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"Getting Back at It When You've Been Away From It"

Today is my first day back in the office after getting back from Kenya. You know how it can be a challenge to get back into the swing of things after a vacation? It's like that for me after a week visiting missionaries, experiencing a different culture, customs, food, and preaching and teaching. So, the following reflections are therapeutic, but I hope they can be helpful to you the next time you're trying to get back into the routine after some time away. Here are some suggestions on how to "get back at it when you've been away from it."

First, have realistic expectations. If you've been away from work or your normal routine, and you're trying to re-engage, be realistic. Don't expect too much, too soon. Acknowledge that you will most likely face some depression and feel overwhelmed. That's okay. Sometimes the only way you can work through something is simply to work through it. I know that's not rocket science, but it's true. Put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving forward. But make sure you keep moving forward.

Second, stay focused. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with all the emails, voice mails, and snail mails you need to attend to after you've been away. Plus, you have all your regular demands of meetings, preparing for meetings, and other duties on your job description. Even as I type this, my mind is beginning to race out of control in thinking of the many tasks ahead of me this week. My heart starts pounding faster, and I find myself taking shorter breaths. That's when I need to stop, pray, and re-focus. I can't get to item #323 on my to-do list until I get past item #1, so why worry about #323 when I can't do anything about it right now anyway? I heard today of a couple who recently decided to leave our church, because we're not up to par in our discipleship ministry. I agree; we have a lot of room to improve. Discipleship is foundational to the ministry of the Church. I'm all about discipleship. I'm so concerned about discipleship that I wrote my doctoral thesis on The Discipleship Journey: Developing and Reproducing Disciples Through the Cell-Model of Ministry. But we haven't been able to develop a more comprehensive, church-wide model yet, because we've had a few other pressing matters to deal with over this past year. We're working on it, and we're beginning to lay the groundwork for some significant growth in this area, but it takes time. Unfortunately, we couldn't move fast enough for this particular family, but we're getting there. Remember, don't get overwhelmed. Stay focused, take a deep breath, pray, and take one step at a time.

Third, smile. Why should you smile? Because ultimately Jesus is in control, and that should make you smile. "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6). You can smile, because at the end of the day, regardless of what you went through and how difficult it may have been, Jesus is still on the throne, and you're not. One of my recurring prayers is, "Jesus, thank You that You are the head of this church, and I'm not. These are Your people, and I pray You would show me how to shepherd and lead them." This is my pressure-release valve. I can let out a huge sigh in knowing that Jesus is never caught off guard, even if I am.

In the movie The Pianist, Adrien Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish musician who survives the Holocaust by holing up in a Polish house during the German occupation. A German commander discovers Szpilman, who by this time is nearing death from starvation, and he notices Szpilman eyeing a piano in the middle of the nearly-destroyed home. He asks Szpilman if he plays the piano, and then he tells him to sit down and play. And there, in the midst of the rubble and ruin and in the thick tension between this German officer and this hideaway Jew, Szpilman sits down and begins to play the most melodic, beautiful concerto the German officer has ever heard. A radiant smile breaks out on the faces of Szpilman and the officer, even though their entire world has crumbled around them. The music transcends the violence and transforms the moment, and it was reflected in something as simple as a smile.

If you're trying to jump start your engine and get back into the routine at work or school, be realistic, stay focused, and above all things, smile, because God is greater than whatever you're facing. "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).


Discipleship - Investing in People

I don’t know that I should be writing this, as it’s now 1:35 am (EDT), and my mind is a little foggy from traveling. Dave Smith and I began our journey home yesterday at 2:00 pm with a three-hour ride to the Kisumu, Kenya airport across roads that would be considered semi-impassable in America. From Kisumu, we flew to Nairobi for an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam, another seven-hour flight to Detroit, and then home, hopefully, around 1:30 pm today (Thursday).

For those of you who know Dave Smith, he’s pretty good at keeping people awake (in a good way) with his humor and routine slap on the back. I’ve made long trips by myself, and I’ll tell you, traveling with someone beats flying solo hands down. I can understand all the better why Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. We need someone to lift us up when we’re down, and vice versa. There’s far better accountability and even spiritual growth in the little conversations shared over coffee or…boiled goat.

The last thing Dave and I did before our drive across part of Kenya (I had no idea how expansive Lake Victoria actually is!), we tag-teamed in a discipleship and leadership development workshop for pastors in the region of the Kager Village. Close to fifty pastors attended, and Dave and I had the privilege of sharing some basic teaching on Jesus’ model of disciple-making from Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism. We talked about how churches (and pastors) can get so busy running the machinery of ministry that we overlook the most important call we have—to make disciples.

Even though there are many cultural differences between us and our Kenyan brothers and sisters, we also share many similarities. For example, when Dave and I taught on the principle of selection, that is identifying people around us we can pour into and raise up to disciple others, many of the pastors had the universal expression of doubt on their faces. How do we identify people with whom we can build trust and disciple when we’re already extremely busy? Whether someone is a Christian in Indianapolis, the urban slum of the Mathare Valley, or in rural poverty (such as Kager Village), most of us struggle with intentionally building relationships with others who will serve alongside of us for the cause of Christ. The struggle, of course, is…time. The pressures and demands of life consume us to where we have little time left to pour into people.

As part of our workshop, we broke the Kenyans into small groups for further discussion, and for some of them, this was the first experience they’ve ever had in actually sitting in a circle with fellow believers to talk about their faith—and these folks are pastors. And what was one of the inhibitors for these pastors to meet in small groups and pour into the lives of others? You guessed it…time. These pastors, just like American pastors, get so busy doing the tasks of ministry (preaching, teaching, counseling, visiting, etc.), that they don’t make time to build relationships on a deep level.

Dave and I reflected on the experience and renewed our commitment to make relationships with people come before the tasks of ministry. Discipling people and raising up leaders—whether in Kenya or America—requires us to invest in people more than programs. Programs are subservient to people, not the other way around. And, let’s face it, to invest in people takes…time.

Thanks for praying for us as we traveled. We learned much, slept little, consumed interesting foods, and experienced the expansive Kingdom of God that wraps all the way around the world.

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