Why the Christian Church Must Lead the Way in the Fight against Human Trafficking

Today I participated in a panel discussion at the University of Northern Colorado. The subject of our discussion was human trafficking. For those who were unable to attend the event, here are some of the comments I prepared.

“Written human history since Hammurabi’s Code in 1790 B.C. has identified the practice of slavery. Mankind has never eliminated slavery.” –Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective

Human trafficking is a defining problem of the twenty-first century. Every continent of the world is now involved in human trafficking, and even a country as small and isolated as Iceland, with a population of 250,000, has had trafficking cases. Traffickers succeed because groups from different parts of the world cooperate. Traditional animosities among ethnic groups are ignored to obtain a profit. If we are going to stand a chance in the fight against this large and rapidly growing component of transnational crime, we must come together, in the same way traffickers come together. With that said, my contention is that the Christian church should be leading the way in the fight.

I’ll state my presupposition clearly: I am convinced of the divine origin and thus the reliability of the Old and New Testaments, commonly referred to as the Christian Scriptures. These Scriptures teach us that Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue rebels (1 Tim 1:15). These Scriptures also teach us that those who have been rescued by Christ and now follow him are to love their neighbors and care for the vulnerable (James 1:27).

Some of the most powerless and defenseless people today are young women who are trapped in the sex industry. Many of these women are victims of cruel and clever predators who know exactly what to offer: the appearance of friendship, a listening ear, and the promise of love, wealth, and a new life. Women are lured with lies and then taken to breaking grounds, some of the darkest places on earth, where they are seasoned for the industry through physical violence, sexual assault, and drugs. Once engaged in prostitution, trafficked women employed in brothels throughout the world are often forced to serve as many as 30 clients a day during a 12- to 14-hour workday. In certain regions of the world where rates of HIV transmission are particularly high, sex workers die at a very young age. Often the trafficked women leave behind young children who have no means of survival outside the brothels where they are born and raised. Falling into the hands of the brothel keepers who controlled their now deceased mothers, these children have no futures beyond the world of begging, forced prostitution, or crime. Those women who stay alive in the industry live miserably. If they reach adulthood, they will have been raped thousands of times. Louise Shelley, a leading figure in the fight against human trafficking, founded and now directs the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University. In her book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, Shelley tells of a woman trapped in the sex industry who summed up her life this way: “I feel like they have taken my smile and I can never have it back.” In their feelings of filth and their seemingly hopeless situations, these women need a Savior who will look at them with eyes of compassion and say: “I will make you clean.”

The church must lead the way in this war because our primary calling is to share the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only one who offers true hope and complete healing to our broken world. I recommend a five-fold plan of attack:

  1. Pray and Proclaim the Gospel.

Pray for the traffickers to be transformed. Pray for the victims to be found and set free. Pray for those in positions of power to uphold the law and protect the vulnerable. And carry the gospel to the world. The gospel is the only message that will bring about the heart transformation needed to eradicate slavery.

  1. Raise Awareness.

Church leaders need to research the problem and then educate their congregants. This could take the form of a reading and discussion group or a series of sermons. Nearly 6,000 churches are now designating a Freedom Sunday, a day when believers unite through prayer and worship on behalf of the millions around the world who are enslaved. Churches should also consider participating in community awareness events hosted by universities and non-profit organizations.

  1. Support Existing Organizations.

If you’re a pastor, consider dedicating part of your mission budget to an organization that is making progress in this war. Our church gives a substantial amount each year to a non-profit that was started by one of our former members. The ministry reaches out to strippers, prostitutes, and porn stars. The staff also works with the FBI in getting children out of trafficking. There are lots of great ministries out there. Find one and support it.

