MB Seminary provides leadership development and ministry training through MinistryLift so leaders and churches can increase their capacity to love God more deeply and serve others more effectively. MinistryLift builds capacity through workshops, training videos, and a variety of ministry resources. Learn more about MinistryLift here

Trained by Life's Challenges

  • 25 January 2018
  • Randy Wollf

Mature spiritual leadership is forged in the crucible of difficult conversations, the pressure of conflicted relationships, the pain of setbacks, and dark nights of the soul. — Peter Scazzero

The school of hard knocks has a way of teaching us deep lessons. 

James encourages us to be joyful when we encounter difficulties. The reason: the testing of our faith produces endurance, which leads to spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4).

Peter shares the same view. He says that trials refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Paul reminds us that "our light and momentary troubles" are producing eternal benefits that far outweigh the discomfort of the moment (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Yet, how do we respond well to life's challenges? The writer of Hebrews encourages us to endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). It's important to recognize that the writer is not saying that all hardship is discipline; he's simply asking us to view it in that way—to see difficulty as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I like to golf. I'm not the best golfer in the world—a fact that was clearly demonstrated during one of our annual Wollf Golf Tournaments. One of the tee boxes had foot-high hedges that stretched for about 20 feet along either side. I promptly drove my first ball into one of those hedges. It was embarrassing, but those ball-sucking hedges were not done with me yet. I drove five balls into their clutches. As I went to retrieve my fifth ball (now lying 10 shots and not even off the tee yet), my dad and brother overhead me muttering, "What is God trying to teach me?"  

Even though I can't remember how deeply I was pondering the question at the time, it's not a bad question to ask both on and off the golf course.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about our loving Father who disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. It's a painful process. Yet, it can produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

We are trained by life when we humbly respond to both painful and pleasant circumstance and earnestly seek to learn God's lessons from both. This often requires prayerful processing guided by Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of supportive confidants.

I am told that Caribbean pine trees routinely withstand fierce hurricanes, long periods of drought, and even fire. But one thing they cannot tolerate is cultivation. In a well-kept yard with plenty of water and fertilizer, they often die.

We need adversity to grow stronger in Christ.

As Helen Keller testified:

How to Help Youth Stick with their Faith

  • 23 January 2018
  • Randy Wollf

young people in schoolOne of the most important Canadian studies on helping youth stick with their faith is called Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to the Church.

This pivotal study contains survey responses from over 2,000 Canadian young adults and information gleaned from personal interviews of some of the respondents. It suggests several ways that parents, youth workers, children’s ministry staff, and others in the church can help youth to continue to follow Jesus. Here are four of them:

Help Parents Engage Spiritually

One of the recurring themes that surfaced was that those who continue to be engaged in their local church often had parents who modelled an authentic faith. They saw their parents praying and reading the Bible. Yet, even more than that, they saw their parents living out their faith in a way that impacted their everyday lives. They were not afraid to show their children how a Christian worldview can help them navigate through the challenges and opportunities they face. The implication is that when we help parents continue to grow in their faith, their children benefit in faith-sustaining ways.

Facilitate “God Moments”

One of the key differences between those who stay in the church and those who leave is the extent to which they experienced God. Those who can recall answers to prayer or who experienced God in worship, service, community or in some other way are more likely to press on with God later in life. Many of those still tracking with God experienced Him in a profound way through a camp or a short-term missions trip. The implication is that we need to create youth-friendly spaces (or encourage movement toward already created spaces) that help them experiment with and stretch their faith.

Invite Youth to be Vital Members of the Church Community

When youth feel like they truly belong in a church community, they are much more likely to stay within the church. In this kind of community, people care about them. Some even mentor them. Others in the church community see their gifts and encourage them to serve in meaningful ways. This gives youth an opportunity to make a difference – to feel like they are an integral part of the community. What are the implications for the rest of the church? Be friendly with youth. Include them in meaningful ways. Pray for and with them. Encourage them. Empower them to live out God’s call on their lives.

Make Christianity Relevant

More Than I Can Imagine

  • 11 January 2018
  • Keith Reed

person looking at night skyThe prayer that Paul writes in the third chapter of his letter to the Ephesians is as inspirational as it is poetic: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..." It's commonly cited in benedictions and prayers, and yet it never seems to tire.  

The ability to not only do more, but immeasurably more is astonishing. But to do immeasurably more than can be imagined? This is, well, hard to imagine. Because our imagination is—theoretically—limitless. 

This reminds me of an amusing exchange between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in A New Hope when the former tries to convince his reluctant partner to rescue Princess Leia who is scheduled to be terminated. Faced with the need to inspire immediate action, Luke appeals to Han's primary motivation:  

Luke: She's rich.
Han: Rich?
Luke: Rich, powerful. Listen, if you were to rescue her, the reward would be...
Han: What?
Luke: Well, more wealth than you can imagine!
Han: I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit!

My imagination can feel boundless about some things—tangible things like wealth, possessions, and experiences. But how often do I imagine more of Christ's power at work within me? How often do you or I pray for his glory to be made evident through the way that our lives reflect his kingdom? How often do we dream about what immeasurably more might mean in our lives and ministry? How often do we marvel at the sheer vastness of the possibilities? 

Perhaps it begins with mustering up more imagination about the things that matter most. 

Here's to more hope, more imagination, and more of Christ's power at work within us.  

Keith Reed is the Associate Director of MinistryLift at MB Seminary

photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash