You Aren’t Extraordinary

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My generation is inundated with living an extraordinary life. Books, blogs, and films are based on the premise of how to get an individual to live a life that defies normalcy. I’ve read and seen many of these things. I operated under the belief that if I follow these certain steps, then I could, too, live an extraordinary life.

But I think it is all a lie.

Recently, I have been reflecting upon how many of us want to live someone else’s life. Or how many of us want to live a life that is worthy of a film adaptation. There is an imaginary set of standards that we must meet in order to live that kind of life. Be innovative. Be creative. Be a risk-taker. Be spontaneous. Be more.

We are obsessed with this idea and believe that unless we live this kind of life, then life is meaningless. Everyone wants to make their mark in the world. I wanted to make my mark in the world. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.

But I’ve stopped wanting that.

pippin_615x400This past weekend, I went and watched the musical Pippin. I knew nothing of the show going into it. Part of me thought it was a show about what happened to Pippin after Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. Instead, it was this beautiful and yet depressing look at an existential crisis. The show is set up as if we are watching a group of players tell a story. They do amazing acrobatics and all play a role in helping Pippin find his meaning. He goes to war, he fills his life with sexual pleasures, he becomes a revolutionist, he becomes powerful, and he seeks love. Each thing he does still leaves him feeling empty or trapped. [Spoiler — as if I need to do this…most of you probably don’t want to watch it] It ends with the lead player coming out and telling Pippin that if he wants to live an extraordinary life, then he needs to have an extraordinary death. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The group of players mentioned at the beginning that they needed a new protagonist for their production. You realize that this group of players isn’t a group that puts on a show. It is a group that lives in each of us, urging us to live an extraordinary life. Pippin contemplates life and almost kills himself but decides to spend the rest of his days with a love interest and her son. The lead player asks Pippin how he feels about his decision and his response is, “Trapped…but happy.”

It gets more depressing after that, but I’ll spare you the heartache I endured (don’t get me wrong — it was a great show). Pippin wanted anything but an ordinary life; but when faced with death, an ordinary life is all he wanted.

For me, the ordinary isn’t extraordinary so I constantly long for something more. I look to people who are living extraordinary lives and try to figure out what I can imitate so I can achieve the same level of happiness. Our search for extraordinary is rooted in our desire for happiness.

More and more, I am learning that God does work through the ordinary. The ordinary isn’t something to be looked down upon. God does His work through the ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like. Many of us are trying to live extraordinary lives and God is calling us to let Him work through our ordinary lives.

I will admit that sometimes I feel life is bland because I’m not living my best story or whatever else is trendy right now. I live in a suburb…not in Chicago. I travel periodically…but not a lot because I’m frugal. I haven’t written a best-seller (although, I have one on parenting that I’m certain will become a runaway hit). I am not the leading innovator in youth ministry…I’m probably not even an innovator in youth ministry. I look around and I wonder, “Is this it? What happened to my best life? What happened to accomplishing great things? What happened to being amazing at living?”

I’m not extraordinary. I’m ordinary. And I have to be okay with that. You aren’t extraordinary. You’re ordinary. And you have to be okay with that.

Everyone is not going to become president. Everyone is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone is not going to end world hunger. Everyone is not going to be a NYT best-seller. Everyone is not going to be an Academy Award winner. Everyone is not going to be an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL star. Everyone is not going to win a Tony.

But those things don’t make them extraordinary. We do not have to achieve this to live a deep and meaningful life. God works through the ordinary and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It seems like He could accomplish more if He worked through those who are in the public spotlight or who have accomplished a lot. But He works through the ordinary.

Our search for an extraordinary life may be one of the most prime example of our selfish attempts at happiness. What we have isn’t good enough. The community around us isn’t good enough. Our families aren’t good enough. The people God has placed in our lives aren’t good enough. The job that God has given us isn’t good enough. In reality, many of us think that God hasn’t given us a good enough life.

I don’t know how to make sense with all of that. But I am learning to be content in the ordinary. I may never be extraordinary but I  am learning that I can live a pretty fulfilling life letting God use my ordinary.

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Confession of a Single Guy…

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In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).

As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.

This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.

When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.

Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.

Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).

Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.

Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.

Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.

Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.

As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.10392377_634829361283_6032125750710341341_n

At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).

At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?

At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”

At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?

It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.

As a single guy, I do not…

order takeout or pizza every night

have a crazy messy bachelor pad

get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment

abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)

pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about

go to clubs or bars picking up women

or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.

