Archives For March 2011

“We’re constantly raising the bar of what it takes to be a leader, and lowering the bar on what it takes to get involved”
Dan Allan, St. Louis Cru Director


Raising the Bar on what it takes to be a Leader

Dan Allan explains: “when you’re starting a ministry, any guy that will return your call and meet for an appointment is a leader. But as you have more leaders on board, and your ministry grows in scale, you have to be more selective.”

I’ve posted before on why we need to raise up better leaders than came before. The “how” seems like it will always be ever-changing.

For us currently, we are focusing on Community Group Leaders. Community Groups are the backbone of our movement. It’s the primary place where students will experience and truly understand the gospel. It’s where life change happens. It’s where discipleship relationships come from. It’s how we reach freshmen.

So Raising the Bar on Leaders this spring = increasing our expectations of what kind of Community Group leaders we want and what we expect of them.

Here’s a few things we’re doing (a couple of these are no-brainers that I’m amazed we haven’t tried before!):

  • Staff are meeting 1 on 1 with every single student who applies to lead a study
  • Being willing to have difficult conversations right now with students who aren’t the best fit (at least right now) for leading Community Groups
  • When we sit down 1 on 1 with students we talk through a page of expectations – we want to clearly communicate up front what kind of commitment it takes to lead a CG (all the while extending grace not legalism)

An aside – learn from us on what not to do: We initially communicated our new expectations in the last 5 minutes at one of our weekly Leadership gathering. I didn’t explain the heart behind it (to help Leaders lead thriving CG’s that reach more students for Christ and mobilize new laborers). We got a ton of push back. It came across as legalistic and us being more concerned about Cru than the Kingdom. Totally my bad. Communicating it 1 on 1 has a totally different feel- it allows for dialogue, relationship, and takes out the “corporate CCCI inc.” feel of it all.

  • Requiring every student to attend a 5 week training (1 hour each week) on How to Lead a Bible Study

We’re not raising the bar just for the heck of it. We strongly believe that raising the bar will enable us to reach more students with the gospel in Fall 2011. All this, we’re hoping, adds up to well-prepared, aligned, and passionate pursuers of freshmen for the sake of Christ!

I’d say that’s worth a little hard work and potentially experiencing some discomfort or being misunderstood.


Lowering the Bar on what it takes to get Involved

I’ve honestly given this one far less thought! That’s why I’m bringing it up – hoping to crowdsource this one:

What do you think are the primary places we in college ministry need to Lower the Bar on what it takes to get involved?

And what are you currently doing to Raise the Bar on Leadership?

photo courtesy of bingisser

Midweek Ministry Links

March 29, 2011 — 1 Comment

I’ve been neglecting this blog – would love to hear your input on two posts I’ve written recently on other blogs:

Brian Barela has a great post on Giving Away Your Ministry. Would love to see more people  join the discussion on that post.

Do yourself a favor and start following Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) on Twitter. Consistently brilliant Christ-centered insight.

Here’s a great blog post by him on Preaching the Gospel to Yourself.

I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn’t what the Bible teaches, and it isn’t the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation, but Christ’s external substitution.

The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me.

Two other great Christ-Centered Tweeters are:

Those three men are reason enough to get on Twitter!

Church Relevance just released their list of the Top 200 religious blogs

My favorites from the list:

One of my favorite gospel-centered stories in the Bible is Jonah.

Tullian Tchividjian calls it one of the best books for helping us get a better grip on the gospel.
This Spring I did a two week series at Cru on the book of Jonah (it could easily be taught over 4 weeks instead of 2).

In order to save you some time if you ever wanted to teach this book at your weekly meeting or Bible study, I wanted to share some resources on Jonah:

  • My Talk notes, slides, Sufjan song I used, and the intro and countdown video (all linked to below)
  • Links to help you research Jonah (also listed out below)

Some Key Points from my two talks on Jonah

Week 1 – We are Jonah (see full notes below)

  • Mark Driscoll – There is no way to understand the scriptures apart from these three questions

Who is God?
Who am I?
And what is repentance?

