Big Gospel (small gospel)

Pete Williamson spent some time with our Region sharing what he and his team are learning about evangelism. Pete is a team leader for GFM at Harvard University. He shared stories and learnings from ministry among graduate students. He began by affirming what everyone who’s been in GFM for 10 minutes knows – undergraduate student evangelism is just in another world from our context. We’re positioned right at that cusp of life when students are barely no longer adolescents, but definitely contending in a fully adult life context. Theirs is a world of intense life pressures (more at stake academically, much more complex family situations involving in many cases marriage and young children, increased demands from extended family). On top of all that, much steeper financial burdens.

f you’d like to actually waatch the session you can find it at this link:

If the Gospel they first placed their faith in as an adolescent doesn’t have the staying power that increased academic and socio-economic pressures require, that’s when small gospel shows its true colors. They either go radio-silence with their faith or give it up altogether. The small gospel (as Pete calls it) is what you’re left with when you keep trying to push your way through post-adolescence without fully adult faith. The Big Gospel is what happens when ones faith “keeps up” with life’s unrelenting demands. Here’s how Pete outlined it. I encourage you to sit with the You-Tube video for a few minutes to hear him out (fast forward to about half way).

True – confident in the fact that the Gospel is not true because we sincerely believe it to be true. True, because it is and true as it contends in a pluralistic culture. Real – as opposed to artificial, synthetic, or irrelevant. Good – in that the Gospel leads us to affirm and demonstrate the goodness of God and the way of living Jesus leads us to. Beautiful – in the sense that Christianity is aesthetically attractive. Christian community these days can have an image problem because of many glaring failures amidst certain of it’s highly visible representatives (see the discussion below). Yet, Christian community in it’s most authentic and humble expression should be unique, attractive and beautiful even to outsiders who have seen enough repulsive counterexamples. Lastly, Healthy – Christianity should help make people well. It should address our sicknesses and weaknesses be they physical, emotional, mental, social or moral.

A learning group tackling the issue of evangelism in the company of a broken church.

A conversation I got to facilitate focused on current challenges to evangelistic mission in the University. We identified two in particular. I got to lead the one on difficulties doing evangelism given the brokenness and failures in the church. Here’s the description:


Evangelism and the Broken Church. The church has had many stories of moral failure come to light, its deeply divided, and is tainted by racism. When we interact with unbelievers and former believers, how do we respond to those who say, “I want nothing to do with the church?” How does the current public image of the church affect your view of evangelism? 

We did a backwards SWOT analysis! We talked first of all about the threat posed by broken and misguided church leadership. Next we wondered, “Does this moment of public failure actually point to an opportunity for the Gospel?” Finally we tried to suggest some ways forward and recommend a few resources. You can download and read the table discussion notes. Great book and website recommendations down at the bottom of the PDF.

Thanks so much for your partnership and prayers!

What does HBCU stand for?

Tim is not as tall as he is making himself appear in this pic!

Here are a few things you’ll learn if you google it.

  • HBCU = Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • An institution established for the education of African Americans.
  • It’s historic in the sense that all HBCU institutions were established by 1964
  • Why 1964? That was the year of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Most founded shortly after the Civil War.
  • How many are there? A little over 100, mostly located in Southern states.
  • How many are in your Area, Tim? Harris-Stowe State in St. Louis. Lincoln University of Missouri in Jefferson City

Last week I spent 4 days in Atlanta with my Regional Staff Team. That’s us on the stairs (about 35 out of a total of 60 paid and volunteer staff in our 17 state Region). We met in the heart of Atlanta on Georgia Tech’s campus. We talked about HBCUs. And we talked about Evangelism. In this post I’d like to show you some pics from our prayer-walk tour of 6 HBCUs on an interconnected mosaic known as the Atlanta University Center. We also watched and discussed a terrific documentary you can find on You-Tube called Tell Them We Are Rising – The history of HBCUs in America.

We heard from several of our African American team-mates who helped us understand the significance of GFM ministry on HBCU campuses. When people tell their lived history, the documentary learning really starts to sink in and as a Region we have the chance to deepen our identity and commitments. While HBCUs historically and currently have a huge hand in the rise of the middle class for African Americans, InterVarsity is only on a small handful of these campuses. Pray for us as a region to attract, recruit and retain more Black staff! Pray for God to raise up a witness for himself on these campuses through godly students and faculty members. Pray for our Region to own the opportunity we have by representing 85% of America’s HBCUs in our 17 states. Pray for my Area Team to find a place for Harris-Stowe State and Lincoln University in our vision for ministry growth.

