Despite the fact that it has been quiet around here for a while, I have been busy at work with my co-author and mentor, Mark Liederbach, writing our new book, Ethics as Worship. This book explores the biblical and theological foundations of ethics and then applies our system of ethics to numerous issues facing Christians today. Ethics as Worship has been a nearly six-year journey that has pushed us to think, write, and edit as I never have before. I am forever grateful that Mark asked me to join him on this project, and we cannot wait to see the impact this book will have for the Kingdom of God.
It has been a pleasure to partner with P&R Books to see this project to fruition. They have been a superb group of encouragers throughout the process. This is what the publisher has to say:
Ethics as Worship examines the biblical, theological, and philosophical foundations and application of Christian ethics, offering an ethical system that emphasizes the worship of God as motivation, method, and goal of the ethical endeavor. It concludes with an exploration of how worship ought to shape a response to particular ethical topics and issues most relevant in our day: from race, justice, and environmental ethics, to sexuality, reproductive technologies, and other important issues related to life and death.
You can currently pre-order a copy of Ethics as Worship from the publisher or Amazon.
In my last post I talked about the need for college students to invest their lives in a local church because the church needs all of its members, the church is a God-ordained institution, and the church exposes students to people of all ages. In this post, I want to look at the relationship between college students and the local church from the opposite direction. Why does the local church need college students?
Last week as part of our Welcome Week activities on campus, our fantastic student engagement team hosted an event that included dozens of churches from the surrounding area. Each one of these churches was interested in recruiting students to plug into their various ministries. They offered Bible studies, college ministries, and even potential jobs as ways for these students to invest in the local body of believers. From my interaction with these churches last week, I believe they see the value in having college students as part of their congregations.
Incorporating college students into the life of the church, however, comes with some inherent challenges. First, students do not typically stay long. No matter how much we joke about the time it might take for a student to graduate these days, the reality is that somewhere between 2 and 6 years will be the average stay of a college student at your church. Certainly some will find jobs in the area after graduation and stay indefinitely, but most will move on to another location after college. Second, most college students are not strong financial supporters of the church. This is primarily driven by their stage of life and access to financial resources. For the most part, whatever money they do have is tied up in tuition and living expenses with little to give to the local church.
Despite these challenges, there are good reasons for churches to actively embrace college students even for the brief period of time they will be around. Let’s look at three of these reasons.
Time and energy. College students have seemingly boundless energy for all sorts of activities. They want to get involved in something that makes a lasting difference, so why not utilize them in the various ministries of the local church. Yes, their time is precious, just like anyone else’s; however, when utilized well, college students can direct their time and energy to the work of ministry and advancing the Kingdom of God. In the last couple weeks of having students back on campus, I’ve met numerous students who spent their summers serving churches and various ministries. Many of these are majoring in subjects beyond the traditional scope of ministry-minded students. This opportunity for undistracted devotion to the work of the Lord is similar to Paul’s instructions to the young, unmarried individuals in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Passion. A common theme among college students is a great passion for things that are meaningful to them. They take on projects and pursuits with exuberance and work diligently to see them through to completion. As we age, we often get sidetracked by increasing responsibility and the concerns of life that weigh us down. This is where college students can be a great blessing to the local church. First, they can utilize their passion for the things of God to accomplish much in the life of the congregation. Second, they can be a great encouragement for some of us who find our passion and excitement waning to pursue the work of the Lord with renewed vigor. This youthful passion should not be discouraged. Instead, let us encourage it just as Paul did with Timothy when he wrote, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but ratherin speech, conduct, love, faith andpurity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Opportunity to mentor. One of my favorite experiences through the years has been going back to a former church and having the pastor remind the congregation that I am an extension of their ministry. Their investment in my life was invaluable to me, but they also see it as essential to their ongoing ministry. This is how we should view college students. Although they may only be with us for a season, churches can mentor them and reap the benefits of expanded ministry as they go out to serve around the world. Older church members can invest in the lives of these younger college students and help them grow in their walk with Christ. When they leave a few years later, they will take those lessons wherever they go.
I am thankful that the churches around my college saw value in students years ago when I was new to campus. I am also grateful to see those same churches and many others seek to invest in this current generation of college students.
I recently arrived back on my old college campus. No, I’m not starting a new degree. I’m back here for a new job. In some respects, it has been a reunion because there are many faculty, staff, and administrators still here 19 years after I graduated. But I experienced another reunion that I wasn’t fully expecting on our first Sunday in town. This reunion was with people at the local church I faithfully attended while I was a student.
