1.23.2018

PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Discipleship

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the fourth week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

Tommy White is the Lead Campus Minister for Impact Campus Ministries in Salt Lake City, UT. He works with students at the University of Utah, Westminster, Salt Lake Community College, and others. One of his favorite things is working with the Utes basketball team as chaplain. Tommy has had a great time building on his efforts in discipleship; since that was our topic from last week's post, I asked him to share some stories for our Pull Up a Chair series. 


Entering this last semester, I was praying for any opportunities to help a male student in pursuing God in a more personal way. I didn’t want to throw it our there for the masses, nor did I want to manipulate a student into saying “yes” when he maybe didn’t really want to. Sometime in September, within the same week, two guys showed interest in going deeper and so I challenged them with a vision for just that. A couple weeks later, another student wanted to take his relationship with Jesus to a deeper level.

The first student, Errol, is a junior at the University of Utah. I met him two years ago and have spent many coffees and lunches since then talking about spiritual things. He was a ballet major, then switched to a metallurgy major. He’s super smart and very scientific (as is his girlfriend). While a very deep thinker, there was a lot of room for him to grow in spending “alone time” pursuing God. We’ve met on campus and at a coffee shop twice a week for almost two months. (I also see him two or three other times a week, so we are super connected.)

As I did with the other two guys, at the outset, I explained
  1. there are many tools for pursuing God.
  2. this isn’t about being good enough, but about learning to love God intentionally.
  3. I am going to model for you some different ways to connect with God.
  4. this is about a personal relationship, so in all we do individually, we want to make it a conversation with God, not about God.
  5. this modeling might feel weird at first, but that’s how we learn, by someone showing us how to do something.
  6. God is Spirit, so we need to train ourselves to connect with Him “in spirit,” which is hard to do.
With Errol, I’ve modeled for him (by sitting next to him or walking with him) how to journal your thoughts, intercessory prayer, Scripture memory, Scripture typing, solitude, and personal worship. I’ve in no way mastered these, nor am I consistent, but I am pursuing God and moving forward, and I believe my disciple sees that.

Luke, the second disciple, is a senior at Westminster College. We meet on Wednesday afternoons. His schedule is intense and overly full already, so we didn’t try to add anymore to his plate for the time being. One seemed hard enough for Luke. (I also guarded my day off, which played into why we had a hard time making a second day work. This semester, I think we should make a better effort at getting a second day down.) We met inside the cafeteria as well as outside in the courtyard. With Luke, we get sidetracked sometimes and talk about relationships or some other important topic that is on his mind. This discipleship relationship is more flexible, though we cover most of the same disciplines as with Errol.

Tyson, the last guy, is an electronic music student at a local engineering school. I meet with Tyson on Mondays at 6 am. Our time started out more rushed, so we talked about that and tried to make more time. We met some in the afternoons, but it seemed our time wasn’t as consistent. With Tyson, we covered most of the same disciplines.

With each of these guys, my intention was to pursue God through modeling disciplines. As you read above, it didn’t always happen that way. This next semester, I will be more vigilant in sticking to the plan. There are plenty of other times we meet and can talk there. I want to focus on why we’re meeting for these one-on-one-times.

We had a final pizza get together in mid-December where the guys discovered who the other two are. It was one of the best times I’ve had. We talked about our memory verses, what we appreciated about the format, and what we learned. By far, the most common feedback from those three guys was that typing made the difference. Whether it was prayer, journal thoughts, or typing the Word of God, all three said typing made it so personal and helped clarify their thoughts and organize what was floating around in their heads. I was really pumped that they were that impacted! Each of them also tried to strengthen their own personal times throughout the week.

One distraction, at times, was noise or activity around our meeting together. Sometimes it didn’t seem to make a difference, but other times, other people’s conversations got in the way. That’s something to consider for the future.

Finally, this adventure showed me that I have a long way to go in being consistent in my pursuit.

