Letters to My Younger Self - Keep Your Word

August 8, 2001

Hello Me,

Hope you are doing well today after that hard loss to Northside last night. Of course, your bunt single did contribute to moving the runners over but let’s be honest, who’s ever bunted in slow-pitch softball before? Keep at it and maybe you’ll hit one out of the infield one of these days. I’m sure the guys have you play catcher for a reason.

Today I have to talk with you about something you really are going to have to work hard on. This won’t be easy for you, particularly because you have no clue what you are doing, but it will be necessary for you in regards to leadership, respect and integrity. The simple lesson is this: keep your word.

When you tell someone that you will do something, do it. If you can’t do it then let them know and communicate with them. If you can do it and don’t do it and don’t communicate with them you’re a liar. And stupid. So if you tell someone, “I’ll get that to you by the end of the week” you had better get it to them by the end of the week.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Even though you are young and inexperienced you’ve been called “pastor” at your church. This is a position of leadership and responsibility. You have a team of volunteers that are serving freely of their time and energy to carry out the vision and mission of the church. They are looking to you for leadership and understanding in carrying out that vision and mission. When they try to carry out a task that you’ve set before them they are also looking to you to supply necessary resources to accomplish this task. If you fail to keep your word in getting those resources to them then they fail at accomplishing what they have volunteered to do. Nobody likes to feel like a failure. Nobody signs up to help the guy that made them feel like a failure. Nobody trusts the guy that made them feel like a failure. You fail.
  • Integrity is measured in truth-telling. Think about this for just a moment; has God ever, ever failed to keep his word? Nope. It hasn’t happened yet and it never will. As an image-bearer of God you display that God is truth when you keep your word. When you fail to keep that word you distort the image of God and give room for people to wonder if God really will keep his Word.
  • It’s just plain rude. Seriously. It’s rude for you to tell someone that you will do something, or send something, or talk to someone, or be at something and then fail to do that thing. What’s even more rude is if you tell someone you’ll do something and then you don’t and you never communicate why that didn’t get done or why you can’t fulfill that obligation that you gave yourself to. Let your “yes” be yes and let your “no” be no. (James 5:12). Don’t be a coward and not communicate. Don’t be arrogant and not follow through. Keep. Your. Word.

I know that this will be a difficult lesson for you to learn. Not because you are a pathological liar and have no love for the truth, but because you are young and have such a small understanding of how these things and your failure in them affects people who serve with you. Believe it or not they want you to lead them. They want you to inspire and give them a vision for great things. They want to do great things. Part of them doing great things is having a leader who will follow through on helping them when he says he will.

I wish I could say that you won’t fail in this. And I wish that I could say you won’t see few bridges burned (and you burned) because you didn’t keep your word. Looking back at you from eleven years down the road allows you to see the pot-holes of why you failed them and why they blew up at you. There is plenty of blame to go around for sure. Work hard at keeping your word and communicating well when you can’t and don’t. Rest in the good news that Jesus never failed to keep His Word and because of this the Father will never see you as a failed-word-keeper. Then be who you are in Christ and keep your word.

I’ll chat at you next week. Until then remind your roommate to keep his word too and clean his bathroom. The apartment management might begin to wonder what the smell is all about.

Your Older, Growing Self, Jeremy

Letters to My Younger Self – Cherish The Elderly

August 2, 2001

Dear Me,

Howdy. Back to the Future You here. I hope it has been a good week so far. Now that you bought that spiffy Apple iBook you’re really having fun. So glad for you.

One of the things that I’ve wanted to talk with you about is your relationship to a certain group of people in the church. Who are they? Well, let’s examine your situation. You’re twenty-two working on a staff with two interns who are twenty-three and twenty-one. Your boss is early into his thirties and the four of you combine to create an average staff age of not-quite-twenty-six. I bet you think that’s something amazing. But now think about what is missing in that picture.

Between the four of you there is not even 100 years of collective existence in your staff. Now look around at the church. Yes, there are many young folks and young families that meet the demographics of the Fab Four right now. But there is also a solid portion of people in your church that are twice your age. There’s a few that are three times as old as you and yes, some are four times your current age. They love Jesus, they love the church, they’ve invested a ton in seeing the church start and get off the ground and be financially independent. They care about evangelism, the gospel and missions. They probably care more about those things than you do.

