Jul 07

Suburban Apprentice

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Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree. 


Several years ago, I listened to a presentation at Asbury Seminary in Orlando.  The school was about an hour away from my home – a quaint, yet comfortable little place on the east coast of Florida.  I was working towards a Master of Divinity degree.  One of my professors was pleased to announce that the seminary would soon be establishing a “School of Urban Ministry.”  He explained the timeline and the reason for this new initiative.  Since Orlando is a fairly large city (especially compared to Asbury’s main campus in Wilmore, KY), there would be some tremendous opportunities for ministry.  My professor also said the School of Urban Ministry would be a terrific way for people to get solid training before heading off to participate in urban ministry throughout the country.

While the initiative is without question important if not necessary, I couldn’t help but get a little uneasy in my seat.  It had nothing to do with the seminary’s lukewarm coffee that was offered, either.  My mind was racing because I thought there was a large portion of our country’s population that was being overlooked.  Shortly after the professor left the classroom, I leaned over and told a classmate what I was thinking.  I said, “The seminary also needs to establish a School of Suburban Ministry.” My classmate gave me an odd look.  She wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking.  But I was dead serious.

I’ve visited several big, urban cities all over the country.  Sometimes it was on business.  Other times it was for pleasure.  I’ve also participated in inner city mission trips.  No matter the purpose for my visit, it was always very easy to spot the need.  Whether it was a run-down church with an eviction notice on the front doors or a homeless person on the corner with a cardboard sign in hand, you didn’t have to travel far into the city to see a source of pain or suffering.

Things are different in suburbia, a place removed from the city with neighborhoods full of manicured lawns and lovely patio furniture.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy living in the suburbs.  But there are some real challenges too.  Having lived in suburbia all my life, I have learned that the needs of my neighbors are easily hidden in the shrubs that help shape the landscaping.  Much of this, in my opinion, is done on purpose.  Suburbanites are supposed to have their act together.  So it’s not easy for people to reveal their “warts” when everyone else around them seems to have it so good.  News flash – we all have warts!

There has been a bit of a paradigm shift in neighborhoods over time.  Fifty years ago, people who lived in suburban neighborhoods knew each other.  They spent time out front talking about their lives, and sharing a cup of sugar or a few eggs for a recipe.  It was also easy to connect with each other because houses were designed differently.  Think about it.  Front porches were much bigger back then.  People placed an emphasis on being available for their neighbors, therefore they spent more time on the front porch.  In the 21st Century, our time and our money is spent on the back porch, where it’s harder to connect with our neighbors.  Contributing to the isolation is the habit of opening the garage door, pulling the car in, then promptly closing the garage door.  Our isolation has also bled into other areas of suburban life.

As a father of two young kids, I spend a lot of my time in the evenings at the soccer fields or in the dance studio or in a gymnasium.  It would be easier for me to find a seat and surf my social media accounts or return work emails.  By doing that, I would get to avoid everyone else.  After all, so many other parents are doing the same thing.  That’s life in the suburbs.  But the suburbs are my mission field – and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with someone who might be suffering or going through a trial.  So I look people in the eyes, and ask about their day.  Some people are guarded with their answers.  Others are ready to unload a burden that’s weighing them down.  Financial stress, parental issues, relationship problems, spiritual crises – they are more prevalent than we realize.  Our neighborhoods and communities need us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of our everyday lives.

In Knowing Christ Today, Dallas Willard speaks to this when he says,

“The ‘love’ Jesus lived and taught is not limited to compassion for the suffering and the downtrodden.  Those were simple and obvious cases of love, to be sure: obvious because the needs of such people were so glaring, and because they were not the usual objects of love for ordinary people in ordinary life.  They tended to be passed by.  Helping people in dire need was recognized as a ‘big deal,’ something to make a show of, and as a praiseworthy thing for extraordinary people to do – rather as we today would describe someone as a ‘philanthropist.’  Unfortunately, people are not thought to be philanthropists because they are kind and thoughtful and on the lookout for the good of those around them and serve them.  But when Jesus spoke of love as the principle of life as it ought to be, he is referring mainly to the posture of benefiting others in the ordinary relations of ordinary life.” 1

Our calling as suburban apprentices of Jesus is to help re-shape the narratives that form and cause harm to our neighbors.  Going out of your way to connect with the people around us may seem radical to this world.  But these practices are ordinary to Jesus because they flow of out of who he is.  So consider yourself an ordinary radical – someone who loves and cares for people – in the midst of your everyday life.  Whether they readily realize it or not, it matters to them and it matters to God, and it will make a difference in the Kingdom.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does your everyday, ordinary life look like?
  2. Do the comforts and isolation of the suburbs prevent you from connecting with neighbors? How?
  3. What are some tangible ways you can show love to those in your community?


  1. Willard, Dallas. Knowing Christ Today. Harper One, New York, 2009, p.88.

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – An Apprentice Institute event in partnership with Renovaré.  Gather with us as we learn about The Joy of Kingdom Living.  For more information visit www.apprenticegathering.org 

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Oct 22

What’s a Prophet for, Anyway?

