Thinking Out Loud

March 6, 2014

John Ortberg’s Congregation Votes to Exit US Presbyterian Denom

John OrtbergZondervan author and former Willow Creek teaching pastor John Ortberg is about to lead his congregation, Menlo Park Presbyterian, out of the Presbyterian Church USA, but the church will have to buy its way out of the affiliation. Religion News Service reports,

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving…

…The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

[...continue reading at Religion News Service...]

But the Presbyterian name will stay with the congregation as it affiliates with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, making it the second 4,000-member sized church to do so.  A five page Rationale for Change gives reasons for both exiting the PCUSA and joining the ECO. The document does not directly address issues of sexuality and thereby makes clear that this is not the central issue. Menlo Park also operates satellite campuses using a video feed, a rarity in PCUSA churches. (A Canadian two-campus church, Connexus, is a former Presbyterian church now part of the North Point ministry family.) 

Prior to the vote, Ortberg led his congregation through a message titled “Immeasurably More” based on Ephesians 3: 20-21

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ortberg’s bio on Wikipedia notes:

Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008…

…Ortberg earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

His latest book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You releases April 22nd with Zondervan.

Menlo Park Presbyterian

Update: Christianity Today reported on this one day later with some helpful background links.

January 23, 2014

Home-Schooled Kids Speak Out

Filed under: education, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:36 am

A few days ago, the cable network Al Jazeera America reactivated a dormant Twitter hashtag #homeschoolkid with this question: Should home schooling be regulated more?  There was also a link to this article on their website. Responses have been pouring in, and I thought we’d share a sample here for those of you who don’t do the Twitter thing.

  • As someone who was (very successfully) homeschooled for 12 years, yes.
  • Homeschooling was one of the best choices my parents made for me as a child. I was given freedom to learn – & I went for it.
  • H-schooling saved me from gender stereotypes (girls=bad at math). I delved into my interests w/o being pushed down by society.
  • We w/subjected to state tests yearly, and my family always ranked higher than school district.Here’s to not following curriculum.
  • Homeschooling allowed me lots of of time at home alone reading encyclopedias

Somewhere along the thread however, you notice a shift in response that is perhaps less Al Jazeera’s regular audience, and more from people in the Christian stream of home-schooling:

  • Pro – I became a great speller Con – I grew up believing Robert E Lee was just doing his Christian duty.
  • Maybe the bigger issue with homeschooling is this ‘divine right of parents’ thing that seems to have no boundaries.
  • I think homeschooling can be done well, but someone has to look out for the kids who aren’t getting the education they need.
  • Homeschooling should not be an altar raised for the gods of parental rights on which children’s rights are daily sacrificed.
  • I’m disgusted that my parents belonged to HSLDA, a group that called a man who forced his kids to live in cages a “hero”
  • I was raised with ACE, a curriculum that until recently, claimed that the Loch Ness Monster actually existed. Seriously.
  • As a #homeschoolkid I knew a few of homeschoolers who stopped school after middle school. The homeschool community did nothing about it.
  • My white mother and black father taught me history from Bob Jones [curriculum]
  • It’s always sad to hear people say my time as a #homeschoolkid “sounds like a lot of fun!” – it really wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
  • I’m fond of telling people that I was Valedictorian, class clown, prom queen, and most likely to get pregnant.
  • new responses still being added…

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

March 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Forgivenall

Our opening image this week apparently dates back to the mid ’90s and was sourced on a Dutch website whose name translates approximately as End Time Space. Click the image to link.

Several possible links for this week were important enough to become their own posts here. Be sure to check back at topics covered since Thursday.

  • First, please consider following my Twitter feed; not because of my great wisdom, but because I’m following some other really cool people. 
  • The radio host of “Canada’s most listened-to spiritual talkback show,” Drew Marshall takes to television this weekend. 
  • Is the Pope Catholic?  This blogger dares to ask: Is the Pope born again
  • Here’s a good breakdown of pastor blogs fitting into ten (or eleven!) categories. Actually, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Just in time for Passover, the Maccabeats are back.
  • If you or someone you know has been involved in a marital affair, here’s a reminder to skip the what questions and look at the why questions.
  • This week the Dictionary of Christianese defines Godincidences. (They’re like God Winks.)
  • This has been around for awhile, but if you haven’t watched this timely 3-minute video, check out Peter Rollins’ I Deny The Resurrection
  • A Canadian Mennonite pastor is dealing with a couple of strange baptism requests: “They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.”
  • One hundred and eleven podcasts later, and you can still listen to episodes of A Christian and An Atheist.
  • Here’s a good analysis on how the church should multiply (real growth) instead of simply poaching (transfer growth) from other churches.
  • And on that same blog we found a link to a piece on how tradition(s) can trump what Jesus explicitly taught
  • Know a single who is saving their first kiss? You might identify with this video trailer, but trailer for what? (Found at TWW.)
  • Russell Moore is asked whether or not reading fiction is a waste of time. He answers that fiction can  “awaken parts of us that we have calloused over.”
  • And congrats to Russell on his new title with the SBC.
  • Pete Wilson and Cross Point Church have invaded downtown Nashville. Their new church building opened this past Sunday.
  • For gay Christians, the F-word is fear.  Read this two part post starting with the article and then, especially the author’s story.
  • Pastors’ Corner: Five sources of ministry distractions, including Platform Jacking and Funny Money.
  • If you’re thinking of being in Vancouver, British Columbia from July 29 to August 2, 2013, you could sign up for this business ethics course.
  • When you are trying to make it as a writer, a rejection letter can be crushing, and create a need to reaffirm your calling.

preaching-to-choir_from fritzcartoons-dot-com

February 28, 2013

Local Churches are Better Together

So what happens when five local church pastors show up for four Sunday mornings at the wrong churches?

