How to Share Your Faith at Work

As a Christian, you are a fully credentialed ambassador of the empire of Jesus, High King of the universe. God has entrusted to you the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus reconciles rebels to God. That’s as true from 9-5 Monday through Friday as it is for any other hour of your life. When you go to church, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you hang out with friends, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you go to work, meet with a client, participate in a meeting, work on a project, drive a nail, create a blueprint, welcome a customer, or write a white paper, you’re still an ambassador for the King.

Evangelism isn’t the primary purpose for our work. Scripture reveals to us all kinds of purposes and motivations for our work. However, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. One of the purposes is evangelism. We’re ambassadors for our King always, including the time we’re at our jobs.

the-gospel-at-work_0

So how can we faithfully share the gospel with people at work? Here are five suggestions.

1. Just do good work as a Christian.

When you get a chance to speak the gospel to one of your coworkers, make sure you’ve already been backing it up by being a good worker yourself. Build a reputation as a person who works with purpose, creativity, kindness, and encouragement. Then, when you get to share the gospel, people will see how you reflect the character of your King.

Practically, you can hold up your vocational challenges to the light of the gospel and ponder how you can approach them “as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). Would Jesus have you cut corners on that project? Would he have you defraud that client by doing that job on the cheap? Would he have you rip into your employees when they make mistakes, even stupid ones? Would he have you mope through the day in a spirit of resentment and anger? No. He’d have you confront your challenges with faith that, ultimately, they’re all coming from his hand. Amid it all, he’d have you “shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Then the gospel you speak will be confirmed in the eyes of those watching you.

2. Learn to put God on the table.

Yes, just throw him out there! Let people know in natural, easygoing, confident ways that you’re a Christian. Why do so many believers try to keep their Christianity a secret? We all want someone to approach us and ask about Christianity (since that saves us the awkward experience of having to start that conversation ourselves), but often we go out of our way not to give them any opportunity to do so.

When someone asks what you did over the weekend, tell them you went to church. Mention the Bible study you attend on Tuesday nights. Don’t just mumble, “I’m sorry I can’t come to your birthday party; I’m busy.” Say, “I can’t come because I’m scheduled to work at my church’s clothes closet this weekend.” You don’t have to be obnoxious or irresponsible about it. Just make sure you identify yourself publicly with Jesus. Let people know somehow you’re a Christian and don’t mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations. You’ll be amazed at how often people will take the opportunity to press in on the little piece of information you’ve just offered. People are often more interested in spiritual things than you think. They just need a bit of permission from you to feel free to talk about it.

3. Build relationships beyond the office.

Strive to break through the personal/professional boundaries that can form between you and your coworkers. Of course, you shouldn’t let your relationships become inappropriate in any way. However, if you’re going to share the gospel with someone, you’ll eventually have to talk to them about something other than the job.

Really, it’s not too difficult to do. Grab a cup of coffee after work. Ask questions that go beyond the shallow chitchat that often marks offices. Give some information about yourself that encourages the other person to open up as well. Talk about your family. Be honest about some of the struggles in your life or talk about some of your hopes for the future. In time, by your questions, your openness, and your interest in their life, you’ll communicate you care far more deeply about them than just the talents they contribute to the company. You care about them for them. They’ll be much more likely to listen to you discuss the gospel if they know they’re not just another cog in your professional machine.

4. Use the witness of the church.

As you build relationships with people, look for ways to involve other believers from your church as well. One of the greatest witnesses to the gospel on the planet is the love Christians have for one another (John 13:34-35). If you and some friends from church are going to be hanging out together, invite one of your coworkers to come along. The conversation doesn’t have to be explicitly spiritual. Sometimes interactions between a group of normal, interesting, fun, intelligent Christians will change a person’s entire perspective about Christianity. Also invite coworkers to your church’s worship services. Let them see what it’s like for a group of Christians to gather and take their faith seriously. Many have never seen anything like that, and experiencing it can raise all kinds of good questions in their minds. Jesus called his followers to gather together into churches for a reason. Your church family can be an enormous evangelistic resource. Let them be coworkers with you as you hold firmly to the word of life in your workplace.