Hate being micro-managed?

Here are a few pics of recent Omaha Area GFM faculty happenings. It was a small, but select few that gathered for pie and pour-over coffee a few week’s back at Megan and Alex’s place. Here in Omaha we’re trying to bring together faculty from UNMC, UNO and Creighton. I’m in dialogue with about 30 or so Christian faculty members here in the metro. We’ve met mostly via zoom. But you just can’t do pie and pour-over via zoom!

Throughout the 21-22 academic year, we met and studied through a 10-part study on themes of redemption. This summer the group thought it would be great to meet for a book discussion. We’re reading Sandy Shugart’s Leadership in the Crucible of Work. After reading and discussing the book with my staff team, I pitched it to the faculty group. Almost anything is an easy sell when you’re having peanut butter pie and dark roast!

A few thoughts on Letting Go

Shugart writes his chapters in antagonistic pairs. Listening followed by a chapter titled Not Listening. The alternative roles of listening as a leader, and also the wisdom of not paying attention to everything you hear. Currently we’re on a pair of chapters about leadership and control. Getting a Grip was all about what happens with a leader loses his/her grip on vision and purpose with the experience of stagnation being the result. Letting Go – is about how NOT to cling so tightly to control. Here’s an extended excerpt.

“I recall another senior leader, expressing dissatisfaction with her team’s performance, telling me she felt she could do the job of every team member better than they could. It was a shocking comment but an honest one. She really believed this. The consequences of such hubris can be severe. To begin with, she has rendered herself unable to learn from others in the team. And a leader who can’t learn from her team already has an unhealthy relationship with them, one that is bound to get worse as resentments grow and trust erodes. At best, her colleagues will refocus their energy on pleasing her rather than achieving excellence in their shared work. (I lie awake at night sometimes with the fear that my team would rather satisfy me than do the right thing. This is the deepest of pathologies that can infect the executive suite, leading ultimately to spectacular failures.) At worst, her team, feeling disregarded and distrusted by their leader, will engage in all manner of behavior worthy of distrust: turf mongering, sabotage, self-interest, pandering, or going underground. This serves only to confirm the leader’s hypothesis that the others “just don’t get it,” and her habits of micromanagement are justified and reinforced, her arrogance growing by the day.”

Leadership in the Crucible of Work pg 78

The metaphor throughout Shugart’s book is that of a crucible – an industrial smelting device in which metals are heated and alloyed. The workplace is our crucible. It can affect us, but we must learn to leave our influence on it. His corrective for micromanagement is the improvisational art of collaboration and vulnerable leadership.

We’ll be reading the crucible of work all summer. I’ll get a few insights posted here from time to time.


Are you a Pearl-o-file?

A little glass flask sits on my desk. It holds exactly 34 pearls (glass, not actual pearls). Throughout the pastoral era of my 35 years in vocational ministry I’ve had the joy of officiating 17 weddings. Emily, my first supervisee at the church I worked for, was my first official wedding. Three weddings for my kids (three best days of my life with them). Two nieces. And bunches of young friends either on staff with me or in ministries I supervised. Seventeen weddings. That makes 34 pearls.

Day after tomorrow I will add another two pearls to my flask. Cade and Maddie will become #35 and #36. My first “GFM alum” wedding. I plan to talk about pearls. I’ll have my little flask in hand. Pearls are valuable (even ones made of glass). These two precious lives get forged over time, beautified layer-by-thin-layer. Then one day they get found! Getting found is what it’ all about. Your worth discovered by another! Discovered like no one else could!

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” -Matthew 13

I hope you are experiencing the sense of treasure and discovery that should naturally accompany your faith. The root metaphor applies not first of all to marriage, but to the amazement of finding the kingdom. My wish is that everyone who stumbles onto Jesus could realize the worth of what he offers. And in finding it, have your values completely turned around. In my own faith journey I struggle constantly with placing value in things that really aren’t that precious. I get weary from finding trinkets in shallow creek-beds forgetting that pearls are lodged deep in the slimy bellies of shellfish that have to be dived deeply for!

Pray for Cade and Maddie and for the Zumpfe and Blum families. Pray for great weather. Pray for special time and special words to flow over the next two days. Pray for a terrific start to their marriage. May their wedding be a symbol to all of how precious we are to God, how willing he is to leave the 99 and search for us (even when we aren’t searching for him). May these two pearl-o-files remind everyone there of how valuable finding the kingdom is! Thanks for your prayers!

