A Cartography of Christian Publishing

When I was in school geography was one of my favorite subjects. I actually went to the state geography bee when I was in middle school because the spelling bee was too mainstream.

I like to know the lay of the land and often that involves reading maps. Or, taking aerial photographs when the opportunity presents itself. Because you’re curious, that is the mouth of Tampa Bay when viewed from above and the thin line across it is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Anyway, you may be (rightly) wondering what this has to do with the title of the post. Well, I’ve been thinking for a while that it might be helpful to do a little cartography when it comes to Christian publishers and authors. I’ll tie this into the semi-abandoned series on book reviewing by explaining how to connect with the various publishers if that’s what your’e into. But, mainly I’ll focus on differentiating the publishers out there and giving you some authors to know.

If I were to imagine a table of contents it might look like this:

  • Publishers
    • Baker/Baker Academic
    • B&H/B&H Academic
    • Brazos
    • Crossway
    • Eerdmans
    • Fortress Press
    • IVP/IVP Academic
    • Moody
    • P&R Publishers
    • Wipf & Stock
    • Zondervan/Zondervan Academic
  • Book Series
    • NSBT
    • NET
    • SIET
    • Counterpoints
    • Spectrum
    • PTMS
    • TCL
  • Authors
    • Vern Poythress
    • John Frame
    • Oliver Crisp
    • J. I. Packer
    • Matthew Levering
    • Michael Bird
    • John Walton
    • Cornelius Van Til

Now, that’s just a start as far as authors. And, if I’m being honest, it is a list mostly related to books I need to review. But, pro-tip, this is part of making reviews more interesting than book reports. I’m sure I’ll add authors as well. And, if you’re not clear on what the abbreviations in the book series list stand for, that’s perfect because then I can explain it.

I’ll probably get the ball rolling on this series some time next month. I’m open to suggestions to be added to any of the above lists. At the end of the day, I want to provide a general overview of publishers, authors, and series to keep an eye out for if you’re serious about biblical and theological reading. Hopefully, I can do better at that than I did at the state geography bee.

All Cell Detox: Thoughts on Being Tech-Wise

I joked earlier on Instagram that I had been taking this supplement and now I can’t find my phone. The truth is, I’ve been doing some summer reading that’s reshaping how I think about technology in general, and phones in particular.

It all started back in April when I did a brief review of Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. In my conclusion, I said,

My main takeaway from reading the book is that it starts a conversation we should all be having. I know that my life has changed radically since I purchased my first iPhone in 2009. Whether for advances in productivity (thanks to apps like Things and Evernote) or the pull of imminent distraction (thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter being accessible at all times), my daily life is no longer the same. Rather than treating technological advances as givens, we ought to think about the good as well as the potential bad they bring.

You can read the whole thing here, and I think still get a free copy if you join Christ & Pop Culture.

Around this same time, I also read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family. My biggest take-away from that book is that I own my iPhone, not the other way around. It should go to bed before I do, and I should rise and shine before it does. I’ve slowly adapted toward this, but I still need to get an actual alarm clock for it to work.

Since then, I’ve been reading various books on technology, productivity, and social media. I mentioned this already, but after reading Deep Work, I deleted social media (minus Instagram) from my phone. I’ve actually since deleted my mail app (Inbox and the native Apple one).

Because I’m still sitting at the computer more than usual this summer, I still have access to the social media sites, and still probably check them more than I should. But, when I’m away from the computer, I’m more or less away from the computer.

And you know what?

Life actually goes on. Nothing has happened that made me reconsider the decision, and my thoughts have been clearing up so much I’m not particularly tempted to go back.

When I’m at the gym in the morning, I tend to catch up on blogs I read and even outline article ideas instead of scrolling aimlessly through Twitter and Facebook. It ends up being a great time to sort out my thoughts at the beginning of each day. It’s also before I’ve checked e-mail or anything, and shortly after I’ve gotten up. If you’re looking for a way to start the day with clarity, I’d highly recommend it.

In the midst of this, I’ve been thinking through how social media and technology use relates to ministry and teaching. There are a couple of resources I’d recommend on the subject, but I’m going to save them for our newsletter. In our next update, I’m going to how this summer reading is hopefully going to change what student ministry looks like in the fall.

If you’d like to read more about that, use the form below to sign up for the newsletter. In it, I’ll be sharing insights from my reading that I won’t cross-post here. I also go into detail about future plans for the college ministry as well as our prayer requests and needs.

