PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Excellence & Compassion

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.

Andrew Hodges is the Team Leader for our ICM team in Indianapolis at the campus of IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis). He and his wife, Samantha, as well as their beautiful children have been ministering in Indy for years and reaching out to the campus for the most recent of those years. Andrew is a driven and committed minister who leads a high-octane and "excellent" outreach. However, he is also shaped by the grace and way of Jesus. I knew that his thoughts about this tension would be worth reading, so I invited him to write this installment for our PULL UP A CHAIR series.

One of the things I’ve struggled with more than anything in ministry is the balance between excellence and compassion. For example, picture me feverishly working away on tasks in my office. In walks a college student last semester wanting to show me a cat video on YouTube in which the cat is speaking what I believed to be Russian. Do I really have time to watch the cat video? Do I really want to watch the cat video? No is the answer to both of those questions. Yet there is a third question to be asked in the midst of that scenario. How can I afford not to watch this video? By watching this cat-speaking-Russian video, I will be able to connect with the student on a deeper level and this will lead to even more opportunities for discipleship. A week later, that same student was then able to trust me enough to ask for my advice about a fraternity brother who was struggling with suicidal thoughts.

All from a cat video?


I recently read the following quote from Rick Warren: “You may have heard it said, ‘If it can’t be done with excellence, don’t do it.’ Well, Jesus never said that! The truth is, almost everything we do is done poorly when we first start doing it—that’s how we learn. At Saddleback Church, we practice the ‘good enough’ principle: It doesn’t have to be perfect for God to use and bless it. We would rather involve thousands of regular folks in ministry than have a perfect church run by a few elites.”

I believe this is where excellence and compassion meet.

Two examples in our ministry at IUPUI that immediately come to my mind are our Worship Team and our Student Leaders.

When we first moved toward a fully-student-led band for our worship times on campus, I nearly had a mental breakdown. What songs would they choose? Would they sing in the right keys? Can we really have two violins playing at the same time? Was that the right chord?

Yet the teams we’ve had since then have done an incredible job leading.

The students have loved it.

I have loved it.

I did not have a mental breakdown, entirely.

We valued the worship team over their ability to play or sing, while at the same time encouraging them to step into a place of serious preparation for each night of praise to God. The good enough principal has been used in full effect.

It was during our second year on campus that we started to have student leadership positions. These students would assume more responsibility and help us disciple other students. At first I really didn’t know what I was doing (I still mostly do not), but what they allowed us to do was to be organized in our effort to Pursue, Model, and Teach in so many more areas to so many more students. We’ve expanded into vision casting, service projects, intentional hangout times, small groups, intramural sports, worship, art, social media posts, and so much more.

My prayer was (and is) constantly, “God, help me not to underuse them, but help me also not to overuse them.” I’m not sure I’ve figured out where that balance is yet, but I know that the more I care for them and their souls, the more God reveals that sweet spot with both excellence and compassion.

The more I’ve invested in the few, the more God has allowed us to invest in the many.

What we will find is that discipleship requires both excellence AND compassion.

We let people see glimpses of what they are capable of (through God’s power) and we give them affirmation all along the way.

To do something with excellence is to do something “according to your ability” (see Ezra 2:69) and to do something with compassion is to “see the huge crowd” (Matthew 14:14) the way Jesus did before he fed the five thousand.

Ultimately, we are stepping into the very footprints of our Savior, Jesus.

I leave you with this last thought from Philippians 2 that lays out our mission and purpose so well:
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


MAKING AN IMPACT: Excellence & Compassion

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.

We want to close out the rest of this year with our MAKING AN IMPACT series by looking at our stated values at Impact Campus Ministries. Our values are the things that drive our decisions and determine the way in which we pursue our mission and vision. In a sense, our mission and vision are built upon and performed on the foundation of our organizational values.

Today, I want to write about two of our six values. I do this for a couple reasons: First, there are only twelve months in a year and thirteen items that I need to talk about — so I need to combine two (seems like a pretty good mathematical reason to me); but second, I combine these two values because they are two that always seem to exist in tension.

These values are EXCELLENCE and COMPASSION.