That’s what’s happening right now where I live. Actually, it kicked off last weekend. The concept has been in the planning stages since early fall, and this extended game of pastor musical chairs is called Better Together.  To be sure, these Evangelical pastors are making history.

Each week for four weeks they are preaching a sermon series that finds them in a different location. Then on week five they speak at their home church. The series culminates in a joint Good Friday service five days later, something these churches have been doing for about 25 years.  The Good Friday event is actually two services, held in the grand ballroom of a local hotel.

Participating congregations and ministers include our local Fellowship Baptist, Pentecostal Assemblies, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Convention Baptist and Salvation Army churches.  It’s a great show of unity. It’s a great demonstration to the local community that we’re not in competition with each other; that we share a single message even though we meet and worship independently.

But there’s more.

Part of the Better Together initiative is to raise both money and a labor pool for the construction of what is currently the last remaining Habitat for Humanity property in the town. The offering will be taken at the Good Friday service and the pastors have pledged $60,000; an ambitious goal in a small town. It’s the type of thing that no church in this area could take on themselves, but another reminder that we are Better Together.

Would this work where you live? I think you have to have the right spiritual atmosphere for something like this to work and I believe the annual Good Friday service has paved the way for something like this to happen. Added to this is the dynamic of the particular lead pastors currently serving in the town being in one mind on this project. 

But whether it works now for you, or in the future, I hope this idea becomes contagious.

January 16, 2013

Wednesday Link List

In the first link today, I want you to join me in a promotion project for a deserving songwriter and embed the video on your Facebook page, your blog, or whatever it takes to spread the word.

  • Our first link today is the above video. I’ve been corresponding with the creator of this for some time, but it couldn’t go public until now.  “An uplifting song that furnishes a concept of peace and oneness for humanity in deliberate contrast to John Lennon’s iconic anthem, ‘Imagine’.”  Here’s the story behind the song. I want to encourage you to share this with everyone you know! 
  • Here’s an article I wrote for C201, that I may yet reblog here. It’s about Jesus’ last words to his disciples, and they may not be the words you’re thinking of right now. 
  • And another C201 post that is both packed with scripture and introduces the new Chris Tomlin song, Whom Shall I Fear.
  • Essay of the week: Canadian Dave Carrol explains his faith, his faith journey, and his ‘conflicted’ Protestant and Catholic sides to a largely secular audience in his city’s newspaper.
  • The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that was set to turn Christian history on its head. More at Religion News
  • Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove critiques a PBS special on the abolitionists; noting what the producers missed and what he is pleased they included.
  • If you’ve been following the Jack Schaap story, you’ll want to know that First Baptist Church in Hammond (IN) has hired a new pastor, John Wilkerson. More also at the church website.
  • Meanwhile in another casting call, how about Brad Pitt as Pontius Pilate?
  • Would Brian McLaren be a good fit to replace Louis Giglio at the Presidential bash?
  • And what if a letter from Barack Obama to Louis Giglio looked something like this letter?  Plus, I couldn’t overlook a piece that Gabe Lyons wrote on how Louis was ‘bullied off the stage.’
  • Pushing past the controversy, Christianity Today reported on Louis Giglio’s signature event, The Passion Conference. Between Passion and Urbana, it’s easy to see what American Christian youth were up to over the holidays. So why does a search for Urbana at CT turn up nothing?
  • While it doesn’t have a Christian message, this 3-minute public service announcement from the Australian government should give you good reason to slow down in all areas of life.
  • As the countdown begins to the Big Game in the U.S. (February 3rd, if you’re wondering) poet Greg Asimakoupoulos: laments that these sports extravaganzas now routinely happen on Sundays. As game day approaches, you might want to copy and paste this to the American football fans you know.  [HT: David Fisher]
  • The issue of prayer at civic events switches this week to a debate about the subject at West Point Academy.
  • Mike Duran is closing in on 300 comments for a piece he wrote about websites that put evangelicalism under the microscope or simply put it to ridicule. Some of the language is edgy, but if you’re okay with that, check out, The Anti-Evangelical Hate Machine. Later, in an effort to better understand one of the bloggers, he interviews Darrel Dow of Stuff Fundies Like.  (SFL is also the source for today’s lower graphic.)
  • A few weeks ago we attended a New Year’s Eve-Eve night of ‘clean comedy’ with Timmy Boyle, and learned that a number of comedians in Canada are creating a family-friendly comedy circuit. Here’s a story of Matt Falk, a similar entertainer whose debut album topped the iTunes comedy category on its day of release. 
  • Also for my Canadian readers, next Monday night at 8:00 PM on CBC TV’s Mr. D., history teacher Gerry Duncan wades into religion with this line, “Jesus was Jewish and even he was Catholic.” Sigh.
  • Ending with a video since we opened with one: Cindy Jacobs tells an interviewer about the ‘miracle’ of her shoes not wearing out.

