J.S. Park

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The Scary Uncertainty of Following God’s Will: A Mega-Post on “The Calling” For Your Life

light-unshakable asked:

Hey Mr. Park, I have to say I’m always inspired by your thoughts/ideas/writings. I’m wondering if you have any advice or encouragement on following your calling. I have a few things I’m interested in, but not sure what will end up blooming from it all. Thanks! -Steven

 sjpark11 said:

Hey Pastor Joon! I read some of your replies to people’s questions and really liked all of your responses. I was wondering if you could give me some advice! I’ve been thinking about my future and what God has planned for me. I have a heart for ministry, worship-leading, and sports therapy. So, I don’t know if I should go into Ministry, either part-time or full-time, or pursue the career that I desire. How do I decide which path to choose knowing that it is in God’s will? Thank you so much!

 

Hey there Steve and John, thank you for trusting me with these huge questions about your future.  While I can’t hope to give you a total solid answer, I can do my best to point the way and to jumpstart your own process.  As always, please feel free to skip around.  I’ll be throwing you guys a prayer.

 

1) "God’s Will" is not just about what you do, but about who you’re becoming.

This probably sounds like a cute cliche on a cat poster, but really: Decide who you want to be before you decide what you want to do. 

When you’re about to decide on your college or career or spouse or city or home, always ask, Is this leaning into who I want to become?  Or even bigger, Who does God want me to be in where I’m going? 

And at the same time, don’t hesitate to keep serving, keep giving, keep trying new things.  We don’t need to wait for a fully fleshed out answer of your identity, and I don’t want to paralyze you with such a daunting question all at once.  You don’t have to figure out your life in a day.  If you’re really very lost, then try everything.  Out of your heart emerges what you do, and what you do with your hands will work its way into your heart too.

 

2) Consider everything you’ve done before and connect the dots.

Any time someone is wondering about God’s specific calling on their life, I always ask them about what they’re already doing.  Very often, God will call you to do more of what you’re already doing and have done.

It’s very rare that someone wakes up one day and says, “I want to be an artist” or “I want to be a pastor” or “Here we go, rodeo clown school.”  God sets up a long series of opportunities and situations in which we enjoyed a particular gifting or we ruled out other ones. 

Maybe you love to draw and you’ve filled up tons of sketchpads and suddenly the art teacher put you in an honors class.  Maybe you love dancing and you practice in the mirror and out of nowhere you tried out for a group and got in.  Maybe you like watching CSI and that ER reality show where people get stabbed, and you’re attracted to the medical world. 

Now sometimes God does the humorous thing here and calls you into an absolutely terrifying prospect.  A lot of my calling (as a pastor) requires me to speak in public, and I have stage fright and suffered from speech impediments.  But God kept opening doors to lead the praise band on Sundays and teach Bible Studies and oversee small groups, and when I got the calling to be a pastor, it was scary but also just right. 

You might be called to something you could never have possibly imagined: but it will somehow fit just like a glove.  We often see God’s Will in hindsight, and it’ll make sense when you look back at how God worked the whole time.  Your previous history of opportunities will often inform your future more than your current ability.

A side-note: Going into ministry is a very, very difficult calling, and I can’t ever sugarcoat how hard it will be.  No one just “likes” their way into ministry.  For more on that, here’s my tag on seminary.

 

3) Ask around.

I think that asking everyone else for your own vision is not the best idea: but it’s always good to ask your pastor or mentor or a wise mature friend about what to do. 

Talk things out.  Especially touch on your own fears, anxieties, and insecurities.  Talk about your own selfish vanities.  Many of us are afraid to admit, “I want to be filthy rich.  I want the fame.  I want the glory.”  But this urge for validation exists inside all of us.  When you open up your heart, with both the pretty and the ugly, then you’ll actually be able to more wisely navigate your own narrative.  You’ll start to hear yourself and realize, “Yeah, that’s kind of immature.  And no, maybe I don’t want that so badly.  And this thing I’m afraid of but I know will be awesome: I really want that, no matter how hard it is.” 

 

4) Ask God.

I know this is obvious.  But I think it’s so very obvious that we turn this part into a checklist, and we make God into an assistant who’s here to help with My Agenda.

So let’s try an experiment.  Let’s pretend for a second that you are God.

Don’t cuss me out quite yet.  Let’s say You’re in Your infinitely vast throneroom in Heaven with all the six-winged lion-headed angels singing to you every second of their existence, and you know everything there is possibly to know, and you divide the galaxies and orbits and stars and clouds and skies to this tiny little meat-popsicle named insert your tiny little name here.

And your squishy 3 lb. brain human brain is wrestling with this grand intimidating idea called the future, because you live inside this weird unrolling ocean called time.  And your spongy fleshy body has maybe just a few breaths left before you’re off into the afterlife of eternity.

