Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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3 Years Later, My First Book

why-holiness-matter

3 years ago this month my first published book was released. Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way But We Can Find it Again was my attempt at telling my story in a way that would help others see that their own struggles did not impede them from living the life God desired for them. I never thought I had a book in me, but through a lot of support, prayer, and hard work I created something I am legitimately proud of.

Eighteen months prior to the release the man who would end up being my main support asked me if I’d ever considered writing a book. I said quite simply, “no.” Because of this I pitched the idea of a short ebook, instead of a full-length print book. This slowly changed, mostly as people who I’m indebted to convinced me that even though I didn’t consider myself a writer, I could write a book.

At the time of signing the book contract, I had another 18 months before graduating from seminary with my masters degree. I had originally gone to seminary for spiritual formation and to be equipped for leading more than music within the local church. But the process of writing the book helped me discover pieces of myself I never knew existed.

In light of all this I thought I would share a few brief lessons learned from my experience of publishing a book. I have conversations with young writers, Christian leaders, and mom bloggers, all with the hopes of publishing a book. I hope the lessons I’ve learned can be helpful.

You never know what you’re capable of until you take on a project you know you’ll fail.

My senior year of undergrad college I wrote a 3,000 word essay. I could barely get to 2,000 words before I felt I had run out of ideas. Taking on this book project was a 40,000 word endeavor, while working full-time AND going to school part-time. It was impossible.

And if I tried to take on the project myself I would have failed. I invited a group of writer friends to help me. The credit to a finished book largely belongs to them, not me.

In writing the book I started to realize I enjoyed the challenge of studying a topic and Scripture passages, and figuring out ways to communicate them to help people. I would not be in my current pastoral role had I not discovered that in the process of writing the book.

Discipline beats enthusiasm.

Karen gave me the helpful advice of not thinking about the large word count that I had agreed to in the book contract. She told me to figure out how many words I needed to write every week, every day. “Anyone can write 300 words a day,” she said. She’s right.

Eventually enthusiasm wanes, but the disciplined push through, finding new enthusiasm on the other end of their discipline. I think of book writing, marriage, and pastoral ministry quite similarly. I’m not always madly in love with my wife, but I choose to love her. I’m not always excited to pour into the lives of people, but I know my commitment to do so will produce helpful change.

Success is pointless. Utterly pointless.

What is success? And once you’ve reached that level of success, what becomes success after that? My friend Anne told me not to read the quarterly sales reports that the publisher would mail me. It was good advice because those will help you feel like a failure.

The lack of objectivity in finding success can lead some to lack internal hustle, but instead it should reorient why you take on such a large project. Work as hard as you can with the time and resources given, and then leave the success up to God.

A pastor I’m connected to released a book and then said, “I’m not really doing anything to sell it.” I thought he was rather stupid, to be honest. But now a few years later I see that he was probably smarter than me, because he wasn’t chasing after the mirage of success.

Why do I share all this?

All of these life learnings came from tackling a project I could not do on my own. I sure hope the book has and continues to have impact on many lives, but the process of writing it had as much or more impact on me. And for that reason I think all the effort was worth it.

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The Discipline of Secrecy in the Age of Shareability

using social media

Today’s students are growing up only knowing a life of constant connection to people through social networks. Because of this there’s an increasing dependency upon the community to help provide the basis for the identity of an individual, through likes and double-tapped hearts. When everything is shared, and all of life’s major moments are uploaded, the reaction of these digital clicks fuels whether we see ourselves as successful, acceptable, and loved.

Through the community, we form our identities.

Often this isn’t bad, because the community that is culture today is largely accepting. But what happens when you fall short? Or what happens when the community’s validation of you doesn’t match the expectations you had?

This was a point I made briefly during a message I shared with my church a few weeks back. The foundation of the message was centered on Matthew 6:1, which says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

What Jesus is not saying is to regulate all your actions in front of people; make sure nothing could be construed as you trying to get noticed. What Jesus is saying is that we are not made to need the approval and acceptance of the community. It is God’s seeing eye that provides the only affection we need.

The person who relies on righteous acts in front of others, forms their identity by the reactions of those around them, and is therefore, a slave to public opinion, instead of their Heavenly Father.

