Reading For The Head And The Heart

Over the summer break we’re exploring some of the Psalms in our Sunday gatherings. I was able to kick off the series this past weekend by preaching through Psalm 1. It was an apt Psalm to end 2018 and look toward a new year. Like much of the Psalms there is a call for a response. One aspect to this is the assessment, or re-assessment, of our delight and meditation in the instruction of the Lord.

The start of the year is often a time of assessment. New Year’s resolutions aside; the sun, warm weather, and most people being on of holiday helps conjure up an environment for reflection. Continuing on from my last post, particularly point six of my 10 Tips For Reading In 2019, Psalm 1 challenges us to re-assess our affections and reading habits of God’s Word. Psalm 1 encourages people to delight and meditate on the Lord’s instruction because this is the way to happiness.

Reading For The Head And The Heart

The first three verses of the Psalm read:

1 How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

The central verse for the whole Psalm is verse two. The way of happiness – which is a contentment, a peace, a satisfaction – is through the delight and meditation on the ‘law of the Lord’, the Lord’s instruction, the Scriptures.

And here we find two characteristics of the way of happiness:

First, there is the aspect of the heart. The delighting in the Lord’s instruction.

Here is our emotional response to God.

We are to have affection for him and his instruction. We know God through his Word, through his instruction, and our heart response is to be delight. We are to be moved in feeling and fondness toward God because of his instruction. As Psalm 37:4 says,

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Our heart, our desires, our delight is to be in the Lord and his instruction. This leads to the way of happiness.

John Piper, in his book, Desiring God, puts it this way,

“Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Second, there is the aspect of the head. The meditating on the Lord’s instruction.

Here we read of our knowledge and understanding of God that affects our thinking.

Day and night, we are to chew over the Word of God in our minds. Like a never ending piece of gum, we’re to chew over the Lord’s instruction in our heads. Our minds are created to understand the things of God through our thoughts, this in turn is to influence the way we live. This is why Paul, in Romans 12:2 says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” 

In its proper vision, we find the knowledge of God is to touch our hearts and inform our heads.

Theology, which is simply the study of God, is not just head knowledge. It is something that affects our heads and our thinking, but it should also move us and affect our hearts and affections for God.

As we start off a new year I always find it helpful to re-assess my devotional life. The habits of reading Scripture and prayer. The start of the new year is great for starting a new bible reading plan, creating a new prayer list, beginning a new devotional work. It’s essentially a good time to re-assess a lot of things, so why not be intentional about it for your faith?

This year I’m seeking to read through the Bible using this plan. Other plans worth looking at are the one from The Bible Project (which I wrote about last year) or simply reading through four chapters of the Bible per day. In reality, if you’ve got a Bible and you’re using it then that’s a great thing. 

Published: Clarifying The Call Of God

‘Calling’ is one of those Christian words, used by Christian people, that is more confusing than clear. In this article for Rooted Ministry I try to unpack the meaning of calling and seek to bring helpful clarification.

“To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.

To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.

We have confused feelings with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This article was republished at The Gospel Coalition Australia on June 27, 2018.

Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.

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Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,

“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)

The book is broken into two parts.

The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.

In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,

“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)

This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.

I would highly recommend the read.

11 Things: Working Better

‘Adulting’ according to Urban Dictionary, is:

“…to do grown up things and hold responsibilities, such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage or rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown-ups.”

When entering youth ministry it is not uncommon to be in our early to mid-20s. In all reality, there is little of life lived and much more of life to come. Some things we aren’t taught in school and one of those things is adulting.

Part of adulting is having a system to deal with all the adulting things we need to do in life and work. Having a system to deal with these things can be learnt and is important in any job, relationship, or area of responsibility you might find yourself in.

With this in mind, I wish I had a better idea of organising my workflow and system when entering youth ministry. I have always considered myself someone who is pretty decent at organising and planning. For example, I have colour-coded calendars that tell me what’s coming up in church and family life. I have a spreadsheet that details every book I’ve read since 2005. I keep my books in categories. I keep notes of conversations I’ve had with people. I used to rename individual photos according to date and place. So, yeah, I think I’m OK at this organising thing…sometimes a bit too much.

But starting out life in my twenties I had no idea. It took me a number of years, through working as a Personal Trainer and Gym Manager, and into missions and ministry, before I felt I had a good system.

This system refers to how one handles their to-do-list and what you do with all the life administration you end up doing. This can include how to deal with email, reminding yourself of the improvements you need to make when running that camp again next year, setting a date to write a report, trying to remember the contact details of a new person at youth group. And so on.

There is a lot to deal with in youth ministry, and in life, so a system to deal with this is always helpful.

If I had my time over again I would begin thinking through this stuff earlier than I did. In many ways this is a learned process but there are plenty of resources to help young Youth Pastors think through the skills they need to improve as part of the job. In youth ministry there can be plenty of things going on in church life and it is hard to keep all the balls in the air at once. If starting out again, I’d think about how to structure my week, how to get my emails down to zero, how to plan the next 12 months and the next 3 years, how to understand the rhythm of the church’s year, how to deal with budgets, and how to plan one-off events.