With that ten seconds of your one life you have on this small speck of dirt called earth: What would You tell yourself to do?  How would You speak something into the world through you that no one can else can do the same as you?  How will You tell yourself to use your bare ten seconds of life on this tiny planet?

Now this is just an experiment, and it’s easy to tell yourself what you want to hear.  But imagine if you actually heard from God.  From the one who knows you better than you know you, and will straight up tell you the truth with zero b.s.  Imagine hearing from someone infinitely smarter than you who could smash your agenda to pieces.  Would you really want to know about that?  I mean it’s a rather huge scary audacious proposition, if you think about it.  Because for me, it would be easier to say, “I didn’t know you wanted me to martyr myself in Uganda” than to actually pursue this all-knowing God with my blink of a life in the ocean of eternity.

So dare to ask God what He really wants you to be and to do.  Dare to confront your own worst fears about failure and inadequacy: because God will plunge through that like a freight train and pull you into His very best.  It won’t be easy, no: but it will be life.

 

Please know that God’s vision for you will feel too big.  Whatever God calls you to do will require the very power of God.  I don’t mean that God will necessarily ask you to be a martyr in Uganda, though He could.  I don’t mean we’re all called to be radical missionaries and urban inner-city ministers, though we could.  And of course, I don’t mean that changing diapers or sweeping floors or collecting garbage is any less important than serving the homeless or loving on orphans. This is not about chasing the cliche of epic heroic romanticized Super-Christian.

But what I do mean is that we often don’t seriously ask God what His true calling is for our lives.  Then we shrink ourselves into bite-sized manageable goals that require little faith and little work.  We all like safety.  Whether you become the CEO of a corporation or a pizza delivery boy, we can use our particular gifting to leave a God-sized impact in our chosen corner of the universe.  Whether that means donating Bibles to China or serving coffee to your co-workers everyday or signing up to be a foster parent, there is no shortage of creative ways to be the hands and feet of Christ.  There are lives to build, stories to make, laughter to create, truth to be told, and hearts to be mended there. 

A job doesn’t have to be a clock-in clock-out affair.  Your field can be the grid in which you infuse the gracious life-breathing aroma of God by your uniquely woven history, in an overarching mosaic of daily choices where you’ll look back and be able to say, “I was part of something real on that planet called earth.”

Ask Him.  Read Scripture over and over, get to a private place, and ask Him.  Talk things out.  Time is short and your life is once.  You’ll find that the you that God wants you to be is the you that you always wanted.

— J.S.

Aug 2

Tips on Preaching & Teaching For the First Time

So I’m speaking to my youth group this Wednesday (I’m 16 and this is the first time speaking at church) and I was just wondering if maybe you had any tips?

 

My friend, that is awesome. Woo!! Let’s first be grateful to God for this amazing opportunity that you’ve been given.  You and I never earned the right to preach or teach, but were given this honor by the Creator of everything so that others might know Him, be loved by Him, and love Him in return.  Please start there, in a place of humility, recognizing we are absolutely unworthy to teach others with our squishy tiny 3 lb. brains and our half-inch vocal cords, to other squishy fallen human beings from a wild variety of diverse back-stories — except by the grace of God. 

I mean that’s really crazy, when you think about it.  I’ve never gotten over that.

I don’t want to give you a formula or checklist because then you might be tempted to follow that instead of Jesus.  So here just a few things to pray about and consider.  You’re not obligated to any of these, so simply reflect and go forth, my friend.

 

- Love your people.  This is obvious, but so very often I forget to love the people who are right in front of me.  Sometimes I’m so quick to check off my awesome agenda of great sermon points, that I forget these are real hurting broken struggling people who care less about my intelligence and more about their maker.  Every word and sentence and theme must be fashioned out of love for your people.  Let your group know that this is a big deal for you and that you’re available outside of preaching time.  If they know you care about them, they’ll remember that more than the message.

 

- You be you.  My initial problem in preaching was imitation.  When I first started, I listened to a lot of James MacDonald, who is a fiery aggressive preacher with a booming voice and roughly twenty points in every sermon.  I even took on some of his tone and inflections.  Soon I learned, I wasn’t good at preaching like this.  My strengths were not a booming voice and twenty-point messages.  If you’re not naturally funny, you don’t have to try.  If you’re loud, use that to your advantage. Be comfortable with how God has made you.  Part of trusting God is trusting how He made you to be you in the world.  Let yourself out to play.

 

- Be prepared.  Please don’t presume that “good speaking ability” or “relying on the Spirit” will get you through a message.  They can, but people will know you’re not prepared and they won’t take you seriously, and the Spirit won’t swoop in for a lack of your own prep.  Study up, know your stuff, pray and reflect, preach it to yourself, apply it in your own life.  And when in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis.

