t been alone on his journey. Like Tozer, I had a heightened sensitivity to God’s presence, and realized, like Jacob, that God had been “in this place and I knew it not.” 2. Worship Travel agents must be frustrated trying to sell destinations to places they’ve never visited. How do you describe the Grand Canyon to somebody who’s never been without making it sound like merely a big hole in the desert? Words, ideas, and imaginings fail to do justice to the reality one encounters when they arrive. I’d always heard that I’d be in awe of God when I got there, but nobody told me what I really felt. More than awe, more than wonder, more than amazement, I felt pride in God. We were proud of Jesus; not just in awe of him. Suddenly the worship passages in Revelation began to unlock. I still feel it. 3. Assurance I might as well have been Superman, because after my experience, I had a bullet proof vest where

condemnation was concerned. The enemy couldn’t touch me. I saw his accusations for what they were and laughed. I told my wife, “Honey, it’s all crap. All of it. He’s taken care of everything. Condemnation is an illusion.” I was naked before God, but I was covered. This too faded … but I’ve never forgotten. Like you, I need the gospel of the grace of God, the preciousness of the blood, and the centrality of the cross to make it through every day now. But I know that one day, we will no longer limp, but run. 4. Healing Before June 5, 2008, Humphrey Bogart could have narrated the tragedy of my pastoral experience like a Sam Spade detective film. There were the days that certain churches came into my life, the times my tenure with them ended and they broke my heart. I’d already quit ministry, planted a church in a Starbucks, had my faith restored in ministry after being on the front lines, but there were a lot of busted up pieces still rattling around in my ribcage for years afterwards. My pastoral heart had been broken so many times that I’d learned to live and work hurt. And it cast a shadow over my life. Somehow, by being in his presence for 20 minutes, the brokenness was healed by him who casts no shadow. That impressed me, but it impressed my wife even more. She noticed the change. She knew something supernatural had happened in my heart.


© 2014 Dennis Fletcher.

“Basically, we’re looking for an innovative pastor with a fresh vision who will inspire our church to remain exactly the same.”



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I’m beyond the time where I should be wearing a veil. The glory has faded, and I’m simply myself, minus the luminous suntan. Yet the experience has left some indelible marks. In some ways there’s greater peace, mixed with an increased angst. The angst has to do with mission. The peace has to do with the mission being his. Paul’s “One thing I do” was to take hold of that for which God had taken hold of him. He wanted to discover his mission; his purpose. I now have a similar sense of urgency. My experience made me less patient with the interruptions, more focused on the goal. When I read Paul, I get a sense that there’s an invisible countdown ticking in the recesses of his mind. Like Paul, I am aware that I am living on borrowed time. I offend people more. I waste less time. At the same time, my ambitions are dead. I am driven less by ego, more by impact. I became aware that there is only One whom I want to impress. It is him before whom I will stand one day … again. What a freeing realization! Now everything I do is for him.


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High Anxiety My struggle with anxiety and fear no longer defines me.


By David Trig

y mom tells me I used to cry at bath time. She also tells me I used to cry every time we went to the ocean. Although I grew up thinking I was just another kid who didn’t like to take baths or go to the beach, I’ve come to realize those were the early signs of what would become a lifelong battle with fear and anxiety.


I am convinced we need to rebrand the way we talk about anxiety. We need to stop using the term

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“mental health” and start using different ways to discuss this topic. Maybe we could use Instagram and Twitter hashtags. For example, instead of using the hashtag #bff we can use #ibmfoo for “I Blame My Family of Origin.” Or instead of the hashtag #throwbackthursday we can use the hashtag #tmfcslt “Throw my Front Cortex Some Love Thursday.” It could change everything. I’m joking of course, but my dream is that instead of words such as unstable and weak, we will use words such as intuitive, creative, and productive when describing people who deal with fear and anxiety. I am one of the over 18 mil-



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lion Americans who deal with fear, anxiety, and issues of mental health. When I get anxious I feel it in my shoulders. My breathing gets shallow and I get what my therapist calls “brain lock.” During these times, I seem to be in a state of both rational and irrational consciousness. I know what’s going around me yet I’m telling myself messages that make no sense. “You’re going to die. You’re not going make it. You’re going to lose it all.”


David Trig

© 2014 H.L. Schwadron.

is the founder of Living a Life of GOZO!, an organization that helps people find hope and joy in everyday life. He lives in Long Beach, California.

A few years ago, I went for a run in Palm Springs in 110 degree weather and suffered a severe panic attack. I grabbed the nearest palm tree while my mind raced with thoughts of catastrophe. I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I began to panic, wondering who would find me dead by the side of the road. As cars drove by I tried to wave a few of them down. But being Palm Springs, most were retirees. I wondered if any of the drivers would have the strength to put my body in the car. I eventually calmed myself down, worked my plan, and made it home. I can now laugh at that experience. My anxiety is triggered by a fear of death and disaster. It’s an irrational worry

“Excuse me? ‘Til DEBT do us part?”


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that our children or those I love are dying or that I will one day lose it all. These triggers stem from a variety of factors: the trauma associated with growing up in the middle of a war in my native Nicaragua, issues related to moving to the United States when I was 12 years old, and experiencing what I call the “invisible immigrant syndrome.” But in the last 10 years, with the help of counselors, mentors, medication, and most of all the support of my wife and family, I’ve learned a lot about my anxiety. I’ve learned how to quiet my emotions. I’ve educated myself about diet and exercise. I’ve learned about the importance of truth-telling and learning new narratives that calm my irrational feelings. I’ve learned how to lead from a place of being not doing, how to live out of being the beloved versus being afraid. Things were going quite well—then I hit bottom.


I remember the day I got fired from my job as if it was yesterday. It was a beautiful Southern California afternoon on the University of Southern California campus and I was sitting in my office working on QuickBooks. My boss and the chairman of the board came into my office and I was informed my job was gone. For the next three months my anxiety went through the roof. I scrambled to take control of my life. All my tools seemed to go out the window as I experienced panic attacks day and night. Still I kept praying, trusting God would provide for me and my family. There were many hard days along the way, which included getting swine flu, going to the clinic for the uninsured, and being asked if I was an undocumented worker. But the hardest day was when I waited in line at the Marriott in L.A. alongside 200 other men and women trying to land a $10/hour, 20-hour-a-week job—that I did not get. That’s when it all changed. As I left the ballroom I felt God say to me, “You will get up from here, and just keep giving to others.” On my way out, a man at a bus stop approached me. He told me that what I said during the group interview was something he really needed to hear (I talked about hope amidst adversity). Then a young pastor from Boston who was starting a church plant in L.A. told me how good it was to see another pastor


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at the meeting. He asked if he could get my information so we could talk. Then a friend of mine told me, “David, you’ve been living in the past way too long, it’s time for you to move on.” As these interactions took place, I thought of the passage from Isaiah. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (43:19). Over the past year or so I’ve finally begun to find some freedom from anxiety and live from a place of vulnerability. I know I have a new name. I am no longer useless or weak. I don’t think of myself as a fearful freak. I am now Fearless Trig. Last month I hosted and spoke at a conference at 7th Street Church in Long Beach, California called, “The Finding Grace Through

I know i have a new name. I am no longer useless or weak. I don’t think of myself as a fearful freak. I am now Fearless Trig. Anxiety Conference.” Our focus was joy, grace, and what we called #GOZO! (joy). We expected 8-10 people to come and sit in a circle. After all, who wants to talk about anxiety? But to our delight almost 80 people showed up. Some even left the conference because they were having panic attacks due to the crowded room. God is doing a new thing in my life. He is teaching me to work together with others. He’s teaching me to integrate mind, body, and soul. He’s reminding me to lead from a place of vulnerability and to always remember my new name. I’ve always loved the ocean and thankfully I now enjoy it without fear. My anxiety may be with me for the rest of my life, but God has given me a new purpose and a hope. I know that my weakness is his strength. My story is God’s story and it’s one I’m living out for him and for the sake of others. If you suffer with anxiety I hope you know it isn’t the end. May you discover that there is still peace, grace, purpose, and joy at the end of each day. Someday it may even feel like a day at the beach.

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Anxiety: What Not to Say I had my first real panic attack in a Big Boy restaurant my junior year of high school. I used to think that I just didn’t like change. New places and experiences made me uncomfortable. When I would go to a restaurant on a date, I would get nervous. “Everyone gets nervous on dates,” people told me. What I couldn’t tell them was that I got so nervous, I couldn’t even touch my food. I got so nervous that I was afraid I’d vomit or pass out or run screaming from the restaurant. I know now that the “fight or flight” response of a panic attack will do that to you. But it wasn’t until college that I learned the name for what was happening to me: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Panic attacks. I’m far from alone. More than 25 percent of adults suffer from some form of mental illness. One in four people who seek help for a mental illness will turn to a member of the clergy. In fact, pastors are more likely to be sought out than medical doctors or even psychiatrists. In my own story, I wanted to seek help from my church, but I was embarrassed and ashamed of my condition. Without really knowing why, I didn’t think my church leaders would be sensitive to it. Today, thank God, that’s becoming less and less likely. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Orange County co-sponsored the “Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” in March of this year in order to raise awareness about mental health issues that affect Christians and nonChristians alike. The church is starting to realize not only the depth but the degree to which people within their walls are affected by mental illness. The numbers are much higher than we’ve known (America magazine reports that more people die now by suicide than by auto accidents), and anxiety and depression are some of the most common ailments. Though we’re making progress in Christian circles, we still have a long way to go. Here are a few things you should avoid saying to someone with an anxiety disorder.

“Your fears are irrational.”

While that is usually technically true, those of us facing anxiety need to know that our experiences are legitimate. Saying this phrase has the opposite effect. Allow those facing anxiety to have their experiences validated and not dismissed.

“I’ve been pretty nervous / sad before, so I understand.”

Our culture throws around words like “anxious” and “depressed” too easily. True anxiety disorders or depression are not a matter of regular worry or sadness. Everyone worries. Everyone experiences sadness. But unless you’ve experienced clinical anxiety and/or depression, you can’t relate personally. Don’t assume your level of understanding is sufficient to relate.

“You’ll probably always have some anxiety.”

This may be true but it also may not. Regardless, people need to know that there is hope for change, that things can indeed get better. —Samuel Ogles



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Communicating with the Brain in Mind How neuroscience can help us engage people in an age of distraction.


By Charles Stone

t all began in a kid’s high chair. It was Christmas Day, 1987, in Laurel, Mississippi. As Tiffany, our one-year-old, sat in her pink high chair, I fed her pureed peaches. As I lifted the spoon to her mouth, I noticed that her left eye quivered like Jell-O. That didn’t seem right. My anxiety immediately jumped. The next day we got an appointment with a local doctor who recommended we see a specialist. After we drove back to our home in Atlanta we saw a neurologist who assured us it was probably nothing to worry about. However, to be safe he wanted to take a CAT scan of her brain. A week later our neurologist gave us the news that changed our lives: “Your daughter has a brain tumor.” I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but even now I can feel the pain that flooded me after hearing those six words. Anger grew in my heart in the subsequent days. One-year-old babies weren’t supposed to get brain tumors. Especially not mine. That phone call began our 25-year journey to save Tiffany’s life. After six brain surgeries, multiple hospitalizations, seeing the best medical doctors schooled in neuroscience, and much prayer, we have great hopes for Tiffany’s future. We believe God used his healing power through men and women who knew the science of the brain. Because of Tiffany’s illness, I spent a great

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deal of time thinking about the brain. Living in the world of neuroscience gave me questions about how the burgeoning field might impact my speaking and teaching. The Bible supports (albeit, indirectly) learning about how our brains work. Scripture often refers to the mind (over 140 times) and to functions of the mind like memory (over 175 times). God tells us to renew our minds (Rom. 12:2) and think a certain way (Phil. 4:8-9). Jesus even tells us to love him with our minds (Matt. 22.37). He also commands us to honor him with our bodies (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 1 Cor. 6:19-20), which of course includes our brains. It makes sense that we would seek to understand our brains and use our insights about it to become better communicators.


There are several factors working against us. Here are just a few. Brains are easily distracted. The brain is rather lazy. Your mind would rather wander than pay attention because it takes more energy to focus. As I write this article, I sit in a local McDonalds (free Wi-Fi and free refills of Diet Coke). To help me focus, I face a wall to block out visual distractions and listen to the sound of a babbling stream through my sound suppressing headphones. Yet I constantly battle to maintain focus. I sense people moving behind me, hear the



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When people are accustomed to regular dopamine hits, it can be incredibly difficult to sustain their attention.

Charles Stone

is pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario, and author of Brain-Savvy Leadership: The Science of Significant Ministry, (Augsburg Press, 2015). He blogs at



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muffled sounds of screeching kids, and feel tempted to check email. For my brain, distraction is easier than focus. Your listeners face the same challenge when you speak. We live in a hyper-connected world. Lack of attention in our 24/7 media-saturated world has become one of the biggest challenges communicators face. Linda Stone, a leadership consultant, describes our current distracted culture with the phrase “continuous partial attention,” a semi-attentive state in which people continuously “scan for opportunities, activities, and contacts.” This distraction doesn’t disappear in our churches and classrooms. It’s no longer the fussy baby that distracts us. Smart phones provide instant access to other distractions like Twitter, Facebook, and texting. At my church we live-stream our services. I recently learned that some people in our church watch me online while I preach, even though they are sitting in the auditorium listening to me live at the same time. And the feed is delayed by seven seconds. Go figure! Rampant dopamine addiction: Dopamine addiction is fast becoming a major obstacle to maintaining attention. Dopamine is one of the main chemicals in our brain involved with attention, reward, and motivation. Over 100 of these chemicals called neurotransmitters traffic in our brains and nervous systems. Dopamine gives us that nice sensation when we put the final touches on a sermon or see an uptick in our blog followers. It makes us feel good when we accomplish a goal or consume an energy drink. Dopamine provides a pleasant emotional kick. However, when the brain becomes addicted to it, it leads to other destructive addictions and harmful habits. We constantly seek these small “feel good” kicks. It could be as seemingly innocent as constantly checking email or Facebook hoping to see something positive or interesting or as destructive as drug or sex addiction. When people are accustomed to regular dopamine hits, it can be incredibly difficult to sustain their attention when we speak.


