Thinking Out Loud

April 8, 2014

The Equivalent to Hiring Someone Who Is Gay

Hiring Policy

In the last 17 years, we’ve hired over 40 people to work with us in a ministry setting in four different locations and three different cities. To the best of my knowledge we’ve never had an employee who is gay. But we have dealt with the equivalent.

In conservative Christian circles, especially going back a few years, the equivalent was hiring someone who was divorced. The religious stigma was huge. We did this. More than once. As an adjunct ministry of local churches.

In one case, I know that the family were outsiders, so the story was not apparent. But in another case — life in a small town being what it is — I know some former customers voted with their feet. Nobody ever said to me, “How could you hire her?” but we always had the sense that certain people were part of a silent boycott.

Thinking about those two in particular, I can look back and say with the benefit of hindsight: They were among the best employees we ever had. They knew life. They knew pain. They knew joy. They knew Jesus. Therefore, they were able to connect with certain customers in ways I could not then and cannot now, and I’m thankful for their part in our story.

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

February 27, 2014

30 Key Evangelical Movements

Brad Lomenick’s name has come up repeatedly over the years here at Thinking Out Loud. He has been a force in the Catalyst conferences, and we often reference and link to his monthly list of Young Influencers, younger leaders who are making a difference.

A few days ago he published a list of 30 links to organizations that he considers to be the top 30 vital movements currently shaping Christian community. Many, but not all, are American. Three of these I had never heard of. I’m taking the liberty of reproducing it here, but if you wish to comment, why not do so at Brad’s blog.

1. Hillsong

2. Passion

3. Catalyst

4. Jesus Culture

5. Exponential

6. Worship Central (London)

7. Verge/Austin Stone

8. Q

9. IF Gathering

10. Reach Records/Lecrae

11. Leadership Summit/Willow Creek

12. Misfit/Christ Tabernacle

13. Compassion

14. Orange

15. North Point Ministries/Drive Conference

16. LifeChurch.tv

17. ARC

18. Resurgence

19. FPU/Dave Ramsey

20. Rick Warren/Saddleback/PEACE

21. Gospel Coalition

22. HTB/Alpha Course

23. Leadership Network

24. Thrive Conference/Bayside Church

25. Luis Palau Association

26. Women of Faith

27. Send North America

28. The Bible Series/Son of God Movie/Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

29. Relevant Magazine/Media Group

30. PlanetShakers

February 11, 2014

Take a Break, Just Don’t Tell Anyone

When I was young there was a story about a girl in our school who took off to spend a year going to school in England. I learned later that ‘spend a year in England’ was a euphemism for her family wanted her out of sight while she was pregnant and had a baby. This was a time when pregnant teens were less commonplace, and the family didn’t want her condition to be an embarrassment. Today, in one of our local high schools, the girls bring their babies with them to class. Not this particular time and place. It reminds me of Joseph in the Christmas story wanting to “put her [Mary] away quietly.”

I thought about this when Bill told me about Hank. Bill attended a church in a city about 30 minutes away, and I had heard that their pastor had been given a four-month sabbatical. Nice non-work if you can get it, I suppose. Now I realize there are some solid reasons why pastors should be cut some slack; recently someone posted five good ones. Personally, with the exception of two days in August at a cottage where it seemed the phone never stopped ringing with issues back at work, my wife and I have not a break at all since October, 2012.  Heck, I’d check into a local motel right about now just for the experience of sleeping in a different bed and using the inn’s soap and shampoo. We’re not picky.

sabbaticalBut for Bill, the problem was that Hank was a local farmer who had worked his tail off for 46 years without any significant vacation. And the argument that “pastors are on call 24 hours a day” just didn’t cut it with a farmer who had both grain crops and livestock. Who worked 16-hour days, six and a half days a week.

The theory was the next generation would take over. In practice, the three boys couldn’t wait to get off the farm. After high school they went into trades that were more tech-based. Nothing to do with agriculture. No cows, no corn in their futures.

