Lifetime Mentoring

March 25, 2015 Category :Blog| Leadership| Vision 0

Monday morning our son Josh and I sat down with a man who has been one of the most strategic mentors in my life of ministry. This man has not been a formal mentor; we have never met for a series of weeks or worked through a book together like so many imagine mentoring to be. We have not spent scores of hours talking. Yet when I look back over my life of ministry, his shadow looms large over me. Why? At critical junctures in my life he offered great wisdom, encouragement, and personal help which has shaped my trajectory profoundly.

In my late 20s I found myself in a position of significant leadership for a kid just turned 30, working with a network of almost 400 churches in the state of Indiana. Further, I was given the task of given specific leadership to youth evangelism.

I had a problem. I had just finished my classwork for the PhD, was ABD, and had done almost nothing with youth for years. As fate (read: God’s Providence) would have it, I encountered for the first time the same man in whose hotel room I sat this Monday morning. He offered to help me, to come and serve, and to give counsel. His advice far more than my leadership allowed us to see remarkable growth in the next few years.

The man’s name: Jay Strack. Jay has likely spoken to more youth and more youth pastors than anyone alive. He now leads a remarkable and unique ministry called Student Leadership University (SLU). I was honored to speak at a breakout at the Houston venue this week, for one of their Youth Pastor Summits, and thus Josh and I found ourselves fellowshipping with Jay.

From those days in about 1990 to today some 25 years later, Jay has strategically been used of God in my life. God called me as a young man to one thing above all else: to inspire and equip leaders in the church to advance the gospel. One way I’ve been able to do that is to serve SLU in various ways. But Jay and SLU have done far more for me than I could do for them.

Monday, again, Jay encouraged me. Last fall I spoke to about 100 leaders about revival. Jay was there. He remarked how he could see the hand of God on me as I shared that day. I felt like a 20something again, hearing these words of encouragement from a man who has shaped me as much as anyone.

Sometimes the right encouragement from a mentor comes as a refreshment from the Lord.

Jay taught me to love the next generation. My love for them is greater than ever.

He taught me to love those who lead the next gen. So, I now teach student ministry as well as evangelism, and write as many books for student pastors as for pastors.

He taught me to communicate with excellence to a diversity of audiences. Over the past month or so I have spoken to a network of church planters, student pastors, a pastors gathering, and on a college campus. And, most important of all, to my graduate students.

Jay taught me to love Jesus, to love revival, and to stay focused on the Word. We talked this week about the Jesus Movement, such great memories of a season that changed us both.

Jay taught me never to settle, not to be a skinny kid from Alabama trying to survive till Jesus returns, but to be the man of God He created me to be—to write, to teach, to preach, and to lead with excellence.

Above all else, Jay did one more thing. This past Monday, I watched him do for my son, a student pastor in his 20s, what he did for me starting 25 years ago. He encouraged Josh and gave him great wisdom.

Sometimes I get frustrated when I feel like I do not have time for every student who wants to see me, to answer every request to speak at this or write that or help with whatever. But this week I remembered that one of the most significant mentors in my entire life is a man with whom I have not spent more than eight full hours of serious conversation.

And yet, I had just the conversations I needed with him the past 25 years. How much was that? I had enough, that’s how much.

I pray that you and I would not be bound up in whether we are as available as we would like to be, but focus on using the time we do have to give the encouragement and wisdom needed in that moment. It could be one conversation is exactly what that student, young leader, or fellow believer needs. We as leaders are trajectory-shapers; may we guide well.


Thanks, Jay, for guiding my trajectory.


A Movement of Prayer

March 23, 2015 Category :Blog| Missional| Movements| Revival and Awakening 0

The church was birthed out of a prayer meeting.

Not a denominational think tank.

Not a seminary class.

Not a TED Talk, Elephant Room, or a leadership retreat.

A prayer meeting.

How much of your ministry was birthed in prayer? How many initiatives, plans, strategies, came out of a prayer meeting?

After His resurrection Jesus told His disciples to wait and to pray (Acts 1:4). And they did. For ten days. Following that, the Spirit came and thousands were saved (Acts 2).

Next, Peter and John went to the time of prayer when they met a crippled man (Acts 3). The man was both healed and saved. As a result of the gathering crowd, Peter preached and now over 5,000 men were saved (Acts 4).

After that persecution came. What did the church do? They prayed (4:23-31). And what did they pray? They prayed the gospel:

To a sovereign God,

Who created everything,

Whose creation is fallen and essentially gone mad,

But Whose plan of redemption was accomplished.

After acknowledging that, they asked of God. What did they ask? For boldness to proclaim the gospel. Not ease. Not deliverance.

I can only think of two times in the New Testament where someone prayed for things to get easier, and both times they were told no: Jesus in Gethsemane, asking the Father to remove the cup, and Paul with his thorn in the flesh. No, these early believers would not pass as  typical American Christians.

Matthew Henry has been famously quoted in one form or another that when God begins a fresh work of His Spirit, He sets His people to praying.

The story of movements of God is the story of movements of prayer.

The story of remarkable missions expansion is the story of prayer. One example:

Over a century ago a man named John Hyde went to India. He prayed so fervently and so faithfully he became known as Praying Hyde. In 1904 he and others developed the Punjab Prayer Union. Five questions stood at the center of their ministry:

  1. Are you praying for quickening in your own life. . . . your fellow workers, and in the church?
  2. Are you longing for greater power of the Holy Spirit . . . . Are you convinced that you cannot go on without this power?
  3. Will you pray that you will not be ashamed of Jesus?
  4. Do you believe that prayer is the great mean for securing this spiritual awakening?
  5. Will you set apart one-half hour each day . . . to pray for this awakening . . . ?

