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The Tithe Experiment – 1 Year On

This post is part of the Tithe Experiment series

Back in January 2010 Sam and I began our tithe experiment – it was an experiment that we felt God was calling us to, to tithe more and trust God to provide for our needs. Sounds a bit cliché but this was something we felt called to do and knew that God would teach us through the experience. Going into it we really had no expectations other than to be obedient and to allow God to work in our lives. The plan was to give as much as we could from our income and trust God to provide for our needs.

It’s now 1 year since we began and I’d like to share with you what God has taught us through the experience.

Right from the start this was an experiment and in any good experiment you must test and try different ideas in order to find the most effective and sustainable results. We found that our tithe experiment needed regular revision and adjustment.

Initially we decided to tithe as much as we could and to trust God for the rest. We found that this was sustainable for a while but that it led to a point where we were heading towards debt as a result. We felt that debt was not what God wanted for us so we adjusted our tithing to accommodate our new budget and our second child.

Through these adjustments God was making it clear that it was more important for us to maintain an attitude of generosity rather than attempt to stick rigidly to the “rules” we had set for ourselves. While it was good to put aside the tithe each fortnight we found that it wasn’t actually helping us to tithe “better”. For us, it simply became a cash reserve, another savings account that was saved for a rainy day or for an emergency. Sure it was excellent to have this account but it did very little in terms of helping us change our mindset towards our finances – and that’s our biggest lesson here.

We learnt that God didn’t want our “tithe” – the mandated 10% that we were required to set aside, what He wanted from us was to change our thinking to one of constant generosity towards whoever may need it at the time. The Book of Malachi spoke to us, God didn’t want our lip service and duty tithe, He wanted us to love Him and to love others and express that love through generosity.  For our family, we needed to be generous whenever the opportunity arose, to whomever that might be.

During the last year God has provided for us in ways we could never have imagined. Reading back over the posts on this blog I can see time and again a need we had and how God has met that need for us.

Let me be clear here though, we believe that we can never out give God, but we also believe that God is under no obligation to respond to our giving. We give because God first gave to us and calls us to love others and to be generous, not because we expect anything in return simply for being obedient. We found that often God gave back in ways that didn’t match our giving, i.e. not monetary or even in “goods” but with opportunities and relationships that have been exactly what we’ve needed.

The biggest lesson we’ve learnt is that God wants us to be generous at every opportunity rather than give because we have to. I’ve felt that the 10% tithe might be outdated or that it’s used as an excuse not to be generous, but these thoughts require more reflections, a future post perhaps ;).

God is faithful and forever generous and we have never lacked anything we have needed. We have had to wait upon God for our needs and often He has met them in ways we haven’t expected – there have been tough times (and continue to be) but we have seen God’s faithfulness and that deepens our trust in Him to provide in the future.  God is more interested in our attitude, than our time, money or our felt obligation to tithe.

We no longer have a ‘tithe’ account but are working hard to be more in tune with people’s needs and to respond quickly and generously when the opportunity arises (which we find is almost weekly). We feel this is the way God would have us live.

It’s been an interesting year for us and the journey of course doesn’t end here. Generosity is our focus for 2011, to give our money, time, talents or whatever else is needed, when it’s needed and as we have opportunity to do so

What do you think about tithing/giving? Is generosity the key or tithing or…?? Please share your thoughts with us.

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A Change in Direction

 

Lately I’ve been wondering about my decisions for the future. Sure there are the ones about buying a house and investing for our retirement but the one I’ve been struggling with most is about my job, vocation, what I think I should be doing with my life. 

I’ve mentioned before that I’m totally blessed to have my current job; the hours, flexibility and salary are perfect for our current stage in life, allowing me to spend time with our young family and for my wife to be a fulltime mum. My concern though is that I know in my heart that this isn’t the career path for me. Don’t get me wrong I could easily follow this career path, make a lot of money and live very comfortably but deep inside I know that I’d be missing out on what I’m meant to be. 

