Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2016

Life Intersections

Giving Your Best in Worship

Something weird happened in church on Sunday: I got mentioned in the sermon. What’s more it wasn’t one of those, ‘Here’s a really bad example of someone trying to live the Christian life; whatever you do, don’t be like this guy.’

Fortunately, it wasn’t one of those moments where you’re about to fall into a deep slumber, and then you hear your name, and wake up and loudly go, “Yes! What?” (I hate when that happens.)

Actually, I knew this story was coming as soon as he launched into it. Our topic was worship. While these usually a take a ‘worship is more than just singing’ approach, this time we focused on what we do when we sing. The speaker was describing his start in music ministry as having its beginning during a service in that very church, at a time when I was music director — we didn’t have the phrase worship director back then, or electricity — when I allowed a 15-year old kid to play bass guitar for a Sunday.

And here’s one of the best parts of this story:

I have no memory of that particular service.

The reason I call that one of the best parts, is because I can’t look back and say, “Oh yes, well I saw such great potential and I just knew that God had wonderful things in store for this young man, that I wanted to give him a ministry opportunity.”

No. That would be an opening for pride. The type of pride that would take the whole situation and write a blog post about it. (Oops!) Well, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I heard my name, and I knew the story, and I was happy to be a part of his journey, and was anxious to hear the rest of the sermon, and settled back to enjoy the message along with everyone else, following my 3.1415 seconds of fame.

But then it happened. He went on to tell more of that story, and while I had heard some details before, I didn’t realize he had gone on to become Operations Director for a YWAM base in a major American city.

The magnitude of where his journey had taken him suddenly hit me. It was at that point, I realized the significance of my inviting him to play bass all those years ago. That’s when I started to get a little teary.

I started wondering if there were any other people who I helped or influenced whose story I will never know, at least not in this life. I then wonder how much we — you included — are part of someone’s journey without realizing the impact we have.

Interestingly, this episode on the weekend comes in the middle of a dry season. It was like, ‘Okay, my life has a purpose after all.’ I’m being overly dramatic here, but you get the idea. It’s nice to know that you’re part of a chain of grace, as your story intersects someone else’s.


Dallas Holm is talking more about evangelism in this song, but there are a few lyrics appropriate to today’s thoughts:

…Oh to be a link in this line of faith,
To help steer somebody to see His face;
Then watch them turn around and do the same thing,
In this chain of grace…

…I praise the Lord
For those I may never meet
Who some time and place I may have reached,
Through Your perfect love.

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October 26, 2013

The Movie You Star In

(…Or at least have a supporting role.)

At least once a month, I receive a new newsletter called PARSE, written by Paul Pastor, the online editor for Leadership Journal.  If you’re interested, you can subscribe by clicking here.

This is an example of the short essays he writes…

Paul PastorTo be honest, sometimes I think that I’m the center of the universe. That I am some human version of Foucault’s Pendulum; the one fixed point around which the cosmos rotates.

Here’s how this plays out. Most of the time, I act like other people are just the supporting cast of a film I’m starring in. My wife’s a co-star of course. Close friends and family have big roles, full of humor and drama. There are bit parts too, mostly to help the plot along and add some color. The man with dreadlocks who pumps my gas. My favorite barista. The mailman. An old professor. Strangers are extras, maybe chorus members for a musical number.

“THE STORY OF PAUL” the promo poster says in my mind. “CO-STARRING EMILY, CHRIS, IRENE, OREGON, CHICAGO, AUNT PAM …”

What would happen if I realized that life wasn’t really my movie at all? What if I were actually a supporting actor in the “films” of dozens of my friends and family, a mild villain in a few old co-worker’s films. A comic character in some, tragic in others, sometimes just a member of the chorus, a flashing blip visible only when you pause the frame, back it up, analyze that tan blur there off to the left.

We’re all players in each others’ stories. Somehow, all those lovely, winding narratives mesh up to make bigger ones. The Story of Paul folds like tiny origami into the story of the 21st Century Church. The story of Post-Enlightenment Culture. The Story of History. Those in turn fold together into yet larger tales. The Story of Carbon Based Life. The Story of the Planet Earth. The Story of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Those, in turn, mash up yet again. The Story of the Universe. The Story of Creation and Re-Creation. The Story of God.

Those are plots too big for my comprehension. And I have the hubris to think that I am the center of it all? That all this revolves around my awkward mutterings?

I repent of my foolishness, but am daunted by a marvelous thing; you and I still have speaking parts, no matter how big the story gets.

May we deliver our lines well in the Story of the Church and Her Culture, standing here as we do, at the edge of infinite stages.

May 22, 2012

Discipleship Is Not Mentoring

In a world with a glut of business and leadership books available, we hear a lot about mentoring. And in a spiritual environment where some fear the pejoration of the term “Christian,” at the same as others are uncomfortable with the proponents of “spiritual formation,” we hear a lot about discipleship. And if you’re involved in men’s ministry, you hear a whole lot about both, actually.

