Category Archives: Missional Millennials

The five elements that define a Missional Millennial

Make Good Tables ~ renewing our sense of vocation

Whenever someone shares the call of God on their life with me, it seems almost invariably to do with a ministerial vocation…

“Lazo, God is calling me to be a pastor.”

“I think I’m being called into the ministry.”

“I have a heart for missions.”

“I want to be a church planter.”

As one who is in a full-time “ministry” vocation, I can’t help but get excited when others are sensing a similar calling. But I also can’t help but be a bit perplexed. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Lazo, I think God is calling me to be a school teacher!” or, “Chris, I think I’m being called to work at Habit Burger for a season!” or, “God is calling me to be a carpenter! Can you pray for me?” The only callings I ever hear about, as if these are the only ones that are worth a Christian’s excitement, have to do with some type of clerical ministry.

Maybe we think that the only  way to be faithful to God in our work, is if we are working for God in His church. It was normative in the middle ages to bifurcate the work of priests from that of the “laity.” In other words, if you wanted to do “holy” work, you had to get a job with the church. Everything else was menial. Of course, this divide was one of the false teachings that Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, and many reformers after them were quick to deny. For one, the doctrine of common grace reveals that there is no such divide between sacred and secular, for the entire sphere of life is under the domain of God’s benevolence. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch reformer, was famous for championing this worldview. He opined that if common grace is true “the curse should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life” (Kuyper, Lectures. 30). Secondly, God no longer sanctifies jobs, as he did in the Old Testament cultus, with its priestly duties and unique ministerial work. In the New Covenant, God sanctifies people (Heb. 2:11; 10:10; 13:12). This means that a vocation is sanctified by the Christian working in it, without separation between secular work and ministry. A carpenter is on the same mission as a pastor.

Unfortunately, many Christians carry on the same dreary divide between sacred and secular to this day. This is not to say that we don’t need callings in vocational ministry today. We do! But roughly 1% of a church assembly will ever go into “church” ministry. The overwhelming majority of a church membership will be in the world of science, arts, education, politics, technology, law, retail, etc. If our mindset is still stuck in the middle ages, many church-goers will not think of their vocations as holy callings, but menial jobs to trudge through before they find something more meaningful. But the church of Christ needs a renewal in its sense of vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister. We need school teachers who feel called by God to teach math. We need CEO’s who believe God has set them apart to lead well. We need construction workers who build for more than the paycheck. We need scientists who want to discover the world of God. We need grocery baggers who love to make grocers feel welcome and the environment hospitable. We need baristas who know how to deflect the grumpy demeanor of a sleepy customer with a smile and a mean cup of coffee.

But nonetheless, this divide continues still. Even our perception of what faithfulness means in a secular vocation is still highly spiritualized. For example, if we do suppose that our secular vocation is a calling of God, then we limit our understanding of job faithfulness to, say, evangelism, or perhaps the hope that a Bible study will spontaneously appear in the break room. But what about the content of our job descriptions? Do we think everything but doing our jobs well is what God is calling us to do? The Apostle Paul’s calling on every Christian is that “each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17, HCSB).

Timothy Keller quotes Dorothy Sayers in his book Every Good Endeavor,

The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. (Creed or Chaos, 56-7, emphasis mine)

Keller describes this as the “ministry of competence,” where Scripture directs skilled men and woman of God to greatness in what they do, faithfulness with their callings, and integrity in the workplace (76). The majority of Christians are not called to leave the secular behind to pursue ministerial vocations. We are called to be faithful where God has us now.

Think of the impact that simple stewardship of work would have on the world around us. If it is true that only 1% of a local church will ever pursue vocational ministry, than what of the 99%? Now I know that being a faithful employee will not save the lost. Nor will cultural transformation, or relational evangelism. Only the proclamation of the gospel can act as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the dead to life (Rom 10:14-15). But if  we Christians worked well in the field of our employment, perhaps our co-workers would take us more seriously when we share the story of redemption. Or even better, maybe they will start to ask us.

Short Blog Sabbatical – be back in September

I want to give you an apology for the unannounced lull in blogging. Some of you got my  blog posts in your email several time a week, and I have been dark for a month (maybe more??). To say the least, this season has been tumultuous, though highly enjoyable for me, my family, and my church.