Having recently gone through my own dark season of allowing all the wrong people to determine whether my work was of value or not, I know how quickly we can go from healthy engagement within public and social settings (online or in person), to relying on the engagement to fuel our own desire for significance.

A helpful direction for getting beyond this is what Dallas Willard describes as the discipline of secrecy. Disciplines, or spiritual practices, such as prayer, fasting, weekly church gatherings, “enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort,” says Willard.

I’ve taken Willard’s emphasis on the discipline of secrecy and allowed it to change my use of social networks. Here’s my general guideline list for cultivating a discipline of secrecy within social media use (and really use of any public forum, online or not):

  • Track your time. Do you spend more time on social media than you do in prayer or reading the Bible? Might want to consider the implications of that. A study just released this month says that we check our phones 214 times a day on average. Up from 140 times a day, just 9 months ago. We’re becoming more and more addicted, so track your time.
  • Schedule breaks. Schedule them. Plan on them. The same principles for why God encouraged us to rest from work apply to resting from social media. It is a tool meant to be a slave to you, don’t become a slave to it.
  • Ask yourself, why? Why am I logging in? Why am I posting this? What is my motivation? What is my expectation? What does that say about me and my relationship with God?
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It Takes a Village

family

You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I believe this to be true. In the child dedications at our church we purposely ask the church family to join with the parents in raising the child presented. We do this because the parents need help and support. Child-raising isn’t a parent-only endeavor.

Earlier this week The Washington Post reported on a study whose findings conclude, “the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.” Yikes. Now I know why the last 3 years of my life have been incredibly great and incredibly hard.

I’ve been honest both here and in face-to-face conversations about how hard my adjustment has been to becoming a dad. This has not been met with universal encouragement. I recently had someone tell me that I was missing out on the joy of parenting.

I guess that’s a fair conclusion to this study: parents stop whining! But in fairness to parents such as myself, parenting is hard work.

After reading The Washington Post article I thought about my church, and the greater Church. It seems not a day goes by when you can read about the latest and greatest program or focus for a church to reach younger people, and yet when it comes to my family and my church one of my greatest desires is to have people care about my family. 

After I posted this study on Twitter, several people asked me how a church can better support and care for families with young kids. I thought I’d pass along a few thoughts to you as well.

Unprogrammed Relationship

I think it’s great that a lot of churches provide childcare so that couples are able to take part in smaller group environments without the obvious distraction of their children. But, for many churches this is difficult or impossible to pull off.

A few nights ago a couple from our church offered to hang out with our kids for a few hours so Rose and I could get dinner together. What a gift! It happened to be our second date since our family expanded by another child, and it would not have happened if this couple saw their relationship to us as only through a church program. No, they’re just friends who love our family.

Shared Struggle

Shared struggle is obviously an extension of relationship within the church, but it flows out in separate ways: helpful instruction and same life-stage interaction. Rose and I moved to our current home city 5 months before becoming parents, and while it was a city I had lived in a decade prior, we both knew very few people. Since that time, through our church, we’ve tried to foster connection among people in the early parenthood life-stage.

Beyond relationship with those going through similar struggles, we’ve relied on the wise and helpful instruction of those who have gone before us. This often takes place in a small group environment, but also extends into homes and coffee shops around town. Parenting can be a struggle, and it’s important for churches to help foster connection between older and younger.

I could say a lot more, but those two areas of focus have stood out for me in my 3 years of parenthood. Churches filled with people embracing unprogrammed relationship and shared struggle will help young families who are barely hanging on. I promise you, there are plenty of families around you who could use your love and support.

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What I’m Feasting On

Visions-of-Vocation Van G

What I’m feasting on is an every-now-and-then post of what I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching—because I think what we’re engaging with influences who we become. I rely on other people to be helpful and godly curators, and when I’m able to I take this opportunity to point you in a few directions that have been helpful for me.

BOOKS

ARTICLES

  • “How to Use Reverse Self-Promotion.” My disdain for the marketing aspects of social media cause me to listen to any ideas people have for making social less of a click bait farm. This is good.
  • “Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline?” Love love love this from my friend Brett. If relevancy of church life is the answer to the question, church will increasingly become irrelevant. This push leads only to inauthenticity, which is much worse than not quite being relevant enough, whatever that means.
  • “Does Jesus Want Us to be Happy?” Too often holiness is thought of ignoring happiness. While the question is overly simplistic, the article emphasizes the importance of happiness in holiness in a helpful way.
  • “How My Calling Discovered Me” Calling isn’t a formula, it has Holy Spirit involvement and is an act of listening and obedience.

