Three Avenues to Joy

When I look back at what I’ve experienced in church planting these past two or so years, three joys stand out:

  1. The joy of risk — There’s something joyful about sticking your neck out and risking for the sake of the kingdom. It’s far more joyful than playing it safe. I don’t think I’d want to go back.
  2. The joy of evangelism — My best friends are increasingly outside of the church. I am intentionally cultivating relationships in my community and being present in my neighborhood.
  3. The joy of reliance — I am learning new levels of dependence on God. I am also much more aware of my reliance on other people for prayer support, as well as practical support.

If you want to ask me what I love about church planting, these three joys would rank near the top.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need to be a church planter to experience these three joys. Sadly, I pastored many years without experiencing them as much as I am now, but they where there for the taking.

Risk. Evangelize. Rely. I’m finding that these are three avenues of joy available to all of us for the asking.

Pastors and Social Media

Daniel Yang is a church planter in Toronto. I'm excited about his work at Trinity Life Church, and have been impressed by his use of social media.

I'm grateful that Daniel was willing to answer some of my questions. I hope you read the interview, but if you do nothing else, skip to the last question and pray for Daniel, Trinity Life Church, and other church plants in Toronto.

Some pastors are suspicious of social media. Why should pastors use it?

I would say that some suspicions are quite valid, actually. For instance, it’s a temptation for social media to be used in a way that can puff up a leader or an organization’s ego. And sometimes what people perceive from social media is quite different from the actual leader or organization. I remember John Piper taking time off twitter to check his heart. I hear Mark Driscoll is doing the same as well.  But with that being said, I think it’s great for leaders to share with their community practical things like what they’re learning, reading, attempting. I love learning from other pastors and planters via their Twitter feed. I’ve filled up my Kindle with great books that I probably would’ve never found on my own.
What advice would you give to a pastor who wanted to use social media effectively?

Let your spouse be your Twitter ghost writer! You’re less likely to tweet your foot in your mouth! But in all seriousness whenever I tweet, blog, or update a Facebook status I ask if what I have to say is genuine and edifying. Occasionally I will chime in on what’s going on in the sports world or complain about the TTC (Toronto transit!), but by in large I treat social media like an extension of my personal ministry. You’ll see pictures of my family because I’m a proud husband and papa first and foremost. You’ll see updates about Trinity Life Church because that’s the flock God’s stewarded me to care for. You also see a lot of quotes or thoughts from what God is teaching me.
But one thing that is healthy to do, because it keeps social media in perspective, is to do regularly fasts.  Read my blog on my 40 Day Internet Detox.
What mistakes should they avoid?

Social media doesn’t show how “successful” your ministry is. Spend more time with people than with Facebook or Twitter. Update your family more on your thoughts than you do your followers. My 9 year old could care less what I’m tweeting and how many likes I get. Keep social media in perspective. Jesus knew it’s possible to appear vibrant on the outside (social media), but dying inside (spiritual integrity).

How much of a budget do you need to promote posts and events on Facebook?

Trinity Life has no media budget. We’ve tried some things to test the waters. It confirmed a lot of the things other churches told us about promoting posts and events. In all practicality, if you’re going to promote a post or event – make sure your post and event is worth promoting and make sure that you already have some sort of fan base in order for it to work. To be honest, we’ve only tried a few times and none of our promotions have been wildly successful.
How can we pray for you and for Trinity Life Church?

Pray that we will continue to love our city and the people of Toronto. Pray that dividing walls would come down. Pray that the seeds of the Gospel would take root and that generations and nations would be changed. Pray that the dream for TLC is to see the Kingdom come and all churches in the GTA flourish. Pray that our little church would be swallowed up by God’s power and presence and a great movement of churches all around our city.

Thanks, Daniel.

Find out more about Daniel at his website or on Twitter.

One of the Best Books You Haven't Read

On Boxing Day in 2007, I ordered a book for $9.35 (!) called The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. I remember devouring it in the early days of 2008. It felt like I was seeing how the gospel changes a man and his ministry. It had a profound impact on my own understanding of the gospel.

