Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Becoming a Mentor

dvargg1I am rich. I grew up in a Christian home with two parents who loved each other. They taught me about God and hashed out spiritual issues with me. God led me to a husband who had been raised in a similar way. We raised two daughters. When it came to parenting, we naturally knew what to do about many things, because we had watched our own parents.

Of course. That’s normal and natural. But what about people who grow up without the advantage of Christian parents or godly examples? When they become Christians, they may struggle with issues that rich people like me find easy.

About twenty five years ago some men in one church realized their need for spiritual mentors. They came from unsaved backgrounds and struggled to meet many of life’s difficulties. So they asked some older men in their church to mentor them. They wanted to be Christian husbands and fathers, but didn’t have role models to help them. Sadly, the men who were more mature in the faith turned down this great opportunity. They decided that no one had helped them, so they would let these younger men figure things out for themselves.

Many parents could greatly benefit from a Christian mentor who would help them understand what good parenting involves. Should I spank or not? What do I do when time-outs don’t work? Do I have a right to tell my children what to do? What if my child doesn’t want to go to church?

I am rich in other ways. My husband and I have served on two different mission fields. We studied different languages and cultures up close and personal. We experienced victories and defeats and moved past them. We learned about missions first hand and by talking to fellow missionaries. We don’t know all the answers, but at least we know many of the questions. God didn’t allow us to learn all this just for ourselves. He expects us to share what we’ve learned.

Missionary apprenticeship programs have given us opportunities to mentor a number of young people considering missions for their future. Church ministry allows us to draw from our experiences to help families in crisis.  We share Scripture and our perspective and help people see things from a different angle.

I am rich in ideas. God has given me the kind of mind that sees a problem and immediately dreams of ways to fix it.  The need for programs and stories and crafts creates all kinds of ideas in my mind. Sometimes I can hardly switch the ideas off. When I see people who struggle to think of ideas I know I am rich.

Ideas are crucial for a writer, but I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today without the help of a couple of mentors who showed me the first steps.

Mr. Clarence Townsend, my English teacher at Faith Baptist Bible College taught me how to submit my first manuscript to Regular Baptist Press. Gladys Doonan encouraged me too. Thirty-five years later I continue to write articles, programs, and books for Christian publication. But without Mr Townsend and the late Mrs. Doonan I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today.

In recent years I’ve been able to use my website and blog to mentor conservative Christian writers into writing for Christian publication. I am a full-time missionary and I work actively at freelance writing. I can’t personally critique many articles and explain what needs to be changed, but I can point to resources to get you started. I offer many writing articles that will help you write for publication. If you have a writing question, you are welcome to leave it in the comment box so that I can address it in upcoming blogs.

God doesn’t provide us with life experiences to grasp selfishly, learning from them but refusing to share the knowledge. What unique experiences has God given you? Will you share what you’ve learned from them? Or will you be like the men in the beginning of this article who felt too intimidated to open themselves to the scrutiny of others?

Mentoring can sound scary. “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?” you ask. “I don’t have all the answers. What if I steer them the wrong direction? If they search my life too closely they’ll see my faults. These young guys are so savvy about social networking they make me feel like a dinosaur.”

In the New Testament we get a glimpse of Timothy, a young and timid pastor. Perhaps a false form of humility prevented him from displaying his abilities. But Paul urged him not to neglect the gift that was in him or hesitate because of his youth. Paul encouraged him to be an example to others in every way, to mentor the people under him.

Mentoring doesn’t set you up as a perfect authority figure who straightens everyone out. It doesn’t mean you know all the answers or that you don’t make mistakes. It just means you are willing to share your experiences and perspective with others in a transparent relationship.

Ask the Lord to lead you to people who you can help. Then wait for Him to work through you in new and exciting ways.

Coming in two weeks: 5 Mentoring Tips

[Image courtesy of Dvargg/Deposit Photos.]

