Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

24 Sep

What’s the Difference Between the World and the Church?

Posted in Uncategorized on 24.09.12 by Merlyn

The simple answer is, not much. I have become increasingly aware of how much the world has changed the church. The church today resembles culture more and more, and unfortunately instead of changing the world, the church has been changed by the world. There is no question that this is backwards, and while we must minister to the culture we live in and while context matters greatly, it is my assertion that the church is losing its identity. Having grown up outside the church and having fallen in love with Jesus first, then connecting to the church, I admit I am limited by my own bias and experience. That said, here are five of the ways that the church has been changed by the world:

The church has become overly corporate. The church has become too corporate. In fact, most churches in the United States today look and act a lot more like a corporation or business than they do the body of Christ. This is not to say that some corporate values are not helpful or valuable to the church. Whether or not they are Biblical is certainly up for debate. Certainly the corporate world can teach the church much about systems, processes, policies and how to handle finances; however, the church has not used discernment as to which corporate values should be applied to the life of the church and how those values should be applied. We treat our ministries and programs as products, look at our congregation members and those in our community as customers, and seek to please rather than to lead.

The church is incredibly consumeristic. Evangelism has turned into church marketing. We have turned the church into a fast food restaurant, seeking to have a sleek appearance in our buildings, our worship services, and even our staff with culturally attractive hair and clothing. We are constantly trying to find ways to meet everyone’s needs so people will come to and stay in our churches. We inundate people with programs and ministries for every niche so that they do not leave us for the McDonald’s down the street. We want to be sure to offer the right kind of worship service, whether its one that ends in exactly an hour or its a worship service that is perfectly scripted. Entertainment and comfort have replaced theology. Instead of seeking service, we wonder what the church can do for us. The resulting desperation to do and be everything has done more than muddle our message; it has silenced our true mission.

The church is too democratic. Most reasonable people would argue democracy is the healthiest and best form of government we have in the world today. While democracy may be good, like any system or philosophy, democracy is not perfect. Somehow the freedom we are promised (and often feel entitled to) in our country has become the expectation in the church. Much like our government, we have become so inflated that we cannot function. We assume that the values of democracy should be the values of the church, but even a cursory examination of the life of Christ demonstrates that this is not the case. Our call is to sacrifice not to entitlement. Christians have divided themselves into liberal and conservative, sought to please everyone, and make sure every opinion is heard.

The church has become a capitalistic institution. For the record, Jesus was not much of a capitalist. In fact, Jesus was not much of a socialist either. The worship of capitalism in the church has given rise and prominence to the prosperity gospel, one of the great heresy’s of our modern culture. Our treatment of church members, employees, and others has become anything but gracious. Grace and capitalism are not always compatible, and the church is called to be a mission organization focused on service and not what it can do, earn or produce. The production of fruit is God’s business; our business is to trust God and to be faithful. Faithfulness focuses on process, not on the result. Capitalism is focused on production rather than relationship, and this is contrary in many ways to the gospel message.

The church is dangerously individualistic. We have lost sight of community in our world. Our focus is on our own individual needs, wants and desires. Our energy in the world today is poured into our own sense of justice, fairness and our rights as individuals. We have created laws, systems and expectations that emphasize the individual to such a high level that the narcissism that prevails in our culture today was a forgone conclusion. The church is by its very nature and definition a communal organization. Our own focus on individual salvation often neglects our need for community. Our arrogant assumption that we have anything to do with our own salvation has created a narcissistic faith for far too many. When we talk about faith and our relationship with Jesus, our word of choice has become ‘my’ instead of ‘our’ even though the call of the church is to be a community that expresses and lives out their faith together. Our churches have become a collection of lonely, isolated, individual participants rather than a community of faith.

The church is called to be different. Jesus is the light of the world and the church is his bride. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to act more like his partner and less like a religious mirror of the world Jesus came to transform.