 

- It’s okay to fail.  There’s an old joke in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will be terrible.  When someone raises their first child, they’re nervous and neurotic and freak out easily and take too many pictures and are generally very overbearing.  But by the third child, the parent is super-cool and laidback and much more confident.  Yet no parent can raise their tenth child like the first one.  It takes growing pains.  In martial arts, we call that ring experience.  It doesn’t matter how much you train at the gym: when you’re in the ring, that’s the true training.  If you have a sermon fail, don’t beat yourself up.  Also, if you’re a first child: sorry bro.  At least you get the double portion. #JesusJuke

 

- If they fall asleep or don’t pay attention, that’s okay.  You’re not doing it for validation anyway.  I say this with all love and grace for you: but no one owes you anything.  No one owes your their attention or their undying eye contact for you.  Their time is precious and so is yours.  This goes for bloggers too: no one owes you “likes” or reblogs or replies or validation.  When someone does something for the approval of their peers, they’re no longer doing the main thing, but it’s now grossly external and foreign to the original purpose of that thing.  So no matter how many people are there, preach like you’re in a stadium.  Like Jesus is sitting there.  I preached to three students every Friday for two years, and I loved it.  They’ll stay awake if you’re awake and alive and all there, and they’ll know you’re not desperate for their thumbs-up.

 

- It’s also okay to evaluate.  If you mess up, simply examine what went wrong, recuperate in God’s embrace, and add that sermon to your ring experience. My method: I write down in a notebook what worked, what didn’t, and what I can do different next time.  Nothing too big, maybe half a page.  It’s a little painful and humbling, but I wrestle with it to the end. Once I close the notebook, I stop thinking about how it failed.  That’s done.  I give God the credit for any success.

 

- Stay humble.  Chances are that God will work through you and the Spirit will really sweep through the place.  If so, awesome!  Thank God when it happens.  Thank God if only seeds are planted that day.  Thank God you even get to do this. 

— J.S.

 

Also check out:

- Preachers: A Sermon Gut-Check

- Life Is Interruption (On Totally Bombing In The Pulpit)

- When You Fail A Sermon

- Remember The Uninitiated

- Sovereign Seeds, Unknown Deeds

- My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

Hi, Sir, its me again, hey i just to want why did you became a pastor or what is one thing pushes you to be one? or how could you say that our gift is to become a pastor, it just came from my mind, because all things that God wants me to do is to preach, to look for people, encourage people and you know the bottom line is, "To become a pastor" can you give me some tips hope you this :)

Hey there my friend, I think you probably caught me at a strange time since I’m feeling quite unworthy of ministry today (which is sort of always true, except for the grace of God), but I can point you to a few things here.  Please know that I’m unusually tough about the “call to ministry” because I think so many young believers treat it as a joke, whether they’re seminarians or lay people or church folk. 

- Call To Ministry Statement.

- The Pastor’s Calling: How It Really Is, Not How You Want It To Be

- “I Would Like To Become A Pastor”

- All my posts tagged seminary

If you’ve truly been called into ministry, that’s such an awesome honor my dear friend.  Please count the cost and be prepared.  And of course: trust Him.

— J.S.

Question: My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

jspark3000:

image

Anonymous asked (edited for length):

I know you lovingly and jokingly ‘hate’ on reformed churches. I spent half my life in a reformed Church, but after moving states, I’ve been called to a somewhat more ‘neutral’ denomination … But I miss the deep theology and resonance of a ‘reformed’ sermon. The sermons in my current Church lack luster … I love my current Church but I do miss my ‘reformed sermons’. A lot of young people in our Church are complaining that they are not growing / the sermons are not deep enough … What I’m trying to grapple with for myself is what really is at the heart of a reformed sermon? … Are ‘reformed’ sermons really scripturally deeper? …  I’m trying to get to the heart of this myself so I can be more satisfied with the spiritual feeding my current Church is offering. I am supplementing all this with Piper/Keller/Driscoll sermons online, but I miss being excited about the sermon on Sundays.

 

Dear friend, thank you so much for asking this.  Many of us love our churches but feel off about the Sunday sermons, and this is a much more common issue than you think. 

I edited a lot of your original question, but you were very fair about your pastor and I appreciate your gracious tone. There are too many people who are overly harsh on this sort of thing, and you’re not one of them.  I know it’s also a sensitive issue because you want to respect your leadership while also challenging them to a deeper level. But really there are a few simple adjustments you can make when you’re “not being fed.” 

About Reformed Calvinism: secretly, I am indeed a Reformed Calvinist but I no longer self-identify as one. I do like to poke fun at us because I think we need to lighten up and no one really calls us out, but as far as the theology goes, I’m all there.  I also very much love my Reformed brothers and sisters, even when they’re not always fun to hang out with (hah).

If you feel you’re not being fed on Sundays, please don’t leave the church yet.  Here are some things to consider.

 

1) You are a multi-faceted person that prefers growth in certain areas which your pastor might be missing.

