When God’s Plans are Not Mine

This past week has been one of my busiest of the year in graduate student ministry. It was new student outreach week, or NSO, as acronym-loving InterVarsity staff like to call it. This was technically my second NSO as an InterVarsity staff worker. Last year, though, I was in the beginning of the planting process and had no students. So, it was just me and some brochures, trying to recruit new grad students to start a new fellowship at CMU. Thankfully, those efforts were successful. So this year, my NSO work involved more than just inviting people to a fellowship that didn’t exist, yet.

With my missional core, we planned a barbecue, a kick-off worship service, and two international student outreaches. We also arranged for some publicity as new students arrived.

Almost nothing went according to plan. A lot of our publicity efforts fell through for various reasons. It rained, a lot, on the day of the barbecue. No new students showed up for the worship service. For one of our international outreaches, only one new international student showed up. Quantitatively, this NSO seems like a disaster. If I would have been told two weeks ago that this is how NSO was going to go down, I would have expected to feel discouraged by now.

Thankfully, though, and even to my surprise, I’m not discouraged. In fact, I actually feel a deep sense of satisfaction. As I look back, I see how God worked in ways that I couldn’t have planned. I think of our international student outreach, where a returning international student met and talked with an American pastor for English conversation, only to discover that he once visited her small hometown in China, and that she once lived in the small town in Ohio where this pastor now lives – only a few streets away from his house. I think of how the small attendance at our worship service enabled us to prayer-walk the campus, and pray in each grad student’s office for their work and witness there. I think of how the rained-out barbecue led to being able to offer lunch to over 20 people the next day, including 6 newcomers to Pittsburgh.

All of this has taught me three encouraging lessons:

First, I think of Jeremiah 29:11, which begins “I know the plans I have for you…” This verse is quoted by a lot of people. It’s almost a cliché. However, I think I still need to be frequently reminded that these are God’s words to me, not my words to God. Much of what God did through our NSO activities couldn’t have happened had things gone according to my plans.

Second, even before NSO started, God had been bringing to my mind the parable of the mustard seed. Everything about this NSO was smaller than I had anticipated and planned for. It all seemed insignificant and tiny. Praise God, because Jesus says that’s how the Kingdom of God starts coming.

The third lesson came on Sunday when I praying the midday prayer office. One of the written prayers had this line: “Grant that those who labor for you may not trust in their own work but in your help…” I realized when I prayed this that much of my planning for NSO was an act of relying on my own efforts. Rather than trusting God to bring our fellowship in contact with new students, I was trying to rely entirely on emails, fliers and postcards. I spent more time in logistics than I did in prayer. I became an event-planner rather than a minister.

Nothing in the past week seems to have gone according to my own plans. Pray that this continues to be the case, and that God brings to completion the good work he started this semester!

Embracing Sonship: On Being Young in Ministry

Last month, I spent a week in Chicago with my fellow InterVarsity Grad and Faculty Ministry staff for our national conference. The theme was ministering across generations, and some of the conversations from that week still have me thinking.

I was particularly struck by the insight of one of my more experienced colleagues, who said that his ministry with students has evolved over time from ministry as an “older brother,” to ministry as “the young uncle” to ministry as a “father.” In other words, as he’s gotten older, the way in which he’s related to those around him  has changed.

This has left me thinking for some time now about my own stage of life as a young, single, minister. In fact, I learned at this conference that I’m currently the youngest grad and faculty ministry staff worker in all of InterVarsity. Being young in ministry is difficult in any context. I’ve found it particularly difficult in doing ministry with faculty who are much older than me. My colleague’s reflections now have me asking: What does it mean to do ministry as a “son”? What is an appropriate way to do ministry with people older than I am?

The first thing that came to mind in response to this question is the commandment: “Honor your father and mother…” Honor can be a form of ministry.

Realizing this has revealed to me some of my own baggage that keeps me from doing ministry well with faculty, or anyone older than I am. My preference is to do ministry with people who are sociologically lower than I am. Most often, this has meant working with people younger than me. When I was in college, I led a middle and high schooler youth group. When I moved onto seminary, I began ministering to college students. Now that I”m out of seminary and am a working professional, I do ministry with grad students. In the times when I’ve been ministering to/with people older than me, I find another way to see them as lower than me – as less well off financially, less educated, less spiritual. In the occasions when I can’t find anything like this, as is often the case with older, well off, well educated and deeply spiritual Christian faculty, I immediately assume that I have nothing to offer in ministry.

But I do have something to offer. If nothing else, I can honor them. I can admire their work and insights. I can come to them for counsel and advice, and even submit to them as Jesus submitted to his parents.