Christian Family Off For Vacation

January 12, 2013

The Go Deep Link List

The Go Deep List Lynx

The Go Deep List Lynx

It’s like the regular link list but for people who want something they can really chew on.

  • If you read the Wednesday list here, you saw a brief reference this week to Becky.  Becky is a fictional prototype of the ideal listener to Christian radio who, according to Sean Palmer, is more than just a media marketer’s target, but she is also setting the agenda for the modern church.  And then there’s this damning statement:

    Every element in a church worship service; each program or each new area of ministry has to pass the Becky-test. This means milk toast, predictable, and less engaging worship experiences. The depths and riches of Christian experience go ignored because Becky has no framework to understand them and Christian sub-culture is happy to allow her her illusions of faith provided those illusions are accompanied by her patronage.

    No wonder the article is called Killing Becky.

  • Although youth ministry guru Mark Oestreicher — I’m getting to where I can type his name right on the first take — wrote this with youth ministry in mind, it has much broader implications for church ministry as a whole. Mark had me from the first paragraph:

    I see the Kingdom of God in less black-and-white frames these days. To say it’s a full gray-scale doesn’t even do it justice. The Kingdom of God deserves a color palette so broad, deep and rich that we don’t have names for all the nuance and variation.

    And also

    In the U.S. church, we want so desperately to be independent mavericks, a Christianized version of the Marlboro Man, riding through the landscape of culture, needing no one, emulating no one. But if we look carefully at the American church in the last 40 years or so, we’re really not all that original. Most of the time we are acquiesce-ers, copiers. We copy culture, and convince ourselves we birthed it.

    The article is actually the first in a series. The main link here is to Presence in Youth Ministry Part One, but there’s also a part two and a part three.

  • And then there’s this one, which connects to the graphic below. Basically the idea is that rock hard empirical evidence can only take you so far, and beyond that, whether you choose Atheism or Theism, it involves a major step of faith.

    …the relationship between strength of belief and theism/atheism could be visualized as independent variables in a bivariate function, and that doing so might shed some light on my own perspective.

    And this insight

    …Although it is not a linear relationship, I would say the inclination of the individual to proselytize–that is, to attempt to win others to camps that occupy the same region on the curve–increases proportionally with the level of certainty.

    While he uses words like ‘bivariate’ this is a very concise article that is quite easy to follow, and has implications for your next conversation with someone who you’ve seen as having an opposing worldview, but who you now know shares more in common with you than you thought.  Check out Dan Martin’s The Belief Matrix.

The Belief Matrix

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

November 20, 2012

The Church is Changing, But is it Changing Fast Enough?


Heard on U.S. election night:

The Republican Party needs to realize that the country is changing faster than they are.

As soon as she heard this, Mrs. W. saw an immediate connection to the church, or rather, The Church. While some within the institution are somewhat resistant to changes taking place — changes which include

  • midweek meeting to small home groups
  • traditional hymns to contemporary choruses
  • suit and tie to casual dress
  • Authorized Version to the NLT and The Message
  • sanctuary decorum to coffee cup holders

– these superficial changes either belie attitude adjustments which never happen or are simply too superficial, not drilling down to the bedrock of the decision-making process which guides objectives and intentions.

In other words; “Yes, we’ll add drums and electric and electric guitars as long as understand that we’re just doing this to reach out to the community, and not because it’s our first choice. And we’re leaving in Amazing Grace and Blessed Assurance.”  Which is to say that we don’t really embrace change, it is simply something that has been thrust upon us.

At a certain level, that’s okay. Reaching the community is a valid goal. But the world at large does embrace change; you could say the broader culture thrives on change.

So we change, and the pace of change is increasingly accelerating, but meanwhile the pace of change in the wider marketplace is accelerating faster. All of which leaves us with churches with ‘relevant’ preaching that is becoming irrelevant and contemporary music in a world where ‘contemporary’ is somewhat of an adjective fossil.

Or worse, we go casual and informal only to discover that the next generation actually craves liturgy or even pageantry. Or we go with slick multimedia not realizing the cry of peoples’ hearts is for interactive communication. Or we add some rap to the opening song in a city where the top radio station plays country. Or we address employment needs in a place where the greatest issue is depression and mental health. Or we build gigantic mega-churches which mitigate against the authentic community life some are seeking.

Like the Republican Party, we’re left with a system that simply hasn’t responded to a changing world, because we’ve become so expert and so efficient at being the church to speak to the culture as it existed in 1995.

Make more changes? I can hear the groaning at that thought, but as changes come faster and faster to every facet of life, we need to rewrite the playbook and the rulebook continually.

Now excuse me while I nail this to a door somewhere.

 

September 5, 2012

Wednesday Link List

This week’s links include:

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