Thursday, March 31, 2016

Matt Clark's April Update

This past week 12 Christian brothers and sisters from Washington came to visit. Getting to spend the week with these students from Western Washington University was an amazing blessing. There's no way I could explain this fully, but they were some really neat people and they seemed to make every effort to honor us as their hosts. We loved having them!

After our Friday Night Fellowship, at the end of our week of outreach, some of them still had energy!

Apparently, a silly picture is mandatory :)

Getting a sweet treat from Beth Marie's after a good day of outreach!

If you haven't seen any of my previous posts, these students came to Texas during their Spring Break in order to help us reach out to the students on the UNT, TWU, and NCTC campuses. We spent a total of 20 hours having varying conversations about God, faith, life, etc. with students who were willing to talk to us. The display boards you can see in pictures below were a helpful way to initiate conversations by giving people a framework for what we were asking. The boards had questions like:

  • Who is God?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is a Christian?
  • What kind of a friend should a Christian be?
  • What sort of impact should a Christian have on society?
Below each question was a list of possible responses that ranged from a conventional Christian perspective to a conventional non-Christian perspective. Our intention was to make anyone with any belief feel comfortable sharing their opinions with us so we could engage in real conversation about these important topics. Even if all we could do was show someone that having a conversation with a Christian can be a positive experience, that was a win. Changing someone's worldview in a single conversation is unrealistic, but having an impact on someone doesn't need to be so dramatic.

One of my favorite things about campus outreach (just going on campus and talking to people about their beliefs) is the variety of people you get to talk to. Just to give a few examples:

  • I talked to a guy who was a single father raising two daughters in Plano (45 minutes away from UNT) who had nearly lost his faith in God, but only recently came to trust Him more deeply because of the impact one of his professors had on him. I hope to keep in touch with him to talk more about a paper he is writing in regard to how our culture responds to Christians vs other religions.
  • Another guy I spoke with is a "non-theist" who grew up in a Christian home. He said that has read his Bible all the way through at least 20 times (which I believe based on the physical state of his Bible), but that he has started to realize that it is too hard to believe what it says (or at least that God is good). We talked for quite some time and even though we never really agreed on much, we shared a mutual respect for each other and I'm confident he walked away just as encouraged as I did.
  • I also met a guy who worked at UNT in the IT department. He was actually walking past our displays with his daughter, who was talking to someone else. This man shared with me that he is Christian, a part of a church in Denton, has gone through a divorce and remarriage, has come out of a drug addiction, etc. It was neat to hear his life story and get to connect with him at a personal level.

I had many other meaningful conversations - too many to tell! This week was deeply encouraging to me to be able to speak to fellow human beings about who God is and what He is doing in the world. I'm also thankful for the students from Washington who spent their Spring Break ministering to our college campuses.

Lastly, in regard to evangelistic outreach, I wanted to share some general thoughts. It's sort of long, so I'll add this in at the end in case you don't have enough time to read it now.

Spring Showcase

The Showcase is this weekend! It begins at 7:30pm, but be sure to arrive early for the art sale starting at 6:30pm. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students). You can buy them here or at the door. The performances will be top-notch, including vocal, instrumental, dance, and theatrical pieces. You will not want to miss this event if you can help it!

And just as a reminder, this is a fundraiser for our students going to SICM in May. This is the week-long Christian leadership training conference we send our potential new leaders to each year. It's a highly valuable experience for these young disciples!

North Dallas Community Bible Fellowship
2801 E President George Bush Hwy
Plano, TX 75074

My Engagement

The last update I need to make is that I am now engaged! Danielle Rodriguez and I will be getting married at the end of this summer and she will be joining the Denton team as she is also a FOCUS minister. Danielle and I have been dating for a little over a year now, but we had also dated five years ago (for a just under a year) and remained fairly connected in the time between through the FOCUS/Northeast Church community. Needless to say it's been a long journey, but such a great blessing to both of us. We are very excited!

Thank you so much for all of your continued support! Thanks for reading! And I want to really encourage you to read the outreach thoughts below as well. I'd even appreciate comments on them if you have any. I have much more to say on the topic, but tried to keep it very brief.

Yours for the Campus,



Thoughts on evangelistic outreach:

I think we often fall into two extremes with this: 1) we are afraid to broach the subject of faith because that person will think less of us or know more than us, or 2) we think we know it all and need to convert people.

Ultimately, God is the only one who can change a person's heart so we can get rid of the notion we have any chance at doing that. All we can do is offer an invitation and let them make their own decision. On the other hand, allowing our fear to prevent us from engaging those around us is a decision to reject Jesus' command at the end of Matthew. Now I don't mean this to be a shameful thing, but more of an encouragement! I've been there myself. Most of us American Christians are evangelistically shy and I don't think many of us really understand what effective evangelism looks like. Part of this is understanding the goal, plus having a reasonable expectation.