ICM has the value of excellence. We want to pursue excellence in all things; we always want to fight against the mentality of, “Meh, it’s good enough.” We want to resist the urge to cut corners or stop short, even when it appears that it won’t make a difference. We value this because we believe it always makes a difference. While going the extra mile might not have a practical application in the immediate situation, we believe it has an impact on who we are as people. In addition to this, we want to be reminded that our work is powered by God’s provision through the generosity of others. Their investment in God’s Kingdom deserves our best stewardship; their dollars (or God’s dollars given through them) need to be planted and watered with nothing less than our best.

But ICM also has the value of compassion. The truth of the matter is that we all blow it — routinely. We want to practice grace with each other and demonstrate a hospitable and generous spirit with others when we are less than excellent. This is a stated value with ICM not only because we want it to be true internally, but externally as well. We want to demonstrate compassion for those we work with in churches and with our supporters. We want to demonstrate compassion to those who might seek to make our lives difficult. Most importantly, we want to treat our students with compassion and model a life of compassion so they can experience and see the fruit that comes from a life modeled after Jesus.

We find that pursing these values simultaneously is very difficult. But we also find that this tension is very, very good. We want to be able to challenge ourselves to run hard and push for the best. We want to celebrate when God takes our efforts at excellence and does something awesome with them. But we also want to guard each other from the shame and guilt of never feeling like we’re enough.

In the words of Jeff VanderLaan, ICM’s Vice President, “We want to always be raising the bar and lowering the fence.” What a great line! We need to raise the bar — raise our sights and our expectations — while simultaneously lowering the fence of who can participate in pursuing those goals.

It is important to learn that these two values are not at all mutually exclusive. Just because we value excellence does not mean we have to be jerks, unrelenting as we demand excellence from ourselves and our teammates. But just because we value compassion does not mean we can be halfhearted in our efforts. We can still challenge each other to be the best possible stewards of our talents and resources.

This tension is difficult, and yet I feel like parenting has taught me more about this tension than anything else. I have the highest hopes for my children. I want them to be the absolute best version of themselves that they can be. However, I also love them tremendously and would do anything to make sure they are never treated with anything less than unconditional love and acceptance. I want to teach them the value of excellence and model the compassion of a loving father to them the entire way. This is one of the only soils in which healthy parenting can exist.

May we as leaders seek to foster this same culture in the ministries that we lead.


A DAY IN THE LIFE: Support Raising

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.

It’s the part of our job that very few of us love. I don’t think there are very many of us who get into this support-based ministry gig because fundraising is one of our life goals. However, it’s the part of our job that empowers us to do the thing we are called to do, and oftentimes God uses this portion of our work week to bless us immensely. Whether it’s the ability to trust in God’s provision, grow in our communication skills, work hard to build healthy relationships, or grow in our professionalism, this part of our jobs makes us into better ministers.

Support raising is a job never finished. With the way Impact Campus Ministries does fundraising, it’s incredibly hard work up front, often taking 1–2 years to reach fully-funded status. Once this is done, the hard work is mostly over, but continual and consistent maintenance is needed to stay at a healthy place for your ministry financially.

How do we do it? Well, 90% of good fundraising is done by sitting down, face-to-face, and getting to share your heart and vision for the ministry work you do. Forget the slick presentations and infographics; you don’t need a lot of smoke and mirrors to impress people or trick them into giving. You simply need a great story and vision of how you feel God is calling you to do ministry. We have opportunities to share that vision and ask people if they would be willing to come alongside us as financial supporters. We have supporters of all kinds. Some give large annual gifts and some give $25 a month. We all enjoy having supporters who really power our ministry by being $200 monthly supporters or more. Sometimes, these same people will even show up and give above and beyond their commitments for special campaigns or year-end gifts.

The generosity of others is always a great lesson and encouragement to people like us. It affects us and makes us different people as a result. I know for me, it makes me less and less cynical and more gracious and generous with my own time, money, and other resources. I am thankful for this.

And so one of the things I do every week and month, as we consider A DAY IN THE LIFE, is support raising. I have to make sure it’s something I engage on a regular basis. Whether it’s running a crowdsourced campaign on Facebook to raise funds for a trip, or shouting out to all of my alumni to ask them to consider to giving back, this is an effort that is constantly needed to do what we do.

I suppose it would be a real missed opportunity not to offer a link so that you — YES YOU! — can become a part of our support team. You can go to this link and sign up to give a one-time or recurring gift. You can choose to support the work of my family directly by finding my name, you can choose to sponsor the work I do with students by finding BEMA Ministry on the “Ministry Team” tab, or you can even support the wider work of our organization by selecting the General Fund.