Four Ways to Leave a Church Well

h7039537_sMaybe you feel God leading you away from a church you once loved. You’re not moving away from the area but somehow you feel this church is no longer right for you. You’ve been faithful to this church for years and now you feel you need to leave. You’re grieving this loss as you would grieve for a dying family member. Every time you attend church, you go with a knot in your stomach, but you know the Lord is leading you to find another church.

How you leave is as important as your decision to leave. I’ve been on both sides of this situation and given years of thought to the process of leaving. Here are four tips for leaving a church well.

 1. Seek to resolve the problem.

The fact that you are now considering leaving a church you’ve been faithful to for years probably means you have a problem. Have you tried to resolve the problem?

It’s natural to want to compare notes with friends to determine if they see the same problems you do. Most people talk about a problem to everyone except the person they have the problem with. One person voices his dissatisfaction, and the next says, “You know you’re right. I can see what you’re saying and this is what I have seen.” Adding all the little flaws or perceived faultys up doesn’t solve the problem. It makes the problem bigger and harder to solve.

Plus it’s unscriptural. Read Matthew 18:15-17 over again. Sharing something negative about someone who isn’t part of the problem or part of the solution is—gossip.

Attack the problem, not the person. “The pastor’s a control freak. His wife manipulates people to get her way. The youth pastor is spiritually immature. The deacons have no integrity. The teachers don’t care about the students. The music minister just wants to show off.” These are personal accusations that cause deep personal pain and are practically impossible to fix.

Most of the time, if you have a problem with something in a church that is serious enough to make you want to leave, you need to go to the person responsible and try to resolve the problem. It’s not fair to blame a church or someone in a church for a problem you have never even tried to fix. Don’t wait too long. If you wait until you have accumulated too much against the church in your mind, it will be almost impossible to fix. Not only will the problem be big, your mind will be less willing to see things from a different point of view.

 2. Do no harm.

If you have a serious problem with a church that you feel will not be fixed, leave quietly doing as little damage as possible. Perhaps the church has definitely moved in a direction that you don’t feel is right and the leaders want to continue to move that way. If the path is clearly set, you won’t be able to turn it around, but you can destroy the church trying to. It’s best to slip away quietly without taking others with you. If they choose to leave the church, they need to leave for their own reasons, not yours.

People will want to know why you’re leaving. What are you going to tell them?

When people leave a church they often give a reason for leaving, but the reason they give may not be the main reason they are leaving.

The number one reason given is probably, “I just don’t feel like I’m being fed.” In other words, the pastor isn’t a very good preacher or teacher. Is he giving out the Word of God? If so, we can learn from it. A pastor in full-time ministry may not preach as well as the one you hear on radio, but God can use His Word, even if the preacher’s presentation isn’t what you’d like it to be. Perhaps you aren’t being fed because your heart is not prepared to receive the message God has for you. If you are harboring resentment in your heart, you probably won’t get much out of your pastor’s sermons. Don’t blame the pastor for what could be your own heart’s problem.

If you are leaving because you feel the church position on something is wrong, you could say you disagree with the church’s position and feel like it’s best that you leave.

Whatever you do, don’t add up all your petty dissatisfactions with the church and dump them everywhere you go. Keep your reasons for leaving as simple and non-personal as possible.

After you go, in which of these ways would you like to be remembered by those who are left behind?

  • “I remember them. We understand they felt they needed to leave, but at least they left in a way that didn’t hurt our church. They helped our church in many ways while they were here, and though they’ve moved on, we wish them well.”
  • “The personal accusations they made when they left will hurt our church for years to come. They helped our church while they were here, but they did more damage than good by the time they were gone. I wish they had never been a part of our church.”

The way you leave will determine which of these ways you are remembered.

 3. Leave with a positive attitude.

Leaving a church you have loved can be a traumatic experience, for you as well as the church you leave. The problems and pain may loom so large that you can’t see anything else. But surely you have benefited by being in the church as well. Think of the leaders, teachers, and church people who have helped you or built into your family. Have you grown as a result of the church’s teaching? Can you express appreciation for the blessing your church has been over the years? Maybe you don’t like or agree with what’s happening right now, but that doesn’t negate the blessings you’ve received over the years.