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How I Organize My Library

Summer is often a time of refreshing. You might not expect that because it is often miserably hot outside here in Florida. But, I like to do some organizing and cleansing over the summer and this takes places in many domains.

After nearly becoming without form and void, my library was in need of an overhaul. Conceptually, this weighed on my mind for a couple of weeks before I could get started. I try to organize by topic and work with the available shelf space. Also, annoyingly to some, I do not put books in alphabetical order. I simply group them by topic and fit the books into the cubbies as space allows.

Because of that, I can usually tell someone where a given book is off the top of my head. This is always helpful until they borrow the book and I never see it again.

It doesn’t happen all that often, and judging from the pictures below, you’d probably imagine it doesn’t hurt the overall scale when it does.

You can’t quite see it off to the left, but there exists my Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson section that merges into the pop culture collection.

The rest of the shelf is apologetics, which in my mind includes worldview stuff, world religions, history, politics, science, sports, and music. It’s an eclectic blend, but I think it makes the most logical sense.

Over by my side of the bed, I’ve collected some favorite authors:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer
  • Vern Poythress
  • Peter Leithart
  • Arthur Custance (haven’t heard of him have you?)
  • Eugene Peterson
  • John Piper
  • Tim Keller
  • David Bentley Hart
  • David Wells
  • N. T. Wright (popular level trilogy)
  • Carl Trueman

Over by Ali’s side of the bed, I put the marriage books, as well as Christian living and some practical theology (slight difference in my mind between the two). I also have all my counseling books here.

In my office, you’re immediately greeted by some crate shelves with pastoral leadership, business, discipleship, and writing books. You’ll also notice three matrushkas my dad got in Russia. Some might call them Russian nesting dolls, but since they’re football players it doesn’t seem appropriate.

Here by reading chair, you’ll notice some crates with history books, particularly those by Susan Wise Bauer. You’ll also see my beer/food shelf for some research I’ve been doing. On the desk, I’ve collected by study Bibles for easy access.

Here is the theology shelf. Not quite as big as you’d expect right? That’s what happens favorite authors end up filed in other places. Down to the left you’ll notice what is not a currently reading section and a small assortment of church history books that didn’t fit elsewhere.

The much larger shelf contains not only the biblical studies and hermeneutics books, but houses my collection of SeaWorld animals. One is for studying, the other is for inspiration, you decide which is which. You may notice what appears to be a blank cubby, but don’t worry, it has been filled.

And last but not least, the fiction shelf out in the living room. On the opposite is the DVD collection. This shelf also includes Lewis and Tolkein for obvious reasons.

It took about a week, but I think in the end it was worth it. My workflow is always better when things like this are organized, and the aesthetic elements is an added bonus.

Why We’re Studying Ruth This Summer

Over the course of this summer, I’m leading a Bible study on Ruth with college students. SHIFT hasn’t historically done things over the summer, but since we were just stepping into being more involved, I wanted to do at least something during June and July.

For a variety of reasons, I thought Ruth would be a good book to study. First, it’s relatively short. Because of this, it’s also a story many people are already familiar with, making it easier to dig in a little deeper. Second, it’s a great place to start learning to see the Gospel in the Old Testament. The way Boaz acts models Christ in many tangible ways. Third, it’s particularly relevant in both sociological and political senses. I’ll elaborate on this more in the future, or you can use your imagination.

When doing a Bible study, I like to focus on helping students really see what’s there in the text. I also like to draw theological principles from the narrative that can then be used as starters for application. I’m also fond of digging into historical and cultural background in order to make the “weird” parts make more sense. Often, those parts end up being more important than you think. Ruth, as we’re about to find out in chapters 2 and 3, is no exception.

All in all, it’s the perfect test book for a two month summer study. It also helps that Ruth was the focal point for one of my Hebrew classes at Dallas. That gives me a bit of a head start in preparing each week as I could shoot from the hip and probably be fine. But, I like to do a little refreshing and the main way I’ve been doing that is with Daniel Block’s Ruth.

One of my favorite commentary series is the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. A few years back, they released a counterpart to it called Hearing the Message of Scripture. I posted about the inaugural volumes on Obadiah and Jonah respectively. They’ve since rebranded the series to complement the NT one and now it’s just called Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament.

This volume by Block is the first in the rebooted series. I like the layout of the commentaries because they mimic the exegetical method we were taught at Dallas. There is the added feature that these commentaries focus on discourse analysis.