Every person’s learning ability is made of at least four sides: intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  We all lean towards one, and so does your pastor.  If the sermon does not hit on your preferred learning style, then it will be extra difficult to grow — but you can still grow.

To break it down further:

- Intellectual: The mind. An increased knowledge and understanding of particular topics, especially systematic theology and grammatical-historical facts.

- Emotional: The heart. Being inspired, moved, convicted, and encouraged.

- Psychological: The will. The inner-workings of our motives, actions, behaviors, end goals, culture, and afflictions.

- Spiritual: The soul. A focus on spiritual gifts, abilities, Kingdom-thinking, evangelism, missions, spiritual disciplines, and other Christianese topics.

 

For some churchgoers, they confuse “bad preaching” with mismatched learning styles.  A pastor who is highly emotional will hardly ever reach an intellectual person, and vice versa.  Very rarely do you find a preacher who is the whole package, and even then, they will still tend towards one or two of these directions. 

For this season of your life, you might want to consider adjusting your learning style.  If your pastor is a blasphemous heretic, then of course you should leave — but if not, then it’s time to stretch yourself.

My first pastor was a very emotional/spiritual preacher, when I am more intellectual/psychological.  But I dearly loved my pastor, and eventually, I found that I really did need emotional and spiritual encouragement because these were weak areas in my life.  I had to stop looking down on my pastor’s sermons as if they were shallow or incomplete.  In the end, this made me a much more rounded individual who could better understand different kinds of personalities.  It will round you out too, if you let it.  These days, I even preach a lot more like my first pastor and it’s helped me to reach others I never could have on my own.

On top of that, when you mentioned that you compensate by listening to Reformed podcasts like Piper/Keller/Driscoll, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this.  We are blessed to have so many free resources, and you should never feel like you’re “cheating” on your pastor if you grow from other sermons.  I also supplement, and a truly gracious pastor would be thrilled to hear that you’re listening to sermons throughout the week.

On the other hand, I would try to be very aware of your own learning style and then accommodate yourself to your pastor’s teaching.  Unless he’s just a horrible preacher, he will say something that’s worthwhile and God-honoring, and we would be wise not to let our biased styles get in the way of God’s work.  Embrace it and be open to other ways that God will speak to you.

 

2) Build on your pastor’s weaknesses.

One time I heard my first pastor preach a much more exegetical sermon than I’ve heard from him, and it was awesome.  It reached my nerdy intellectualism.  So after the service, I told my pastor how great it was to hear him do exegesis on a passage.  It was a sincere compliment that I didn’t really think much of.

For the next few months, my pastor went on an exegetical trip and it was some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.  Since my pastor was already such an emotional preacher, he didn’t leave behind the emotional people in the church either.  I was so fired up.  And it was all because of one specific comment towards my pastor.

The best thing you can do here is to find openings on helping your pastor improve.  Pastors love vision.  They love seeking ways forward.  If you only deconstruct what they’re NOT doing, they will never know what you really need.  But if you can tell them, “I would love more of what you just did there,” they will embrace that all the way.

 

3) Encourage your pastor, because he’s a human being like anyone else.

See: Most pastors on Sundays fall into pride or over-sensitivity, so that if you criticize them, you will get nowhere.  Pastors are constantly on edge about their own performance, and if we approach them in a confrontational way, they will always take it personally.  They’ll either be extremely angry or ridiculously hard on themselves. 

It sounds like a game or something, and maybe sometimes it is.  But let’s take a little extra effort to show grace to our pastors and let them know when they’ve done well.  Almost all they hear is how bad they’re doing.  This wouldn’t help you, either.

You might think pastors should be “above this,” but we easily forget that pastors have all the same fears and anxieties and hopes as you do, and they need encouragement like all of us.  On Sunday nights when you’re relaxing with your family, the pastor is beating himself up over all the mistakes he made.  I’m not trying to pull fake pity here, but so often we show grace for other people that we would never show to the pastor.

Pray for them, keep an open dialogue, encourage them after sermons on a particular point you liked, and be willing to share your issues so he knows what you’re going through.  Your pastor, if he is a godly man, really does desperately care for you, and he will build himself in his lacking areas when he knows what to build.

— J.S.

The Pastor’s Calling: How It Really Is, Not How You Want It To Be

thistreasureinjarsofclay asked:

Is it really improbable for someone to “like” or “want” to be a pastor? I just think that there really are people who understand what it means to be one and are really filled with passion to preach Christ, with compassion for the lost and with care for the flock, that they really “like” or “want” it whatever might be the cost.

 

Hey there my friend. I think you’re referring to some of the tough things I said about seminary and a pastor’s calling.

I believe it’s not improbable to just “like” or “want” to be a pastor, but it’s certainly unlikely.

