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Perseverance, Systems-Style

Perseverance, Systems-Style

Posted by Brian Roberg at Apr 06, 2010 03:10 PM |

One of the things I most enjoy about working in DM's Systems Department is seeing how spiritual truth informs our work with computers. Recently I've seen this in my work on DM's Staff Website (an intranet site our staff use to access all kinds of ministry-related information). Last summer, our summer intern Justin Brown helped me to update the software running the staff website. While we were able to accomplish the update itself, there were quite a few outstanding issues that remained to be fixed. I had lots of ideas for ways to make the site more useful, but there were other (bigger) opportunities for us to pursue first.

DiscipleMakers' "Faith" core value says, "Whatever our organizational position, we are to ask ourselves what we can do to help." The idea is that the effort we put in is in service of the mission rather than ourselves. We do this in faith that God will work and reward our efforts through the building of His Kingdom regardless of whatever other benefits we might receive.

Since setting aside my work on the Staff Website early last fall, I've been able to contribute to the mission in two very exciting ways. First, I took part in our work on our new accounting system, which has turned out to be a wonderful blessing to us as an organization. Second, I've more recently had the opportunity to spend a few weeks working on the Staff Website again. I was able to fix the remaining technical issues, making this important resource more useful for our staff.

This experience has been an encouraging reminder of how the gospel applies to our work: Our efforts can make a difference, but we never put our hope in the work itself or its benefit to us. Rather, we submit our efforts to the Lord as a sacrifice made in faith, trusting that in Him our labor is not in vain. (1 Co. 15:58)



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Meet the Department: Brian Roberg

Meet the Department: Brian Roberg

Posted by Brian Roberg at Mar 16, 2009 09:45 AM |

Welcome to the third installment of our "Meet the Department" series!  Following Jason's and Tom's leads, I'll tell the story of how I came to the Systems Department, providing lots of fun and nostalgic links along the way.

I gained a familiarity with computers at a young age.  My dad is a career employee for IBM, and we had a computer in our house going back as far as I can remember.  One of my favorite childhood memories is when my brother and I received an IBM PCjr as a Christmas gift.  (We were definitely not a Mac family!)  Besides playing Sierra adventure games, one of my favorite computer activities as a kid was programming in BASIC.   However, even though I enjoyed computers and seemed to have a natural proficiency with them, I never considered pursuing a computer-related career.

Other aspects of my childhood: I did very well in school, I loved baseball (especially the Mets), and I hated going to church (but my mom made me go).

I became a Christian in ninth grade when I discovered that the message I was hearing every week in Sunday School actually spoke directly to the greatest felt needs in my life: security and acceptance.  (Those can be hard to come by in the ninth grade social scene.)  I realized that Christ's death and resurrection meant that I didn't have to prove myself to the world (or to myself) by securing the regard of a pretty girl.  (That was the way I tended to measure myself.)  I relinquished the desire to achieve perfection on my own, and instead banked my life on Christ.

By the time I finished tenth grade, I'd seen the truth of the gospel affirmed in my life to such a degree that I decided I wanted to pursue a career that would help other people experience the same thing.  At the time I was thinking I wanted to become a pastor, but I tried to remain open to whatever opportunities might come.

I got involved in the DiscipleMakers fellowship at Gettysburg College right at the beginning of my freshman year.  I found there a group of students who lived out their faith in earnest, which I saw right away in the care they showed for me.  In particular, an upperclassman named Jared took the initiative to befriend me and help me along in my growth in the Lord.  I didn't know to attach the label to it until later, but this was my first experience of a personal ministry of discipleship.

Back to the computers for a minute.  Two things happened during the spring semester of my sophomore year: I added a Computer Science minor to my Philosophy major, and I discovered Linux.  My first distro was Red Hat 6.0, which sported kernel version 2.2.5.  I immediately became a Linux advocate and by the middle of my junior year I had moved to using Linux exclusively on my computer.  I enjoyed the freedom it granted me in tinkering and the feeling that limitless capability was only one or two configuration files away.  Still, I thought of computers only in terms of a hobby and not as a career path.

The two threads came together at DiscipleMakers' Fall Conference that year (1999).  It was there that Bill Dripps used Linux and open-source software as an illustration of how the Lord provides all kinds of opportunities to impact the world for Christ.  He described how DiscipleMakers intended to use these technologies not only to meet its own needs but also to bless other ministries.  A whole new vista opened to me as I saw the union of two hitherto distinct passions in my life.  Bill did an "altar call" of sorts for techies, inviting anyone interested to talk more with him.  I wasn't the only one to come forward eagerly.