Because you’re curious what that means, here is Block explaining the goal of the series:

The primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard. While we recognize the timelessness of the biblical message, the validity of our interpretation and the authority with which we teach the Scriptures are related directly to the extent to which we have grasped the message intended by the authors in the first place (9-10).

He then goes on to elaborate how this connects to discourse analysis:

Discourse analysis, also called macro syntax, studies the text beyond the level of the sentence (sentence syntax), where the paragraph serves as the basic unit of thought (10).

In this way the series differs a bit from its New Testament counterpart in focus on larger units for comment. The NT series lays out each verse in Greek and then comments verse by verse. This series goes discourse by discourse.

When it comes to the individual chapters of the book, the structure is similar. Each chapter of the commentary has these sections:

  • The Main Idea of the Passage
  • Literary Context
  • Translation and Exegetical Outline
  • Structure and Literary Form
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Canonical and Practical Significance

There is usually a select bibliography as well that begins the commentary (similar to NICOT). Particular to this volume, Block opens with a translation of Ruth as a whole and divides the book into Acts like a play. He also offers an outline for a dramatic reading of the book at the end.

In terms of the commentary itself, there is untransliterated Hebrew in the main body, but usually parenthetically. Readers untrained in the original languages can ignore these parentheticals, as well as most of the footnotes where the more technical discussion takes place (again, not unlike NICOT).

One potential downside is that it would be difficult to locate specific comments on a specific verse in this commentary. For what I’m using it for, it’s not a downside since I’m reading straight through sections at a time (I read everything on chapter 2 today for instance). But, if you had a quick question about a phrase or a word, it’s not as easy to locate Block’s comments on it as it would in a different series.

However, that’s why it is usually best to consult several commentators on a given book. I would normally do that, but I also happen to be doing some editing work on an on-line study Bible, and I read through the Ruth notes today for work and for Bible study prep (nice how that works out sometimes). I’m also going to consult another volume (the NICOT one, you probably know my second favorite series at this point) here as a I wrap up this post.

In the end, I would highly recommend not only studying the book of Ruth in more detail, but using this volume on Block as a companion to help you see how the story fits together. There is much more to Ruth than a casual reader in English would pick up. Using a tool like this will help you see with new eyes what’s been there all along.

Rebuilding My Morning Routine

Yesterday, I explained how I use my summer breaks. I mentioned working out first thing in the morning, something I haven’t historically done.

My history with a morning routine goes back to when I worked at Lowe’s between high school and college. I often opened, which meant getting there at 6am. Since I didn’t particularly enjoy being tired all the time, the first step I implemented was a conservative bed time.

When I went to Word of Life, they had required quiet time every morning before class. Because I was a tech guy half the class days, I had to get to class at 7:15, which I then I spent reading until class started.

This carried over to my post Word of Life years, when I started working at Starbucks (as pictured above), and once again had opening shifts (which were 5:30 instead of 6:oo). On days I didn’t work, I began to keep getting up fairly early and went to Starbucks for free coffee. And then I sat and read. And thus a routine was born.

This ritual remained more or less stable for the last 10 years. The whole time I was at Dallas, even when I had 7am Hebrew classes, I was still up earlier, coffee in hand, reading (or studying Hebrew).

If you’ve ever wondered how I read so many books, now you know. I’ve already been reading for an hour before many people hit the snooze button. While this has had its advantages for me, I’ve felt for a long time that I need a more fully developed morning routine.

Back in the spring, I came across an article called 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8am. They are:

  1. Get a healthy 7+ hours of sleep
  2. Prayer and meditation
  3. Hard physical activity
  4. Consume 30g of protein
  5. Take a cold shower
  6. Listen to/read uplifting content
  7. Review your life vision
  8. Do at least one thing toward long-term goals

Notice that the very first thing is actually something you do the day before. Over these past 10 years, I’ve somewhat ruthlessly reverse engineered by mornings by guarding my bed time. While I’m a little lax this summer, I tend to go to bed around 10 in order to get up around 5-5:30. This will shift earlier in August to probably going to bed around 9-9:30 in order to be at the gym by 5:15.

That would put me back home around 6:30. By 7:00, I’ll have had the 30g of protein (actually between 45-60g, because I need 235g a day), taken the shower, and started my quiet time. In that way, I’m actually combining the prayer and reading. That leaves the review of the life vision and then doing at least one thing toward long-term goals. Because of my schedule works, on days I don’t teach, I’ll immediately do that thing. Teaching days, I’ll schedule when that thing will happen. For now, that thing is writing 1000 words a day.