5. Have a “mission field” mindset about your work.

Have you considered one of the reasons God may have deployed you to your job is so you can break into a particular subculture with gospel grace? Throughout our society there are countless groups of people who share much in common simply because they work in the same field. They speak the same jargon; they struggle with the same issues; they ask many of the same questions. And sadly, in many of those subcultures the truth of the gospel is a rarity. For example, I imagine I (Sebastian) am one of only a tiny number of Christians working in the creative internet space today. That means I have the privilege of helping to break into that subculture with the good news. What specific group has the King deployed you to work among each day? Architects? Teachers? Auto salespeople? Thinking about the mission that way helps us not get discouraged by the thought of the millions who need salvation. Rather, we’re energized by the thought that our King has deployed us to a specific network of friends and relationships into which we can speak truths seldom heard.

You could also consider taking your job to another part of the world, even places where it may be difficult for career missionaries to go. The globalization of the business world is one of the most important developments in the history of missions. Companies are expanding internationally and looking for professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs to open up new markets where none has existed. Why not consider being an engineer in Shanghai? Why not do your business in Dubai, Istanbul, or Moscow, where millions of persons from hundreds of nationalities live and work each day? These places need a strong gospel witness. Career missionaries already in these cities will be deeply encouraged by other Christians moving there and putting their hands to the plow.

Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger’s new book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Lives (Zondervan) [interview | free study guide | website | Twitter].

How to Share Your Faith at Work

As a Christian, you are a fully credentialed ambassador of the empire of Jesus, High King of the universe. God has entrusted to you the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus reconciles rebels to God. That’s as true from 9-5 Monday through Friday as it is for any other hour of your life. When you go to church, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you hang out with friends, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you go to work, meet with a client, participate in a meeting, work on a project, drive a nail, create a blueprint, welcome a customer, or write a white paper, you’re still an ambassador for the King.

Evangelism isn’t the primary purpose for our work. Scripture reveals to us all kinds of purposes and motivations for our work. However, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. One of the purposes is evangelism. We’re ambassadors for our King always, including the time we’re at our jobs.

the-gospel-at-work_0

So how can we faithfully share the gospel with people at work? Here are five suggestions.

1. Just do good work as a Christian.

When you get a chance to speak the gospel to one of your coworkers, make sure you’ve already been backing it up by being a good worker yourself. Build a reputation as a person who works with purpose, creativity, kindness, and encouragement. Then, when you get to share the gospel, people will see how you reflect the character of your King.

Practically, you can hold up your vocational challenges to the light of the gospel and ponder how you can approach them “as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). Would Jesus have you cut corners on that project? Would he have you defraud that client by doing that job on the cheap? Would he have you rip into your employees when they make mistakes, even stupid ones? Would he have you mope through the day in a spirit of resentment and anger? No. He’d have you confront your challenges with faith that, ultimately, they’re all coming from his hand. Amid it all, he’d have you “shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Then the gospel you speak will be confirmed in the eyes of those watching you.

2. Learn to put God on the table.

Yes, just throw him out there! Let people know in natural, easygoing, confident ways that you’re a Christian. Why do so many believers try to keep their Christianity a secret? We all want someone to approach us and ask about Christianity (since that saves us the awkward experience of having to start that conversation ourselves), but often we go out of our way not to give them any opportunity to do so.

When someone asks what you did over the weekend, tell them you went to church. Mention the Bible study you attend on Tuesday nights. Don’t just mumble, “I’m sorry I can’t come to your birthday party; I’m busy.” Say, “I can’t come because I’m scheduled to work at my church’s clothes closet this weekend.” You don’t have to be obnoxious or irresponsible about it. Just make sure you identify yourself publicly with Jesus. Let people know somehow you’re a Christian and don’t mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations. You’ll be amazed at how often people will take the opportunity to press in on the little piece of information you’ve just offered. People are often more interested in spiritual things than you think. They just need a bit of permission from you to feel free to talk about it.