Jeffrey Schwartz, a Christian neuroscientist, coined a term that captures an important idea to consider in sermon prep. The term, attention density, refers to mental focus and concentration. At a neurological level, the greater the attention density, the more brain real estate gets involved. And here’s the crucial thing: the higher the attention density, the more people remember. So if we want

ANNOUNCEMENTS DON’T HAVE TO BE BORING Some years ago I took a “staycation” and visited a few local churches. One church I visited met in a simple warehouse. About 10 minutes into the service, a man walked on stage with a microphone in one hand and a hotdog in another. He made a couple of announcements between bites. Then another guy walked up on stage with a mike and a hotdog. They began a dialogue about the church cookout that followed. I’ll never forget that creative announcement. Most church attenders have come to expect a talking head to make announcements. But the brain pays attention when expectations get violated. If you want people to remember the announcements, violate your congregation’s expectations. Here are a few simple ideas. • Novelty (make them from a different location in your auditorium, use video, etc.) • Surprise (choose a different time in the service to make announcements, have separate people in the congregation stand up and make them, etc.) • Humor (Inject some wit and playfulness. The key to humor is surprise.) • Object lessons/show and tell (i.e., the hotdog).—C.S.

listeners to remember our sermons, we not only have to concern ourselves with good exegesis and sound hermeneutics; we must also include ways to increase attention density. Some brain-based densifiers (sounds strange, I know) include application, humor, testing (asking listeners to repeat your point), and spacing (breaking up your talks with other elements like music or drama). Below I suggest a few other principles that can help densify your listeners’ attention.


Neuroscientists have discovered that novelty can increase attention and aid learning. Be sure to begin, illustrate, and deliver your sermons creatively. When we surprise our listeners with a new way of explaining a point, say, the brain feels rewarded with a burst of dopamine. I’ve heard church people effuse about a new speaker they heard on a podcast or at a conference. I don’t tell them, but much of the impact from that new speaker is due to novelty. If they heard the


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speaker every week, like they do me, he probably wouldn’t pack the same punch he did the first time they heard him. Novelty excites. In each talk illustrate or highlight a point in a different way. It can be as simple as using a flip chart to write out a point rather than counting on the standard power point slide. Or you can use an object lesson. Object lessons work so well because one-third of the brain circuits are involved with visual perception. I once spoke on how small decisions we make can sap our passion for life. I used a heart-shaped, helium-filled balloon and poked a few pinholes in it. Throughout the talk it slowly lost buoyancy and vividly illustrated how our slow loss of passion can result from small poor decisions, like the pinholes in the balloon. At the same time, guard against placing too high a premium on novelty. Novelty grabs attention best when used sparingly. If you constantly employ novelty, it won’t be novel anymore.


We all love stories. The most popular TED talks often revolve around stories. When we only use abstract concepts, we only engage the language centers of our brains. However, when we tell stories, we engage many more parts of our brains. For example, when we tell stories that include motion (I ran at breakneck speed from the charging bear) our motor centers light up. Or when we tell a story that includes something about food (the seafood buffet had the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen) our sensory cortex lights up. When we share a story, it’s as if the listener vicariously experiences it as well, engaging many more parts of the brain than story-less talks. The more parts of the brain that get engaged, the more your listeners’ attention increases and the more likely it becomes they will remember what you say. Story works like a symphony conductor. When he raises his baton and leads an orchestra, all the instruments become engaged at his direction to make a coherent sound. Storytelling does the same thing for our brains. One caveat: don’t tell complicated stories. The simpler, the better. And remember the popular writing maxim: show, don’t tell. In other words, great storytellers paint verbal pictures by vividly describing scenes rather than merely giving the facts about what happened. Sharing stories in this way will enable your listeners to not only remember your talk but enjoy it as well.


We remember emotionally charged experiences better than those experiences we don’t associate with emotions. For example, you probably remember where you were when you first heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The visual and emotion-

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al experience seared the event in your memory. The emotional center of our brain, the limbic system, and specifically two almond shaped clusters of brain cells in it called the amygdalae, use emotion to stamp memories into our brains. Although some speakers can wrongly use emotion simply to make people cry, when appropriately used emotion can powerfully help listeners remember and absorb your talk’s crucial points. Recently I spoke about staying committed in marriage, especially through tough times. At the end of my talk I showed a two-minute video clip about a well-known college president who made the difficult decision to resign his position and take care of his wife full-time when he discovered she had Alzheimer’s. The tastefully done video reinforced marriage commitment by connecting emotionally to the viewer. Be cautious about using too much emotion because it can overload the brain and become a distraction itself. After using emotion, pause or slow down to give your listeners time to process their emotional reaction. Linger at that moment or they will miss what you say next. That fateful phone call 25 years ago started an incredible learning journey about how the brain profoundly impacts, life, leadership, and communication. I pray that this brief look at neuroscience and communication will spur your own learning journey about God’s incredible gift to us, the brain.

TWO KINDS OF MEMORY We have two fundamental kinds of memory: declarative and non-declarative. We use declarative memory to recall information (facts, figures, etc.), the memory we want to foster when we teach. We want our listeners to consciously recall the main points and content of our sermons. But just because our listeners can recall biblical content does not mean they have truly changed. The Holy Spirit must take that information and transform it into consistent godly conduct and character. That’s where the second kind of memory comes in. Non-declarative memory involves what we know without even thinking about it. Take riding a bike, for example. You can’t describe how you do it. You just do it without thinking about it because it’s deeply embedded into the habit centers of your brain (called the basal ganglia). That means it’s not only crucial to capture listeners’ attention and relay information. Ultimately, with the application of our teaching and the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives, godly conduct and character become second nature, embedded in the non-declarative memory.—C.S.



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mon becomes a one-page picture and 20-30 words. Writing a sermon manuscript is a good practice, but mind mapping enables you to condense your multi-page document to a memorable picture. It not only helps with recall but also helps you create clearer, more precise sermons. You can see whether or not a branch or twig really fits with the focus of the sermonic tree and prune (or add) as necessary.

Lenny Luchetti

Picture the parts

Mind Map Your Sermon


n order to visualize the thousands of words in a sermon manuscript, a new way of conceiving the sermon may be necessary. How can you see the sermon as a complete picture on a single page instead of as a long document you could never memorize? The answer: mind mapping. Basic mind mapping has been around for eons. Putting concepts and words into a visual picture, or map, aids in communication, learning, and recall. Mind mapping is not only a great way to take notes, cram for a test, and simplify complex concepts, it can also greatly enhance our preaching.

Plant a tree Here is one way to practice mind mapping. After you have your detailed sermon outline or manuscript, draw a tree trunk on a piece of paper. Write the sermon focus, big idea, or main point on the trunk. Now, draw several thick lines out from the top of the trunk, moving left to right. These lines are branches that represent the primary moves or points in your sermon. On each branch write a single word that best describes how that branch reveals or reinforces the focus of the tree trunk. Try not to have more than 5-7 branches sprouting off of the trunk. Now, off of each branch, draw no more than 2-4 thinner lines as twigs. On each of these twigs write a word that helps you recall what you will say about that branch. Vivid, concrete words are best for your branches and twigs. With a mind map like this one, your 10-page, 4,000-word ser-

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Once you have all the branches and twigs drawn up, prayerfully consider the best ordering of the branches for the sermon. Since we are left-to-right readers, it makes sense to order the branches from left to right on the tree. When placing the twigs on each branch, you will likely want to order them from the bottom to the top of the branch. Take your time placing the branches and twigs on the tree. They should be placed to facilitate sermon clarity and flow for listeners and sermon recall for the preacher. To make the mind map even more memorable, try replacing the words on the branches and twigs with images you draw or, if your artistic ability is limited, cut and paste pictures from the Internet or magazines. If your entire sermon is conceived as images that create one primary picture on a single page, you can remember and preach the sermon with precision.

Practice and play Mind mapping requires practice. Stick with it for a few months before you decide whether the practice is for you. In the beginning, you will likely want to mind map from a manuscript. But be prepared to not use everything in the manuscript, since some ideas may seem superfluous to the mind mapped tree. Have fun. Be creative. Enjoy the freedom that can result from mapping your 4,000-word manuscript into a single tree. Spend time prayerfully viewing and internalizing your tree. If the focus of your sermonic tree trunk is clear and compelling, if the branches reinforce the trunk, and if the twigs reinforce the branches, your sermon will powerfully connect with listeners. —Lenny Luchetti



6/19/14 10:33 AM


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3/27/14 8:30 AM



God and Bill Gates

What’s Your Tennis Ball?

At the 2013 commencement speech at MIT, Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox said: “When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: Their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way … So it’s not about pushing yourself; it’s about finding your tennis ball, the thing that pulls you.” —“Dropbox CEO Drew Houston’s 2013 MIT commencement address transcript,” Network World (6-7-13).

Young Man Dies Trying to Save His Cell Phone

In January 2014 a 26-year-old man died after he fell into the frigid waters of the Chicago River. Shortly after midnight, Ken Hoang, a visitor from St. Paul, Minnesota, and two friends were taking photos of the river when he dropped his cell phone onto the ice below. He climbed over a railing onto the ice but fell into the water. One of his friends, Lauren Li, then dropped down onto the ice to rescue him but she also slipped into the river. When she yelled for help, another friend also stepped onto the ice and fell into the water, police said. Ken Hoang was later pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Lauren Li, who had been missing since early Monday morning, was pulled from the water two days later and pronounced dead. The third friend, 23-year-old Phan Hoang, was hospitalized and released. The day after the tragedy, NBC Chicago interviewed people about the tragedy. A young woman said, “I guess I can understand the impulse. Your cell phone is sort of part of you. We are kind of tied to it. But it’s only a cell phone. To risk your life is incredible.”

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, 58, was asked “Do you believe in God?” Gates said that he believes science has now filled in some explanations for disease and the weather. But after admitting that science can’t explain everything, Gates shared an intriguing comment about his openness to God: “The mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there’s no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]. I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know.” —Jeff Goodell, “Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone (3-27-14).

— CBS Chicago, “Man Dead, Woman Missing After Falling In Icy River” (1-13-14)

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6/19/14 10:33 AM

“Operating with the Utmost Integrity!”

“ECFA is the standard for maintaining integrity and accountability for the church and nonprofit community in performing Kingdom business. Southeast Christian Church holds to these same values each and every day. By submitting to the ECFA standards, we let our membership know Southeast is striving to operate with the utmost integrity.” Dave Stone, Senior Pastor Southeast Christian Church, Lexington, KY

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6/17/14 9:47 AM


Practice (Really!) What You Preach


ou have finished writing your sermon. You know what you are going to say. The sermon structure is clear and creative. Your work is complete and it’s only Friday! You can put away your manuscript and simply rise up to preach your well-developed sermon on Sunday, right? Not so fast. While you may know what to say, it is crucial to spend time considering how you will say it. Preachers should spend adequate time between the completion of the sermon and the actual preaching event reflecting on how they will say what God has called them to say to their congregations. In other words, preachers will want to practice what they preach. Every preacher needs to find his own method for prayerfully practicing the sermon. You can adapt the following process to fit your personality, years of experience, and preferences. I often begin the process of practicing the sermon on Saturday instead of Sunday morning so that it has a longer period in which to permeate my soul. Saturday: 90 minutes Begin with a prayer for guidance and anointing to proclaim his Word with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. Then, read the sermon outline or manuscript silently, slowly, and prayerfully. Try reading through the sermon two or three times to get a sense of the sermon’s flow and the communicative tone that will best match your content. As you read the sermon, you are also trying to implant in your memory the seven to ten moves, or parts, of your sermon. Speak your sermon aloud reflecting on the use of your body and voice. As you speak the words of the sermon, discern how your body and voice can reinforce the words. Imagine your way into the preaching event. Picture the faces of the people and the

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situations in which they find themselves. What are the deepest needs, burdens, and hopes that your congregants carry in their hearts? Certain words of your sermon will need to be communicated with an enthusiastic tone and sweeping gestures. Other words you preach will need a soft tone and subtle gestures. Imagining your people and speaking the sermon aloud will give you a sense of the voice tones and body gestures necessary to reinforce the words of the sermon. Preach your sermon using your body and voice. You have prayerfully reflected on the words of the sermon and the best way to embody it with gestures and voice. Now it’s time to time stand up and preach it. Some might view this practicing of the sermon as theatrical or, worse, unspiritual. On the contrary, investing prayerful thought, time, and energy to prepare for delivering a message from God to the people he loves may be one of the preacher’s most spiritual disciplines. Sunday: 60 minutes Pray about the preaching event. Most preachers are awake several hours before the Sunday service begins. This time can be used to connect with God concerning the preaching event. Acknowledge your need for God. Invite God to transform your life and the lives of people in your church through the preaching event. Of course, you have been breathing prayers to God like this throughout the homiletic process, but now that you know what you’re going to say, you can pray with greater precision. Rehearse the sermon in your head. Think through the words of the sermon, recalling how you will use your voice and body to reinforce those words. By now you will likely have memorized the sequential flow of the sermon’s moves. Now is a good time to memorize the sermon introduction and conclusion so that you can maintain engaging eye contact with listeners. Preach the key parts. If you don’t have time to practice preaching the entire sermon again, decide which parts of the sermon are most significant. Usually, the key parts include the introduction, conclusion, and a key illuminating illustration. Practice preaching these key parts using no notes at all. — Lenny Luchetti



6/19/14 10:33 AM


MISSIONAL THEOLOGY? Take a look around you. The culture is changing, the language is shifting, and the things people value today are not the same as they were 50 years ago. In order to advance God’s Kingdom and effectively proclaim the gospel, the church must become sufficiently present in the world. ARE YOU PREPARED TO FACE THE CHALLENGES OF THIS NEW DAY?

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6/23/14 9:40 AM



Payroll Problems

Is a Holy Land Trip Tax Deductible?


Our church’s CPA says that because a Holy Land trip will serve in the continuing education of our pastor, it would be a tax-deductible expense. Is this correct?

