Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Adam Shellenbarger's life in 2010

Greetings, felicitations, and salutations!

Hm, perhaps I should include three synonyms for a random word in each sentence in this letter/blogpost/update. Though that could get old/aged/mundane really quickly, and I don't feel like grabbing my thesaurus.

Let's restart, shall we?

Hi everyone!

I've received quite a few Christmas letters this year, and was surprised to see how short some of them were. I think that this is because no one actually expects people to read the letter. There's nothing wrong with that, but I figured that if someone actually takes the time to read the letter part, they must genuinely be interested, or have nothing better to do. What you are about to read is for those of you who care about me for one reason or another, or those of you who are bored out of your mind. The rest of you can just skip down to the bulletpoint list at the bottom of this update, or stop reading right after I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year acquaintances and busy friends!

For the rest of you, I'll give a quick summary of my life thus far, in case you forgot (By the way casual friends... this is not the bullet list that you need to pay attention to... keep going down):

  • I was born on a Monday

  • I lived in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

  • I was a REALLY boring kid.

  • Though I won my first grade spelling bee on the word “dinosaur,” so I guess I was mildly interesting.

  • I wanted to be lots of things “when I grew up” but in the 6th grade, I decided I wanted to be a preacher and never looked back.

  • In high school, my parents and a campus minister at Penn State decided that I might be better served at a secular college, rather than a Bible College at first, so I could get immersed in a secular society so I could hopefully have an effective ministry. This led me to Penn State, which I've loved since I was in my mother's womb for Joe Paterno's 200th victory, in which he beat Bowling Green.

  • I majored in Secondary Education with concentrations in English and Communications.

  • I got engaged in 2009

  • I'm pretty sure most of those don't qualify as “bullet points”

→ Real update starting now *buckle your seat belts!* (If you haven't even chuckled up to this point, seriously, just skip to the bottom... the rest of the letter is just more of this flippant stream-of-consciousness stuff... fun fact, I submitted one of my recent blog entries into a computer algorithm that supposedly analyzes one's writing and then says who that person writes like... mine was James Joyce. Oh yeah, you're gonna LOVE yourself for deciding to read this whole thing (sarcasm)... Ironically, after writing this whole thing, I went back to that thing at and this is apparently in the style of Cory Doctorow, who's a Canadian blogger. I feel multi-cultural now!).

→ REAL real update starting now: At this point last year, I was getting ready to begin my Student teaching semester at Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I was told that at one point in the semester, I would experience all of the following: laughter, tears, illness, frustration, anxiety, anger, and a bunch of other emotions that I don't remember, but if you were paying attention, only the first one sounded remotely attractive.

Well, lo and behold, I did experience all of those emotions and more. My student teaching was filled with wonderful students, a fantastic mentor, a Penn State adviser who was my nemesis all semester (but someone whom I hold no grudges against), and a ton of work. I can honestly say that Student teaching was the hardest I EVER worked in school, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience that led to sermon illustrations for DECADES to come.

I had the opportunity to teach Of Mice and Men, Greek tragedy, Antigone, Julius Caesar, A Raisin in the Sun, The Princess Bride, and I helped my mentor teacher's AP kids through The Canterbury Tales, King Lear, Frankenstein, some poetry, and Time's Arrow. It was an action-packed semester that was tons of fun, and partially miserable. I loved being in a classroom with the students, though, and continue to look for opportunities to impact high school students in some capacity.

Once May rolled around, I prepared for graduation. My fiancee's dad had told me that I couldn't marry her unless I found a job. I had made a trip out to Columbus, Ohio to interview for a church in Ohio State Buckeye territory, and though the church and I had a very positive interview, God must have known that there was no way I could minister to the non-Christians in the area if I was too busy working on the Ohio State cheering heathens within the church there. A week before graduation, I really had no prospects, but I did find a job posting for another church in Culpeper, Virginia. I decided to shoot off an e-mail to them, hoping that they would pay attention to a 22 year old kid from Penn State with no Bible degree. As it turned out, I graduated from Penn State, and they did pay attention and granted me a phone interview, and after that, a trial sermon / physical interview.

The trip to Culpeper went well, and I felt very good about the church and the direction in which my life was heading-- then my fiancee broke up with me. Don't freak out, it's ok now, but if you saw somewhat alarming statuses on facebook between July and October, that's why. I'm not going to go into great amounts of detail on this subject (that's too personal to share in a mass-mailing / blogpost... and besides, we'd get out of James Joyce territory and head straight for Leo Tolstoy... not because the entire breakup took place in social-economically depressed Russia... I was driving for the whole “War and Peace is LONG angle of things... in case you didn't pick up on that). Anyway, long story short, the breakup was MUCH more of a surprise to me than it was to her, and I now faced the prospect of taking a job in Virginia where I knew no one, if the church hired me.