  • Jonah provides amazing insights into all three of these
  • Every year –In Jewish synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – the holiest and most solemn day of the Year for Jews, The book of Jonah is read each year. The congregation responds to the reading with the confession “We are Jonah.”
  • The book of Jonah is a mirror in which we are supposed to see ourselves.
  • We are Jonah.
  • When we ask the question, What kind of people run from God?
  • The answer is people just like us.
  • We are Jonah- being picked up by our shipmates. One guy holding our arms, another our legs, about to toss us over to die for our sin, our running from God, our self-righteousness
  • We are in need of rescue
  • As part of his prayer Jonah says to God: “You cast me into the depths, into the heart of the sea.” (2:4)  – it’s what he deserved
  • But in Yom Kippur, the High Holy day of the Jews, they do something interesting. They tack on a random passage to the end of Jonah – a small section at the end of the Book of Micah that uses almost identical language about our sins: “You will cast their sins into the depths of the sea”  (Micah 7:19)
  • How is that possible for Him to cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (instead of us)?
  • Tim Keller connects the dots in his new book King’s Cross (from Mark 4:35):

Mark has deliberately laid out this account using language that is parallel, almost identical, to the language of the famous Old Testament account of Jonah.
Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat, and both boats were overtaken by a storm—the descriptions of the storm are almost identical.
Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.
In both stories the sailors woke up the sleeper and said, “We’re going to die.”
And in both cases there was a miraculous divine intervention and the sea was calmed.
Further, in both stories the sailors then become even more terrified than they were before the storm was calmed.
Two almost identical stories—with just one difference.
In the midst of the storm, Jonah said to the sailors, in effect: “There’s only only thing to do. If I perish, you survive. If I die, you will live” (Jonah 1:12). And they threw him into the sea.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “One greater than Jonah is here,” and he’s referring to himself: I’m the true Jonah.

  • He was willingly thrown into sea in our place so Micah 7:19 might be true.


Week 2 – Revival starts when the good people realize their evil and turn to God (see full notes below)

  • We lack compassion because we don’t understand the gospel
  • God is a gracious God who saves evil people
  • So who are the “evil” people?
  • The word “evil” is used of Jonah just as many times as it is of the Ninevites
  • The gospel is only for sinners
  • Preaching it to ourselves every day reminds us that we are indeed sinners in need of God’s grace.
  • “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
  • Tim Keller – “Jesus comes and says, I have nothing to say to you unless you understand that you stand in the same place morally before god as the murderer, the rapist”
  • John Wayne Gacy raped and killed 33 young men and was one of the worst Serial Killers in American History
  • Now I bring up Gacy, at risk of creeping many of you out. And let me warn you, the next 5-10 minutes will be VERY heavy.
  • I think Gacy is a modern equivalent of the Ninevites.
  • In order to understand Jonah (and his hatred for evil men like the Ninevites), to understand the Ninevites, to understand ourselves and to understand God, I think it would be instructive to look at the life of John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
  • Jony Wayne Gacy summed up his life to a friend: “”I do a lot of rotten, horrible things, but I do a lot of good things too.”
  • I want you to listen to one of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stephens, sing a song about John Wayne Gacy (lyrics here). Because he connects the dots from Gacy’s life to our life.

And on his best behavior
He’d kill ten thousand people

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid

  • So How does Revival Start?
  • When Bad people start flooding out of the bars into churches and Christian meetings?
  • No. It starts when “good people” turn to God in repentance
  • The reason the good news of God’s love hadn’t gone out in the city of Ninevah is the same reason it hasn’t gone out across the campus
  • God’s people don’t like the people that God loves and we are too self-righteous to see ourselves as no better than the people they have been called to bring the gospel to
  • God has sent us out to represent Him to the world – so that the world will be changed by the message of the good news of God’s unconditional love – but also so that we will be changed in the process – by the message of the good news . . .



Books/Articles/Sermons I used in teaching Jonah

Better than Any Fish Story – Tullian Tchividjian on the gospel in Jonah

Five questions with Tullian Tchividjian

  • Jonah video and graphics – great (free!) intro clip, countdown, powerpoint slides from Southeast church
  • John Wayne Gacy, Jr. – haunting song by Sufjan Stevens. Main idea – on our best behavior, there is still unfathomable evil in our hearts

Here’s my full notes and slides for Week 1

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Here’s my full notes for Week 2 (be forewarned – week 2’s notes are a chaotic mess that I never fully organized into a good flow!)

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GDE Error: Unable to load profile settings


As we send out college graduates to be lifelong laborers, we will hopefully have a good percentage of students heading into full-time ministry.

Which brings the perennial question from students: Should I go to seminary?

As college ministers, it’s an issue we need to be well versed in. [Another post for another time – we also need to have well thought out advice on graduate school. More and more, students are pursuing graduate school- some rightly, some as a way to delay adulthood.]

The short of it: for most college students I would say–  No, you should not go to seminary (right out of college).

