The Devil’s Greatest Trick

Catchy title, eh?

To be honest, I don’t know what the Devil’s greatest trick is, but I can give a pretty solid guess.

It’s to keep churches and pastors and church workers really, really busy.

I know the Master of Lies uses great tricks like jealousy, rivalry, slander, meaninglessness, anger, and hopelessness. 

But lately I’ve been thinking: If I was the Devil (no, I don’t want to be Satan), I would quietly trick churches into thinking subtle thoughts that the more you do, the more you are doing God’s work.

If we obsess more about systems than prayer, victory!

If we work harder on spreadsheets than our hearts, victory!

If we fill our schedules week in and week out without a real rest and Sabbath, victory!

If I brag about how many nights I’m away from home, victory!

If we brag about how many ministries we are a part of or our church has, victory!

If we spend 8 hours a day in meetings talking about the floor plans of a new student center, victory!

If we can’t seem to find joy because we are just too focused, intense, or busy, victory!

You get the point. Satan comes in many forms, I believe, but it’s the subtlelty, the whispering lies that seem so righteous and appealing and awesome — and only keep us busy – those scare me.

Instead of busyness, let’s focus our attention – as churches, pastors, youth leaders, and men/women of God – on seeking the heart of the Holy One and becoming more holy. More peace-filled. More patient. More kind. More gentle. More loving. More humble.

Not more busy.

It’s a great trick, but it’s a lie.

Story, not Information

One of the major issues with seminaries today is that they fail to teach students how to engage theology properly.

Seminaries generally are known for dispensing information. Biblical history. Church history. Languages.

Now mind you, some of that stuff is worth the study and awareness.

But what seminaries rarely do is teach future pastors how to truly engage theology. Theology, in my opinion, is figuring out where God is active in the lives of people and providing a framework for people to understand what is happening. As one of my favorite authors, professors, and theologians writes, “Theology starts with a crisis, the very crisis of reality itself. The crisis is the fact that you live, that you have a life to live…Theology is reflection and articulation of God’s action, and God’s very action is the world is a crisis.” Andrew Root, in his latest, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. 

As youth pastors, we don’t need more information. Students don’t need more information. Theology is not information. It’s not a dispersing of facts. (This is why MOST of the catechism/confirmation classes of generations passed have not adequately formed disciples of Jesus).

Theology is articulating how God has made himself already known and active to young people smack dab in the middle of their story.

Our Senior Pastor, Bob Merritt, is a master teacher and preacher. I was fortunate enough to pick his brain for an hour on teaching. And what struck me is that he is a cultivator of stories. Sure, he’s a smart guy. He knows facts. He knows information. He knows “theology.” But what he TRULY knows is how to assess someone’s story and point to God in the midst of it.

Therefore, when he reads, he doesn’t generally read for information any longer. He wants to find and then showcase other people’s encounters with theology — assessing God in the midst of their story.

My learning curve has been redirected because of this. I no longer read for information (or at least try not to). I read for story, as best as I can. I want to be able to cultivate those stories I can tell other people. This reality has made me more in tune to what I’m reading, but also to how in tune I am to the reality around me.

Youth Pastors, set a goal this year: Collect stories, not information, and point young people to the way God is moving in the midst of their story.