I called the church and informed them of the newly tumultuous situation in my life. After discussing it with the congregation, the elders of the church decided to recommend that the congregation vote on whether or not to accept me for the position of “Preacher.” I'm not sure how many people were there, so let's define the number of people present at church that day to be x, and t can be the total number of people who voted for me, so that works out to x-1=t. The one guy who didn't vote for me has since confessed that it was him, and he said it was due to uncertainty he had about my breakup. Anyway, with a nearly unanimous vote, I became the preacher of First Christian Church at Culpeper, Virginia. 2 and a half weeks later, I was on my way down to Virginia.

While it's true I wasn't exactly overflowing with cupfuls of cheery sunshine and unicorn flavored lollipops at first (… that didn't work... you know what I'm going for) God definitely has been using me in Culpeper. In the time since the breakup, I've come to a point of genuine peace, I've forgiven my fiancee for the things that she did to hurt me and have asked for forgiveness for the things that I did to hurt her. She's still a great girl, and we've reached a point of peace. God has truly shown His faithfulness to me, and for that I'm grateful.

The beginning of my ministry had its trials and tribulations which you can read about on the rest of this blog, or listen to on the podcast at The one BIG thing to hear about is that I suggested and implemented a “Campaign of Kindness” at my church. I challenged my church of about 20 people to do 2500 acts of kindness in 6 months. I'm not sure whether or not we'll reach that goal, but I think it's pretty clear that even a little church can do great things. Our most recent project came on Christmas Eve when we sought out those who had to work and spend time away from their families. We took time with our families to spread Christmas cheer to them in the form of tasty desserts. My family alone served somewhere in the vicinity of 80-100 people with cookies, and the rest of the church rose to the challenge as well. It was such a blessing to look at the reactions of the people who work in the service industries when they were the ones being served. For more information on the Campaign of Kindness, check out the article that made the local paper (click), and for more information about our Christmas Eve service project, click here.

My church still has a long way to go, but the people are wonderful and really seem to be getting excited for a new direction. We've recently purchased an LCD projector, so I have a new toy to play with. I feel that God is moving in this church, but I'm not going to pretend to understand exactly what He has in store for us.

As for my personal life in Virginia, I participate in two games nights and have been spending a lot of time talking with friends in Pennsylvania, as well as trying to meet various people in Virginia. I live in a basement apartment in a home with a very fun family who live upstairs. I have the Big Ten Network now, so I can still follow Penn State sports as well!

If you ever feel inclined to come visit Virginia, I would love to see you! Virginia is a beautiful state (which you'll have plenty of time to enjoy as Virginia drivers tend to go 10 miles an hour under the speed limit at all times). Give me a call or shoot me an e-mail to let me know you're coming!

I feel like I've put you all through enough at this point, so let me make that bullet list I promised everyone else:

BULLET LIST (you can start reading again)

  • Student teaching was hard, but it went well

  • Graduated from Penn State with a degree in Secondary Education-- English and Communications

  • Went through a breakup, but am at peace about it

  • Got a job as a preacher in Culpeper, Virginia and am enjoying it!

  • Would love to host visitors!

And so that's it! Feel free to pass this on to whoever might be interested in it. You can leave comments on the blog, or you can e-mail them to me at

Lastly, I want to thank those of you who have shown how much you care about me. 2010 was not my favorite year of my life so far, but it's a year when I'll always remember my friends and family who helped me through some really rough patches and helped me to grow into a stronger Christian, person, and preacher. I don't know what 2011 holds, but I feel very confident in moving forward with such a great support system behind me. Thank you.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Despicable Tradition

One of my longest lasting traditions is going to end in a week and a half. Every year of my life my family has hosted a New Year's Day party centering on football, food, and fun. The only people not-blood related to me, who have been at every single one of those parties will not be there this year, and while they will be sorely missed, it has made me think a thought which would probably make many people uncomfortable.

Does anyone feel like tradition is overrated?

I guess I've never been one for many traditions. My family didn't have too many when I was growing up, and many of the ones that I do remember only stuck for a few years until we moved on to other things.

Some traditions are not important at all. We used to have ham on Christmas. I despise baked ham. The year that I made a ham sandwich for Christmas dinner was the last year we had ham, and now we have beef. Much better.

Other traditions are incredibly important. No one in our household is allowed to open any Christmas presents until we read Luke 2:1-20. That's a tradition that my family will continue this year, and the year after that, and it's one that I will pass on to my kids as well.

But, for the most part, I feel tradition really isn't as big of a deal as we make it. In fact, I feel like many traditions that people hold are because OTHERS expect them to hold those traditions. Unfortunately, I'm always reminded of this around Christmastime, and then I think back to one particular Bible verse. This is God speaking to the nation of Israel through the prophet Amos:

Amos 5:21-24 NLT
"I hate all your show and pretense--the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won't even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is."
"Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry."