Bill wasn’t even on the church board. He was just a guy that Hank thought could explain sabbatical to him. And Bill was caught in the middle, knowing that pastors take sabbaticals but also realizing that Hank would never quite get it.

“You mean we’re still going to be paying him?” he asked Bill.

“Yes,” Bill said, “He still gets his salary.”

And when Bill told me the story, that’s when it hit me. While there’s no shame in taking a break every seven years, Bill’s pastor needed to borrow a chapter from the girl whose family wanted to disguise the nature of her absence.

“Hank,” I would say, “The pastor’s going to help out a church in England. It’s sort of a mission trip.”

Except that would be a lie.

January 10, 2014

Friendly Advice to Megachurch Pastors: Take the Show on the Road

Greg Laurie Crusade Evangelism

For the last few days, I’ve been enjoying AHA, a forthcoming book by Kyle Idleman1. Reading it reminds me of his unique style that I first discovered in the H20 series, and then in Not a Fan. I’d be willing to travel to Southeast Church just to see him preach in person, but I’d be more thrilled if Kyle could make it to a city near our hometown sometime, so more of our friends could experience his ministry in person.

And that’s when it hit me.

So…

I have a message for Kyle Idleman
I have a message for Perry Noble
I have a message for Andy Stanley
I have a message for Steven Furtick
I have a message for J.D. Greear
I have a message for Jeff Manion
I have a message for Pete Wilson 2

…and anyone else who wants to join the list:

Take the show on the road.

Seriously. We have the example of Billy Graham, but we also have the practical logistics available from Greg Laurie3, who is one of the few megachurch pastors who also does crusade-style evangelism.

Preaching a sermon series is something that we as Evangelicals have mastered. Rethinking a single message might mean some fine tuning. Adjusting for an audience that isn’t as intimately familiar with you might require some local research.

But this thing is so doable. Think about it:

(a) Preaching to crowds? No brainer.
(b) Your books and online presence assures that you are known beyond your own community.
(c) Your reputation guarantees the ability to find local churches to partner with you or your church on local logistics and finances.
(d) You already block out a number of weeks for conference speaking; this is a horse of a different color, a crusade-style meeting (or meetings) which won’t take you away from your home church any more than you have already allotted for and will reach a demographic which doesn’t do conferences.

Some people4 have done this already, either as individual dates or as a road trip.

As someone who enjoys celebrating the next generation of authors, pastors and teachers, I offer this challenge because deep in my heart, I want to be able to mention your ministry and resources and then be able to add, “Coming soon to an auditorium near you.”


1 A full review will appear here closer to the March release date
2 Pete already does Promise Keepers, which involves a similar communication style to what I’m proposing
3 http://www.harvest.org/crusades/general-information/home.html
4 James MacDonald, for example

December 21, 2013

Tweetering on the Edge: Karl Vaters

Karl VatersThose of you who follow my other blog, Christianity 201, know that I have a high respect for people who keep a tight spiritual focus on their social media. If you’re a pastor who also enjoys NASCAR, in my view that’s two blogs, not one; and possibly two Twitter feeds as well.

I only follow about 100 people on Twitter, but through hearing about a small church conference several weeks ago, Karl Vaters ( @KarlVaters ) came to be one of them. He also blogs at NewSmallChurch.com. Despite the preponderance of mega-sized places of worship, churches with less than 100 adults present on Sunday morning is the reality at about a quarter of all U.S. churches and nearly half of all Canadian churches. As Karl states in one article, the contrast can be confusing:

…[I]n any city where there is a church of 10,000, there aren’t just 100 Small Churches with 10,000 people attending – there are probably 1,000 Small Churches with 100,000 people attending. That’s reality. Small Churches outnumber megachurches by 1,000 to 1. And Small Church members outnumber megachurch members by 10 to 1.

Although I think his target audience is pastors and church leaders, he posts some great links that I think many of you might enjoy…

Well…that’s enough to get you started. Or simply subscribe to Karl’s blog or Twitter.