I know that I’m made to help people;  help them achieve, do better in life, be successful and live fulfilling lives.  That’s my passion, what makes me get up in the morning, what drives me and energises me. 

I’d always thought that I’d go back into ministry, to once again be a pastor, this is the last time I remember living my passion – but lately I’m not so sure. I’m not having a crisis of faith or anything like that, I’m just trying to make sense of some experiences I’ve had over the past month. 

My dilemma is that these experiences aren’t what I’m used to, they aren’t from the usual sources (the Bible, close Christian friends etc) they have all come from my non Christian colleagues and from work opportunities and I’m trying to work out how legitimate they are. 

Each experience (five over the last month) has suggested to me a shift in vocational direction, away from being a pastor towards something similar but not within a church setting. It’s something that’s been an option for me for a few years now but I need to work out if it’s God’s plan or mine. 

I’d love your advice. What do you do in these situations, how do you seek God to know if an opportunity is from Him?

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Building Young Leaders…part 2

This is a continuation of Building Young Leaders which you can read here.

I spent nearly ten years serving in youth ministry

both within the church and with para-church organisations in my city. In that time I’ve had the privilege to work alongside and mentor some amazing young people on leadership and ministry.

Due to the circumstances, each opportunity was an apprenticeship. Very few of them were formal arrangements, simply an agreement between them and I to spend time intentionally focusing on leadership and ministry development. We simply lived life together and focused on the tasks at hand. In some cases it was a limited activity (such as a camp) and others it was for a year or more as we led a ministry (such as a youth ministry or school based program).

As I reflect, I find that

these were some of the most influential times in my life.

I’ll admit that it was great to have extra pairs of hands around to help with the work, people to bounce ideas off and glean insights into the minds and attitudes of young people. However it was also a very revealing time about who I am as a person. I was sharing my life with these young people, they got to see me in the good times and the bad (like 3am fourth day in of a five day camp where everyone got a stomach flu!). Overall though, this was a positive experience as they got to see that a pastor is human just like everyone else and we all leant valuable life lessons about self-control, self-sacrifice and service.

I also learnt how to manage people and to work efficiently and effectively.

We’ve all heard the phrase “if you want something done right you better do it yourself” and in most cases it’s fairly true. However this attitude is completely useless when working with ministry apprentices because how are they going to learn if they never get to try? Just like my pastor let me try my ideas and helped me if/when they failed, I too had to learn how to do the same. It wasn’t easy at first but after time I learnt how to watch from a distance while still making sure they (and the project/program) was still ok.

The results spoke for themselves.

The programs and ministries blossomed under the extra attention and input they received. The young people grew quickly in ability, leadership, belief in themselves and their knowledge and relationship with God. I too learnt and grew immeasurably. Apart from the practicalities of leadership, management and mentoring, my relationship with God grew as I was ministered to by these young lives.

Ten years down the track I look back at those times with fond memories. Some of those young people have gone on to become pastors, others are involved in leading ministries in their local churches and some are even leading others in far off countries.

If I had my time over I wouldn’t change a thing.

Mentoring young leaders, taking them through an apprentice’s journey has been a highlight of my life that I will not soon forget.

In a nutshell here’s a list of things I have learnt from apprenticing young leaders:

It kept me humble. There’s nothing like having another person living life with you to help you realise that you simply don’t have it all together as much as you think.

It kept me accountable. I made a commitment to mentor these young leaders and I had a responsibility to see that through. There was no way I wanted to give them the impression that I only wanted them around to help me with my work, I was there to build into their lives because they are important, regardless of how much they might have helped me out!

It made me think about the important. Time and opportunities to build into their lives was limited. I needed to know what the “must haves” were and make sure they were passed on.

It fired me up! There was no way I couldn’t be excited by being around all the enthusiasm young people have. Their optimistic outlook on life is infectious and it fueled my passion and drive daily.