The goal, in my mind, is to connect people to God through relationship. He is the author of life, creator of everything! Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches. Anything connected to Him will have life and anything disconnected will die. This isn't a matter of good and bad (morality), but relational connectedness (life). It's not about us being good but God being good, a point often missed.

So what is a reasonable expectation in evangelism? Well in a single conversation, not much. We might be able to insert a new question into someone's thinking. We might be able to give them a positive experience with a Christian when all they've ever had previously is negative. However, if this is a person you work with or see on a regular basis, you can have a greater expectation. Perhaps you can develop a deeper relationship where mutual trust and respect is developed. Through a relationship they are more willing to listen to your opinion and accept your personal experience as personal evidence of a personal God.

That's how it works, you know? We exhibit faith in someone by making decisions based on the word of another person. We may go see a doctor by referral from a friend, but do you ever check that doctor's credentials to see if they are actually certified? In a similar way, we trust words in scripture to tell us who God is, but we also trust the words of other believers. The first step toward a trust relationship with God is trusting a good referral. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." I don't know about you, but I'm naturally inclined to want the truth before I trust someone's word. Unfortunately, it cannot work that way. We will never actually know anything until we actually try it. We can't truly know what comes from following Jesus until we truly follow Him. Through real relationships with other people we can give them a good referral about who God is. We have the potential to attest to the goodness of our God in such a way that an outsider may become interested in seeking a relationship with Him. Again, we aren't in control. We are merely offering a good referral.

As I've thought more about evangelistic outreach I've come up with a simple guideline. This is in no way a template and it doesn't make it any easier. Nor does it always make sense in every situation! The conversations we have with other people will always be unique because every person is unique. We must develop our "dynamic conversation" skills - be ready to go anywhere. Perhaps this will make it simpler for you to wrap your mind around such a complex thing. And this guideline is for talking to anyone, even other Christians. When talking to someone, try to answer two questions:
  1. Who is this person?
    • What are they about?
    • What is their conversational style?
    • What struggles are they facing?
    • What do they think matters in this world?
    • What worldview do they claim to have?
    • What qualities do they respect in other people?
  2. How can I minister to them?
    • How can you affirm them (without validating something you don't believe)?
    • How can you connect with them through a similar/shared experience?
    • How can you help them (even just a simple service like helping with Calculus homework or giving them a ride somewhere)?
    • Can you give them something of value (maybe sharing an experience, encouragement, thought, feeling, etc.)?
    • What question can you leave them with?
    • What does this person need to hear? And how do they need to hear it?
    • What is a truth you have earned the right to say to them? Perhaps suggesting something for them to consider.
    • What can you learn from them?
I believe this is roughly the same approach Jesus took when he spoke with people. He had a divine advantage being Yahweh in the flesh though. We can't immediately know people unless the Holy Spirit reveals something to us, but as men and women created in God's image we do have the ability to know others deeply through relationship. When Jesus interacted with people, he always said the right thing - the thing they needed to hear - whether they liked it or not. Jesus was able to say what was needed because he knew the person. If we want to be effective disciples, we must also know the people around us so we can minister to them.

Knowing people through relationship is far more important than becoming a theologian. That doesn't negate the importance of knowing the scriptures well, but even theologians misinterpret God's word. One major problem we face in evangelism is these conversations seem to hinge on logical argument. Both Christians and non-Christians alike believe this. In actuality it's not a logical issue because we are not very logical creatures! The real reasons we believe most of what we believe (especially lies) come from our subjective perspective of our experiences. If we all believed things because of rational arguments, then we would change our mind when someone disagreed with us using a solid argument. How often does that happen though? Have you ever witnessed a Christian-Atheist debate ending in agreement? Aren't we more often unwilling to change our minds simply because we already believe what we believe? This is the main obstacle for all of us, Christian and non-Christian, to encounter God in real relationship.

So my encouragement to you, dear reader, is to engage the people around you. Be their friend, ask about how their lives are going, remember things about them, find ways to bless them. Then let God reveal to you how you can be His voice in their life. You don't need to have deep conversations about whether or not God is real. You don't need to prove the Bible's authenticity. Winning arguments is going to lose the person. Win people's hearts so that they might allow God to step in also. YOU can do this! I believe in you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Matt Clark's March Update

I'm very thankful for you! I appreciate you taking the time to read about what's going on in the FOCUS ministries in Denton. May the Lord bless you!