Tweetering on the Edge is a new monthly feature at Thinking Out Loud

November 26, 2013

The Help Callers to Christian Phone Counseling Would Rarely Receive

100 Huntley Street Counseling Center

The 1970′s saw the birth of the daily live Christian television talk shows, starting with programs such as The 700 Club, and along with those shows came the banks of telephone counselors waiting to counsel, pray with and process donations for viewers.

In later years, I was actually on the receiving end of those calls for two different ministry organizations, and as is typical — hindsight is always 20/20 — I wish I had known then what I know now. In some cases, I simply didn’t see what Ravi Zacharias often looks for, ‘the question behind the question.’ Also, I was too young to be a ‘counselor’ in any sense of the word.

More specifically, I wish I had known that for every question viewers might ask, there were books by trusted authors that addressed major topics from a Christian perspective. While it will never happen, I wish that I was taking those calls today, and I could, in addition to being a listening ear and offering to pray with the individual, say, “You know you might really benefit from reading….”

Maybe someone should establish a national call-in line just for people looking for a recommendation to existing resources.

It’s not just a Christian television issue, there are pastors out there today who probably don’t have the least inkling of the wealth of printed (and audio and DVD) resources that address subjects they are trying to deal with. The average Christian bookseller is probably in tune with at least ten times the knowledge of available products. And that’s just off the top of their heads, without next appealing to various search engines, and then applying their wisdom as to what constitutes a trustworthy publication.

Instead, we’re left with the ‘Wild, Wild West’ that is the internet. People go online seeking advice, not necessarily knowing who is behind the websites they’re reading. Counseling from Christian organizations has gone online as well, but the telephone counselor has been replaced with a keyboard counselor who is probably suffering from the same dearth of knowledge as to Christian print and media titles, or even what’s available on other websites.

TV ministry counselors are trained to recognize certain key subject areas of need and are then given information sheets containing key scripture verses; they are encouraged to present this material and then offer to pray with the caller. A little Bible knowledge and a willingness to pray over the phone (or internet) is the primary qualification for service. Some are urged to press each caller for a donation. Sigh!

There was, however, one place of refuge for the seeker of practical Christian advice, or deeper understanding of the scriptures: The Christian bookstore. Take the Christian bookstores out of the equation, not to mention the relative losses of people who worked in, managed, or owned such stores, and the gap between products and people continues to grow.

Of course, online vendors carry the same products, and online resources provide today’s consumer with a host of means to verify the spiritual credibility of a particular website or product, if they choose to investigate. But securing the connection between need and applicable resource takes a different route, and again, there is often no filter or criteria for recommending a given resource or website; whereas a seasoned or veteran employee in Christian publishing learns to recognize the different doctrinal streams and what publishers and organizations are going to offer advice tailored to the need at hand.

It’s too bad there aren’t more people answering the phones and online inquiries who are well-versed in the current catalogue of Christian products, not only the publishing industry’s ‘front-list’ of current and popular titles, but also the ‘back-list’ of perennial resources with a proven track record.

Photo: early photo of phone bank at 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show; David Mainse blog

September 12, 2013

Ministers Meet at the Local Ministerial, So Laity Should Meet at the…

Ministry of the LaityLike most North American jurisdictions, we have a ministerial association where the various rectors, priests, ministers, pastors (and rabbis if we had any), etc. meet monthly to “talk shop.” These groups often include chaplains from local seniors’ homes, hospitals or jails, as well as full-time youth workers with parachurch organizations.

The local shoe stores may be in competition, but by virtue of this monthly meeting, the churches can honestly say they are working together on various community initiatives. The various clergy may not agree on every matter of faith and doctrine, but these religious professionals have, at the very least, a context in which to dialog with other men and women who have chosen the same vocation.

But they are, at the end of the day, restricted to the professionals, and there are a great deal of initiatives that never get brought forward for discussion, and a whole host of other ideas that never get presented because, despite the stereotypical idea that these people only work on Sunday, they are actually quite pressed for time.

Which is why I think our ministerial should be complemented by a laiterial. That’s right, a laiterial. Didn’t expect my spell-checker to be too happy with that one. Why not something where one member of the laity in each congregation meets with representatives from other assemblies and places of worship for the purpose of seeing if more can be accomplished by working together?

