Younger Voices | Blog

Selected blogs by writers under 40

Tuesday
Feb222011

Keeping and being kept

By Josh Hunt

May we operate under these three assumptions regarding ministry?

1. We're all called and equipped ministers.

2. We often don't get to minister to people as we want them to be. We must minister to them as they are.

3.  We often don't get to minister to people as we want to be. We must minister to them as we are.

If you buy into all that, you realize also that in this simultaneously beautiful and terrifying calling called discipleship, we must constantly throw ourselves on the mercy of one another. Like the defendant who throws himself on the mercy of the court, this is our only viable option as — for lack of better terms — dispensers and consumers of ministry. 

It's the only way we make it through. We must keep one another — not in the sense that we hold onto one another, though we must do that, too. 

We must keep one another in the same way a barkeep takes care of the business, the way a keeper of a lighthouse takes care of the lamp. 

We keep one another. We must help one another stay useful and beneficial to the Kingdom, in spite of the miles that are between who we are and who we are called to be. 

Even as you are, you deserve to do some keeping. Even as you are, you deserve to be kept.

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.

Thursday
Feb172011

Opening side doors to the church

By Michael Lee

Be assured that many churches are growing — and that the younger generation is going to church. And I believe much of the younger generation is hungry for the Gospel, not just “religion.” 

One of the ways the younger generation is attracted to the church is through biblically focused “side-door” ministries.

This means that those who did not grow up in the church, or who left the church, still have spiritual and practical life needs. And if the church ministers to those needs, many of these persons will want to become a part of the church community — for the first time or again.

It is important that we express the power of the Gospel in a 21st century language. We must show how Christ’s birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection apply to the lives of these younger persons though their language and culture.

Also, we can express the Gospel by serving our local community. Our neighbors must know that we love them and are here to serve them – not to get them to join our church, but just to serve them. The Holy Spirit will guide their hearts from there. 

I constantly remind our church that we must tell Asheville that Calvary Baptist Church is here to love and serve Asheville.  By any other spirit we are “using” our neighbors, and the focus is on us.

Growth in many churches comes from ministry outreach that is not centered on Sunday worship or Sunday school.  For example, music events we have been holding at our church attract young couples because they have heard these musical guests before. 

Such events do not diminish the importance of Sunday worship and Bible study, but provide side-door entry to those who would never come in through the front door.

Also, side-door ministry can include biblically focused small groups that respond to the relevant issues such as finances, grief and addictions. Soon our church will host ministry groups apart from Sunday morning that will allow people to join Calvary through a side door.

Sociologists say we have become a post-Christian nation, and I think that is half true. We are in a different age of understanding what its means to “have” and “be” a church. 

However, the truth of the Gospel does not change. When our focus becomes a Gospel centered approach to life in our unique communities in the 21st century, our greatest days are not behind us but in front of us.

-Michael Lee is youth and young adult pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C.

Wednesday
Feb022011

'Safer Than a Known Way'

By Josh Hunt

C.S. Lewis described the "fatal encore," the prayer we can pray to which God will never answer yes: "Do it again, God, just like you've done it before, because I don't feel like moving, I don't feel like changing, I don't feel like advancing to see you at work. Stay here with me and act the way I'm used to you acting. Encore, God! Work the same way you worked yesterday."

Lewis cautions that we cannot — nor should we expect to be successful in our attempts — to box the Almighty in with our expectations.

The movement of God is never the same as it was yesterday. God moves us to new places and new perspectives. My relationship with God is not about having the right answer to the right question or the right pronouncement for the right situation.

The children of God wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the Promised Land. Before he began his ministry, Jesus' wilderness experience became a time of preparation for him to do what was coming next.

Be mindful and cautious of the people who want to make the bold pronouncements, answer the right questions using the vox dei (over which they claim to have a monopoly) without going through a humble journey, oftentimes through the wilderness.

A Christian witness that claims to be always certain, always sure, always confident, always correct is neither thoroughly Christian nor a particularly good witness.

News stories and convention votes not withstanding, we still wonder, we still doubt, we still question, we're still uncertain at times. Many Christians have deluded themselves into thinking that they have to be sure of everything all the time to be a good witness, even if said certainty comes at the expense of being right.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" speaks to me of the reality of darkness on this journey. That light hopefully helps us take the next step on the journey we're called to take. It does not, however, give us the right to act as if we are never in darkness. It does not enable us to testify that we are never afraid or unsure or hesitant.

