Resource: The Gospel & White Identity Training

6 Stages of White Identity (2)

The Six Stages of White Identity Development

When the Ferguson Uprising began in 2014, I was a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. That organization cares deeply about justice and reconciliation and provided an incredibly welcoming atmosphere for all of us to process what we were hearing and learning.

As a white man trying to understand my place in the broader conversation about race and justice, I could not have asked for better mentors and dialogue partners. I was driven to my first protest by my supervisor. I brought three students from our ministry with me. We all learned together and we are all still learning together to this day.

One of the most formative parts of the journey for me was learning about ethnic identity development, which I would define as 1) growing in our understanding of our own culture and race, 2) learning how those pieces of our story interact with the world around us, and 3) submitting all of that to the Lordship of Jesus.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to lead a handful of white students and campus ministry staff through a similar journey and to host a few trainings on the subject. In this moment when a lot of white evangelical folks are trying to find their place in the movement for racial justice, I thought some of that material might be helpful in providing some language and encouragement along the way.

The links below will take you to a rough recording of a 35-minute training through Six Stages of White Identity Development and the accompanying notes and slides I used to lead the training. You can also find the graphics outlining the stages below.

May the Lord use even one sentence of all of this for His glory and your good.


The Gospel & White Identity Training Recording (~35 min)

Recording Password: 9N^$A*3@




Just Mercy: Our Need for Prophetic Persuasion

Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for the film Just Mercy.

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” – Richard Rohr

How do you change a person’s mind?

We live in a polarized age that seems to grow more and more divided as the months and years pass. Even when tectonic events happen in our society, like the Ferguson Uprising or the Sandy Hook massacre, we still manage to hold the line in our ideological trenches, failing to cross the No Man’s Land to have even a conversation with those on the opposing side.

Our political leaders spend their time designing maneuvers not to persuade but to invalidate and render powerless the opposition. Our faith leaders seem to spend much of their time crafting critiques of their ideological enemies for the consumption of Twitter followers and podcast listeners. We reward with our likes and downloads not the most persuasive among us, but the most divisive. Conflict brings attention and attention is the currency of our time.

With all this energy expended, we have to wonder – do the battle lines themselves ever change? Or do they only calcify?

How do you change a person’s mind?

Last week, I finally had the chance to see the film Just Mercy. Before I get to my own reflections, let me start by telling you that Just Mercy is a powerfully affecting movie experience. I cried multiple times and left the theater staggering a bit under the weight of what I had just seen. Among many memorable scenes, there is a death row execution in the movie that will stick with me, particularly because of a haunting audio recording of an old hymn that plays over the top of it. Yet, the movie also provides several moments of levity and is well-paced which keeps it from sinking into despair and joining the ranks of painful list of movies that I’d be glad to tell people I’d seen but never plan to watch again.

Just Mercy will be worth multiple viewings as it is, at its heart, a character story. The film’s core is a steady stream of small development moments – conversations happening through the walls on death row, drives through the sharply contrasted neighborhoods of rural Alabama, arguments held in the visiting area of the prison.

Even Michael B. Jordan’s solid performance as Bryan Stevenson functions primarily as a fulcrum around which other characters grow and change. Stevenson listens while his assistant, Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), smokes a cigarette and contemplates the strength of her convictions in light of the danger to her family. He listens while convicted murderer Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) moves from a burned skeptic to a grateful co-conspirator to, finally, a hope-filled encourager, lifting Stevenson back up after their initial failure to convince a judge to grant McMillian a new trial.

Speaking of Walter McMillian, I genuinely believe Jamie Foxx deserved a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. Whether he is clouded in anger from his seemingly hopeless plight or grasping at straws to encourage one of his death row neighbors, Foxx’s emotional range is vast and palpable. I don’t think I have ever felt the level of catharsis in a movie theater as I did in the film’s final resolution scene.

The other relational highlight for me from Just Mercy happened between Stevenson and Tommy Chapman, the loathsome District Attorney played convincingly by Rafe Spall. Chapman, a white Southerner perhaps ten years older than Stevenson, is smarmy and condescending, surpassing even the open vitriol of Sheriff Tate. As District Attorney, he lives and works in Monroeville, the county where Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. His suggestion, early on in the film, for Stevenson to check out the “Mockingbird Museum,” (“one of the most significant civil rights landmarks in the south”) on his way out of town is dripping with contempt, particularly as it comes after Chapman’s flat rejection to give Stevenson any help in re-opening McMillian’s case. This rejection has contained within it every ounce of Chapman’s greater refusal to even entertain the thoughts of a black, Harvard-educated attorney from the North in what he believes to be a settled matter in his Alabama county.

As the movie progresses, this relationship becomes the crucial turning point of the story. After Stevenson fails to convince Chapman of the need to reconsider the evidence in their first meeting, he shows up at Chapman’s house to plead with him to consider being on the side of justice, even if it costs him his reputation. You can sense the weight on Chapman’s mind but, once again, he refuses to engage the conversation and boots Stevenson off his property.

At the film’s zenith, a courtroom showdown between Chapman and Stevenson, the weight becomes too much to bear. As Stevenson asks for the Circuit Court to dismiss all charges, the judge asks for Chapman as the District Attorney to represent the opposing arguments. His painful silence is followed finally by a decision to join the defense in asking for the charges to be dropped.

Even having read Just Mercy when it came out a few years ago, this scene moved me, certainly because of the actors’ performances, but perhaps more so because of the nature of the victory. Michael B. Jordan’s Stevenson certainly gives an Atticus-Finch-level speech to set up the scene but, in the end, he doesn’t beat Chapman by the force of compelling courtroom rhetoric. He doesn’t exactly “win” at all; he convinces his opponent to forfeit, to pay the price of losing a very public case in order to remove the moral weight from his shoulders.

Why does this work? Why does Tommy Chapman – who, by the way, was re-elected three additional times after McMillian’s exoneration in 1993, finally retiring in 2012 – change his mind about his need to hang the murder of a teenage white girl in rural Alabama on the head of Walter McMillian, a black man sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?