For one, Britt Merrick, has taken a leave of absence as the pastor of vision and preaching at Reality.

This is so that he can completely devote his time and energy towards his daughter, Daisy Love, who is fighting through her third round of cancer in as many years. They have moved to Israel to seek temporary treatment. I love calling this man my pastor, who would put the well-being of his family above any other person, and even more proud of him for raising many people to step in to places of leadership. In this season, I will be filling in for him as the full-time interim pastor for preaching at Reality Santa Barbara. You can hear more of his announcement about this here:

Second, our beloved college ministry, Adorn, will be coming to a close at August 24.

Adorn has been an invigorating, refreshing, Christ-exalting journey, and it has changed my life for the better. You can hear the full explanation behind why we are transitioning during this move of God, and the fruitful testimony of what Christ has accomplished through Adorn in the last few years here:

In addition to these, Brianna and I will be bringing a daughter into the world on August 28!

All of this change is happening at once, and so my blog has taken a sad, but appropriate backseat. I will still continue to break from blogging due to the ongoing transitions, and until I can fully devote myself to writing, posting, researching, studying, and commenting. I am a blogging nerd, and I want to do it well, if at all. Now for the good news (depending on who you are)…

I plan on writing again in mid-September, and with a reinvigorated focus.

For the past few years, this blog has been actively engaged with and focused on Millennials—that generation born between 1980 and 2000—being on mission in Santa Barbara, CA. I have a deepening passion for my generation, and when I come back, you can expect that I will still preach, communicate, and write to them. But I will also be widening the focus of this blog to include the whole church in Santa Barbara, which aligns with my heart to see all generations maturing in their faith together, and gives me a chance to speak more about two things I also love: Christ and His church.

Until then, I am going dark, and I would love your prayers.

In addition to preparing my heart and life for my daughter, wife, Reality, and the transition from Adorn, I will also be prayerfully renewing my focus on the blog content that will again live here, so that when I return in a month, we can hit the ground running for the glory of God and the gladness of his people in him. If you subscribe to the blog, you will know when all of this happens!

Thank you for your readership, dialog, comments, and overall good spirits. I will see you very soon :-)

Adorn’s Finale part 2

Since last Friday, I have been submerged in testimonies from young men and women who’s lives are changed, not by graphics or clever organization, but by the gathering together in the presence of Christ.

This is the greatest victory: if college students experience Christ simply by gathering to study the Scriptures, be baptized, partake of the Lord’s Supper, sing, eat, and pray, then what we experience at Adorn on a larger scale–as with many similar gatherings across the nation–can be experienced anywhere by the very 20-somethings who have cultivated it for so long. Think of what would happen if these same college students were to siphon this passion into the local church as Jesus instructs us to? (Heb. 10:25). Ahh. I don’t think we would be able to bare the weight of His displayed glory. It’s for this that I hope, pray, and have been confidently preparing for the past four years, with the single-minded vision to experience Jesus together and teach others to do the same.

All of our confidence is in Christ Jesus, who takes Millennials, and creates beauty out of our chaos.

He is the only champion. He is the only hero. And he blessedly gave us Adorn as a set of training wheels, to set our burning affections towards him.

Now, our last Friday is August 24th. We will be devoting this last month to studying the God-given DNA we have experienced over the years, learning from the Scriptures of how we can cultivate this on our own, in community.

We are calling this, The Finale.

We have five weeks left, Adorners. Let’s make them count.

Adorn’s Finale

Adorn made a bittersweet announcement last weekend.

After four wonderful years of gathering together with college students in Carpinteria, Adorn has run her course. God is bringing us all through a wonderful, and needed transition. In this sermon, I give a full length explanation in words that I cannot imitate in a simple blog post. If you want to know more, you can view it here:

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section.

Thank you for all of your prayers!

Christian one-liners and tribal language

Christians have their own way of speaking to each other.

I was recently communicating the gospel worldview in a Christian church service, and used an illustration to describe the implications of following Jesus. I thought it was a great illustration–I tend to use metaphors and stories that are dramatic–and several Christians pointed out that the illustration was very convicting and effective for them. Christians respond well to certain phrases and one-liners. We use slogans that reflect where we are at in our faith, and they make sense to us.