3. Build relationships beyond the office.

Strive to break through the personal/professional boundaries that can form between you and your coworkers. Of course, you shouldn’t let your relationships become inappropriate in any way. However, if you’re going to share the gospel with someone, you’ll eventually have to talk to them about something other than the job.

Really, it’s not too difficult to do. Grab a cup of coffee after work. Ask questions that go beyond the shallow chitchat that often marks offices. Give some information about yourself that encourages the other person to open up as well. Talk about your family. Be honest about some of the struggles in your life or talk about some of your hopes for the future. In time, by your questions, your openness, and your interest in their life, you’ll communicate you care far more deeply about them than just the talents they contribute to the company. You care about them for them. They’ll be much more likely to listen to you discuss the gospel if they know they’re not just another cog in your professional machine.

4. Use the witness of the church.

As you build relationships with people, look for ways to involve other believers from your church as well. One of the greatest witnesses to the gospel on the planet is the love Christians have for one another (John 13:34-35). If you and some friends from church are going to be hanging out together, invite one of your coworkers to come along. The conversation doesn’t have to be explicitly spiritual. Sometimes interactions between a group of normal, interesting, fun, intelligent Christians will change a person’s entire perspective about Christianity. Also invite coworkers to your church’s worship services. Let them see what it’s like for a group of Christians to gather and take their faith seriously. Many have never seen anything like that, and experiencing it can raise all kinds of good questions in their minds. Jesus called his followers to gather together into churches for a reason. Your church family can be an enormous evangelistic resource. Let them be coworkers with you as you hold firmly to the word of life in your workplace.

5. Have a “mission field” mindset about your work.

Have you considered one of the reasons God may have deployed you to your job is so you can break into a particular subculture with gospel grace? Throughout our society there are countless groups of people who share much in common simply because they work in the same field. They speak the same jargon; they struggle with the same issues; they ask many of the same questions. And sadly, in many of those subcultures the truth of the gospel is a rarity. For example, I imagine I (Sebastian) am one of only a tiny number of Christians working in the creative internet space today. That means I have the privilege of helping to break into that subculture with the good news. What specific group has the King deployed you to work among each day? Architects? Teachers? Auto salespeople? Thinking about the mission that way helps us not get discouraged by the thought of the millions who need salvation. Rather, we’re energized by the thought that our King has deployed us to a specific network of friends and relationships into which we can speak truths seldom heard.

You could also consider taking your job to another part of the world, even places where it may be difficult for career missionaries to go. The globalization of the business world is one of the most important developments in the history of missions. Companies are expanding internationally and looking for professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs to open up new markets where none has existed. Why not consider being an engineer in Shanghai? Why not do your business in Dubai, Istanbul, or Moscow, where millions of persons from hundreds of nationalities live and work each day? These places need a strong gospel witness. Career missionaries already in these cities will be deeply encouraged by other Christians moving there and putting their hands to the plow.

Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger’s new book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Lives (Zondervan) [interview | free study guide | website | Twitter].

How to Share Your Faith at Work

As a Christian, you are a fully credentialed ambassador of the empire of Jesus, High King of the universe. God has entrusted to you the message of reconciliation, the good news that Jesus reconciles rebels to God. That’s as true from 9-5 Monday through Friday as it is for any other hour of your life. When you go to church, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you hang out with friends, you’re an ambassador for the King. When you go to work, meet with a client, participate in a meeting, work on a project, drive a nail, create a blueprint, welcome a customer, or write a white paper, you’re still an ambassador for the King.

Evangelism isn’t the primary purpose for our work. Scripture reveals to us all kinds of purposes and motivations for our work. However, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. One of the purposes is evangelism. We’re ambassadors for our King always, including the time we’re at our jobs.

the-gospel-at-work_0

So how can we faithfully share the gospel with people at work? Here are five suggestions.

1. Just do good work as a Christian.

When you get a chance to speak the gospel to one of your coworkers, make sure you’ve already been backing it up by being a good worker yourself. Build a reputation as a person who works with purpose, creativity, kindness, and encouragement. Then, when you get to share the gospel, people will see how you reflect the character of your King.

