Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Why We Go to Church Every Sunday

family at church

In talking with various church leaders, while also observing my own congregation, the ongoing trend of people joining their locally gathering church less often is striking. Find any study on church engagement and they all say the same thing: people go to church less often now than in years and decades prior.

In this post I want to explore why my family prioritizes being part of our church’s weekly gatherings every week. Then next week I’ll look at how we make that a possible outcome.

As a pastor part of my job is to not only show up for my own local church weekly gatherings, but to lead them. I recognize my family is in a different position than nearly everyone else in my church, and other churches as well. Part of my “why” for going to church is that it is my job to do so. But the why goes much deeper than a paycheck, and my commitment to the local church stems from something far deeper than a job. Those motivations are why I write all this, not because I want more people in the seats at my church.

Why we go to church every Sunday:

1. God’s Word commands it.

Those who say they love Jesus but don’t need the church clearly misunderstand the commands of God’s Word to not give up meeting together (Heb 10), and to be devoted to fellowship with one another (Acts 2), so that the body of Christ can be built up (Eph 4).

We were not created for isolation. God designed for our lives to be intertwined and to inform one another. When Christians choose not to prioritize gathering with their church, they are denying themselves the benefits God had in mind for those who are part of the body.

Yes, the church is bigger than any one specific locally gathering body of believers, but by committing to one and prioritizing it we enable ourselves to step into the blessings behind God’s command.

2. We don’t exist for ourselves alone.

“I’m not getting much out of the sermons.”

“The music isn’t good.”

Yes those are some cliche critiques of church gatherings, and yet I’ve heard both more times than I can count. My response is always the same to these critiques: “good thing church isn’t about how much you like it.” Harsh? Yes. Truthful? Yes.

Church isn’t a spectator sport where we leave and critique the on-stage characters on the drive to Sunday brunch. Church is a body where we put into practice that we don’t merely exist for ourselves, but we serve those around us with our presence, our ministry, and our encouragement.

3. Lead by example.

I want my kids to know that I don’t sacrifice church so I can watch football or sleep in. I want my church community to know that I care enough about them to be around them every week. I could talk about making Christ and his body a priority in my life, but even better would be to show it through my actions.

Many Christians complain about the behaviors and priorities of others who call themselves Christians without considering what kind of example they themselves are setting through their own actions. Be the change. Show the way.

I’m sure I’m missing a variety of other “whys” for going to church every week, but these rise to the top for me. Next week I’ll look at more practical things that make being at church every week easier for my family.

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The Best of the 2010s

A few years ago I had a conversation with JR Briggs about his ministry Kairos Partnerships. The name is inspired by the two different words the Greeks have for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos meaning time like a clock, something sequential, never slowing or speeding. Kairos meaning moments that carry extra weight and have a transcendent form.

As a routine-oriented person I recognize that most of my days are dictated by chronos. Meetings start and end at a pre-determined time. I go to bed and wake at the same time most every day. But life, true life, exists in the moments outside the pre-determined when God seems to intervene with opportunities. That’s kairos time.

Following my friend Brett McCracken sharing about his 10 best days within the decade of the 2010s, I found myself inspired to do the same as a helpful practice in remembering the days when kairos moments impacted a chronos 24-hour period in significant ways.

Here are my 10 best singular calendar days of the last decade:

June 17th, 2012 A Different Father’s Day

After getting up at 5:30am, arriving to Sunset Presbyterian Church around 7am, I served with the worship team until a little after 1pm. I came home, and took a nap while watching golf. Then not long after this I went back to the church to serve with the youth worship team for our high school ministry all afternoon and evening. Several of the youth leaders decided to go out for happy hour after we finished up at 9pm. Then I came rolling into our home at 10:30pm after a crazy day, and the note below was waiting for me.

father's day 2012

August 1st, 2012 Releasing Why Holiness Matters

What a completely unexpected privilege it was to take on the project of writing my first book, capping it all off with a book release party. I never saw myself as a writer, but God truly changed my life in the process of writing the book. I have never taken lightly the chance to influence thousands of people through my writing, but unsurprisingly writing the book influenced my own life in incredible ways.

why holiness matters

February 25th, 2013 Welcome Judah

Nothing has shifted my life more than becoming a parent. All the memories of the birth are etched in my mind. From the early wake up call from a wife who was having contractions, to a long day of slow progression, to the birth of my first born son Judah 16 hours after it all began—what a day. He was named partly after my grandfather who he was able to meet once thanks to technology 14 hours after he was born. My grandfather went to be with Jesus 4 days later.

