Thinking Out Loud

January 11, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx as seen in Australia

Time for another one!

  • Actually going to kick off with an internal link, because when I wrote this review back in May, I never imagined that Kyle Idleman’s book, Not a Fan would do as well as it has.
  • You may have seen Jessica Latshaw in A Chorus Line, or you may have seen her on YouTube singing on the A train in the New York City subway with hair in pigtails. The daughter of a Maryland pastor, JL explains how it all went down.
  • A Danish study shows that victimization of children on the internet is significantly reduced when parents are aware of the kids’ online activity.
  • Buried in one of those articles about all the new laws that came into effect in 2012: “California also becomes the first state to mandate the teaching of gay history. A new law requires schools to include in the public-school curriculum the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, along with disabled persons and others…”
  • Mark Driscoll’s book on sex and marriage — which now has a video trailer –  is being overshadowed by Ed & Lisa Young’s latest sermon series and book, Sexperiment. One blog suggests it’s not necessary, while another, Master’s Table, agrees with Internet Monk that it’s hard to think over the noise of the Evangelical circus.
  • I swore we were done with Christmas links, but this is so good and I want to be able to track it down 11 months from now.  This is The Christmas Story as told by the children of St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand.  HT: Walt Mueller.
  • Matt Chandler offers a gospel-centered interpretation of the story of David and Goliath; and you’re not David in the story.
  • Country music fans: Canada’s Ali Matthews has released the full — nearly six minutes — video of her song Carry Me Home.
  • Hope the churches using older wireless microphones got the message that they now risk fines of over $100,000 US and imprisonment.
  • I’ve heard a number of people talk about the Biblical emphasis on hospitality.  But not so much lately.  I remember Jesus Movement icon Lonnie Frisbee telling me, “The early church fellowshipped from house to house and we fellowship from restaurant to restaurant.”  Here’s a short article to start the hospitality discussion where you live.
  • This just in: Preachers sin.  Who knew?  Some encouragement for those in pastoral ministry from Peter Mead, which is part of a series on issues which can disqualify people from ministry.  And here’s a classic from March I had bookmarked where Peter talks about moralism as preaching element which can strangle the gospel
  • Also for people in vocational ministry, here’s a list of Rick Warren’s ten things to remember as we begin a new year, as reposted at Leadership from The Heart. 
  • And we don’t want to leave out worship leaders: Here’s Chris Vacher’s take on a possible alternative — in some instances — to using CCLI as a source for legal worship song charts and parts.
  • If your church is wrestling with the idea of ditching Sunday morning children’s ministry, you should read this apologetic for Sunday Kid Min.
  • B o n u s :   W a t c h   f o r   m o r e   l i n k s   o n   S a t u r d a y !

November 1, 2011

What War Looks Like at Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:15 am

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church had only ever known one pastor, Dr. James Kennedy; and he was certainly no slouch in the pulpit.  So when Tullian Tchividjian became the church’s only other pastor ever, nothing, not even the pedigree of being a grandson of Billy Graham could save him from the conflict that erupted in the early months.

Tullian was interviewed by Drew Dick at Leadership (a Christianity Today publication) and addressed that issue directly.  I should say the article is very positive, very redemptive, and very hopeful; but I wanted to include a few of the darker paragraphs here so that some of you would have a picture of what church conflict looks like:

…[I]t’s one thing to talk about war and another to be a soldier on the ground when the bullets are flying. It was hard. It was the first time in my life where I was leading a church where I knew many people didn’t like me…

It was tremendously uncomfortable coming to worship every Sunday morning during that time not knowing who liked you and who hated you. There were people in the choir who, when I would stand up to preach, would get up and walk out. People would sit in the front row and just stare me down as I preached. It was extremely uncomfortable. People would grab me in the hallway between services and say, “You’re ruining this church, and I’m going to do everything I can to stop you.” I would come out to my car and it would be keyed. Some people would stop at nothing to intimidate.