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What do Samuel the Ephraimite, Ahijah the Shilonite, Elijah the Tishbite, and Jeremiah son of Hilkiah have in common? In addition to really cool names, they were all prophets of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The more relevant question is, “what can we


What do Samuel the Ephraimite, Ahijah the Shilonite, Elijah the Tishbite, and Jeremiah son of Hilkiah have in common?

In addition to really cool names, they were all prophets of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The more relevant question is, “what can we learn today from the prophets of old?”

Since my role for now as a guest blogger is to accent the relationship between the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation, the reader can already anticipate that the answer has something to do with Formation. But more importantly, it deals with Formation for Mission!

Recently our university hosted Palmer Chinchen, author of The Barefoot Tribe, on campus. During a very pleasant conversation over a Vietnamese dinner, he began to mention his focus on Justice. The word itself echoes powerfully in the ear of the reader who has spent time in the prophetic books of the canon. Justice is a critical theme for the prophets; it has to do with setting the world aright under God’s plan.

Therefore, return to your God,
Observe kindness and justice,
And wait for your God continually. (Hosea 12:6, NAS95)

The justice Palmer mentioned was surprising to me since he used no modifier in front of it as so many proponents use: Social Justice, Economic Justice, Legal Justice, etc. Later in a hallway conversation with James Bryan Smith, the two recognized that they are using different words to propose the same concept: Christ-imitating behavior.

Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:23-24. NAS95)

**"The Prophets Hosea and Jonah" by Raphael

**”The Prophets Hosea and Jonah” by Raphael

But, let me return to the Prophets for a moment. The role of the prophet in the Old Testament was, using Apprentice language, to help others confront false narratives. The basic narrative needing correction was that Israel’s powerful, important people (kings) were not gods, as many nations around them held their kings to be. Instead, they were to be God’s representatives on earth to insure that powerful, wealthy and influential individuals did not allow selfishness and personal ambition to overrun the status and personhood of their weak, poor, and common countryman. In other words, the King was to insure Justice. The prophet’s role was to remind the ruler of his duty to enforce justice.

Another role of the prophets was to remind the rulers (that’s normally who they talk to!) that there was one and only one God in Israel. Idolatry was not going to go unpunished since it eroded the people’s participation in their covenantal obligations. Idolatry by the leaders was mirrored among the common people. The prophet served as the moral compass and conscience for the nation when they forgot their spiritual center.

What, then, can we learn today from the prophets of old, if anything, about spiritual formation?

First and foremost, God indicates through the prophets that the activity of his people is to protect the rights of the poor and helpless. Those who are engaged in spiritual formation to be shaped into the likeness of God and his son Jesus must consider their treatment of the less fortunate as a primary responsibility.

‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ (Zechariah 7:9-10, NAS95)

Second, the role of the followers of Jesus is to remind their sojourners of the danger of beginning to lose sight of the holiness of God. The culture in which we live offers a multitude of attractions a follower of Jesus can pursue if he/she becomes stagnate in his/her life or relies on the activity of God at an earlier time of life to substitute for a living encounter with God’s presence in the now time. Followers of Jesus must serve a prophetic role within their community of co-followers and gently encourage one another to return to a trusting, enlivening relationship with Jesus. More importantly followers of Jesus must be willing to build transparency within their community that allows them to listen and respond to brothers and sisters who bring a word of correction through the Spirit of God’s leaning. We do not walk alone!

 And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 7:13, NAS95)

harstineAn educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 is to have 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

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Oct 01

(Don’t) Give Until There’s Nothing Left

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Have you or someone you know ever had major surgery? Needed a blood transfusion? What a gift that is for those who need it. Life. Oxygen rich blood to a body in need. Life to a body on the brink. But where did that blood


Have you or someone you know ever had major surgery? Needed a blood transfusion?

What a gift that is for those who need it. Life. Oxygen rich blood to a body in need. Life to a body on the brink.

But where did that blood come from?

Another body, another life. To the best of my (limited) knowledge, the medical/scientific community hasn’t come up with a way to manufacture human blood.

So all that blood that gives life to patients comes from someone else, a willing donor. Give life.

Why all this talk about blood?

I gave blood yesterday, so it’s on my mind.

O negative blood type, here. For those who don’t know, that means universal donor. Any patient (especially newborns since doctors don’t know their blood type yet) can accept my blood.

So, I feel a bit obligated to give. And I’m happy to do it.

But when I go to give blood, I don’t give much. 1 pint if it’s a normal donation. 2 pints if it’s the whole blood fancy donation machine.

Even though those folks rushed into the ER who the doctors and nurses haven’t had a chance to figure out their blood type yet and the babies who need blood could use all of my blood, I can’t give it all.

Why? Dumb question, right? Because If I give all my blood, I’ve got nothing left to sustain my body.

After I donated yesterday, the Red Cross technician told me I couldn’t donate again until January, that’s a ways away.

My body has to build up its own blood supply before I go back to offer anything to anyone else.

It’s a slow process that can’t be rushed, but it’s essential to my life and those who may receive my blood.