I learnt to trust others, to delegate and to keep people accountable. These were three vital keys I learnt. I had to trust others with programs, people and tasks. I learnt how to delegate and then how to help them learn accountability. These are key skills every leader must have and ones that need to be passed on.

It freed me to focus on other tasks. Put simply, with tasks delegated we got more things done. Sure I needed to keep an eye on what was going on but by establishing trust and accountability, I knew that things were getting done. I was able to focus on things that only I could do.

I learnt how to relate to people on a deeper level. There’s something amazing about sharing life with others this way that brings you to a deeper level of relationship. Trust is stronger, shared vision is deep and sense of ownership is shared. It’s synergy – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and it’s amazing!

I saw the fruit. Right there and then in each young person I saw God grow fruit in their lives. I saw them learn and grow, stretch themselves and rely totally on God to provide for them. I saw both their knowledge of God and their skills develop, and the blessing that was to the ministries and to the people they served.

I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t know what’s in my future, whether I’ll be in a formal ministry position anytime soon but I know that what God has already taught me is applicable to every area of my life. I pray that God will allow me to continue to build others up to be the men and women He has called them to be regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.

So how about you? Do you think its worth rethinking how we build young leaders in today’s church?

I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions/comments 🙂

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Building Young Leaders…part 1

The other day I asked the Church (myself included) if we think we set up young pastors to fail. You can read it here.

I want to build on this question by sharing how I think we can support young leaders to develop into great leaders and pastors. My comments and thoughts come from my own experience both as a young leader and as a leader of young leaders. I admit that I haven’t done a great deal of research and study into this of late but I have lived it.  Today I’d like to share how I was encouraged as a young leader.

My path into church leadership was somewhat unconventional. 

At the age of sixteen I was regularly working with young people on camps and was part of various groups working with young people in high schools in my city. At the age of eighteen my pastor asked if I’d be part of the youth ministry he wanted to start at our church. I said yes and this began some of the best and most challenging years of my life. 

My pastor took a punt on me. 

He saw something in me that gave him the confidence to let me, a young person, lead a ministry. I had no formal training, hadn’t been to Bible College, all I had was a desire to share Jesus and some knowledge of what young people were into. 

I’m so grateful for what happened next.

My pastor allowed me to fail.

He allowed me to try what I thought was right, to let it play out, to assess how it went and think about how I’d do it differently in the future. He didn’t leave me alone to my own devices, he made sure we met regularly and he asked me a ton of questions. He showed up from time to time at events to show his support (or check on me, still not sure to this day ;-)) and he always encouraged me. 

And I learnt a lot! Through my successes and failures. I learnt what it meant to be a leader, to work in a church and how to live every day with people who think differently to you. I learnt to relate to all age groups, to communicate effectively, to know what I believe and why, and how to share that with others.

In essence I did a ministry apprenticeship.

I think when it comes to ministry; apprenticeships are something we often overlook. Ministry is a “hands on” role; it involves being with people, working with people and living life with people. All these things you can’t learn from a book, principles sure, but they are no good unless you can apply them, you can only do that through experience, by actually doing it. 

Don’t get me wrong, a theology degree is important; in fact I think it’s vital for long term ministry, but we need to think long and hard about the benefits of allowing people to do it while working in ministry. 

Let me explain 

The opportunity I had to serve in ministry and study at the same time was invaluable. It helped me put complex thoughts and ideas into context. I was able to test and apply theories right away and it turned information into action, which in turn made me remember it. It was obvious talking to other students that this was a genuine advantage. 

Secondly, I simply don’t understand the purpose behind uprooting someone from a ministry and sending them away to study subjects that are supposed to help them be better in ministry. Isn’t that a little backwards? Shouldn’t we be supplementing their ministry efforts by educating them while they are doing ministry? Most of these uprooted students don’t have a ministry to go back to because in their absence, and the need for the ministry to continue, someone else has taken it over. 