Practically, you can hold up your vocational challenges to the light of the gospel and ponder how you can approach them “as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). Would Jesus have you cut corners on that project? Would he have you defraud that client by doing that job on the cheap? Would he have you rip into your employees when they make mistakes, even stupid ones? Would he have you mope through the day in a spirit of resentment and anger? No. He’d have you confront your challenges with faith that, ultimately, they’re all coming from his hand. Amid it all, he’d have you “shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Then the gospel you speak will be confirmed in the eyes of those watching you.

2. Learn to put God on the table.

Yes, just throw him out there! Let people know in natural, easygoing, confident ways that you’re a Christian. Why do so many believers try to keep their Christianity a secret? We all want someone to approach us and ask about Christianity (since that saves us the awkward experience of having to start that conversation ourselves), but often we go out of our way not to give them any opportunity to do so.

When someone asks what you did over the weekend, tell them you went to church. Mention the Bible study you attend on Tuesday nights. Don’t just mumble, “I’m sorry I can’t come to your birthday party; I’m busy.” Say, “I can’t come because I’m scheduled to work at my church’s clothes closet this weekend.” You don’t have to be obnoxious or irresponsible about it. Just make sure you identify yourself publicly with Jesus. Let people know somehow you’re a Christian and don’t mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations. You’ll be amazed at how often people will take the opportunity to press in on the little piece of information you’ve just offered. People are often more interested in spiritual things than you think. They just need a bit of permission from you to feel free to talk about it.

3. Build relationships beyond the office.

Strive to break through the personal/professional boundaries that can form between you and your coworkers. Of course, you shouldn’t let your relationships become inappropriate in any way. However, if you’re going to share the gospel with someone, you’ll eventually have to talk to them about something other than the job.

Really, it’s not too difficult to do. Grab a cup of coffee after work. Ask questions that go beyond the shallow chitchat that often marks offices. Give some information about yourself that encourages the other person to open up as well. Talk about your family. Be honest about some of the struggles in your life or talk about some of your hopes for the future. In time, by your questions, your openness, and your interest in their life, you’ll communicate you care far more deeply about them than just the talents they contribute to the company. You care about them for them. They’ll be much more likely to listen to you discuss the gospel if they know they’re not just another cog in your professional machine.

4. Use the witness of the church.

As you build relationships with people, look for ways to involve other believers from your church as well. One of the greatest witnesses to the gospel on the planet is the love Christians have for one another (John 13:34-35). If you and some friends from church are going to be hanging out together, invite one of your coworkers to come along. The conversation doesn’t have to be explicitly spiritual. Sometimes interactions between a group of normal, interesting, fun, intelligent Christians will change a person’s entire perspective about Christianity. Also invite coworkers to your church’s worship services. Let them see what it’s like for a group of Christians to gather and take their faith seriously. Many have never seen anything like that, and experiencing it can raise all kinds of good questions in their minds. Jesus called his followers to gather together into churches for a reason. Your church family can be an enormous evangelistic resource. Let them be coworkers with you as you hold firmly to the word of life in your workplace.

5. Have a “mission field” mindset about your work.

Have you considered one of the reasons God may have deployed you to your job is so you can break into a particular subculture with gospel grace? Throughout our society there are countless groups of people who share much in common simply because they work in the same field. They speak the same jargon; they struggle with the same issues; they ask many of the same questions. And sadly, in many of those subcultures the truth of the gospel is a rarity. For example, I imagine I (Sebastian) am one of only a tiny number of Christians working in the creative internet space today. That means I have the privilege of helping to break into that subculture with the good news. What specific group has the King deployed you to work among each day? Architects? Teachers? Auto salespeople? Thinking about the mission that way helps us not get discouraged by the thought of the millions who need salvation. Rather, we’re energized by the thought that our King has deployed us to a specific network of friends and relationships into which we can speak truths seldom heard.