How do you change a person’s mind?

Bryan Stevenson, like Martin Luther King, Jr. before him, managed to do so through the practice of prophetic persuasion, the public embodiment of a value so completely that it compels enough cognitive dissonance in the observer to allow them to consider that they might actually be in the wrong in a given situation. This practice includes speaking boldly but words are a mere accompaniment to and interpretation of clear and effective action. It is an argument for the heart, not simply the mind.

Contrary to much of how we think about ourselves as rational creatures, our minds actually tend to follow our bodies and hearts. As James K.A. Smith writes, “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love[1].” Our worldview may be reinforced by the intake of information but it is changed by practice, by the embodiment of previously unseen realities. In some sense, it is the body that changes the mind – both our own minds and the minds of those observing.

Prophetic persuasion practices that which it preaches even before it begins to preach. It incarnates into the world, letting the mouth bear witness to what the body has already practiced. We love in action and let our words offer the interpretation of that action.

This is not an excuse from speaking; despite what St. Francis probably never said, words are always necessary. Rather, it is a call to put a thumb on the precise scale our age is most tempted to neglect – that of quiet, sacrificial action not intended for Insta stories or Twitter likes. It is a call to allow our words to come only when our bodies and our bank accounts are already on the line. It is to preach a lived word instead of a theoretical one. It is to exit the clean offices and kitchen tables of our minds and enter the messy world on our hands and knees, praying and working for the world yet to come.

This is the power of Bryan Stevenson and others like him today – his talk shines through with the light of his walk. He speaks, even as some said of Jesus in his day, as one with authority. I want the same to be true in my life and in my generation as a whole.

May the words we speak, tweet, and share come from the deeper well of a heart transformed by experiences lived and sacrifices made.

May our revolutions be embodied before they are ever televised.

May our persuasiveness be the fruit borne by seeds planted in struggle and watered by our own tears, sweat, and blood.

May the first mind we change, even if it is the only mind we change, be our own.

[1] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 21

We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For


Dear Wren,

You may have noticed during the yogurt round of your breakfast today that a few tears were flowing down my cheeks. As you’ve never seen your daddy cry before, I wanted to tell you what happened in my mind while we listened to our morning playlist.

Not all tears in this world are bad, Little One. Some of the best moments in your life will move you with profound emotion. The best tears are the ones that catch you off guard, when the smile of a friend or a line in a book is so beautiful that it rings a little bell hidden deep inside your heart. This kind of beauty fills you so full that you overflow in laughter or, sometimes, tears.

You probably don’t remember the particular song that was playing at the time. You are not yet to the age when I will consider it part of my fatherly duty to introduce you to bands like U2 as part of your growth into a responsible global citizen. The song was called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and comes from The Joshua Tree, an album that came out three weeks after your daddy was born over thirty years ago.

I discovered U2 in high school, when I heard one of my favorite bands, Caedmon’s Call, cover one of their songs. I immediately went looking for the original and bought a copy of The Joshua Tree, which survived many rotations during my angsty, Christ-haunted teen years. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was and is, for me, an anthem of the restlessness I feel as someone trying to follow Jesus in a broken world.

Disappointment and frustration seem to be around every corner. Friends let you down. People get sick and pass away. The Church can be beautiful but is often as selfish as the world around us. The song communicates a deep longing for Home, a place none of us have ever visited but about which we all dream. Will we ever find what we’re looking for?

This morning, however, something new rang true to me as we listened to it together. I thought about the world beyond our sunny kitchen, the world you are inheriting from us. Sweet Girl, this is a world full of so many beautiful things, like the snow-capped mountains where we went hiking this fall or the shore of Lake Michigan where you dipped your feet on your momma’s birthday.

But it is also full of dreadful things beyond what you may ever understand.

It’s a world where children with hands not much bigger than yours spend their many waking hours making clothing. This clothing is sold for lots of money to wealthy people like us while they struggle to fill their tummies with enough food to survive.

It’s a world where other little girls are taken from their families and sold for unspeakable reasons to men who do not love them. These little girls don’t get to go to the park or play with their puppies on the living room floor like you do. Their parents aren’t even allowed to see them.

It’s also a world where women like your momma are regularly seen as less special than men like Daddy. They often make less money for doing the same work. Men like Daddy interrupt them when they talk, take credit for their ideas, and say rude things to them when no one else is listening, and sometimes even when someone is.

US-NASSAR-CHARGESSometimes these women are mistreated horribly and, even if they tell someone about it, no one will believe them. Or worse, the people in charge (usually men) will blame these women for causing the trouble in the first place.

Sometimes, even the men who say they follow Jesus, like your daddy, are guilty of hurting these women and making them feel alone when they hurt. Sometimes these men stand up in front of large crowds of people and say nice things about the men who hurt women like your momma.

Little One, I am so sorry. I wish I could tell you these terrible things will never happen to you. I wish I could protect you from men like me and the terrible system we built. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

But, maybe you and your friends will.

The truth is that this world is also full of women and men who kick down the doors where those little girls are held against their will.

Sometimes brave women get up in front of people and share the stories of when they were hurt. When these brave ones tell their stories, it makes other people feel brave too and more stories are told.

Sometimes we even see justice here in this broken place.

Let me end with the best news. There was a good man once – a really good man – who told us that all of the sad things would, one day, become untrue. He told us that there was a house somewhere with no locked doors and no walls to keep people out just because they look different than us. He said it would be a place with no more tears and no more death. It’s a home where every little girl is safe and loved.

Men like your daddy didn’t like hearing that they would not always be in charge so they killed him. But, this man, Jesus, was stronger than death so he came back to life a couple days later. He told us before he left that he would come back one day to bring us home with him.

When you feel scared and helpless – and it breaks my heart to admit that you will – remember that this Stronger Man sees you and he hears you and he loves you, even more than Daddy. And that is quite a lot.

