Blog | Topic: Calling

College: A Blessing That Increases Our Ability to Bless

Oh,_the_Places_You'll_Go“You are blessed to be a blessing.”

This past weekend, driving to Canton, OH to speak at the First Friends Church, I listened to a sermon by John Ortberg. I have been listening to his sermons pretty regularly for the past year, motivated after reading his most recent, inspiring book Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus.

This particular sermon was part of a series about the mission of the church. Pastor Ortberg points out that the church’s mission is based on two words: “Go. Bless.” Ortberg then walks through the Biblical story, pointing out how the people of God are “blessed to be a blessing to others.”

There is a bit of surprise (spoiler alert!) during the sermon when Ortberg invites a woman onstage to talk about how she blesses her passengers as a bus driver in San Francisco. It is very moving and quite powerful. Take time to watch or listen to this sermon. You will not be disappointed.


I think the reason I loved this sermon so much was that it resonated with my work very directly. Ortberg begins by talking about Dr. Suess’s popular “graduation” book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and throughout the sermon compares it to the people of God. God sends us out to be a blessing, wherever we go! I think that’s the vision we need for college.

We often talk about college as something you do in order to open more doors that can lead to a successful career. The message and guidance most students hear is that college increases the opportunity for “success.” There is truth to that vision, of course. I certainly don’t want to undermine the role that college can play in helping others succeed in life. But I offer a different vision: College is a blessing. It is a gift. And a college degree should lead to having more opportunities to bless others. In other words, a follower of Jesus should think about college as increasing their ability to bless.

What I like most about Pastor Ortberg’s sermon (and the CTI vision for college!) is that this basic understanding of the Gospel can be lived out regardless of someone’s educational level, IQ or occupation. We can be a blessing to others, we can “love God, and love our neighbors” wherever God places us.

After a seminar, someone once said this to me: “I think this vision for life and learning changes everything.” I think it does too. Understanding or even grasping the implications of the Gospel, however, is not the tough part. Living it out and making college decisions based on this vision is where the rubber meets the road. Oh, the places you’ll go!

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5 Videos & 5 Books for Navigating Life After College

FNArticle1“And what will you be doing after graduation?” asked the president of my alma mater the night before commencement. My parents and I were at a special “invitation only” party at the president’s house. When the president asked me this question, the room went silent. Other students and their parents, holding paper plates and plastic cups, stopped talking, stared at me with inquisitive expressions, and leaned in to hear what I was going to say.

My dad said loud enough for everyone to hear, “We’d like to know too, actually.” Big gulp. Deep breath. This was my response: “A degree in political science from a state university has really only prepared me for one thing: seminary.” Some people snickered, most people slightly tilted their heads and raised their eyebrows (like a confused puppy) and I think one guy coughed up a potato chip. My parents did one of those half smiles. They were proud that I said something amusing in front of all those people, but were both wishing I hadn’t said something so amusing in front of all of those people.

I remember dreading the “what are you going to do?” question during my last three months of college. Like most seasons of deep anxiety, however, when I look back I realize that most of it was unwarranted. It makes sense to be apprehensive about the future, to be sure, but as Kierkegaard famously quipped, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” What I needed more than anything was perspective and a few ideas for ordering my daily life.

For those in a similar situation, what follows are five videos to watch and five books to read to help guide you as you transition out of college and into work. It’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but I’ve found them to be helpful. Feel free to add your suggestions to improve my list… Read the rest at Fieldnotes Magazine here.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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Fieldnotes Magazine: “How To Make a Life”

FieldnotesImageStarting a career? Do you want to “help” people? The New York Times columnist David Brooks offers young adults some counter-intuitive advice in his recent, provocative article “The Way to Produce a Person.”