You could also consider taking your job to another part of the world, even places where it may be difficult for career missionaries to go. The globalization of the business world is one of the most important developments in the history of missions. Companies are expanding internationally and looking for professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs to open up new markets where none has existed. Why not consider being an engineer in Shanghai? Why not do your business in Dubai, Istanbul, or Moscow, where millions of persons from hundreds of nationalities live and work each day? These places need a strong gospel witness. Career missionaries already in these cities will be deeply encouraged by other Christians moving there and putting their hands to the plow.

Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger’s new book, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Lives (Zondervan) [interview | free study guide | website | Twitter].

What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?

In the past couple of months, I’ve had a number of heavy conversations with friends about the realities of life. We’ve talked about the heartaches of infertility, questions about parenting, devastating breakups, marriage conflicts, unwanted singleness, and struggles with sexuality. A few friends have been abruptly fired from ministry positions, and others have left overseas posts because of difficulties with leadership. More than one dream job has turned out to be not so dreamy after all.

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard. Most of us realize we that we believed big problems weren’t supposed to come so early in life, and real troubles were for an older crowd. Whether we knew it or not, we imagined our 20s to be carefree and blissfully happy, with the track of “We Are Young” playing during a video montage of road trips, pub nights, and crazy adventures. How were we so wrong?

sad_girl

To Change the World

Somewhere between elementary school self-esteem talks, Jesus Freaks youth group lessons, and “you can single-handedly evangelize the 10/40 window” college mission conferences, we were pumped up and ready to change the world. We anticipated picture-perfect marriages and families after we signed our commitments at True Love Waits and kissed dating good-bye. What could go wrong when we had the prayer of Jabez on our side and enough Christian T-shirts to win the world to Jesus? We were doing our part with sponsored children, the 30-Hour Famine, and prayer vigils for the persecuted church. God would certainly give us the good life with all of that sacrifice, wouldn’t he?

Although we consistently asked what would Jesus do, no one told us how important it was to learn how he dealt with suffering. While we may have escaped much of the suffering of the world and generations past, we weren’t equipped to deal with the realities of life. We had categories for the American dream and grand ministry experiences, but many of us didn’t have a framework to endure deaths of siblings, financial hardship, cancer, or family conflict. Here we are, 10 years later, trying to deal with hard things and coming to terms with our own sin, and the harsh fact that suffering isn’t ageist after all.

It’s not my intent to blame-shift, which is another thing we do so well, to play the victim and rage against the machine when we don’t get what we want. We need to take responsibility for our role in our delusions, buying into pop Christian culture instead of the Bible, believing the larger cultural claims that youth is the highest good. This isn’t an excuse for our poor responses to hardship or for not listening when someone tried to tell us truth. We must own our cynicism and bitterness against the church, even if we have accurately identified some real ways it contributed to the illusion that life would fall into perfectly into place for us.

Grieve Shattered Dreams

Instead, I’m calling us to suffer well, to realize we are not in ultimate control, although many of us have vast amounts of freedom and choices. We need to learn to grieve our shattered dreams, to understand and absorb sadness, to sit with unanswered questions and learn about trusting God in this space without sugar-coating the truth. Although we may not be thinking about knee replacements right now, we need to know that we live in a broken world, and soon enough our bodies will break down too. We need to put to death our expectations of a perfect life, prepare for things to be hard, and realize the fall has affected every part of the world. We need to learn that there is nowhere we can escape from sin, because we can’t escape from ourselves. We need to learn to bring our regrets to Jesus, that he can meet us in our shame if we have wasted years of our lives.

But we also need to grow new expectations, ones that wait for God to show up in ways we couldn’t imagine, to expect seasons of joy and grace in the midst of difficulties. We need courage to find new dreams when our old ones aren’t happening. When I think about these conversations with friends puzzling over our lives, the best parts have been talking about the ways our hard circumstances have brought new life, how the severe mercy of God has forced us to wrestle with the deep truths of Scripture, and how we long for heaven more than we ever would have if life had gone as we wished.

We’ve also talked about how we need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles. We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus. This is how we most want the church to be relevant.

Many of us are investing in the next generation in some way, hoping to show them a real and true picture of life, to teach them that even the “best” years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again, and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.