I don’t think we realize how foreign we sound to people outside the church. I certainly did not.

Shortly after the gathering, a millennial, who was not a Christian or a church-member, approached me with a different response than what I was expecting. She shared with me that my illustration, and the things I said, were confusing and traumatic for her. It made her feel shamed, not convicted. Some of my phrases were foreign to her, kind of the way inside-jokes feel to an outsider who hasn’t been around long enough, and my passion only added to this, coming across condescendingly. She felt that I was looking down on her. Now, this girl was very humble, and gracious in her approach. She never accused me, and spoke in a way that was disarming and conversational. I never felt like she was complaining or attacking me in any way. But it was still a great surprise to me! I had no idea that I was coming across as judgmental. I apologized to her very quickly.

I have posted several blogs on the problem of Christianese (see reader comments!), why we should care what other’s think, that we must make our beliefs comprehensible, and how to speak in everyone’s language, because those outside of our church culture don’t understand the way Christians speak. This experience brought it even closer to home, and humbled me. What made it even more alarming was that the part of my teaching most Christians commented positively on, and that I was most proud of, produced the opposite experience for someone who does not regularly hang out with Christians. I failed to explain a simple truth in a way that she could understand, in fact, I communicated in a way that gave her the wrong impression of the gospel.

Our lingo can get lost in translation with other “tribes”

I was unaware of this happening because I am so deeply immersed in a church culture that I don’t know how foreign my words are to many people outside of the church. And apparently, lots of my friends talk the same way too, because afterwards, we give each other high-fives over something profound that was said, while others may have no clue what I meant. We can be great at explaining the gospel to each other, but not to those who have never heard it before. I’m really glad that girl spoke up, and was so nice about it. Not only did I get the opportunity to clarify myself, but I also got to understand her worldview, and dialog with her about Jesus and the church.

But now I wonder…how often do I speak in Christianese without even realizing it?

What is a Missional Church?

There are a few animated videos explaining a missional church. Some very popular videos have pitted the gathered church against missional churches, which is an unnecessary bifurcation—the church gathers and scatters.

This vid is short and unpolished, but so far, is my favorite, because it’s spot on.

An example of presuppositional apologetics in a conversation…

This is a continuation from yesterday’s post on navigating through clashing world-views

Person A: sexual abstinence is so archaic. You should think for yourself, and not let some ancient book and its outdated institutions keep you from a fulfilling life.

Christian: what does a “fulfilling life” look like to you in the way of relationships?

Person A: I am fulfilled when I am with the person I love, without limits being imposed on our mutual and consenting love. Sleeping together is the natural way to express that love, and limits keep us from enjoying it.

Christian: Not all rules are unloving—do you think laws governing DUI is a killjoy for people who want to drink and drive, or that traffic rules impose upon our driving?

Person A: That’s different. DUI’s kill people, and ruin the lives of others; sleeping together can only flame our commitment. Parameters are fine when they make sense.

Christian: I agree! There are some silly laws out there. But I just read a recent article put out by The New York Times on the downside to cohabiting before marriage. The author is not a Christian, but she seems to recognize the same value of sexuality that Paul taught. You might find it interesting!

Person A: Sure, text it to me.

Affirm the common ground (relationships should thrive). Point out the contradiction (all rules are bad). Offer the Christian worldview as hope for the tension in their worldview (cohabiting ruins healthy relationships).

Presuppositional Apologetics: interacting and challenging worldviews

I wrote a blog last year on apologetics, arguing that our culture requires a sacrificial love to persuade people more than a tenacious manhandling of reason and rhetoric. This blog post acknowledges the need for apologetics, when spoken well. As Conan O’Brien would say, “It’s all in the delivery.”

I have the joy of teaching Scripture to a group of Millennials at Adorn who lend me their ear every Friday night. But I can’t just explain the meaning of Scripture passages, I got to unpack life as a young adult in Southern California, with all its baggage, drama, and delicate navigation. So while I study the first century context of the Bible, I also diagnose my culture and age group, and like a physician, get a bit more clarity on where to apply the salve of the Gospel. You know what I learned very quickly? Millennials don’t speak in three-point propositions. No one does.