Before "The King's Speech" inspired a generation, the king's speech inspired a generation.  King George VI, who is arguably more widely known today than in 1939, delivered a Christmas address that year, at the onset of World War II, to encourage his people. 

His people needed the encouragement. Germany invaded Poland on September 1 of that year, and Great Britain and France were at war with Germany by September 3. When the Soverign took to the airwaves on Christmas, his people were just four months into a war that would last just over six years. 

As he called the people to muster the strength to face a new, unknown year and the then-unknown conditions that the war would bring, he quoted this poem by Minnie Louise Hawkins:

I said to the man

who stood at the gate of the year,

“Give me a light that I may tread

safely into the unknown.”

And he replied,

“Go out into the darkness

and put your hand into the hand of God

That shall be to you better than light

and safer than a known way!”

Far beyond the need to seem "put together" and certain and confident, our Christian journey is about questions that are worth asking and struggles that are worth experiencing. I don't have to be certain to be a good witness.

I don't have to know all the answers to all the questions to be maturing. I can ask even unanswerable questions and make progress. I can, as Paul said, "work out my salvation with fear and trembling" and still be headed where God wants me to be going.

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C. He also appears in the February issue of Baptists Today news journal in a feature on his alma mater, Gardner-Webb University, where he attended divinity school.

Tuesday
Jan252011

Shedding Light on Anonymity

By Josh Hunt

A pop quiz for you, dear blog readers.

Fill in the blank short answer.

If you can't say anything nice,________

a) don't say anything nice.

b) say it anonymously.

c) sit right here next to me.

d) None of the above.

The stories on my local newspaper's website aren't getting many comments these days.  It wasn't always this way.

When I first started reading the online edition of the local news, comments required no registration, and were completely anonymous and notoriously vicious.  The editors responded to complaints from users (and, I dare say, subjects of stories!) about the lack of civility in the online community by implementing a system that required would-be commentators to register.  

Comments became a bit less coarse, but users soon discovered they could post their opinions using clever pseudonyms.  Once again, opinions were offered without filter or shame.  People on varying sides of an issue would publish their vitriolic statements using the platform of the local newspaper, arguing not just with the views shared in the article, but also with each other.  It was heated and ugly.

The newspaper staff took another recent action to curb brutal comments; they now require people to use their Facebook profile--and, presumably, their actual names--to comment on stories.  The result?  I haven't seen any comments at all.  None.  

Now, I seriously doubt that all of the ol' regulars suddenly lost their opinions.  Rather, they have discovered they no longer have the cloak of anonymity to protect themselves while they spew their inner thoughts.  They are suddenly responsible for what they say, and, rather than contribute to the conversation in a responsible way, they've become silent.  Perhaps they should've taken that course to begin with.

Anonymous writing did not begin with blogs or online newspapers.  While I'm sure people in many fields grapple with hurtful anonymous feedback, I'm most familiar with the church, and I know that many pastors bare battle scars from anonymous letters written to or about them.  

One seasoned veteran of the ministry offered me this advice regarding anonymous correspondence: "Don't read it. Just throw it away."  Good advice from a voice of experience.  I've heard of pastors using administrative assistants to open mail addressed to them so that they can filter out anonymous letters.

Don't get me wrong: Constructive criticism is good. Public dialogue is good. Anonymity is not inherently horrible, but when we say something in secret that we would be ashamed of saying openly, anonymity becomes a tool of cowardice, a seemingly consequence-free way of saying whatever we want to say.  

Except that it's never consequence-free.  That sticks and stones can break bones is a foregone conclusion, but I have to object to the contention that "words can never hurt me." Words can hurt.  They matter.  Your opinion--whether shared openly or in anonymous secret, whether valid or not, whether based on deep knowledge or a snap judgment, whether civil and respectful or not--will affect someone.  

Like nitroglycerin, our words can be used to heal hearts or destroy bridges.  I want to resolve to take greater ownership of my words--whether they are spoken or written--and commit myself to using more words that heal and build.

(Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.)