What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?

In the past couple of months, I’ve had a number of heavy conversations with friends about the realities of life. We’ve talked about the heartaches of infertility, questions about parenting, devastating breakups, marriage conflicts, unwanted singleness, and struggles with sexuality. A few friends have been abruptly fired from ministry positions, and others have left overseas posts because of difficulties with leadership. More than one dream job has turned out to be not so dreamy after all.

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard. Most of us realize we that we believed big problems weren’t supposed to come so early in life, and real troubles were for an older crowd. Whether we knew it or not, we imagined our 20s to be carefree and blissfully happy, with the track of “We Are Young” playing during a video montage of road trips, pub nights, and crazy adventures. How were we so wrong?

sad_girl

To Change the World

Somewhere between elementary school self-esteem talks, Jesus Freaks youth group lessons, and “you can single-handedly evangelize the 10/40 window” college mission conferences, we were pumped up and ready to change the world. We anticipated picture-perfect marriages and families after we signed our commitments at True Love Waits and kissed dating good-bye. What could go wrong when we had the prayer of Jabez on our side and enough Christian T-shirts to win the world to Jesus? We were doing our part with sponsored children, the 30-Hour Famine, and prayer vigils for the persecuted church. God would certainly give us the good life with all of that sacrifice, wouldn’t he?

Although we consistently asked what would Jesus do, no one told us how important it was to learn how he dealt with suffering. While we may have escaped much of the suffering of the world and generations past, we weren’t equipped to deal with the realities of life. We had categories for the American dream and grand ministry experiences, but many of us didn’t have a framework to endure deaths of siblings, financial hardship, cancer, or family conflict. Here we are, 10 years later, trying to deal with hard things and coming to terms with our own sin, and the harsh fact that suffering isn’t ageist after all.

It’s not my intent to blame-shift, which is another thing we do so well, to play the victim and rage against the machine when we don’t get what we want. We need to take responsibility for our role in our delusions, buying into pop Christian culture instead of the Bible, believing the larger cultural claims that youth is the highest good. This isn’t an excuse for our poor responses to hardship or for not listening when someone tried to tell us truth. We must own our cynicism and bitterness against the church, even if we have accurately identified some real ways it contributed to the illusion that life would fall into perfectly into place for us.

Grieve Shattered Dreams

Instead, I’m calling us to suffer well, to realize we are not in ultimate control, although many of us have vast amounts of freedom and choices. We need to learn to grieve our shattered dreams, to understand and absorb sadness, to sit with unanswered questions and learn about trusting God in this space without sugar-coating the truth. Although we may not be thinking about knee replacements right now, we need to know that we live in a broken world, and soon enough our bodies will break down too. We need to put to death our expectations of a perfect life, prepare for things to be hard, and realize the fall has affected every part of the world. We need to learn that there is nowhere we can escape from sin, because we can’t escape from ourselves. We need to learn to bring our regrets to Jesus, that he can meet us in our shame if we have wasted years of our lives.

But we also need to grow new expectations, ones that wait for God to show up in ways we couldn’t imagine, to expect seasons of joy and grace in the midst of difficulties. We need courage to find new dreams when our old ones aren’t happening. When I think about these conversations with friends puzzling over our lives, the best parts have been talking about the ways our hard circumstances have brought new life, how the severe mercy of God has forced us to wrestle with the deep truths of Scripture, and how we long for heaven more than we ever would have if life had gone as we wished.

We’ve also talked about how we need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles. We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus. This is how we most want the church to be relevant.

Many of us are investing in the next generation in some way, hoping to show them a real and true picture of life, to teach them that even the “best” years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again, and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.

What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?

In the past couple of months, I’ve had a number of heavy conversations with friends about the realities of life. We’ve talked about the heartaches of infertility, questions about parenting, devastating breakups, marriage conflicts, unwanted singleness, and struggles with sexuality. A few friends have been abruptly fired from ministry positions, and others have left overseas posts because of difficulties with leadership. More than one dream job has turned out to be not so dreamy after all.