England’s Andrew Dowsett says the two terms are not coterminous. I had to look it up, too. But the rest of this is really clear, and it’s a clarification that’s badly needed if we are to understand our role in discipling others.  If you prefer, here is the direct link to his blog, for the legion of non-clickers among you, it’s also reprinted below.

At the end is a link to a post where he continues to develop discipleship, but since this would involve “borrowing” both text and several graphics, you’ll have to click through for that one, and click through to the full blog in order to locate a second part to that one.  (Andrew has done a fair bit of thinking on this, so if discipleship is something you feel especially called to, read all three parts.)

The other day a younger friend asked me a really good question: what is the difference between discipleship and mentoring?  In fact, this is a great question, and one that arises from my insistence that discipleship is not primarily about the Christian’s personal and largely unmediated relationship with Jesus but about interpersonal human relationships, the participation in the missio dei (God’s mission) Jesus has delegated to us.  If my understanding of discipleship is that it is relational and directive and handed on, is what I mean by ‘discipleship’ mentoring?  An older acquaintance who asked me my views on discipleship recently thought so.

There is certainly a degree of overlap, but in my view discipleship and mentoring are not coterminous.  While I am aware that there is a (growing) range of nuance to how the term ‘mentoring’ is applied, my understanding of mentoring is that it is vocational and that, while the mentor may certainly address character issues and facilitate networking, the relationship is primarily concerned with passing on specific skills to their protégée.

Another related-but-different field is that of life-coaching, which, unlike mentoring, is not vocational.  The aim of the life-coach is to help someone identify changes they want to see in their life and to put in place changes towards that life.  They are more concerned with values than particular skills: with helping their client to align their actions more closely to their ‘ideal world’ lifestyle.  Life-coaches tend not to be directive: the impetus for change comes from the person who has engaged them; they act as a sounding-board to help that person articulate what they seek.  As such, life-coaches – in contrast to mentors – do not necessarily model something they have learnt and are now handing on.

Discipleship is concerned with becoming Christ-like (“imitate me as I imitate Christ”) in every part of life.  It is concerned with vocation – that is, our kingdom roles – as inextricably linked to personhood – that is, our covenant relationships.  Therefore, discipleship involves a distinctively Jesus-centred form of life-coaching and mentoring, while adapting and exceeding both.

Discipleship as mentoring (as when a Christian businessperson mentors younger businesspeople in engaging in business according to kingdom values) puts one person between me and the place I want to go to – a person who will help me take that step.  It may relate to a specific job or employment, or unfamiliar location; or more generally to the unchanging, developing vocation that is expressed through a series of jobs and in a series of locations.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like competence and Christ-like character, here competence takes the ‘leading beat.’

Discipleship as life-coaching puts one person between me and the person of Jesus – someone who will bring me to Jesus, just as I am called to bring others to Jesus.  While discipleship must always take into account both Christ-like character and Christ-like competence, here character takes the ‘leading beat.’ It may be significantly removed from mentoring – a key observation for church leaders in inherited traditions: we are not primarily called to raise up the next generation of clergy or licensed lay ministers, but to create a culture of discipleship by making disciples – regardless of their vocation – who make disciples.

Both are counter-cultural to the extreme individualism of our age.  Both are necessary, as the life of discipleship is a shared life of being called to come to the person of Jesus and be sent ahead of him into every place.

I shall develop these ideas in my next post, The Field Of Discipleship

~Andrew Dowsett

Want more?  Another consideration of this is found at the blog of Dr. Alex Tang; clicking the image will take you to the article.

December 6, 2010

Be That Person!

I was in my early 20’s and really struggling with college and relationships and everything in between.   Then a couple from my church asked me over for lunch one day.   They were older than I was, with kids in junior high.   They could see that I was hurting and offered friendship and listened to my story, and then offered some good advice that only a fresh perspective could bring.   They also introduced me to one of the seniors in the church who was this incredible storehouse of the kind of wisdom I really needed.   I am so thankful that both the couple and the older person reached outside their social circle to help me at a point in life where I was feeling very lost.

So many times you hear stories of people coming along side and helping out someone they hardly know or don’t know.   That’s the appeal of books like So You Don’t Want To Go Church Anymore or The Noticer. Here’s the deal:  Each and every person reading this has the potential to be a mentor to someone else.   Not just “an encourager,” but someone who truly invests in someone else’s life.  I can guarantee that there’s somebody out there who you’re older than, who you’ve had more life experiences than.   Your story can intersect with their story.

Everyone reading this has the potential to be a life-changer to someone else, to be the person in the story who makes a difference in someone else’s life.

Someone — three people, actually — in the above story stepped up to meet the need.  Be that person!   Find someone about whom God strongly indicates that because of the nature of your personal story, you have something constructive to speak into that person’s life.

The next time you hear a story about someone who reached into someone else’s life to make a lasting contribution, be the person in the story.

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