It begs the question;

do we need to rethink how we train leaders and pastors?

If an apprenticeship is the way to go then we need places for apprentices to learn. This in itself is tricky because most churches simply aren’t set up to do this. For whatever reason there seems to be a reluctance to take a chance on young leaders, probably because its time consuming and can be messy. It’s hard work to mentor someone, it’s messy cleaning up mistakes and let’s be honest, correcting and teaching through discipline is not something many like to do. 

It’s also very personal. An apprentice gets to see behind the curtain of your life, the good times and the bad times. If we‘re honest not many of us are comfortable in being this authentic with ourselves let alone someone else. 

I think Jesus gave us a great example of an apprenticeship model.

He took twelve no-bodies and trained them to become twelve of the most influential people in history!

Jesus taught them as they lived life together. He instructed them, corrected them and never missed an opportunity to teach. He didn’t send them to the local synagogue to get a degree, He taught them through life itself. As I mentioned earlier I believe theological study is a requirement for long term ministry so don’t jump on me for using this example –

But isn’t this something that we need to think about?

Shouldn’t we be taking the time to assess what the most effective ways are to develop and build young leaders?

Dont we owe them, God and the church that much? 

So tell me, what do you think? Have you been or had a ministry apprentice? How did it work out?

In my next post I’d like to share my thoughts from the other side, as a leader responsible for leading young leaders.

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An Open Question to the Church

First up, I’m not anti-church or anti-God. I LOVE God and His Church.

But why does it seem that we (as the Church, myself included) set up young pastors to fail?

This has been bugging me and I’d love to know what you think.

Here’s how it seems to go:

A young person shares the call of God on their life to become a vocational minister/pastor.

We rejoice with them and send them off to Bible college/seminary because they need to prepare for ministry. There’s nothing wrong with that but here’s where things start to go awry…

These potential world changers are challenged and taught all about what they need to believe and why in order to be a pastor. Not bad in and of itself but the concepts and study are rarely taught with real world application or consideration of how to actually teach these concepts in today’s world. So it becomes a purely intellectual exercise and seems to squash the passion and zeal that was once present in these young lives.

The ones who make it through college with even a flicker of the passion and zeal

they went in with are then put on as staff in church “institutions” who force them to conform to the “this is how its done” philosophy. They are not released to follow God’s leading, to try things, make mistakes and forge their own way.

Then almost by default, we give them the role of “youth pastors”

and give them the freedom to do whatever they need to because, somehow, we think that its ok for “crazy stuff” to happen “over there” in youth ministry. After all no one here understands young people, but we want to “keep them around”  and we expect them to “change” into “us” once they hit 18 anyway and join “real church”…

We also assume that youth ministry is simply a stepping stone to “real ministry” and so after (insert average life span of youth pastor here) years or so we ask the pastor to change roles and join “real church”. So we drag him or her into a role they probably don’t want and then we expect them to simply forget the entire way they’ve been doing ministry for the last however many years because that’s not “real ministry”. We don’t let them be creative, we force them to do it how it’s always been done because that’s the way the congregation expects it.

Then comes the dichotomy of expectations

The youth they used to hang out with are sad to see them go but excited to know that they’re part of “real church” now and that means that just maybe they might begin to feel welcomed into an environment that’s been so foreign to them all their lives. So they turn up with great expectations, hoping to see a change, hoping that they can finally begin to connect with what’s going on because after all they know him/her and can relate to them.

Over time they begin to see that he/she seems to be acting just like every one else and they’re totally wreaked. And so is the pastor! They love these young people, they’ve grown up with them and watched them grow. And now they too want to know where the guy/girl they trusted and confided in has gone? Why has he/she changed so much… is this how “real church” is supposed to be, am I not welcome unless I change and become what I perceive as being old?

Meanwhile

the pastor has little choice but to follow the path of those that went before them. If they want to keep their position they need to “tow the company line” and not “rock the boat”.