People live out a narrative, a series of connected scenes and events, because life is a story. 

Apologetics can be problematic if we only want to regurgitate what we learned form a book or classroom, since they are little more than reasoned arguments to justify a belief in something; they make for as much excitement as a field-trip to the DMV. Likewise, if someone was struggling with the reliability of the New Testament, it will probably not be very effective for you to overwhelm them with a bunch of technical facts straight out of the pike about extant Greek manuscripts, Canon formulation, and the science behind Textual Criticism. They would shut down in thirty seconds, and perhaps, leave you for the DMV. You see, factoids are interesting when you are on a personal journey to find them. But if you must first be persuaded to care, you need more than dry propositions. Why?

We don’t process information in bullet points very well; we process in story form.

Think about this. We don’t sit around coffee shops browsing our car manuals. We watch movies, and YouTube videos, read novels and magazines; we get inspired at news blurbs portraying the heroic deed of some kid and her puppy: because we love narratives, and we live in one. That’s why I rarely stop a good sermon illustration just to bombard my listeners with twelve boring points on the transmission of the Masoretic text or the top ten evidences that demand a verdict….unless I can take them into the unfolding story of how the transmission of Scripture happened. But if I can draw them into a scene where the aroma of the Masoretic papyrus circles the room, and they can watch the ink dry, well…then we have a sermon.

How do you use apologetics in story form?

First, let’s change the terms a bit. Let’s exchange the word “story” for “worldview.” A worldview is the lens by which we all make sense of the individual scenes in our life. Some world-views are good, and some are bad, but most world-views are a combination of good and bad.

I want to introduce you to presuppositional apologetics.

This branch of apologetics gets its name because Read the rest of this entry

When passion becomes apathy: A plea to my fellow millennials

Religious sensory override: our generation’s quest for unusual experience

We Californians live in a culture of religious sensory override.

We are only content with our faith when the senses that we do have (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) are overridden by an otherworldly experience. We want to feel something. I have seen college students who were at their most passionate when the Lord was speaking to them in dreams, visions, and prophetic words, only to crash and burn during the seasons when God was not present to bless in that way. They seem to judge this disappearing act solely on whether he “reveals” himself to them, not in the usual manner, such as Scripture, community, or common prayer, but in out-of-the-ordinary manifestations that override their five senses. These types of divine encounters are wonderful when they happen, and I believe they do. But we are addicted to them.

Anthropologist, Tanya Luhrman, spent years researching this spiritual trend. In a fascinating project, entitled, When God Talks Back, she points out that “the God of this evangelical church illustrates the dominant shift in American spirituality of the last forty years, towards a more intimate, personal, and supernaturally present divine” (Random House, 12). Millennials are all over this type of relational spirituality, as seen in the darkened atmospheres of gathered worship (such as the college ministry I pastor), individualized forms of communion, Jeffrey Bethke’s famous call to trade “religion” for a person, the way we always gauge “worship” by what we experienced, and countless other forms of expression that flow from our generation’s explosive passion and love for interconnected relationships, including the divine. I think these are mostly good things, until they come at the cost of necessity.

The Bible is a necessity, the essential precondition of the Christian life.

Worshippers that feast on supernatural affections may consider the Bible too archaic. It follows that those who favor supernatural encounters in prayer and worship, will sometimes do so to the neglect of reading Scripture, finding it too dry and unromantic. This gets exacerbated by any moment of felt need; prophetic visions can offer a specific answer in real-time, which seems much more suited to our fast paced, twitter-pated generation than tediously searching a dusty Bible hoping to find something relevant.

My guess, is that the times we do open the Bible, we open it without much of a plan. This simply reflects our faithless approach to those sensory overrides we cherish so much—e.g., we don’t need to plan or think when God is speaking to us directly through a prophetic word! And we don’t plan when we open up the Bible either, because we don’t view the Scriptures with the same intensity as God. Or the Hebrew believers for that matter.

Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg bring us into the world of the ancient rabbis, who “thought that study, and not prayer, was the highest form of worship…they pointed out that when we pray, we speak to God, but that when we study the Scriptures, God speaks to us” (Zondervan, L.417, emphasis mine). Read the rest of this entry

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