Love always,


Album Review: The Painted Desert by Andrew Osenga

(2018) The Painted Desert

More than a decade ago, I drove with some friends to one of Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concerts at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. To this day, it is my favorite place in the world to watch a concert. There’s something magical about the otherworldly acoustics in the room and the hardness of the old pews that mixes together and makes it feel like you’re on the front row now matter where you are in the building.

During the in-the-round portion of the evening, a guitar player got up and played a mesmerizing song about a small town and its high school marching band. It felt like I was listening to a short-story set to sync with a Bruce Springsteen record. There was just one guy with an acoustic guitar on stage but the song expanded somehow and filled the room. Later on, this same guy came out and played electric guitar and sang harmonies for the BTLOG song cycle and, by the distorted volume swells on the third song, I was hooked.

I went to the merch table after the show and bought a record of his called Photographs. We listened to it on the way home. I was early on in college and songs like “Kara” and “Kankakee” made me ache for the hometown that like so many students experience, is never quite what you so fondly remember when you return after a few years.

Fast forward to 2018 and Andrew Osenga’s music is still making me ache for home. His new record, The Painted Desert, is a mature, well-crafted album that is as thematically tight and self-aware as any singer-songwriter record I have ever heard. In describing the genesis of the album, Osenga writes:

“I thought I was done making records. I felt I had said all I’d ever have to say. Then life happened. The past few years have felt like wandering in the desert, in a myriad of ways. I had to face some hard truths about myself and ask some hard questions, about who I am, what I believe, and what I’m called to do…The Painted Desert is, I pray, the album version of conversation with a friend where you have the freedom to be real with doubt, fear AND hope.”

This “freedom to be real” is an excellent thesis statement for this record and comes through beautifully in the lyrics, several of which made me cry on both the first and fifth listen. “The Year of the Locust” is a standout for me with lines like:

Take comfort and rest / When the heart is an uncivil war and you’re taking a beating
Blood red on your chest / He will restore the years the locusts have eaten

Another emotional highlight for me was the opening track, “Beautiful Places,” an exhortation to Osenga’s daughters to both know their family story and to find their own adventures in the world. As a dad to a little girl myself, I was wrecked by this line:

So grab some life insurance money / Call your sisters, and cross things off the list
Scatter my ashes in beautiful places / it’s the last gift I can give you
Beautiful places

The image of my little girl standing on our shoulders, acknowledging the beauty and brokenness of her parents’ story while discovering her own place in the world, will stick with me long after this record ceases to be new.

One of the crowning achievements lyrically for this album is its ability to walk the narrow line between relatable vulnerability and something more self-indulgent. As a fan of more aloof folk songwriters like David Mead or Josh Ritter, a line like “And if you love me, well, I am sorry / ‘Cause there’s no way I haven’t let you down” (“Mercy”) feel deeply candid and personal without crossing the line into over-sharing.

While artists like Ritter appear to maintain strict “show don’t tell” rules around their writing, disappearing completely behind narrative songs and more obtuse imagery, The Painted Desert feels like it was written by an artist who wants to be known by the listener. It pays off immensely upon repeated listening and, at least for me, achieved Osenga’s mission of creating space to “think, feel, and remember.”

One last highlight: I will be surprised if there is a better complete folk song written this year than “My Bittersweet Old Friend,” which combines beautiful acoustic finger-picking, layered vocals, melodies doubled by piano and electric guitars, and incredible lyrics like:

I’m listening are you calling? Am I just waiting
While hope is there within the longing?
My bittersweet old friend

Speaking of instrumentation, I am tempted to describe this album as “stripped down” compared to other records Osenga has released. But, honestly, I am not sure I even noticed the lack of traditional drums until they suddenly showed up at the perfect moment in the final track (“Give Up”). Some songwriters go for a smaller-scale approach in recording as a way to create intimacy but the end result is instead stale and lacking imagination.

This album is the opposite end of that spectrum. The production is complex and beautiful and each song feels like a complete thought. Though the instrumentation is perhaps minimalist in theory, the interplay between the lushly-arranged vocals and the ambient electric guitar lines, both staples of Osenga’s music, make every song feel like it would be equally appropriate in a coffee-shop or a stadium.

I could go on about The Painted Desert but this feels entirely too long already. Check out some of his previous music on Spotify or Apple music and then go support his new project on Kickstarter. He also has an incredible podcast called The Pivot that features interviews with fascinating artists, entrepreneurs, and more – find it wherever you download your podcasts.

Book Review: White Awake by Daniel Hill

White AwakeIn the past decade of working with college students, one of the most common resources I’ve scoured the internet trying to find is a simple guide for white students desiring to better understand their ethnic identity and their role in the work of justice. There are lots of great resources out there but many are either too dated to be relevant to the Trump era or too academic to be immediately actionable.

I’m happy to report that I have finally found a book to buy in bulk for intrepid students and friends for the next decade. Pastor Daniel Hill’s book, White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White (IVP), engages academia while remaining approachable, acknowledges deeper spiritual realities while remaining practical, and roots itself in the Gospel and in Scripture while pressing us beyond the walls of the church building. It is the whole package given to us in under 200 pages – exactly what I am looking for.

Following a few introductory chapters to lay some necessary groundwork, Hill’s book is structured around seven clearly defined stages of white identity. You might think of them as signposts along the way, letting you know the lay of the land at each stage and giving the necessary guidance to make it through the next leg of the journey. At each stop, he engages with Scripture, relevant social science theory, and compelling personal narratives to guide the reader into understanding. The book wraps with well-written discussion questions that make me itch to get a group of friends together to discuss it.

The Good & The Quotable:

Beyond the personal challenge that this book was for me (the chapter on Self-Righteousness is heavily underlined in my copy – ouch), one of my favorite things about this book is its pacing. That may sound strange but Hill manages to avoid several tropes of the “popular ministry handbook” genre that left me feeling pleasantly surprised at the end of each chapter by its clarity and sharpness.