I’m doing that because I want to develop as a writer. I also foresee needing to write more frequently for things related to SHIFT. I also would like to one day complete a dissertation, which takes a disciplined approach to writing that I don’t currently have. When you write on a strictly as needed basis, it’s harder to write when you need to. If you write everyday, it becomes easier to at least get the ball rolling on a draft for something.

If I apply the reverse engineering to finishing a Ph.D by the time I’m 40, then I need to develop a disciplined writing habit now. So, doing that everyday is working towards a long-term goal. But, it is also serving several short time goals related to teaching, research and editing, and preparing materials for SHIFT.

I’ve found in the past 10+ years of having a morning routine that if you do something first thing, it usually always gets done. Seems simplistic, but you should start your day with the most important things. If there are habits you want to develop, batch them together in the morning and they will probably stick.

If you’re going to do that, I recommend doing it in phases instead of all at once. So, for instance, when I decided to rebuild my morning habit. I started with the exercise portion. I purchased some workout supplements (this is a referral link, FYI) that included a pre-workout. The dosage includes just under 400mg of caffeine, which is what my Trenta Cold Brew contained.

When I wake up, I wander into the kitchen and mix up the pre-workout, drink it, and then I have 15-30 minutes to get to the gym and get moving. I also can’t bail and go to Starbucks and read instead, because I don’t really want to know what would happen.

In order to re-wire, I started doing this on June 1st. It was a Thursday, but the beginning of summer in my mind (it was my first full day off after teaching responsibilities). I’ve been in the gym lifting for an hour every weekday since then. This past week Thursday, I added cardio to the end of the routine in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). When I get home, I take the necessary recovery supplements, eat, and then start working on what needs to get done for the day.

This week, I’m going to start bumping my start time up earlier and re-integrate reading. I’m also re-building my quiet time, something I’ll tell you more about next week.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to consider a similar morning ritual. When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t need to include the intensity of lifting. There are plenty of excuses to not exercise (at all) and particularly in the morning. But, often it’s because you try to go from nothing to what I’m doing without taking into account your average speed. Which is to say, look at what you’re currently doing, and then increase to the next logical step, not necessarily your final goal. Basically, try starting smaller, like using the 7-minute workout.

If you do, here’s a sample morning routine:

  • Wake-up well rested
  • 7-minute workout
  • Cold shower (closes the pores and ensures you’re wide awake now)
  • Coffee/breakfast
  • Quiet time
  • Review goals and vision
  • Do one thing

Depending on your quiet time length (let’s estimate 20-30 mins to read something and pray), you’re looking at less than an hour of total time before you get to the goal reviewing stage. If you’ve planned accordingly the night before, it is not incredibly hard to get up and get going, especially if you plug your phone in across the room and have to jump up when the alarm goes off.

How I Use My Summer Break Wisely

I often get asked what I do over the summer. I wish I could say, well I just sit around and read. But, the main thing I do is figure out how to replace my teaching income for 2 months. After that, then I read.

That process actually starts late spring, when I start trying to line up work for the summer. I’ve been doing this since 2013 when I went back to working at Starbucks briefly. In general though, I’ve tried to pick up extra work with the research group I work for. Or, I’ve tutored some guys in Greek. Or, I’ve picked up extra music students. You get the idea.

Well, at least that’s what I’ve normally done. Because of the need to raise support, and the need to plan for the fall with SHIFT, I’ve taken a different tactic this summer.

Earlier this past spring, I reconnected with a tech rental company I worked for from 2005-2015. Because of availability, they closed Orlando right at 2 years ago. But there was an emergency job in Tampa back in March. We reconnected and I let them know our availability was wide open because Ali wasn’t working and Matt needed extra work. Then, in May, Ali and I did enough jobs to replace my first missing teaching paycheck.

Since school’s been out, I’ve been working on a extensive project for the research group. Ali has also started working two out of three part time jobs (the last one finishes training Wednesday). So, it looks like we’re set for covering the missing money, and God gets all the glory for the logistics.

This leaves a bit more time and attention to focus on what I really need to do this summer. You’re probably thinking “read,” but actually no. I need to build some habits that will be sustainable in the fall and lead to more productivity and human flourishing. Specifically, the humans I want flourishing are me and Ali, individually and together.