Living for others, giving of yourself is good, but you can’t give until there’s nothing left. Remember what happens if you give blood until there’s nothing left? Yeah, bad deal.

So, what is your own process and practice of building up your supply of life? It doesn’t have to be individual, how does your church help?

Because it’s not just your individual practices that form those life giving moments in your life. It’s the church, the body of Christ.

After all, your mission/outreach/service call it what you want, is first and foremost a participation in the work of that bigger body. The folks you gather at the table with each Sunday, the people you pass the peace of Christ with and pray with and for.

That’s where you are replenished as a member of the body of Christ to go and give. Not everything, but what you can give in your context. You can give once the body has refilled the supply in you.

Don’t mis-read me. Unlike blood donation, you don’t have to wait months to give again. But without a rhythm of filling and giving, you’ll be drained of all your resources and have nothing left to give.

All due respect to Relient K.

Have you given until there’s nothing left? How did it impact you, your close friends, your family?


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Apr 01

What Kind of Community are You Building?

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Always with you--hands grasping

Could your friendships save the world? Have you ever posed that question? Has anyone posed it to you? If not, dive into that question here, now. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a community builder, but we all are in one form or another. If

Always with you--hands grasping

Could your friendships save the world?

Have you ever posed that question? Has anyone posed it to you? If not, dive into that question here, now.

Maybe you don’t see yourself as a community builder, but we all are in one form or another.

If you don’t believe me, think about your online community.

  • Facebook lover? You can hide posts from folks whose political rants or annoying photos make your skin crawl.
  • Twitter tweeter? There’s a handy “Unfollow” button to cleanse your Newsfeed.
  • Google+ and Linkedin? (_________*Insert their equivalent here).
  • Get tired of some emails from an organization (never the Apprentice Institute!), just un-subscribe and move on.

What about more low-tech community cultivation?

  • You can block phone numbers so you don’t receive texts from particular people.
  • You can choose to live in a particular part of town, with particular people.
  • You can choose what restaurants to dine in, where to get groceries, where to worship.

All these are acts of community building. Your community.

The thing is, if you’re like me, you make most of these decisions without much reflection. Ok, the unfollow or block your cousin’s dog pictures is a split-second reflection, but otherwise…

Which means that if you’re like me, your friends look a lot like you, they earn a similar wage to you, and they like at least some of the same things you do.

We talk a lot about the kingdom of God at Apprentice. But lately, I’ve been wondering, where is the kingdom of God tangible? Where do I see it at work? Not in lofty theological terms. On the ground, in peoples’ lives.

Because, to be honest, sometimes I struggle to see it in my own life. Then I read a blog post.

Weak Ties

“Before various church audiences I’ve described this as “sacramental friendship,” calling them to form friendships across the socioeconomic spectrum. The focus of this call is upon relationality–walking alongside others in friendship–rather than starting up “a program” to “address” poverty.

And to be clear, such programs are needed, but what I find lacking in many churches is friendship, a face-to-face, first-name-basis relationality between rich and poor. This is what is missing in many churches. Programs abound but there is too little friendship.

And in many ways this call for friendship is both harder and easier than starting up a poverty program at the church.

It’s easier in that you don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to eradicate world poverty. You just have to be a friend.” (Richard Beck, “How Friendship Saves the World: Sacramental Friendships and the Strength of Weak Ties”)

What Richard put his finger on is that all my community cultivating and building hasn’t led me into these kinds of “sacramental friendships.”

Then he focuses on weak ties–those distant relationships and acquaintances we all have that come in handy when someone we know is looking for a job. Sure, you have strong ties–immediate family and close friends–but weak ties are the places where the action happens.

When I finished reading Richard’s post, I realized his weak ties were an on the ground picture of the kingdom of God in action. (He has a great example in his post. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.)

“To be concrete about it, you bring more than yourself into the friendship. You bring everyone else you know.”

Because when you enter into a relationship with someone who is poor, you’re not just bringing yourself, you’re bringing all your weak ties. And you may not be able to “fix” that person or “solve” their problem, but your weak ties might offer a path forward. (Anyway, when was the last time you hung your friendship on trying to “fix” the other person? How’d that work out for you?)

Your weak ties give your friend access to possibilities and opportunities impossible otherwise. You can open up a community they never had the luxury not to choose.

The Lingering Question

How do I enter into this kind of “sacramental friendship?”

As Richard also notes in his post, poverty (and wealth) tend to concentrate themselves. Many times this happens along racial lines as well. Don’t believe me? Check out my Colorblind Commute and see how your city looks.

I hope this post hasn’t given you any answers, I hope it’s raised questions. I don’t have the answers, but I am searching out the questions.

If you’re interested in dialogue:

1) Drop your thoughts and questions in the comments. Or share this post with your community, glean wisdom and then share widely (don’t forget us).

2) Register for our conference this October: Formation for Mission and let’s explore this idea face to face. Sacramental friendships seem like a great first step to living into God’s mission wherever you find yourself.

Either way, don’t leave this idea hanging. Because if you don’t, I won’t be tempted to either.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Always with you! by Craig Sunter / CC ND 2.0

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