No. Many churches present their minister with an allexpense paid trip to the Holy Land. This benefit constitutes taxable income if either or both of the following statements are true: • The trip is provided to honor the minister for his or her faithful services on behalf of the church. • The trip is provided to enhance or enrich the minister’s ministry. While a trip to the Holy Land can benefit one’s ministry, such a trip is not a business expense under current law. The tax codes provides that “no deduction shall be allowed ... for expenses for travel as a form of education” IRC 274(m)(2). The church’s payment of the cost of such a trip is treated as the payment of personal vacation expenses, and the full amount must be included as taxable income on the minister’s Form W-2 (or 1099-MISC if self-employed). This includes transportation, meals, and lodging. If the primary purpose of the pastor’s trip was business related (speaking, teaching, and so on) then his or her expenses may be reimbursable under the church’s accountable plan. Such a conclusion depends on several factors, including the length of the trip, and the time devoted to business and personal purposes, respectively. —Church Finance Today

Here are nine common payroll tax errors that churches make—and your church should avoid: 1. Treating ministers as selfemployed for income tax reporting. 2. Treating ministers as employees for Social Security. 3. Withholding taxes from ministers’ pay (unless ministers request voluntary withholding). 4. Giving W-2 forms (instead of 1099s) to self-employed ministers and workers. 5. Failing to provide a 1099-MISC form to any non-employee who receives $600 or more in annual compensation from the church. 6. Church employees failing to pay self-employment taxes if their employing church filed a Form 8274. 7. Not filing a Form 941 (the employer’s quarterly tax return). 8. Not issuing a W-2 or 1099-MISC when required. 9. Failing to comply with payroll deposit requirements. —Richard R. Hammar, Church & Clergy Tax Guide

Tackling Tech Buys

Council for Financial Accountability survey, churches that reported increased giving are more likely to do three things for givers: 1. Send personal thank-yous (not just acknowledgments). 2. Call givers occasionally to express appreciation. 3. Disciple and engage givers further with meaningful gifts (inspirational books, etc.)

“With more technologies available in the information age, the number of choices to sort through can feel overwhelming. For many church leaders, the same likely is true—for instance, one list available online shows 180 different options for church management software alone. ... With so many options available ... here are three critical factors to consider: Knowing your context, knowing the technology options, and involving the right people. ... Regularly schedule an evaluation once or twice a year to determine the benefits of the technology to your church’s goals and objectives. Also, make certain someone stays informed of technological developments so that obsolete technologies get retired and new ones take their place in a timely fashion.”

—Church Finance Today SkillBuilders


Think about thanking. According to an Evangelical

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6/19/14 10:33 AM

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6/20/14 10:27 AM



Reading the Signs of Daily Life By Henri Nouwen (HarperOne, 2013) THE FACTS: The final volume of Henri Nouwen’s spiritual trilogy explores four avenues of discernment. The first, “read the way forward” (reading books and other writings), and the third, “pay attention to people in your path,” are more straightforward. It’s the second (read the book of nature) and the fourth (discern the signs of the times) that will likely stretch readers. Even those who do not agree with Nouwen will benefit from hearing from his insights in this book. In the last section of the book, Nouwen gives his thoughts on discerning questions of vocation, presence, identity, and time. THE SLANT: This book is classic Nouwen: deep, wise, and honest. He gives multiple examples of reading the signs of daily life in his own experience. One rather powerful display of transparency: “I found myself speaking to thousands of people about humility and at the same time wondering what they were thinking of me.” What church leader can’t identify with that? I have benefitted from many of Nouwen’s books and this one is no exception. —Bob Mink

What Every Pastor Should Know 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church By Gary L. McIntosh and Charles Arn (Baker, 2013)

THE FACTS: With real life examples, scriptural backing, and hard research, McIntosh and Arn show what it takes for a church to grow, welcome guests (not visitors), and start and maintain classes or groups, and more. They cover financial issues such as building campaigns and address what portion of the budget should go to different expenditures. The book provides a wealth of information and data to help churches make the most of their efforts.


Encounters with Jesus

Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions By Tim Keller (Dutton, 2013) THE FACTS: Tim Keller, one of the finest Christian thinkers of our day, examines 10 interactions Jesus has with people in the Gospels. In each instance Keller defends the humanity and deity of Jesus while helping the reader draw closer to him in a deeply personal manner. In the end, the reader is left with both a stronger foundation of faith and a more vibrant love for the Savior. THE SLANT: Think of this book as sermons for church leaders. It answers questions, and responds to doubts. The book reflects Jesus’ ministry in both content and tone. Keller tackles hard questions while holding out comfort for those who are hurting. Readers will see Jesus afresh while gaining a better understanding of how to respond to the most common pressing questions of faith in an intelligent and winsome way. — Barnabas Piper

THE SLANT: The title might give the impression that this is a book of ministry maxims and inspirational quotes. It’s not. The book is built on data, observation, and the Bible. Every church will run up against the challenges and questions the book addresses. It also contains helpful metrics for different areas of ministry and timely tips for correcting weak areas. What Every Pastor Should Know lives up to its title. Any church leader will benefit from having this volume within reach. — Barnabas Piper

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6/19/14 10:33 AM

Headlines from Ukraine:

Violence. Bloodshed. Fear. Men, women, and children are asking, “What does the future hold?” Ukraine: A Nation in Crisis! Beyond the political crisis in the news, it’s a spiritual crisis of huge proportion. Faithful Ukrainian churches—made up of Ukrainian and Russian Christians—are reaching out with Christ’s love to needy families and refugees from violencetorn regions. You can help through Slavic Gospel Association’s new Crisis Evangelism Fund!

Your gifts to the Crisis Evangelism Fund will help the churches reach these needy, heartbroken people in many ways. $15 can help provide a food pack with items such as flour, pasta, and other staples plus Christian literature. Larger gifts will help reach out in many other ways, including help for missionary pastors in the conflict zones and other crisis response. Most of all, distressed families and individuals will receive hope from the Gospel . . . the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)—the only true hope for peace. To find out more or make a gift, visit our special web page at Leadership FP ad placement.indd 1

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6/17/14 10:05 AM



How Did Jesus View the Bible?

A review of Taking God at His Word


hen I pastored my small, theologically conservative church, I could safely assume the people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning to hear me preach believed that the Bible they held in their hands was God’s Word. But what exactly does that mean? Enter Pastor Kevin DeYoung. His new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway, 2014) doesn’t break any new ground in the debates over inerrancy. Coming in at just under 140 pages, this is a quick and easy read. But that’s just the point. DeYoung synthesizes the best scholarly arguments for the reliability, trustworthiness, and inspiration of Scriptures and presents them in a way that my deacons could digest and understand. What is helpful about DeYoung is his willingness to address contemporary questions about Scripture and our perennial desire to mold Scripture to our current context. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in Taking God at His Word is Chapter Seven, “Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” where he pushes back on the notion of a “red-letter” Jesus. “I’m not asking how Jesus interpreted the Bible or fulfilled the Bible, or what he taught from the Bible,” DeYoung writes. “I’m addressing only the simple, absolutely crucial question: what did Jesus believe about his Bible?” Then DeYoung systematically describes Jesus’ strong doctrine and high view of Scripture. This is an especially important argument today when many evangelicals are placing a high premium on the words of Jesus, but questioning whether they are compatible with the rest of God’s revelation. Unhelpful dichotomies such as “Jesus came to abolish the law” or Jesus came to “do away with religion” confuse believers and lead them away from a holistic understanding of the entire span of salvation history. Taking God at His Word also makes Sola Scriptura accessible to a new generation. The Bible occupies the magisterial role, and the church is its minister. You’ll find a fuller treatment in works such as Timothy Ward’s Words of Life, but DeYoung gives a terrific and clear-eyed view of the important arguments. Last, DeYoung forcefully urges Christians to consider the Bible to be “clear” and “sufficient” for faith and practice. To evangelicals for whom certainty is a four-letter word, DeYoung’s apologetic will go down hard, but he offers an important reminder of the danger

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of shading God’s revealed truth in gray hues. DeYoung may not convince those already determined to press their cultural preferences upon Scripture, but he’ll likely influence those curious about the relationship between Jesus and the law. What’s more, this little book will sharpen those who agree, philosophically, with the argument that “the Bible is the Word of God” but are unsure of how to explain it. Its compact format has the potential to stimulate good thinking from lay believers otherwise unengaged in the important apologetic arguments surrounding the Scripture they trust to be breathed by God. Pastors and church leaders will find this a handy resource to hand out to new believers and mature saints who never personally grappled with the doctrine of Scripture. In making esoteric arguments accessible to the average Christian, DeYoung has succeeded. If he equips a new generation with a confidence in God’s revealed Word, this is something worth applauding. —Reviewed by Daniel Darling



6/23/14 10:20 AM

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6/23/14 10:27 AM



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6/19/14 9:59 AM

Dancing in



Erwin McManus

on how being “naked and unashamed” led to new faith, new life, and new believers.


rwin McManus is a difficult man to sum up. Equal parts preacher, artist, entrepreneur, and iconoclast, his ministry over the past decades has consisted as much of breaking pastoral expectations as fulfilling them. His passion for creativity and artistry of the spirit are highlighted in his latest book, The Artisan Soul, a spiritual “manifesto for creativity.” I sat down with McManus in a little bistro in Los Angeles’ Larchmont neighborhood to discuss the new movement of life at Mosaic and the experiences of failure and honesty that are leading the community to discover the voice of its own artisan soul. Let’s begin at the end. Mosaic baptized 468 new Christians in 2013. That’s a departure from the year before, right?

It’s a departure from every year before. From the beginning, our community has been focused on people outside of Christianity. But that emphasis means that a lot of hard work is represented in every person who is baptized. It took sweat, blood, tears—brutal hard work—for each new Christian. It took talking to them for years about faith. Months, if it was fast. In the past, the most baptisms we ever had in a year was 118. The average was around 60, I think. What changed? Much of the change was a personal one for me. I’ve worked in the business world and as a futurist the whole 20 years that I’ve led at Mosaic. But about five years ago I took a hard detour and stepped back to focus on fashion and film. The system of Christian celebrity was not a good space for me, and it was brutal on my kids—my son in college was frequently con-

Interview by Paul Pastor

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6/19/14 9:59 AM

Christian celebrity was not a good space for me, and it was brutal on my kids.

fronted by people railing against me as a heretic. At one point he said, “Dad, I don’t want to spend every day in my life defending being McManus.” It was hard. I would literally go on Trip Advisor every day and start looking at places where I could disappear. Where no one would know I existed. I wanted to quietly become a non-story in the Christian world. Even though I was still connected to Mosaic, I wasn’t profoundly integrated. I thought I was going to step out of public conversation with the broader Christian movement. I stopped writing books or speaking at Christian events. Five years later my son sent me a note: “Dad, if we make bags and make films but don’t take Jesus to the world, we’ve accomplished nothing.” He challenged me to reengage. Reflecting on that later, I told my wife Kim, “I feel like God turned a light on.” I felt like I was alive again. In the meantime, my company did really well. I had 30 or 40 employees around the country. We were making a lot of money. I thought I was going to reach the fashion and film industries for Christ. I felt like the church didn’t want to imagine or create. At one point, I was walking on the beach and felt like I had heard God say to me, “I want you to absorb the beauty of the universe and give it to the world.” That became my mission for life. But I think the false assumption I made is that I could



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only do that outside of the church. Beautiful things were happening. God was working in amazing ways—already bringing an unusual number of people to faith. I reconnected with Mosaic, and began to make sense of my own story. And then right after that, my company was stolen from me. I lost millions of dollars in one day. I had to fly home and tell my wife that we lost everything. I felt like I was going to die. Everything had felt so affirming. So clear. Like God was moving. Then the bottom fell out. When everything collapsed, it coincided with Mosaic’s leadership retreat—we had all our leaders come together all day. I just took the day to share what had just happened. I walked through my disorientation, pain, loss, sense of betrayal, hope, my aspirations. At one point I said, “I’m telling you all this because I want you to watch God restore and rebuild my life.” You see, a lot of people had only seen me in success. Now was my chance to let them see me in absolute, utter failure. I was going to be proof of whether God was good or not. Where did you go out of that place? Not where. Who. Who would we decide to be? It was a genuine shift. It was a stripping away of any pride and of any separation between us. We became a tribe together. It wasn’t my pain being


6/19/14 9:59 AM

watched by other people. It was all of us going through pain together. It felt like we became a community of one heart and mind. The Scriptures talk about that. But it was also a moment of simplicity for our leadership, for understanding that we needed to focus on one thing. We released every one of Mosaic’s campuses, so that we could each focus on the one thing, the one place we knew we had to be. I lost everything, but it made me say, “What I’m going to do now is what is at the core of my intention in life.” And it made me say to our leadership, “If you want to join, then walk with us.” Mosaic is not just a place to go to church. It’s a movement that could change human history. And that redefining of my voice changed everything. How did that work itself out in the life of the church? In the middle of that dark moment, we felt the urge to prove that God is real and that he is here. We threw the gauntlet down—it was exciting. I see a real turning point that came when I began to honestly say, “Look. We all know you’re all cool. So just leave cool at the door.” It changed the atmosphere inside our auditorium. The stories are extraordinary. One guy that came from Denver, not a follower of Christ, had a dream. In the dream he saw this beautiful girl. He said, “What’s your name?” And she said, “My name is Mosaic.” The next day he flew into LA, took a wrong street to a meeting he was supposed to go to, drove by the building and saw Mosaic, walks in and gives his life to Christ. The daughter of one of the highest military commanders in an Islamic state was brought by a Buddhist who works for Disney. Both of them come to faith. This former Muslim is sitting with me and my wife in the lobby. Another Muslim walks in and asks, “Can I find Jesus here? I want to become a Christian.” So I have this brand new Muslim who just came, who just got baptized, helping as this new Muslim who just walked in the building comes to faith. She takes her out to lunch to start discipling her. And what’s amazing is the girl whose family is really high in the military we didn’t know she could be baptized because she said her life would be definitely threatened. She lost her visa, had to go back to her country, so she decided to be baptized before she went back— knowing the implications. People far, far from Jesus coming to him. At one point, during a Christmas service, we were using battery powered candles (we can’t do open flames anymore because we set one woman’s hair on fire in one of our services). I’m in the moment, inviting people to give their lives to Jesus. I say, “Hey, if you’re an atheist and you’re not even sure why you’re here and if you would say, ‘Hey,