Merry Christmas Everyone!

But in all seriousness, we all come together to celebrate Christmas... but what are we truly celebrating? The birth of Christ? or the exchange of presents? Is Christmas that one time a year when you make an effort to get to church?

A New Year is approaching, a time where we tend to hit the reset button and try to readjust our lives to better ourselves. Examine your heart this Christmas season, see what you're truly celebrating, and if need be make a correction.

In all seriousness, Merry Christmas. Next week I'll be home with my family, but if you check back, I presume there will be a link to some kind of Christmas update letter or something. In the event that I don't get on here next week, though, Happy New Year as well!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Profitable Ideas

I know it's not necessarily a good thing to be stubborn, but sometimes it pays off.

I experienced that last one this last week when I discovered that a couple in my church had purchased a new television stand for a large and awkward television that we had. Until this point, we rested the TV up on two small chairs which were already on top of a table, so the new TV stand was a welcome addition, one that I didn't even know was coming until I found out that we couldn't use it. The couple had assembled the stand in one of our little classrooms, but when they went to wheel it out into the main room in the basement, they discovered that it couldn't fit through the door frame. They tried everything: removing the door, pushing it through, twisting it and turning it from every angle, but it just wouldn't go. It was too big... by about 1 centimeter.

Now as a preacher, I love to hear things like that, "Oh? It was too big by 1 centimeter? That seems like such a small minor difference, but it's enough to hinder you from your goal... kind of like being on the straight and narrow path!" Analogies would have abounded from that point, except, I decided to give it a try to get it through the door. I assume I tried all the same moves that the couple had first tried, to the same result. Then one of my members came over and jokingly mocked me saying, "You can't get it through that door." Since I've been watching a lot of the television show "How I Met Your Mother," my response to that was, "Challenge Accepted!"

Another woman saw my struggle to try to jam it through the door and believed we could find some way to get it through. After about 5 minutes, we made major progress. Our list of accomplishments now stood at

1.) We have jammed the television stand in the door, making the doorway impassable.
2.) The woman helping me was stuck in the room.


Well now I really had to make something happen, so I crawled over the TV stand and put myself in the room which I will now refer to as "Mount Doom" as it where this television stand was forged (or at least assembled). The woman and I pushed-- it didn't budge. We got a hammer from the other side and started pounding-- it didn't budge. I leaned all my weight on it-- nothing. I took a running start and lunged into the stand-- still nothing.

At this point, I was started to get nervous... is downsizing your available classroom space by 33% and depleting the churches resources by an additional 1 television stand a fireable offense?

My next attempt to get it to move was to try to wiggle it free... that still didn't work. I laid on my back, drew back both of my legs, and sprung them both out as hard as I could, directly on the bottom of the stand, not thinking that if the stand didn't move, I could probably seriously injure myself. Thankfully, the stand gave a little and I heard cries of delight from the crowd which had now gathered around to see the spectacle that was the "preacher vs. the television stand."

"DO THAT AGAIN!!! YAY ADAM! YOU'RE AWESOME!" (I'm sure that's what they said)

So I kicked again, this time at the top of the television stand, and it simply popped out with minimal damage to the door or the stand. Amazingly, no one was hurt, and perhaps even more amazingly, I didn't even gloat... I was just so glad to get out of Mt. Doom!

My stubbornness got the best of me, and then I supposed I got the best of the television stand. But I got to thinking about that, and about some experiences that I have had in my life before. I realized that, in churches today, we tend to hear "No" a lot more than we hear "Yes;" we hear "You can't" rather than "You can." And even a stubborn mule like me tends to get beaten down after hearing "No" too many times. We need to get away from that.

I'm an advocate that individuals, small groups, ministries, churches, and the entire body of Christ should have a direction in which they're moving, but many of those entities don't. I'm very grateful that my church doesn't say "No" outright very often. Sometimes I get a "Let's wait" but very rarely do I receive a "No." When I got to First Christian Church at Culpeper, we didn't have much of a direction, and we're still defining what that direction is fully, but now we have one, and we're a stronger church for it.

As Christians, I think we should all examine ourselves and look for where our lives are heading. If you can't find a direction that you're heading toward, pray to God for ways that you might be able to impact His Kingdom. Think back to passions that you once had, or things that you wanted to see, when someone told you "No," and try to implement it.

That being said, I don't think we need to swing completely in the other direction and just say yes to any idea that comes along. Here's a list of unfinished criteria that I've thought up for "Acceptable ideas"... do you have any other suggestions?