They put petitions on car windows during the worship service. They started an anonymous blog, which was very painful. Here we were trying to build consensus and there’s this anonymous blog fueling rumors and lies. The blog almost ruined my wife’s life. Anonymous letters were sent out to the entire congregation with accusations and character assassinations. It was absolutely terrible.

…The shelling got so bad I thought to myself this was a huge mistake. Two churches are ruined now. I could hardly eat, had trouble sleeping, and was continually battling nausea. I felt at the absolute end of myself…

Until reading those paragraphs, I thought the worst thing a pastor could endure was something I saw over twenty years ago:  Being spit on.  This pastor was totally covered in the stuff as the young man he was trying to minister to repeatedly spit in his face. 

Then I read these paragraphs and thought, Tullian should not have to have gone through that.

But if you read the entire article, he might say, ‘Maybe I did need to.’ 

So what’s the worst thing you’ve seen a pastor have to endure?  Do you think agree that it makes it twice as frustrating when a pastor’s greatest opposition comes from within the congregation?

HT: Darryl Dash, who later, coincidentally turned out to be today’s photo source.

July 16, 2011

The World’s Riskiest Profession: Pastor

In the movie Fletch, Chevy Chase dons a number of disguises and aliases, at one point stating his occupation as ‘shepherd.’  The word is almost quaint with its suggestion of middle Eastern hillsides standing in contrast to the urban reality that greets most of us each day.

Still, shepherds — the spiritual kind — do exist, they’re just harder to see in a world of megachurches and multi-site churches.  And they’re harder to see in a Christian culture that seems to want to venerate its key leaders.

Mark Galli has written a landmark article at Christianity Today that gets into the mindset of what he calls, “The Most Risky Profession.”  Here are some samples, but I copy these only because statistically many of you don’t click the links; this is a great article that you should take the ten minutes needed to read sequentially.

The modern American church is very much a product of its culture—we’re an optimistic, world-reforming, busy, and ambitious lot, we Americans. In business, that means creating a better widget, and lots of them, and thus growing larger and larger corporations. In religion, that means helping more souls, and along the way, building bigger and better churches… Religious busyness will be with us always, it seems.

Translate that into church life, and we find that American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design. Our ambitious churches lust after size—American churches don’t feel good about themselves unless they are growing. We justify church growth with spiritual language—concern for the lost and so forth. But much of the time, it’s American institutional self-esteem that is on the line…

With this addiction to growth comes a host of behavioral tics, such as a fascination with numbers. The larger the church, the more those who attend become stats, “attenders” to be counted and measured against previous weeks…

No longer is it a good use of the head pastor’s time to visit the sick or give spiritual counsel to individuals. Better for him to make use of his “gift mix,” which usually has little to do with the word pastor—or shepherd, the biblical word for this position. Instead, he has been hired for his ability to manage the workings of large and complex institutions. The bigger the church, the less he works with common members and mostly with staff and the church board. To successfully manage a large church, one must be on top of all the details of that institution. This doesn’t necessarily mean directly micromanaging things, but it certainly means to do so indirectly.

[M]ost pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor—this is Such-and-Such’s church—than with anything larger. When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it’s devastating. It feels a like a divorce, or a death in the family, so symbiotic is today’s relationship between pastor and people.

Pastors aren’t the only people who find themselves trapped in a social milieu where it is impossible not to succumb to sin. It is for habitual and trapped sinners—like pastors, like us—that Jesus died. The hope is not that we can find a perfect church environment in which we can eradicate pastoral pride. The hope is that Jesus loves and uses repentant sinners despite our pride.

This does not mean Jesus doesn’t want us to change the way we do church. I sometimes wonder if he’s allowing us to reap the fruit of our churchly ambitions—with many pastors burning out or becoming cynical, or resigning in one form of “disgrace” or another—so we will discover anew why the word pastor or shepherd is the name he gives to the church’s leaders. That very name suggests that perhaps the church should not be about growth and efficiency, but care and concern, not so much an organization but a community, not something that mimics our high-tech culture but something that incarnates a high-touch fellowship. By God’s grace, there is a remnant of such churches alive and well today, with leaders who really are pastors.

Click here to read the whole piece.