1.15.2018

MAKING AN IMPACT: Discipleship

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the third week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


For Impact Campus Ministries, we are trying to grow in the concept of “starting with the why.” It’s a concept that comes from an old TED Talk by Simon Sinek. For us, we think the compelling reason for doing campus ministry is a foundational belief that if you impact the university, you impact the world. While we don’t think Jesus envisioned the American university campus specifically when he uttered the Great Commission, we do believe the idea of making disciples was one of Jesus’s “whys.”

Taking this idea, we believe that making disciples who make disciples is our purpose on the college campus. This isn’t ground-breaking rhetoric in the church world. It seems that everyone in the last twenty years has shifted towards an emphasis in disciple-making. Discipleship has become a buzzword in ministry. We use it so much that at times it seems to be nothing at all. This reality raises a question: When we talk about discipleship, what exactly are we talking about, and what do we mean?

This is certainly not a quest to find the “correct” definition of discipleship. Not only would that be an effort in futility, it would dishonor so many of the good things that happen in all kinds of ministry contexts. There are a lot of semantics at play in the conversation of discipleship. A lot of things have changed in the last 2,000 years; words take on new or expanded meanings.

When we sat down to define the term discipleship as a staff a couple years ago, the conversation ended up being rooted in a more historical understanding of what discipleship was to the people in Jesus’s day. In their day, being a talmid (Hebrew for “disciple”) was a level of the rabbinic process that very few people attained. Those who progressed to that part of Jewish education would be selected to “follow a rabbi” as his student, pupil, and apprentice. You would follow a rabbi and listen to his every word, but you would also mimic his every move. The goal was to “know what the rabbi knows, in order to do what the rabbi does [for the reasons the rabbi does them], in order to be just like the rabbi in his walk with God.” I wrote about these ideas a few years ago and unpacked a story where the principles are seen applied in a two-part post (here and here).

At the end of the day, we wanted our ideas on discipleship to be driven by our best understanding of what Jesus understood and meant when he said discipleship. And while our context is not the same today as it was so long ago, we still believe we can base the process on some of the same big ideas. On that day, we decided to say a disciple is someone who is submitted to Jesus and becoming like Him.

But how does one become like Jesus? To these ends, we wanted to define discipleship in a way that would mirror the ideas driving Jesus’s ministry. We defined it as follows:

Discipleship is imitating a mentor who imitates Jesus.

This means we need to be entering into intentional relationships where this can happen. For many of us, discipleship is often the equivalent to a one-hour coffee meeting on Thursday mornings. We realized that we would have to expand our understanding of what discipleship is. A one-hour coffee involves very little meaningful mentorship — and hardly any mimicry or imitation. If this was really going to happen, it would require a few things.

First and foremost, it would require that I imitate Jesus (and possibly even imitate my own mentors who are imitating Jesus). Second, it would mean “living life together” (just like the disciples and Jesus!) and not simply creating ministry programs; this focus would require significantly more time and resources to be done correctly. Finally, this is not something that comes easily; we have to pursue these efforts with a different kind of intentionality.

Thankfully, ICM had already been fertilizing great soil for this growth. For years, ICM believed we exist to pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God. Isn’t this a formula (and I use that term very, very loosely) for the kind of imitation we were discussing? It would seem that we weren't really breaking new ground at all, but simply expanding our awareness of how far our mission truly goes.


1.09.2018

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Administration

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the second week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

Administration. It’s probably not the most inspiring part of my job, and maybe it’s an odd choice for where to start for this series. But honestly, if you were to ask me what I do every day, I feel like my (slightly cynical) response would be, “I answer emails and create agendas — all day.”

That’s certainly not accurate, but it can feel like it. The never-ending tide of responsibilities that come from managing a national non-profit with over 20 staff can be overwhelming. What I do love is that all of this administration fuels such awesome work; the long-term benefits from our investments are worth the administrative slog and all of the meetings.

A large part of my job in the administrative department is casting vision and guiding the organization down the path God has for us. This means I am the one who is tasked with creating many (but not all) of the agendas for those behind-the-scenes leadership discussions. I spend on average 4–6 hours a week on agenda creation and another 3–4 hours a week in the meetings themselves. Quick math tells you that this portion of my job alone accounts for almost a quarter of my work week.