Maybe you’re hurting and you just want to get out of there as fast as you can, but take the time and energy to express appreciation and love if you can.

4. Make a clean break.

If you continue to live in the same location, you may come into contact with people from the church you are leaving. This can be really awkward. Take the initiative to set the tone for these contacts.

Don’t just look the other way and pretend you don’t see people from your former church. If the wounds are fresh and you don’t feel ready for conversation, just wave at them and smile.

Don’t dredge up old history or try to influence people against their church. Normally it’s best to keep conversation on neutral topics. Ask about their family or health or dog.

If a member of your former church asks you why you left, keep to a one-liner that explains the issue and ends the topic. If the person is considering leaving the church himself, make sure he is leaving for his own reasons. Avoid disparaging the church. At times it may be necessary to say, “We felt the Lord leading us away from the church, but I don’t want to talk against the church. It was a good church for us for many years and we wish them well.”

As traumatic as it may be to leave a church you love, you can do so in a way that honors God. When you have left, may even your enemies say, “I may have disagreed with that person, but I’m glad I knew him. I know he loved the Lord and was just trying to do what he felt was right.”

(In case you wonder, I am not intending to point at any person or situation with this blog. I have intentionally written this blog at a time when it would not be considered an attack against anyone. I merely recognize that leaving a church can be traumatic for those who leave and those who stay behind. I have received good advice on the subject and I want to pass that on. When a church move is necessary, I believe these principles can make the move less painful and more God-honoring.)




Tips for Transcient M.K.’s Who are Adults and Still Single

Kanate ChainapongIf you’ve read my new book Broken Windows, you might wonder why Jordan is so rootless. Jordan, an adult M.K. from Taiwan, moves from Colorado to Idaho at the beginning of the book. Less than a year later, he’s contemplating another move, this time to Minnesota. Why can’t he settle down someplace in America? Or should he live with his parents in Taiwan?

My oldest daughter, Lisa, finished Bible college single and didn’t marry for six more years. She used her single years well, and now wants to share tips with others to help them through these challenging years. This article is written by her.

Holidays usually find me far from home and extended family. If my husband is working the holiday, my kids and I will be invited somewhere for dinner. By the time the dessert is done, I’ll get into deeper conversation with my hosts or one of their guests.

Before long, I notice puzzled expressions on their faces as they try to understand the person they discover as they talk to me. They wonder how anyone could be as root-less as I, the person who has, on average, lived in a different home for each year of my life. They wonder how a quiet, stay-at-home mom emerged from the world-traveling single woman that I was ten years ago.

I lived in four states and one foreign country between my graduation from college and my marriage six years later.  It wasn’t that I planned it this way—how to squeeze the most adventure of out my singlehood. Rather, I was pursuing God and where He wanted me to serve, a path that included more changes in locations than I might have expected. It became an unconventional solution to an unconventional situation.

When I meet missionaries with teenaged children, they often ask me about that stage in my life. It’s hard for them to imagine being thousands of miles away from their kids. They hope their children will steer through their turbulent early-twenties without capsizing in the rapids of life. How did I make those transitions? Here are three things that helped me through those years:

 1) Seek the blessing of your parents.

When I finished college, I had a small amount of college debt to pay off. Paying for airline tickets to return home would have cost thousands of dollars and, at the time, employment options for me in their city were bleak. But I discussed my options thoroughly with my parents and they prayed for me as I considered where to go next. That was a pattern that continued throughout those years. Whether I was considering housing, employment, roommates, or churches, I made sure that they were comfortable and supportive of those decisions. (This was easier because they granted some freedom and did not micro-manage my life.)

 2) Become a part of a good church.

