Do You Believe in Life After Campus Ministry?

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The Lord gave me a wake up call last week. He demonstrated very clearly to me that there are some things in my life that need to change. In the days since, I’ve spent more time in prayer, worship, and earnest seeking than I have in the past three years. I’m experiencing a world of healing and reconciliation, and it’s incredible.

As I’ve worked through things, it’s become clear that many of the really hard things I went through over the past few years can be directly linked to a year I spent interning with a campus ministry and my failure to fully prepare for leaving it. The past three years have been a downward spiral of sorts, and much of it is just now being redeemed. After some consideration, I decided to write this post as an open letter in the hopes that someone might read it and be encouraged. Keeping the Cher theme, if I could turn back time…if I could find a way…these are the things I would have told myself in December of 2008.

Dear Cory,

As of right now, you’re in one of the safest environments you’ll ever be in. You’re surrounded by people that you can confide in, ask to pray for you, and be encouraged by. You have Biblical authority over you; a chapel available 24/7 to worship, weep, or just experience the Lord in; and a great weekly worship service to attend. You have a ministry team of people around you who are passionate about the things that stir your heart and are walking in the things you feel called to. Enjoy it now, because in a short 6 months, this won’t be the case. You’ll be coming back from a mission trip to Japan, jet-lagged, exhausted, and required to move out of your apartment in 12 hours. You’ll have less than $500 in the bank and will be leaving a downtown area that you’ve prayer-walked dozens of times, a campus that you know like the back of your hand, and a support network that has been unmatched up to this point in life. You don’t know it yet, but it’s going to be really hard. Here’s your roadmap for survival:

December and the Spring

Apply for one job before the end of December

It doesn’t matter what the job is, if you’re passionate about it, or if the Lord told you to do it or not. Applying for jobs is a hard thing to do. It takes a lot of time, a lot of hard work, and a lot of emotional effort. So, along with eating lots of good food and opening presents, here’s your game plan for December:

  1. Talk to your family and friends about what you want to do after this year. What kind of job do you want? Where do you want to live?
  2. Write a resume you’d be proud to send out and a cover letter to go with it. Get help from your fiends and family. Spend at least 3 hours on it. You know you’ve got the time.
  3. Go on indeed.com or christianjobs.com or teachgeorgia.com or sites like these, find a job you wouldn’t be miserable in, and fill out an application.

See, that wasn’t that hard. It’s done. Now you have a resume and cover letter template you can use in the future. However, this won’t be enough. You see, your future plans are going to be: “I could teach, or I could work at a church, or I could work for IJM, or I could work for World Vision.” Well, you now need multiple resumes and cover letters, some of which are secular focused, some of which are ministry focused, and some of which are organizationally-focused. By the end of this, you’re actually going to need 5 different cover letter templates and 4 different resumes, so stop playing video games and start writing!

Apply for at least one job a week starting in January

Even if you can’t start work until May, you need to start applying for jobs now in January. No one told you this, but sometimes when you apply for a job, it takes the organization 3 months to actually even start looking at resumes. The actual hiring process itself can take upwards of half a year. Some organizations, like schools, make all their hires in January and February. Even if you don’t get an offer, you can get valuable interview experience that will help you later. If you do get an offer, tell them you won’t be available to start until July. If you made a strong impression, they might be able to hold a job open for you until then. As of right now, you’ve got a strong support network around you with friends, a discipler, a ministry team, and the like. Searching for jobs can be an emotionally exhausting process. Not getting callbacks or being turned down can lead you to struggle with feelings of rejection and a lack of purpose. It’ll be much better for you if you experience the rejection now and can work through it in community than if you start doing it in June after moving back in with your parents because you didn’t start applying until May. Yes, this might feel at times like you’re cheating on your campus ministry. However, their heart for you is to learn, grow, and move on to being a witness of Christ wherever you end up. They’ll understand. Set aside one day a week for this and do it! Maybe you feel called to stay on for another year at your ministry. That’s great! However, maybe that’s emotion and not the Lord. Maybe that’s fear. You’re going to be better off making this decision out of choice over another job than making the decision because you don’t have anything else in front of you.

Start Going to Bed by 11

“I’m not a morning person” is not a valid statement. Go to bed by 11. Think this is impossible? All right, fine. Go to bed by 10:30. Do we need to continue this conversation? Most any job you get will require you to be there by 8 or earlier. Start good habits now. Despite everything you think, you can actually learn to love mornings more than nights. Turn your computer off by 10 p.m. and go to sleep. It’ll make you incredibly happier.