When I was considering my options coming out of college, I got this wise advice from my pastor-
“Get some experience in ministry for a few years and then, if you feel it would be helpful, go to seminary. If you go straight into seminary you simply will not have context for all the information you are taking in. You will not have pegs to hang things on. And I think Cru offers the best 2 years of training in ministry.”
Seminary without ministry experience can be like reading a parenting book before you have kids. Or like when my wife and I attended a marriage conference as an engaged couple (which I’m not discouraging!): we sat there knowingly nodding our heads as the speakers talked about conflict and the difficulties of marriage. We had it all figured out.And we didn’t take any notes.

In a recent #AskTK Q&A on Twitter, Dr. Tim Keller was asked: Should young leaders go to seminary or go on staff at a church right out of college?
TK: Not necessarily a church, but better to get ministry experience before seminary to ask the right questions once there.

Every Christian leader needs to be well trained and well educated. But seminary is not the only way to arrive at that destination.

“Ralph Winter’s observation is tragically too true: The most extensive, pervasive strategic error in the Christian tradition lies squarely in our coveted and generously supported, but unquestioned, concept of years of “schooling” as the way for leaders to develop and be trained. . . .

Formal education definitely has a place and can make an enormous contribution in the life of a leader. I am the product of a couple of graduate degrees and am deeply grateful for my formal education. But there are limitations to what formal education can do.” – Sam Metcalf in his book, Beyond the Local Church
In another interview, Tim Keller shares how College Ministry is “our best leadership development pipeline” because on a “college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.”

I always counsel students to get a few years of college ministry under their belts before going to seminary. Yes, I’m biased toward college ministry. But, as Tim Keller asserted, I really do believe ministry on a college campus offers the best place to become skilled at evangelism (engaging other religions and world views) and rapidly multiplying discipleship.

In his recent post, The Pipeline is Shrinking: Reflections on the State of Church Planting, Bob Thune observes: “Turning a seasoned youth pastor or college pastor into an effective church planter is a two-year project; doing the same with a young seminary graduate is more like a ten-year project”

As college ministers it is our duty to ask students – why are you going to seminary?

I am not at all anti-seminary. But I am very against the blind belief that seminary is the default next step after college for anyone going into ministry. I’ve seen too many young people invest years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars and come out on the other end jobless and hopelessly in debt.

The secular publication The Atlantic painfully described the situation in an article called “Higher Calling – Lower Wages“:
“Of the seminary students who graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity degree (the typical degree for a full-time pastor), more than 25 percent accrued more than $40,000 in educational debt, and five percent accumulated more than $80,000 in debt. Those lucky enough to get a full-time job as a pastor will join a profession whose median wage is $43,800”
Reformed Seminary put together this sobering graphic:
With those cautions in mind, here are some guidelines to consider as you decide whether you should you go to seminary.

Don’t go to seminary:

  • to grow spiritually
  • to figure out what you want to do when you grow up
  • because you want to go into ministry (if a student says this, ask them: “How will seminary help you do ministry better?” If they can’t answer that, they’re not ready to go to seminary)
On the Church and Culture blog, James Emery White (a pastor AND former seminary president) describes

who should go to seminary:

For those wondering whether to go to seminary: It is critical to discern why you want to go in the first place. No one should go to try and find themselves, get fixed, get healed, get spiritual or figure out what they want do when they grow up. Save your money and go to a good Christian counselor.

Who should go?
  • If you are going to be a teaching pastor, getting the best of biblical studies, languages, theology and church history is essential. There can be little doubt that most seminaries have this training down to an art, and no matter what anyone says, such training would be hard to duplicate on most local church levels.
  • If you feel called to work within a denomination or ecclesiastical structure that requires it. [My thought: It’s still not a bad idea to ask “Well, is that the best agency for you?”]
  • If you feel called to academia.

Here are some excellent places to read more:

I did not begin my seminary education until I was in my 30’s. As a matter of fact, I never recommend that anyone pursue seminary education until they have been out of undergraduate school for at least two years. Even a few more years under your belt will not hurt anything. You can always discern who the youngest and least experienced students in the room are by the quality of the questions they ask. Those who arrive a little older know why they are there and what they want to get out of a seminary education.
“First things first: theological training is a must for anyone called to the pastorate. So I’m not denying the importance of sound, rigorous theological training. I’m simply questioning whether seminary is the place to get it. Here are some of my concerns . . .”