I recently just got back from a summer of support raising. This is my very brief video diary about fundraising, recapping the experience for you to enjoy:


Top 12 of CiHD: #5

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.

We’re getting closer and closer to the most-viewed post in the history of my blog! This month in the Top 12 Blog Posts at Covered in His Dust, we’ll look at the fifth-most-viewed post. It was a post titled “JUDE: False Teachers” — and you can find it 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 it? 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?


For me, seeing this post on the list makes sense on many levels. While I don't know if there is a single reason that predominantly drove the number of views, I would guess it is a combination of both of the following (and maybe others).

First, I think Jude is a book shrouded in mystery for many Bible students. This short letter raises so many questions for those who dare to dig in to the details that it has to be a book people are Googling and searching for left and right. What is this reference about the body of Moses? Why the fascination with Enoch? Why does it feel like there are so many things going on “behind the scenes” with the book of Jude? While we talked about much of this in the original post, I’m sure it’s driving a lot of interest in finding posts and articles discussing the content of Jude.

Second, I think anytime you write a post titled “False Teachers” in our day and age of Evangelicalism, you are going to get some views. We have such an unhealthy (most of the time) fascination with doctrinal correctness and those who color outside the lines that Christian readers go a little gaga over the need to categorize people into one group or another. As we’ve chatted about before, the concern, as we are familiar with it, is not one that existed in the apostolic age and mainly arose as the result of losing our Jewish roots as a movement and dealing with the impact of the Gnostic Crisis in the second century and beyond. But let’s pull some of that apart below.


Some might ask, “How in the world can you say this wasn’t a concern in the apostolic age when the book of Jude (and others!) write about the need to be aware of false teachers?!”

This is where the irony runs thick. In the New Testament, a thoughtful examination of the arguments against false teachers will reveal that the danger is not in its orthodoxy, but in the orthopraxy. Obviously, the orthodoxy is important; without a doubt, the content of teaching drives our behavior. But the danger of the teaching is not in what it gets wrong, but in how it leads us to live. Consider the constant rebuke that exists from the Evangelical Doctrine Police of the world today. Is there any concern for the “living out” of a theologian’s position? Do we write posts ad nauseam about whether or not a teacher demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit in their life?

No. Too often, the lifestyle of a teacher and the fruit that comes out of his or her ministry is not the source of critique or the concern of those so driven to a flurry. They are worked up about the theological accuracy of a belief. They are worried about how it lines up against a creed or a statement of faith. But this is not what concerned the authors of the New Testament. What concerned them was that a person’s theology led them to be exclusive and inhospitable. It caused them not to show love to others and led them to pursue self-indulgence rather than selfless generosity. This kind of behavior was seen as a grave threat to the gospel. In the letters of John, this criticism was about whether or not a teacher led his students to be more loving. In Jude, the concern is that the teaching leads to debauchery and self-indulgence.

In all instances, the writers spend zero time critiquing the theology that lies behind the behavior; they spend their time critiquing the fruit of the tree itself. This is a thought that I hope people found when they got to this post.


I’m not sure I would add much else to this post over I’ve said above. I really do wish we (in the world of western theology) can demonstrate a greater ability to navigate this conversation in a way that mirrors the teaching of the Apostles and writers of the New Testament. This isn’t just an idea that shows up in writings about false teachers. It’s not just a theme we find in John, Peter, and Jude. As mentioned above, it’s also present in the teachings Paul. But maybe most importantly, it was a theme in the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus told us himself that you cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles. Jesus said that something can look one way on the outside, but the fruit is what gives it away. It might look like a chicken, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and lays duck eggs — we have a duck. It appears that his disciples understood this and later applied it to their experiences with false teachers. They were not primarily concerned with whether the words were right. They were more concerned with whether or not it (i.e., the teacher and his students) looked like Jesus.

It seems we have a lot to learn about whether or not our actions look like Jesus; Evangelicals are having to spend more and more time trying to explain why they are right because the words are correct. We seem to be spending an awful lot of time arguing about appropriate interpretations of Romans 13 and visions of heaven with walls. I think people like Jude would look right at it and say, “That’s easy. I don’t care what your words say; however you’re living out the words doesn’t look at all like Jesus.” I think Jude would find a lot of false teaching.