Please hear me saying this in all love and grace for you.  I know it will sound like such a downer, and when I talk to young dudes who want to be pastors, this is always the hard part.  I feel like the harbinger of bad news or the crusher of dreams.  I end up saying “No you’re not ready” a lot of the time, and usually the response is, “You’re just a hater, you don’t know me man, God’s gonna use me.” 

I’ve hurt a lot of fragile egos who weren’t willing to undergo the honesty of self-examination.  I get cussed out or cut off, and that’s okay.  By now, I’m jaded by those sort of things.  There’s a lot of triumphalistic tribal language about victory and haters and trolls, but really: I’m trying to give an honest accurate view of what pastoral ministry is really like.  If I don’t do that, then I wouldn’t be a good friend.  And even if that person “thinks” they understand what it’s like to be a pastor, they don’t.  Seriously.  I’m being nice here.  You can’t possibly know what it’s like until you’re there, day to day, in the trenches of real people bleeding your life away to serve.

Simply: Ministry is downright impossible except for the anointing of God.  There’s no way to simply “like” your way into ministry.  The life of a pastor is extremely difficult, and if it’s not, you’re probably doing it wrong.  I will never ever sugarcoat this or water it down to spare your feelings.  It’s why doctors will tell you that med school isn’t for kicks and cred: they want you to man up and be ready.  If you’re called, awesome.  If not, wait.

I do see what you’re saying.  There should be joy in ministry.  Of course it helps to like what you do.  Pastors must certainly “like” the church, even and especially when it’s difficult.  But if that’s the sole motivation, it will never last. 

I hate to be the jerk that says all that.  It’s just that I’ve seen so many distracted half-focused jokesters in the pulpit that I realize: no one ever told them the true meaning of being a pastor.  They don’t realize they have the lives of entire families in their hands who want healing and guidance and truth and a true picture of God.  It’s like some of these dudes went to youth camp once and thought it would be fun and easy and so they sign up for seminary to have a “one day per week” job.  And that’s not even close to how it really is.

 

Let’s consider how a pastor is sustained to do ministry for fifty years.  He is called by God.  That’s it.  That’s the only thing keeping him going through the worst seasons.  The church culture can be extremely brutal, punishing, and unforgiving to pastors.  The pastor is under a constant microscope of scrutiny, and to some extent, he should be.  To stay under that crossfire takes a certain kind of thick skin, one that isn’t based on your performance or cute photos or applause or approval rating.

Let’s put it another way.  I want my future kids to attend a church where their pastor will safely, graciously, gently lead them towards Christ.  Not perfectly, but passionately.  I would be trusting my kids to the guidance of someone who is divinely appointed by God Himself. 

But you’ve seen all the horrible abuses of the church.  Like the youth pastor who raped a bunch of girls for several years.  Or the youth pastor who had sex with every girl in his youth group.  Or the pastors who molest the boys in their Sunday School.  Or all these pastors suddenly murdering their wives.  Those are extreme cases.  Yet even in the less extreme ones, I don’t want some pastor who just “decided” to be a pastor.  I’ve heard too many horror stories about pastors who didn’t get the accountability and gut-check they needed.  Going into ministry is not some flippant fun decision to be a preacher and a buddy to your church.  A pastor has to be absolutely willing to give away their lives as Christ died for us.  Pastors always give more than they will ever get.  Without that, they’re really just hurting the church.  Any pastor who’s in it for self-glory or validation or just to fool around will never be near my children.

I’ll put it another way.  If you want to get married or own a business or have kids because it looks “fun” or “I just want to,” then think of how much you’re actually hurting all those things.  You’ll be dragging in all kinds of people to invest into your concepts of family and business, but all the while it’s been about your feelings and gratifying your own desires.  This is why deadbeat dads run out on their families: because suddenly it didn’t cater to their false idea of family. 

 

I know I’m simplifying what you said, and that’s probably not your motivation, and I’m making a lot of presumptions here.  But so long as you do not correctly estimate the sweat and blood and tears of where you’re headed, the lack of seriousness will deplete the life of everyone involved.  Then when you no longer “like it” or “want it,” you’ll mentally check out or you’ll run off, and do more damage.

So it’s my job as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a friend to keep it real about ministry.  Whenever I plant a church one day, I will never hire the people who only “like ministry.”  They better at least like ministry, but I’m looking for the calling.  I won’t care if they’re good at preaching or have good church methodology for evangelism or can run programs.  That’s like caring about someone’s abs to babysit my kids.  I only care if they’re ready to die for these people.  

I’m sorry if that bothers you.  I don’t mean to be rude and I especially don’t want to confuse you if you’re truly called.  I just hope you’ll actually circumvent any anger you have at me to spend that on looking at yourself instead.  If you want to be mad, then by all means, please cuss me out or call me wrong or say I’m a troll.  I just sincerely want the best for the church and for future pastors.  I love you (and the church) too much not to tell you what you’re in for.  And if you’re called, you’ll have to examine yourself even more, and not less.