MUSIC

What are you feasting on? What am I missing out on?

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How Do I Find My Calling? (thoughts on the poor questions we ask)

montana fields

You may have noticed, everyone is talking about calling. You can find articles written about calling on nearly every major online website. I went to Relevant Magazine yesterday, and sure enough one of their most popular articles was on calling. They publish about one a week on calling.

You can’t really blame them, because publishing organizations like Relevant aren’t the problem. They get paid when people read and share their stuff. If people are reading and sharing articles about calling, it pays to write about calling.

But I have one major issue with this—a cart-before-the-horse sort of issue.

If there is a calling, there must be a caller. And if the caller gives you a calling, would it not make sense to know the caller, more so than knowing any specific thing about what calling might be all about? I think so. Os Guinness takes a similar stance in his book The Call, a book I’d recommend.

I believe this is the most overlooked, under-discussed aspect of calling. We’ve gotten the subject all turned around. It won’t take long to find an unending supply of opinions about how to find your calling. But finding intimacy with the one who calls? That doesn’t quite meet the immediate need, and it certainly doesn’t sell ads.

It may be that the thing we need most is the thing we’ve overlooked to find a more satisfying short-term answer. The itch has been scratched, and all we’re left with is a bigger itch.

This is one reason why I unapologetically encourage our church to take a long gaze at the expanse and power of God every week as we gather. Scripture presents us with a constant theme: it is only from that place of seeing the expanse and power of God that we begin to understand our place.

It’s not so much that we don’t know enough about calling to truly understand the call, it’s that we don’t know the Caller, and therefore can’t see where He is pointing.

(Image: Digital Nomad)

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A Mindset I Struggle to Embrace: People Over Ambitions

date with the wifeThis past Monday night my wife Rose and I went on our first date since our little girl was born, back in January. Yikes, too long. That’s not the point of this though. At some point in the conversation she asked me:

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Rose had an interview last week so she must have had overly obvious interview questions on her mind.

A few years ago I may have come up with the same answer I gave Monday, but in the back of my mind I would have wondered about the great things that may lay ahead. I am goal driven, pursuing excellence. I need projects to keep going. My ambition fuels my everyday pursuit of ordinary things.

While my answers in the past were often simple, rooted, I had unsaid desires for something that could be seen as significant. Often I would not voice these dreams because I knew they were more about me than anyone else. Hardly a dream worth living if you ask me.

On Monday night my answer was simply, “I want to be here.” No underlying dreams left unsaid. No faux humility in the answer, I meant it. I mean it.

While relationships and ambitions are not so easily distinguishable, often pursuits in life are broken down to either being about the people around us, or the goals we desire to achieve. The age-old question of whether happiness is found through relationships or ambition isn’t really a fair question, but it is one we ask quite often.

In examining several studies, an article in The Atlantic had this to say:

In Canada and the United States, having frequent contact with neighbors was associated with higher levels of well-being, as was the feeling of truly belonging in a group. “If everyone in a community becomes more connected, the average level of subjective well-being would increase,” they wrote.

This may explain why Latin Americans, who live in a part of the world fraught with political and economic problems, but strong on social ties, are the happiest people in the world, according to Gallup…Meanwhile, wealthy states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California were among the least happy, even though their inhabitants have ambition in spades; year after year, they send the greatest number of students to the Ivy League (read the entire article HERE, it’s well done, to say the least).

I don’t think it would be fair to distinguish the ministry of Jesus as being either about relationships or ambitions. He is the most significant person in history, and he focused the bulk of his time to handful of men. But in my own sinful nature, my ambitions are often distanced from the relationships I hold closely.

I’m continually a work in progress, but my aspirations for the next 5 years are almost exclusively about the people I am nearest. How can I bless them? How can I pray for them? How can I be nearer to them?

Just as incarnation came before glorification, so relationships should come before ambitions. Yes, Jesus had more impact on the world than any other human, but this world changing ultimately came through the people He focused on.

As I’m learning, a life of fulfillment comes through those relationships, not the bigger ambitions I often have in view.

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