Judah's birth day

Judah Parker Braun from Jay McKenney on Vimeo.

January 9th, 2015 Fire at New Harvest Church

Well this definitely doesn’t qualify as one of the best days, but memorable for sure, and in the end, a blessing. After going on a run over lunch I got a call from someone who would normally only text message me. I answered. “Is the church on fire?” he asked. “No, but I’m not there,” I said. So I called my father who is also on staff with the church, but he wasn’t at the church either. “It can’t be on fire,” he said. Finally I found out, yes the church was on fire. I remember this day quite well, whereas the following four months are a blur.

new harvest church fire

January 29th, 2015 Welcome Adelynne

Though I normally never went, I decided to go with my wife to her pregnancy check-up appointment. Things looked great. Rose, however, was ready for the whole thing to be over. We drove home, making a few stops on the way. By the time we reached Lowe’s, about forty minutes later, contractions had started. Not wanting to make the “going to the hospital too early” mistake we made with our firstborn child, we drank some smoothies, packed up the car, trying to take our time. 12 minutes after we entered the hospital room Adelynne was born.

adelynne birth day

September 11th, 2015 Lincoln City Daytrip

It’s funny how sometimes the spontaneous things become the things remembered most. My wife and daughter were in Utah, with my son and me trying to survive 4 days by ourselves at home. It was 95 degrees at home, so I decided that despite the major hassle, we would drive over an hour to the beach. We hiked one of the coastal mountains, and, wow, it was totally brutal. We played on the beach. We ate Fish n’ Chips for dinner. We picked up saltwater taffy for the drive home. A seemingly random day, yet one of the best.

lincoln city with my son

August 21st, 2016 All Over San Diego

Funny, but the thing I remember most is my wife eating crickets at the taco shop we went to for lunch. Spending the day with my sister, brother in law, and wife, we went all over town. Tacos, beach time, stand up paddleboarding, dinner overlooking downtown San Diego from the bay. What a special day.

mission bay SUP

January 14th, 2018 A Day in L.A.

The 10 year anniversary trip Rose and I originally planned got scrapped, but a year later we made good on doing something special. Friends gifted us plane tickets to Orange County. We spent the weekend with our friends Brett and Kira McCracken. On this specific day we joined them at their church, ate pulled pork for lunch in downtown Orange, and went to see The Post at a theater in Anaheim. Following the movie we drove to downtown LA, and during the drive I watched one of the greatest sports moments of my life on my phone (not a single radio station in LA carried the game), this now being known as the Minneapolis Miracle. We had happy hour on the top of a hotel on an 80-degree January evening. We ate tacos for dinner, and walked all over DTLA. A memorable day, in a special place, with special people.

LA with the mcrackens

May 4th, 2013 // July 1st, 2017 // April 15th, 2018

In many ways each of these days are etched in my mind together. Being part of the celebration of both my sisters and my brother getting married was unforgettable. Though, most of the specific days were spent running around behind the scenes making sure everything happened as it should, the real treat was witnessing God’s tangible blessing in their lives. I’m thrilled to have two more brothers and a sister because of these days.

the whole family 2018

May 26th, 2019 Welcome Elora

During our premarital counseling I was adamant with Rose that I wanted to no more than 2 children. She wanted 4. Following our second child’s birth she made it quite clear it was not her desire to be pregnant ever again. But slowly, over the course of the next four years, God worked on both of us, leading us to pursue having more children. On May 26th, I watched a basketball game while Rose began contractions, feeling unsure it was the real thing. Once I arrived home, we decided that yes it was time to go to the hospital (didn’t want to be early)j. Upon arrival they didn’t see enough progression, so we weren’t admitted. But then things picked up, and 4 minutes after arriving in the hospital room, Elora was born.

elora birth day

 

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Best of 2019

unbelievable show

Here’s my annual list of what I see as a mix of the best and my favorites of 2019 in music, books, podcasts, and a few of my things as well.

