A Little RUF Update + Mailing List and Support Info

RUFHey all, so a couple of weeks ago I made the announcement that my wife and I have taken a job with Reformed University Fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. I’ll just report quickly that McKenna and I have since made it out to UCI and met a number of the students a little over a week ago. And it was a blast.

I cannot exaggerate how much we enjoyed these students. They are sharp, funny, excited about what God is doing at UCI. We’re connecting well and, to be honest, I miss them already. We cannot wait to get back and just start going deeper with this group. Based on the testimonies I heard, I can see that my predecessor Chad and his wife Christie, and the interns Lana and Hailey, have been used by God immensely there already and we’re eager to be a part of that continuing story of God’s work there.

Now, I also said that I’d be getting back to you about how you can get involved, especially by being added to the email and mailing list for our regular Newsletter and such. This blog will not be regularly devoted to RUF updates, appeals for support, etc. It will still be primarily devoted to theology, thoughts about ministry, preaching, and cultural commentary. All the same, many of you have been following along with me for the last few years of reading notes, articles, podcasts, etc. and many of you have written encouraging notes, and prayed for me as I’ve been pursuing studies. Given that encouragement, I figured I’d give folks the opportunity to now follow along with this new thing that God is calling us into. So this is that detail post.

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These are a few of the students. They apparently hammock every week and have become experts.

First of all, there are the Newsletters. We will have regular newsletters updating folks on how the ministry is going, stories about the students, and how you can be praying, both for McKenna and I personally, as well as the Ministry as a whole. To get on that list just email me with your preferred mailing address at derek.rishmawy@ruf.org. I’ll place you on the list and you’ll begin getting those as soon as I begin sending those.

Also, if you email me, I will also have your email for the email form. I do suggest you do not simply leave your email or address in the comments, for obvious reasons.

Beyond that, there is financial support. The initial mailer will include and update as well as information about a variety of ways to participate in the ministry financially (though that will not always be the case). For those who are just eager help us get started, though, you can actually begin right now by going to https://www.givetoruf.org/, then typing in my name (Derek Rishmawy), and give securely via credit card either a one-time gift, or elect a recurring amount.

With all that said, if you have been praying for us already, thank you so much. We have already seen and felt prayers being answered! And we’re going to keep needing those prayers as we prepare to move, continue to wrap things up in Chicago, keep working on continuing projects (dissertation, etc.), and begin our long-term preparation for the ministry in Irvine. (If you want more details, again, check out my earlier post.)

Soli Deo Gloria

“In Some Personal News…”: Heading to California for a Job

The story of the Bible is one of sojourns, exiles, homecomings. Adam and Eve leave the Garden. Abraham is called out of Ur. Moses leaves Egypt, returns, and leads his people back out again in a might Exodus that culminates in the Israelites arrival in the Promised Land, many years later.

McKenna and I have been on something of a sojourn ourselves for the last few years, in the land of Illinois for my graduate studies. Thankfully, though the weather has been a trial, it has not been an exile. We missed home dearly, but the Lord has blessed us richly out here. He has blessed our marriage, our friendships, and our faith as we have seen him be faithful provide for us in so many ways, not least of which was giving us the wonderful church community at Grace Presbyterian.

It appears, though, that the time of our sojourn in Chicagoland is coming to an end. And while we will be sad to leave, it’s for a very good reason.

I am pleased to share with you that I have been offered and taken a job with Reformed University fellowship (RUF) to be the new campus minister at the University of California, Irvine. I start this summer and my first quarter with the students will be this Fall 2019. My full-time to job will be to share the gospel with, disciple, and pastor students at my alma mater, UCI (go Anteaters!). And we’re both very excited about this opportunity.

RUFRUF and UCI

For those of you who don’t know what RUF is, it’s the college campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America (sort of like Intervarsity or Cru). Some of what distinguishes it as a campus ministry is its commitment to partnering closely with the local church as it ministers the gospel to college kids directly on campuses. It’s also warmly Christ-centered and distinctly Reformed. Beyond that, every campus ministry is led by a seminary-trained, ordained pastor, who is a member of the local presbytery. It’s really an amazing organization and family that we’re very happy to be partnering with.