Go on a Media Fast

Spend a month not playing video games, watching television, or browsing facebook or reddit. In fact, other than applying for jobs, checking email, and reading scripture, turn your computer off entirely. See how much time you have? Live life like this. As Mark Driscoll says, video games aren’t sin, they’re just stupid. New life rule…never play video games or watch movies by yourself. Be a social/communal person. Get out of the house. Spend time in prayer and worship instead. It’ll revolutionize your life.

Find a Mutual Accountability Partner to Stay in Touch with After This Year

Find another guy and pledge to be accountability partners. Like…really. This could be a friend or someone you barely know. Make a deep commitment to one another to talk on at least a weekly basis and to confess things in your life that you’re struggling with. Pick someone you really trust whom you know will be honest with you. Pray for one another. Ok…now pledge that wherever you end up after this year, you’ll keep doing so. Try doing this over the phone now so it isn’t awkward later. This will absolutely be the most valuable thing for you moving forward, as it will force you to confess and repent on a constant basis. You will need this after you leave your discipler and ministry team behind, as it might be hard to find real authority in the churches around you. This is for real. Do it!

Start Going to Church in January

Start going to church. Campus ministry is not representative of what life will look like in a year. While you’re at it, don’t go to the later contemporary service. Go to the early one that’s not filled with college kids. Now that you’re going to bed  by 11, you’ll be able to wake up by 8 and do this. The fact is that most churches in the country aren’t Athens Church or Prince Avenue Baptist or even Saint James. They aren’t filled with college students. They’re filled with couples in their 40s, their grade-school children, and older adults. Despite what you see around you now, 18-30 year olds are the least-churched age group. There just won’t be as many of them, and those that are there might not be as passionate about their faith as you are. While you’re at it, join a small group at the church…and try to make sure it’s inter-generational. This will be the main way you meet Christians in the future, so you need to be comfortable with it.

You also need to get used to not being in charge of church things, because you probably won’t be in the near future. Make a real effort to learn to receive ministry from a regular church, because you’re currently much more used to working to give than receive. Once you get out, your tendency will be to hop into leadership…and your church will be more than happy to let you do that. However, many churches aren’t all that great at feeding their leaders. Giving without receiving will dry you out, leave you frustrated and exhausted, and eventually make you bitter.

Learn to Forgive and to Confront Situations

You either have been hurt in ministry or you’re going to be…especially in college ministry. You’re surrounded by impulsive people who are trying to seek Jesus while simultaneously trying to figure out who they are. Many of them have issues in their lives that have never been addressed. At some point, you’re going to bump into one and it’s going to explode. You’re going to experience hurt. You MUST learn how let go of things and to forgive. You also must learn how to confront situations that need confronting. Ignoring things is equivalent to suppressing them and will just lead to a later explosion. If you’re struggling with either of these, talk to your accountability partner you made. Talk to your discipler. If you don’t do this, it will tear you up later. Jesus said if you lay down to go to bed and remember you have an issue with someone, get up and go talk to them. That person whose calls you’ve been avoiding? You need to have a conversation with them. That person you are angry at…you may need to confess and apologize to them face-to-face. If you don’t…it’s just going to nag at you constantly and make you feel terrible.

Ask Her Out

So, you like this girl. Have you committed to being single? Probably not. Is the Lord calling you to never marry? Probably not. Are you fake dating her? Probably. If not physically than definitely mentally. Ask her out and get it over with. A yes or a no is better than mental gymnastics of wondering forever. While you’re pondering, though, realize that she has plans and dreams too. If you’re planning to move to Seattle or Jakarta at the end of the year, that has a really good chance of putting a strain on any potential relationship. Be wise about things, but don’t be motivated by fear. The Lord really does put people together.

 

After Spring

Find a Church

If you end up leaving Athens, find a church as quickly as possible. Here’s a protip…look for a men’s ministry. An active men’s ministry shows a maturity that many churches are lacking. Within the first month, set up a meeting with a pastor and ask to be assigned a mentor/discipler. You’ve grown accustomed to this type of relationship, and if they can provide it, you’ll be immensely helped. If they have sunday school class(es), visit and introduce yourself. Try to meet people. You’ve just left your community and you’re going to have a hard time. Consider inviting your friends over to pray with you. You must have community, or you’ll die.