All this non-people work makes our world turn on its axis.

What’s it called?

That’s right, administration.

The death of many a good Youth Pastor.

In every job there are things that people don’t really wish to do. Some can be delegated but others need to done. This is one of them.

So really, I’d simply encourage you to read two books.

First, Do More Better by Tim Challies, outlines briefly how to approach a working system that is adaptable to your needs and scaleable to your work and life context.

Second, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman is also an excellent resource on how to think about personal productivity and then how to apply it.

Administration, it’s not the sexiest topic. But it’s important if you’re wanting to learn more about how to actually do the job of youth ministry in amongst all the caring and events.

It’s something I wish I knew when I started out.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part ten of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six, part seven, part eight and part nine here.

11 Things: Nothing Else Matters

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part six of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart four, and part five here.


When in the guts of week-to-week youth ministry it is unlikely that anyone cares about what you’ve achieved in the past. The only time your education, prior experience, and variety of training helps you is through the application and interview process. Once your name has gone to the church, an introductory A4 sheet of paper is handed out about who you are (and your family, if you have one), and the vote has been taken, it’s all over. All of that is forgotten.

What matters most to those in your church is how you relate to people and whether you can look after the students.

Seriously, get those two things right and generally people will be happy.

However, for us as Youth Pastors, we have a sense of pride in our work. This is not the kind of arrogant pride, overconfidence, and belittling of others. No, this is a sense of achievement, being happy and satisfied in the work, education, and relationships we have in our life.

If you’ve been in youth ministry longer than 5 years you should feel good about that. If you’ve completed a particular course, you should feel good about that. If you’ve travelled, you should feel good about that. If you’ve been through tough experiences and come out the other side, you should feel good about that. If you’ve taken the step to get married, I hope you’d feel good about that! Whatever your accomplishments and achievements are you should feel good about them. We are all unique and will bring those experiences into our youth ministry role at church.

The issue is, no one will care more about this than you.

I wished I knew that what I’d achieved in the past would only matter to me earlier than I did. At one stage I believed that the two-years in mission work would help me gain a position as Youth Pastor. I thought it would at least provide a good platform for leadership in the church. After all, I knew what I’d done, the experiences I’d had, and was confident in my own abilities. Yet, when in conversation with someone in leadership they simply dismissed this experience because it wasn’t youth ministry specific. Little did they know me, let alone the experiences I had, and how totally applicable and formative it was to youth ministry.

Often we begin to believe that the experiences we’ve had in the past aren’t very influential or relevant to the role we play as Youth Pastors. This isn’t true.

Everything we’ve done is really formative for us. Our experience in life and work all helps in the youth ministry role, helping us relate, care, and create as Youth Pastors. Whether it’s a course of study, travel, corporate work, gardening, or cleaning toilets as part of your entry-level McDonalds job, all of these help in forming us in youth ministry.

All this being said, it comes down to the realisation that we can’t rest on these experiences. We can’t have our hope and identity in our past accomplishments, just as we can’t have our hope and identity in our role as Youth Pastor.

While these things help form us, they aren’t known to others. Youth ministry volunteers, parents, the students don’t know your story like you do. When something comes up that they’re not happy with, that they challenge you on, that they disagree with you about, then none of your accomplishments matter. It’s not about status and achievements. What matters is how you’re going to deal with the situation you have in front of you. What matters is whether you’ve learnt from your experiences, and how you can leverage them in dealing with the challenges and joys you face in youth ministry now.

The point is really about identity.

Our identity is not in our position as Youth Pastor. It’s not in our accomplishments. It’s not about our ego.

It’s in Christ (John 15:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; Col 3:3).

We serve him. His people. And try to get the ego out of the way.


Questions for reflection:

  • Do you put too much weight in the achievements of the past?
  • Is your ego seeking to remind you of all the awesome things you’ve done?
  • How are you learning and growing to serve others in humility?

11 Things: The Grass Isn’t Greener

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others.

From our material goods to our leadership skills to our parenting, we are always comparing ourselves to others. There is something about our fallen humanness that leads us to measure our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others.

This also happens in the church, and in youth ministry.

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We are enticed into dreaming about the bigger, and supposedly better, youth ministry down the road. Our mind drifts to consider what it would be like to be in a position at that church, or under this leader. What would it be like to have that role, live in that place, and have those facilities? For some reason we believe that the person leading that youth ministry or the role in that church will be better than the current position we find ourselves.

I think this is natural.

I hope it’s natural.

I know it’s not helpful.

Part of this thought is solidified by social media. Those glorious pictures of friends on holiday, travelling to exotic places, and experiencing amazing things compound our thought life. We tell ourselves that life is not like that, but we can’t help wonder whether our life is matching up to what we see around us. The same is true when we follow other youth group accounts, meet with other Youth Pastors, and hear of stories of what God is doing in other youth ministries. The pics portray a false reality that leads our thinking and dreaming into unhelpful areas. We begin to judge ourselves with the bigger church down the road, the one which has more money, better facilities, and the opportunity for seemingly more influence.

