A few days ago, I told my Facebook friends I’d answer any questions they wanted to ask me. Sorry it took a few days to get to these, but here are the last ones:

Amy said, “I would love to read a really honest piece about how to balance grace, forgiveness, accountability and judgement, particularly among those who have to exercise some authority.”

My guess is that this stems from some recent events involving a prominent local church. I’ll steer very clear of that, frankly it isn’t my place to comment on that matter.

So, if you’ll allow, I’ll approach the question this way: We need to establish that giving grace is distinctly different than license. Licentiousness is clearly mentioned in Scripture, and Paul warns us about this distinction very concretely. That said, sometimes, grace is needed, especially with those younger in the faith. They need grace and space to fail and learn.

What people tend to forget is that those failing and learning moments is that they often have very different consequences in the here and now. So, a teenager sneaking into a horror movie and having nightmares for a few nights is very different than someone punching a guy in a bar fight and getting arrested, or say someone in a marriage has an affair. It’s usually the consequences that goof us up…and this is why there cannot be a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with folks. Because even in those three scenarios there would be multiple varying circumstances that would need to be considered on their individual evidences.

So, when dealing with accountability and judgment, I’d have to ask, “What standard are you using to hold someone accountable (and did they ask us to or have others–such as pastors/elder–been granted that authority?) and judge them by?” The standard is that we should adhere to Francis Schaeffer’s wise words that tell us that we should speak boldly and with authority to those areas where the Bible speaks boldly and with authority, and we should be silent where it is silent. We’d all do well to abide by that. Most would be amazed at all the things the Bible is silent about. Sure, folks do unwise things here and there, but all that is unwise is not sin. We should know the difference and generally be more silent than we are.

That said, Scripture is clear that we cannot judge hearts. We can, however, judge actions. So, if I see a friend who is drunk, I can judge that. And me and that friend should have a conversation. The same as he could see me be angry, and judge that, and we should have a conversation.

And in community is where most spiritual growth issues can/should be dealt with. See, if my friend or group of friends really love me, they would use the power of our community together and would start that conversation with a “I love you, man. And you were pretty angry at your wife and…”. The Bible is pretty clear of next steps based on my reaction. Hopefully, I’d thank him for the caring rebuke and then he’d exhort me to press on toward the goal. This is much more complicated in our megachurch situations, no? That’s why we need to get smaller as we continue to get bigger…that means we need to find ways (mostly small group settings) to know and be known by others–a lost art in most churches.

In short, I think church leaderships should be very forthcoming and ask everybody, “Do you want to follow Jesus? Because that’s what we do here. That implies that all the cards we all hold are subject to dying daily. If you’re willing to do that, we’re willing to give you grace and space to let God work with you in His time and in His way…and we’ll speak boldly and with authority where the Bible does and we’ll be silent where it is.” And then church leadership should let community handle almost all the issues. Only in extreme situations should they get involved…unless asked or permitted.

If a person’s answer to that question is, “Yes, I want to follow, but…” and then lists a lot of reasons they want to hang on to some sin or make a black/white out of a gray area (like say, political affiliation or stance on contemporary music in worship, et al) then we might be a bit uncomfortable having them in our local family. That isn’t unity.

In my mind, the issue for leadership is to focus on Christ and life in Him, and allow the community to be the Body. Sure, it’ll get messy and you won’t always get it right, but just keep asking, “What is the most loving thing we can do in this instance?” Then do that. Then ask forgiveness when you get that wrong.

Did that actually answer the question or did I go on a complete rabbit trail?

Justin asked a 3-parter, in which Kendra asked me to answer in haiku form. I could, but that would take much longer than I have time for. I’ll just answer them. 1) How did you arrive at a transition from youth pastoring to missions? 2) When is the book coming out on youth ministry leadership and how to effectively disciple teenagers to not just be learners, but also servants? 3) Do you get tired of people asking you youth ministry questions even though it’s been a few years since you moved out of it?

1) I always viewed myself as a “lifer” in student ministry. I truly envisioned being 70 years old and going to high school football games to see my students. Funny how, in doing that over time, God showed me a few things. First and foremost, I began to see how quickly my students began to grow when they were on mission compared to the 48 exegetical lessons I taught them. Don’t get me wrong. I hold Scripture in high regard and certainly don’t discount the importance of that in spiritual growth, but when I saw students see who God created them to be, using their gifts and talents to help the Body mature, well, the lessons became real-world applicable.

So, when a student who’d been discipled well began to lead a small group or go on a mission trip, well, their growth accelerated. Since what I wanted to see was the people I served growing in Christ, well, it was incumbent on me to create opportunities for them to use their gifts. This required that church leadership value students as part of the church now, not some “church of the future.” Thankfully, I had a group of elders and other staff that “got it” and made room for our students in all areas of our church’s ministry and then backed me up when others didn’t quite understand that.

Since I’d long before stopped trying to entertain students or draw big crowds, well, the publishing in the “missional movement” starting in about 2004 (and really prominent now) or so put words to what I was already sensing. So, I steered my student ministry toward mission as often as possible. It didn’t take long before my wife noticed that my bookshelf was being stacked with missional reading more than student ministry stuff, and over about 7 years it became apparent to her (and many, many insightful others who spoke it into my life) that it might be time to find out what else is next. Thankfully, I was able to have Charlie, who thought much like I did about discipling students and is tremendously gifted, to turn my student ministry over to.

It wasn’t long after that I had the chance to do the same thing I was doing with students for an entire church body here at IBC. It’s a pretty nice fit for me.

2) That’s someone else’s book to write. I’ve been out of student ministry four years now. That’s an eternity in student ministry years. The crux of your topic suggestion is in the paragraph I just wrote. Those thing won’t ever change, I don’t think.

3) No, I don’t get tired of those questions. I did that for over half my life and some of the greatest times in my life involved student ministry. I don’t think I’ll ever mind talking about it or the people who made it such a great time.

Finally, Lori asked about the five or 10 most influential books I’ve read:

I’ll try to mention them…and some reasons why they did.

First, I’m taking the liberty to include all the works of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis as one book. They all introduced me to the intellectual side of the faith (which helped me wrestle and make my faith my own in college). I often tell people they discipled me…which isn’t exactly a lie, even if they did it through their legacy of writings.

Second, The Grace Awakening, by Chuck Swindoll. This was the first time I wrestled with “law vs. grace” and my day-to-day walk. It was a tough read because it made me angry that no one had told me this stuff earlier on in my discipleship…and then I realized they didn’t know it themselves, which made me very compassionate. Sure, I went on to read other more scholarly works on the subject, but this influenced my ministry profoundly in that I vowed never to let the people I serve settle for behavior management but dealing with heart issues to let the Holy Spirit truly change lives.

Third, “Classic Christianity” by Bob George. Well, his name is on the cover, anyway, but that’s another story. A very practical read for those who want to see what a life in Christ can and should be. Not a scholarly approach by any means, but one people can get their hands around and begin to live freely and abundantly.

Fourth, “Shaping of Things to Come” by Frost and Hirsch, and “Tangible Kingdom” by Halter and Smay. Two books that have shaped my thinking on what “missional” is and can be. My friend Charlie and I did a fun thing on Facebook with our student ministry one time called “Communitas” that was based in these two books. “Shaping” is a graduate level read but well worth it if you have the stick-to-it needed for it, and “Tangible” is much more practical.

Finally, anything I can get my hands on by N.T. Wright. Just like my university days with Francis and Clive, my new kick is N.T.

Welp, that’s all the questions! Thanks for playing, and maybe we can do it again sometime!