Now, the specific ministry at UCI is only a few years old (Chad Brewer, the current campus minister started it in 2015), but it’s already a lively one. They have several Bible studies going (5 or 6), a large group meeting, a student leadership team in development, they’ve gone on their first mission trip, and even started a unique gospel outreach ministry to the previously under-served Greek community. Things are popping. RUF has also managed to become a pretty diverse cross-section of folks on campus with a good mix of students who live on campus and commuters, different economic groups, races, backgrounds (churched and otherwise), gathering together to learn about Jesus. It’s going to be an immense privilege to join in and be a part of what God has already been doing on campus at UCI.

UsSome Prayer Requests

With all this said, we’re going to need prayer, as there are a number of steps we have to take before we get there. I’ll just go ahead a list a few things for which we need that support. (Actually, if you’re interested in being a prayer supporter of our ministry in the future, I’ll share how to receive a regular newsletter with updates and prayer requests in a later post.)

The Ministry. As I’ve already mentioned, the ministry is growing and thriving. Pray that God would be preparing us even now so that we can just jump in on the work. Pray that we get to know our students and build relationships quickly. We are already praying for them and have begun to develop a love in our hearts for them. But pray that God would increase that love, as well as give us particular wisdom about how to serve these students well. Also, pray that they would come to know and love us too. Pray that God would just continue to bless and grow the ministry in depth, maturity, and love for Christ.

As I said, the ministry is already doing well. But UCI has something like 30,000 students and is one of the largest research universities in the state (if not the country). There are students from every nation and walk of life there. The field is wide and ripe with harvest. But we need divine help if we’re going to be of any use in it. Pray that God would give us grace, wisdom, and boldness in the gospel so that more people would come to hear and love his name.

The Move. We actually move back to California in mid-July. There’s a lot involved with that, just in terms of preparation, transitions, leases, logistics, etc. We have moved across country once before and so we know what that looks like, so that’s good. But also, we know that it is very tiring and a bit overwhelming. Also, we’d love to find a good, affordable spot near UCI’s campus so we can be available for ministry and open our home to hospitality. Please pray for us on this matter.

The Dissertation. I’m not done with it, which is pretty typical at this stage in my program. Still, it means that I need to be hard at work on the dissertation even as we prepare to move and get ready to enter into a new ministry. I’ll realistically be working on the dissertation part time for the first year of my time at UCI on top of my full time ministry. Pray that God gives me focus, clarity, and speed as I think and write about his holiness.

Ordination. As I mentioned, one of the great things about RUF is that campus ministers are ordained pastors. This is important for so many reasons and I’m deeply grateful for the honor of getting to be a part of this company of ministers. That said, it also means I have to get ordained, which is not simple or light thing. Besides the move, the dissertation, and so forth, I also have been and will continue to be preparing for my ordination exams. Please pray that the Spirit gives me energy to give this weighty process the diligence and care that it deserves. Also, that God gives me grace in the eyes of the local Presbytery, and that I be able to enter, learn from, and form good relationships with my future brothers in the pastorate.

A Job. While I have a job lined up, McKenna will be looking for employment as we head back home. God came through in a huge way here in Illinois by providing a spot at Grace Pres. It’s been a wonderful environment for her and us both. We would love it if you would pray that God provide another good job where McKenna can serve and use her many gifts in a way that is meaningful to her and a blessing for others.

Church Transitions. We are leaving an awesome church that we love to death. We want to do that well, saying bye to folks properly, handing off ministries we have been a part of, etc. We also want to be able to transition into our next church well. We already know it’s a good church; a solid community with a healthy set of elders and pastor. But it’s a still a new church to us. Please pray that we’re able to plug in well.

Fundraising. RUF is essentially a mission organization. I will be commissioned as an evangelist/missionary to the community at UC Irvine. And so, the ministry is supported just like many other missionaries—the tithes, contributions, and gifts of those whom the Lord has led to support his work in the lives of these college students by giving of their resources. We need prayer that the Lord will provide, that he will give me boldness in inviting folks to participate in the ministry this way, as well move in people’s hearts to respond. (Speaking of which, if you’d like learn more about the ministry, feel free to email me. If you’d like to give, you can click here (https://www.givetoruf.org/), type in my name, and donate.)

For all these things, we would ask your prayer. We ask in faith, though, because we have seen the Lord’ hand at work in this in so many ways.