On our first Sunday visiting a church, we ran into some old college classmates who had planted their lives in town. We went to the service and acted like typical visitors—sitting near the back in relative anonymity. Midway through the service I realized that the couple sitting in front of us had volunteered in the college ministry 20+ years ago. I whispered to my wife that I knew who they were. At the end of the service, I set out to introduce myself to them and started by saying they probably didn’t remember me. They interrupted me before I even got started and called me by name and asked how I had been after all these years. They wanted to meet my family and proceeded to introduce us to others as their longtime friends. We then ran into several other people who had been members of the church dating back to my days in college.
I had never really thought about this type of reunion as we were preparing to return to Mississippi. We planned to visit the church, and I knew in the back of my mind that we would encounter old friends, but I was surprised by the magnitude of this reunion. All but one member of the staff had come since I had attended the church, and I knew the church had grown quite a bit in those years, but in many ways it was still the same church.
This reunion reminded me of why it is so valuable for college students to be a part of a local congregation. Just this past weekend students moved back to our campus, and churches hosted breakfasts and lunches on Sunday attempting to persuade students to join with them during their college years. But why join a church (or at least invest your life in a single church) for these brief years of college? Why not just hop from church to church based on which one is offering a free meal that week? Why not just jump to whichever church is the first to find the next big trend?
Here are a few reasons why college students need a local church:
The church is a body, and it needs all its parts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the church. Every member of the church has certain spiritual gifts, and each member has a specific role to play in the body. We cannot all be the head, eyes, hands, or ears. We need legs, feet, knees, and toes as well. In fact, Paul makes the argument that the “less presentable” members of the body are just as important as the “more presentable” members. College students have specific spiritual gifts that the local church needs, and the church has members with spiritual gifts that can edify, train, and mature college students. This is a two-way street. You will never see a toe running down the street on its own. In the same way, new students shouldn’t try to navigate the Christian life without the rest of the body.
The church is a God-ordained institution. Sometimes I will hear people say that they can worship God from their dorm room or on the intramural field or out in nature. This is true—we can worship God anywhere—but God has commanded us to be faithful to gather with an assembled body of believers, which is the church. Solo Christianity is not a new thing. People were trying to live this way during New Testament days. This is why the author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Assembling together in the God-ordained institution of the church is part of God’s plan for growing our faith.
The church exposes you to people of all ages. For many students, the college years are time surrounded by people of virtually the same age, particularly if you live on campus. That’s part of the draw of college for many people. And this time in college may provide numerous opportunities for Bible studies, accountability, and spiritual growth among your peers. However, one of these days you will graduate, and you will no longer be a part of that campus. Imagine coming to campus every week for a club or ministry event and introducing yourself to the new group of students saying, “Yeah, I graduated 12 years ago, but I just like to come back and hang out with these people.” At some point the campus leaders will probably ask you to move along because you aren’t in the right stage of life. That isn’t the way God designed the church. In the church, we expect a multi-generational gathering of believers where we can encourage and challenge one another to grow. I discovered just a few weeks ago that the church I attended as an 18-21 year old is happy to have me and my family plug right back in now that I’m in my 40’s. And it’s easier to do so because I was part of this multi-generational family even while I was in college. This is exactly how God intended it.
For new and returning students everywhere, but especially on my campus, let me encourage you to find a local church where you can invest your life. You won’t regret it.
It’s been a few months since anything new has appeared on this site, so I wanted to offer a personal update on what has been happening. Over the summer, we transitioned from SWBTS to Mississippi College where I took a new role as Director of Church and Minister Relations. This is an exciting time for us to “get back to our roots” at MC. Melanie and I met here, earned our undergraduate degrees, and married in the historic Provine Chapel on campus. We are excited about this new adventure.
For the official story about my new job, check out the link below:
This is the fourth inning in my Baseball and Ethics series. Previous innings are available at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Who’s the GOAT? Who is the greatest of all time in baseball? At this point, you might as well call out to the stadium popcorn hawker, fork over $7 (don’t forget to tip), and watch the fireworks as people fight over who is the best player. This fight might even be better than that time Nolan Ryan pummeled Robin Ventura.
Surely the question of defining who is the baseball GOAT is worthy of consideration. Some of the names that must be included are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. From a more contemporary perspective, names such as Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Barry Bonds* enter the conversation. To throw in some pitchers, we need to think about Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez.