  1. Create New Rescue and Recovery Ministries.

According to Shelley, trafficking exists in every state of the U.S. and in every kind of community: urban, suburban, small towns, and rural areas. Though there are a number of effective rescue operations, we need many, many more. This is a very tough industry to escape. According to one study, nearly all victims reported being threatened by their traffickers with death, beatings, increased debt, or harm to their children and families. These women need a way out of the industry and a safe harbor where they can heal spiritually, emotionally, and physically. They also need educational assistance and job training so they can secure a new occupation. All of this takes funding, and, most importantly, brave people. The most effective recovery is going to take place in the context of relationships. We need more believers who are willing to minister in the darkest places, who are willing to find these girls and help set them free, all in the name of Jesus, the one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives.

  1. Decrease the Demand; Boycott Porn.

Traffickers choose to trade in humans because there are low start-up costs, high profits, and large demand. We are driving the demand. How? It starts with pornography. Roughly 90% of college males and about 30% of college females are viewing porn on a regular basis. The more we view porn, the more we desire sexual fulfillment through prostitution. Greater demand for prostitutes means more and more human trafficking victims. In other words, when we view pornography we are fueling the sex-trafficking industry. So if you want to get in the fight in a very real way, put down your smartphone, shut off your computer, stop looking at porn.

Human Trafficking Awareness Event at the University of Northern Colorado

Next week is Empathy Week at the University of Northern Colorado. Empathy Week will include a variety of activities aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking. The week will feature a multimedia exhibit about child exploitation, a documentary about commercial sexual exploitation in oil and gas boom towns, presentations by a victim of human trafficking, and a panel discussion. I have been invited to represent the faith community on the speaker panel. The schedule for the week is as follows:

Open Mic Night

Monday, Oct. 5th; 9:00-11:00pm in the University Center, Fireside Lounge

Megan Lundstrom will share information about sex trafficking in Greeley and Weld County. Lundstrom’s experiences as a victim of sex trafficking prompted her to form Free Our Girls, a non-profit organization that provides awareness and prevention programs related to trafficking.

The Apathy Effect Exhibit

Tuesday-Thursday, Oct 6th-8th; 10:00am-4:30pm in the University Center, Ballrooms (Individual Self-Guided Tours); 5:00-9:00pm (Guided Group Tours)

This 40-minute multi-media exhibit from iEmpathize is designed to erase apathy, ignite empathy, educate, and empower participants. The exhibit narrative includes a guided tour experience that incorporates film, photography, and artifacts to show where and why exploitation has occurred in the U.S., Asia, Russia and Mexico, and how participants can engage to end it. Groups can schedule an evening guided tour here.

Boom Night

Tuesday, Oct. 6th; 7:00pm in the University Center, Ballrooms

On Tuesday night, a documentary produced by iEmpathize will be shown. The film explores commercial sex exploitation in oil and gas boom towns in Kansas, North Dakota, and New Mexico.

The Freedom Drivers Project

Friday, Oct. 9th; 10:00am-3:00pm in the University Center, South Parking Lot

The Freedom Drivers Project is a first-of-its-kind mobile exhibit that educates members of the trucking industry and general public about the realities of domestic sex trafficking and how the trucking industry is combating it.

Panel Discussion and Community Response Forum

Friday, Oct. 9th; 10:15-11:45am in Brown Hall, Centennial Hall Room

Panelists will include:

  • Jerry Garner, Greeley Police Chief
  • Angie Henderson, UNC Associate Professor of Sociology
  • Diana Laws, Northeast Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking
  • Megan Lundstrom, Free Our Girls
  • Michael Rourke, Weld County District Attorney
  • Chris Sarlo, A Kid’s Place
  • Dillon Thornton, Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church

A Tale of Two Churchgoers

In James 2:2-4, we find a tale of two churchgoers. The Christian community is gathered for worship, and into the meeting walk two very different people. Both of them have to be told where to go, so both are probably guests. The “ushers” are the first people these guests come in contact with. And the ushers immediately notice the outer appearance of the two newcomers.