Here is one brief example to illustrate my point: it’s common in books like these to introduce a theoretical framework or ministry model (“Seven Stages of White Identity”) and then brazenly attempt to overlay that concept onto a biblical narrative, suggesting that there is a character or story in the Bible that perfectly embodies the journey you desire your readers to take.

It would not have been hard to imagine Hill finding a character with cultural power (Peter in Acts 10, Moses in Exodus, Esther) and then attempting to mine these seven stages out of their story. Trust me – I have read dozens of books like this and the hermeneutical gymnastics eat up so much page space and attention capital that whatever point the authors gets easily lost in the shuffle for a critical reader.

Mercifully, Hill’s book engages with Scripture responsibly and appropriately for each stage. Instead of beating up a passage of the Bible to justify his eloquent theory, Hill saves some of his most poignant writing for his unpacking of the biblical narrative. I promise you will never read the stories of Matthew and Nicodemus, among others, in the same way again.

I could go on but let me just share from the author’s own voice a few of my favorite quotes:

“The theology passed on to us from white forefathers is considered to be the normal, default standard for theology. It is the assumed cultural norm. Everyone else’s theology is defined in relation to whiteness.” (33)

“We are traumatized, and we are therefore in denial. Acknowledging that all our land was stolen from Native people feels like too great a burden, so we create an alternative reality that allows us to disengage emotionally from the truth” (73)

“Why does God ask traumatized people to look at the trauma they initiated through their sin and rebellion? For the same reason God asks us to: it is the truth and we are free only when we lift up the truth” (77)

“A good way to think of it is that conversion gives us the ability to begin divesting ourselves from the grips of white superiority” (97)

“That’s why I’ve come to believe that a white person’s reaction to the term white supremacy is the most tangible sign to his or her being awake or not” (148)

“We come to terms with the fact that we were steered as young people toward ‘good’ school districts, ‘good’ neighborhoods, ‘good’ universities, and ‘good’ jobs. We didn’t have the eyes to see it then, and we now realize that ‘good’ was the politically safe way to say ‘white.’ This normalization of the goodness of whiteness has led to a lack of diverse experience and we realize it has shaped us as white people in a very specific and unique way.” (150)

“To be a white person in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of lament almost all the time.” (158)

“It may not seem like the most enticing work, but engaging with the white people in our extended community is one of the most concrete ways to make a difference” (175)

The Transferable:

There are a number of easily transferable tools for leaders and practitioners that Hill gives throughout the book. The seven stage framework itself is a goldmine for those of us in the business of discipling white people through their identity development. However, perhaps the most impactful tool for me, personally, was the first one mentioned.

Hill notes that he was challenged early on in his journey by a older leader of color to inventory four groups of voices in his life:

  1. His closest friends
  2. The mentors he looked to for guidance
  3. The preachers/teachers/theologians he relied on for spiritual guidance
  4. The authors of the books he was reading

The exercise was simply to list them and then take note of the cultural backgrounds they represented. I believe this exercise would be provocative and convicting enough for 90% of white folks to decide they need to take greater ownership over their journey toward awakening and active participation in God’s shalom in the world.

Who Should Read This:

I legitimately believe every white Christian should own, read, and discuss this book in 2018. In fact, for any of my local friends who are reading this, I will put my money where my mouth is. If you promise to read this book in 2018, I will buy and deliver a copy for the first five people to comment either here or on my Instagram feed. I hope this leads to some great conversations and real change for all of us.

10 Books I Loved in 2017

Every year I set a goal related to reading. This year, my goal was to read for thirty minutes every day. It went…okay. I think if you averaged out the time across the year, I probably got to or near the finish line. Let’s say B+ for effort.

For 2018, my goal is to only allow myself to start a new book once I’ve journaled or blogged about the book just finished and can point to one practical step I’m taking in my life as a response to what I read.

I am learning as I get older that I often love to finish a book just for the sake of finishing and moving on to the next one. My hope is that this habit will push what I’m reading toward actual growth in my life.

When I look back over my reading list from this year, I can tell that the main question I was processing was “How does my vocation as a follower of Jesus move from my working hours as a career missionary down into the everyday life of my family in our neighborhood?”

I started off 2017 with a good sense that I was about to leave the missionary agency I had been with for nine years. One of the goals my wife and I had in that transition was to get a better sense of what our family’s mission is in the world. We are certainly still trying to understand that but I can tell that themes like vocation and calling were central for me in 2017.

And now, with no further ado, here are 10 Books I Loved in 2017:

Roadmap to ReconciliationRoadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter-McNeil

I first heard the term “racial reconciliation” in college and, as the author herself laments, the hardest thing about reconciliation is not explaining it; it is practicing it. How do you actually work toward reconciliation as a community? This is the closest thing to a handbook on reconciliation that I have read and I would heartily recommend it to you if you are looking for a community resource. You can read my full review here.

visionsofvocationVisions of Vocation by Steven Garber

This book would also win my 2017 Award for Most Boring Cover. I have owned Visions of Vocation for at least a few years and never thought to open it until I read about Garber in Jena Nardella’s book, One Thousand Wells. Garber is the principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture and is a consummate mentor even across the medium of a book. If you want to learn more about vocation in 2018, check this one out.


The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

I have already decided to buy every book Andy Crouch writes so this wasn’t a shocker for me. However, if you’ve found yourself daunted by his 10,000 foot thinking before, I would recommend giving this book a chance. It is an immensely practical treatment of the role of technology in our lives. I genuinely believe every new parent should be issued this book as they leave the hospital. You can read my full review here.


Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith

I heard about Smith, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, from listening to podcasts featuring Sandra McCracken and Andrew Peterson. When two of my favorite songwriters recommend a book, it goes on my Amazon Wish List. Smith argues prophetically that humans are not primarily thinking creatures in need of better worldviews; we are instead, desiring creatures in need of better liturgies to shape our hearts. Timely and beautifully written – don’t miss it.

