In July 1967, when I was seven years old, I woke up on a bright summer’s day to find that the city of Detroit, just an hour’s drive from my home, was on fire. Police had raided an after-hours club where a group of African American men were celebrating the return of two GIs from Vietnam. An altercation broke out. The situation escalated. A full-scale riot ensued.

FERGUSON, MO/USA-  AUGUST 15, 2014: Group prays at the site of d

As a child I knew nothing of the causes and barely understood the events, but I saw pictures in my parents’ newspaper and on evening news. It was like watching a nightmare, black-and-white images of Black and White people killing each other. After five days there were 43 dead and some 2,000 buildings burned.

And then, thank God, it was over and life returned to normal. Or so I believed.

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A short-term mission trip is an intense experience in many ways. And that’s a good thing. Leaving home, being immersed in another culture, and learning to work as a team creates a perfect storm of stress that can be a prime setting for spiritual discovery, if you’re open to it.

Closeup On Female Hand Holding Mobile, Passport And Air Ticket N

Although there is much debate about the effectiveness of short-term efforts, I see a great value. In fact, I think every pastor should lead a trip at least once. You learn things on a mission trip that you just won’t get any other way.

One of those learnings has do do with the big question not just for short-termers, but for all missional work: “What are we doing here anyway?”

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The lack of prayer as the most obvious gap in our practice of Christian leadership, and one way to close that gap is to challenge, inspire, and educate ourselves to pray more.

Learning to pray is no great mystery. You hang around the people who are really good at it.

Young male student reading a book amid bookshelves in the colleg

Reading books about prayer may be the best way to do that. It will create a hunger within you to pray more often and enable you to pray with greater effect.

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Generation labeling makes the church narrow its vision for spiritual transformation. But people aren’t just one thing. They can change.

I resisted seeing the movie Divergent at its release earlier this year because it looked to be a knock-off of The Hunger Games. Amazon Prime made it too easy to change my mind though, and I’m glad I did.

Young Woman In The Field

This story gets at an important truth we, especially Christians, need right now.

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To a wide-eyed Midwesterner like me, the current spate of ethnic or religiously motivated conflicts in the world is stupefying. Here in the middle of this vast country, we are surrounded by people who look and think pretty much as we do. There are minority populations of course, but we’ve managed to melt into one big pot of suburban blandness.

Palestinian Rally.

Seeing people forced from their homes under threat of death because of their faith, others murdered over perceived blasphemies, and civil wars fought over what language to speak is both puzzling and terrifying.

I realize those descriptions reduce conflicts of Byzantine complexity to mere tweets. But that’s how they appear to an outsider: surreal.

After hundreds, even thousands, of years of conflict, we have to wonder: Is there any way out of these conflicts?

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Pastors spend a lot of time solving problems, and that means asking questions. Unfortunately, most of those questions are unimportant, even trivial. I know this because I’ve wasted plenty of my own time wondering about these same things.

Handsome businessman daydreaming of his business future
In fairness, many of these questions are forced upon pastors by their job description as the leader of an organization and have little to do with their real work as shepherds of God’s flock.

But a pastor has to earn a living somehow, so most spend the majority of their time pondering things like these—

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Everybody wants to change some aspect of their life. Whether it’s finances or career, marriage or education, we all want to be different tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Most of the time, we look for easy changes, quick fixes, or dramatic solutions that will produce instant results. But here’s the news: those things don’t exist.

Portrait of lovely girl drawing with colorful pencils

To produce lasting change you must take incremental action over time. Yes, that might begin with a big transition like going to rehab, getting married, or finding a new job.

But permanent change—true spiritual growth—comes by harnessing the power of simple, incremental actions repeated over time.

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