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God, if you’re out there, I want you to find me,’ just hold up your light.” And all over, the lights came up. I had goose bumps. It felt more profound than conversion in that moment. Because I realized we had atheists joining us, thinking There might be a chance. Our posture is to say, “Look. We’re going to believe for you. We’re just literally going to carry

Honest Impact


alph Neighbour, co-pastor of Mosaic, shares how McManus’s honesty impacted the church’s leadership culture. Even still, months later, there’s a lot of deep emotion that emerges for me as I think back to Erwin’s honesty and where that took the church. That day, a lot of Mosaic’s leadership heard things that they felt but didn’t know how to put words to—we had known something was wrong, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Erwin is a very private person. He’s not the kind of person that catharts. So for him to share his failure and crisis so openly was a big deal for all of us. It felt like ground zero for us as a church leadership team. Looking back, I feel like on that day we started at the bottom and we drew a baseline of reality. It was very important. Erwin’s always been very vulnerable as a communicator, but that day he showed his soul in a new way. Had his crisis and sharing the crisis not happened, we wouldn’t be talking about this new surge of life and new faith in our community. — Ralph Neighbour

you until you realize you can believe for yourself.” I literally think we’re carrying people into God’s presence. Having 468 baptisms is just a declaration that we’ve stepped out of what we can do, and now we’re receiving what can be done when eternity and time intersect. Is this a break from how most Christians think of failure? I won’t say who it was, but one megapastor, a person of massive church influence, when I told him I started my company and was living my life as an artist, said to me, “Oh. You better not fail.” I said, “Well, I think it’s an important experiment.” And he goes, “Only if you don’t fail.” I realized at that moment that’s why the megachurch is what it is, because it’s powerful and safe. So, I said the first thing a pastor or any leader needs to do is to start living a life that terrifies him. You can’t call people to live a life you don’t live. And you can’t call them with a voice you don’t have.



6/19/14 9:59 AM

The first thing a pastor or any leader needs to do is to start living a life that terrifies him.



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“Voice” is a key theme in The Artisan Soul. What do you say to pastors struggling with their voice in ministry? Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Know who you really are. The worst thing, for creativity or spirituality, is when people try to go and be something else. It doesn’t go well. This is part of my story. The worst talk I think I’ve ever given in my life was at the Passion conference one year. When I was asked to speak they wanted me, “To do a talk like John Piper would.” At the time, I didn’t know who John Piper was. And so when I got there to speak, I have to be honest, I was listening to this narrative in my head going, What would John Piper do? I was fighting with my internal narrative. I spoke. And when I got done my friend came to me and he goes, “What was wrong with you? You were frantic.” And I go, “Yeah, because I was trying to figure out who John Piper is channeled through Erwin McManus.” I’m sure John Piper is awesome, but the moment you try to be something else or someone else you’re nothing else. How can we find our voice, then? Well, once someone introduced me to a crowd as if I was going to bring them all this insight. I said, “Hey, I didn’t come here to bring anything to you. I came to pull something out of you.” When we talk about our voices as leaders, I don’t think it’s about putting things into people. It’s about pulling things out of people. We need to know ourselves in that space. I’m an immigrant from El Salvador, but I don’t speak with a Spanish accent. Why? Because I knew that the sound of my voice would determine for other people whether I spoke on their behalf or not. I want my voice to resonate for people—“Gosh, he’s speaking for me.” Not just speaking to me. When we open up the Scriptures if people feel like you’re telling their story to God, then they’ll feel like that you’re telling God’s story to them We know Jesus is Lord. We know that Jesus is God, walked this earth sinless and perfect. He was crucified, buried, raised from the dead. I believe in Adam and Eve—I don’t have to, but I do. I believe in the parting of the Red Sea and fire from heaven. I’m strangely orthodox—squeaky orthodox. But I think we’ve taken the Bible and flattened it until it is one dimensional and easily explained. And the gap there strained my voice. I’m sure it does for others, too.

Back to the John Piper story—the real tragedy for me is that I spent so much of my life trying to be someone I’m not. We all need to consider that. Did your failure help you consider that? I’ll say it this way—it took failure to convince me that real tribe of Jesus would follow me naked and unashamed. When I came to Jesus, I was willing to be naked and unashamed, but there was something missing. You know, when you’re naked, everybody sees all the wounds. They see all the scars. I wasn’t at the point to lead others into that yet. I don’t know if I was willing to say to everyone this is the life you need to live as well. Just take off the clothes and run with me. I’ve seen a lot of people live out what I try to live out and their lives have been full of pain and failure. And I want to live that out? I want to call people into that? When you think about it, Jesus wasn’t just willing to die for us. He was willing to call us to die for him. That, to me, is a more difficult cross to bear. But there’s joy there, too. I’m not morose or living a life of emotional monasticism. I’ve learned to dance in the rain. Why is it that Christianity is so about truth and so often afraid of beauty? Because truth closes, because truth is still true even if we don’t live it. We, in a sense, can hide behind truth. It exists apart from us. But beauty strips us naked. That’s why living out the good and beautiful and true is essential—because the world only knows us for truth, but we’ve abandoned them when it comes to beauty. And so our truth is not beautiful to them. I think that’s what’s happening at Mosaic. Maybe we’re doing it all wrong, but Mosaic is beautiful and we’re going to trust that truth emerges from this. I don’t have to change anyone. But God really does change people. The church is almost proof that we don’t believe God changes anyone. Too often the church is like the person running behind you with a blanket, trying to cover up your nakedness. But what if that doesn’t work? This is why I was walking away—because this never resonated with me. I believe the gospel unleashes beauty and wonder in people. But 20 years of evangelicalism for me put all the emphasis on just making sure people honor God by the way they live. You want to know what’s changed? You want to know what 468 baptisms is? I’ve stopped trying to fit into the clothes, into the armor that isn’t mine.


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Discerning is Only the Beginning When God called our church to relocate, we thought the transition would be smooth.


Boy, were we wrong.

emerged from the community center elated. After our church had spent more than a year planning, praying, and discerning, I had finally signed the lease papers for our new meeting place. It would be a major move for our church of about 100. We were relocating from one of Sacramento’s suburbs to the heart of the city.

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The community center was constructed in 1936 and continues to be a local treasure. As I exited I paused on the front veranda. The building sits in one of the city’s iconic parks. Even in December the path was dotted with joggers. As I started down the steps, I saw one of our parishioners. He spotted me, exited the running path, and ambled toward me. He asked what I was up to. “I just signed our lease!” I exclaimed. “Can you be-

by T. David Beck L E A D E R S H IP J O URN AL


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‘Maybe this isn’t a good time to tell you this ... but my family and i have decided to leave the church.’

lieve it? This is actually happening!” He remarked about how great a move this was for our church, but he seemed reserved, uncomfortable. Then he dropped a bombshell: “Maybe this isn’t a good time to tell you this … but my family and I have decided to leave Sanctuary (our church). Actually, we are already committed to another church.” In a flash, my elation turned to anger. Not a good time? That was an understatement. As we continued to walk and talk, I did my best to be professional and conceal my bitterness. The conversation wound down to an awkward conclusion and he left. I stood there, suddenly feeling very alone in that bustling park. I shook my head over the absurdity of what had just taken place. Signing the lease was a huge event, and I had all of about two minutes to enjoy it. In prayer on my way home, I came to an unsettling conclusion: this new mission was going to be contested every inch of the way. The two very different events I had just experienced would turn out to be symbolic. Punch, counterpunch. I had no doubt, and still don’t, that moving was the right decision. We sought God’s will, heard from him, and followed his lead. But the transition has proven to be more wonderful and more painful than I could have imagined. We imagine that following God’s leading will feel like a walk in the park. But often it feels more like a street fight. Discernment is hearing God say, “Go this way.” But if he were to tell us what lay ahead, a lot of us would refuse to follow.


T. David Beck

is pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Sacramento, California, and author of Luminous: Living the Presence and Power of Jesus (IVP, 2013).


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Moving had been in the air at Sanctuary before I became the pastor. The issue had been discussed but never settled. A year into my tenure, I felt God lead me to bring up the “location question” and deal with it. Aided by denominational experts, we entered an extensive discernment process. I stressed proceeding at “an unhurried but decisive pace.” I preached a series of messages on seeking God’s will in big decisions. We called the decision “Sanctuary’s Big Adventure.” We determined that we would wait on God like the believers did in Acts 13. We fasted and prayed. We looked for how God had shaped our church. We examined

what we were passionate about and what we were good at. We listened for the whispers of God. We talked about what it meant to be surrendered to God’s will. We voted in stages, and every vote was more than 90 percent in favor of moving to midtown/downtown Sacramento. This mirrored what was in my heart. I felt the diversity and creativity in midtown/downtown culture was a better fit for me personally. After six months in the discernment process, we took a “vote of intention” that formally empowered our leadership team to find a meeting place. What we didn’t know at the time was that a woman in East Sacramento was praying for a church to move into Clunie Community Center in McKinley Park, which is located on the edge of midtown. She was one of the members of a local neighborhood association that was taking over management of the Clunie Center, and they needed an anchor tenant. By the time we had negotiated our lease, we felt strongly that we were the church she had been praying for. The whole move had a providential feel to it. Along the way, I became convinced that an “unhurried but decisive pace” was ideal for pursuing God’s will in a big decision. In our excitement it was tempting to rush ahead, but the more we repeated the words “unhurried but decisive pace,” the easier it was to live by them.


On January 6, 2013, with great excitement, we held our inaugural service at Clunie. The main ballroom had so much personality it hardly needed any dressing up. After years in a cold but functional multipurpose school room, we now had old wood floors beneath our feet and period chandeliers over our heads. That Sunday morning felt alive with celebration and optimism. Then the celebration ended. Three days later a 42-year-old woman from our congregation died suddenly of complications from a routine surgery. We careened from elation to shock and grief. Our second Sunday in the new building, I preached on mourning. The following evening we held a memorial service. Those first days in Clunie foreshad-


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owed how the entire first year would go. All year we bounced between euphoria and pain. There was a lot to celebrate. We had a steady flow of visitors, and some of them stayed. We started connecting with the local community. A handcrafted metal marquee with four signs was installed on the front of the building: city councilman, neighborhood association, chamber of commerce, and our church. That sign symbolized how we wanted to be present in our new mission field. Our missional efforts were highlighted by a December music show. We partnered with the neighborhood association and brought in more than a dozen musicians and vocalists from Sacramento’s music scene to perform Christmas songs. Beyond bringing holiday cheer, the show raised funds for a local school for homeless children where we have a growing relationship. When something wonderful like the Christmas music show happened, it introduced new discernment questions. What should we do with a new success? What might God be saying through it? The temptation is to hurry and start up a church program. But we have found that sticking to our “unhurried but decisive pace” philosophy helps guard against making rash decisions. Alongside wonderful developments, 2013 was marked by congregational pain. Over the year we lost about 40 percent of the people we moved with, including many of our core individuals and families. Several relocated to other states and countries. Others decided Sanctuary had finally made its move, and now they were making theirs. Nearly all these folks had voted in favor of relocating. They thought Sanctuary was better off in the new location, but they chose not to participate in the mission. Many of those people left for larger churches with more robust programs. Those departures felt like storm waves relentlessly slamming into the side of our vessel. And every wave meant we had fewer hands to help steady the ship. I remember having coffee with one of the departing parishioners. More than once she said, “This has nothing to do with you. We think you’re a great pastor.” I would hear these words so many times over the year, but they were cold comfort. I didn’t want a pat on the back as they left us; I wanted them to stay and help us pursue the mission! In those months, I had many 3:00 a.m. conversations with God. “I didn’t mind taking the risk to follow you. But if this church fails, I don’t think I can go on in ministry.” When I did sleep, it was fitful. One morning I awoke from a nightmare in which I was riding on the front of an SUV because the inside was packed with people. We were on a high mountain road, go-

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ing around a hairpin turn. The vehicle suddenly plunged straight over the cliff. During this season, the church was in almost constant crisis. Right and left, long-time members were torn from our close-knit community. Our leadership team began to feel the strain, and more than one of our meetings devolved into collective hand-wringing. I tried to maintain a “non-anxious presence,” but at times I cracked too. Collective anxiety hampered our ability to discern God’s will in several ways. First, the more anxious we grew, the more we focused on saving the church rather than abiding in God’s presence. This threatened to force us into bad decisions.

WE LISTENED FOR THE WHISPERS OF GOD. WE TALKED ABOUT WHAT IT MEANT TO BE SURRENDEred to god’s will. Second, the more desperate I grew about Sanctuary’s situation, the more I wanted to attract attention to our church rather than to Jesus. “We are this. We are that. Join us!” I noticed how quickly pastoral insecurity breeds a look-at-us syndrome. A church looking at itself is not looking at its Lord. Third, I struggled with an ongoing temptation to scurry around the edges of the flock looking for straying sheep rather than walking ahead confidently on the trail God laid out for us. I learned that if people are going to leave, they are going to leave. A pastor is best off paying close attention to the voice of the “great Shepherd,” not obsessing about the sheep.


Recently a particular scene from Scripture has shed new light on our ability to discern God’s will. In Joshua 5, the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan and were poised to attack Jericho. The people had made all preparations and celebrated Passover. The manna God had been providing for 40 years ceased. It was as if everything stopped and even the land itself was holding its breath in anticipation of the battle to come.



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how quickly pastoral insecurity breeds a look-at-us syndrome. a church looking at itself is not looking at its lord.