Music—Songs

1. “Jacob” by Chris Renzema

2. “Pin It Down” by Madison Cunningham

3. “Pictures” by Judah and the Lion feat. Kacey Musgraves

4. “Heavyweight Champion of the World” by Nilufer Yanya

5. “Closer than a Brother” by Josh Garrels

6. “Not” by Big Thief

Listen to all my favorite 2019 songs below:

Books

1. Managing Leadership Anxiety by Steve Cuss

If you want to know more about the book, check out my podcast with Steve. Especially helpful for leaders, but I think more than anything it will help you to become more self-aware in a way that positively effects those around you.

2. The Second Mountain by David Brooks

The whole thing is noteworthy, but the chapter on his coming to faith in Jesus was quintessential Brooks reading.

3. Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck

Within this book have been many of the guiding principles I’ve used in my life to create the foundation for which Christ can move more greatly in my life, and I hope within yours too. My podcast episode with Drew on this subject was one of my favorite to record.

4. The Hacking of the American Mind by Robert Lustig

A book about how our brains are being taken over and manipulated by the schemes of those seeking to make a buck. Released in 2017 but read by me this year.

5. Sacred Fire by Ronald Rohlheiser 

Another book not released in 2019 but read by me this year. I wrote several blog posts following the themes of the book which you can read here. Especially helpful for those entering the early years of middle life (late 20s through 40s).

Shows

1. Unbelievable

This is a story of two separate sexual assault cases. It was powerful. It was horribly difficult to watch.

2. The Crown (season 3)

The acting is superb, and while shows often lack depth what makes this show stand out is its depth and sophistication.

3. When They See Us

The first episode will make your blood boil.

Podcasts

1. Think Christian

Much like the website itself, the Think Christian podcast follows their mantra that nothing is secular by examining various pieces of pop culture with a Christian lens. If you love movies and music, this podcast is for you.

2. White Lies

Who murdered the Reverend Jim Reeb in Selma, Alabama in 1965? This podcast tells the story.

3. Aspen Ideas to Go

Thoughtful conversations about many headline related things taking place around the world. I especially enjoyed the two separate episodes on phones/social media, and the intersection of Trump and evangelicals.

Music—Best Albums

1. Josh Garrels “Chrysaline”

Garrels only releases incredible music. So he doesn’t release a lot of music but when he does you shouldn’t miss it.

2. Madison Cunningham “Who Are You Now”

It’s ridiculous that someone could be this good at 22 years old.

3. Bon Iver “i,i”

Probably the best band making music. And they titled one their songs “Salem” which is where I live, so…?

4. Andrew Bird “My Finest Work Yet”

There’s no one like Andrew Bird. He defies genres. This is definitely his best work yet.

5. Vampire Weekend “Father of the Bride”

Honorable Mention: Big Thief, Penny and Sparrow, Joy Williams, Kanye West, Judah and the Lion, Over the Rhine, Jess Ray, Weyes Blood, Nulifer Yanya, Strahan, Wilder Woods, The Porter’s Gate.

My Most Read Posts

There’s a theme here:

1. To My Soon to be Born Daughter

2. When We Thought We Lost Her 

My Most Listened Episodes

1. The Ministry of Touch with Lore Wilbert

2. Worship as a Business and the Work of Creating with John Mark McMillan

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Managing Anxiety

called out steve cuss

Anxiety is often thought of as an individual struggle, yet it also invades systems and relationships, leaving not just people but whole communities stuck in its grip. Steve Cuss helps identify why anxiety affects people and groups but also practical steps forward to loosen anxiety’s grip.