Oh, where is the wedding? Lied Lodge at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. And a forecast of 93 degrees for Saturday at 5:00pm! Can we pray that down a little?

Everyone gets a pearl at Maddie’s wedding! (Pearls at every Omaha Hobby Lobby are sold out).


Emily, Kayshe and Maddie – three of Creighton’s newest (and best) OTDs!

Wow, Tim, really? Just making up words out of thin air? Kind of. Con=with or for. Graduation= the thing occupying about 85% of your Facebook posts these days. So my new word… congraduations! It means we are now with graduations! All the way up the org chart from 8th grade, to high school to college and in this post – professional school. Today’s post brings you a few Occupational Therapy Doctorate students (OTD) I’ve had the joy of getting to know at Creighton University. The official event below is their Capstone presentation. Capstone is the OT3 research project they must complete as their last objective before graduation (see the examples at the bottom of the post). I’ve mentioned Maddie to you before – her and two other students were a sort of leadership team that partnered with me the past couple of years. These are the three I’m having brunch with in the photo.

Its a huge amount of work these students have completed. I know that because of how difficult it’s been to get time with them over the past three years of their program. OT1 they were barely visible. They were on campus, but riveted in place by their schedule. After meeting them at an orientation it’s like OT1 gobbled them up and I only really got acquainted during their second year. Throughout OT2 I got to do a bible study with about 8 students. We also hosted an event where they shared their learning insights from 2020.

OT3 is a unique year in the program because everyone disappears into their field-work and professional rotations. Very few students remain in the community. As a consequence Maddie, Kayshe and Emily pretty much disappeared this past year. Hosting a brunch at my place was a way to bring them back together, see how they are doing at the finish-line and learn about where they’re headed next. Pray for these three women (and others who were a part of the group). As soon as they graduate, their next challenge is passing their professional board exams (oh, then on to finding their first full time professional job). In the case of Maddie, I actually get to be the pastor who performs her wedding!

Maddie never could tell me what the tiny dixie cup next to her poster was all about!

Thank you so much for your prayers for me. This is a very sweet finish-line I get to experience in my work in GFM. I’d actually love it if even more students would ask me to do their pre-marriage counseling and perform their wedding! We’ll see when the next gig like that comes along. Maddie and the Blum family, thanks so much for inviting me bless your lives beyond graduation!

These were fascinating to read about as you walked around looking at these graduates’ projects on posters and websites. Our world is now more richly supplied with gifted and trained professionals! Pray for GFM’s ministry among professional schools and graduate departments.

Believe it or not, my conversation with Kayshe about pelvic floor health was really interesting! There’s a lot to learn out there about our anatomy! Blessings on these brilliant minds as they solve endless challenges we still face.

Got 7 minutes?

Click here to be taken to my YouTube video update

Didn’t think so! BUT, I’m still gonna ask you to watch this video! I’ll give you a break from reading and just let you click thru to catch up with how our Team Retreat went. I’m so grateful for your prayers. We had a terrific weekend. It was our first in person retreat since May 2019! Lots of photos to show you! Thanks for watching.

Hope you have a blessed Easter! He is RISEN!

RE- (inductive bible study series)

It’s been really rewarding to see these study guides on the theme of redemption come together this year. Below is the first time I’ve put all ten of them in one place so they can be browsed! I’ve been writing these things since July 2021! I’ve used them in study groups this past year. Feel free to use them! Steal them. Make them your own. I wrote them using this blog as my work-space, so there’s a lot of good stuff packed in there. You’ll find at least three things in each study: a blank manuscript of the passage you can download and work with, some back-ground information that will help you mine the passage, and a surplus of inductive study questions you or a group can use to discuss it in a learning community. Click around. Send me your questions. If you want more input on how to mark-up a manuscript be sure to read the first couple of studies. IF you mark up a manuscript and want to share it on the blog, email it to me and I’ll post it! I dare you…

If you missed the report from my staff retreat, you’ll find it in the post next door. It’s a video this time! I hope you have a terrific weekend!

RE-01Ezra 3 introRestart: beginning again with nothing
RE-01Ezra 3:1-13Restart: beginning again with nothing
RE-02Isaiah 61 introRenew: righteousness and justice are coming
RE-02Isaiah 61:1-11Renew: righteousness and justice are coming
RE-03Hosea 1-3Reclaim: retrieved again from idols
RE-04Psalm 25Release: getting unstuck
RE-05Matt 5:1-16Reframe: being the right kind of person
RE-06Matt 5:17-6:4Reframe: getting back to right living
RE-07Mark 3:1-21Reclaim: belonging to the right owner
RE-08Mark 5:21-42Restore: made well again
RE-09John 3:1-21Reborn: made alive again
RE-10Revelation 21-22Conclusion: all things made new

Hey could you pray for our team this weekend?