Faithful Presence by David Fitchfaithfulpresence

As someone engaged in “mission work,” for the past decade, I have read roughly one billion books on being missional. There is an entire industry that exists to convince you that your church or ministry is wildly old-fashioned and irrelevant and, if you only buy a certain book and attend the $500 annual conferences designed around it, you too can be missional and actually love Jesus. If I could recommend one mission-centric book that you could buy today and then unsubscribe from all of that silliness, this is it.

embraceEmbrace by Leroy Barber

Having worked with college students for my entire adult life, I know that it is usually around this age that many develop a heart for justice in the world based on their exposure to perspectives beyond their home experience. If you are opening your eyes to injustice in the world and looking for a great first book to accompany your journey toward active engagement, I found Embrace to be a wonderful, simple introduction into the Christian movements for justice.

failure_of_nerveA Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman

Hot take: This may be the most prophetic and necessary book on leadership for our generation and it was written twenty years ago.

Friedman’s key point is that organizational leadership in our time is crippled by interpersonal relational anxiety and using all of the wrong tools to address the problem. It is dense and challenging and bypasses many of the “ten simple steps” and other bland tropes of the genre. I’m still chewing on it months later.

slowchurchSlow Church by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison

Drawing inspiration from the Slow Food movement, this book is structured around the themes of Ecology, Economics, and Ethics. It pushes back against the “mcdonaldization” of the church, particularly in the urban core of cities in which so many white millennials, in particular, find themselves living and attending church. If you, like me, find yourself in that demographic, I would highly recommend this book.

eastofedenEast of Eden by John Steinbeck

Our family devoured this book in 2017. When we could have been watching TV or going to bed, my wife would instead choose to read Steinbeck. I had to see what all the fuss was about and I was not disappointed. Between the highly readable prose, the cavernous depth of characters developed, and the fascinating biblical narrative parallels and theological conversations, I got hooked on it too. Timshel!

duncowThe Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

This was another book highly recommended by a handful of songwriters that I admire and I am glad I finally crossed it off my list. It’s a little bit Orwell, a little bit Chaucer, and a little bit The Hobbit – all wrapped around an epic good versus evil story where even the good characters have to come to terms with the evils within. It’s an easy read with a beautifully sad and heroic ending that is wonderfully satisfying.

How about you? What did you read and love in 2017? What were some major themes from that reading for you? Any recommendations for my 2018 list?

On Thirty-Something Male Friendship

PodcastsI like to think of myself as a refined and intelligent consumer and I want my listening to reflect that in case I need to impress someone riding in the car with me. My podcast subscriptions fall mostly in the categories of news, cultural commentary, interviews with interesting people, and deep dives into topics that intrigue me (most recently, theoretical physics – impressive, right?). But, one podcast icon stands out from among the rest. It’s one I probably wouldn’t play to impress someone in the car and the one I most look forward to each week.

A few years ago, I was watching a video on YouTube when a video on the recommendation sidebar caught my eye. It was about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but I was intrigued so I clicked on the video.

What followed was a conversation between two guys who were clearly good friends, speculating over upcoming Marvel movies, punctuated by frequent tangents and, occasionally, actual quotes from Marvel Studios. I wasn’t sure why at the time but I loved it. At the end of the video, there was a link to the podcast from which this conversation had apparently been clipped – The Weekly Planet. I subscribed that day and, more than two hundred episodes later, I am still listening.

I have often wondered why I like this show so much. It bills itself as the official podcast of, a website I never visit, and is mostly either a breakdown of movies and TV shows I haven’t seen yet or an large-scale overview of themes from movies in the past few decades, some I have seen and some I haven’t (e.g. “Biggest/Most Insane Movie Feuds,” “Biggest Box Office Bombs,” “Best/Worst Comic Book Movie Directors”). Yet, every Monday morning I download the next episode and look forward to the drive home when I get to indulge in my weekly fix.

Recently, the primary host (James) was on another podcast talking about the creation of The Weekly Planet and he said something that gave me a clue into my habit. He explained that he had wanted the podcast to be simply the conversations that he and his friend (co-host Nick) were already having, just recorded and organized around various topics. He didn’t start the podcast with much direction but he knew he wanted his friendship with Nick to be at the center of it.

Whether you listen to the very first episode or the most recent one, it is basically the same experience – two guys talking about their mutual fascination with comic book-based (and other fantasy-based) entertainment, which often includes a lot of sarcasm, tangents, and inside jokes.

Weekly Planet

I realized that I love this podcast because these two guys have a friendship that reminds me of my closest guy friends. Like James and Nick, we bonded over shared interests and experiences. Like them, our conversations are sprinkled with inside jokes and quotes from our collection of shared obsessions from 15+ years of friendship (Arrested Development, the Halo games, Star Wars, Strong Bad emails, etc.).

The Weekly Planet might be about comic book movies on its surface, but I would argue it is (at least indirectly) a podcast about male friendship. It is a weekly display of the hidden depths that come only from relationships that make up half a lifetime and transition through stages of life into something deeper than affinity.

When I listen to the podcast every week, it awakens the longing I have to reconnect with my own friends. Like a lot of men in their thirties, I have experienced the thinning of relationships that comes with marriage, kids, relocating, job shifts, and the other transitions that happen to many people in their mid-to-late twenties. Friendships that were forged in the fires of late-night Taco Bell runs three nights per week cool to monthly family hangouts when schedules allow. Planning happens weeks ahead of time or else we never see each other. I understand why this is necessary but, still, I lament. Why is it so hard to keep old friendships thriving, much less make new ones, as we get older?

A friend posted this Boston Globe article a few months ago that highlights the health risks for people who live in isolation and, specifically, the challenges for men to stay connected as they age. One of its many illuminating insights is that men seem to need an activity to do together in order to build and keep a friendship. He says that though women seem to be able to connect more easily via a pure relational interface like talking on the phone, if men aren’t doing something side-by-side, they lose connectivity quickly.