Since then I've whittled down my physical library from almost 3,000 books to around 100 or so, and this book is still with me. I honestly think it would be one of the last volumes I'd give up.

If you are in ministry, and want an example of someone who has come to the end of what he could accomplish on his own strength, and has been completely transformed by an encounter with Christ, then you need to read this book. Jack Miller has made a marked impact on many people who know and respect, and he does a better job of pointing us to Jesus than almost anyone I know.

It's not a book that gets a lot of attention, and that's a shame. Get it. Read it. Allow it to shape your view of life and ministry. It's a book to which I return often.

You can read my review, or better yet, just go and buy it. It's still not much more than what I paid.

Thanks for the Feedback

Pastors receive lots of criticism. It’s one reason why pastors need to learn how to deal with weekly barrage of complaints and comments, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of their families and for the health of the church.

That’s where a helpful new book comes in. It’s called Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. While anyone can benefit from this book, it most certainly applies to pastors.

Some feedback triggers us. It leaves us “confused or enraged, flustered or flattened.” The effects are brutal:

When we’re in the grip of a triggered reaction we feel lousy, the world looks darker, and our usual communication skills slip just out of reach. We can’t think, we can’t learn, and so we defend, attack, or withdraw in defeat.

Sound familiar? The authors suggest that our feedback triggers are information, pointing us to the source of the problem. There are only three triggers, they state:

  • Truth Triggers — Our reaction to unhelpful, unjust, or untrue criticism
  • Relationship Triggers — Our reaction to the person giving the criticism, either because they lack credibility or are treating us unfairly
  • Identity Triggers — Our reaction to feedback that threatens our identity, our sense of who we are

The authors give some good advice for how to respond to each of these triggers. When facing a truth trigger, for instance, try to understand, and be aware of your blind spots. For relationship triggers, separate the who from the what, and work on the relationship. For identity triggers, dismantle your distortions and embrace a growth mindset.

There’s a lot more, even in this one section. The book is helpful, and it’s definitely relevant to those in ministry.

I’ve been thinking of how the gospel applies to each of these triggers. I can face the truth about myself, because I no longer have to hide or pretend. I can love those who trigger me, because Jesus loved me when I was unworthy. I can live out of my identity in Christ, rather than in my performance. This isn’t to say that pastors will never struggle; it is to say that we have both the excellent advice in books like Thanks for the Feedback, but we can rest in what is true because of the gospel.

If you struggle with this (and I’d guess most pastors do), this book is helpful, and I recommend it. But I’m also thankful that we have an even better resource than this book.

The Wait, the Work, and the Reward

I've been thinking lately about two passages that are shaping my expectations as a church planter. The first one, surprisingly, is from Leviticus. The second one is from 2 Timothy. Both are teaching me about God's timing in life and ministry, and the promise of reward if we work hard and wait.

The Five-Year Wait for Fruit

Leviticus 19:23-25 says:

When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

In Israel, planting a tree was a five-year investment. Trees don't produce fruit right away. Even when the tree produced fruit, the first year's fruit was offered to God. If you planted, cultivated, and waited, eventually you would taste of the fruit, but only after the hard work and the long wait.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'm reflecting on how I would have struggled to wait that long. But waiting time isn't wasted time when you're planting trees or planting churches. If we're patient, we'll eventually get to eat of that fruit.

The Hardworking Farmer

Paul says a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:6: “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

I don’t know a lot about farming, but Kent Hughes says this:

Farming is hard work today, and it was especially hard in the first century. The farmer’s life involved:

  1. early and long hours because he could not afford to lose time;
  2. constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, reaping, storing);
  3. regular disappointments—frosts, pests, and disease;
  4. much patience—everything happened at less than slow motion; and
  5. boredom.

Sign me up! This, Paul says, is a good picture of what ministry looks like.

The Reward

In both passages, after the hard work and the wait, the reward is promised. "But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you..." "“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

Why would I be less patient than an arborist or a farmer? Why wouldn't I work as hard? Why wouldn't I set hard work, unpredictable results, and patience as part of the package? And why wouldn't I expect the reward that comes at the end?

I promise you the reward at the end will be worth it.