Steve Cuss is a pastor and former hospital chaplain who has done a  lot of work on anxiety in individuals and systems, culminating in his recently released book Managing Leadership Anxiety.

Listen to the full episode below (click here email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you get podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Spotify || Google Podcasts || Overcast

Links from the episode:

About Called Out

Called Out is a show helping the church move from the reality of its brokenness toward the healing power of Christ.

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What is the Gospel?

Copy of called out episodes (3)

What is the gospel of Jesus? What does it mean to have faith? The answers to these questions intricately shape what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. For as much time as Christians spend emphasizing having faith in this good news, it is worthwhile to make sure we’ve understood it correctly.

Matthew Bates is a theology professor at Quincy University, and has written several books connected to the themes of the gospel and faith.

Listen to the full episode below (click here email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you get podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Spotify || Google Podcasts || Overcast

Links from the episode:

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The Unlived Life

TheCrown season 3In episode 5 during the 3rd season of the Netflix series The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II (marvelously played by Olivia Colman) spends a month traveling to different parts of the world studying best practices for raising horses for racing. Toward the end of her trip she shares with her friend Henry Herbert that the trip was one of the best of her entire life—a chance to embrace “the unlived life.”

That phrase and the idea behind it has stuck with me since I originally watched the episode. Certainly, I can’t relate to the Queen’s level of having a life forced upon her. After all, she was handed responsibilities that were not her choosing. And that was only handed to her because an elder family member chose to pursue his own unlived life over the God-given responsibilities placed upon him.

I can’t relate to the specifics of this feeling, but I think deep down we can all relate to a desire to pursue the life we are (for whatever reason) unable to live. It’s the feeling you get toward the end of a vacation trip: “why can’t we do this all the time?” It’s the feeling you get when someone handles your main responsibilities for an hour or a day or a week: “just think of what life could be like if this was the new reality.” With this is a temptation to choose something else, but also is an opportunity to recognize the sacrifice that goes into embracing the life that is.

As I have written about often, I find myself in a vocational assignment of pastoral ministry, despite many personal reservations of its fit. I went to school to get into the finance business. I quickly quit the whole thing within months of receiving my degree. In answer to the “God what do you want to do with me?” question, I entered seminary and started volunteering at a church in the hopes of building experience and answering the question further.

Quite often I have found myself considering what life might have been had I stuck with my first post-graduation job. It’s not so much questioning God’s guidance, but wondering about what I sacrificed to be where I am now. And not just me, but my wife and children as well. Though she doesn’t harbor any resentment, my wife didn’t sign up to marry a pastor. I told her I was going to make lots of money if she married me!

The story of Jacob in Genesis is a warning about the pursuit of the unlived life over the given life. The blame doesn’t completely end with Jacob, because he had unhelpful influences, but the first half of his life is story after story of pursuing what wasn’t his to take. He was never comfortable with was he was given, not comfortable in his own skin. Chris Renzema articulates this beautifully in his song Jacob:

And I know that I’m not right
But I’m still putting up a fight
And I know my hands can’t hold all I aim to steal
And I know that there is a cure
For this sickness my heart endures
But it’s hard to walk naked into the light

The unlived life: the things we aren’t able to fully do because of the demands of the lived life; the things we desire over what has been given.

This year I find myself in a much more stable place when it comes to my vocation. I have not just a reluctant acceptance of where God has placed me, but a more genuine embrace.

It’s far more difficult to not only stick with but embrace the given life when the ever-elusive and more exciting unlived life remains.

Over the last year a number of opportunities have come my way simply because I have remained steadfast in my given life. I have sensed God’s blessing. Not in headline defining ways, but in the subtle ways where things only come about by embracing where God has placed you. Entering into Thanksgiving, I find myself thankful for God’s patience to have given me over a decade to embrace my given life, while extending me the grace to withstand pursuing my unlived life.

Friends, this Thanksgiving my prayer for you is God’s blessing over your given life. May you sense His provision in intimate ways.

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