Jeremy, let me tell you something important about these people. They will most likely not be the people who are culture changers and world-influencers. They are not the people who the advertising business markets too either. The world uses language for these folks like “past-their prime”, “had their day” and other such derogatory terms to tell you they are not as valuable to the advance of a business or culture as the young “hipsters” are. Yet these people are blood-bought children of God. They never outlive their spiritual gifting and usefulness to the body of Christ. You can never learn enough from these people.

Yes, they can be frail, demanding, opinionated, frustrating and “set in their ways.” So what? What’s the difference between a loud-mouthed, arrogant, passionate know-it-all, young pastor and the older saints? Wisdom. The older folks have it, you don’t. The smart thing for you to do would be to spend time with them. Learn from them. Ask good questions from them. Take your Bible and sit down with them and ask them how the passage your working on applies to their setting and lives. Love them. Shepherd them. Pray for them. Visit them when they are sick. Serve them. Evangelize them. Comfort them. Listen to them. Pastor them.

Unfortunately, the world and the church, has no more prominent places for people over sixty. Fortunately the gospel says their best days are ahead in Jesus. They have more to give and serve and to lead with now than ever before. Do not chase the idol of “relevance” and dismiss these dear saints for whom Christ died. You’ll be wise to involve them in every step you take. And for heaven’s sake don’t ever run-off an elderly crowd from your church so that you can reach a younger “target audience.” Those that do probably have no concept of the gospel and the impact of it for all of life. I shudder to hear the word Jesus has for those wicked “pastors”.

No, Jeremy, love the old people. Spend more time listening and learning from older men than you do listening to and learning from the young rock-star guys. Pray that more come to your church. Be just as strategic in mission to them as you are to young families. Jesus loves these people. Humbly learn from them and love them. You’ll learn more and be better equipped for the road ahead.

Now, I need to go ask my aged-pastor-friend a few questions. Later.

Your Older, Still Young, Self, Jeremy

Letters to My Younger Self – The Golden Triangle

July 26, 2001

Dear Me, Hope you’re well today. I am sure you are having fun helping a few guys clear the trees out at the church property this week. Good thing you aren’t allergic to poison ivy (at least that we know of). Be sure to take good care of the Bimmer. She throws a rod around mile 194,000 so if you can be a bit proactive on maintenance I’m hoping we can prevent that. We both know you also want to be a race-car driver so I’m not holding out hope that you will listen.

What I do want you to listen about has more to do with your vocation than your car. Take a few minutes and get a notebook (if you really want to be ahead of the hip crowd pick up one of these) and write down in three words a description of what a pastor should give himself to. What did you write down?

Knowing you, I am going to guess you’ve written down “teaching, leadership, planning.” Not bad. However, the trend of the ministerial and church culture lately would have you write down something like “candles, conversation, and contemplation.” Good try by both sides but everybody here is wrong. Mostly.

If you picked up any of those Peterson books I recommended last week you will have found him talking about the three essential things to pastoral vocation. I like to call them the Pastoral Golden Triangle. The Triangle consists of prayer, scripture and people. Those are the three words that define what a pastor should daily give himself to.

Prayer: addressing yourself to God and asking Him to intercede in grace for yourself, your people, your city and the world. Please don’t believe that you have any ability or power to change the hearts and lives of the people in your ministry. Spiritual transformation happens only by spiritual means. Prayer is that means. Take note that the Apostles clearly saw fifty percent of their work being bound up in prayer (Acts 6:4). The pastoral work is prayer.

Scripture: giving God room to speak His Word into your life and your ministry. Much of the problem with church these days is that everyone wants to talk and write and be experts on growth and groups and strategies and paradigms and so on and so forth. Nobody wants to be quiet and listen to The Word. Much of the trouble in American Christianity is an authority problem, namely that we don’t want to submit ourselves to the authority of the God and what He has said in His Word. So we’re stupid chatterboxes that think we know it all.

Be different. Give your life to listening to God from His Word. Give your life to understanding it well. Then humbly, boldly, clearly tell others what He says. Some will ridicule study and original languages and theology as nerd-work for the geeks who don't know how to relate to real people and scholars. Some will say we need to be people of action and drive and doing things. Listen to the Voice that says “blessed is the man… whose delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1). Eat the Book, and let it be a fire in your bones.

People: giving yourself to relationships of teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, encouragement, counsel and service (2 Timothy 3:16–17)). Link your prayers for people and your exposure to Scripture with people. Spend time praying with people. Give yourself to talking about God’s Word with people. Intersect God with people by means of prayer, Scripture and your presence with them in that. You don’t have to know it all, in fact don’t even pretend you do. Let God’s Word form the agenda for their life. When you don’t know what to do with people, pray with them.