— J.S.

Hello Pastor Park! I was reading one of the questions that you answered on how to become a pastor. I remember you saying that you have to feel a burning passion for God and the people I have been feeling this burning passion to go to seminary. I would really like to be able to minister to women and maybe even do christian counseling. I just have a strong desire to serve God and hep people in whatever it is that I do. Can you offer your opinion or any helpful advice?

Hey my friend, it’s very much a blessing to be called into ministry: and it’s also so much more insanely difficult than I could prepare you for.  I encourage you to check out my tag for seminary.

I don’t mean to scare you at all, because certainly we need more willing believers to enter into ministry.  But please research as much as you can, get many different opinions, and have as much encouragement and strengthening as possible.  Get some real talk with pastors and mentors.  As best you can, try to dispel any illusions or false ideas about ministry by really knowing all you can before heading in. 

Ministry is like nothing else.  It has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  You are literally living with people through their pinnacle moments.  You’ll be there for graduations and weddings and births and baptisms and hospital visits and prison visits and funerals.  You have no off days.  You see a person at their best and their worst.  That’s really an honor, and sometimes a burden.  You have to love people, no matter what, and that’s much less romantic than it sounds.  It can also be totally wonderful.

I will throw you a prayer.  The best thing for now is to be prepared.  Much love and blessing to you on this journey.

— J

Jul 9

Pulpit Confessions.

At times I feel like the preacher in the pulpit is telling me all his hero-stories, and he seems to be his own marketing guy saying “This is what Jesus does, so do what I’m doing and you’ll make it.”

But I always lean in when the pastor tells me about his failures.  When he’s really for real.  That time he blew up on someone in traffic.  When he really lost it with his wife and kids.  When he quietly refused to help a homeless guy.  His sudden shopping spree.  Those seasons when he stopped praying and reading the Bible because he was so jaded and burnt out.  When he shares his frustrations with the church culture, not in a mean way that points out any one person, but really grieving over our collective lack of passion.  The times when he doubted himself, when he doubted God.

I don’t want the act.  I’d love it for a pastor to just straight up rip the mic and tell us how much he’s hurting right now and how much he still trusts Jesus to get him through all this and even tell us he’s barely holding on by a thread of his beat-up faith.  Hero-stories are okay, but I want to know we’re in this fight together.

I can realize then that the pastor is a human being, and it makes me a little more human too, and this points to our need for Jesus and for grace.  I want to meet inside our mess-ups, because God is there.  With Him, we’ll make it.

— J

Many pastors find themselves in a brutal, punishing culture where they only hear from their church members if something went wrong. It’s like all those imbalanced reviews on Yelp where the restaurant was “awful, bad lighting, waiter a moron.” It’s our human nature to write a negative review; not so much a positive one.

Sometimes, your pastor gets it right. A single sentence in his sermon spoke to you. That prayer he prayed over you flipped a switch. That outreach event, while not perfectly coordinated, stirred your heart with affections you never knew. Some blog post he wrote really hit the nail on the head. Simple: just let him know about that. Brag about your pastor to your pastor.

- J.S. from this post, about encouraging your pastor

Apr 6

Life Is Interruption.

Today I totally bombed the sermon at my church.

I had prepared like crazy: but we just moved buildings today, so we had no sound system, the AC broke, the noise outside was horrible, and my thoughts weren’t gelling together.

I knew that mostly everyone was checking out (except a wonderful group of ladies who sit up front and always take notes).  It was so discouraging.  The environment was affecting me pretty badly too, and the sermon just failed to find a rhythm.  So when the whole thing became unbearable, I cut the sermon short by ending with a metaphor and a story.  For a second everyone listened, and they seemed grateful I had enough sense to end early.  At the very least I was able to land the plane.

I discovered I get easily irritated when “my plans” get foiled by an unexpected turn of events. And really, most of our well-laid plans will get interrupted by inconveniences.  Nothing unfolds the way we picture it in our head.  There’s no ideal room or perfectly isolated space where perfect magic can happen. 

It’s during these escalated frustrating times that we need to think on our feet and be flexible enough to serve the reality of the room.  That meant that I had to pay more attention to the people around me instead of just mindlessly marching with my agenda.  It meant I wouldn’t get to unroll everything I had prepared; it meant all my careful research and prayer and prep was getting shafted; it meant that I couldn’t function at my best.  I could only make the best out of a bad situation.

But that’s okay.  I think these moments are necessary to humble us towards the needs of others, to be sensitive to what’s happening.  I don’t think we need to get everything right in a day.  I think I needed to learn how to serve others in an icky, sweaty, gritty sort of setting, because life is not like the movies where the temperature is always perfect and our speech is so impeccable and the day wraps up with a pretty bowtie.  Life is awkward and amusing and raw, and it’s okay to laugh about that.  We can meet each other there.  And of course, there’s always next week.