A big motivation for this is the change from what we had been doing to being more focused on ministry. While it might seem counterintuitive, I’ve always been struck by the way Michael Hyatt suggests ordering your life priorities:

  • God
  • Self
  • Family
  • Work
  • Church
  • Everything Else

I would add friends somewhere in the mix after family and work, but they might be ok in the everything else category. Many people don’t necessarily think that it’s God then me before anyone or anything else. You know, Jesus, then others, then you spells JOY. That’s true to a certain extent, but it depends on how you frame it.

It’s not so much “me” as in “whatever I want,” but “me” as in “what is going to lead to my flourishing so I can lead others in flourishing.” What I’ve realized is that if “me” is framed in terms of consumption, then it won’t work out very well. But, if “me” is framed in terms of production, organization, and health, then it is best to put me first.

The reason for that is that to the extent that I am guarding my own mental, emotional, and spiritual health, to that same extent I’ll be available and able to help and serve others. I think and feel better the more I am exercising. So, rather than it being a vain add-on to a busy schedule, I’ve made it the first thing I do every morning. I’ll explain that a bit more tomorrow, but for now I want to focus on the philosophy of it all.

In a similar manner, if I am not having communal time with God on a regular basis, I won’t really lead others to do the same. I also won’t have much of a walk with God to share about with other people, which won’t particularly encourage them to value that sort of thing.

If I’m not reading regularly, my mind isn’t staying sharp and I’m not as able to think on my toes during Ask Anything Friday’s at school. And, because of my history of reading, I have plenty of mental material to pull on most days teaching. I teach out of the overflow of my own learning, and I think that has proven time and time again to be an advantage.

What I’ve come to see and really believe in is that ministry functions much the same way. It isn’t something you do to fill a void in your own life. And it isn’t giving other people your leftovers at the end of the day. It’s inviting people into the fullness of joy you’re already experiencing and encouraging and helping them imitate you as you imitate Christ.

This is more crucial to discipleship than people often realize. If I am going to disciple someone, I am essentially aiming to reproduce myself, for better or for worse. I’ve thought back over the past years and realized that I think I’ve replicated my strengths as well as weaknesses in guys that I’ve mentored. To some extent that’s not avoidable. But, it’s something to be conscious of, and when those weaknesses are because of inattention or laziness, you can do something about it.

So, when it comes to my time over the summer, there is a fair amount of reading. But, unlike previous summers, I’m more intentionally spending time doing things that will prepare me for what lies ahead in the fall. That does mean being a bit more introverted, but I’m using that introvert time a little differently. I’m obviously spending a bit more time writing, but I’m also trying to reconnect with old friends and get together in more one on one ways with students.

At the end of the day, I’m spending my summer trimming the fat off my mind and body so I’m in better shape for the upcoming school year. Tomorrow, I’ll explain a bit more about that, and also what you should be doing in your morning routine, but might not be.

3 New Books on Evangelism

Last Friday, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. Unlike an ambush on Christmas morning a few years back, I saw them coming. I answered the door and the guy introduced himself and his wife, and then starting talking about comfort and read me 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

I mentioned that Ali has these verses tattooed on her back, which was accidentally wrong because its vv. 5-6. But, he then asked if we were religious or something like that, and I was like, yeah I’m a Bible teacher and we work with an on-campus ministry at UCF.

He quickly hit the eject button, offering me a Watchtower pamphlet and vaguely wondering if I might compare it to what I’d been taught. They were then on their way, and within 15 more minutes had canvassed our entire short neighborhood and were gone.

Now, part of me admires their courage in going door to door. I’ve done it before in other countries, and for a several weeks in Manhattan and I hated it. I also didn’t think it was very effective, especially since we’re called to make disciples and not converts.

But, it got me reflecting on evangelism, what works and what doesn’t, and how to pursue it in your personal life. Since I also have 3 recent books I’ve received for review on the topic, it seemed the stars had aligned (which is the subject of another post).

Questioning Evangelism

This is the best book I’ve read on the subject. I read the first edition back while I was at Dallas. Now Kregel has published a second expanded edition  of Randy Newman’s book (and sent me a review copy!).

The first part explains why asking questions is the best strategy. The second chapter leans heavily into Proverbs for biblical basis. The next part comprises 7 chapters that each deal with questions people are asking. Newman hits all the hot topics, and offers sample dialogues in the process. The final part explores the personal side of evangelism and deals with our hearts in the process.