Save Money & Give Money

You’ve just spent a year on support. You’re not going to be wealthy at the end. Assuming you get a job, you’ll be tempted to spend a lot of money. Don’t. Keep living simply…pay off student loans…put money in savings…and establish a lifestyle of giving. Perhaps get in contact with an intern or missionary and start supporting them. Take a check to church every week for some amount. Doing this now will make it much easier later.

Go To Counseling

Just try it. You’ve never done it. There are things in your heart that need to be worked out. There are people trained and gifted by God to help you do just that. Many churches aren’t very good at discipleship. This can be a great addition or even temporary alternative to Biblical discipleship. Just make sure it’s Christian counseling. Most every church can give you a referral if you ask.

Go On Another Media Fast

So, you’re working full time, single, and bored at night? You’re not quite the bar-hopper that all the other 24-year old single guys are, eh? So, you started watching the entire series of Lost last week? You’re reading through the Harry Potter series for the 17th time? Sounds like it’s time to go on another media fast. While media isn’t necessarily bad, it can distract you from your devotional life. Go on another media fast. Seek Jesus. You’ll end up doing more things with people, going to more church functions, and will be better for it.

Keep Seeking

No matter what happens, what hurt you’ve been through, or where you end up, keep seeking Jesus. Don’t let your guitar collect dust. Don’t let your Bible end up on the bookshelf. Worship, pray, seek! Get on a Bible reading plan. Open it even when it’s hard. Trust me, it’s worth it.


I don’t know how far this blog post will reach. If anyone reads this and wants some help with the process of adjusting to life outside of ministry, let me know. If you need some help writing a resume, drop me a message. If you had a rough time moving out of ministry and want to commiserate, I’m down. If you’re a guy, I’d love to act as an accountability partner. The Lord is faithful, but we are fragile. I’m currently in the process of implementing a number of these suggestions, and I have a ways to go yet. We all need a little help sometimes, and I’d love to be that for you. Blessings.

On Pascal’s Wager and the Cost of Discipleship

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I had a conversation on Pascal’s Wager a couple months ago with a friend that brought about some interesting thoughts, so I figured I’d write them out.

Pascal’s Wager is an argument commonly used to promote and defend the Christian faith. You’ve probably heard it before. The idea is to take a null hypothesis that Christians are wrong about their faith and determine the gain/loss for them given that they believed something that was wrong. Then, you take the alternative case that Christians are right and look at the gain/loss for non-Christians. When compared, there is supposedly overwhelming cause to believe in Christ. As an example, a common version of the argument says that if Christians are wrong about heaven, hell, and Jesus, they lose nothing but “a little fun that wouldn’t have been good for them anyway.” Conversely, if Christians are right, non-Christians lose an eternity of joy dwelling with Christ and gain eternal pain and suffering in hell. Yikes!

This argument makes sense on the surface. One need not be a mathematician to understand that infinity suffering/loss is much bigger than any finite suffering/loss. Even to the non-Christian hedonist, the slightest probability of infinite pleasure or infinite pain should carry a much stronger value than finite pleasures or losses. Infinity times any probability greater than zero still equals infinity and outweighs any non-infinity temporal outcome.  It’s math! However, I see a number of problems with Christians using Pascal’s Wager. One such problem is that the same wager can just as easily be used to argue or justify anything. For example, how can anyone argue against environmentalism if temporal inconveniences like higher gas prices are set against the seemingly eternal consequence of wiping out the human race through global climate change? Is there a 0.00001% chance climate change is taking place? If so, infinity wins and we should have $100/gallon gas. Another example might question how can we allow people to do anything dangerous when them dying, as the movie Cloud Atlas teaches us, has echoes through eternity?  If there’s a 0.0000000001% chance of them dying, then the eternal consequences are too much for us to let them bear the risk. No more flying, driving, or eating food (you could choke!). I always hate using Hitler in examples because it’s insensitive, overly dramatic, and overdone. However, we’ll do it anyway. Hitler could have easily wagered the temporal pain of wiping out entire populations of people against the seemingly eternal benefit of having a “pure” race for the rest of history. In any of these cases, Pascal’s Wager says infinity always wins. I feel for this reason alone, Pascal’s Wager is a dangerous argument and Christians should avoid using it at all costs out of concern for it being turned against them…or others.