The first man is wearing gold and expensive clothing. A gold ring was a clear sign that a person was upper class in James’ day. This is a man of status and great wealth. In today’s terms, this is a recognized politician, a famous athlete, or a Hollywood star. So the ushers hurry to meet him. They get out their iphones and snap a quick picture with him. Then they give him a privileged position in the meeting; they escort him to his seat at the front of the room, close to the speaker, where everyone can see this honored guest.

Then a second man enters. And as he does, the smell of the room changes. This is the typical homeless person in our day. He probably has only one set of clothes, and these clothes are disgustingly unclean. The ushers look at each other, waiting to see who is going to have to deal with him. Finally, one of them inches toward the man, but not too close—he might have some sort of disease! The poor man is offered the choice of standing in the corner or sitting beside the footstools of the more important guests. But all the time the usher is hoping the smelly homeless man will just hurry up and leave. “I’m tired of dealing with this nobody,” the unlucky usher thinks to himself, as all the other ushers crowd in around the distinguished guest at the front of the room, taking more pictures and uploading them to Facebook.

James pictures the church fawning over the wealthy man and then treating the poor man with contempt. While he thinks specifically of the socioeconomic divide, we should read this as a warning against all forms of discrimination. We could retell the story, inserting some other type of person. A good-looking, newly married man and woman walk into the sanctuary, and the ushers help them find a wonderful seat. But then a few moments later, a homosexual couple walks in. What happens? Would they feel welcome? Would they feel loved? I’m not talking about approving of their relationship. At the church where I serve, we are unapologetic about the biblical teaching regarding marriage: one Christian man and one Christian woman, pursuing holiness together, together for life. We do not approve of same-sex unions, but we do want the gospel to advance to all people. We want all people to be transformed by the power of the Word and the Spirit, and this certainly includes lesbians, gay people, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. So we must not treat these people with disdain. We must welcome them into our worship gatherings, our community groups, and–dare I say it–even our own homes.

The elders at our church are reading a number of books together this year. One of these is a book titled Compassion without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends without Losing the Truth. In the opening chapter of the book, the authors make this convicting statement: “People gripped by the gospel are able to reach out to anyone in a way that balances truth and love.” Wow. What would our churches look like if we really were ready to reach out to anyone? I think they would look, even smell, a lot different.


Twenty Lessons in Twenty Years of Ministry

Brian Croft, senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has written one of the best online pieces I’ve read in a long, long time. In the short article, he lists twenty lessons he’s learned in twenty years of pastoral ministry. I’ve listed some of my favorite ones below. Check out the full list here.

God’s Word Is Sufficient to Build Christ’s Church

On my first Sunday as senior pastor, I sat alone in the sanctuary wondering if the doors would be open in a year. I realized all my cleverness and worldly wisdom couldn’t stop the decline. But I knew God, by his Spirit and through his Word, was sufficient to build and revitalize his church. Over a decade later, I’ve watched him do this very thing.

The Gospel Is Powerful Enough to Change Lives

Programs, gimmicks, and personalities don’t change people’s hearts. Nor do they invigorate churches that have been in decline for over 30 years. For the last two decades, I’ve watched the gospel free people from the bondage of sin and give hope to the hopeless. I’ve watched it unite old and young, black and white, rich and poor. The good news has brought our church back to life. Indeed, it is powerful enough to change lives and revitalize any local church.

Hang Onto Your Family 

I was once told, “You can always have another ministry. You only get one wife.” This is absolutely true. Children also grow up fast and need their dad. Make sure you balance ministry and family life in such a way that your wife and children always come first, even in the grind of ministry. I’ve learned to take all my vacation time and not to answer the phone during dinner, devotions, and my day off. Remember, if you lose your family, you may lose the right to serve in ministry at all (1 Tim. 3:4–5).