As I was reading, I remembered a conversation I had with my dad when I was a teenager. He confided in me that he constantly felt lonely. He looked around at his world and, though he loved his family and had a successful business, he didn’t feel like he had any friends. I wondered while reading this article how much this contributed to the health issues that took him on such a rapid decline in the later years of his life. I am still haunted by the fear that I will one day say the same thing to my own children.

Perhaps the thing that draws me the most to The Weekly Planet is the mere fact that it is The Weekly Planet, as opposed to the Monthly or Quarterly or Whenever We Can Find a Babysitter Planet. James and Nick get together every week just to hit record and talk together about something they both love. Their friendship is continually stoked by the discipline of doing something together. They were doing it before the podcast was making any money and I hope they keep doing it long after podcasts are profitable.

When the show hit 200 episodes a few weeks back, Nick surprised James with a cake to celebrate. The cake was decorated with the number 198, a reference to (and small jab at) the fact that though Nick has been present every week, James has actually missed two of the 200+ episodes of the podcast. Obviously this was a joke, but something about those numbers moved me on a deeper level.

Two hundred weekly podcast episodes represent roughly four years of time. I wondered to myself what might happen in my own life, in my family’s life, and in the broader community of which I am a part if our commitment to one another was so strong that it was a tease-worthy “offense” to have missed two weekly gatherings in four years. Who knows what depths we might plumb together and what riches we might find there? I wonder what I need to rearrange in my own life to reach old age with a group of guys that still jokes about TV shows from our twenties but also exudes the warmth of years spent in each other’s regular presence.

For a podcast whose theme song includes only the lyrics “red-hot comic book movie news shooting up your butthole,” I am surprisingly challenged every week, maybe even more so than from all my other, more refined listens.

Thanks James and Nick,

Book Review: The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

techwiseThe Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Baker Books (April 2017, 221 pp).

When it comes to being a fan of art, I have two different modes: casual and obsessive. As a casual fan of artists like Anne Lamott or Coldplay, I have no problem picking and choosing the bits and pieces of their catalog that I like and forgetting about the rest. I don’t feel an urgent need to catch up on what I have missed and I am perfectly fine to not pick up the next album or book if it doesn’t strike me.

On the other hand, there are a few artists about whom I obsess. I will buy every Andrew Peterson album that ever comes out. I will pre-order the craziest package with the behind-the-scenes photos and videos and recipes for the cookies they ate in the studio. I will read the liner notes and memorize who is singing background vocals or playing the guitar solo on each song. Artists like Andrew are the reason why I have to have a very specific line item for personal spending in our monthly budget.

I am an obsessive Andy Crouch fan. I devoured his three previous books (Culture Making, Playing God, Strong and Weak) and plan to read everything else he puts out from here until Jesus comes back. That being said, even if you don’t find yourself in this camp, I would highly recommend giving his new book, The Tech-Wise Family, a read, particularly if you are a parent or ever desire to be one.

The Good and the Quotable:

Generally speaking, I would call Crouch a framework thinker. He is interested in organizing the large ideas that govern our everyday lives into a simple framework of understanding that helps us understand how concepts like power, injustice, idolatry, vulnerability, and now, technology, interact and shape the way we view and act in the world.

That being said, The Tech-wise Family is also an immensely practical book. In the preface, Crouch identifies the core problem:

“…the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it. We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made” (17).

After a thoughtful introduction setting up the need for families to address the elephant in the room that is our collective addiction to technology and a helpful explanation of nudges and disciplines as tools that can help us wean off our devices, the rest of the book is structured around what Crouch calls “Ten Tech-Wise Commitments” that his family keeps to maintain a healthy relationship with each other and with technology.

barnaSprinkled throughout the book are findings from a recent massive Barna survey of parents and kids about the use of technology in the home. At the end of each chapter, Crouch gives a “Reality Check,” where he shares where his own family has succeeded and struggled (often both) with each of the ten commitments. Between Crouch’s heartfelt stories, the practicality of each of the ten steps, and the large-scale findings of the Barna survey, this fast-reading book feels like the exact right tool to give to parents, would-be parents, and anyone else who fears their devices are beginning to (or long ago managed to) encroach upon their relationships.

As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes to entice you to buy this book:

“But if there’s one thing our children need to hear from us, over and over again, it’s this: ‘Our family is different.’” (19)

“Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet” (20)

“Our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations…They are meant to be places where the very best of life happens” (29)

“Build your life around not having a TV, and when you finally do have a TV, almost nothing will change” (31)

“Family is about the forming of persons…But while in one sense a person is simply what we are as human beings, we are also able to become – to grow in capacities that are only potentially present within us at first” (52)

“Fill the center of your life together – the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together – with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.” (71)

“The more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (141)

The home is the place where worship of the true God starts: the place where we remember and recite God’s Word, and where we learn to respond to God with our heart, soul, strength, and – as Jesus added when he called this the greatest commandment – with our mind as well” (190)

The Transferable:

This book was written to be immediately applicable so much of it could be quickly transferred into the life of the reader. Personally, I found the stories of how Crouch’s family had incorporated the commitments in their home to be some of the most stirring transferable elements. In the chapter on Sabbath-keeping, he shares that their family has a Sunday afternoon tea tradition in which they (kids too!) prepare a simple meal that is easily shared with friends and neighbors allowing their community to fully rest after church on Sundays and share time together without worrying about the work going in or coming out of the meal. I love this idea and could easily imagine implementing it in our family as my daughter gets older.

Who Should Read This:

This is one of few books that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. It might be most meaningful to parents but Crouch does a wonderful job of not making it feel alienating to those without kids. It really is an immensely practical and insightful book and one that I feel everyone should read.

Book Review: 5Q by Alan Hirsch

5Q5Q:  Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ by Alan Hirsch. 100M (April 2017, 216 pp).