Tis the season for conferences! I’m away from home for the third time this spring. This time in St. Louis for a retreat with my staff team – GFM Central. Here’s a glance at the schedule. Here’s a few things you could mention as you pray for us! Thank you.

  • Travel. People are coming from Iowa, Kansas and Denver!
  • Terrific time together! We’ve not met in person as a team since 2019!
  • Rich times in scripture and prayer.
  • Renewing friendships and partnership in the Gospel.
  • Four people (of our 11) are new to the team since we last gathered.
  • Good team-building.
  • We’re reading and discussing a book – Leadership in the Crucible of Work
  • There will be three faculty members from the St. Louis area joining us as guests.
  • Sunday we plan to celebrate Palm Sunday together.
  • Local staff will have family members joining us for Sunday worship.

I’ll give you an update after it’s all over! Keep an eye on our schedule and pray when we come to mind. Thank you so much!

All Things New – Revelation 21/22

So this series has to end somewhere. No better place than the New Jerusalem. At some point redemption stops and eternity begins. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Now at last, Fulfillment! I could have kept adding episode after episode to the RE- series till WordPress would no longer let me write posts! But after ten I think it’s time we stick a fork in it! Not that we’re done experiencing redemption and renewal. But the best place for us to bring closure to a study like this is that day when eternity crashes into time and brings history to a full stop.

Two things (more than anything else) have helped me make sense of the last two chapters of my bible. One is the observation that if you read Revelation from a bible with cross-references in the margins, you’ll discover there’s hardly a phrase in the book of Revelation that doesn’t come from Old Testament prophetic books – especially Isaiah and Ezekiel. The second thing I’ve enjoyed in recent years of reading Revelation 21 and 22 is reading Isaiah 60 in connection with these two chapters. Richard Mouw’s book When the Kings Come Marching In was such a helpful find (assigned reading for Cultural Exegesis in seminary).

If you can’t track down Mouw’s book before you dive into Rev 21/22, at least do yourself the favor of reading Isaiah 60 with one eye… and Revelation 21/22 with the other. In fact, not to put too fine of a point on it, you’ll ALSO want to take a look at Genesis 1:26-31 (where you’ll find God’s first instructions to the parents of our human family). OK! That’s it. I know it sounds like a lot of trouble, but trust me, you’ll see some interesting connections. Once you’ve done that, you know the rest of the routine. You can access some background info at the PDF link that appears in Question 7 below.


When you think about who will be in heaven and what will be in heaven, what do your thoughts drift to first? Would you be bummed out if heaven turned out to be very different from how you imagine it? Why or why not?

Everything New – Rev 21:1-7

1- Verse 4 states “the old order of things has passed away.” List everything that seems to be part of this old order.

2- What is new? How does the old relate to what is new?

3- What does it mean that God’s dwelling place is now with his people? To John’s readers what might come to mind when they think about times past when “God dwelled among his people.”

4- What do you think life in God’s presence will be like? When you imagine it, what aspects of the old order will you especially be glad to part with?

Glory of the Nations – Rev 21:22-27

5- What is old and what is new in these verses?

6- John associates light and glory. How would you define the glory of God (recall Exodus and the tabernacle)?

7- John implies that the kings of the earth will bring the glory and honor of the nations into the Holy City (Viv 24, 26). What do you think he means by the glory and honor of the nations?

8- Skim through Isaiah chapter 60. Notice the many allusions John’s apocalypse makes to Isaiah’s prophecy. How do verses 6-7 and 11-13 in particular help us understand what John is showing us in Rev 21:24-26?

9-Richard Mouw identifies the glory of the nations as the cultural works of humanity (be they art, agriculture, technology, education, medicine, law or government). Humanity’s “filling up” of the earth in response to the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28) produces works of glory that one day find their place in the Holy City. What is your response to a vision of heaven that includes redeemed works of human culture?

Servants Reigning Forever. Rev 22:1-5

10- Again let’s ask, What is new and what is old in these verses?

11- The tree of life will bring healing to the nations. What might that look like? How might that happen?

12- How do we explain the tension between servants serving and servants reigning? Usually those who reign are served by those who serve.

13- How has John’s vision challenged your imagination of heaven? How does it give shape to your hopes (and perhaps your fears)?

Reborn – John 3

Snake on a pole.