In each transition from one place to another, I always had a good recommendation for a Bible-preaching church in my new city. Usually, this meant that I or someone close to me knew the pastor of the church personally, as well as a few of the members. This helped me know what to expect about the Bible teaching and ministry philosophy of the church. I was able to attend these churches and make them my own starting with the first Sunday of my life in each new city. These churches became great places to learn, build friendships, find mentors and serve the Lord during my single years. Finding a good church and being actively involved is a great way to keep from getting lost-in-the-cracks of life far away from home.

 3) Develop relationships with mentors and friends you trust.

Young people face many first-time experiences when they move away from home. Even if they want to follow the Lord and make good choices, they may need help evaluating the situations that come their way (i.e.: is this neighborhood a safe place to live, is this used car in reasonably good condition, is this job offer legitimate?) Having adults around that my parents and I trusted helped me to steer away from some less-than-ideal choices. They helped me to evaluate and navigate relationships with friends, roommates and the guys who showed a romantic interest in me. These families, couples and individuals provided homes away from home for the holidays and modeled Christian living for me.

During those years of multiple transitions far from home, I met my future husband. My life as a stay-at-home wife and mother is considerably less exotic than before. I’m thankful for the husband and children God has given me, but I don’t regret those single years. They gave me flexibility that allowed me to serve the Lord in ways a married woman could never do. During those years, I made moves to three different locations in order to fill short-term ministry needs in a church or missions organization. While I want to be open to God’s leading now, I realize that moving a family is much more challenging logistically and emotionally.

Being a single adult M.K. can be a blessing. If you are a single M.K., I challenge you to consider serving the Lord in ways that would be difficult after marriage, even if those options are unconventional. God has purpose in every season of life. Don’t miss the special opportunities that singleness brings while you are in that season of life.

[Image courtesy of Kanate Chainapong/Deposit Photos.]



Keeping Joy in Your Ministry By Getting Others to Help

runningIn your ministry do you feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do? Do you ever feel inadequate for the job? You need help, but the guilt trips you are offering at church aren’t producing eager workers. How can you get a little help around here? Here are some things to think about.

Can I get more people involved?

This sounds like an easy answer until you realize that, at the beginning, using more people will just make it more complicated. It’s easier to just do it yourself, your way, instead of having to explain yourself to others and having to give in to ideas you know are not as good as your own.

Training others takes time. Working with others takes patience and requires giving up on some of your best ideas. The initial training time, however, will pay off later when you have multiplied your workers. We all need to learn to give and take, and though it can be easier to do it ourselves, the Lord may want us to learn to work with others.

Am I sure God wants this done?

We’ve had some good years doing Discovery Club in our church in New Zealand. But some years we just didn’t have the workers to carry out the program, so we didn’t do it. At the time of this writing, we’ve had to revamp the whole program to include kids and teens. While the situation is not ideal, God is blessing it.

If you have the same few workers doing everything at your church, and they are struggling to keep up, maybe you need to take something out of your schedule. Don’t wait until your workers are so discouraged that they start sizing up churches which expect less.

Guilt is not a good motivator.

If people serve mainly out of guilt, they will resent it. Serving with resentment is dangerous. If you really need someone to do a task she struggles with, how can you help her? If a Sunday School teacher struggles to find time to prepare, maybe you can find someone to make visuals or cut out flannel graph figures. If a teacher feels inadequate, maybe you can meet with her each week and talk over the lesson.

Give them a break if you can.

Some teachers struggle to teach every Sunday, year after year, but would teach happily if they simply got regular breaks. You could rotate teachers if you have enough. In our New Zealand work we finally took breaks from Sunday School for about two months in the summer. During each two-week term break we didn’t have Sunday School either. This went against everything Art and I knew and believed in. You have to have Sunday School every week! But in time we learned we didn’t have to. Our teachers needed the break to serve happily.

Listen to their problems.

Is there a way you could change the things that really bother your workers? Church work today is made up of a multitude of details. There is the obvious way of doing things, the way you’ve always done them, the way that makes sense to you. But sometimes a worker could be quite happy in a job if you could just change a few little details. Can you change them? It’s worth considering.

Evaluate and don’t be afraid to change.