Instead of praising God for the work he is doing we sit there comparing ourselves, turning the work of youth ministry into an exercise in self-centredness.

But the truth is, the grass in not greener on the other side (or in another church).

The issues, challenges, hard work, conflict, and all those frustrating and negative things we are dealing with now are still there in the ‘bigger and better’ church down the road. It might not look that way from the stories or the pictures or the conversations, but despite a change in place or position those pastoral and youth ministry related challenges will still be there.

As I wrote in my original post, “It’s easy to let your mind drift to the church down the road and begin to think of how good it must be there. It’s not. It’s just not. They are having the same issues as you. They are having the same struggles. They are having the same problems. The same goes with going into a different ministry role or a role at a para-church organisation. The grass isn’t greener. It’s work. It’s hard.”

So, instead of dreaming and spending time unhelpfully thinking about the church next door why not do some of the following things to help gain some perspective. What we do now, in the place and position we are currently in, is important. We are called to be faithful to it and work hard in the youth ministry we are involved in now.

Abide In Him

In John 15 Jesus talks of abiding in him. Jesus makes the connection between fruit and abiding in him. If we are to be fruitful we need to be faithful to Jesus. Through remaining in Christ, walking closely with him, and realigning our thinking with his, we will find ourselves in a better frame of mind about our current position.

Pray

Once we realise we are not living with Jesus as well as we should be we do need to admit that to him. Through prayer we can lift our thoughts to God and ask for forgiveness. We can then ask God to help us understand what he has for us now. While our life with Jesus is a major part of our drifting into unhelpful thinking it may also be tiredness, weariness, and demotivation for a period of time. Pray for the ministry and your rhythms in all of this.

Vision Over Task

With the never-ending to-do-list we can get stuck in the task. Remember the vision for youth ministry you have. Spend some time mapping out the broader vision for the youth ministry, and do some brainstorming about future ideas and possibilities. When we are stuck on task we can get bogged down. Lift your eyes to the heavens and dream about the big-hairy-audacious goals. It’s usually pretty inspirational.

Write A List

Have the list of everyone involved in the youth ministry at your church. Make specific comments on what you appreciate about them. Write them a note or a card referencing those specific appreciations.

Look At Your Calendar

Hopefully you have a calendar. Look over the last 3 months, writing down everything you’ve been involved in – the people you’ve seen, the meetings you’ve attended, the teaching you’ve presented, the events you’ve been to. Everything. Look at how much you’ve accomplished.

Call A Friend

Either a mentor or a close ministry friend. Give them a call. Verbally vomit on them about how you’re feeling and the frustration you’re going though. Tell them about the unhelpful thinking. Let them help you process what’s happening right now. Let them slap you around (metaphorically, of course).

It’s often not admitted, but we know it’s there. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the belief that it’s better somewhere else. God has us where we are for a reason, we are to be faithful to him in that.

And remember, the grass isn’t greener.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part five of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart three, and part four here.

Where Is God?

When on a short-term mission trip the end of each day is usually set aside for a team debrief. In this setting I often ask the question “Where have you seen God today?”

It is a question I find hard to answer myself.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how some people seem to be able to answer this question of God’s presence easily while others don’t.

I’m one of the people that don’t.

It’s not that God isn’t around. I know He is. In fact, it would be rather depressing if God wasn’t around and you couldn’t see His hand in the world.

But in the daily grind, while eating breakfast, working in the office, looking after the kids, fiddling with our phones, and doing what we do it’s often hard to spot God’s presence. It’s not like each day is filled with overwhelming awe for life and the tasks to do during the day. Many days are similar, many days a filled with challenges as well as joys.

I can’t say God is in the joys without saying He’s in the challenges either. To say God is only in the joy-filled moments of life not only cuts Him out of much of the ordinary but also downplays the importance of His presence in the challenging times.

In some respects it’s about perspective. A greater awareness of God will bring a greater awareness of His presence in our days.

I was reminded of this as I read Ephesians 1-2 this morning. Paul talks in such lofty terms but reminds us of what He has done for us through His Son. Much of the passage is to do with what God has granted us through the work of His Son. And while the passage doesn’t talk directly about His presence in the world we can see the way He does work and so must be working today. The fact that He has chosen, predestined, adopted, blessed, redeemed, forgiven, lavished upon, made known, and given an inheritance to His people assumes He’s still doing that today. And if He’s still doing that today then He’s still at work, which means He’s still present.

So where have I seen God today? All around.

In what exactly? In the people I talk to. In the shopping centre I visit. In the driver I pass on the freeway. In the cafe I sit in. In the home I live in.

I’m not sold on the idea that He is in everything, like in the salt and pepper shakers I have in front of me. But His presence is in this world and I need to be more observant of it.

So, what about you? Where have you seen God today?

Three Strategic Questions

Michael Oh from Japan recently gave a talk at CrossCon. In it he asks three strategic and powerful questions we should ask ourselves about our lives:

1. What is the most strategic thing you can do with your life?
2. What is the most strategic place to do that?
3. What then is the strategic and best thing in that place?

I’m not sure about you but these are worth thinking about.