I know the counsel in this letter sounds very rudimentary. You’ll be tempted to flashier methods and programs. Pastoral vocation though is nothing without The Golden Triangle. Don’t sell your soul for the glitter of the age (and another dumb conference of “how-to’s”). Prayer, Scripture, People. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit will show up in profound ways as you minister within these three.

Your Older, Still-Learning Self, Jeremy

Letters To My Younger Self - Read Eugene

July 19, 2001Dear Me,

Hello. I sure hope this time-travel/email-writing thing works. Of course since Al Gore invented the internet this probably won’t work. At least it’s worth a try.

I hope you have had a good week and that summer in Ohio isn’t too terrible. Of course, you’ve never known anything else other than hot, Midwestern summers so I’m sure you’re fine. We’ll address your geographical decision-making another time.

I wanted to write you today to urge you to pick up and regularly read a few books that you might have missed. I know others have said this way better than I am now but you will have to wait nine years before you can read that post and I’m trying to get a jump on this. Here’s the deal; run to your bookstore (or fire up Amazon) and buy a few Eugene Peterson books and read them. Every year. Once a year.

Here’s what you should start with:

You need these books. They will help your soul understand the pastoral vocation. They will help you understand growth, sanctification, and how to serve people. They will call you give yourself to your most important relationship, God. Peterson will help you see through the fog of the “church-as-business” mindset that runs rampant through the church. He will encourage you to remember to read the Bible, pray, and disciple people.

Read these books often. They are that important. There are so many temptations away from the center of what is true pastoral ministry that these will be a compass-calibrator for you. Trust me on this, read Eugene. He’s not perfect but he knows the pastorate better than just about anybody else you know right now. He’s a good mentor to learn from.

Have a great day and pack a lunch a few days this week. Just because McDonald's, Arby’s, Burger King and Taco Bell are right across the street from your office doesn’t give you liberty to eat there every day. You’ll regret it ten years from now anyway. Trust me.

Your Older Self (Who Still Reads Eugene), Jeremy

Letters To My Younger Self – Jesus is the Big Deal

July 13, 2001 Dear Me,

I'm hoping that if I date this letter backwards about twelve years we will have sufficiently confused the Internet and you will be reading this from an old Toshiba laptop off of your AOL dial-up account in Wadsworth, OH. Don't worry. It gets better.

Anyhow, I wanted to write you a series of letters to talk with you about ministry, manhood and growing in the pastoral vocation that you have embarked upon. Sure, you've finished Moody, you've taken two years of Greek and you can put the kids in their place on 007 Golden Eye. You've got all it takes to be a rock-star youth pastor. And that's just the point. Don't pursue being a rock-star youth pastor. In fact don't put any stock in being a well-known, renown, requested, respected pastor.

Yes, I know that you were asked to speak at a pretty prominent high school camp with a couple hundred teens. Big. Deal. They will think you are semi-cool for the week that you were there and maybe one week after but that's it, at best. Honestly, you'll only be able to remember a couple of names yourself.

My point is this, from here on out many leaders will come on your radar in the next few years and they will be selling the idea that value in ministry is directly related to the size of your ministry. Some will tell you that until you have a specific size to your ministry you won't really matter. You'll be very tempted to buy their philosophy. Afterall, you do want to reach many with the gospel. You do want to tell tens of thousands about Jesus. You do want people to buy your books and listen to your sermons and for sure you want to be as cool as the guy who zips across the stage on a skateboard (I'm warning you ahead of time not to take notes or you'll miss his cool trick that's the punchline for the whole talk).

Jeremy, what matters to Christ is not how many you reach. He's appointed work for you. He will set you in different size fields to work and manage and shepherd and bear fruit. He will be the one who produces the fruit of your ministry to His glory as you abide in Him. He will ultimately be the one who is renowned, remembered and respected. Don't buy the lie that your value is attached to the size of your ministry. Work hard for the glory of Christ. Tell as many people as you can about Jesus. Live in the good news that Jesus accepts you already. Don't make a big deal about the numbers, make a big deal about Jesus.

Have a great summer. Oh, and I'd recommend you read a cookbook on how long to cook baked potatoes. Your little "let's-grill-a-potato" experiment was pretty gross.

Your Older, Fatter Self, Jeremy