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One day Joshua sees a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword. No doubt reaching for his own weapon, Joshua challenged the man, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The man replied, “Neither. I come to you as the commander of the Lord’s army” (Josh. 5:13-14). What a sobering moment. If anyone had reason to think God was on “our side,” it was Joshua. He was leading God’s chosen people into battle. He had heard God promise he would be with the Israelites. “Neither?” Imagine his shock. With one word, Joshua’s theological walls came tumbling down. He learned that the Almighty transcends our categories. I’ll be honest. Our leaders and I have spent a lot of time approaching God as if he is on our side. We laid everything on the line to follow him, and we sought assurances that Sanctuary would be “successful.” But I wonder if this “our side” thinking can cause us to become too preoccupied with our church’s interests and lose sights of God’s broader kingdom. “Neither” is a word that leads us to total surrender, and surrender frees the heart to discern God’s will. Otherwise we end up gilding “our side” with glistening spiritual language and worshiping it as an idol. “Neither” opens us up to possibilities we might otherwise not entertain. At Sanctuary, one of those possibilities has been church closure. At the end of last year, we had to slash our budget by nearly a quarter. Financially speaking, it put our backs against the wall. Ironically, dealing openly with the possible end of Sanctuary actually eased our fears. We looked into the menacing face of church closure, and we didn’t break and run. We were able to let go. Our leaders said, “If this is our final season together, we’re okay with that. We just want to know we did everything God asked of us.” After we completed the budget, we were surprised at what followed: a few rays of sunshine. Somehow I felt a new sense of confidence and momentum. I asked our leaders, “Does anyone else feel that?” To a person, they had all noticed something, but no one had verbalized it. There might be a few more attenders, and giving might be a smidgen higher. But we believe the sunlight is emanating from above not below. The God of “neither” is shining on us.

New possibilities also include fresh fruit in God’s kingdom. Not long after we moved from the suburb to the city, women from a recovery house about 10 blocks from the community center started walking to church on Sunday mornings. Their program doesn’t require them to attend church; they just began showing up of their own accord. These women are hungry for God. We have seen God touch one heart after another as women cycle through the program and our church. Recently one of our leaders said, “If the only reason we moved to this part of town was for God to change one of these women’s lives, it was worth it.” The freedom of “neither” is taking hold. In Sanctuary’s recent journey, following God has meant traveling a path of surprises both wonderful and painful. Our shared commitment to ongoing discernment necessitates that we continually practice being a community of “neither” – a community surrendered to the wisdom and will of God. It requires constant vigilance because, as we have experienced, both the wonderful and the painful exert pressure to take matters into our own hands. Surrender opens us up for discernment, but even discernment is not an end in itself. The point of discerning the will of God is to do it. As Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). .


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The Good Missionary


owe my life to missionaries. Growing up as an orphan in rural Kenya, I met missionaries—some long-term, some short-term—who intervened at key junctions in my life. Missionaries helped start the children’s home that saved me from being destitute. Missionaries sent some of my most beloved friends, mentors, and supporters to my doorstep. And through the years I learned the difference between mission teams that helped and those that

didn’t. Perhaps my story will be a tool for your own discernment as you reach out to others. I lost my father at a young age and was soon abandoned by my mother as well. So at the age of 11, I lived with my 13-year-old brother and 5-yearold sister. We found ways to survive, selling plastic bags of water to earn money for food. But we regularly dropped out of school. My life changed when a pair of pastors—one Kenyan, one American—started a children’s home. When I was able to live there, I knew my life had changed forever. One day, after a few years of liv-

By Samuel Ikua Gachagua and Claire Diaz-Ortiz

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Christian celebrity was not a good space for me, and it was brutal on my kids.

<< Samuel Ikua Gachagua at 15, helping with a race sponsored by his orphanage.

Samuel today, speaking at a church.

ing there, I met two young American women who were traveling through the area. They had blonde hair that hung in their eyes, and they talked to me in a grown-up way I’d rarely been talked to before. They lived at my orphanage for a year, starting a non-profit called Hope Runs, and ultimately bringing me to the United States. The book Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption tells the story of the strange, makeshift family we have formed. At first, though, I was wary of them, and so were my friends. Living in an orphanage, I’d had many experiences with missionaries who came to help over the years. Some had done just that, ultimately changing my life and the lives of my peers. Some had only added to our hardship (more on that later). White people—mzungus, as we call them in Kenya—had not always been the best visitors. What would it be like to have this pair of girls around for so long? With time, though, I grew to know, trust, and love them. Over time, I understood in a way that many of my friends did not, that mzungus couldn’t drop their lives in the U.S. to live with my friends and me in our orphanage. I saw, eventually, that sometimes good things could happen in those few days



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when missionaries were there. Years later, I would gain a much more comprehensive perspective. When I came to start high school in the U.S., I felt that my American peers saw me like the missionaries did—like a needy orphan. With time, though, I learned to walk and talk and think like my new high school friends around me. Most important, I learned what it meant to be able to extend resources to others. In my senior year of high school, I ran a campaign that made the local news, collecting thousands of pairs of running shoes for my peers in orphanages back home. The year after high school, I took this concept of service a step further and spent a year volunteering on a service project in Ecuador. For the first time, I saw what it was like to walk into a community and be the one offering the help. Although these experiences have given me a more complete perspective on missionary work than I ever had growing up in my orphanage, many of the thoughts and feelings I had as a child about the strange white people that came to visit still ring true. Here are five things I have learned about being a good missionary from being on the other side, the side of the beneficiary, the one being helped.


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1. Rethink the goals of your short-term mission trip.

In the orphanage, I saw many short-term missionaries come and go. Again and again I was amazed by how many of them were completely focused on “getting things done” during their time with us. Whether it was building a chicken coop, painting the dorm rooms, or fixing a borehole, many missions teams spent the few days they were with us doing, doing, doing. And most of the time, the doing was manual labor or unspecialized work. I was thrilled they wanted to help us, but I always wondered about the particular activities they chose. In Kenya, for example, we have rampant unemployment, and there is literally an endless supply of Kenyans who would do such menial labor for very little money. If a missionary is going to spend so much money to fly and visit us, shouldn’t they be doing work that only they can do? Again and again, I found that the missionaries I most connected with were those who realized this fact. They saw that the thousands of dollars they had spent to come visit us could be best used in building relationships, both with the students in our orphanage and with the elders as well, not in painting, building, or manual labor that Kenyans could do. It was in these relationships—when I learned about the wider world, got to practice my English, and built some key connections that would last a lifetime—that I saw the real benefit to having shortterm missionaries come to the orphanage. If there is one thing I could tell short-term missionaries, it would be this: focus less on “helping,” and more on cross-cultural exchange, and becoming friends.

2. Don’t try to get too close too fast.

I’m still a teenager, so I can’t speak with the authority of a psychologist on this, but from what I have read about orphaned and vulnerable children who grow up in situations similar to mine, I know that there are problems with attachment that come when you’re raised like I was. Although I loved seeing missionaries get close quickly with many of the kids at the orphanage, I sometimes worried about the younger, more emotionally vulnerable children. There were many young girls and boys at my home who would latch on quickly to a missionary who was only there for a few days—holding her hand and not letting her out of their sight for 72 hours. And then they’d be devastated when she inevitably left. I want short-term missionaries to show love and care, but it’s important to be aware of this difficult reality and to proceed carefully, knowing that you— the missionary—are the adult in the situation. Kids are particularly vulnerable to short-term visitors, and they often don’t understand the reality of your

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life back at home and why you really have to leave after a few days. It may not be fair to you that a kid is disappointed when you only stay a week (which is a long time off work for you!), but as I saw again and again, many of my peers just didn’t understand the concept of traveling so far for such a short time. These visits can be good, but proceed with caution.

3. Learn what the partner needs.

One day I was coming back from running practice, and the bell in the dining hall rang, meaning that all 170 children at my orphanage were supposed to gather together into the central courtyard. When we did, we came face-to-face with 20 smiling mzungus. After one of our elders introduced the group, she said that the mzungus had a presentation for us. A middle-aged American woman with a bottle of hand sanitizer strapped to her waist gave a 15-minute talk about how to brush your teeth. Then she passed out toothbrushes. As we filed into the dining hall afterwards, we couldn’t stop laughing. “Another mzungu who thinks we don’t know how to brush our teeth!” We added the new toothbrushes to our stockpile. We had dozens, of course, from all the other white people who had come through that year apparently concerned primarily about our teeth. The lesson here is that understanding what a partner needs is essential if you’re trying to offer valuable support. In this case, the group was at our orphanage for only a few hours, and they assumed that in that short time it made the most sense to focus on tooth brushing. They were wrong. Ask, ask, and ask again.

4. Don’t forget the money.

People don’t like to talk about money, but when it comes to orphanages that constantly struggle financially, we have to. Of the many problems related to short-term missions that I saw play out again and again, problems with money and a lack thereof topped the list. Here’s a classic example: After months of coordination between the orphanage and a U.S. church, a group of 10 comes from the U.S. and stays for four nights in some extra dormitory rooms. The orphanage van (the only vehicle) goes on an 8-hour roundtrip journey to pick them up at the airport, and another 8-hour trip to drop them off at the end of their stay. They bring with them a dozen bags of donated clothes and books. During their time at the orphanage, they are served special meals with things we kids don’t get to eat—meat, fresh vegetables, milk, and sugary treats. During their stay, the three fulltime staff at the orphanage are on-call the entire time, helping with the constant questions and issues that always come up when people travel to



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“For the first time, I saw what it was like to walk into a community and be the one offering help.”

an unknown (and, to them, primitive) place. The orphanage takes the group on frequent rides to local shopping centers, tourist places, hospitals, and the like every day. When the group departs, they may leave a donation of $2,000. From the church’s perspective, they have fundraised incredibly hard and already spent more than $30,000 to bring a group of 10 to Kenya. For them it seems reasonable to make a donation of $2,000. The orphanage, in contrast, feels exhausted, used, and frustrated. That $2,000, even in Kenya, is not a lot of money to pay for all of the orphanage’s expenses and staff time. Three years later, the orphanage hears from the group again, saying they had such a great time, they want to make another trip. There are variations on this story. Sometimes the group leaves no money at all. Sometimes the orphanage never hears from the group again. Sometimes the group promises a large donation or offering upon returning home and showing their photos and videos to the congregation, but it never materializes. And sometimes, of course, a church becomes a long-term partner. But longterm partnerships are the exception. Year after year, the cycle continues. The orphanage accepts short-term missionaries because it is always hoping for that long-term partner who can really help. In the interim, though, they are using up resources that should be going to the children on an endless stream of visitors. If you’re a church considering a shortterm missions trip, please think about the implications of the time and resources the orphanage will spend on you.

5. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

What a missionary does once he or she goes home is often far more important than what happens at the site. Following up is everything. When I talk about some of the great relationships I built with short-term missionaries over the years, I know that the only reason those relationships worked was because the missionary followed up. As an orphan, I didn’t have money for a stamp to send a letter (and Internet access, both then and now, is unusual in many children’s homes in Kenya). But if a person I met wrote me, we could develop a friendship. Some of



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my greatest mentors and friends to this day are people who first came for just a few short days to my orphanage. On the larger scale, follow up is the only way that the orphanage and the church can truly build a mutually beneficial longterm partnership. Ultimately, try to remember that the trip isn’t over when you get back home. In the years since I left the orphanage and began to have experiences of my own helping others, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to extend help and how difficult it can be. Aside from my year spent on a service project in Ecuador, I’ve also now taken part in several short-term volunteer experiences with international missionaries visiting orphanages and nonprofits in Kenya. In all of these experiences, I’ve served as a bridge, the rare person who knows both sides, and who tries to provide advice on how each side can better understand the other. I’m glad that the missions field has changed to emphasize understanding on-the-ground partners, but there is still much more work to do. I believe the core of the issue has to do with better communication between missions groups and partner sites, in hopes that we can bridge the vastly different cultural and financial expectations and assumptions that each group has. By working closer, we can help one another.

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is Twitter’s manager

for social innovation and coauthor of Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption (Revell, 2014). Claire is the cofounder of Hope Runs, a nonprofit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

Samuel Ikua Gachagua was born

in rural Kenya in 1992. After losing his parents at a young age, he struggled to survive until he was placed in an orphanage in Nyeri, Kenya. In 2009, he received a full-ride scholarship to Maine Central Institute, granting him a rare U.S. visa and the chance to begin his sophomore year of high school under the guardianship of Claire Diaz-Ortiz. After graduating from high school, he spent a year serving in Ecuador as a fellow for Global Citizen Year. He is an up-and-coming motivational speaker.


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Raising Hope Because hope fuels innovation, creativity, and vitality in the church.


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By R ay J o h n s t o n as told to Andrew Finch psychologist recently told me, “When a couple comes to me and they have wrecked their marriage over the past 20 years, my goal is merely to help them improve their relationship by 5 percent. Why? Because as soon as someone sees 5-percent improvement, they get hope. The minute someone gets hope, anything is possible.” I realized that’s equally applicable to leaders and the church. Hope is powerful. A 5-percent rise in hope will fuel innovation and creativity in our churches. That’s all it takes. When a church’s hope level rises, the church begins to thrive. And how do we raise the level of our hope? By putting four factors into practice.



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Ray Johnston

is the founding pastor of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California, and the author of The Hope Quotient.



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Nobody dreams well, innovates well, or exudes hope when they’re running on empty. Once I finally realized what drains me and what recharges me, my hope level improved. I began adjusting the way I approach draining experiences and maximizing the times of refreshment. For instance, I used to meet with critics one-on-one. It was totally draining. Then a couple wrote saying, “We’re concerned about the church finances, and we have concerns about the teaching ministry. Can we meet with you?” I knew they were coming with criticisms. Previously I would have seen them privately. By myself. And afterward I would have been exhausted. So I changed that. I asked two of our other pastors to join us and two of our board members, specifically the financial oversight board member. As a team we were able to answer their questions and provide the answers they were seeking. The criticisms were baseless. I will never forget this, one of my favorite ministry moments: about 10 minutes into the meeting the husband turned to his wife and said, “Honey, I guess we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about.” I said, “Well I’m glad you brought this to our attention because obviously we need to communicate better in these two areas. Help us figure out how we could communicate to the church better.” So rather than complaining to me about the church, they helped us develop a better way to get information to the church. Not only do I have to remove things that are draining but I have to figure out how to regularly recharge my batteries. So my wife and I, either every Friday or every Saturday, go out on a date with some other couples. When my kids were growing up, we had daddy/daughter date nights. These kinds of things recharge me because I am an extrovert. You may find something else recharges you, like reading a good book or taking a long walk. It is those times of recharging that prove valuable to cultivating hope. At Bayside Church we have trained our whole staff on this idea of building times of recharging into your life. We say: divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually. In other words, don’t work every hour of every day,

take your day off each week, and take all of your vacation each year. We actually changed our policy, we don’t let anybody roll over vacation because we want them to use it.