Faithfulness Is Worth the Harshest of Criticisms 

Hard decisions have been made in every church I’ve served. Members have been disciplined. Men who just completed seminary have been counseled not to pursue vocational ministry. Attenders have been denied membership. Members have been removed due to their neglect. Countercultural decisions to defend the gospel in the community have been mocked. I’ve endured many harsh words because of my decisions to obey Scripture. My name has been so slandered that people recognized me in stores or coffee shops only because of the painful and public words said about me. But I can endure even the harshest words because I trust Christ will count me faithful, even despite my sin, when I stand before him.



Hillsong and Homosexuality

Owen Strachan, fellow member of the Center for Pastor Theologians, has written a punchy critique of Hillsong. The long and short of it is that Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, Broadway actors and leading members of the New York campus of Hillsong Church, have been outspoken about their homosexual relationship and plans to be married next year, and the Hillsong leadership has failed to confront the issue. Presently, the Hillsong policy is that “[LGBT people] are welcome to attend, worship, even participate as members.”

Strachan’s assessment of the situation is blunt: “By allowing Kelly and Canfield to live as a gay couple for some time and continue to be members of the church, Hillsong has failed to offer them the true gospel.” He makes some excellent points. I encourage you to read the full article, which can be found here. He concludes the piece as follows:

There is no special spiritual program for megacities. There is no unique gospel for the theater community, or the athletic world, or the political superclass. There is not one message for food critics and another for plumbers. There is one Lord and one baptism. To argue otherwise is to miss the significance of Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Corinth was an enhanced New York, a city shot through with iniquity. It celebrated sexual license and encouraged people to find their identity in their depravity.

Paul would have none of it. “Such were some of you,” he reminds his struggling friends. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). If ever there was a climate for “spiritual gradualism,” Corinth was it. Paul shows us that there is no mushy middle of spiritual half-transformation.

Underestimating God and Overestimating Our Own Condition

I’ve heard people describe salvation in terms of someone drowning. A person is in the middle of the ocean, struggling to stay afloat. His strength is failing. He’s gone under twice. If he goes under once more, it will be the end of him. And that’s when Jesus reaches out and calls to the drowning man, “Take my hand. Take my hand, and I will save you.” The truth of the matter is that when God saved us, he did something far greater than this. According to Eph 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Not drowning. Stone cold dead. We were at the bottom of the ocean of sin, and God breathed new life into us. So let’s get the gospel right. Let’s not underestimate what God has done, and let’s not overestimate our own condition. The gospel is not about God lending a hand to someone who is struggling; it’s about God reviving a corpse.

To those who think of themselves as too “bad” to be redeemed, I say this: As long as you think of yourself as “bad,” you are still overestimating your condition. The gospel is not about making bad people good; it’s about making dead people alive. There’s nothing worse than being dead in sin, and according to the Scriptures, we were all once dead. So don’t think that you are somehow worse off than the rest of us. When we could do nothing, God did everything for us. He sent Christ, who died in our place for our sins, and who was raised on the third day, accomplishing our salvation. He sends the Holy Spirit, who unites us to Christ by faith, giving us access to what has been accomplished for us. Our salvation is all of God. Indeed, the only thing you and I contribute to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary in the first place.

How Satan Serves God: A Look at Two Curious NT Texts

Twice in the New Testament Paul refers to delivering someone to Satan. Sound a bit harsh? In the most recent issue of the Tyndale Bulletin, I explain what I think is going on in these curious cases. You can read the full article here. I have also provided an abstract (summary) of the article below. (Warning: This is more of an academic piece.)
In 1 Corinthians 5:5, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers to hand a man living in sexual immorality over to Satan. In 1 Timothy 1:20, Paul tells Timothy that he handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan. In these passages, Paul’s language is strikingly similar to language contained in the prologue to Job. In Job 1:6-12, Satan disputes the blamelessness of Job and seeks Yahweh’s permission to test Job’s integrity. First, Yahweh allows Satan to attack Job’s most prized possessions (Job 1:12). After the first attack fails, Satan asks for Yahweh’s permission to assault Job physically. Then, in Job 2:6, the LORD says to Satan, “Behold, I deliver him to you.” In this paper, I argue that in both 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul draws from the prologue to Job, portraying Satan as an enemy of God who nevertheless can play the part of an ally in the process of church discipline.

