I attended Catalyst for the first time last year and was instantly hooked. I came home each night and regurgitated the amazing things I heard to my wife, Cris, and told her that I wanted her to attend with me this year. I work for Chick-fil-A’s corporate office, here in Atlanta, and am lucky that they consider the Catalyst conference an opportunity for training and development and pay for me to attend.
I attended the conference with several things on my mind. I am entering my final year of school, looking toward graduation in June. After working for 2 years as a part-time analyst at Chick-fil-A, I am also looking to move into a full-time position at the beginning of the year. Both school and work fall under my “have-to” commitments. In addition, I am also involved in my church as well as my wife’s work with kidz2leaders, Inc., a non-profit that works with prisoners’ children in the Metro-Atlanta area.
Entering the labs on Wednesday, I chose to attend the sessions that seemed to speak to urban ministry as well as teen ministry, the focus of my efforts with kidz2leaders and my church. I began with Eric Mason as he spoke about incarnational mission, defining it as “understanding and practice of Christian witness that is rooted in and shaped by the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” He also said, “In order to be a healer, the church needs to know the wounds of the city firsthand.” These comments hit home for me as Cris and I have been recently discussing how to become more involved in the lives of the kids from kidz2leaders. We both knew that the weeklong camp each summer and sporadic events throughout the year were not enough to make a true investment in the kids’ lives.
Every summer at Camp Hope, youth from an Atlanta suburb come from their nice homes and new technology to spend a week with the under-privileged kids from inner-city Atlanta. It becomes easy for me to look at the suburban youth as the perfect examples from Tim Elmore’s Generation iY, completely self absorbed, lacking character, and entitled. But as I consider these negative qualities about the youth, and become hard on them for their lack of investment in the society around them, I realize that I live in their same neighborhoods. I feel convicted that I too go to the communities that the Camp Hope kids live in, often taking them out of their neighborhoods for an event, then returning them back home before I come back to my comfort zone. Though I understand that the kids from Camp Hope have a hard life at home, I do not understand what they face daily because I am not in the middle of their lives daily.
My misunderstanding of their lives and the things that they face bring about additional questions as well. As Eric Mason warned us to “never reduce the Gospel to only a part of the Gospel,” TD Jakes also challenged us to “Go into all the world, not all of our community,” and to leave our “corner” of comfort in order to expand our mindset. He said, “If you only talk to people like yourself, your truth is distorted” and “Until you are willing to be uncomfortable, you will not grow.” These statements all hit home for me. Since camp this summer, Cris and I have been discussing how we could get more involved with the kids in their own neighborhoods, and we both have a desire to spend significant amounts of time with them, not just the extra time that we have after our commitments. We want to be able to spend time with them daily and have a place that they call their own, where we can meet them there, in their community. As Alan and Debra Hirsch discussed, we desire to have a relationship similar to an extended family with these kids. It becomes easy for us to get hung up in our nuclear family, and it becomes especially easy for me to want to protect my family from the “dangers” of a different society. However, I truly believe what TD Jakes said; “No one single people group represents the totality of who God is.” Believing that, I cannot know the fullness of God in my white-suburbia neighborhood and family. I have to go into the communities with these children and I have to be willing to learn, not assuming that I know the best answers. Too often I am tempted to share the things that I know or that I have learned rather than taking the time to learn from those that are not like me.
Naturally, there are many things that Cris and I feel limit us from being able to jump right in to being with these kids. For one, I work 30+ hours a week for Chick-fil-A’s corporate office and spend most of my nights completing my school work. After working part-time for two years, paying my own insurance, and making an hourly salary, I am on the verge of having the opportunity to move into a full-time position that will be salaried and include a nice benefits package. As exciting as it is, and as much as I love working for Chick-fil-A, I can’t help but wonder if this job is my “bowl of stew.” It’s weird to ponder that, as I believe that God works through Chick-fil-A and I have been incredibly blessed by the men that I have been able to work with the past two years. However, I know that my appetite desires a larger salary, which will allow me to better support my family as well as make some required improvements on my house, as well as receive benefits, including maternity insurance so that Cris and I can start a family. Though I can argue all day that my desires for both of those are biblical, I can’t help but wonder if my appetite is feeding me impact bias, as Andy Stanley discussed. Daniel Pink said that we are motivated by our carnal desires, including money, but also the desire to do the right thing. My greatest fear in moving into a full-time position is that it will take away my opportunity to serve Camp Hope and the kids that I love with freedom. As I work part-time, I have freedom to take time off since I only get paid for the hours that I work. I am careful not to abuse this privilege, using it more for school and Camp Hope than personal days. I have a strong work ethic, so I often work more hours during a given week than I should, but I also know that I can take time away from the office to take care of my other responsibilities. My fear is that by moving into a full-time position I will become absorbed in the daily requirements and will not have the freedom to serve both my family and the kids that I love from Camp Hope.
As I weigh these fears, it is easy to assume that in order to fulfill the Lord’s desires for me with the kids from Camp Hope that I must choose either Chick-fil-A or ministry. However, Chick-fil-A is a perfect example of a company that works in order to serve God, and even the corporate purpose states, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that He has entrusted to us, and to be a positive influence on anyone who comes in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Danny Wuerffel said, “Too often, people think they need to put their skills on the shelf in order to serve.” I completely understand what he meant by that. Daily I feel as though I am being pulled in many different directions after things that I either desire or need to do. I have committed to working at Chick-fil-A, and love what I do, but I can’t help but wonder if I allow it to get in the way of what God desires for me.
Both my hesitancy to go into the kids’ communities as well as my concerns about the full-time position are both driven by fear of something unknown or uncomfortable. Debra and Alan Hirsch stated, “God claims full loyalty over us; anything that stands between that is an idol,” and “To accept the one-ship of God is to give up all our idols.” That clearly defines that anything that keeps me apart from the Lord is an idol, including my comfort and fear of the unknown. Much of this is from the insecurity that dwells within me. Beth Moore asked, “Can you be dead enough to yourself to welcome any movement of God?” If I desire to experience what the Lord wants for my life, I have to be willing to step into something uncomfortable. Mark Batterson said, “We all want a miracle, but never want to be put in a situation that requires one.” He also challenged that ministry should be a bit dangerous. Seth Godin echoed his challenge to live dangerously, saying that “we bowl at work every day…avoiding gutters and looking for strikes.” I don’t want to live carefully! As much as I hate failure, I want the opportunity to fail, because only then will I have tried something new. I do not want to be able to always explain the things that I am a part of. Perry Noble said, “The greatest things that ever happened are unexplainable; and if they are explainable, they weren’t from God!” He went on to say, “God will lead you to a place you aren’t sure you should go, but are happy you went.” The discomfort of the unknown will lead to a place where I can experience God.
The greatest challenge from Catalyst was posed by Francis Chan when he said, “If you put your life in the Scriptures, what is your definition of weird?” I immediately began to look at these two areas of my life, work and ministry, and couldn’t help by wonder which was more in line with Scripture. Since that challenge, my brain has been continuously thinking about all of my desires to work with the kids as well as my responsibilities to work and provide for my family. At one point, I looked to Cris and said, “What does any of this have to do with chicken?” Over the past couple of weeks, I have also been wondering, when I meet Jesus face-to-face, will He be more proud of me as a Business Analyst or as a servant of those that have less than I?
Catalyst challenged me to review my commitments and the things that I place my time and efforts into, as well as the things that I have found ways to put off. I have a desire to love on the kids from Camp Hope and help heal their wounds, and I would love to be able to do so with Cris. I will continue in prayer, seeking after the plans of God, and pray that I have the strength to follow after whatever path He lays before me.