Confession: I am an Alan Hirsch fan. This is the second of his books that I’ve reviewed and the fourth that I’ve read, following in the footsteps of The Forgotten Ways, The Permanent Revolution (with Tim Catchim), and Untamed (with Debra Hirsch). I have also had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a few different conferences and I find him to be an enjoyable and stimulating speaker and thinker. He is undoubtedly brilliant and has spent years studying social and spiritual movements to unearth wisdom and insight for the Church today.

Probably his most significant contribution to the missional conversation for the past 10-15 years has been to recenter the Fivefold giftings (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher – collectively known as APEST) found in Ephesians 4 and give church leaders handholds for incorporating these giftings into the practices and organizational systems of their churches. If you have heard the term “apostolic” thrown around by a pastor or church leader in your circle, I would wager that they have been influenced by Hirsch or someone from his various tribes (Forge, 100 Movements, etc.). His books have offered me great personal encouragement and rebuke as I wrestle with some of my own hangups as a church member and ministry leader and I have used his tools and insights to train others as well.

That being said, my primary critique with any Alan Hirsch book is that they are normally 25-30% longer than they need to be. Alan is a framework thinker and paradigm shifter and he seems to find it irresistible to make sure the reader sees as many threads of connectivity as possible between his new paradigm and the worlds of sociology, art, history, and, in this book, even in the patterns of creation itself.

The first sixty pages of this book are pretty tedious both in the retreading of other material from his previous books (some of which, admittedly, is probably helpful to a new Hirsch reader) and in the amount of time spent at the 10,000 foot view without ever getting to even a single anecdote or practical application. I can very easily imagine a 150 page version of this book that would be equally if not more effective. As a practical example (so as not to be hypocritical), I am a heavy outliner when I read but I outlined only one memorable concept for the first 77 pages of this book and it was a block quote from another book.

The Good & The Quotable:


Alan Hirsch, author of 5Q

A stronger editing hand notwithstanding, the core theme of this book is a sharp and necessary challenge to the Church in our time. With 5Q, Hirsch is making the central argument that the fivefold giftings are essentially archetypes that have been hardwired into creation and fully embodied in the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. Given then that the Church is to be the embodiment of Christ (“the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” – from Ephesians 1), any local church should be marked by the full manifestation of these five callings.

It may sound simple but this “If A, then B and if B, then C” style of argument is actually pretty revolutionary, particularly in Western evangelical culture which is constantly wringing its hands over what the “marks” of a true church should be, particularly over and against parachurch models and fear regarding theological/doctrinal error. Into this conversation, which sadly often devolves into power-grabbing and scarcity outlooks on ministry, Hirsch injects a much-needed and well-developed paradigm shift.

I say “shift,” but like all great missional “innovations,” its biggest strength is in its ability to “shift” us back to our centerpoint of the life of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. Hirsch is essentially saying that you can identify a “church” by the degree to which any community embodies the five central functions of Jesus’ own ministry. Like IQ or EQ which seek to describe an individual’s intellectual or emotional capacities, Hirsch imagines 5Q as a paradigm by which to measure and describe a given church’s capacity to image and embody Christ’s continued ministry in the world.

If this material were to be taken up, studied, and applied by a local community, I can certainly imagine some dramatic and helpful changes occurring that would likely lead to at least a broader recognition of giftedness in the community and a balancing away from certain gifts that tend to be more celebrated, like Teaching. Though there are a few helpful assessment prompts and visuals, the book stops just short of practical while pointing the reader to a workbook that can also be purchased separately for those wishing to implement the material (a common theme with Hirsch’s books) and a website that has a few free resources, options to pursue deeper consulting and paid assessment tools, and promises of more to come. For my own personal benefit, I would have loved even a handful of brief anecdotes of churches and organizations that have used 5Q successfully but they were sadly absent from this book.

As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a taste of the material:

“He [Jesus] is not some detached lecturer. He is himself ‘the Way,’ and he shows us what a lifestyle based on truth looks like (John 1:17, 14:6). In Jesus, ethics becomes ethos – a way to live. He discipled his followers by actually living life with them – he was their Master and Rabbi, and they lived under his word and authority.” (77)

The church carries out the work that Jesus started and it does it in a way that is consistent with who Jesus was and how he went about his own ministry.” (80)

“We do not merely represent Jesus – in some real way we are meant to actually embody/incarnate him.” (81)

“By insisting on the priesthood of all believers the Reformation rejected the ‘priestcraft’ of Catholic sacramentalist tradition only to create another form of Protestant clericalism and religious sacramentalism every bit as elitist and entrenched as the Catholic ones.” (131)

“The organizational bias of the inherited form of church organization is in a real sense a reflection of the consciousness of the people who designed it in the first place.” (131)

“Where the marks are recognizably present i.e., the defining presence on Jesus, missional impact, covenant faithfulness, gospel proclamation, reconciled community, and deep wisdom – there you have a real authentic church.” (135)

pentagonThe Transferable:

Again, I want to reiterate that this book is primarily the communication of a paradigm by which to conceptualize the Church. There are very few stories and even fewer tools, per se, given that could be immediately used in a practical sense. That being said, there is a helpful diagnostic exercise (p. 140) that Hirsch encourages the reader to use to “score” their community’s 5Q from 0-5 in each of the five functions. The scoring is done on a concentric pentagon (see image) with each point representing one of five such that you’re left with a visual representation of your community’s 5Q. Combined with a robust communal understanding of the five gifts, I think this diagnostic could be a powerful tool for assessment and strategic planning for leaders to use as they consider their community’s strengths and shore up its weaknesses.

Who Should Read This:

This is a book for leaders who enjoy conceptual/framework thinking, don’t need a lot of practical handholds in order to implement what they read, and are looking for a fresh take on injecting APEST-style leadership into their community wholesale. If you’re new to Hirsch/APEST, I would actually recommend starting with The Forgotten Ways, which for me is his most practical work, and then decide if you want to keep going from there. The middle ⅓ of this book is wonderful and a great jumping off point from TFW but the first and last ⅓ are pretty tough if you don’t enjoy Hirsch’s communication style.