Migration, Ordination, and Translation

We made it to Greeley, CO safely and with most of our sanity. Heaps of thanks to all who prayed for us as we endured what ended up being a 24-hour road trip. Highlights of the trip include the following: the Top of Texas Catholic Superstore (like a religious Walmart?), the billboard in northern Texas advertizing a “24/7 Yum Machine” (a glorified vending machine), a giant mound in New Mexico with a single porta potty at the top (when you gotta go, you gotta … climb a mountain?), and Cullen’s commentary along the way (“Dad, this is another one of those nothing towns”). Aidan and Cullen both were great in the car. This was largely due to the fact that I purchased the entire Chronicles of Narnia series on CD before we left Birmingham, AL. The boys absolutely loved listening to these. For parents taking children on a long trip, I highly recommend this set of audio books. The guy who does the voice of Aslan overdramatizes the part a bit, but all in all I would say this is one of my best purchases ever!

Tomorrow, I head to Greenwood Community Church for an examination before the Ministerial Committee. I’m presently working through the EPC ordination process. The EPC is quite thorough, and I’m very thankful for this. A rigorous ordination/installation process plays a pivotal role in protecting our churches from false teaching.

On the subject of ordination, just this morning I was reading C.S. Lewis’ Essay Collection, and I stumbled across this gem, which I find worthy of sharing. Lewis writes:

Every examination for ordinands ought to include a passage from some standard theological work for translation into the vernacular. The work is laborious but it is immediately rewarded. By trying to translate our doctrines into vulgar (meaning “common”) speech we discover how much we understand them ourselves. Our failure to translate may sometimes be due to our ignorance of the vernacular; much more often it exposes the fact that we do not exactly know what we mean.

Agreed. Following the lead of a very influential professor of mine, I refer to this as “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Many church leaders today are opting to cut all theological lingo out of their sermons. I think this is a mistake. We need to use words like “atonement,” “justification,” and “propitiation” in our sermons, because the Bible uses them–a lot! People need to know what these terms mean. Rather than shying away from such terms, pastors need to master the art of translation, of explaining biblical and theological words in such a way that anyone can understand them. I don’t care if someone doesn’t understand the word “atonement” when they come to our church; I do care if they don’t understand the term when they leave.

“Go West, Young Man”: We’re Off to Colorado

Pods 1Our pods just left for CO. We’re cramming the remainder of our possessions in our car and planning on leaving Birmingham, AL tomorrow morning at 3:00am (we’ll eat some barbeque in the car; happy Independence Day). We’ll drive first to Fort Worth, TX (about ten hours) and stay two nights with family there. Then we’ll leave at 3:00am on the morning of July 6th and head all the way to our new home, Greeley, CO (roughly twelve hours). So, yes, that’s twenty-two hours of driving … with a four and a six year old … and our four year old has just come down with a 103 fever! Poor little guy has awful luck when it comes to moving. When we moved to New Zealand three and a half years ago, he got Chickenpox on the plane.

As we get ready to go West, we ask our family and friends to pray for the following:

  • Quick healing for our youngest son, Cullen.
  • Safety as we travel unfamiliar roads at ridiculous hours of the morning.
  • Patience and gentleness for Dillon and Jamie. These will be greatly needed, as we will probably be listening to our boys sing the “Pink Elephants on Parade” song from Dumbo about 12,000 times.
  • A boundless supply of Benadryl, so Aidan and Cullen will sleep most of the way. (Alright, alright, I’m just kidding about this one. Maybe.)
  • Our first few weeks in Greeley, as we will have a lot to do: preaching, meetings, getting to know many new people, unpacking a few things, continuing the process of getting a house, investigating schools for Aidan, learning our way around the city, etc.