Like anyone else, I have those typical administrative tasks: answering email and submitting expense reports. I also have seasonal demands like budgets, annual reports, and staff conferences; each of these seasonal events has their own set of administrative responsibilities. None of this touches the basic ministry administration of working with my students: planning our activities, promoting for attendance, scheduling and communicating the plans, deadlines, and involvement needed.

I have often heard people comment about how everyone wants the finished product, but nobody wants to do what it takes to get there. Well, administration is certainly a big part of the finished product of campus ministry. Without it, we would never Impact the U. Impact the World.

Embedded below is a video diary I made of some of the administrative tasks I have (and the physical context for where all the magic happens).


1.02.2018

Top 12 of CiHD: #12

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (the first week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


As we begin our look at the Top 12 Blog Posts of Covered in His Dust, we’re going to begin as any good countdown does — at the bottom! Let’s start with my twelfth-most-viewed blog post. It happens to be “The Redemption Cycle,” a post I published on December 26, 2013. It discusses the big ideas undergirding the book of Judges, and I contest the idea that the cycle represented there should be described as a “sin cycle.” You can read the post here.

In this series, as we look at each post, I want to ask three questions: why, what, and what else? Why do I think this post got so many views; why were others drawn to this post? What do I hope people found when they got here; what do I hope they heard? Finally, what else have I learned about this; what else would I say about these ideas?


WHY THIS POST?

To be honest, one of the things you are going to get every time we do this is a very cynical and objective look at why people hit this post. The truth of the matter is that most of these page views are coming from web searches from people’s favorite search engines. Chances are good that many of these views came from people who were doing an image search for “cycle in Judges” and happened to click on the image that is linked to my blog.

In a similar fashion, I think many page views came from a Google search that had to do with “cycle” and “book of Judges.” As people were looking more into this idea, they were looking for additional material. Particularly on Google searches, my Google-based blog host is one of the first hits, and away we go. So let’s work with this idea: the people who ran across my blog were studying the book of Judges and the idea that there is an ongoing cycle within the literature.


WHAT DO I HOPE THEY FOUND?

I hope they found an idea that challenged the assumptions they were being handed from other sources. By saying this, I’m not suggesting that I hope they heard the right answer in a debate against what they had been taught. I simply mean to say that I hope they encountered an even bigger idea and that it made them think critically about the implications of the theology that serves as the foundation to our biblical interpretation — let alone our doctrine.

When I was handed a worldview that focused on the sinfulness and depravity of man, I found myself stuck in a theology that wasn’t compelling and didn’t inspire me to take up the mission and partner with God. Instead, I found a lot of despair and hopelessness for humanity. The idea that God simply “puts up with us” and with a roll of His eyes He forgives us — yet again — was portrayed quite clearly.

There are many things I can applaud in what I was taught. The fact that Bible teachers were able to show me a literary tool being employed in Judges was fantastic. At that stage of my learning, I hadn’t been exposed to many literary tools; but being handed such a clear and noticeable example launched the beginning of a very critical journey in learning the skills necessary to examine the Text. It was all of the doctrinal assumption that I hope people found critiqued when they got here.


WHAT ELSE WOULD I SAY?

This post really expresses things quite thoroughly and I can’t think of much I would add. I would say I have learned how much scholarship (progressive textual critics, in large part) sees the book of Judges as a parallel record of history to the book of Joshua. What they mean when they say such things is that a redactor later pulled these two stories together and made them read sequentially, but they probably preexisted as different takes on the same period of history. On the one hand, you have the book of Joshua, which tells the story of obedience (for the most part) and God’s help in absolute conquest. However, another historical perspective tells the story of disobedience and God’s incredible patience. These serve as two sides of the historical narrative. For some of us, this may be a bridge too far, but I have been learning much about these theories and find them informative in my ability to think critically about the Text and wrestle with authorial intent.

I would also be remiss to exit this post without recommending Make Your Mark, a book written by a fellow teacher and friend of mine, Brad Gray. While the book focuses on the story of Samson, I find its contents to be helpful as I wrestle with the implications of the stories found in the book of Judges.

