Venting is that thing people (like me) do when something bad or annoying has happened. It usually involves someone else and how they made your life much harder and now all these things are going wrong (read “not like I wanted them to go”). And it normally coincides with some other significant life event and feels too much.
So you go and “get it off your chest”, or “vent”. You might even call it “processing”.
But what you’re really doing is either grumbling against God, slander or gossiping. Possibly all three.
Do you really need to get it off your chest? Really?
Well, have your tried telling God how you feel? Actually how you feel? No? Might it be because what you want to say isn’t very godly?
If you wouldn’t say it to God, don’t say it to anyone.
This was an idea that came up as we looked through Romans 12. Paul describes Christians as those who, through offering their lives and being transformed by the renewing of their mind, they would know God’s will.
Some Christians though, never seem to plod their way towards this (aren’t we all plodding towards this?!) There are some who are still thinking though the same issues they were thinking through years ago. They are still making the same silly mistakes they made at uni. Again and again they fall into the trap of taking on a new career, just because the pay was good, and now they’re realising that it’s taking more time away from ministry and family and evangelism. They commit to things with their kids, and only realise later that it means they need to cut their growth group attendance – just like they did when they were at uni – and they vowed never to make that mistake again.
It’s like they’re baby Christians making baby Christians decisions year after year after year. They still haven’t made efforts to tell their non-Christian friends about Jesus, they still haven’t started giving, they still haven’t made personal bible reading a priority.
So, we keep teaching the bible, prayerfully. Hoping the spirit will transform their mind and help them be living sacrifices who know their father’s will.
Over the past 5 weeks, Richard Sweatman and I have been recording a podcast for GrowthGroup/SmallGroup leaders, with advice on how to helpfully deal with people suffering through mental illnesses in their groups.
It’s a very tricky topic, and I still think one of the best pieces of advice from Richard was that we, as leaders, should ask how someone’s mental illness affects them, rather than assume it’s just like the last person we spoke to. There’s always more to say, but I hope these are helpful. They’re each about 10-12 minutes long, so short enough to listen to on a short trip.
Cast #1 – An important framework for pastoring people with mental illness
Cast #2 – Diving into the mental illness conversation
Cast #3 – Leading people struggling with Depression
Cast #4 – Leading people struggling with Anxiety
Cast #5 – Professional services available for people you lead
Some people have complete ideas in their heads, some people have fuzzy ideas in their heads, and some people have “empty buckets” when it comes to certain ideas.
All of these people have things they need to change… “Complete theological concepts” will always have things that need to be uncovered, undermined and re-understood. “Fuzzy theological concepts” need to be sharpened, and strengthened, and built.
But what do you do with “empty bucket theological concepts”?
The first thing is to pick it when you see it. The type of conversation you have with an empty-bucket is very different to a fuzzy or complete.
But when you do see it, it’s gives you an opportunity for great joy in simply filling a bucket with God’s thoughts. There’s nothing to take out, change, alter; just fill.
The best possible outcome is watching them fill their own empty bucket as they read God’s word. So help them do that.
When you’re a young christian, it’s almost as if everything is for you. Church feels aimed at you. There’s a special group for people new like you. You get invited to camps and getaways that teach you things you’ve never realised were in the bible. Every other person in church is more mature and wants to help you.
But as you grow in maturity (as you should) you also grow up in the community. You start welcoming new people, you start making the new christian feel at home, you help run the camps, you start leading the groups.
In fact, it’s normal Christian life that there seem to be fewer and fewer people around who are there for you. And more an more people for whom you are there for them.
You can see Paul’s disappointment in the Corinthians… “Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still fleshly.” (1Cor 3-1:3)
Or the writer of Hebrews… “it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:11-12)
Jesus wants us to mature, and maturity means “more like Jesus”; more serving others and less being served. Mature Christians give more than they get.
We must be careful that we do not judge ourselves or others by their lack of certain ministry gifts.
Unfortunately, this seems to happen a lot. A godly person sees someone else’s gifts; leadership, preaching, music, prayer, welcoming, stewardship, whatever. They see the value if those gifts and they hear people talk up those who have them. Then they start to feel ashamed or guilty or unworthy or useless because they don’t have those gifts.
But if gifts are just that; gifts given by God according to his pleasure and grace, you can’t be proud of your own, nor feel judged by others possession of them. It has nothing to do with you.
Similarly, if you’re a leader, be careful not to suggest that because someone doesn’t have a certain gift they are somehow less mature or less godly. Gifts are gifts. Yes, God might seem to give many if your most godly people the gifts needed to be a growth group leader. But they aren’t casually connected. Gifts are gifts. Some very godly people don’t have those gifts. Some very ungodly people do have those gifts.
Thank God for godly people and thank God for gifted people.
How do you know when someone’s really “got” the gospel? It’s an important question because we spend all this time and energy working hard at helping people get the gospel and keep hold of it. What does that look like?
It might be a growth in godliness – that would be nice. But, doing nice things doesn’t mean someone’s grasped the gospel. Loads of people who don’t get the gospel do really nice things!
It’s how they respond to their sin. People only every respond to their sin in 2 ways…
- Withdrawal from God (through trying to repay the sin, minimising the sin, denying the sin, or embracing the sin)
- Drawing towards God (through acknowledging the sin, repenting from the sin, asking forgiveness for the sin, acting to stop the sin)
Notice that all the first group of actions are movements away from relating to God – even trying to repay the sin is a movement away from God because it’s trying to replace the relationship with an offering (and a pretty poor one at that). But all the actions in group two are in fact movements towards a relationship with God – even the act of stopping the sin is something done while holding God’s hand.
In the end it all comes back to prayer. When they sin… how do they pray? How do you pray?
If you can help Christians answer this question for themselves, for their own lives and their own ministry involvement, you help them take a big step towards maturity as they face fear with the god who provides and promises to look after them, even while their worst fears come true before their eyes.
I reckon this is the big question to get people to answer for themselves as they approach thinking about doing MTS and a life of full-time ministry. If they can identify their deepest fears about giving their life to the work of the gospel, it might not make the decision easier, but it will afford them the chance to grow in their love and dependence on God.
Don’t ask it straight off the bat… You gotta work to get that deep.
Everything we do as Christians has something to do with character, right? But MTS training shouldn’t just have something to do with character… Character needs to be the primary goal.
In other words, the character of the trainee needs to be the focus, the priority, the significant deciding factor in working out questions like; Should we take this trainee on? What will we get this trainee doing?
If a church doesn’t keep the trainee’s Christian character-development central, they will quickly become a dogs-body; doing what the church needs first, rather than what will develop the trainee.
Its really exciting hearing something new; that feeling of having your brain blown and being knocked off your feet as you realise how Jesus transforms your view of the world. We should always thank God for those moments, and look forward to more (Eph 2:7)
It is worth realising they can become addictive; we find ourselves searching sermons and blogs for that next “hit” of awe in the gospel like we had last time.
But a common problem is for young Christians (around uni age) who have come from basic youth groups and now have that brain-blast experience every week or so.
They begin to think that sensation is normal maturity. They think that what the normal Christian life is meant to feel like. They think having their world rocked is what it means to be spiritual. They think newness is growth.
But its not. In fact, it can be far from it.
The problem hits when they’ve spent 4-8 years being taught the bible, and the sermons never seems to rock their world any more, and they think they’re having a “dry-patch”, they think there’s something wrong with their walk with God.
And that’s when they’ve found the normal Christian life. Endurance, perseverance, trust and simple prayer in the face of hard times.