If you haven’t heard, the church I will be shepherding is Cornerstone Community Church (EPC). You can visit the church website here. And you can find sermon audio here. I’ll be preaching on July 12th, and, assuming the congregational meeting that day goes well, will be preaching weekly beginning August 2nd. Jamie, Aidan, Cullen, and I are excited to play a small part in the great things that God is doing in Greeley. Cornerstone family, we’ll see you soon!

Tullian Tchividjian Resigns after Admitting an Affair

Terribly saddened on this Monday morning after Father’s Day. Our brothers and sisters at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, and certainly the Tchividjian family, need our prayers. Tullian released the following statement to The Washington Post:

I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.

See the full Washington Post article here.

How Jim Gaffigan’s Faith Informs His Comedy

Check out First Things for an interesting interview with Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan. The interview focuses on the role faith plays in the Gaffigan household. The interviewer concludes:

[The Gaffigans] provide an excellent example of taking faith seriously in a culture that is often faith-phobic, while at the same time making it appealing for millions of people who think religion can’t mix with a joyful life.

Personally, I’m a huge Jim Gaffigan fan. His standup routines are hilarious. Hot Pocket. Need I say more?

The Center for Pastor Theologians’ First Annual Theology Conference

Perhaps you know the name Kevin Vanhoozer. If not, you should. If I was going to be marooned on an island and could grab only a handful of books before my departure, I would make sure I got at least something off the Vanhoozer shelf. But then again how often does one get to plan for a marooning? Anyway, the point is this: Vanhoozer is as solid as they come. He models for his students the three CSs: 1) canon sense, 2) catholic sensibility, and 3) contextual sensitivity. If you’re looking for a short, helpful introduction to Vanhoozer, I encourage you to check out the most recent issue of Christianity Today.

I’m very excited to announce that Vanhoozer will be a plenary speaker at The Center for Pastor Theologians’ First Annual Theology Conference. CPT has just released the first of six video interviews with Vanhoozer. I’ve included the first one below. If you are a pastor, seminary student, professor who cares about the church, para-church minister, or lay church leader, this would be an outstanding conference for you to attend! Details of the conference can be found here.

A Future World “More Like the Real Thing”

In my early years, I did not “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” My acquaintance with the Creeds came late in life. This unfortunate omission was one of many factors in the development of my escapist attitude toward what I thought was an evil earth. Lyrics also shaped my thinking. I grew up singing the old song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” Every Christmas I sang the well-known words of “Away in a Manger”: “and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.” If heaven is of first importance, why should I care about this third rock from the sun? Another factor in the development of my “escapatology” was the jargon of my childhood denomination. Though I am very grateful for the emphasis we placed on evangelism, I suspect the stress on “soul-winning” contributed to my vision of cosmic evacuation, Christians floating off to heaven as unadorned spirits. Long this idea lingered. Charles Spurgeon once said that he kept his old sermons so he would have something to weep over. Regrettably, I can say the same. Scanning some of my first sermons, preached in my teenage years, I found the following dualistic rejection of physicality: “You do not have a soul. None of you do. You do not have a soul. You are a soul, and you just happen to have a body!” Father, forgive such a broken testimony to our cosmic Redeemer.

Instead of the physical, I valued the spiritual; instead of down here, I wanted up there. This sort of cosmological dualism is common in our churches. N.T. Wright and a handful of others have argued this point at length. Richard Bauckham, in his book, The Bible and Ecology, captures the problem: “So often, in the Christian tradition, we have thought of the non-human creation merely as a stage on which the drama of the history of God and humans is being played out—and a temporary stage, at that, due to be dismantled and removed when the story reaches its final climax. Even worse, so often, in the Christian tradition, we have thought of human embeddedness in nature as a fate from which humans need to be liberated” (145). The widespread confusion over the ultimate hope is, well, confusing, especially since the NT is crystal clear on the matter: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence in a physical place. As C.S. Lewis puts it, we will come back to earth, not as floating wraiths, but as solid people who eat fish, cast shadows in the sunlight, and make a noise when we tramp the floor (Miracles). Indeed, we should follow Lewis’ lead in The Great Divorce, imagining bodies that are more solid than our present ones.