You begin to create hope by raising your expectations. Steve Jobs showed us the importance of raising expectations. Jobs believed that impossible things were possible. His employees called this belief his “reality distortion field.” Jobs said: “Have you ever seen one of those concept cars at a car show and you look at that car and say, ‘That car rocks.’ You see it four years later when it comes out and you say, ‘That car sucks.’ What happened between the vision and the reality? The finance department said we can’t do that, an engineer said we can’t do that, and everyone else said we can’t do that.” Instead of setting high dreams and expectations, the dream car declined every step of the way through production. Jobs said, “They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” Jobs’s own story about the development of Gorilla glass reveals his ability to raise expectations. He wanted a new glass for the


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iPhone but everyone said it was impossible. Jobs told the head of the glass company, “This is possible.” So the head of the glass company said, “We’ll try.” In six months they had all the glass they needed. It dawned on me that the secular world has now started operating on the principle that impossible things are possible, while much of the Christian world has stopped believing that. No wonder churches are in decline and some of these business-

Hope is powerful. A 5-percent rise in hope will fuel innovation and creativity in our churches.

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When I’m with a leader, one of the first questions I ask is, “What are the next things you’re going to do?” If those “next things” don’t spill out fast, then I worry about that leader’s organization. A future vision tends to create forward motion. But when somebody doesn’t have a God-sized vision for the future, you start thinking, This church is already in decline. Many churches have as their main goal for the future to bring back the past, and that is never going to happen. When people ask me, “What’s the secret to your church?” I always respond, “We have two days a year that are our most important days for the church.” On those two days, we shut down our church and office, and I gather together our pastors, our board, and our key lay leaders. The focus of those two days is prayer and asking four future questions: 1. What’s God telling us to do in the next 12-18 months to reach our own community for Christ? 2. What’s God telling us to do in the next 12-18 months to grow our people deeper spiritually? 3. What’s God calling us to do to unleash compassion in our community and around the world?

© 2014 Dennis Fletcher.

es are rising so fast. A church without expectations, or whose expectations are low, usually receives what is expected. One of my mentors passed away about a year ago. His name was Glen Cole, the founding pastor of Capital Christian Center in Sacramento. Glen told me a story about this: “When I moved to Sacramento, I took a job at this church. Everybody told me, ‘Don’t change anything for a year.’ But 30 days after I arrived, the church called a congregational meeting and voted to change the name of the church, voted to sell the current church property, and voted to move to 60 acres out on Highway 50.” “How did you get away with that?” I asked. He said, “My third day there a businessman came to see me and said, ‘I think this church needs to move. I have 60 acres out on Highway 50, the best land in town. I’d be willing to sell it to the church at a discount.’” Glen said, “I looked at him and said, ‘You should give it to the church. Free.’” The businessman didn’t say anything. He just got up, walked out, and closed the door. Glen thought, I just turned off the number one giver in our church. But three days later the businessman called Glen and said, “God has been all over me. All 60 acres are yours for free.” At the congregational meeting, Glen told what happened. “The vote to move was unanimous because nobody ever votes against a miracle.” Then Glen, as only a 78-year-old fired-up preacher can do, started preaching me a sermon, “That’s what’s wrong with Christians these days. We need to get

the church back to where we will pray, trusting and believing that God actually has some great things in our futures. We need to see some miracles happening. It is time for the Christian church to get back to the days where God was the One working in our churches.” Part of what made Glen so hopeful was that his expectations were high.

“After Ted closes with prayer, there will be a brief meeting in the parking lot to determine what, if anything, was actually decided in this meeting.”



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4. And we’re supposed to equip the saints, so what is God calling us to do to develop leaders now and for the future? We pray, ideas go on walls, and our goal is not to walk out of there with less than 5-7 good answers to those questions. That discipline has kept our church focused on future visions rather than past or present discouragement. I really don’t care if we bat 1.000 or not. I am far more concerned if we don’t have future visions. I recently heard a story about an 88-yearold lady who died. She was one class away from getting her college degree. Somebody said to me, “Isn’t that sad?” Are you kidding me? That’s awesome! I mean, wouldn’t you rather die with some unfinished dreams?


A final factor for building hope is not casting vision but casting the problem you’re wanting to solve. By casting the problem you create urgency

Pace the Innovations


here is one danger in relation to hope and innovation. Many pastors, myself included, over-innovate. Over-innovating creates a mindset in the church that thinks, Oh no, I hope our pastor doesn’t read another book or go to another conference. Because every time that happens they kill off everything we love. No pastor wants their church to think that. One important factor is timing. If I am casting problems every week, we are in trouble. If it always thunders, nobody notices. You can’t be doing this constantly. There has to be a rhythm and a season. Recently, I had a battle with over-innovation. A church of about 1,100 in Nevada wanted to become a Bayside church. They went to their board and the board said, “There’s no bay here so just the name itself doesn’t make sense.” And I thought, We have a name that is site-specific, because our church is in Granite Bay, California. We have a Thrive conference that we put on once a year at Bayside. So based on this church wanting to join Bayside I wanted to change the name of our church to Thrive Church. I brought that idea to our senior leadership team and said, “This makes sense in every way, let’s go for it.” They all said, “This is a bad idea. We’re doing so much change in other areas right now we think our people that love us would go on tilt.” So I said, “Well, either not now or never.” I would have changed the name but there wasn’t enough consensus in the room. The timing wasn’t right. By finding the right balance between the absence of innovation and over-innovating we have creative churches that are effective.—R.J.



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as well as hope that the issue can be addressed. This is a Nehemiah 2 outlook. Nehemiah says, “You see the disgrace, the walls broken down and the gates are burned with fire, what a mess” (Neh. 2:17-18). It was pretty easy for him to say, “Hey, why don’t you build a wall.” What I began to realize is I can get up and try to cast a vision, but people can feel like they’re being manipulated or I as the pastor am trying to be a fundraiser. The reason: They don’t see the need for it. But when you cast a problem, the need is clear, and the solution is fairly simple. Then people are on board because they understand the rationale. Recently at Bayside we launched a north campus. One of our goals for that north campus is to put people on every junior high and high school campus who will reach teenagers before it’s too late. We told our church, “Here are the statistics on teenagers in this area, and they are in real trouble. We are not just launching a new church. We are launching a church because teenagers here need a place they can flock to before they get into the kind of stuff that wrecks lives and ruins their future. We’ve got to reach these kids earlier.” By showing the church the problem, they were excited to develop plans and a vision to reach the students.


When those four factors come together, the church is hopeful, and when a church is hopeful amazing things happen. Bayside recently finished a Compassion First Capital Campaign. By being “compassion first,” we decided to give away the first 33 percent that came in for our goal to major causes around the world. Experts told me not to do it, because “people won’t give capital dollars if you’re going to divert them to other causes, even compassion causes.” I didn’t want to believe them, because if that’s true, that’s a sad picture of our churches. Christians are going to be known as people with really great buildings but shrunken hearts. We decided to do it anyway. Happily, we reached our goal and almost doubled it. Amazing! Then shortly before Christmas, I received a call from a friend who works with a ministry in Cambodia. Over the years they’ve built houses for girls rescued out of sex trafficking. My friend told me, “A government official that heads up the effort against sex trafficking for Cambodia met with me and said in a certain area the cops are so corrupt that they cannot arrest anybody. Every time they do a raid, everyone is gone. The government would like to create an independent SWAT team.” The government official said, “We will actually make some real arrests and put some really


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bad people in jail and free some girls. The problem is we don’t have any money, and there are costs. Do you know where you could find that money?” So my friend called Bayside, and I said, “Send me a proposal.” He sent me a proposal. I’d never seen anything like it. Usually people are asking for Bibles and basketballs. This request was for bulletproof vests, buttonhole surveillance cameras, and bullets … for Jesus. I’m looking at this pro-

Wouldn’t you rather die with some unfinished dreams?

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© 2014 Conan Devries.

posal and at the bottom I see the price—$250,000. We had just finished our multi-million dollar capital campaign. I was scared and discouraged, afraid to ask the congregation for $250,000 more, right at Christmas. I emailed my friend, “If I went to my church right now with this proposal, I’m afraid they would throw me out.” It was providential, though, that three days later I was writing on the topic of fear. I’d heard the phrase, “Fear is the darkroom where negativity is developed.” I realized I’d just made a fear-based decision with my friend in Cambodia, not a hope-based decision. I felt like God was saying to me, “You’ve just written on fear, and you’re now letting fear drive a decision.” So I met with our leaders and said, “Here’s the situation. What do you think?” They all, in unison, said, “Are you kidding? Let’s try it.” So on Sunday morning I told the congregation, “Here’s why I’m afraid to bring this up. I’m sorry to say this again, but my friend in Cambodia just wrote me. I can turn him down, or we can go after this.” We decided, as a church, to help this group out. We used our Christmas Eve services and took a special offering at the door on the way out. Our church didn’t give $250,000. They gave over $400,000. The next weekend we told our church what happened, and people broke out in applause. And I almost missed the whole thing for one reason: fear. But the hope of our church trumped my personal fear! We need churches today that are fueled not only by faith and love but also hope. The church becomes a place that people run to instead of

away from when these three are all working together. When the church is focused on Christ and fueled by hope, it is the most powerful force in the world. By creating hope the church believes that God does have better days ahead. But what is amazing about hope is that it doesn’t stop with the church. When a church is fueled by hope it releases hope into the community around it. Hope’s reach is so wide that once you raise hope you will never be the same. Five years ago my daughter, Leslie, came home from school, she was taking a leadership class, she said, “They’ve assigned us a paper and we have to write on a leader and I picked you.” I thought that was pretty cool until she said, “I have 20 questions and you have to answer all of them.” We talked for two hours but her last question was the best question. She asked, “What’s the most important thing you do as the pastor of Bayside and president of Thrive leadership?” I looked at her and said, “Honey, that’s easy, the single most important thing I do as a leader is make sure I stay encouraged. If I’m not encouraged I will never be the leader God wants me to be, I will never be the communicator that God wants me to be. The last thing America needs is discouraged pastors.” Many of us don’t think about that, but the single most important thing any human being does is make sure they stay encouraged. Why? Because encouraged people are hopeful people. And without hope, we can’t be innovative and creative, and we cannot effectively lead the church.

“The hardest thing about being a youth pastor is keeping my sermons to 140 characters or less.”



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Where is God on Monday?


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Equipping the church for faith at work. by AJ Sherrill


he subject line of Ellen’s email read, “Urgent.” Her job in the fashion industry placed her on a team with a woman whose presence she had recently begun to dread. Over-worked and under- resourced, the pressures of a deadline can make enemies of us all. But this day was different. Her coworker had been handed a two weeks notice letter. A single mother of a teenage girl, she was already $5,000 behind on rent and the repeated eviction threats on her door served as daily reminders of that ominous reality. Welcome to Manhattan. The woman had long since jettisoned any semblance of faith. And so the email Ellen sent to us concluded: “Would you prayerfully consider joining me in raising $5,000 for this woman over the next 48 hours? I think that showing radical generosity in the name of Jesus will be a powerful display of God’s heart towards her in this time. May God’s mercy be released over her life through this.” It was a big ask, and for the first time in a while, Ellen felt her faith inform her work. She was beginning to discern where God was on Monday.


The Lenape Native Americans called it Manna-hata. What once meant “island of many hills” was repurposed into a level, concrete plain of labor. With vacancy rates hovering at a low 2.8 percent and subways jammed, Manhattan is where people come to work. When moving here a few years ago, I was haunted by the prospect of gathering a church amidst a society of compelling options. I mean, who would really seek out faith on Sunday in the home of Broadway, Lincoln Center, and Shake Shack? It occurred to me very early that if my ministry did not equip the congregation for the other six days of the week, we simply would not be around for the long haul. And this was no shift of

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Where is God on Monday?

accommodation, but essential to having a biblical witness in a post-agrarian, pro-industry, post-Christian era. As pastors, we would do well to heed the question of Dorothy Sayers: “How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?” Any religion with little concern about the coalescence of faith and work must derive from a different book than the Bible. The Bible begins with a God at work who quickly, it seems, commissions humans to join in and take the narrative forward. As pastors, are we equipping the congregation for the other “nine-tenths”? Or are we overly concentrated with pulling off one hour a week on Sunday morning? We’ve never had more tools for this topic than we do today. We stand on shoulders from the recent past such as Abraham Kuyper, the 20th-century Dutch journalist, theologian, and politician. His famous proclamation, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” is the reminder that should resound in the ears of every Christian in the work force. More recently, we have helpful guides in scholars such as Richard Mouw, Steven Garber, and Miroslav Volf; pastors such as Tim Keller, Jon Tyson, and David Kim; writers such as Dorothy Sayers, Gabe Lyons, and Skye Jethani. And there are dozens of others doing important work and creating excellent resources on this topic. Yet despite these significant voices, does the average congregation grasp even the essentials to create a richer vocational imagination? I suggest these essentials lie in understanding the following questions:

Identity: Who has God called us to be?

AJ Sherrill

is pastor of Trinity Grace Church in Manhattan, New York.