The main thing that is new to this edition is dealing with questions related to Christian stances on homosexuality. That wasn’t as much of an issue when the first edition came out (no pun intended). Much like the other chapters, Newman offers answers not only to the questions posed to Christians, but offers questions we can ask that can help flip the script.

In the end, I think this is what makes the book most helpful. We should be ready to give an account for what we believe and why. But, we should also be able to question others in a gracious manner. I’ve often found that questions can change the tone of a discussion. They can also be a way to get people thinking about their own views as they seek to challenge mine. If you’d like an encouraging read that will help you do that better, you should check this book out!

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

This book by Alvin Reid was sent to me by B&H. Compared to the previous book, this is more of a general theology of evangelism, with encouragement to people who aren’t keen on it. It’s a kind of demystifying approach that I think can be helpful.

Each chapter deals with a principle, which are helpfully collected on page 119:

  • God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you
  • In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself
  • Shifting from giving an evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever
  • God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others
  • Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face
  • Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live
  • Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you
  • Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly

After the principles, there is an 8 week challenge that readers can use to start living out the principles after reading the book. I think this book would work well in tandem with the previous since it is more of a philosophy and theology of evangelism itself, rather than an extensive look at one aspect (asking and answering questions). It also doesn’t get too far into answering objections, but I think it goes a great length to build confidence and a lay good foundation that will flourish in the future.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

If you noticed a trend in books on evangelism, and even in two out of the three I’m mentioning, you’re not wrong. Whether you’re freaking out, or just view yourself as a non-evangelist, most books on the subject are geared for you.

This one by Mark Teasedale, courtesy of IVP, is primarily aimed at teachers and students, rather than the person in the pew. While fairly short (under 150 pp), it is more or less designed to be used as a seminary or Bible school textbook. It is also designed to be used by the broadest range of denominational backgrounds, so most people I think reading this blog won’t find its theological framework helpful.

Compared primarily to the other two, I didn’t find this one as helpful. I wouldn’t use it in my classes, and I wouldn’t have students in SHIFT read it. I would however encourage them to read the other two, and would encourage you to do the same.

Why Are We Raising Support?

In a perfect world, I would have a full-time job in some type of vocational ministry. It’s what I know I am called to do, and it’s what I spent 8 years in school for. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s Dallas Theological Seminary’s as well.

But, we don’t currently live in a perfect world. We live in a world that is being made new, but it hasn’t arrived. Because of that, what should be the case, is not always what is the case. Some of that is because the world is broken. Some of that is because I think God has had us on a different path.

If we rewind 6 years, Ali and I had just moved to Florida after I graduated. Rather than go to whatever church would hire a newly minted Th.M from Dallas to do pastoral ministry, we moved to be closer to her family. There was some restoration that needed to take place, and we felt that was what took first priority.

We also felt that it might be best to find a church in the area and be ministered to for a while before stepping into any kind of leadership role. And along those lines, we thought it might be better to find a church that would need pastoral help down the road and serve faithfully off the books until a need for staffing would arise.

That never actually panned out, in part because of leadership dynamics, and in part because of the church’s financial situation. I wasn’t too bummed at the time because it was becoming more and more obvious it was not a healthy church.

If we rewind to last fall, we had the opportunity to not only look for a new church, but potentially send my resume to churches looking to hire. We had done that back in 2013 and God didn’t open any doors. This time around, we didn’t feel any leading to pursue that option.

The main reason why is that since we’ve been here, we’ve really felt called to minister to students at ICS, the high school where I teach, and the university that’s across the street.

The school is on a university model, which means even though I have taught all the available periods (for the most part the past couple of years), it was only for 3 days a week. That means I am part time, as well as hourly, and only for 10 months out of the year.

Because of that, since 2013, I have had at least two additional jobs that have flexible scheduling (but not always available work). And because of that, Ali has always had to work full-time, which at Panera actually meant at least 40, but sometimes 50 or more hours a week.

While we might both feel this calling to minister to and disciple students, neither of us really had much spare time to do that. And often, the time that was available was more wisely spent on recovering since you need to minister out of an overflow not a deficit (something we learned the hard way a few years back).

This all started to change around this time last year when we first started raising support as missionaries to students in east Orlando. We are crossing a culture in legitimate ways, and are called to a people in a specific geographic location.