May 25, 2011

Wednesday Link List

There are a couple of blogs I read where there are well over 30 links represented weekly.  Trevin Wax at Kingdom People does a summary of each one, at least four a day with some longer lists;  while Zach Nielsen at Take Your Vitamin Z turns each one into a post of its own.  I guess that relatively speaking I’m not that dedicated.  …The Iberian Lynx makes a rare appearance here this week, while these weekly links do contain items that deserve a few clicks:

  • A Christianity Today item last week reported that atheists want to be participants in military chaplaincies, in a story appropriately titled, Atheists in the Foxholes.
  • Here’s a fun activity for those of you who studied the maps in the back of your Bible, it actually was an ad-link from the above the story; you simply click and drag the push-pin from the tribe name to the territory on the map and thereby Locate the Lost Tribes of Israel.  (I did not do well…)
  • Living Bible Explorers, a ministry organization in Winnipeg, Ontario which tries to steer younger youth away from gang activities believes that gang member wannabes are responsible for fire destroying their three buses.
  • A Christian counselor suggests that, of all things, humility is the key to a Fresh Approach to Facing Fear.
  • Yawn!  In case you missed it yesterday, Harold Camping, everyone’s favorite prophet, has revised the 5.21.11 date… it’s now 10.21.11
  • Russell D. Moore tears a strip off the romance novel genre, and before leaving the topic suggests that while some of their Christian equivalents are different, some are not.  Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart?
  • Is a lazy pastor one who simply wastes time, or one who chooses the easy approach over the difficult?  Darryl Dash shifts the priority emphasis at The Pastor Who Jogged While Mowing His Lawn.
  • Justin Holcomb at Resurence thinks perhaps the parents of young girls need to consider Eleven Ways to Protect Your Daughter from Barbie.
  • Julia Rhodes guests at SCL and attracts over 300 comments with another look at the need to Proofread your Worship Slides.
  • Some of you know that in addition to whatever we do on Sunday morning, every Sunday night at 6:00 EST since last fall I’ve been part of virtual church with Andy Stanley at NorthpointOnline.TV.  Well…this week I also checked out what Pete Wilson is doing at Crosspoint.TV; a service which features a live Q&A after the message.  Their time is 6:00 CST which is an hour later, or 7:00 PM Eastern.  His guest was Jon Acuff and together with host Jenni Catron the program was both informative and entertaining to the point where I began to wonder if Leno and Letterman might have some competition.
  • It’s too bad the retail book industry was such a “sitting duck” for online takeover, and too bad that non-computer-user book-lovers have to pay a great price for the changing paradigm in book sales; as I rant yet again in Anger in the Face of Retail Contraction.
  • A timely cartoon from Sacred Sandwich

May 18, 2011

Wednesday Link List

[B]link and you’ll miss it!

  • The actual end of the world on the 21st is officially set for 6:00 PM (one assumes Eastern Standard Time) which ought to give me time to cut the lawn.  Respected Baptist guy Albert Mohler breaks the news, though he’s not buying it personally.
  • The wife of Elevation pastor Steven Furtick, Holly Furtick did the Mother’s Day sermon — he introduces her as the best looking guest speaker they’ve had — and now you can watch part two of a three part sermon series, Mr. & Mrs. Betterhalf.
  • Philip Yancey is touring the UK on what is dubbed the “Seasons of the Soul” tour.  Check out the story at Christian Post, as well as the tour website.
  • Canada’s national newspaper, revisits the fall from Orthodoxy in the once-great United Church of Canada in this report at The National Post.
  • Here’s a breakdown on the whole Creation-Evolution debate neatly condensed, boxed and tied with a ribbon at the Parchment & Pen blog.
  • Joyce Meyer Ministries gets hit with a $20 million lawsuit from a former employee; video clips at Monday Morning Insight.
  • The birth of a song:  Shaun Groves takes us from demo recording to pre-production track, to studio track, to mixed track, with only mastering of the song All’s Grace left to happen.
  • And our new artist this week was actually linked here once before, but I keep watching the increased following  of one-man keyboard talent Zach Havens who records and performs as To Tell.  (And I’m sticking with the comparison to Owl City!)
  • One last music-related item: A link to the Gospel Coalition audio of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s presentation,Writing Corporate Worship Music.
  • While teen pregnancy rates are dropping, in some poor and minority communities, it continues to be a challenge, as outlined in this CBN News report.
  • It’s a classic local interest story from the 1930s you’d know if you lived in Sydney, Australia; the story of the man known as “Mister Eternity.”  The full story is repeated at the Meeting in the Clouds blog.
  • A short thought from Mark Batterson: Some of the world’s greatest pastors aren’t necessarily pastoring a church.
  • Truth isn’t in the middle, but in both extremes!  To mark author and theologian John Stott’s 90th birthday in April; a tribute from IVP associate publisher Andy LePeau
  • Is AOL birthing a religious section out of Huffington’s Post faith pages?  John Shore thinks so.
  • Can’t wait for next week’s links?  Trevin Wax has an almost daily list.
  • For this week’s cartoon, it seems that Matt Mewhorter, who draws the Bleat comic, with a rather different take on things Christian, thinks Pat Robertson is somewhat confused by the current controversy over Love Wins: (Here’s a bonus panel! for you to chew on!)