I did a summer internship with DiscipleMakers between my junior and senior years (the very first summer internship DM ever conducted!)  By this time, DiscipleMakers' ministry--particularly Ben Hagerup's discipling me--had had a significant impact on my life.  Getting a closer view of DiscipleMakers' ministry through my internship convinced me that this is where I wanted to serve.  I joined DM upon my graduation in 2001, and joined the Systems Department upon reaching my financial support goal in February of 2002.

There's lots of stories I could tell about what's happened since then, but those are best left for another time.  Suffice it to say that I've found working in a largely technical job for an intensely personal ministry is a wonderful combination.  I am eager to see where the Lord will lead us next!

P.S. I can't neglect to mention the most significant recent event in my life: last October I married my wonderful wife Carin.  I see it as a shining example of God's goodness and faithfulness that He would bring us together!


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The Perfect Job

The Perfect Job

Posted by Brian Roberg at Jan 28, 2009 12:55 PM |

In DiscipleMakers we often talk about what we'd like to see happen in our ministry in the future.  Sometimes, we purposefully think big: what could God do?  In the Systems Department, we've often pointed to one particular thing as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal: that Systems would grow in its impact on God's Kingdom such that people would turn down job offers from Google so that they could join us.

Why say it this way?  Simple: Google has a sort of corporate aura about it.  A job with Google combines high pay, prestige, and a sense of changing the world for the better.  If there's a perfect job out there, surely it's with Google, right?

A counterpoint to this way of thinking is presented in a recent post on TechCrunch called Why Google Employees Quit.  It presents excepts from an email discussion among former Google employees.  Don't worry, it's not a collection of flames.  The messages collected there simply describe some of the highs and lows of working for Google, from the perspectives of people who decided to leave the company.

One post stood out as being particularly thoughtful.  A guy named Phil said, "Those of us who failed to thrive at Google are faced with some pretty serious questions about ourselves....  Google is supposed to be some kind of Nirvana, so if you can’t be happy there how will you ever be happy? It’s supposed to be the ultimate font of technical resources, so if you can’t be productive there how will you ever be productive?  The truth is that Google can be a really horrible place to work if you happen to run up against its shortcomings."

No job, whether with Google, DiscipleMakers, or anywhere else, is perfect.  If you look to your job to give purpose to your life, you'll be disappointed.

Instead, look for a job that connects you to a purpose valuable enough to be worth giving your life to.

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:38, ESV)  In God's eternal economy, there is a high demand for people who devote themselves to serving in the Lord's harvest field.  The world may not value this service, but God does.

Yet it is not the job itself that is glorious, but its purpose.  That purpose is the proclamation of the gospel to lost souls.  And that's why we believe serving in DiscipleMakers' Systems Department is a opportunity that stacks up favorably against what anyone else might offer.  If you believe in our mission, would you pray with us that the Lord would send more laborers into His harvest?


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The Growing Seed

The Growing Seed

Posted by Brian Roberg at Dec 16, 2008 11:55 AM |

Jesus' parable of the growing seed instructs us regarding what makes ministry successful:

And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29, ESV)

This tells us that while a person can participate in the growth of God's kingdom through sowing and reaping, the real growth happens independently of his efforts.  In other words, we have the opportunity to minister to others but it's the Spirit of God that changes a person's heart.

This idea also informs our approach to technology.  Much of our work in DiscipleMakers' Systems Department can be described as "scattering seed."  We apply technology to the needs of our ministry in hopes that it will bear fruit.  How exactly it bears fruit is often not in our hands.  In fact, this is when the job is most exciting: we are most effectively equipping our co-laborers when we put tools in their hands which they can use to accomplish things in ministry we hadn't even envisioned.

This happens in all kinds of ways.  Some are small, such as helping a co-worker discover a feature of her email client that helps her be just a little bit more effective in corresponding with people.  Sometimes, though, an application of technology can be truly world-changing.  I often think of the development of TCP/IP, an innovation that may be the most important invention of the twentieth century.

Of course, it's improbable that the Systems Department will dramatically change the world's technological landscape.  That's not the point, after all.  Rather, we contribute our efforts toward the mission to make disciples for Christ among college students.  Through the work of the Spirit, that's an effort that will yield a great harvest.

Photo by Gerardo Villalobos, used under a Creative Commons license.


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