Over the past year, that calling has been clarified and refined, and back in March, the opportunity opened up to go on staff with SHIFT. Because of how it is financially structured, being on staff means raising support for income. Would we prefer to have a job that offered its own salary? Sure. But, we feel this is the opportunity that God that has put before us, and so we’re being faithful to what we’re called to do.

Now, there’s a few ways we could go about this. We could aim to raise enough money to quit every other job, and just focus on college ministry. In order to do that, we would need to raise at least $6,000 in monthly investments in our ministry.

That may seem like a lot. But when you factor in the administrative fees and our own personal giving, it actually leaves us with around $4,500 in spendable income. Without being too transparent in our budget, our monthly bills (which are 90% non-negotiable) are $3000. That leaves $1500 a month for food, gas, and anything else that comes up (like savings and incidentals like car repairs).

Trying to be both wise and realistic about this, we decided to not initially aim to raise the entire amount for at least two reasons. First, I want to continue teaching at ICS. We see what we’re doing in college ministry as on a continuum with high school ministry. Second, we would rather have a diversified stream of income, rather than everything coming from support. Getting to $6000 monthly would take several big donors. If they pull out down the road, it’s potentially devastating to the budget.

At present, we’ve also raised just over $1000 in monthly commitments. Since I can’t maintain three part time jobs, teach at ICS, and work with SHIFT in the fall, one of my part time jobs will fall off, and the other two will be reduced to five or less hours a week. That means I’ll be working right around 40 hours when you factor in work with SHIFT and a slightly reduced teaching load compared to previous years. Ali will have two part time jobs that entail about 11 days of work a month, and a third that will have flexible as needed scheduling.

That leaves us hoping to split the difference and raise between $2500-3000 in monthly support by this fall. If we raise less, we have to keep working our side jobs more. If we raise more, we can spend most of our energy reaching and discipling the next generation.

I realize that this is an impersonal call, but I’d like to prayerfully consider partnering with us on a monthly basis. You can do so at this link. Select 102 in the dropdown, fill everything in as requested, and let me know if you have any questions.

While you are supporting our budgetary needs, you are really investing in kingdom work that can be accomplished through two people that have a solid track record living on mission. You’re not helping us, you’re helping them, and we’re just the conduit. The conduit doesn’t need to be gold-plated, but to mix metaphors, it does need to pay the bills to keep the water running. Prayerfully consider whether God might lead you to be part of process of reaching these students in east Orlando.

The Well-Educated Mind: Autobiography and Memoir

Last week, I posted a list of novels from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. The next section in her book covers autobiography and memoir, which is a bit more complicated than you might think.

After giving a brief overview of the history of criticism of the genre, Bauer guides readers through the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of reading. Here are those questions:

Grammar-Stage Reading (129-132)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • What are the central events in the writer’s life?
  • What historical events coincide – or merge – with these personal events?
  • Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer’s life? What events form the outline of that story?
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (132-137)

  • What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
  • Where is the life’s turning point? Is there a “conversion”?
  • For what does the writer apologize? In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
  • What is the model – the ideal – for this person’s life?
  • What is the end of the life: the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
  • Now, revisit your first question: What is the theme of this writer’s life?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (137-141)

  • Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
  • What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography? (When the events happened, when they were written down, when they were read)
  • Where does the writer’s judgment lie?
  • Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
  • What have you brought away from this story?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated novel list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels) to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

I’ve gotten through the Augustine’s Confessions, Meditations, a good bit of Ecce Homo but I need to get back on track:

You might be surprised by what’s included and what’s not. Hopefully you’ll notice that many of the inclusions are from African-Americans. For those of us, like me, who are white and grew up in the South, some of these books might be more worth our time than others.

Also, I can’t think of a better way to have a better grip on where race relations are today than by reading some of these stories. I mean, yes, you can also talk to people, but I am speaking as an introvert who wants to do some helpful summer reading. If that’s you as well, why not select a few titles here and have at it?

Our Target in College Ministry

Yesterday, I reflected on what it might look like to do college ministry different. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m ripping off Apple by using an adjective when you “should” use an adverb (my views on grammar are somewhat philosophically radical).

After answering why and how, it’s time for what. As in, “what should the end goal of a college ministry be?”

The short answer is that we are shooting for helping produce mature disciples of Christ who are competent Christian adults. I think this target is actually more or less the same whether the college ministry is in a local church or in a parachurch ministry. The difference would be what part of the end goal you are helping produce.