Mr. Brooks opens his column by pointing readers to a story in The Washington Post about a young man, Jason Trigg, who desires to help fight malaria in Africa. Trigg’s solution to the African crisis is to take his MIT degree to Wall Street, work for a hedge fund, live a simple life and give his money away. It may sound noble, but Mr. Brooks wonders if it is plausible to sustain this commitment over the long haul. And, Mr. Brooks is not convinced that it is the best way to actually assist hurting people on a different continent…

Read the rest at Fieldnotes Magazine here.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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Jubilee Conference 2013: Transform Everything!

JubileeIt’s that time of year: Jubilee! The annual Jubilee Conference is held in Pittsburgh, PA in February and brings together 2,500+ college students to “talk, learn, think, and dream about the public implications of their personal transformation… Whether students are interested in engineering and science or art and music, law and politics or medicine and mission, justice and families or college life and the years to come, Jubilee will have someone speaking about what it means to be involved in those places faithfully.” The conference theme this year is “Transform Everything” and along with my emcee duties, I will be co-leading, with my good friend Keith Martel, a breakout session entitled “Transform Learning: Renewing the College Experience.”

The Jubilee Conference is part of the mission of the Coalition for Christian Outreach. The CCO is a campus ministry that partners with churches, colleges and other organizations to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life.

Here’s what I love about Jubilee: the Jubilee Conference is committed to helping students better understand and live out the biblical story. In his important book, After Virtue, the renowned philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre wrote, “I can only answer the question: what am I to do? if I answer the prior question: of what story do I find myself apart?” College students are asking big questions:

What is the meaning of life?
What is my purpose?
What kind of career should I pursue?
Where does my identity come from?
What difference does it make to believe in Jesus?

All of the main-stage presentations at the Jubilee Conference invite students to answer that prior question: “of what story do I find myself apart?” On what story is their life based? The presenters than explore the implications of the biblical story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) for academic pursuits and future vocations. There really is nothing like the Jubilee Conference and it’s an honor to be a part of it each year!

Check out this video to encourage students to “sign-up maybe?”

Download the 2013 Program Booklet here.

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What is Vocation? Helping Teens Understand Their Calling in Life

According to a recent study conducted by Stanford University, only 1 in 5 (20%) of teenagers “express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and why.” Many youth workers and parents are concerned with teen apathy and directionlessness. Even Christian teens seem to have a difficult time connecting their faith with their future plans and career aspirations. What is needed in many churches and youth groups today is a robust theology of vocation. Enter Stephen J. Nichols and is very helpful booklet (only 30 pages!) What is Vocation? (P&R Publishing).

While this booklet is useful for everyone in the church, much of the content and concern derives from his work with teens during the formative years as a college professor. He writes, “It’s the goal of this booklet for you to see all of your work, whether you get a paycheck for it or not, whether it’s considered a noble profession or a menial task, as germane to your calling as a child of God and a disciple of Christ… The doctrine of vocation enables us to see our work, all our work, as a means by which we can serve, worship, glorify, and enjoy God.”

Not only does the booklet provide a biblical, theological and historical overview of the doctrine of vocation, but it also makes connections with personal stories and popular culture. This is recommended reading for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of calling. It would be especially helpful to youth workers and parents who want to instill the value of calling and purpose in their teens.

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So Thankful for Hearts & Minds Bookstore!

On Friday Hearts & Minds Bookstore of Dallastown, Pennsylvania will celebrate a major milestone for any small business. For thirty years, proprietors Byron and Beth Borger have faithfully and relentlessly served their neighbors and their God by selling books and promoting reading. As I sit here the day before Thanksgiving, Hearts & Minds and my friendship with Byron & Beth is pretty high on the list of things I’m thankful for!