This means not just a loose collection of people meeting in an “inter-faith” context, but actual selected delegates, representing each faith group with a purpose and agenda. People who know what it means to get something accomplished. People who recognize that their various pastors and ministers have an entirely different set of priorities when they meet each month, and want to produce something in conjunction with them that may take great amounts of time and effort.

People from different places of worship can work together in ways that clergy simply cannot. It’s the potential of cooperation on a much more grassroots level. It’s about interacting with people who attend the church across town. It’s about being in conversation with people whose believes are often extremely divergent. For the Christian, it’s a context yielding to a different definition of what it means to be salt and light.

The type of thing these meetings can produce is going to be of a very general nature in terms of inherent spirituality. But it can show that religion — any religion — is more than just doctrine. It’s doctrine plus ethics. Orthodoxy plus orthopraxy. Talk plus action.

Laiterial. It’s not in the dictionary. Not yet.

Coming monthly to a Waffle House* or church basement near you.

The word “laiterial” is the exclusive intellectual property of Paul Wilkinson and Thinking Out Loud unless of course, you actually make public use of the term, in which case I’d be too flattered to object. 

*Canadian readers: For Waffle House think Tim Hortons culture but with a broader menu and better pricing. 

Since this first appeared in 2009, I continue to be convinced that what’s really needed is a tearing down of the walls between professionals (clergy) and the rest of the congregation.  Maybe a joint ministerial/laiterial.

August 8, 2013

Ministry Motivation: A Confession

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

Sometimes, if I am being really honest with myself, I have to concede that my interactions with seekers and skeptics are often about getting the presentation right more than they are about the individual. Yes, I listen; but I only listen for so long, and then launch into presentation (a), (b), or (c) trying to better streamline it each time for greater impact. The problem is, then it becomes all about me instead of being about them.

Other times, if I am being even more honest with myself, I realize that the various opportunities I get to share the basics of Christian faith and/or my own personal journey are about registering these exchanges as a way of charting my own ministry legitimacy. I don’t keep statistics or publish prayer letters with names of contacts, but I do want to think that my efforts partner hand-in-hand with the clergy class. Again, the problem is, it can become all about me instead of about the lost people who I am interacting with.

At other times, if I am really willing to dig deep, I recognize my own sinfulness and my propensity to sin, particularly in the area of my thought life; so ministry opportunities keep me focused on higher things and serve as a block or barrier to allowing my mind to go down some lesser roads. These parts of a typical day provide a natural environment in which to pursue purity of thought. But again, the problem is, I’ve turned it all around to being all about my spiritual state instead of the eternal state of the person who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith.

The Apostle Paul said:

Phil. 1:18 (excerpt)(NIV)…But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice…

But in so saying, his focus is on the lost people who matter to God. But on the other side of the conversation, my efforts need to be a whole lot less about me.

July 28, 2013

Megachurch Pastor Practices Vulnerability

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am

Bruxy Cavey Bus

You can choose to go to a church of 10,000 – 20,000 people and never actually have a conversation with the person who teaches you each Sunday. In the modern megachurch, lead pastors don’t do weddings, don’t do funerals, and if you ask to meet for counseling, you are passed on to someone else on church staff.

Which is probably why I was so impressed when NavPress author – The End of Religion –  and teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville (west Toronto) Bruxy Cavey, Tweeted this while walking through Canada’s largest city last Sunday night:

Hanging out on Queen St downtown Toronto. Any Meeting Housers in the area wanna grab a drink & a chat? Text or call me.

I don’t know what kind of response he got — he has 7,100 followers — but I do appreciate his willingness to connect with the people of his tribe totally spontaneously. And I admire the vulnerability in throwing the invitation open to anybody, even that guy who always wants to engage in a long and tedious conversation. (And sometimes, in other contexts, I think I may have actually been that guy.)

Learn more about one of Canada’s most cutting-edge churches at The Meeting House and Bruxy’s blog.

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