My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.

So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.

We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.

I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.

The Church is Not Burger King

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Many times I fear that I come across negative in this blog. I hope that is not the case. It is simply a platform for conversation. I hope to bring up things that deserve discussion. My prayer is that you never view me as a negative individual when it comes to the Church. There is nothing I love more than the Church. It is something to which I have dedicated my life. 

On that note, today’s discussion. Burger King is known for their slogan “Have it your way.” That mindset attracted a lot of people. When we get down to it, we would all love to have it our way. Let’s be real, no one wants to be a part of something that they do not like.

We support missions we like.

We go to a church we like.

We sing songs we like. 

We live in a neighborhood we like.

We do a job we like (well, not all of us).

We marry someone we like (I hope all of us do that…).

We all want to do something we like. We all want to be a part of something we like. And when we don’t like something, we like to transform it into something we like. My dad hates onions. Every time he orders something, he tells them to leave off the onions. If they don’t, he usually won’t eat it. And believe me, we have tried sneaking them into his food – he always finds them. My dad will transform something with onions into something without onions – something he doesn’t like into something he likes.

My fear with this mindset, is that we do this with the Church, especially within the non-denominational world. If we don’t like the carpeting in the church, we urge the church to change it. If we don’t like the elders in the church, we try to get them out. If we don’t like the preaching, we tell him/her how to do it better. If we don’t like the worship, we tell the worship leaders how to improve. If we don’t like the youth minister, we tell him/her what could be done to make the ministry better. I could go on and on with this list. But I’ll spare the redundancy and state the point: we change that which we don’t like.

This is a great mindset to have in our lives. Change the things we don’t like in ourselves. However, within the Church, is this right? Is it right to try to find a church to “fit our needs?” Is it right to try and change a church to be how we want it? Is it right to sing the songs that we want? Listen to the preaching we want? Pray the prayers we want? Support the missions we want? Where is the line between the will of God and the will of man? What happens when one person says, “God told me we should support this mission in India?” But another person says, “God told me we should support this mission in Mexico?” Who is right? To whom did God speak? Is it possible that both are really just trying to get what they want?

The Church is one place where everyone is an expert. Every person is an expert preacher, teacher, worship leader, youth leader, elder, meditator, children’s leader, etc. We all have input on how everyone can do their job better (and do their job according to how we would want it). I see this in myself. I confuse what I want with what God wants. Our desire is sometimes so strong that we cannot see what God wants.

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The Church is not Burger King. We cannot have it our way. We cannot change things just because “we don’t like them.” I speak to myself when I say this. We cannot change the preacher just because we don’t like his preaching. We cannot change the worship just because we don’t like the songs. We cannot change the view of communion just because we don’t like how uncomfortable it can make some feel. We cannot change things just because we want something different. It is something that has to be of God. We have to trust that the leaders are seeking God’s will for the direction of the church. If they are not, that will be brought to light – it always is.

In the meantime, let’s stop treating the Church like Burger King. Surprisingly enough, we are not all experts in ministry. The Church is not about us having it our way. It is about God having it His way. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will begin acting like the Church.

Resigning From the Church is the Best Thing I Have Ever Done

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ImageI was a little bit nervous as I handed the senior pastor the letter. It felt like I was walking away from doing what was right. I didn’t want to give up just because I was tired. But I was tired. I was exhausted. As soon as I handed him the letter, I was immediately at peace with my decision. That was a weird feeling. My resignation brought me peace.

Now, almost a week after the decision to resign, I am beginning to see the fulness of what that position had done to me.

It made me cynical toward the Church.

It made me see some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

It made me scan the Bible looking for ways to prove myself right.

It made me wish Johnson would’ve offered Political Science courses.

It made me want to leave the ministry.

It made me see the need for a church in this area.

Most importantly, it made me see what I did not want to become.

During my internship at Central, I remember a leadership talk given (I can’t remember who gave it) that said that sometimes we learn the most out of bad situations because we learn what we don’t want to become. I never thought those words would be so true.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed so much of it. But you can only see the damage when you leave

You can only see the damage done when you leave.

That thought made me think quite a bit. How many of us are in unhealthy situations but do not know it? How many of us are hanging by a thread but do not know it? Is it right to continue in a position that is slowly killing your drive? I fear that many of us are in these unhealthy situations but refuse to walk away because we think we can change things. We cannot change that which is refusing to change.