I hope the Borgers don’t mind me pointing out that I was only five years old when they opened the store. As I was eating turkey (and too much cranberry sauce, again) during my first “break” from elementary school, the Borgers were probably putting books on shelves and a sign out front. It wouldn’t be until I was twenty-four that I would step foot into their store, nineteen years after it opened. And, with nineteen years of book evangelism under his belt, Byron went to work, recommending books and going over the “must reads” and best authors. It’s difficult to put into words what it is like to spend an afternoon with Byron at his store. Challenging. Exhilarating. Refreshing. Those words come to mind pretty quickly. So do names of authors. If it were not for Byron, I never would have known about or have been encouraged to read writers such as Wendell Berry, Walter Brueggemann or Marva Dawn. And now it’s hard to imagine my faith without reading their books. There are countless other books and authors too, but Berry, Brueggemann and Dawn represent three writers that Byron recommended at just the right time, as he always seems to do. And they are not authors that you typically see on display at most “Christian bookstores.”

There are many ways that I could honor Byron and Beth with this short reflection. Thirty years as a small business owner is inspiring enough, to say the least. What’s more, the bookselling industry has been hit pretty hard of late. Way to go Byron and Beth! Thirty years! Wow. But I don’t want to miss this opportunity to say very clearly and publically that Byron and Beth’s friendship and Hearts & Minds Bookstore fuel my work daily as the Director of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. My passion is seeing young people take ownership of their faith during the critical years (18-25). Many times I will be talking to a teenager or parent or youth pastor and I’ll think: “If only they could spend five minutes with Byron, they could ‘see’ the difference faith in Jesus makes in every area of life.” To do my work well, I need resources and encouragement. Byron and Beth offer both on a regular basis!

The store itself is a reflection of the Kingdom of God. God cares about every nook and cranny of his Creation, and He has called people to serve Jesus is all areas of His world. (I can’t imagine writing that sentence without Byron’s influence.) And some of them have taken the time to write books (and sell them!) to spur others on to do likewise. Put simply, without Hearts & Minds, the Gospel of the Kingdom would be harder to believe.

Thank you, Byron and Beth, for your commitment and courage. It is an honor and blessing to call you friends. Here’s to thirty more years!

Please take a few minutes to watch this video of Byron talking about his store at the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. And join me in being thankful for the ongoing ministry of Hearts & Minds.

And, I am pleased to announce that on December 4, CTI will be hosting an event with Byron and Beth. The “Christmas Shoppin’ Drop-in” will be held at Mount Joy Mennonite Church from 6:30pm-9:00pm. There will be an opportunity to purchase thoughtful Christmas gifts from Hearts & Minds with a portion of the proceeds going to support the ministry of CPYU/CTI.

Learn more about the CTI “Christmas Shoppin’ Drop-inhere.

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Finishing Strong: Advice for Parents of High School Seniors

We try to finish strong in almost every area of life. Runners sprint toward the finish line. Sports’ teams make a final push to make the playoffs. Candidates deliver their best speeches right before Election Day. Retirees talk about moving from success to significance. And then there is high school. Many students coast through their final year. Limping toward the finish line has become the norm. There’s even a word for it: “Senioritis.” With 11 years of schooling behind them, some students develop an allergic reaction to institutions of education.

It might be easy for parents to adapt a similar posture and coast through the final year of parenting a high-schooler. Raising teens is hard work. While most students are ready for high school to be over, many parents might be just as ready for their kids to move on. It’s understandable. But that attitude could cause parents to miss a remarkable opportunity to engage their teens in more meaningful conversations. And teens need it.

According to William Damon of Stanford University, only 20 percent of teens “express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and why.” Many students don’t seem to know why or if they want to go to college, what they want to study or what kind of career they want to pursue. I recently heard one student put it like this: “Going to college would be a waste of my time and my parent’s money. I have no idea what I want to do after high school.”

It’s easy to be frustrated by a young person’s apathy and lack of vision for the future, but have we done enough to equip teens with a better vision for how to make the most of their senior year? In his eye-opening book, The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens after High School, sociologist Timothy Clydesdale suggests: “More can be done to encourage those teens who do want to examine the purpose or direction of their lives by engaging them at deeper levels before the first year out of high school.” As your teens get ready to transition to their senior year, here is a “3-D vision” to keep in front of them…

Download the full article (PDF) here.

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College as Calling?