— J

Some of us have Friday night services. It can get a little hectic and rushed at night. A few reminders.

1) Your pastor is not just a leader, but a fellow brother in Christ. He might have had a long day of juggling his own life with the sermon and with planning for today. If his sermon is a little off or incomplete, show him some grace and encourage him.

2) It always takes a lot of work for services to happen. A lot of people volunteer their time and energy for it to take off; it doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s easy to criticize, but it’s better to pray for all the people who are trying to make this work.

3) On Fridays you’ll sometimes get visitors who know nothing about church. Remember them and don’t condescend with flowery Christianese language. Please don’t despite them if they do something “un-Christian” — even that idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

4) Ask how you can help the service. Serve.

5) Please don’t expect perfection. Only God is perfect. Expect Him.

— J

100, 99, and 1

I’m sorry, but angry post.

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" — Luke 15:4

I don’t meet many pastors or Christians who believe this anymore.  We tend to accept those who appear more mature or are “willing to learn” or “have potential” — but we neglect the difficult cases.  We abandon those who somehow don’t fall in line with our church methodology.  We exert our efforts into the easy cases because they’ve met our ego-imposed standards, but we reject those who would “waste my time.”

This is a horrific, unbiblical, worldly legalism that has shackled prerequisites on the same people that Jesus died for.  I don’t remember Jesus setting these sort of absurd checklists to make someone a “worthwhile” disciple.

We think it’s a success in ministry to have all these guys who go to seminary or sign up for a six-week discipleship course or serve on the praise team: and I praise God when that happens.  But God forbid we also visit prisons, help the homeless, love on addicts, or do anything outside the church that doesn’t serve itself.  God forbid we are open to the sincerely struggling and those curious of faith or those who have been burnt by the world and its performance-driven paranoia.  God forbid we are loving to those who have nothing to offer back to the church.

I really want to ask some of these pastors and leaders: What are you actually doing for the Kingdom?  Are you self-reflexively isolating your territory with “worthy” people who are yes-men to your ideology?  Do you only collect churchgoers to perpetuate your programs inside the four walls of your building?  Are you burdening your people with more classes and more sign-ups and more activities?  Where is all this going?  What are you doing with all that time?  Have you even helped one individual your entire life?  Why is the church making people more anxious and more exhausted and more frustrated?  I don’t think this is what Jesus died for.  He died to take burdens off, not add burdens on.  

Recently, a famous pastor of a megachurch and bestselling Christian author called a meeting of his congregation and said, “Anyone who is serving on a team, you can stay.  Anyone who isn’t serving here, there’s the door.”  I don’t understand this.  It’s freaking infuriating.  This is why the church hurts people: because we’ve become an assembly line of jumping through dogmatic hoops.  The “pastors” are power-brokers who have abused God’s authority for their own grandeur.  I’ve always imagined the church as a beacon of healing in a bleak world, but we’ve assimilated the cultural ethos of American Idol into our sanctuaries.  Imagine I tell you, “If you’re healthy enough, you can enter my hospital.”  

If you do this to your people, then call yourself an employer or CEO or a college or a TV show or a critic, but please don’t freaking call yourself a Christian.  We oppose God when this happens: and it’s not okay.  

The church is certainly a sanctuary for the sacred: but it’s also a safe haven for sinners.  It’s a hospital, and we do not refuse the sick.

Of course there is wisdom in using your time wisely.  Pastors are only individuals who have limited resources and ability.  But if you’re a leader in the church, then each person who walks through the door is not some commodity project: but a human being.  They’re worth a portion of your time because they exist.

I can’t say I’m always good at this.  I fail often as a pastor and as a human being.  I have neglected others to my own shame.  In my imperfect writing skill, I’ve probably wrongly added burdens in this post too.  And I’m a small-time guy with just another critical voice in a sea of criticism.  But I grieve for our Christian communities to be like Jesus.  I pray we have a heart for the one when he leaves the 99.  I hope we are not categorizing people into worthy and unworthy: because if this were true, none of us could stand in the grace of God.  But that’s why it’s grace.  It’s for people like you and me and not for who we deem worthy.  

— J

Remember The Uninitiated.

In Sunday services, it can be easy to assume everyone is on board with the Bible, with God, with the music, with their faith — but even the most smiley, firm-handshaking, eloquently-praying, every-Sunday churchgoer could be drowning in a sea of doubt and questions. All the assumptions are only making it worse.

We often design our sermons and services with the faithful believer in mind. “Have you shared Jesus with anyone this week? Have you kept accountability? Have you confessed your sin and asked for forgiveness? Are you serving genuinely with your whole heart?”

These are important things: but the uninitiated won’t really care about them. I’m talking about that guy in the back row with arms crossed and foot tapping. That single mother with four kids who doesn’t think God sees her. The high schooler who’s ready to cut until it’s over. They’re unconcerned with Christian technique and instead: waiting to hear about a Savior.