Here are a few things of note...

Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM)

I wrote some about SICM in my last post but for those of you who are new, it is a week-long conference we take our potential new leaders to every May in Bellingham, WA. Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF), the host of SICM, is a ministry relationship that we have developed over the last several years. They have taught us much of what we know regarding college ministry - they have been doing it for over 40 years!

This year we are excited to take about 115 students from all of our campuses! Last year we had less than 100 people, including the staff. Please be praying for our students to be able to raise the funds necessary for this trip if they aren't able to pay out of pocket. Also be praying that God prepares their hearts and minds for this conference so they get the most out of the experience. This trip isn't intended to simply be a fun experience (although it likely will be), but more of a changing experience that equips each of them to lead and disciple their peers the next year. Additionally, it is potentially the launching point of life-long ministry leadership. That's our vision for these students!

In order to help our SICM students afford the cost of this trip, we are putting together a fundraiser event called Spring Showcase. You may have attended our Spring Showcase last year, but if not, it's a top-notch event. We bring in talent from all across our ministries: musicians, singers, dancers, actors, etc. In addition to the live performances, we will have an art sale in the foyer before the show and during intermission. We have collected pieces from the members of our community with artistic talent ranging from drawing, painting, photography, woodwork, etc. I was blown away by last year's performances and artwork and even had a decent idea of what to expect. This year should be even better because we have made some improvements! There are a few things I'd like to ask you for in order to help out:

  1. Please pray that this fundraiser is successful in providing funds for our students.
  2. You are invited so come out and support the students yourself!
Date: April 2nd
Time: Art sale starts at 6:30PM; Show starts at 7:30PM
Location: North Dallas Community Bible Fellowship

Purchase Tickets


FOCUS has decided to change the name of our internship program to the "Campus Ministry Apprenticeship" in order to better communicate our goals. An apprenticeship (or a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and some accompanying classroom work and reading) is more accurate in describing what we are doing with these young ministers. "Intern" tends to have a less positive connotation.

Speaking of the Apprenticeship, this past weekend we interviewed applicants for next school year. We have almost made all of our decisions about acceptance and placement, which is very exciting! Please be praying for guidance as we sort through this.

Parent Night

This is one of my favorite times of the year. It's an evening when many of the parents of our students get to experience our community for the first time. I greatly enjoy honoring those parents for everything they have invested in their children's lives and initiating a partnership with them in God's greater kingdom. Each year we have a time of open sharing where students and parents can talk about how they've seen the Lord working through FOCUS in the lives of students. These stories are the real sermon! By the end of the evening I'll have cried (I'm not the only one!) a number of times from the amazing ways God has changed and impacted people. I may never be able to accurately describe what makes this night special, but perhaps you just have to be there.

I'd like to share with you one of my staff member's comments about parent night that they had written to me in their weekly report. I think it manages to further capture what is so special about Parent Night. In her report, this is in response to "A really encouraging thing in my ministry experience this past week was…"
Last year                ’s mom was absolutely against FOCUS and wanted her to quit. I don’t remember how she stayed in the ministry, but I definitely know it was a source of tension. Both of her parents came to our family night on Saturday. They invited me out to dinner with them as well. At dinner they were just kind of talking to me about how scary it is as your kid goes off to college. You just worry what they’re going to be a part of and whether that organization is actually teaching Christ. Her mom actually told me that she was really nervous when                started coming for that reason, and how it took her a long time to listen to her explain what it was about because her mind was already made up. She just kind of thanked me for our work and said she was really glad that her daughter had some place she approved of to go learn about Jesus. They’re also willing to pay for her to go to SICM. I hear a lot of the student's sides of stories, but it was so encouraging and cool to hear the parent's side. Parents just want the best for their children, and it can be so hard to let them go off into the real world. It just makes everything worth it to know that parents really do see what we do here as good work. I love parent night so much. It’s one of my favorite events that we do.
I couldn't agree more. God has blessed me tremendously through the various relationships I've developed with parents throughout the years. I'm already looking forward to Parent Night 2017!

SSI Week

SSI stands for Spring Student Impact (I think!). Some of the students from CCF (the ministry that hosts SICM) will be coming down to Denton for a week of evangelistic outreach on our three campuses. It's a neat experience because they give up their spring break in order to help us reach the students in our city - wow! They will be here from March 19-26 and we will be doing outreach on campus that Monday through Friday from 10am-2pm. Please keep us in your prayers during these days! I'm looking forward to share how it goes in my update next month.

Again, thank you for your investment in our ministry, whether it be prayers, money, time, or anything else. I am blessed to have you as a ministry partner! Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you.

Yours for the Campus,