However, apart from the previous issue, there’s a deeper problem with Christians using Pascal’s Wager…and it isn’t the logic (which has been debated up and down and is by no means my area of expertise). This problem is good for thought because it has theological implications (hence the theology category). The problem, to me, is in the assumptions used to lay out the two cases. Specifically, the “loss” that Christians experience if they’re wrong has seemed lacking every time I’ve heard it used (and I actually have heard it used). I think this comes from the fact that Christianity has been a dominant world religion for over a milennia. When Blaise Pascal cast his wager in 17th century France, there wasn’t much of a negative outcome to being a Christian. Much like America, being a Christian in France then was an accepted practice (though conservative and evangelical Christianity seem to currently be going out vogue). Even then, I think Christians had lost touch with the concept of “counting the cost” to becoming a disciple of Christ, and I think this is a tragic doctrinal loss (unnecessary excessive parenthesis).

To demonstrate this, I feel the wager would take a very different tone if the individual considering Pascal’s Wager lived in a country like China or North Korea where Christianity has been pushed underground. Christians in repressive countries put their lives at great risk  by believing in, living for, and preaching Christ. Hiding in underground caves to sing songs of worship to a Savior who may not exist under penalty of death seems like a foolish wager indeed. The apostle Paul himself wrote at length about the folly of believing in Christ if He was not who Christians believe Him to be. Taking the argument to its core, he says in I Cor. 15 that if Christ was not raised from the dead, Christians are “of all people most to be pitied.” This certainly does not sound like a sterling endorsement of Pascal’s Wager. Combine this with Jesus’ assertion in Luke 14:26 & 27 and the case grows even more bleak:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

While being pitied above all, “hating” one’s relatives, laying down one’s life to take up a cross of sacrifice, and fearing for one’s life may still pale in comparison to an eternity in hell, it makes the argument much more murky. There is a cost to following Christ, and it is a serious one. Tradition says most of the apostles were killed for their faith, many in very messy ways. The author of the book of Hebrews, while extolling the faith of those who have come before, explains some results of giving oneself to God in chapter 11:35-38:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

While the American church might not be there now, no one knows what the future could bring. Japanese converts living less than a century before Pascal made his wager went from joyful conversion to martyrdom at a single command of the shogunate, 26 of them by torture and crucifixion. It is for this reason that I groan whenever I hear of so-called “hellfire and brimstone” alter calls. While I do believe firmly in hell and do not ever want to undercut the seriousness of it, I feel that exciting individuals to make serious decisions about becoming disciples of Christ based on emotion is in error. Counting costs does not simply mean comparing hell to the annoyance of cussing a little less than you used to or not drinking as much. Becoming a Christian in the manner prescribed by Christ Himself requires a complete change in belief, lifestyle, priorities, and so much more. This decision should never be taken lightly, even when compared to infinite punishment.

While not directly related, I’ll leave this discussion of counting costs with an except from an article in Relevant magazine written by a former worship leader about the concept of working off of emotions versus working off of truth. The full article can be found here.

The passage of Nehemiah 8 provides an interesting example […] outside our modern context. Essentially, the people of Israel gathered in one massive crowd to hear Ezra read aloud the Law, which had been previously passed down to Moses. The text indicates that this reading took approximately half a day (from early morning until noon); and this was the beginning of the seventh month, a time of high celebration in ancient Israel. Written texts were also extremely rare at this time period, and it is quite possible this was the first time many of the members of the crowd ever heard the words of the Law.

Though standing in a crowded town square for half a day to listen to a priest read a book of law may sound boring to most of us (it certainly does to me!), the Bible tells us that the people responded in a strong emotional manner. Many shouted praises to God, some threw themselves face-first to the ground, and still others wept. The overarching sentiment seemed to be one of sadness and grieving, possibly because these people were hearing the Law for the first time (or maybe the first time in a while) and felt extremely convicted, as they fully realized they were not living up to its guidelines.

This is where it gets interesting. As a former worship leader, and occasional speaker, I tend to feel as though I’ve done something right when the congregation is at this point, when people are feeling confronted by emotions. However, both Ezra and Nehemiah responded, “Don’t weep and carry on … go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” At a moment in which a captive audience was experiencing a heavy, emotional response to Holy Scriptures, Ezra could have easily utilized these emotions to hammer the message home. In fact, to some of us this may seem like a wasted opportunity. I would not have batted an eye if Ezra instead responded with: “Do you finally see our brokenness? Can you see how we have failed to live up to our covenant with the God who brought us out of exile? Repent! Change your ways!”

It’s obvious to me that Ezra had perspective on the difference between emotional reactions and true worship of God. I pray the church would once again embrace the concept of counting the cost of following Jesus and would be given grace from God to joyfully incur those costs in pursuit of Him.

Credit goes to Francie Scott for inspiring this post though a great discussion.