Honestly, it’s wild to think about the way the Lord brought all this together. When we came out here, we really didn’t know what the next step was going to look like. I’d told my advisor, Dr. Vanhoozer, that I was really ready go back into church ministry or the academy on the other side of the program. (As a side-note, he was supportive of this, which is really nice to have from your advisor.) We had hoped to make it back to California, but that wasn’t a guarantee.

But here we are, four years later, about to head into a ministry that has us working with college kids again, at my old alma mater, in our old home county, near our families, with an organization that focuses on maintaining a solid relationship with the local church, that just happened to open up when we were going to start looking for the place where God was calling us to serve together. God is threading a very fine needle with this job. Looking back with hindsight, there have been so many different providential relationships and events leading us to this point, which have given us confidence this is his hand at work.

He is always doing more than we could ever ask or imagine. And we’re excited to see what he does next.

Soli Deo Gloria

Hezekiah and the Temptation of “Peace in My Time”

Isaiah 39 contains a haunting transitional narrative. In 36-37 we learn of the LORD’s rescue of Judah from the Assyrians after the good King Hezekiah turns to the Lord for help. In chapter 38, he learns of a sickness which will kill him, but again, upon his prayerful request, the LORD heals him. After these things, we come to our story.

hezekiah

At some point before their rise to power, envoys from Babylon come to Jerusalem to confer. Hezekiah, feeling strong and secure, shows them all that he has, all of his treasury, belongings, and holdings. After this, Isaiah gets word of this visit and asks Hezekiah about it. Hezekiah, unblinking tells him what he did. And this is Isaiah’s response:

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:  Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Isa. 39:5-8)

There are two possible ways to read the story. On the one hand, perhaps Hezekiah is humbly submitting to the word of the LORD, knowing that God has already been patient with Judah in the past. This is a possible read that is not entirely unlikely given Hezekiah’s righteousness in the past.

That said, I think this unlikely given his willingness to plead for his own life in the narrative of chapter 38. Also, he is already depicted acting foolish and boastfully in displaying his wealth to the Babylonians. Even more, though, he betrays himself by that last line, “There will be peace and security in my days.”

This is a selfish, foolish thought for a King and leader of God’s people to have. It was then, and as I was reading the story, I was hit with the weight of how foolish it is today.

While it is often the case that pastors and church leaders are obsessed with what’s to come and are too fixated and updating, tweaking, and “vision-casting” for the next 20 years, sadly, it is very easy to fall into a certain sense of  complacency or cowardice as well. As long as their churches, their denominations, and their ministries are “working well enough for now,” they write off the need to plan, to fight, to prepare, and pray for the conflicts of tomorrow. It could be anything. Doctrinal matters left unresolved in your congregation, stale or non-existent evangelism to the next generation, financially unsustainable programs, and so forth. So long as the bill won’t come due on your watch, you ignore it.

One example from my own experiences. I don’t write much about the troubles my old church went through as they decided whether or not to stick it out in their declining, liberalizing denomination or move to greener, more orthodox pastures. It was a long, protracted process, with prayer, committee meetings without end, public forums, and everything you’d expect of a Presbyterian church trying to do the due diligence.

At one forum, they had brought in a couple of orthodox pastors who represented two positions: stay or leave. The fella who was arguing for staying had been in ministry for 30 plus years, apparently faithfully, and was about to retire. He argued that leaving the denomination would be akin to getting a divorce, quitting when the going got tough, and so forth. (Nevermind that it had been ‘tough’ for decades and was now entering the ‘terminal’ phase.)

In the Q&A I asked him what he thought a young member pursuing ordination should think about joining a denomination who, if he and his church were to face a lawsuit over maintaining an traditional stance on marriage and related issues, would not actually back him legally. At that point, the pastor sort of blustered and said something to the effect, “Well, you know the time is coming when you’re going to have to learn to take a stand for being a Christian and suffer for it.”

Now, that’s true as far as it goes for any Christian. But in the context, it wasn’t actually a call to courage and faith in God’s providence. It was the comfortable counsel of a man who was about to retire and didn’t really have skin in the game. You could see it didn’t matter to him what younger pastors coming up after him would have to deal with in the denomination he had failed to keep from plowing into the ground. There would be peace in his time and for maybe a couple of years after that so, “toughen up and fight the good fight, son.”

This is just one example of the kind of carelessness about tomorrow that only is concerned with, “peace and security in my days.” What’s haunting about this, is remembering that Hezekiah was a good king. And this man was not a failed or unorthodox pastor. This is a trap that even generally faithful leaders can fall in.