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard. Most of us realize we that we believed big problems weren’t supposed to come so early in life, and real troubles were for an older crowd. Whether we knew it or not, we imagined our 20s to be carefree and blissfully happy, with the track of “We Are Young” playing during a video montage of road trips, pub nights, and crazy adventures. How were we so wrong?

sad_girl

To Change the World

Somewhere between elementary school self-esteem talks, Jesus Freaks youth group lessons, and “you can single-handedly evangelize the 10/40 window” college mission conferences, we were pumped up and ready to change the world. We anticipated picture-perfect marriages and families after we signed our commitments at True Love Waits and kissed dating good-bye. What could go wrong when we had the prayer of Jabez on our side and enough Christian T-shirts to win the world to Jesus? We were doing our part with sponsored children, the 30-Hour Famine, and prayer vigils for the persecuted church. God would certainly give us the good life with all of that sacrifice, wouldn’t he?

Although we consistently asked what would Jesus do, no one told us how important it was to learn how he dealt with suffering. While we may have escaped much of the suffering of the world and generations past, we weren’t equipped to deal with the realities of life. We had categories for the American dream and grand ministry experiences, but many of us didn’t have a framework to endure deaths of siblings, financial hardship, cancer, or family conflict. Here we are, 10 years later, trying to deal with hard things and coming to terms with our own sin, and the harsh fact that suffering isn’t ageist after all.

It’s not my intent to blame-shift, which is another thing we do so well, to play the victim and rage against the machine when we don’t get what we want. We need to take responsibility for our role in our delusions, buying into pop Christian culture instead of the Bible, believing the larger cultural claims that youth is the highest good. This isn’t an excuse for our poor responses to hardship or for not listening when someone tried to tell us truth. We must own our cynicism and bitterness against the church, even if we have accurately identified some real ways it contributed to the illusion that life would fall into perfectly into place for us.

Grieve Shattered Dreams

Instead, I’m calling us to suffer well, to realize we are not in ultimate control, although many of us have vast amounts of freedom and choices. We need to learn to grieve our shattered dreams, to understand and absorb sadness, to sit with unanswered questions and learn about trusting God in this space without sugar-coating the truth. Although we may not be thinking about knee replacements right now, we need to know that we live in a broken world, and soon enough our bodies will break down too. We need to put to death our expectations of a perfect life, prepare for things to be hard, and realize the fall has affected every part of the world. We need to learn that there is nowhere we can escape from sin, because we can’t escape from ourselves. We need to learn to bring our regrets to Jesus, that he can meet us in our shame if we have wasted years of our lives.

But we also need to grow new expectations, ones that wait for God to show up in ways we couldn’t imagine, to expect seasons of joy and grace in the midst of difficulties. We need courage to find new dreams when our old ones aren’t happening. When I think about these conversations with friends puzzling over our lives, the best parts have been talking about the ways our hard circumstances have brought new life, how the severe mercy of God has forced us to wrestle with the deep truths of Scripture, and how we long for heaven more than we ever would have if life had gone as we wished.

We’ve also talked about how we need to hear from the older generations, how they have faced hard things and fought for faith. We need their perspective, their wisdom, their words spoken into our lives. We want to hear more from our pastors and leaders about how they move though struggles. We wish the church were more honest, that we didn’t feel alone there in our addictions and sin and heartbreak, that we could walk in and be real. Most of us don’t care all that much about the music style and building aesthetics. We long for transparent relationships with people who are willing to enter our mess and point us to Jesus. This is how we most want the church to be relevant.

Many of us are investing in the next generation in some way, hoping to show them a real and true picture of life, to teach them that even the “best” years of their lives will include heartache and pain. We want them to have all the excitable idealism of being young, but we want that enthusiasm to be met with wisdom and tempered with reality. Most of all, we want to tell them of all the good we found along the way, how we learned to live again, and how we look to our next decades with hope that God is making something new out of our crushed expectations.

Against the Separation of Marriage and State

It’s been a tumultuous year in the battle over marriage. We’re losing, and we need a new strategy. The good news is, almost everyone has now seen this need. The bad news is, just as we are leaving behind the dangers of overconfidence, we are facing the dangers of discouragement.