Just yesterday I finished reading The Last Battle with my boys, so I’ll leave you with this thought from Lewis. At the end of the book, when the characters inhabit the new Narnia, Lewis offers a number of descriptions of this new creation, descriptions that focus specifically on how it is both different from and similar to the old Narnia. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more … It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this’ (196).

Compared to the old Narnia, the new Narnia is “more like the real thing.” Spot on, Jack. Spot on.

Helps for Search Committees and Pastoral Candidates

Praying for DaddyA former professor of mine is fond of saying that most church committees consist of “the unwilling doing the unnecessary for the uninterested.” Thankfully, my most recent experience with a committee was nothing like this.

In this post, I have an exciting announcement to make and a few words of advice to offer.

First, the announcement. As many of my readers will know, at the end of 2014 my family and I returned to the States from New Zealand, where we had been studying and serving the Lord since the start of 2012. We returned to the States confident that, in his perfect timing, God would let us know where he wanted us to serve him next. Over the past several months, I have talked to around forty churches and Christian colleges/seminaries and done (as far as I can tally) close to fifty interviews. It has been quite the process! But I am pleased to say that the Lord has now made it clear where he wants us. The search committee of Cornerstone Community Church (EPC) has unanimously nominated me to be their next Senior Pastor, and I have accepted the nomination. In the days ahead, my family and I will be traveling back to Greeley, CO. I will preach for the second time in Greeley on July 12th, and a congregational meeting will be held that day to affirm the call. We are excited to get to know our new faith family and grateful for this opportunity to play a small part in the great things God is doing at Cornerstone. Soli Deo gloria!

Second, the advice. I realize that many churches and numerous candidates out there presently find themselves in the stage of waiting and discerning that I myself have just gone through. I hope here to provide some helpful information gleaned from my experience.

Let’s start with what I think is the best process for a search team. The obvious initial step is to collect resumes. But after this first step, I came across a variety of approaches. Some committees called me and set up an in-person interview without taking the time to learn much about my theology and ministry philosophy. On one occasion my wife and I went to dinner with a search team and they almost immediately brought up a very specific eschatological view (dispensational premillennialism, for those who are into these things). Jamie gave me “the look” and I ordered something stronger to drink. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a good fit. Another church received my resume, made no contact with me for four months, then, entirely out of the blue, called to set up an in-person visit. At the other end of the spectrum was the church that had me complete four questionnaires and do three telephone interviews (of nearly two hours each!) before the in-person interview. This, it seems to me, is a bit too much. You can only tell so much about a person on paper or over the phone.

In my judgment, the best process is the one Cornerstone used with me. There are essentially four steps. 1) Collect resumes. 2) Have candidates respond to a set of key questions in writing. 3) Conduct two phone interviews. The first one is for the search team to get to know the candidate. The second one is for the candidate to get to know the church and the community. 4) Bring the candidate (and spouse) to the church for the in-person interview and for an opportunity to preach at a neutral site. Of course, throughout the entire process, the search team is praying. This was abundantly clear to me as I interacted with the Cornerstone committee. Additionally, other matters will need to be worked into the four-step process outlined above, matters such as reviewing sermon samples, contacting references, and doing a background check.

Two further features of the Cornerstone committee struck me. One was that it was a diverse group. Men and women. Younger and older. Variety of backgrounds and professions. This, I think, is an excellent idea. The other was their willingness to bring both me and my wife to Greeley, Co (from Birmingham, AL) for the in-person interview. I did quite a few in-persons; most of the churches did not invite the spouse. In my mind, it is very important for both the husband and wife to go to the interview, and I would say that this is important from both perspectives. The search committee needs to get to know the husband and the wife. As we say in our house, “Ministry is a family affair.” Also, my wife frequently discerns things that I don’t, so having her with me is a tremendous help in trying to figure out if we are going to be the right fit for a particular church and area.