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15 Sep

Product Review-Greater

Posted in Uncategorized on 15.09.12 by Merlyn

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)

Read the online article here


Greater Product Pack


This product included Steven Furtick’s new book, Greater, a DVD and discussion guide. The book is well done and very motivating. I could see it used for adults, young adults, or more mature high school youth. It too comes with discussion questions. The DVD and discussion guide are meant to compliment the book, but can also be used independently. The discussion guide is also well done, although it may be geared towards more mature believers and older youth/young adults. The DVD is phenomenal and can be used in almost any youth ministry or adult ministry setting in the church. The best use of this product for a youth ministry would be for the youth leader to get all three pieces, read the book and then use the DVD for youth group or small groups. I would recommend utilizing the discussion guide and the book for small group or youth group discussion along with the video. Greater can motivate anyone to a God sized vision and help provide the confidence needed to achieve those visions.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (

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06 Sep

Mission Trip Rules that Transform

Posted in Uncategorized on 06.09.12 by Merlyn

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal)

Read the online article here

Mission Trip Rules that Transform

When we think about mission trips, rules are not one of the first things that come to mind. Rules in youth ministry are often treated as a necessary evil instead of an opportunity. Believe it or not, in the case of mission trips, rules not only create physical and emotional safety, they can add to the transforming power of mission trips. There are a few rules that I have carried with me throughout my whole career and to every church I have served. They are always met with some resistance, but they have served as a great tool for transformation. Too often, we youth worker types are not intentional about many things, particularly our rules and expectations of students.

Rule #1: Cell Phones

I have never allowed students to bring cell phones on mission trips for any reason. We communicate this with students and parents early and often. We do allow our adults to bring them for communication and safety reasons, but also ask them not to use them in front of students unless it is an emergency or an important trip communication. Leaving cell phones home makes a huge difference on mission trips. It’s one more thing that could get lost or stolen as well as one more thing to keep track of. Additionally, cell phones are a huge distraction. Most of our rules for mission trips are focused on either safety or removing distractions. Forcing our students to disconnect during the mission trip avoids a wide variety of problems and leads to a lot of transformation. Our students (as well as adults) are surrounded by noise and distraction and are constantly connected. This prevents so many of us from hearing the voice of God. Removing cell phones from our trips has helped students hear the still, small voice of God with more clarity.

Rule #2: Other Electronic Devices

We also have rules regarding other electronic devices. We do allow music players (ipod etc) on our trips unless we are going on an international trip and are concerned about customs (Yes, we have several students who tell us their music is on their phone but we do not allow them to bring their phones for any reason). We only allow these music devices to be used while on the drive or flight to and from the location of the trip. Once we arrive we take them away and lock them up (this prevents them from getting used, lost or stolen) and even though we have students who insist they need them to sleep, we ask them to suffer for Jesus. We of course allow cameras (unless it’s a phone) on our mission trips, but do not allow any other electronic devices (video game players etc) on our trips. As with the cell phones, these devices are not only a risk (theft etc), but they are also a distraction. Thankfully we have not had any students go into shock after a week without their electronic devices.

Rule #3: Pampering

This rule has created the most debate and controversy in recent years. For our mission trips we tell all participants that it is not a time to pamper, spend time on our appearance and parade the many resources we have in front of others. We ask our students and adults to avoid really nice clothing and jewelry and tell them not to bring a bunch of makeup and other pampering products including hair dryers, curling irons etc. More times than not, our leaders (and usually the ones in their twenties) have the hardest time with this rule.

Rule #4: The Obvious Stuff

There are those rules that are (or at least should be) obvious that I also hold fast to on mission trips. In addition to honoring and respecting the rules of the organizations and people you are working with, the most obvious of these rules relates to romantic physical contact between students. I have never permitted this and while I have rarely had a problem in this area (I am sure there are some I do not know about) it is a rule that we must take seriously on mission trips. Allowing students to wander alone in unsafe situations or riding on the roof of the church van along with other issues are the simple and obvious things that hopefully we do not forget.

The Covenant

Each year I ask our mission teams to create and sign a covenant. I ask them to think about the things that they should expect from each other and we have a dialogue about what should go into our covenant. This agreement between all of the members of our team and God is something that enhances the trip and creates great dialogue between our students as they prepare for our mission trips. It also helps us all to focus on why we are serving while perhaps even reducing some the drama that is a natural part of any mission trip.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (


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