“Christians have a nebulous perception that a seminary degree is like a union card for pastoral ministry. News flash: it’s not. In fact, in Acts 29, we find that church planters without a seminary degree are often more successful than those with a degree.”

“Seminary pulls pastors “off the streets” for 3 or 4 years to isolate them in a sterile academic environment. While this might be great for paper-writing, it’s really bad for missional living.”

“The seminary model is a tired one that needs to be updated for a post-Christian, technological age. Here’s a possible way forward . . .”
Three Questions Before You Go
1. Might you benefit from more experience in the “real world” first? Many students will graduate from college and head off to seminary. But for many students, seminary will be richer and more helpful with a little more life experience.
2. Will your seminary education be going toward some end which requires such a seminary degree? Graduate school costs money, money you probably don’t have. With so many Christian books, conferences, and online resources these days, you can learn a whole lot on your own. If you are going to seminary because you love Jesus and love the Bible, that’s wonderful, but you may want to consider if there are less costly, less time-consuming, less disruptive ways to keep learning and growing.
3. Are you prepared for a largely academic approach to learning? I am all for academics. But writing long papers, taking tests, listening to lectures, and reading thousands of pages is not for everyone. Seminary is not like a three year Passion Conference. It is like graduate school. Know what you’re getting in to.
  • Todd Wagner, Senior Pastor at Watermark Church in Dallas, has an excellent seriesof very honest posts on seminary. A few of his points:

You don’t want to work at a church that will hire you only if you have been to [seminary]. [If a] church would not consider someone because they do not have a degree from a seminary, DESPITE an obvious qualification of life and commitment to continual learning, it is likely a church that believes that the unbiblical idea of  “clergy/laity distinction” is real and necessary. I agree with Paul that our lives are the best letters of accommodation (2 Corinthians 3:1-6a) and with Peter that we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) who should be led not by degreed men, but by men who separate themselves by degree of personal holiness and giftedness.

I do not hire folks because they have been to or are going to any seminary.  The easiest thing to teach someone is theology and Bible. I hire guys that have shown a history of faithfulness, teachability and passion for the King and his Kingdom. DTS can teach theology and Bible (and they do well), but not the other stuff.

Seminary neither kills nor helps your heart. Many guys have struggled greatly in their walk with Christ while at [seminary]…my guess is they would have struggled greatly had they not been down there.  Many guys have grown in their love for and usefulness to Christ while at [seminary]…my guess is that they would have continued in obedience and faithfulness wherever they were.  If you go to [seminary] thinking it is going to be the means through which you take ground in your walk for Christ…you will be disappointed and discouraged.

  • In his book Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp has an excellent chapter on the spiritual dangers of seminary:
Academized Christianity, which is not constantly connected to the heart and puts its hope in knowledge and skill, can actually make students dangerous. It arms them with powerful knowledge and skills that can make the students think that they are more mature and godly than they actually are.

Is it not possible for seminary students to become experts in a gospel that they are not being exposed and changed by? Is it not dangerous to teach students to be comfortable with the radical content of Scripture while holding it separate from their hearts and lives? Is it not dangerous for students to become comfortable with the message of the Bible while not being broken, grieved, and convicted by it? Is it not important for seminary students to be faced daily with the personal implications of the message that they’re learning to unpack and deliver to others? Is it not vital to hold before students who are investigating the theology of Christ the frequent and consistent call to life-shaping love for Christ? Shouldn’t every Christian institution of higher learning be a warm, nurturing, Christ-centered, gospel-driven community of faith? Could it be that rather than having as our mission students who have mastered the Book, our goal should be graduating students who have been mastered by the God of the Book?

I am convinced that the crisis of pastoral culture often begins in the seminary class. It begins with a distant, impersonal, information-based handling of the Word of God. It begins with pastors who, in their seminary years, became quite comfortable with holding God’s Word distant from their own hearts.

[Now, obviously this is true for any Christian leader, whether in seminary or not, and Tripp spends the majority of his book addressing the dangerous world of all Christian leaders]

What are your thoughts on college students going to seminary right out of college?

For those of you who have gone to seminary, what helpful insights do you have?

photo courtesy of kern.justin

“Would you like a formula for success? It’s simple.
Double your rate of failure.”

Thomas Watson – Founder of IBM

Last month I watched a fascinating biography on Jay-Z where he echoed Watson’s thoughts:

“I’ve learned everything from failures. I haven’t figured out how to learn from success yet.” (watch it and read my synopsis of it here).

Staggering to hear from someone who has experienced so much success.