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Two significant obstacles stand in the way of advancing faith at work for our congregations. The first is that far too many are overidentified with their work. In other words they view work as the context to achieve identity rather than express identity. When our identities are not settled in Christ, we subconsciously put them up for negotiation—and that negotiation is usually based on our “success” or “failure” we experience in the marketplace. Am I good enough? Is my future secure? But what we search for most through work is already ours in Christ. To be sure,

there is a place for these internal conversations, but when they become driving obsessions, our identities hang in the balance. When the work of Christ ceases to be our grounding, we grab onto whatever we can as forces of meaning. And the word for this is bondage. Until Christians in the work force find freedom from over-identification, they will only view work as meaning, while never getting around to approaching work as mission. This is where our church ministries can help disentangle them from that illusion. The second obstacle we must come to terms with is that most congregations are under-empowered. In churches where the staff oversee all the ministry, it is no wonder that congregations feel spiritually paralyzed at the office. Many feel they have never been released and resourced to effectively make disciples beyond Sunday. Outside of sporting events, entertainment gatherings, and the DMV, there are few environments that bring together so many disparate people for a unified purpose than the church. In any given congregation, there are representatives of each major industry present. In our church context, we create salons throughout the week by pairing a lay member up with a pastor to facilitate discussions on various industry specific issues. The salons allow the congregation to reimagine their particular industries in light of biblical truth. The pastoral presence helps guide the conversation theologically, while a designated lay member leads the conversation pragmatically. More often than not, this produces robust discussions and naturally leads to intercessory prayer. From there we often hear accounts of the Holy Spirit inspiring new ideas, initiatives, and innovations. It is then up to the members to remain accountable and continue to meet at their discretion. Shifting our congregations from the posture of occupational over-identification to security in Christ, and from feeling underempowered to the place of vocational commission is a necessary first step. As the Franciscan, Richard Rohr, once said, “When you get your ‘Who am I?’ question right, all the ‘What should I do?’ questions (begin to) take care of themselves.”

Equipping: What must the congregation know?

The first thing we want our congregations to know is that as much as they may care about


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their industries, God cares even more than they do. This is inspiring. Paul writes that creation itself longs for the revealing of the children of God (Rom. 8:19ff). And this revealing isn’t arbitrary. It carries with it the expectation that we, as God’s image bearers, will finally receive our call to steward the earth as God intended. Second, we want our congregations to know faith at work is relational (people-centric, evangelistic) before it is structural (equal pay, good work conditions). We often pursue structural renewal with little regard for relational transformation. I often hear zealous pastors with good intentions use the language of “industry renewal,” but few articulate what this would actually look like. Furthermore, much of the renewal insight offered is applicable only to the top tier of the workforce who sit in positions of significant structural influence. In this framework, most congregations in the work force wrongfully conclude joining God in cultural transformation as both elitist and unattainable. What we find at the heart of every industry (including the tech industry) are people. And people are the hinges that swing wide the doors of cultural change. Cultural transformation begins internally, within the hearts of people, and then manifests ex-

ternally into society. The simple fact is that renewed people renew industries. Therefore, reclaiming winsome evangelism as a part of cultural renewal is vital to the whole. Now, at this point you might argue, “And are you suggesting that coworkers must become Christian before common good such as fair wages and gender equality can be pursued?” No, but let’s not forget that the Bible teaches us that in the future every knee will bow. I am suggesting the road to human flourishing is holistic, and in our time evangelism has been omitted as an imperative in the work place. In fact, it is usually the last thing Christians get around to, if they get around to it at all. Furthermore, when the Spirit of God dwells in the hearts of people, equality, reconciliation, and flourishing work conditions becomes more plausible. Many in the Western church have forgotten that, through the power of the Spirit’s work, we are God’s design for cultural transformation. For some mysterious reason, God has always empowered broken yet redeemed people to renew society. I’m not convinced many congregations in America believe Jesus was talking to them (and not just clergy) when uttering the Great Commission. Here is where this gets difficult. Because faith at

People are the hinges that swing wide the doors of cultural change.

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Where is God on Monday?

work is highly relational, our congregations must know that being faithful precedes being fruitful. In a post-agrarian context, this a hard truth to swallow. We expect instant fruit. And if we don’t see it in our timeline, then we think something must be wrong. “Lord, save me from spectacular,” Henri Nouwen cried. Many have heard inspiring testimonies such as New York’s Businessmen’s Revival or tales of the Clapham Sect. These capture the potential of what God can do. Yet my fear is that most struggle to reconcile their ordinary work experiences with the spectacular stories they hear. So they don’t do anything. They learn of the glorious movements in times past, and disqualify themselves based on their mundane every day lives. Few recall that the Businessmen’s Revival began with just six people who showed up (late, I might add) to pray for the marketplace. And they forget the entire Roman Empire was brought to its knees in the fourth century because of the faithfulness of a few praying in an upper room in the first century. Every spectacular moment in the kingdom is preceded by days, months, and even years of faithful sowing. Beauty is only made manifest after much toil. The farmer spends months attending carefully to the field before expecting a harvest. It is no different with cultural renewal. If all we are after is the spectacular, we will neglect the ordinary moments to sow the necessary relational seed that makes the harvest possible.

Action: What should the congregation do?

Ten years ago Elaina, my wife, landed her dream job in New York. While working at an architecture firm on Wall Street, at times her team labored 16-hour days to make their deadlines. As the only Christian in the office, it felt peculiar to her that she was the one her coworkers confided in when life crises arose. I like to think of her as the Brother Lawrence of the interior design industry. These crisis moments opened doors for her to share the gospel as the solution to whatever they were facing. Years later, she crystalized why they entrusted her with their darkest moments in three words: Grumbling, Gossip, and Glory. She explains, “In some ways, being light has never been easier.” Elaina had resolved to never grumble to her coworkers about the work load, to refuse to partake in office gossip, and to commit to vocational excellence in every project, believing excellence glori-


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fies God. Over time, redemptive moments naturally surfaced when sowing these three values in the workplace. She believes when we commit to these ways, over time people view us as trustworthy and our truth claims become credible. It is in that moment when cultural transformation becomes possible at every level. This isn’t spectacular. But it’s faithful. And being faithful is always the foundation of spectacular. In response to Ellen’s plea for a few of us to join in resolving her coworker’s plight, within two days she arrived to work carrying a sealed envelope. Laying it on her coworker’s desk, Ellen informed the woman that there were a few folks at church who believed in her comeback. Later that day Ellen sent an email to those who supported the cause. It read: “So thankful to share the story of today with you. I wrote a letter to her this morning, and put the full amount in the envelope. I wrote of grace being a free gift, that she is indebted to no one, and that all who gave did so out of the belief that they’ve received that same but infinitely greater gift of grace from God. When she came in and read the letter, she called me to her office and embraced me weeping. She said she’d never received unconditional help before, and that it was the most profound thing she’s experienced. ‘Thank God, thank God,’ she kept saying. She is now able to stay in her apartment. She has a promising job interview next week. “Later in the day, another coworker came to me with tears in her eyes and hugged me. The woman had told her what transpired, and said, ‘Not only have you changed her life, but you’ve revived my faith as well.’ Just last night she had told her husband that she felt her faith in Jesus was dead. She said that in all her life she had never seen such a thing, and it reminded her of truth.” We are attracted to stories of hope like these because of the conclusion. Yet we only get to the spectacular ending by starting with a routine, relational beginning. For 10 months Ellen simply showed up to work, her ordinary job, with an ordinary team. And at the right time, it was appropriate to move out in faith to display the grace of God. It is the simple, mundane moments which create bridges of trust that change the world. Renewed people renew culture. As we equip our congregations for faith at work, perhaps the question isn’t “Where is God on Monday?” Maybe, instead, we should wonder, “Where isn’t God on Monday?”


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Signs of Life When Joel and Rachel Triska moved into the depressed neighborhood of Deep Ellum, they asked residents what they needed—then designed a community to meet those needs.


hen you visit Life in Deep Ellum, the last word that comes to mind is “church.” Directors Joel and Rachel Triska are just fine with that. They describe Life in Deep Ellum as “a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic, and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.” Housed in an industrial-style building in the heart of Dallas’ artsy Deep Ellum district, the center is a veritable smorgasbord of creative culture. Walk through the front doors and you enter a stark gallery with avant-garde art. Turn to the right and you’ll land in a coffee shop. This isn’t your typical church coffee shop with a donation jar and a few carafes. Think Intelligentsia—dark ambiance, soft leather chairs, with baristas swirling amongst hissing machines. Past the art gallery and down a hall, at the very back of the building, is an opening with wood floors and

Interview by Drew Dyck

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©Ehic Media

We named our organization ‘life in deep ellum’ as a prophetic call. We want to bring life to a place in desperate need of it. a small stage. It looks like the setting for an Indie rock concert (and sometimes is), but this is where their faith community meets at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Running a center with so many moving parts is a challenge, “like trying to hug a Sequoia,” Joel says. But the holistic approach is central to their vision. Drew Dyck sat down with Joel and Rachel to talk about the unique ministry and what the relationship with their community can teach others. How did Life in Deep Ellum start? Joel: In the late 1990s and early 2000s Deep Ellum was thriving. The art and music scene were hot. It was the height of the punk and Goth scene. The streets were packed all night long. But around 2008 Deep Ellum suffered an economic crash. Bar after bar, music venue after music venue shut down. I remember a cover of The Dallas Observer. It showed an image of a tombstone with “Deep Ellum” etched in the stone. The message was clear: Deep Ellum was dead. What was your strategy coming into a dying community? Joel: We didn’t just want to be a spiritual benefit; we wanted to address the community holistically. We named our organization “Life in Deep Ellum” as a prophetic call of what we were about—bringing life to a place in desperate need of it. Rachel: We hit the streets of Deep Ellum and did over 1,000 interviews asking people, “What would you miss if Deep Ellum was gone? What is your favorite aspect of this community?” Then we took all of those responses and narrowed it down to four things that residents really valued. It was art, music, community, and commerce. So we decided


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to build our cultural center and our faith community on those four pillars. We believed God was already at work and we wanted to get behind what he was doing. How were you received initially? Rachel: Some people were suspicious. They would ask, “Why are you doing this? What’s your agenda?” We stressed that we didn’t have one. Yes, we want people to come into a relationship with Jesus, but we wanted to simply underscore to our new neighbors that we were there to do life with them. We want to be a faithful Christian witness in a context that is very post-Christian. Our conversations are not driven by an I-have-toget-this-person-saved agenda. We believe the Holy Spirit is a pretty effective evangelist. Joel: We’re just doing what any good missionary would do. We take time to learn the language and the customs of the people we’re trying to reach. We build relationships, and we know that fruit is slow. We measure success very differently than a church in the suburbs. We’re not reaching for low-hanging fruit. We know the fruit we’re after is going to take years to grow. In some cases we will never even see what the seeds we plant become. How do you measure success? Joel: Our gold standard is community impact. How engaged are we with the community? How many community partnerships do we have? How many people are asking us to work with them? How many people from the neighborhood are regularly engaging with a Christian community? And how many people are we connecting with that would never engage with a Christian community otherwise? Right now we have a dozen community partnerships. Last year we had approximately


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14,000 people come through the center. Rachel: We’re far more interested in life change than numbers. A great example of this is our friend Will. When we met Will three years ago he would have identified as New Age. He grew up Catholic but was living with his partner of seven years. They had a child together. He’s very involved in the art scene here in Dallas, and that’s how we met him, through a partnership with an art group that he worked with. Over the last two years our partnership with him has grown. He’s doing this program called Diverse Lounge where he does workshops with at-risk kids. He teaches them how to express their stories through spoken word presentations. We have them in our center three or four times a year to have these huge celebrations with about 300 kids and they present their pieces. Will started as community partner, became friends, and then he started to office here. He began to be mentored by some of the Christian business people here. Then he started attending on Sunday mornings. In that process he and his wife got married and had a second child. Now he’s deeply engaged with our community, and he would say that he’s wrestling with Jesus in ways that he’s never wrestled with him before. But I can’t put him on the spectrum, this continuum. We really believe salvation is a process. There’s no factory line. What do things look like after someone becomes a believer? Rachel: When people finally come to Jesus, we don’t want them to point back to this moment when they said a pledge or signed a card. We want them to have a story to tell. Once someone begins to self-identify as a believer and they get baptized, then we start to measure. And at that point we measure spiritual growth and engagement. Are they being discipled? Are they going deep with community? And for us, community always means a group of believers and nonbelievers doing life together. We don’t believe in discipleship that extracts people from where God has planted them. Rather you teach them how to follow Jesus right where they are. There’s an artist in Deep Ellum that wrote a song we love to quote: “Fear of roots is fear of bloom.” That captures our approach to discipleship.

Our conversations are not driven by an i-have-to-get-thisperson-saved agenda. We believe the holy spirit is a pretty effective evangelist.

Some churches would look at you guys and say, “Oh, we’re doing all that. We have a coffee shop. We do drama.” What’s the difference? Joel: We don’t want to criticize all the

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we know the fruit we’re after is going to take years to grow. in some cases we’ll never even see what the seeds we plant become.

churches that have coffee shops. But it is important to recognize that it’s not just about providing coffee—it’s the philosophy underneath it. A community-minded approach should affect your budget, how you structure staff, how you allocate resources. For example, our coffee shop is staffed mostly with people from the community and not people from our church. That’s a crucial difference. Rachel: The first church buildings were modeled after the Roman basilicas which were meeting places. It’s where the greatest ideas were shared. Then it moves from basilicas to the cathedrals and then to the abbeys, which in their day were monuments to the best architecture and art. Fast forward to the chapels of the 1950s, and the value there was a simpler faith for a simple time. Like it or not, when people think church they think physical building. Our buildings are an incarnation of our values to a watching world. And so when people who are outside of the faith look at our building, whether we like it or not, we are expressing to them what we’re about. And when most people look at church buildings today they think, That’s not for me. You have a unique setup here. But how can an average church, without this kind of space, be more engaged with their community? Joel: There are two questions any church should ask, no matter if they’re ru-

© 2014 Scott A. Masear.

“I’m the ghost of untaken sabbaticals past.”