Considering it now, it’s something I can only pray the Lord keeps me from when my time comes to think beyond my own days.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

On “Listening” to Millennials (and What Does that Even Mean)

(Yes, I’m sorry, this is a piece about Millennials.)

listeningHonestly, I feel bad for churches and older leaders trying to get a handle on reaching Millennials. One of the biggest things the recent literature tells churches to do is “listen” to Millennials. But that can be fairly confusing.

For instance, one very clear message we’ve heard for years from both experts and Millennial spokespersons is that the Church has gotten “too political.” By marrying the Church to political causes and parties, we’ve turned off younger Christians to the gospel who see it as just another ideology. Okay. Check. “Chill on the political stuff, and stick to the gospel.”

Then the 2016 election cycle happens. And now, it’s also suddenly very clear “political silence is complicity.” Those very same experts (voices of a generation), assure us Millennials will not be satisfied with churches that stay on the sidelines and remain quiet in the face of injustice. So which is it? Be political or not?

Or maybe Millennials are just now figuring out what they really wanted was a different politics, but politics nonetheless?

It’s tempting to think of Jesus’ quip about the fickleness of his own generation, “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’” (Luke 7:32) When John came preaching, they called him prude, but now they call Jesus a party animal. So which is it?

Now that’s probably not the fairest read of the situation. Maybe there was an underlying principle all along. Maybe the problem wasn’t politics, but partisanship. Maybe the situation has changed dramatically. (I think there’s probably a good case for that.) But apparent turnarounds like this raise some of the questions involved in “listening” to Millennials.

For one thing, which Millennials are we listening to? New York Magazine just had a piece highlighting the differences between older and younger Millennials. Another recent study of Canada’s youth split my generation up into six types like “New Traditionalists”, “Critical Counter-culturalists”, or “Bros and Brittanys”, who all have seriously varied moral, social, and economic orientations. It seems listening to these diverse, often conflicting segments of a large generation would yield wildly different results.

Even more importantly, what does “listening” even mean?

Learning might be part of it. No generation has an exclusive premium on truth, or an unbiased read of the spiritual landscape. Not even Boomers or Traditionalists, who can plausibly claim the wisdom of experience, should be closed off from learning from younger generations.

Indeed, that seems to be a lot of the conventional wisdom on the subject. Millennials are creative, adaptive, digital natives and so are a great resource for forging new paths to tackle the problems of the Church. More than that, they’re not interested in going to Churches that don’t take that seriously.

While I think there’s something to this, it’s important for Churches not to confuse an invitation to listen to Millennials for a demand to cater, or even worse obey them. (“Listen or we’ll leave” seems to be implied threat sometimes).

The fact of the matter is we’re young and we really could be wrong about a lot. We’re still learning and growing. We often don’t even know what we want, much less what we need. To resolve to “listen” in that sense, quickly acquiescing and accommodating every impatient demand, would be a recipe for folly–the naïve leading the blackmailed.

What’s more, while we might be its future, we’re not the whole of the Church, nor will we ever be. Joel prophesied that in the last days, when the Spirit is poured out, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (2:28). Both groups will be doing this at one and the same time—the young and the old are empowered by the same Spirit to serve.

I want to suggest, though, that much listening to Millennials (at least by older generations) involves an element of spiritual parenting. Paul commands parents not to “exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

This begins to get at an important dynamic of the listening process. There’s nothing more exasperating as a child than feeling like nobody’s listening to you. Even if you don’t get your way, simply being taken seriously as a member of the family goes a long way. I do think that Millennials need to be taken seriously—not condescended to—but treated as real, contributing members in any church community. (At least the ones who commit to actually being members.) They’re not only the future of the Church, they are a powerful part of its present.

Secondly, churches need to take Paul’s admonition to train and instruct the next generation in the Lord. If you don’t know where Millennials are, what concerns they have, what they commonly struggle with, you probably won’t be very adept at instructing them in the way of the Lord. And you should be instructing them—to walk with the Lord, read Scripture, pray, evangelize, serve the poor, work their jobs, etc. That’s just the task of discipleship.

Listening also allows you to know when to hand over responsibility at the right time and in the right ways. I suppose we can file this under “training”, but older leaders need to see it as part of their task to prepare Millennials to teach and preach, to lead studies, to work alongside deacons to bless the congregation, and so forth. This involves actually inviting them to do some of these things. (I mean, this shouldn’t be that crazy as some of us are already planting and leading churches anyways.)