RE- series study nine leads readers to a spot in the bible with two of the worst examples of verses taken out of context (by people who know them best). I could quote these two verses, man-splaining them till you cry “uncle”. Instead, lets do this inductively and start from the very beginning. It all began with with Moses trying to lead those Israelites through the wilderness.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die here? There is no bread. There is no water. And we detest this miserable food” Numbers 21:5

God did not like the way they complained. He sent poisonous snakes that started biting and killing people. Moses repents on behalf of the community. But God reconciles with them in a very unusual way. “Moses, make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. Lets see how repentant these bitter-hearted people really are.” The only way the Israelites can avoid certain death from the snakes is to LOOK at the bronze snake on the pole when they got bit. If they do they’ll live. If they don’t believe it, they’ll die in their stubborn pride.

It worked! They still got bit. The bites were lethal. But not if they looked at the snake up on the pole. And that my friends is what it means in John chapter three to be born again. End of story.

Wait that’s not what that means!

Yes, it is. Being born again is what happens when you lose your life to the fatality of sin, you look in faith on God’s focal point of healing and forgiveness, and new life flows through your veins, chasing the toxins out!

And that my friends IS the backstory to what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” He’s a dead man walking because of sin (even though he was quite educated and served at a high level in a powerful religious institution). His forgiveness and healing will be provided by what Jesus does for him. But he will have to be re-born to experience it.

The other verse completely yanked out of context by evangelicals is the oft-quoted, seldom understood default bible memory verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The reason we need to avoid worshiping a single verse is that our attention gets drawn to one selective idea without connecting it to the rest of the meaning. John 3:16 gets hauled in to set the record straight that Jesus died for our sins and if we just believe that we’re set. We’ll get eternal life after we die.

The point of John 3 is that we’re already dead (or at least as good as dead) and if we don’t understand what’s killing us we might not really understand how God heals us. Isn’t it funny how we can quote the 16th verse but absolutely nothing adjacent to it? Ever seen this verse on an inspirational poster in a Christian book store?

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” v18

The snake on the pole worked because God offered it as a redemptive focal point for fatally wounded, bitter-hearted complainers. He didn’t automate their healing. They were “born again” when in faith they did what they were told – when they LOOKED at the snake up on the pole.

I don’t believe a word of this Tim!

Ok, don’t take my word for it. Read John 3 for yourself. You know the routine by now (this is only the ninth time I’ve tried to get you to do this). Download a copy of the manuscript, look it over and mark it up paragraph by paragraph. Find some friends and use the questions below to discuss it.

Born of the Spirit vv 1-8

1- What do you notice about Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus? What is he after?

2- What does Jesus want to talk with Nicodemus about? Usually Jesus experienced confrontation with religious authorities like Nicodemus. What do you think Jesus is trying to accomplish in this conversation?

3- How does Jesus’ idea of being born again by the Spirit compare to the way “born-again” gets used today as short-hand descriptor for a “genuine Christian”?

4- Jesus clearly implies that Nicodemus has not been born of the Spirit? How might you take that if you were Nicodemus?

Son of Man, lifted up vv 9-15

5- There’s a noticeable “we versus you” in Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus. Who is the “we” and who is the “you”?

6- Jesus reference to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness seems to come out of nowhere. Bearing in mind that Nicodemus is an Old Testament Scholar to put it mildly, do you think he can make the leap from Numbers 21 to the Passion of Christ? (read Numbers 21:4-9)

7- Jesus refers to the Son of Man. Let’s assume Nicodemus understands that as Jesus referring somehow to himself. What would this identity claim mean in light of Daniel 7:13-14?

8- How does Daniel’s vision lend insight to Jesus’ comments about the kingdom of God in the previous paragraph?

Light has Come vv 16-21

9- Jesus’ identity is painted in several dimensions in this passage. Nicodemus understands him to be a rabbi or teacher (who could perform miraculous signs) v 2. Jesus implies he is the Son of Man in v 14 and that he is the Son of God (one and only). How does Jesus expect Nicodemus to keep up? Does Nicodemus believe what Jesus is claiming about himself? Why or why not?

10- How important is it today to help people grasp the identity of Jesus? Considering most don’t even have the head-start Nicodemus did, how can Christians build a case for who Jesus claimed to be?

11- Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. What challenges come with introducing non-believing friends to the Holy Spirit?

12- Being lost and in darkness is a blunt description of people who don’t believe in or follow Jesus. What do you think creates awareness of dire spiritual need among today’s highly educated and successful people?

Leave a comment or email me! Thanks!

I mark my manuscripts in PDF format using Notability.