For instance, SHIFT states its mission this way:

SHIFT’s Mission is to see college students

1.  respond and be transformed by the Gospel;

2.  engage in Biblical community through worshipping and serving with a local church in the area;

3.  share the Gospel with others in a way that’s relevant to their culture; and

4.  lead others to do the same.

Just to unpack this a bit, here’s what I see as required by this mission. In general, a student coming through SHIFT should:

  1. Respond in faith the gospel
  2. Join a local church
  3. Be involved in serving in the local church
  4. Show signs of growing in their faith (the “transformed” component above)
  5. Become equipped in sharing their faith
  6. Develop cultural awareness in several dimensions (pop culture, politics, prevailing philosophies, sports, etc.) in order to speak to the signs of the times
  7. Become a leader of others (peers, but preferably those a stage of life below, so college students able to lead high schoolers, young professionals able to lead college students).

Notice that I inserted the local church connection between “respond in faith” and “being transformed.” That’s because I think the primary arena of Christian discipleship is the local church and that’s where transformation more readily takes place as students are in multi-generational community, hearing the Word preached, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Then as they grow, they start to serve in the church and are well on their way to the other phases.

I might go so far as to say I don’t want students involved in a college ministry that aren’t willing to be part of a local church. I also wouldn’t want students who know tips and tricks in evangelism and apologetics, but aren’t developing the virtues in 1 Timothy 3. And I wouldn’t want students who are growing but not living out their faith in away that can connect with others, Christian and not.

In short, the mission all works together. It specifies an end goal, but it also divides the labor between the local church and SHIFT in a way that I think is helpful. It also puts a burden on us to work to facilitate the local church connections to properly outsource what we need to outsource (and vice versa).

When it comes to the actual end goal, we would like to produce more Christian leaders. This is also how SHIFT will grow and develop more moving forward. And it is the one point that probably needs more sub-points unpacking just what a leader entails.

In a sense, in order to lead others, you have to lead yourself well. You have to be going somewhere and know where that is. Otherwise, no one will be interested in following you. This entails a range of competencies, although one shouldn’t think that it necessitates a person who has everything together and no struggles or weaknesses.

While we often tend to cast the qualities of leadership in Christian categories, I think a good bit of actual leadership involves competencies that aren’t distinctly Christian. This is perhaps why it is helpful to read business and leadership books alongside theology books if you want to be a solid Christian leader.

Recently, I saw this as I was reading Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult a few weekends ago. According to his subtitle, he sees a crisis in our culture because of a lack of self-reliance. Now, you can tell in reading his book that he’s not thinking of self reliance in a strictly non-Christian sense. What he means is that young adults are often not able to take care of things themselves that a competent adult could. There is a kind of lapse in development that by its nature prohibits leadership development.

His solution to the problem covers a lot of ground and revolves around 5 themes he unpacks through the course of the book. He takes three chapters to set some context before spending a chapter each on these goals for young adults (8-10):

  1. Overcome peer culture and wrestle with other life stages
  2. Learn to work hard (he says suffering in our work is actually a character building virtue)
  3. Resist consumption (he says consumption is not the key to happiness, production is)
  4. Travel to experience the difference between “need” and “want”
  5. Become truly literate

Going off that last point, it probably goes without saying that leaders are readers, and Christian leaders are first and foremost Bible readers. But, most solid Christian leaders I know are also general readers and so end up being biblically as well as culturally literate. As a result, a big part of what we’d like to do with SHIFT is see an increase in both of those types of literacy.

As I mentioned yesterday, one way of doing this is through Bible studies aimed at developing biblical literacy. Another way may involve book clubs and the beginnings of a study center. Regarding the traveling component, that’s something we’d like to see happen through the student’s local churches as they take advantage of time during the summer to go on mission trips.

For the first three, I think that we will work to help students develop those areas through either monthly or bi-monthly large meetings. We are still thinking through the logistics of that at the moment, so hopefully I’ll have more to share later. But, when we do have larger gatherings (remember we’re staying de-centralized), we want them to be focused on developing cultural and leadership competencies, and so are focused on “adulting” rather than being something that could be confused for a church service.

It is also through these type of events that we can reach non-Christians. While we would want students to invite their non-Christian friends (that they are hopefully making in classes and around campus) to church, we’d also like to be a venue that they can invite them to something “secular” (which isn’t actually, but would be perceived that way).

I realize that’s vague, and so as you might guess, that means we need another post to unpack further. But, the main point is that we are hoping to help students grow into competent Christian adults, and that entails doing college ministry different, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.