  • An acceptable idea should never contradict anything the Bible has forbidden.
  • An acceptable idea should be profitable for the Kingdom of God.
  • An acceptable idea should have a clearly defined direction, with observable benchmarks.
  • An acceptable idea should not utilize a ridiculous amount of church resources, including time, money, and manpower, unless the church leadership specifically encourages this.
  • An acceptable idea, if given the chance to succeed, should be graciously retracted if it doesn't work out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas

Chuck Sackett, the former President of Lincoln Christian College, once told me something that I'm sure has been repeated hundreds of times, but he was the first I'd heard it from. He said “If you can do anything other than preach, do it... if you don't have a passion for preaching, you're never going to make it.” That stuck with me throughout college, even though I decided not to attend Bible College, and when the time came to start looking for jobs, I spurned immediately looking for jobs in my degree area (teaching English) and focused on ministry jobs. My decision was questioned by some, but most people supported me... except for one person who challenged my readiness in a way that no one else dared.

Apparently, her brother had died when she was younger. I'm a little fuzzy on the details of that part of the conversation because the next part shocked me. She told me that her father's faith was shaken to the core and that the minister of her church had gone over to talk to him, to console him, and to counsel him. That minister was met with this response: “Which of your sons has died?” The minister hadn't had any of his sons die and told this woman's father that. The father replied, “Then you have nothing to say to me.” The woman then asked me how I would respond to that when I was a preacher... how a 23 year old might be able to comfort someone who had been through such an ordeal.

I responded first with the fact that, when I was 7, I had a friend pass away and that I understood loss. She retorted, “It's not the same as a son, Adam.” So then I said, “Well, then I suppose I might say, God lost His Son.” This was the end of the conversation. Both she and I were so exasperated at each other that neither one of us really felt like talking about it anymore. I don't really blame her for having these feelings-- it was pretty obvious that we had been treading on some pretty serious ground, but I still think I had a valid point.

Christmastime is that special time of year when we tend to conceptualize the fact that Jesus was actually once a baby, that he was the Son of Joseph and Mary, but also one to God Himself. Joseph and Mary cared for this child, loved this child, raised this child. So did God, but God knew fully what was in store for Jesus when He grew up. The fact that God loved us enough to send His Son, His Holy perfect Son, as a sacrifice for humanity is nothing short of amazing. I'm not a father, so I don't know that I'll truly understand just how BIG that is until I am one, but I know that it's big.

I don't want to gloss over that fact at all. It's enormous. So I gave it this mini-paragraph. And I'll follow it up with Romans 8:3,4

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Now we know that God desires all men to be saved. Romans 11 talks about how Jews and Gentiles and how the Jews are the true descendents of Abraham, but some have fallen away. Those Jews are like dead branches on an olive tree, and the Gentiles can replace them: Romans 11:17

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.

To me, that would have been more than good enough. If God had said, “Ok humanity, you messed up, but we'll let you come along for the ride,” that would have been great. Think of it like a prosthetic hand. There are now prosthetic hands with individually powered digits which are controlled using myoelectric signals (which are generated from the residual limb).* It's not quite a real hand, but it's the next best thing. No one, I don't think, would complain and say, “I'd rather have no hand at all than this stupid prosthetic!” But that's not where God drew the line. Romans 8:14-17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Christ was a Son to God, and we're told that Christ loves us like the Father loves Him-- and since Christ and the Father are one, we're loved as sons and daughters of God as well! Just as Jesus was God's Son, that's how God views us.

I mentioned last week how Christ was the redemption plan since Adam and Eve's first sin. To put this in perspective, I like to imagine Adam and Eve taking that piece of fruit and partaking in the first sin as the moment where all the angels collectively go “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” like someone just missed a crucial field goal in a football game. But when Christ was born on earth and all the angels are there to announce the birth of Christ, it's like the game winning kick and everyone starts to celebrate.

Check your inboxes in the next few weeks and you'll start to see e-mails circulating about the “True Meaning of Christmas.” There will be talk about how Christmas is over-commercialized, and how “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That's all true. But just as true is this-- when the angels said the “First Noel” they were celebrating the birth of Christ, as well as the fact that millions of other believers would soon be adopted as true sons and daughters into the family.

The end of the second passage I quoted from Romans 8 “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” is telling. Just because we're sons and daughters of God doesn't mean that things will be peachy, or even easy. God is a loving gracious father, but He is also fair and just. Sometimes fairness and justice hurt. I can't give an account for why God chooses to do what He does, and I never will be able to. I also don't know if it would provide any solace to the father of that woman to whom I was talking, but I do know this-- God cared for her brother enough that He sent His actual Son to die for him, so that he could be justified as a Son of God, and loved him like one too... just like He cares for all of those who faithfully follow Him.

*Thanks to my friend Nicole for giving me the “jumping off point” that inspired this blog entry. All of that prosthetic limb technical business are her words, not mine.