While some of us are “convicted” by these terms, others will have no context for them and will only feel more distance. Some are just barely hanging on to believe God is real at all, and others still are resistant to anything remotely religious. And we forget about them.

I think knowing the vocabulary is even a disadvantage: because we get jaded to the same verbiage every Sunday. We can get self-righteous with all the insider buzz words because we check that list like a pro — but we can hardly admit we feel further from God every week.

I hope our churches are designed for both the strong and the weak, for the faithful and the curious, for the prodigal and the wanderer, for the robust and the rebel. I hope we use a language that invites everyone without compromising doctrine. I hope we define our terms like sin and wrath and Spirit every single Sunday, because even the veterans need a light on their basement of faith.

We could meet each other at ground level with the grace that Jesus offers. This is a harder way, with no lazy shortcuts and shorthand, but with gritty raw honesty: the same that Jesus had. To desperately strive for the ideal every week will only remind us how much we’ve failed, but to remind each other of Christ tells us there’s a hope beyond our striving.

It’s only Jesus who meets us exactly where we are. He assumes you don’t have it all together: and he offers grace for that very reason. The church is called to do likewise, as a safe haven for saints and a hospital for sinners. I pray we make room for both.

— J

Church Things We Say: “Man-Centered Theology”

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Whenever someone in church says “man-centered,” I’m pretty sure I know what this means: that the whole spiritual walk needs to be uber-focused on the face-melting glory of God or else we’re totally sugarcoating the wrathful explosive fury of our precious doctrine. 

There’s this urgency we need to go back to our roots like Acts 2 and keep it straight Table-Flipping Jesus and there’s no room for feel-good therapeutic advice here, because that would be selfishly consumeristic and you-centered.  “God is for Himself and not for you, you know.” 

I think I understand all that.  Man-centered bad, God-centered good.

I’m just wondering if even God sees it this way.  I’m wondering if He makes this sharp distinction between His glory and your problems: because I seem to remember God wore a coat of flesh and became one of us and got right in the middle of our mess.  The Gospel seems to be saying that it was His Glory to take on our shame and He was exalted by humbling Himself among us. 

 

It seems that God Himself would say He was both man-centered and Him-centered, because God became man and took on the worst of us.

I know that the institutional church culture has catered to people by entertaining them; I know there’s a pervasive smog of people-pleasing in our Sunday services; we’re all tempted to hear cute three-point bowtie sermons that teach us how to have better finances and nicer kids.  I do not believe in a self-help theology. 

But God is a God of help.  He gives grace in our time of need.  He lifts up the downcast and strengthens weak knees.  He entered into humanity to reverse the curse of sin. 

The Bible is also not disconnected from our daily struggles and concerns.  Scripture makes clear that life is about Him, but there’s plenty of wisdom there for us too.  I hope our pastors have a Bible in one hand and their church’s hurts in the other, because these things cannot be separated.

 

God will even make much of us so that He will make much of Him.  When David took out Goliath, he said it was so that “All those gathered here will know it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.

God won that day: but God was pleased to give the victory over to David because He knew David would center it on Him.

David and Ruth and Paul and Mary were certainly celebrated: but they maintained a mirror-status to reflect the one who mattered most. 

I think we need to relax about a lot of this stuff.  A theology that helps you is not a terrible thing.  I don’t think Christian theology would draw a jagged line between “man-centered” and “God-centered,” but really just sets the priority. God will do amazing things through us for His Glory, but we get to enjoy them.  We don’t get to boast in those things, but we get to enjoy boasting in the God who does them.  And God does care about every nuance and detail and worry of your life, so that His glory informs all those daily decisions.  

The Glory of God is not above your everyday worries.  It is, instead, in them, working through them, pointing to Him.

— J.S.

 

"It’s a glorious thing to be enabled by the atonement by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be freed from self and make much of God as your supreme joy in life. And it’s a glorious thing to delight in being made much of by God. Everything hangs on their ordering. Their ranking. Their being the bottom or not. That’s what I’m after.

"… God, everywhere in the Bible, loves us in such a way as to make clear his design in loving us is that he would be made much of. His design in making much of us is to make clear that his goal is that he be made much of."

— John Piper

It’s still amazing to me when people take notes while I’m preaching.

I mean I can hardly believe it.  Who am I?  A nobody.  A messenger.  A mirror.  Pointing to Him. 

To see people take such detailed notes: I feel so inadequate and so humbled.  It nearly wrecks me to tears, when I really think about it.

Oh, that I would not mislead, but only point to His grace and glory.

— J

Jan 8

Why I Don't Ever Want to Preach a Good Sermon by J.S. Park

I was published on Sermon Central!

An encouragement to pastors and Christian leaders: it’s not all about the sermon.

The original post is here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J