They try and try to open discussions and dialogue, to look at ways they can encompass everyone’s needs, pleading with leaders to be open to change for the sake of the greater good.

People listen at first, they seem to agree but when push comes to shove most of them will change their mind citing differences of “ministry philosophy” or simply telling them straight up that “this isn’t what we do here”. So what is he/she supposed to do with that?

All the while the church rolls on

people turn up, money is given, laughs are shared and no one notices all the young people leaving out the back door… “they’re just young” they say, “they’ll come back… well actually you know I’m not that fussed really, because they wanted to change everything, and I like it how it is…”

So that young world changer

has now either become a frustrated, passive status quo accepting pastor because he/she wants to keep their job and stay in ministry, or they’ve left the ministry and are struggling to deal with the feelings of guilt and remorse for not attending church and not being able to find a place that thinks church is more than just keeping people happy…

Only a few of them are able to find a place that is ready and willing to change the way it does things in order to continue to reach a world that changes every day…

Why?

But that’s just the way I see it…

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Tithe Journal #7

This post is part of the Tithe Experiment series
Giving (01/04/10)

$250 to tithe account

Needs

We’re still trying to work out what the best option is with buying our house from my dad. There are a few different options and we need to decide what’s going to be better for us and my mum and dad in the long run. They have been so generous to us, buying this house for us because we couldn’t afford it but now that dad’s retired we need to make sure they are taken care of as well.

I’m beginning to worry again about how we’re going to make ends meet as our expenses increase as we look to take on a mortgage and pay doctor’s bills and all the costs of a new baby. I know that God is faithful, I’m trying to learn to live that everyday.

Study is going well, I’m working on my first essay with the second due soon after. I’d really appreciate your prayers as I write these essays.

Sam is doing well with her pregnancy and as we near the last trimester we’d love your prayers for her and the baby’s good health. We’d also love your prayers for Sam’s energy and ability to keep up with Anabelle while also getting the rest she needs.

Anabelle’s been getting up at 4am now that we’ve gone off daylight savings time and its been hard on us as you can imagine. Please pray that Anabelle sleeps til 6am and we all manage to get enough sleep! 🙂 

God’s Provision

I really shouldn’t worry so much because we continue to see God’s hand at work in our lives. God continues to provide for all our needs, I need to learn not to look too far ahead and get ahead of God, often He waits for us to trust Him and seems to act at the last minute – learning to live totally by faith is difficult but so worth it!

We were able to get a great deal on a much needed trampoline for Anabelle and save our bed some punishment 😉

Study is going well – I know that I’m a morning person so getting up early with Anabelle has given me time to read and study

God’s also been teaching me and changing my ways of thinking.  It’s easy to be discouraged when I don’t see material provision but I’m finding that God’s biggest provision is often in reshaping my thinking. As I learn to trust Him more I find that I’m worrying less (or at least trying to worry less) and my thoughts turn to remembering His faithfulness rather than my worries. It’s a big shift and it’s still hard to do but I thank God for it!

We really appreciate all the encouragement, feedback and prayers, so thank you all! As always we’d love to hear from you so please feel free to say hi 🙂

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Easter Theology

The older I get the more I’m finding the need to know why I believe what I believe. The truth is that as a Christian I can sometimes take things on face value because, let’s be honest, that’s kind of what we’re taught to do. There’s nothing wrong with trusting the words of someone older in the faith than you but there comes a point where we must also understand for ourselves.

I’m a regular reader of theology blog Parchment and Pen and it has helped me to think about what I believe and why I believe it.

Given that Easter is upon us, I’d like to direct you to two great posts on how we can know that the events of Easter are historically true and that Jesus is who He says He is.

The first recounts the life and death of the Apostles and how this supports the historical truth of Easter, the second is part one on the evidence of the resurrection.

I trust that these posts will bring you closer to God and understanding why you believe what you do about Easter. Dont forget to check back with Parchment and Pen for part two of evidence of the resurrection.

Blessings

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