Many were reached and testimonies of revival came from Hyde’s ministry; he attributed it to prayer.

The question is not, do you believe in prayer? Most people do. The question is, do you pray believing? Or maybe more pointedly, are you?

[Adapted in part from Firefall 2.0]

The Shift in Evangelism We Need

March 21, 2015 Category :Blog| Missional 1

This week I had lunch with a colleague, a New Testament scholar who also has served for years both as a pastor and as a missionary. He wanted to talk with me about the evangelism malaise of our time. Baptisms are down; many churches struggle to reach a younger generation; and, some social ideas of morality once shared with the church now diverge significantly. Are we in a season of dryness, he asked? We talked about times when we in our personal ministries and the church as a whole witnessed seasons of greater or lesser response to the gospel. I agreed with him that no doubt we seem to be in a “dry” season compared, for instance, to the early 70s and the Jesus Movement, but I added another perspective. Part of the problem I believe lies in the church’s inability to make necessary changes in how we share the unchanging gospel in an effective way today.


I often quip that if the 1950s come back, a lot of our churches are ready to roll. That’s no disrespect to the 1950s, for the church was pretty contextual then. It’s a recognition that a lot of folks, including a lot of people who love evangelism, confuse a given method with the great comission. The great commission requires strategy, applying the timeless gospel in a timely way, not simply rubber-stamping what worked in other times and places.

The gospel does not change. But we need a shift, a missional shift, in our evangelism. This shift can be summarized: we must start our evangelistic conversations (conversations, not presentations, but that is another discussion for another day) in the world view of the hearer, not in our worldview. We start where they are and take them to Jesus. Why? A few reasons.

First, we cannot assume the typical person we speak to today has a shared worldview with ours. We once could, but not so much now. Second, we need to show and share as much of the gospel as possible, including the whole grand narrative of the gospel, rather than just getting a quick presentation across. This will help connect what they see as truth with the greater truth of the gospel. For instance, you don’t have to be a believer to see the world is beautiful. But a believer can show an unbeliever how the beauty of creation is part of God’s larger redemptive plan.

Third, our witness can move them from error to see the biblical idea. This is what

Paul did at Mars Hill in Acts 17, beginning with their idolatry and with creation, taking them to Jesus. Which leads me to the fourth reason, because that’s how they did it in the Bible. Peter in Acts 2 started in the Old Testament and a Messiah because he was speaking to devout Jews. Jesus started with water and the idea of thirst with the Samaritan woman because they were at a well. And, as noted Paul did the same at mars Hill.

Because the Bible is true and the revelation from God, the gospel explains the great questions of life (How did it all begin? What went wrong? What can be done? What does the future hold?). The central idea of Scripture applies to all areas of life. For example, students love movies. Hollywood can hardly be described as evangelical in its posture, yet filmmakers create

movie after movie that gives us an opportunity to point people to the gospel. Think about some common plotlines of movies and stories. A man falls in a hole and is rescued. Sounds uninspiring, but people make millions on movies with that story line, in particular action stories like Braveheart or The Lord of the Rings. Or try this one: Boy meets girl, things are exciting, then things go badly, but in the end boy gets girl and they both find happiness. Pretty much every romantic comedy follows that story line. Or here is one we all love: rags to riches. You know, Cinderella, The Princess Diaries, and others in which someone in an unfortunate

situation finds their way out.

Movie after movie, novel after novel, from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to The Hunger Games, story after story points us to a general plotline: Things typically start off pretty well, then things go badly, often involving a villain, followed by a resolution, often involving a rescuer or hero, and the proverbial ending, “and they all lived happily ever after.”

The story line I gave you above follows the basic story line of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Rescue, Restoration. Why do we have such a hunger for a happy ending? Because we seek that which only the gospel can give. How can it be that great stories in literature or film that seemingly have nothing to do with Christianity actually illustrate its core idea? Because the Bible is not primarily a book about morality, but about reality. Christianity — defines reality, the reality that matters most. In fact, all reality fails to make sense unless we see it through the lens of Christ and His work.

We as Christians need to be overwhelmed with the grandeur, the wonder, the beautiful graciousness of the gospel story, that God would rescue us! And, when we share that with others, let’s start with where they are and help walk them to Christ.

Friday Fire: Revival and College Students–My Podcast with the Collegiate Collective

March 20, 2015 Category :Blog| Revival and Awakening| Student Ministry 0

This past Monday I had the honor of recording a podcast with my friend Brian Frye of the North American Mission Board as part of a college resource called the Collegiate Collective.

We talked about what revival is and the role of college students in revival. This is an outstanding resource for anyone in the local church or a parachurch ministry affiliated with college students, or for parents or students themselves.

The link to the podcast and the site is HERE. Check it out, and note these points discussed in the podcast:

Key Questions:

  • How does a “revival” differ from an “awakening”?
  • How significant of a role have college students have played in the history of revival and awakening?
  • What has been the role of prayer in historical revivals?

Notable Points:

  • “Revival is a movement of God, on the people of God, creating a fresh passion for God, that leads to an advancement of the gospel.”
  • The story of history is that college-aged people lead the movement during seasons of revival. “The Great Awakening was a youth movement.” – Jonathan Edwards
  • Studying the stories of awakenings of the past can help collegiate ministers and students understand how God may be at work today.
  • “A sailor doesn’t produce or control the wind, but a good sailor knows how to harness the wind to move the boat forward.” G. Campbell Morgan
  • “The Church was born in a prayer meeting” (Acts 1)