“Your college education is meant to prepare you for prime citizenship in the kingdom of God… Your calling is to prepare for further calling, and to do so in a Christian community that cares as much about the kind of person you are becoming as what kind of job you will eventually get, and as much about how you will do your job as about which job you do.” – Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

If you could put all of your thoughts, feelings and emotions about to college into one word, what would that one word be? I like to ask this question when speaking to college bound high school students. Most often I hear the following: scared, nervous, stress, money, freedom, party, excited, adventure and opportunity. I then challenge the group to consider another word: Calling. Should college simply be the assumed next step after high school or should we be thinking more deeply about this major decision? What would it look like if we thought of college as a calling?

First, we need to discern if college is in fact where God is calling students. This will require good conversations with God (in prayer) and with people who know them well. Youth workers and parents should be sure to create space for open and honest conversations about whether or not college is the best next step for life after high school.

Second, if students do get a sense that God is leading them to college after high school, we need to prepare them for what’s ahead. Invite students to talk to people that have gone before them and to ask questions about what to expect in college. Here’s a good activity: have students ask someone who is 20 years removed from college what they would do differently if they could do it all over again.

Finally, if college is a calling, students should be “sent.” This will require the community of faith coming around the college-bound students in prayer, letting them know that the body of Christ is behind them and with them as they go. During college breaks, create opportunities for students to report back to the congregation on how things are going in their calling.

Transitioning to college is not easy. Many students are overwhelmed by the pressure to go and to succeed. Framing the decision in terms of calling reminds students that college is a gift and that their lives are in God’s hands.

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Christian College Versus… COST?!

When I started doing College Transition Seminars in 2005, there was one question that was on a lot of Christian parents’ minds: Do you think we should send our son or daughter to a Christian or secular school? I still get this question from time to time but I don’t hear it as much. Today, the most pressing concern on most people’s minds is the cost and value of higher education. For many years, the value of higher education was understood as self-evident. Students were told that they needed to go to college to be “successful” and debt was justified on the basis that employment opportunities would be abundant.

The economic times have changed. Today many would-be college students are second guessing the culturally assumed next step after high school. And for good reason. Outstanding college student loans are expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Time Magazine listed “Questioning the Value of Higher Education” as one of the top-ten trends of 2011. What’s more, a plethora of books have recently been published that strongly critique higher education, with titles such as: The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For; Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. (The New York Review of Books highlights these titles and more in a very helpful article: “Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?”)

The March 2012 issue of Christianity Today put the spotlight on higher education, particularly Christian colleges and universities. The featured articles recognized the financial burden that higher education has become, but also made a strong case for the value of attending a Christian institution of higher learning. To their credit, the authors do recognize that a Christian college isn’t “for everyone.” The articles are worth reading, especially if you are trying to make an informed decision about life after high school. I found the following interview very informative: “Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education.” Two college presidents (Wheaton and Gordon) discuss the relevance of Christian higher education, the theological issues facing Christian universities, and more. Here’s a good exchange:

CT: Imagine a scenario with me: A student’s parent says, “I’m sending my child to your college to stay out of trouble, find a spouse, graduate, get a great job somewhere, settle down, and start a family.” Isn’t that the American dream?

Lindsay: Those are important components of a whole life, surely. If that’s all you’re looking for in a college experience, then I don’t think it’s worth the investment. What we want is to enliven the minds of young people who have a chance to change the world. I did research on senior leaders. Over half of them had a liberal arts degree. Over half the leaders I interviewed cited the vital importance of a mentor during college.

Ryken: Our parents’ deepest desire is for their sons and daughters to become the men and women God is calling them to become. If you look at what enables young people to sustain a consistent faith in Christ into adulthood, two of the factors are living in a like-minded community that really encourages them to follow this Savior, and having mentors who show them how to live the kind of life they’re called to live.

Read the rest of the interview here. I think both presidents do a good job of keeping the “big picture” in view and offer helpful guidance to those hoping to make a wise college decision.

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