Moving along to the pastoral candidate’s part, let me first offer three words of encouragement. God is sovereign. God is good. When God bids us wait, he bids us wait for something. Basic truths, I know. But the search process sometimes has a way of eroding our theological foundation. Don’t let it. Keep these truths in mind.

As for the more practical stuff, the most important thing I can say is this: be yourself. You don’t want to go through the interview process as a pretender, get the call from a church, and then realize, “Oh great, now I have to be that guy.” It’s no fun being a schizophrenic shepherd. The God who called you and gifted you has a place where you can enjoy doing ministry the way you have been wired to do it.

Finally, the most frightening part of the process for some people is the questions. “What are they going to ask me?” “Will they want me to recite the Westminster Confession?” “What if they ask me about the seventy weeks of Daniel?” Being the overly organized, Type-A guy that I am, I kept every questionnaire I completed over the last six months or so. Below you will find a list of fifteen questions I was asked at least twice (and in some cases numerous times). We’re always thrown a curveball or two (I’ve also given you one of my curveballs below), but this list should help you get started in your thinking and preparation. May God lead you, as he has me, to that portion of his flock he wants you to shepherd.

1. What is the gospel?

2. Summarize your understanding of the Christian faith.

3. What are your strengths and weakness, and how do you compensate for your weaknesses?

4. What are your spiritual gifts?

5. What is your leadership style?

6. What is your philosophy of ministry?

7. How do you prepare for a Sunday sermon?

8. Tell us about your devotional habits.

9. How do you spot spiritual maturity in someone?

10. How do you define a healthy church?

11. What is your perspective on worship style, and what role have you personally taken in planning worship services?

12. Who are the historic or current Christians you return to again and again for instruction and inspiration?

13. Have you previously trained others in personal evangelism? If so, how?

14. What experience do you have in developing leaders in ministry?

15. How is the gospel transforming your life right now?

The Curve: Tell us about a time in your ministry when you just totally blew it.

PS – The picture at the top of this post is of my two boys, Aidan and Cullen, praying for me from Birmingham as I preached last weekend in Greeley. Like I said, ministry is a family affair.

Resources for Aspiring Authors

Fairly often I am asked about writing for publication.

“How do I become a better writer?”

“How do I decide which periodical to submit my article to?”

“How do I approach an editor?”

“What should a book proposal include?”

I myself am very new to writing and publishing, so I have no idea why these questions come my way. Nevertheless, I will hazard a few words of advice for would-be writers.

First, take one (or more than one) of Denise George’s Book Writing Boot Camps. I first met Denise at Beeson Divinity School, where she teaches a class called The Writing Minister. The class was excellent; Denise is an aficionado of the writing craft. If you have questions, Denise will have the answers.

Second, read great writers. Start with someone like C.S. Lewis. Read his complete corpus. Watch what he does. Appreciate his every move. Learn the value of a good metaphor. If you want to become a better writer, become a better reader.

Third, keep a commonplace book. Write down every new word you learn. Every phrase you find that makes you smile and say, “Now that’s a great line.” Every quote worth remembering. Then tweak this stuff and work it into your own writing. “Borrow from the best,” I always say.

Fourth, read books on writing and publishing. I know, this is not exactly an action-packed genre. No serial killers. Only discussion about the serial comma. Very few damsels in distress. Lots of warnings about dangling modifiers. But hey, we do need to know the nuts and bolts. Here is a list of seven helpful works to get you started.

Strunk and White, The Elements of Style

Zinsser, On Writing Well

Clark, The Glamour of Grammar

Clark, Writing Tools

Wilson, Wordsmithy

Porter, Inking the Deal

Rabiner and Fortunato, Thinking Like Your Editor