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ral, urban, suburban, traditional, or edgy. Who can I partner with? And how can I resource the community? I’ve seen a lot of churches try to partner with their communities. They kind of stretch out and then snap back to the center, because the monster of maintenance is too demanding. Ultimately most church people are incredibly uncomfortable with their resources not going back to them. Rachel: We want to partner and resource what God is already doing in the community. If someone is helping the homeless, we’re not going to say, “Let’s start a homeless ministry.” We’re going to try and get behind what they’re already doing. I think any church can do that. I think any church can go, you know what, instead of doing our fall festival this year we’re going to support the city’s fall festival. Instead of doing our own Fourth of July firework celebration, we’re going to give that money to the city and partner with them. I love what Tim Keller’s church does with giving grants to entrepreneurs. I think that’s amazing. But when I read they only would fund Christian entrepreneurs, my heart broke a little bit. Why not open up the funds to outsiders and say, “We believe that God works through lots of people and we want to fund you, too.” I think that would build relationships. We set aside money so we can invest in things that are completely unrelated to our work here. When we see God working in something, even if it’s not through a group of believers, we’re going to get behind what God is doing and get the community of faith involved. But I think there’s a psychological barrier there. It’s hard to throw resources into something that is someone else’s baby. Joel: I think it all comes back to the metrics of success. What’s really driving so many church leaders is this need to be successful by conventional standards. We’re American to the core. If the credit is not coming back to us, if it’s not bolstering our bottom line or increasing attendance, we think, why would it? Rachel: We had to wrestle with that. We were measuring success by conventional standards when we first came. And we felt like we were failing, despite all the great community partnerships that were forming. We had 50 at our first Sunday gathering and it grew to about 170. But we just didn’t feel like we were getting to that


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Joel and Rachel

level of success we expected. Now we look at things differently. We looked at the size of Deep Ellum and decided that if we ever get to 500, we will start planting other churches. At a certain size you start to lose effectiveness and just start feeding the beast. Talk a little bit about the Sunday gathering. Joel: We call our Sunday morning meeting The Gathering. Some come via the cultural center. So they’ve been to four or five events before they even realize there’s a church here. Or they come through the coffee shop and they’re looking around and think, There’s something more going on here. And usually through conversation and relationship they make their way to The Gathering. They don’t need to adapt much because they already get how we do things and why we do things. On the other hand, the person who Googles “downtown church” and finds us generally has a very difficult time adapting. Rachel: Christians who come usually have a two- to three-month honeymoon with it. Initially they go, “This is fantastic. We love it.” But that wears off. They have a hard time dropping the training they’ve received in other churches. They get uncomfortable with the fact that we don’t make things easy, that our community is messy. And they worry that we’re theologically liberal. People have a hard time believing innovation and orthodoxy can go together.

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So you can’t just copy; you have to contextualize. Joel: Exactly. Too many people are looking for a plug and play thing. Sure, there are some of the things we do can be duplicated, especially our community partnerships. But the primary thing that I want people to think about is the philosophy, the principles. Of course that is a much harder conversation because it requires a lot more time and energy. I always caution people not to come back from a conference and think, I’m just going to take all these things and plug them into my church. It won’t work. Even if you’re being true to your context, it’s probably going to be a couple of years before you start seeing fruit. Just start thinking like a missionary again. Rachel: Look at your congregation. Who is a committed person who’s there almost every Sunday, whatever metrics you use—the giving, they’re involved in a small group—they do all that, but they refuse to be confined by the church programming. It’s that guy who goes on fishing trips or hunting trips with his buddies four or five times a year, whatever it is that the people in your community do. Or maybe it’s the woman who organizes a local food drive and is connected with the community. Whoever it is, find that person and get behind what they’re doing. You’ll be amazed at the new opportunities that arise.

when people finally come to jesus, we want them to have a story to tell.

— Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal.

© 2014 Tim Walburg.

What would you say to someone who wants to try to emulate your ministry model? Joel: We get pastors from all over the country who come through here seeing what they can copy. Some have said, “We want to do exactly what you’re doing.” My response was, “That means you need to shut down everything and start from scratch, because that’s how we did it.” Most people see what we’re doing as being cool. They think that’s the goal. “Oh, you have a gallery and a music venue.” But the only reason we do those things is because they’re connected to our context. So don’t do what

we’re doing. Take some the principles of contextualization back to your community and do things that make sense there.

“No, no ... I’m just here for your mic battery.”

6/19/14 10:35 AM



Easy on the Ears?


y six-year-old daughter is the most competitive personality in our home. While the other kindergarteners on her t-ball team are picking dandelions in the outfield, Lucy remains vigilant and “baseball ready” for every pitch. She recently came home disappointeded from a summer backyard Bible camp. “The games were too easy,” she insisted. “They need to make it harder to win.” Lucy’s desire to be challenged reveals a fact often neglected in our culture—we only grow when we are uncomfortable, and too much comfort can be downright dangerous. For example, a recent FAA study found that pilots are losing critical flying skills because they are under-challenged by state-of-the art planes that virtually fly themselves. Ironically, the push for safety through computer flying is leading to more accidents as pilots “abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems.” I wonder if something similar happens in the church. With the best of intentions, we have tried to make worship a comfortable place for both believers and seekers to learn about God. From cushioned seats to the spoon-fed sermon with fill-inthe-blank pre-written notes, the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, we can relax and switch on the auto pilot. If our goal is “teaching them to obey” all that Jesus commanded, then we may want to rethink our commitment to comfort on Sundays. Recent brain research has shown that when a person is comfortable, the more analytical functions of the brain (necessary for learning) remain disengaged. Psychologists refer to the brain as having a “system one” and a “system two.” System one is the intuitive functioning that is active when relaxed, like when vegetating in front of a television or listening to a pleasantly clear sermon in a comfortable seat on Sunday morning. System two is the analytical functioning of the brain that is required to rethink assumptions, challenge ideas, and construct new behaviors and beliefs. System two must be active to learn. Research shows that the brain shifts from system one to system two when forced to work; when challenged and uncomfortable. That’s why most people concentrate better in settings with some background noise. The challenge of focusing on my friend’s voice amid the clatter in the coffee shop shifts my brain from system one to two. By having to work to listen I actually



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listen better than if we were to meet in the silence of my office. Of course there can also be too much background noise, making listening impossible, like at a NASCAR race or Chuck E. Cheese. Think of it like riding a bike. Coasting downhill will never engage your muscles. A steep incline will make riding impossible. If your goal is stronger legs, you need some resistance, but not so much that you can’t proceed. These findings have made me rethink my preaching and teaching. I used to believe the best communication was crystal clear, simple, and easy to listen to. For this reason, like many other preachers, I was persuaded by advocates of PowerPoint and multimedia to use visual aids in order to make my communication easier. But is easier the right goal? Or should we be seeking engagement that requires more work on the part of our listeners rather than less? I’ve largely stopped using prewritten notes. If someone is going to “get” something from my sermon, I now want them to have to work for it—at least a little. We can all agree that Jesus was a brilliant communicator, but when we study his methods, it is obvious that the comfort of his audience was not a significant consideration. In fact, Jesus taught in a manner that challenged (sometimes baffled) his listeners. He expected them to work in order to understand his teaching. He asked them questions, wrapped his teaching in opaque parables, and often taught in distracting settings. Jesus was anything but clear, simple, and easy to listen to. Even now, when we engage his teaching in the Gospels, it requires effort— and a large dose of grace—to understand his words. He doesn’t give us three-point alliterated sermons, and neither do his apostles. I’m certainly not opposed to clear communication, but our cultural drive for comfort and accessibility may have unintended sideeffects. People, like pilots, do not thrive by being under challenged, but by turning off the auto pilot. Skye Jethani is executive editor of Leadership Journal.


6/18/14 3:38 PM

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6/23/14 10:52 AM



The Disillusionment Solution


e all have moments, as leaders, when we want to give it up. Maybe you just want to quit when someone critiques your event or questions your decisions, when you’re weary from holding others up as they fall apart, or when you feel dry and disconnected from God even as you give it all to serve him. But what I truly need in those times is something to cling to. And it’s in these moments when I ask myself, “Why am I doing this, anyway?” The “why” is an important, sometimes scary question to ask ourselves. The “why” re-centers us on what got us into leadership in the first place. And moments of disillusionment are also opportunities to clarify our vision. Here are three things to remember when you need to refresh your “why.” Leadership operates in the background. This seems wrong. Leaders are the ones up front, right? Leaders get all the glory (and fallout), right? True, but in reality, 95 percent of a leader’s time is spent quietly making things happen. The 5 percent that we spend in the spotlight is the part that is often criticized. The vast majority of your time is spent doing things that aren’t up for critique. The phone call you made to your hurting volunteer. The note of encouragement you sent to that new believer. The time you made for the younger leader who was frustrated and discouraged. These are the serving moments that make a leader, and they remind us that we lead so that others might have footprints to follow. Pay attention to the background work, and allow yourself to celebrate the quiet work that defines a servant leader. Create a better culture. A young leader came to me last week to show me an email. In it the person gave a full critique of the way everything operates in this leader’s ministry—after attending only one event. This leader’s natural

Why am I doing this anyway? Such moments clarify our vision.



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response was to either defend himself via return email or ignore it all together. That’s my natural response too! But I’ve learned that there can be some satisfaction in facing our critics and taking opportunities to shape the culture around us. We often underestimate our ability to remove the toxins of our environment through our own words and actions. So I encouraged my friend to be a spiritual leader—to answer the email with warmth, to avoid defensiveness, and to share his own heart in a way that could help this critic see the vision behind our own ministry’s “why.” It doesn’t always work—some people’s natural setting is complaint. But as leaders, our reaction to those complaints allows us to proactively create a culture of warmth, strength, and vision. It’s always evangelism. Last week I had lunch with a young professional who wasn’t sure she should join the church. She had questions—about the church’s stance on homosexuality is what she said in the email requesting a meeting. But as we sat together over pizza, our conversation turned to all kinds of hot topics—abortion, homosexuality, single people in the church. I tried to ask some questions to help her sort through how God has met her in different places in her life, and where her heart is oriented when it comes to his lordship. As I left that lunch, I marveled that as spiritual leaders we have the powerful responsibility of helping people continue to orient their whole lives to Christ. It may start with a conversation about homosexuality or worship or marriage problems, but when people invite us into their lives, they are allowing us to help point them back to Christ—and toward lives that are fully devoted to him. We are given the opportunity to help people find the rich, full life that God offers and that touches every decision, every belief, and every struggle. Whatever we do, it’s always evangelism—offering people life in Jesus Christ—the hurting, the critical, the complainers, and the honest seekers. And no matter what your sphere of influence, that’s the real “why” behind what you do. Nicole Unice is on the ministry staff at Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia, and writes for @Leadership_Jnl

6/18/14 3:38 PM

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It’s All in Your Head


t’s all in your head. That phrase is typically used derisively—a dismissive diagnosis of someone’s ailments. A man totters into his doctor’s office, complaining of deep angst, sharp pains, lingering aches. Spasms twitch down his leg, his belly is on fire, his dreams are troubled. He’s tormented by a host of symptoms. The doctor runs a battery of tests, asks a barrage of questions. Then he says this: “There’s nothing wrong with you medically. It’s all in your head.” That’s not what I mean here. I mean our deepest problem before we got saved—the hostility between ourselves and God that took no less than the death of his Son to heal—was all in our heads. And I mean our deepest problem now that we are saved—the way we keep falling prey to old lies, succumbing to old habits, bowing before old idols, manifesting old attitudes— is all in our heads, too. I best explain myself. The Greek word for repentance means, at root, to change your mind. Think differently. See it otherwise. Reframe the picture. That change of mind, of course, is measured by a change of ways. We produce fruit in keeping with repentance. We think differently. Then we act differently. But what comes first is changing our minds. It’s all in our head—or at least starts in our head—so we deal first with that. The New Testament puts enormous emphasis on both the depravity and the renewal of our minds (there are several Greek words that English translations render into the single English word mind). Paul claims that our estrangement from God is first and most a battle in our heads: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Col. 1:21), and traces the problem way back, when God gave the entire human race over to a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). Jesus rebukes Peter—calls him Satan, no less—because “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt. 16:23). The Bible says the renewal of our mind is key to newness of life: we now have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), and so each of us have been “taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (Eph. 4:22-23). Before anything truly and deeply changes in us, first our minds must change: “be transformed by the renewing

of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). These few biblical references barely scratch the surface. This theme runs throughout Scripture. It soaks through its pages, and once you see it, it’s impossible to miss: that what happens in our minds affects everything. As we think, so we are. Thinking is destiny, at least as far as a Christ-like life is concerned. The implications of this for pastoral ministry are huge. It means that the main work of discipleship is transformation through the renewing of our minds. There are two bedrock disciplines here. The first is to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, living a life of ongoing infilling by the Spirit. Invite him daily, hourly, to guide us into all truth; cultivate deep sensitivity to his promptings; hone reflexive quickness to go where he leads. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. So walk with him! The second is to fix our eyes on Jesus. It is living a life of adoring contemplation of Christ. Paul says it best: “We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The more we look to Christ, the more we look like Christ. His ways of thinking invade ours, so his ways of being pervade ours. So look to him. Our mind changes as we walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus, look to Jesus. And then— without hardly trying—everything else about us starts to change, too. I guess I always knew this. I just had to change my mind. Mark Buchanan teaches pastoral theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.

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“Which way to Celebrate Recovery?” —Patrick Lee, The Crossing, Columbia, Missouri

“I’m volunteering for the children’s ministry. Can you show me where it is? —Don Stowell, Lockland Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

Bill, the consummate greeter, hasn’t missed a Sunday in 16 years. —Stephen Roussos, Freeman Missionary Church, Freeman, South Dakota

“No, taking up CrossFit is not the same as taking up your cross.” —Mark S. Milwee, Del Cerro Baptist Church, La Mesa, California

After discerning that Rodeo Ministry was not his calling, JimBob decided to try Spiritual Direction. —Jim Garrison, Los Banos United Methodist Church, Los Banos, California

After the accident, Pastor Newt didn’t have a lot to say, but he still had a knack for pointing the way. —Will Sanborn, Berean Church, Columbus, Nebraska

“The elders asked if we could position you next to the collection box.” —Jonathan Truax, Science Hill Community Church, Alliance, Ohio

“Perhaps the time has come to run background checks on the kids as well as the workers.” —Todd Marcy, Holcomb Evangelical Free Church, Holdrege, Nebrasha

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