12.05.2017

MY BLOG IN 2018: Week Four

And finally we wrap up my introduction to what is coming, starting in January. It’s only a few weeks away.

We’ve chatted about how we’ll be using the first week to review the top blog posts from the last five years. We’ve talked about how the second week will be a time to invite you into my life as a campus minister and as the President of Impact Campus Ministries. Last month, I introduced you to a little bit of the history behind ICM and our mission, vision, and values; we talked about the third week being dedicated to casting some vision around our common language and culture at ICM. So what is going to be the topic in week four?

Stories.

We all love good stories. Stories enable us to see a great idea in action. There is something unbelievably powerful about taking a concept and wrapping it in the flesh of human experience. And so, whatever idea we talked about that month (from the previous week), I’ll be finding a story to write about or share with you so we can see the idea with feet on it.

When we take time to talk about the process of discipleship, I want to find a story about someone who engaged in that process. What did discipleship look like to them? How did our definition find life in their experience? What pieces of advice would they give?

When we talk about our commitment to pursue (intimacy with God), what example can I find of someone who created space to pursue God passionately? What fruit was borne of that pursuit? What can we learn from those stories of success (and even failure)?

When we pull apart our value of excellence, who embodies our idea of excellence? How do they (and we) balance the tension between letting God bear the fruit and putting in an effort of excellence at all times? What does it mean to do our part and trust God to do His?

The fact of the matter is that we are surrounded by these stories every day. As campus ministers, we ought to be sharing the stories with others. The truest testimony to whether or not something works is just that: testimony. An idea is just an idea unless it becomes real in the life of another human being. A product is just a product unless it really proves itself useful to others. Nobody cares about whether a culture or belief system is right or wrong unless it becomes compelling to others through the lens of experience.

Stories.

Stories are the most powerful teaching tools we’ll ever have. God believed in the power of story; He worked through Elisha to tell Naaman to “go in peace,” armed only with his experience to change the world of Aram. Jesus believed in the power of story; he turned down an eager applicant for discipleship, telling him instead to go home and tell others his story. These are instances where people lacked any training in theology or management. They were not equipped with what the world might have called “conventional wisdom.” But they had their story.

Stories have changed the course of history more than once. Maybe we should put more stock in stories; maybe we should put more stock in our own stories.

Now, storytelling is something most of us have to get better at. It’s definitely something ICM is trying to get better at. Please don’t let me overhype what’s coming. We’re not expert storytellers, but we’d like to be better storytellers, so we’re going to try. Maybe we’ll struggle through and maybe it will be incredible. There’s only one way to find out.

So for week four, I’ll invite you to a new series: Pull Up a Chair.



11.09.2017

MY BLOG IN 2018: Week Three

We’ve now talked about my four-week rotation for every calendar month of 2018. We talked about how I’ll be using the first week of the rotations to talk about the Top 12 Blog Posts of Covered in His Dust. We’ve also spoken about how I’ll be using the second week to bring you a little series titled A Day in the Life. Now it’s time to talk about what we’ll be covering in the third week of our monthly rotations.

While I don’t think it’s a secret to my readers, my vocational calling is one where I serve as the President of Impact Campus Ministries. At ICM, we believe in the work of campus ministry because we believe that if we can impact the university campus, we can impact the world. We truly believe that tomorrow’s great leaders are studying on campuses all over this country; we believe there are students here that will be called to all kinds of international destinations and jobs to make an impact in their particular contexts. In fact, the largest growing demographic of students is the international student — what better chance to impact the world on the global scale than to shape tomorrow’s leaders on today’s campuses?

Here is a video we made that talks about all of that:


One of the reasons I love ICM so much is because of the culture and the vision of our organization. Some of that culture was built into Impact from its earliest years of ministry. Amazing people like Dean Trune planted a counter-intuitive belief in ICM that true success is developing intimacy with God. I love working for an organization that runs against the current of mainstream thought — thought that believes all we need is a little more hard work — and says that true success is a fruitfulness that comes from what God wants to do through us. And maybe it has to be “caught not taught,” but just listen to this definition of success that was written long before I ever worked for ICM:

Success is developing intimacy with God and community with each other through a living relationship with Jesus. We believe an individual, who is developing intimacy with God, in the context of Christian community, will make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

A team of individuals, who make an impact for the Kingdom of God, will have a fruitful ministry. Though we do not aim for “making an impact,” and we do not aim for “fruitful ministries,” we recognize that these two situations will supernaturally occur when individuals develop intimacy with God in Christian community.