I tried to change the music. Music is something that causes more problems than it should. But seeing how music directly influences your salvation, we must pay it a great deal of attention. I tried changing something that refused to be changed.

Perhaps you are a minister who is trying to change the mindset of your elders and they refuse to change.

Maybe you are a youth minister who is trying to change the perception of what youth ministry is but people are refusing to accept the new ideas.

Maybe you are a small groups minister who is trying to change the structure but no one wants to do it.

I don’t know your situation, but what I do know is this: one cannot change that which refuses to change.

When I graduated college, I had this idea that I was going to change the world, one church at a time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that I can’t change something that refused to be changed. Whenever we try to change something that refuses to be changed, we destroy ourselves.

I don’t know what to do in these situations. I don’t know if what I did was completely right. But what I do know is this: resigning is the best thing I have ever done.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. Remember these 2 things:

1.) You cannot change that which refuses to change.

2.) You can only see the fulness of the damage when you walk away from the situation.

Jesus is Unemployable

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A church of 500 wants a new music minister. Qualifications desired? 12 years of music experience and a Masters in Music.

A church of 150 wants an associate pastor. Qualifications desired? Masters in Bible, proven success in a previous church, and correct answers to several questions about the relationship with your wife.

A church of 150 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? Experienced preacher.

A church of 50 wants a senior pastor. Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.

A church of 500 wants a youth minister. Qualifications desired? 7 years of experience in a church of 500 or more and a Master of Divinity.

A church of 200 wants a preacher. Qualifications desired? 5 years experience.

A church of 150 wants a youth minister. Qualifications required? 5-7 years of experience. Musical abilities. Bachelor’s Degree.

I think you get the point. As I began looking for churches to serve in while pursuing my M.Div., this is what I ran into. It seemed like every church I looked at had high qualifications desired. Some were as ridiculous as 12 years of experience for a church of 100!

My favorite out of the examples given had to be the one that said: “Qualifications desired? A wife with musical abilities.” How is that a qualification?! I guess that’s an easy way to narrow down the playing field.

As I was looking through all of these churches and what they were looking for in a candidate, I began to laugh. I thought to myself, “Jesus couldn’t even get hired at this church!” Wait. Does that sound right? Jesus couldn’t get hired at a church?

Was he married? No…
Did he have musical abilities? According to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” he did…
How many years of experience? Well…3 years of ministry…
How about education? He had it…we can assume…
Did his wife have musical abilities? Refer to the top…

It is quite startling. Isn’t it? Somewhere in the history of the church, we began placing higher and higher qualifications on ministers. Part of me is not opposed to this. I value education. I believe that we should educate ourselves as much as possible.

But as for the ridiculous years of experience…that is a little out of hand. There used to be a time when churches gave chances. That is one thing I love about my home church. They desire to hire someone without experience. They want to be able to give those years of experience to someone.

Churches seem to no longer want to take chances. Perhaps that is because they have been burnt. Perhaps it is because they are concerned about numbers. Perhaps it is because they think they are at a level where they deserve the best.

I want to work at a church one day that takes chances. I want to work at a church that looks at experience on paper and says, “So you don’t have a lot. But tell me what you think you can do.” The church needs to begin taking chances again. Not just within hiring pastors; but chances in general (another topic for another time).

So, if you are a church and you are reading this, give someone a chance. Take a risk. Isn’t there some sense of ego in desiring someone with 7 years of experience? Have we, as a church, begun to think of ourselves as advanced as needing that? Do we think we “deserve” that? It is rightfully ours? Is it okay to desire that because we are so big? The answer to all of these questions: yes. Because one person can destroy the Church. Christ’s bride is doomed if you hire someone inexperienced. Because those ministers involved in the affairs, embezzlement scams, and porn searching were all inexperienced ministers….weren’t they? Or were they ministers who worked on gaining years of experience and neglected integrity.

I’m happy that God looks at the heart and not at anything else. It gives me comfort. Whenever I read Hebrews 11, I am reminded that God does not desire 7 years of experience, a M.Div., and a wife with musical abilities. He desires us to want to be used.

So how is this doable? This sounds pretty, but it is not realistic. This would take too much time. We would have to call all these candidates. We would actually have to carry on conversations with them. We would have to treat them like people rather than numbers. In reality, we would have to give more attention to who we are hiring. And who knows…if we stopped looking at the years of experience a typical workplace desires, maybe we would hire Jesus (figuratively, of course…I’m not being literal. You see how this all connects to the beginning. It makes sense, right? I hope so.).Image