New Zealanders are often not comfortable evaluating things. I am told that Aussies are the same. It can be tricky to find out what people really think about church programs. But in some way we need to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t and make changes.

In our church, our kids’ and youth program seems to need continual fine tuning. We tried the AWANA approach to memorizing verses—learning them on their own. That never worked. In Discovery Club we taught the verse each week. That worked a lot better. This year we have different challenges and are rethinking the process again. Just because something worked well in your church one year doesn’t mean it’s the best approach every year.

Train your workers and give them confidence and encouragement.

We often expect people to know how to do things without teaching them. Discovery Club became a good training ground for us. Helpers learned to teach and lead by becoming part of our program. We worked through problems together and modelled different ways of teaching and leading.

Don’t forget to thank your teachers and workers. Sometimes the ones who work most faithfully get little thanks. Each year my husband and I use Christmas cards to express thanks for the specific jobs our church people do.

Make it fun.

Enthusiasm is infectious. We work so hard to make our programs and activities work, that we can forget to make them fun. We especially need to put fun into our ministry so that our workers enjoy the work, not resent it. This may mean not pushing so hard. We need to take time to see our workers as friends. And we need to save some extra energy to make it fun.


[Image courtesy of yanlefv/Deposit Photos.]



Keeping Joy in Ministry in Spite of Exhaustion

young peopleIt’s a huge honor to serve the Lord, but we can serve until we are exhausted and our joy is gone. What’s wrong?

Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)

If my burden is too heavy, maybe it’s because God never asked me to carry it. I say I’m serving God, but sometimes I do things to please people. I don’t want to tell them no. God may not want me to do everything people want me to do. I need to take responsibility for my decisions. If I agree to do something, that’s my decision. I have no right to resent it.

So how do you know what God is asking you to do and what you are doing for other reasons? Here are some questions that might help you think through the next task you are asked to do.

Am I gifted in this area?

Do my spiritual gifts or natural abilities make this job a good fit? Serving God with your gifts and abilities in ministries you can get excited about will put joy in your ministry.

Could the Lord be asking me to grow in this area?

Maybe I don’t feel confident in this new task, but serving the Lord in new ways is one way to identify spiritual gifts. No one does a task perfectly from the beginning. Maybe I need to try this new task to stretch myself.

Is this job something that needs to be done?

It’s easy to start church programs, but difficult to phase them out. Talk about ending a program can sound like the program was never worthwhile in the first place. But if there are not enough workers to carry out a program, it could mean God wants us to end it.

We always need to look at ways to lower maintenance, especially when we are short-handed. Sometimes it’s easier to convert a garden to lawn or bark chips than to beg for workers to weed it.

Maybe we need to eliminate the job, rather than plead for workers.

Is this something I can and should do just because it needs doing?

I may not truly enjoy cleaning the church, watching the nursery, cooking for potluck dinners, or pulling weeds, but some of these things just need to be done. Maybe I need to do it, out of love for the Lord, because it’s a need I can fill.

Is this job something that only I can do?

If I’m the only pianist at church and there are others who are good at hospitality, maybe I need to put my time and priority into playing the piano.

In Taiwan, for a period of time, I watched the nursery every Sunday morning. I had about five little Chinese boys, who were used to getting their own way and who were used to different cultural play rules than mine. Every Sunday I would say, “I sure hope I get a reward in heaven for this!” Watching the nursery was very stressful, but I did it because every other mother at church wasn’t even saved and needed to hear the sermon.

What can someone else do?

As a missionary I should be working myself out of a job. If I can teach someone else to do a job, that’s often better, even if they have far less experience than I do. Sometimes no one else will volunteer as long as I am willing to fulfil a certain role. Maybe I need to be encouraging someone else to learn my job instead of doing it year after year.

If the joy in your ministry is sputtering, go to God with these questions and ask him to show you what he wants you to do. With his strength and encouragement you can do all he asks you to do–with joy.

[Image courtesy of yu liufu/Deposit Photos.]