There are obviously numerous applications to college ministry:

  • Pioneering new areas
  • Finding better ways to contextualize the gospel to this generation
  • Becoming more effective in our systems

Success in those areas will usually come by learning through rapid failure and improvement.


But today in my Quiet Time I just connected the dots to my spiritual life.

How could “double your rate of failure” be the formula for success in the Christian life?

Obviously failing more (sinning) is not the best way forward. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Romans 6:1-2 (read here for John Piper’s great explanation of this text)

But, the formula for success in the Christian life just might be doubling your rate of recognizing your failure.

Repentance. Rapid Repentance.


Tim Keller in his article All of Life is Repentance:

Martin Luther opened the Reformation by nailing “the 95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.  The very first of the these was: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Repentance is how we move forward in the Christian life.

Pervasive, all of life repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus.

photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos

Continuing our series on Focus in Discipleship. Click to read the other posts in the series: What We Talk about, They Talk About, 5 Things We Want Every Student to Experience, and Risk of Getting Too Fancy

1. When we make it about them

  • What are we all really good at? Thinking about ourselves!
  • And yet what do many discipleship appointments focus on? Ourselves!
  • My dating. My personal sin. My personal goals. My development.
  • One of our primary goals in discipleship should be to help students “To live not for themselves but for Him who died for them” II Corinthians 5:15
  • We should be constantly pointing them toward Christ, toward His mission, AND away from themselves
  • So sitting every week in a coffee shop for 2 hours talking about the girl they have a crush on this week IS NOT discipleship.
  • And it could actually be worse than not meeting at all (as it only feeds selfishness)
  • A simple step forward we’re taking: Moving all our appointments into the dorms, engineering buildings and fraternities. And out of Chick-Fil-A and Coffee shops.
  • Putting ourselves in a position to do ministry together.

2. When we make it about us

  • Discipleship can become about me being their functional messiah:
  • They bring me a list of problems – I email them some verses to fix their problems. They come up with more problems and bring them to me
  • When either 1) We leave or 2) They graduate – they are unable to walk with God on their own
  • Tim Henderson, Cru director at Penn State, puts it this way:

“Typically, students in Cru get increasing attention over time culminating in the greatest attention their senior year. Then the day after graduation, it all suddenly goes away.
A friend of mine who works with graduate students observed to me that in graduate school, where the plan from day one is to create independent adults, they increase independence over time, not attention. In this way the newest, youngest grad students get the most attention to lay their foundation, and the oldest grad students function independently. The day before graduation is little different from the day after graduation since they have been steadily moving towards greater independence.
It seems that we have something to learn from this system.”

Discipleship is constantly pulling them away from themselves and toward Christ and His Mission.

What has helped you in discipleship to not make it not about you or them?


photo courtesy of stahrdust3


Continuing our series on Focus in Discipleship. Read Tim Norman’s first two posts in the series: What We Talk about, They Talk About (the most viewed post I’ve ever had on my blog!) and 5 Things We Want Every Student to Experience.

Based on this idea of exposing your team to great leaders, I asked Dan Allan (Cru director in St. Louis) to come spend two days with our team and students (and speak at our weekly meeting). It’s been phenomenal.

Dan’s focus in discipleship is two-fold:

We must delight ourselves in Jesus and His gospel

From Dan: “We talk about what we like. I like Cardinal baseball so I read about it. I talk about it. I don’t know everything there is to know, but I engage in conversations all the time. This is the environment for multiplication. We must feed them the gospel in such a manner that they are captivated by Christ and talk of Him everywhere.”


We must persist in sharing our faith

“One of our great challenges is getting out of the coffee shops and back into the student unions to meet with students and do evangelism during our appointments.

It’s the thing we’re tempted to talk about a lot, but when it comes to doing it, we don’t do it. As staff, we need to go share our faith with students.

I prefer “filtered” evangelism through a friend’s network of relationships, but we want to share our faith however God opens the doors.”

Dan and his team aim for shorter content during their appointments so that they have time to share the gospel at least once every two times they meet with a student.

On a side note, it’s Dan’s aim to take his staff guys out sharing EVERY time he meets with them (Confession: something I NEVER do).


I love the simplicity and focus of this. I love the Gospel focus. It meshes with this idea of what “Going Deep” means.

Dan and his team are intentionally narrow in focus. They fight the temptation of “Getting Too Fancy”.

Dan- “We are simple. Our systems have to be simple in order to be reproducible by students and volunteers.”

What do you think about Dan’s two things?
How do you keep focus in discipleship?