To InterVarsity, With Love

visionstatement-rect2A few weeks before I turned 22 years old, I drove to Westport Plaza, a business park just northwest of Saint Louis, to interview for a full-time position with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I had spent the previous year as an intern with the organization, which included a six-week stint living with Sudanese refugees in Cairo, Egypt. I had led a freshmen Bible study, run some leadership meetings, and spent every Sunday night with other interns and young staff in Saint Louis, learning how to be an adult and fighting to survive the first year of ministry together.

On the drive, I thought about a phrase that my staff partner, Esther, had mentioned to me in passing as a teaching from her undergrad days in InterVarsity. A speaker at her large group meeting had used the phrase “tithe your twenties” as a challenge to students to dedicate the decade, including the final two years of undergrad, toward sowing intentionally and deeply in the work of the Kingdom, regardless of their vocation.

As I made the half-hour drive in my best “business casual on a missionary budget” attire, this phrase – “tithe your twenties” – popped up in my mind and refused to be ignored. I wondered to myself, what would it be like to tithe my twenties to InterVarsity, to the vision of seeing students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world-changers developed?

Four months ago, I turned thirty. After today, I will no longer be working for InterVarsity.

Both of these realities are strange and bittersweet. They fill my heart with a mix of nostalgia, hopefulness, and gratitude that in no way feels fully processed. I suppose this blog is a first step along the way toward understanding just how much this community has meant to me.

In the end, my exit from InterVarsity was much like my entrance: an unforeseen doorway that opened on my way to something else. I originally thought joining the organization would simply be a one-year stop on the way to seminary and church work. The decision to leave nine years later came together quite quickly after pursuing and then being offered a promotion. Both decisions caught me off guard; both looking back now seem drenched in the leadership of the Spirit.

A year ago, I was excited about the prospect of taking a promotion within InterVarsity and moving our family across the country to North Carolina to become an Area Director in the Research Triangle area encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We flew out to prayer walk on the big campuses in the area, interviewed for the position, and were eventually offered the job. Along the way, as we were discerning with our community, two big realities begin to come to the surface:

  1. We love Saint Louis – the neighborhoods, the schools, the people, the churches, the campuses – investigating a new place mostly just reminded us of all the things we loved about home.
  2. I felt a deep longing to do everything in my limited power to get the local church more involved in the Kingdom work that needed to be done on local university campuses, particularly those with deep city roots, like our state and community colleges.

We ended up turning down the promotion. Somewhere in there, I met with a good friend who works for the city office of our denomination (Southern Baptists). I shared with him my heart to see college students establish a firm foundation in a local congregation long before graduation and to see church pastors and planters find unique ways to engage students more holistically in the life of the church starting their first Sunday freshman year. I wondered aloud if there might be space for a bridge-builder type position in his office. We prayed and brainstormed and made a few calls and waited to see if God was in it.

Five months later, I’m happy to announce that God met us in a thousand ways since that first conversation and a job came together that feels like a linear next step from my time with InterVarsity. Starting tomorrow, I will be taking the role of Director of Campus and Community Engagement with the Saint Louis Metro Baptist Association.

This new position has two parts, both of which fascinate and excite me:

  1. My main job is to be that very bridge-builder person as I originally pitched to my friend in the denominational office. I long to see the churches of Saint Louis reach the students of Saint Louis more effectively and build lifelong connections on our university campuses. I long to see college students reach their friends on campus while thriving in their development as followers of Jesus in our local churches. I’ll be spending the bulk of my time strategizing with students and church leaders to see these two dreams come to fruition.
  2. The other piece of my job is to develop a growing partnership between our association office and Mission: St. Louis, a local non-profit with which my family has deep connections. I’ll be spending some time each week working to connect students and churches in our network from all over the city and country to serving alongside Mission: St. Louis as they work to empower low-income communities through job training, housing repair, and a number of other impactful programs.

As I look excitedly toward the future, I want to say thank you to the organization that gave me a shot nine years ago to reach and empower students in this city that I love.

To InterVarsity,

Thank you for teaching me to love Jesus and his Word above all other things. Your insistence on communal discovery, manuscript study, asking important questions, and hearing from a plurality of voices has illuminated the Bible like no other guiding voice in my life. The Bible mystifies and delights me and that is in no small part thanks to your investment in me.

Thank you for showing me that leadership in the Kingdom is not about professional people with particular personalities and skill sets; it is about empowering every person from every corner and walk of life to use the gifts given by Jesus to do their part in seeing every inch of Creation brought back under the Lordship and Renewal of Jesus.

Thank you for exposing me to the global voices of the Church beyond my borders. From the main stage at Urbana to the refugees in my neighborhood, you taught me that the U.S. is not the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom and you awakened in me a longing to worship as part of the multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-lingual Bride that Jesus came to save.

Thank you for opening my eyes to issues of injustice and the calling that all followers of Jesus have to pursue reconciliation and justice, not as a side-bar passion for a few, but as the main outworking of our surrender to Jesus. When Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, just a few miles from my campus, it was your leadership and your networks that led myself and so many others into responding with open eyes and hearts to the cries for justice coming out of our communities. I fail in this pursuit every single day but you continually called me to show up and listen as a learner in spaces where I don’t have the answers.

Thank you for teaching me how to rest and care for my soul. I have a lot of friends in ministry and I know of no other organization that prioritizes spiritual formation like you do. I feel nostalgic about different pieces of my job every week but most recently I find myself realizing more and more how challenging it will be to find the spaces for silence and solitude that you have written into my work calendar for so many years. Thank you not seeing me as an organizational tool, but as a fully human person who needs to be cared for in order to care well for others.

I could continue on like this indefinitely. Trying to parce out to what exact degree InterVarsity has shaped my life is impossible. All I can say with any fairness is that I have no doubt that I will spend the next decade unpacking and re-applying what you have given me in this one. Thank you for making the return on my investment much more than I could have ever imagined.

“I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Philippians 1:3