At this tough time, we must be especially careful to avoid wishful thinking. More and more Christians think they have found an easy way out of our marriage dilemmas through a “separation of marriage and state.” The idea is to avoid a political debate about marriage by removing that question from the realm of law, policy, and regulation. Let anyone who wants to call themselves married call themselves married, and keep government entirely out of it.

family_bike_ride

Don’t get me wrong—such an approach would not be the worst possible outcome of the current debate. It would probably be better than full-blown legal institutionalization of gay marriage. Politicians and activists need not fight to the death for perfection; their job is to obtain the most palatable result from a menu of alternatives that is always imperfect and often downright unappetizing. In the coming years, something like a separation of marriage and state is likely to be the least-worst among the bad selection of possible outcomes in many localities.

But many supporters of natural marriage are starting to think a separation of marriage and state is actually the most desirable policy on the merits. If that view prevails, we will have made a considerable error; one that will tend to lead us into even worse errors far beyond the marriage debate. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is sound advice. But it is equally important not to mistake the good—still less the only-sort-of-okay, or even the lousy-but-it’s-the-best-we-can-get—for the perfect.

No End

To begin, a separation of marriage and state would not end the political battle over marriage. The vast legal and regulatory apparatus of the modern state does millions of things every day that require it to make assumptions about who is married. From divorce and child custody courts to health care policy to government employee benefits, any serious attempt to make government agnostic about marriage would require policymakers, bureaucrats, and lawyers to make literally millions of decisions about how each of these specific questions would now be handled under the new rules.

There is no way to make those decisions without creating unpredictable and intensely painful disruptions in the lives of large numbers of people. Inevitably, neither side of the marriage debate would be satisfied with the results of the process. Each side would demand that the questions be settled more favorably for its constituencies. And none of these decisions would ever be permanently settled, because both sides will always have opportunities to reopen areas of debate and keep fighting for more turf.

The fact that you can’t actually avoid a political battle over marriage points to a deeper problem: the attempt to separate marriage and state would institutionalize a false view of reality. The existence of civil government presupposes the existence of natural marriage. People form political communities to serve social needs that only arise after households already exist.

This is not an exclusively Christian teaching. Until just the other day, it was the prevailing view in every human civilization, including those in which homosexuality was accepted. For ancients like Aristotle and Confucius, political society exists essentially to mediate between households. For moderns like Locke, the natural law that human life is to be protected and increased leads us first to get married and have children, and only later to form governments that help us protect and increase life more effectively.

A separation of marriage and state would institutionalize the view that government need not presuppose natural marriage. That error would probably be less damaging than the error of gay marriage. But it would still have bad consequences.

All About Individuals

For all the important differences between ancient and modern views, they agree that the political community is not something we create because we want to get something for ourselves out of it; it’s something we create because we want life and justice to increase. A society that really practiced a separation of marriage and state would come to think—even more strongly than our culture already does—that politics is not about how a community can order its shared life for justice and flourishing. Politics would become, even more than it already is, all about how individuals can satisfy their desires. This is a major contributor to almost every public problem we have today, from the economic crisis to the breakdown of the family to the inability of government to perform even its most basic tasks.

The attempt to make government neutral regarding marriage would also encourage the broader cultural illusion that government is, or can be, morally neutral. People want to be able to live in peace with their neighbors, but public moral commitments that are shared in common make them uncomfortable. The desire for morally neutral government is an attempt to have our cake and eat it, too. It is what lies behind both the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the relentless campaign to force believers to live like secularists whenever they are in public. A separation of marriage and state would encourage this cultural environment further.

For all these reasons, a separation of marriage and state would not be a stable, permanent solution to the marriage dilemma. It’s not clear at this point what would be, although some promising ideas have been proposed. We do have to find a way to live in peace with our gay neighbors, accepting them with love as equal citizens. In time, their cultural narrative will fall apart. Until then, we have a messy political problem to navigate—and it does no good to try to avoid the inevitable.