I think there’s still more to learn from what the Bible teaches about sonship to inform how ministry can be done as young people. So, I’ve recently begun a journey through the Bible, looking at all of the places where the word “son” appears (it’s going to take a while!). I’ll (hopefully) continue to post thoughts that I think are significant or helpful for me as they come up.

Are We All Called to Be Fishers of Men?

I’m writing this from Madison, WI, where I”m spending 10 days in orientation for my Graduate and Faculty Ministry work with InterVarsity. We began the orientation talking about calling, and we studied the call of Jesus’ first disciples in Luke 5:1-11. Something that the group immediately noticed is that Jesus approaches and calls Simon Peter, James and John at their place of work: catching fish.

What’s also interesting is that Jesus not only approaches them there, but calls them in such a way that he speaks directly into their job. After the miraculously large catch of fish, Jesus says, “From now on you will be catching men.” This comes to fulfillment in Acts 2 at Pentecost. Peter preaches the gospel and a “catch” of 3,000 repent and are baptized.

Previously, I had always thought of the call from Jesus to be “catching men”  as a universal call to all of Christ’s followers. (I also always felt a bit of guilt for not converting 3,000…) I’m now thinking though, “that catching men” was a call uniquely given to the first disciples. Most of us aren’t fishermen, and consequently, most of us have never seen 3,000 people come to faith at once.

We do, however, all have particular work that Christ speaks into. For instance, my Dad is an auto mechanic. Would Christ come to my Dad and tell him to be a ‘fisher of men,’ or would he rather say, ‘from now on you’ll be a mechanic of men.”? Thinking about my Dad’s service to church, this actually makes a lot of sense. My dad has never preached the gospel to 3,000 and seen them convert, but he has served as a Stephen’s minister, a ministry designed to meet people individually in their brokenness. Granted, my Dad doesn’t “fix” people in this ministry, he merely walks along side them, but a ministry like this fits the mindset of a mechanic much more than a ministry of mass evangelism.

As one who does ministry in the academy, I also wonder: In what manner does Christ’s call speak directly into the work of those in the academy? How does the work of a teaching professor or research professor influence their ministry in the Church and on campus?

Christ doesn’t only call at the lakeside. Christ calls in the classroom, in the lab, and in the office. He calls in the home, in the studio, and in our neigbhorhood. He calls us all with the universal command to follow, but also calls each of us to particularly ministry for which we are uniquely suited. Will we listen and obey?

Myths and Facts About Support Raising

For the past 6 weeks or so, I’ve been working on raising my ministry budget so that I can begin work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry at CMU and Pitt. Raising support is about as difficult as it sounds, but I will say that InterVarsity is great about providing resources to help along the way. One of those resources I encountered early on was something called “Myths and Facts about Fund Development.” This document was written for people who are raising support and helps to clear up some misconceptions and fears new IV staff might have about fundraising. This was a really helpful resource for me, but I’m realizing that for as many fears, misunderstandings and doubts I have had about asking people to support me, the people who I’m asking tend to have just as many, and they need to have some things clarified just as much. So, if someone entering the mission field ever comes asking you for support, keep these myths and facts in mind:

Myth: The fundraiser is only interested in your money.

Fact: If the fundraiser was only interested in money, they would have chosen a different, more profitable profession. In fact, the fundraiser is excited about the work s/he’s preparing for and wants to share it with you! You do no favors to the support raiser by just writing a check without ever talking with them about their upcoming work.

Myth: When the fundraiser asks for prayers and other forms of support, that’s really just a guise to dillute the fact that they’re asking for money.

Fact: The fundraiser is preparing to invest his/her life in the service of God, which is incredibly intimidating. They need to know that their brothers and sisters in Christ are behind them. Prayer support and even emotional support and friendship are much more needed and desired. The money is obviously needed and appreciated, but just getting a check from a person who doesn’t express any interest in the actual work of the missionary makes the missionary feel like s/he is just asking for handout instead of partners in ministry.

Myth: The fundraiser is disappointed if you’re not able to give.

Fact: The fundraiser’s primary hope is that you’ll be interested and enthusiastic about the ministry they’re beginning. In my support raising experience, finding people who have both a high capacity/capability for financial giving and an interest in hearing about my ministry is a very rare thing. Usually, I find that I’m either talking with people who have a high capacity for financial giving but no understanding of why mission work is important, or with people with little (or even a complete lack of) capacity for financial giving but with great interest in the work of the ministry. I’d much rather talk with the latter.


… I have a job! I found out this week that I’ve been appointed to InterVarsity’s Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry on the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. This is great affirmation on God’s call on my life to do church planting in and around Squirrel Hill, as this will both provide connections and ministry to the university community there and provide for some of my financial needs. The next step is to raise my support, so please pray!