Why do people like to argue over who is the greatest of all time? First, baseball admittedly has some down time, and we need something to do while watching a game. This is why every square inch of the stadium video screens is covered in statistical information. I never knew how much useless baseball trivia I could store in my brain until I started attending live MLB games regularly. I even used that useless trivia to be the only 2-time winner of the Rangers’ ToppsQ Trivia stadium game last season, including winning the inaugural contest.
Second, people argue over the baseball GOAT because people like to argue. It’s a simple fact. We need something to argue about and we will find almost anything that fits the bill. If you don’t believe me, just look to our elected officials in Washington.
Third, people argue over the greatest because we aren’t entirely certain what makes someone the greatest. Baseball—both past and present—is full of spectacular athletes who have excelled at levels far beyond normal human limits. I laugh when I hear people say they could play the game better than a certain player on the field. The reality is that if they actually could, they would be on the field. Even guys like Bartolo Colon, who looked like he should have been eating his own bucket of popcorn in the stands, are able to perform on the field in ways that the average human cannot.
So that leaves us with the question of what qualities make a player the greatest. Honestly, we can’t really quantify them even though some guy in a sabermetrics lab with sets of data like ERA, WHIP, WAR, BA, OBP, OPS will tell us that he can. At the end of the day, the greatest players simply embody greatness. They are the best.
Looking at the GOAT question from an ethics perspective, we are led to consider virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is a theory that focuses on what it means to be good rather than to do good. Certainly a person who is good will do good, but that is not the focus of this theory. Virtue ethics points us to character traits that embody goodness. As Steve Wilkens writes, “Character ethicists are more concerned with virtue than with virtues. The Greek term areté, usually translated as ‘virtue,’ means something like ‘excellence.’ While we may be able to isolate particular areas of intellectual and moral excellence in a person, the ideal is that they reside in individuals as a package.”
Debates about the GOAT don’t just happen in sports; we have a similar debate in ethics. When it comes to virtue ethics, there are significant players who battle for the title of greatest virtue ethicist. The two titans are Plato and Aristotle. While we might consider the GOAT in sports to be a once-in-a-generation player, Plato and Aristotle were alive at the same time. Admittedly, Aristotle was Plato’s student, but in the realm of virtue ethics, it is likely that the student surpassed the teacher.
Plato identified four cardinal virtues—temperance, courage, prudence, and justice. Aristotle defined a way to identify these virtues in contrast to their corresponding vices. We call Aristotle’s approach the Golden Mean. In essence, Aristotle taught that the virtue was found in the middle ground between two extremes, which are vices. For example, courage is the virtue between cowardice and foolhardiness. For Plato and Aristotle, the best person is the one who embodies these virtues. We can call him the ultimate 4-tool player.
This Golden Mean set the stage for other later thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas, to build on this system. In fact, borrowing from the work of Aristotle and Augustine, Aquinas developed a 7-tool virtue player. In addition to the four cardinal virtues, Aquinas identified the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. In keeping with Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 13, the greatest of these is love.
Back to baseball, virtue ethics is probably best illustrated by the rare 5-tool player—speed, power, hitting for average, fielding, and arm strength. There are few players in the history of the game that can be called 5-tool players. In fact, even the best players may be downgraded in one category to question whether or not they truly fit. In my lifetime, the two players who perhaps most clearly reflect these tools are Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout.
Griffey had it all. He was elite at the plate and in the outfield. He was a 13-time All-Star in his 22-year career. He won 10 Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Sluggers. He has a career 83.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). No one who watched “The Kid” play doubted he was the best all-around player of his day.
Trout is the contemporary version of Griffey. He is also a centerfielder with elite speed and fielding ability. He is one of the most feared batters today. If there is a knock against Trout, it is his arm strength, but opposing teams still don’t test him often. Trout has a career WAR of 66.1, but he is still adding to that number. Currently in his eighth full season, Trout has amassed 7 All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year (2012), 6 Silver Sluggers, and has finished first or second in league MVP voting six times.
Griffey and Trout are just good. The stats demonstrate the fact that they can do it all. But watching them play brings further understanding to just how good they actually are. It’s like virtue ethics. We can talk about what it means to be good, but when we see it in person, we know what it looks like.
An asterisk was added to Barry Bonds’* name when listed among the all-time greats because his name should always have an asterisk.