Still, in established congregations that involves risk. But all parenting does. Which is why all of this listening needs to be shot through with prayer, trusting we will hear and be guided by the Father who wants to see his all of his children “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Soli Deo Gloria

Kingdom Opportunities Means Kingdom Adversaries (TGC)

Kingdom adversariesPaul’s ministry philosophy never ceases to surprise me. Toward the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wraps things up by informing them of his plans to come to them soon, but not yet: “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:8-9).

Paul says he’s going to stay in Ephesus because there’s a wide door open for effective work. Apparently people are responding to the gospel, being discipled in the way of the Lord, built up into the image of Christ, developed into community, and trained as elders. The kingdom is moving forward.

Also, “there are many adversaries.”

I don’t know why, but that little phrase stopped me short. I suppose that despite everything I’ve seen, read, and been told about Christian ministry, I still have this sense that if God is for a thing, there shouldn’t be any opposition; if it’s a real opportunity for the kingdom, that will automatically mean the field is clear and there are no obstacles or enemies. My assumption seems to be that if God is with me, then everything will go smoothly and all will embrace me.

And yet nothing in the story of Scripture leads us to believe that’s true.

You can go read the rest of my article here at The Gospel Coalition.

Thistles and Thorns in Ministry (Leadership Journal)

thorns

Thistles and thorns—that’s what the earth gives up to Adam this side of Eden. Adam’s work is no longer a pure good undertaken in delighted obedience to his Creator, but a toilsome chore. The sweat of his brow mingles with the dirt as he engages in the mighty contest, hand to the plow, wrestling life from sandy soil. Life after the Fall is hard and nothing comes easy. Reflecting on life under the sun, without the hope of redemption, Qohelet’s question in Ecclesiastes rings true today, “Who can make straight what he has made crooked?”

Basically, if you’re breathing, you’re frustrated.

Thorny questions

For some reason, I forget this when it comes to my ministry.

Groggy with exhaustion and the mildest tinge of depression, I roll out of bed after a night of ministry with my students. I wander over to the coffee machine for the fix that will get me through my devotions. After a passage from John and a little commentary by Calvin, I stumble into my prayers. I thank God for the good things he’s given me; my adoption, my wife, and my call to ministry. Still, eventually the questions come:

God, what am I doing wrong? What needs to change? Why is it so hard? Where are the people? I did the thing the guy in the book said. I did the stuff the guy on the blog said. Why are the ones I have not growing up? I thought you wanted this to work?

You can go read the rest my reflections over at Leadership Journal.

“Give Light, O Lord” (A Prayer for Preachers)

lightBryan Chapell tells a story that should convict and encourage the heart of any preacher:

In one of the key debates during the formulation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, one scholar spoke with great skill and persuasiveness for a position that would have mired the church in political debates for many years. As the man spoke, George Gillespie prepared a rebuttal in the same room. As they watched him write furiously on a tablet, all in the assembly knew the pressure on the young man to organize a response while the scholar delivered one telling argument after another. Yet when Gillespie rose, his words were filled with such power and scriptural persuasion that the haste of his persuasion was not discernible. Gillespie’s message so impressed those assembled as the wisdom of God that the opposing scholar conceded that a lifetime of study had just been undone by the younger man’s presentation. When the matter was decided, the friends of Gillespie snatched from his desk the tablet on which he had so hastily collected his thoughts. They expected to find a brilliant summary of the words so masterfully just delivered. Instead, they found only one phrase written over and over again: Da lucem, Domine (Give light, O Lord.)

                Over and over Gillespie had prayed for more light from God. Instead of the genius of his own thought, this valiant Reformer wanted more of the mind of God. His humble prayer for God to shed more light on the Word is the goal of every expositor. We pray that God will shed more light on his Word through us. We know that what we say must be biblically apparent, logically consistent, and unquestionably clear if we are to be the faithful guides God requires. It is not enough for our words to be true or our intentions to be good. To the extent that our words obscure his Word, we fail in our task. To the degree that our words illuminate the pages of Scripture, God answers our and our listeners’ prayers.

–Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, pp. 126-127

“Give light, O Lord.” May that be the prayer on the tongues of our people in the pews, and our preachers the pulpit.

Soli Deo Gloria