Saturday
Jan012011

Walk the Dog: A New Year's Resolution

By D. Christian Nix

Among siblings few things change quantitatively over time – I will always be a little brother. A few years ago, rapidly accelerating towards 30 years of age, I found myself playing the baby brother role in Boston – my big brother's very new hometown.

Outside various shops between Washington Square and Harvard Street in the Brookline neighborhood I stood awkwardly, embracing my trademark insecurity, waiting for my big brother to purchase some picture hangers at the hardware store or pick up a to-go order from the Thai restaurant (well worth the wait).

And why was I waiting outside? Because little brother was holding big brother's dog – "you hold Baxter while I get this…it'll just take a minute." Yeah, right. Baxter, a massive, hundred-plus pound yellow Labrador mix, and I had ample time to bond as we stood, sat, and occasionally lay down along Beacon Street.

But, as I soon discovered, being the designated little-brother dog-walker did have its benefits. Standing along the bustling sidewalks, filled with thousands of defrosting Bostonians enjoying the perfect New England summer weather, Baxter became quite the conversation piece. "Your dog is beautiful" and "That's the biggest head I've ever seen" were frequent comments of passersby.

Often other dog owners would stop to strike up a conversation as well – their Pekinese and Chihuahuas yapping and growling incessantly while Baxter calmly investigated exactly what type of creatures these little things were.

There was a great sense of humanity to the whole process. Gracious comments passed from one to another, the engagement of human beings in conversation, and expressions of sincere interest in one another's lives – even if at an introductory level. I had more discussions with more people in three days than I had had in suburban Atlanta in the last three years.

There's something about being 'out there' walking and talking in the streets that produces a true sense of community, and real opportunities for all sorts of ministry. And there's nothing like a dog in the city to keep you on the street – off the couch and near the fire hydrant.

Jesus was always on the move – from town to town, village to village. Certainly Jesus' ministry would have been much easier if everyone had just come to him – he definitely could have saved on sandal treads. Like John the Baptist he could have established a central location and then waited for the crippled, blind, poor and miscreants to simply come to him.

Jesus was a carpenter, surely he knew how to erect a building – and with Matthew's experience collecting taxes starting a capital campaign would not have been a stretch. But, Jesus did none of those things.

Jesus moved through the streets and byways making himself available for individuals and communities in need. And along the street he entertained a broken humanity with healing. The unnamed woman with the blood issue, Zacchaeus, and blind Bartamaeus all found healing after meeting Jesus in the street. Jesus' transformative power was revealed through the daily dynamics of human interaction – he 'walked his dog', as it were.

Wearily standing outside my brother's apartment, Baxter in-tow, I ran into his neighbor. Recently widowed and transplanted from Virginian suburbia to urban Boston, she had spent the entire day discovering the joys of laundry mats. With little more than a sincere "how are you doing?," she opened up the pain of her life to another human being who would listen.

It had been a hard day, burying the dagger of a lost marriage partner of 38 years deep into her heart. Her sense of loss heightened, she let choked tears go as she shared her story with another human being who patiently gave her the time to speak. As I finally submitted to Baxter's pleas for relief, she opened her apartment door in a much better mood – "Thank you." A healing had occurred in the street.

Later, outside a video store in nearby Washington Square I found myself again staring through the glass leashed to the Behemoth. Many passed in and out with polite smiles and greetings. From the parking lot I saw a stern looking man walking slowly towards the door. But, as he approached a smile crossed his face as he stared at the large Labrador sprawled on the pavement.

Then on his way out he stopped and reached out his hand to rub Baxter's neck. For a full minute he silently stroked his fur. Looking up to speak for the first time he said in a deep Russian accent, "I lost my dog a few months ago." Returning his attention to the great beast latched to my arm he received a bevy of warm licks to his hand. Turning to leave, he simply and sincerely said, "Thank you." Another healing on the street.

Certainly I didn't perform any supernatural miracles, but it seems the truly miraculous is bound up in the natural. Unwittingly I found myself made available to the world in the seeming triviality of walking my brother's dog.

A few weeks ago we welcomed Cleo, a yellow Labrador puppy, into our home. My New Year's resolution is to take her on many walks in my neighborhood. Though far from the crowded metropolis of Boston, I look forward to the many people we will meet along the way this year in our town…and the many opportunities to receive and offer healing on the street.