Ministry is the product of our love for God, and an expression of a heart devoted to God. We must not allow “ministry for God” to crowd “intimacy with God” out of our lives. We cannot control “making an impact,” and we cannot control “fruitful ministries,” but we have absolute control over developing intimacy with God and being devoted to one another.

I love that!

Out of this core belief, those who came after Dean and before me created a mission that still excites me. We exist to pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God in Christian community on the American university campus. Out of this mission statement we built a “common language” that we believe, over time, helps foster a culture to make ICM great. ICM is indebted to the leadership of Bill Westfall for this guidance.

We created eight core terms we use to talk about the discipleship process; we also have a list of six values on which we build our organization. We wanted to have shared definitions of what these words mean to us as an organization because we believe words are powerful. We created short definitions for disciple and discipleship. We found it to be very beneficial to identify exactly what pursue, model, and teach mean as ideas. And we also decided it would be helpful to expound on the importance of message, mode, and milieu. All of this is built upon the foundation of our values: passion [for God], community, character, excellence, [the local] church, and compassion.

Now, it’s important for me to state that this is simply our culture at ICM. This is not some seminar on success or how you can follow our formula to greatness. We don’t travel around the country putting on conferences about these terms and why they’re so great — “and you can do it too!” In fact, the mentality of ICM runs against this big box, perform-and-impress idea about church.

No, this is simply a conversation that means a lot to us. To be honest, I’ll be using this third week to write about these ideas for my staff and those connected to our organization. If Dean Trune instilled a definition of success — the spirit and DNA of ICM — and if Bill Westfall helped create a vision and mission for the future, then my job is to help us take ground and continue becoming the organization these great leaders dreamed about. And that means we need to keep talking about these ideas and pushing into them. Every day, every year — moving forward.

But these conversations are not something we want to keep secret. We want to share them with you. I will be posting a monthly article on one of our core terms and casting a little vision of what it looks like to pursue these ideas. If they bless you and help you in some way, we are excited and thrilled to be a part of what God wants to do in your life. If they don’t, that’s fine too. We have no plans for world domination.

So for the third week of every month, I invite you into the conversation of Making an Impact.

10.10.2017

MY BLOG IN 2018: Week Two

I have been wanting to take some time each month this fall to share with you a little bit of what to expect on my blog in the coming year. Starting in January, I will begin a weekly rotation of blog themes that will drive the conversation in 2018. In the last post, I spoke of how I will be taking the first week of each month to share the Top 12 Blog Posts of Covered in His Dust. We’ll look back and see what posts have been used the most and I’ll enjoy speculating as to why they are the favorites.

The second week of my rotation will be dedicated to a series I’m going to call “A Day in the Life,” and it should be a collection of different things I do in my job each day. For many of my supporters, they have commented on how nice it’s been to see updates and the occasional video where they get to see what I do secondhand. It’s just one more way we can make our world a little smaller and I can invite you to see what it’s like to be a campus minister and/or President of Impact Campus Ministries.

Some examples of this might be the work I do with students or showing you some of the groups I teach here on the Palouse. I might do a post on discipleship and “take you on a walk” with one of my disciples. I might show you a meeting or two, such as those with the staff of ICM. I might introduce you to some of the staff at Real Life on the Palouse and talk about my partnership with the church there. And maybe I’ll even do a post on what I enjoy doing with my free time. There are so many things to invite you into!

None of these posts will be designed to be instructive or profound in any way — they’re just a fun trip into my day-to-day life where you get to see a little bit of things from my perspective. Of course, I’m sure there will be some cameo appearances from my family (they are who everyone really wants to see, I know) and we’ll have some fun.

So I look forward to inviting you into my life next year as we explore “A Day in the Life.”