May 11, 2011

Wednesday Link List

How about changing the name to “Linkerama”?  Just kickin’ around some ideas.  Looks like the links lynx is back!

  • What is about church life that gives us so much material for everything from Christian satire sites to cartoons?  This one is from Tim Walburg at ToonFever.com aka Church and Family Cartoons:

January 6, 2011

Sending Your Pastor Back for a Road Test

This first appeared here in January, 2009.

driving-test-sample-questions-scenario1With my mind wandering during a post-supper phone call, I wondered what would happen if, just as some jurisdictions require you to do a fresh road test after 20 years in order to keep driving, your pastor had to appear before a doctrinal committee like the one that ordained him (or her) originally. Just to make sure all his (or her) doctrinal oars are still in the water.

But why target pastors? Board members and Sunday School teachers would be next, followed by you, the average Joe (or Joanne). After a couple of decades serving on committees or helping in the nursery or whatever it is you do; you’d be brought before a group of examiners to make sure that you still have a grasp on, and still hold to the basic tenets of, the core of what we call the Christian faith.

Would people be as nervous leading up this event as they would be if they had to do a fresh road test to keep their driver’s license? Do you think you could pass? Would you be praying they asked easy questions? Do you consider, “Why did Jesus have to die?” to be an easy question?

November 13, 2010

The Small (with a small g) god of Modern Evangelicalism

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:42 pm

This piece appeared back in August at the blog of Daniel Jepsen, pastor of Franklin Community Church in Franklin, TN; which is just a few hundred laps south of Indianapolis.    Believing it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, it’s reprinted here in full; but you’ll enjoy the rest of the blog, too.

God wants our participation in what He is doing.  But he doesn’t necessarily need our help.  Or our packaging of the Good News.

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

Yes, the non-capitalization of the third word in the title is deliberate.  I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized.  For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.

This god is good, but small and not very powerful.  This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful ((see I Corinthians 1:26-31).  That is why those who lead this god’s churches must attempt to change the foolish things into things wise in the ways of this world, and must change the lowly and despised things into things this world likes and respects.

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar.  The sweeteners  of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe.  Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help.  It’s not that they want to distort this message.  It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.

This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches.  These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age.  They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming.

This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

The pastor of [insert trendy name here] Church heads into his office Monday morning.  His first action is to check the numbers: attendance, giving, Google rank.  He soon begins to think of this week’s sermon and worship (or, if well organized, those of the weeks ahead).  He has 7 hours for that this week (it used to be 15, but that was before he took on more CEO type responsibilities).  How does he spend those 7 hours?  The options are basically these: exegesis, prayer, presentation, and practice.  Since his main concern (though he would never admit it) is to impress or at least interest the hearers, so that they feel good enough about the message that they continue to come (and hopefully invite friends), he ends up spending most of the seven hours on the last two.  After all, not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right.  But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience.

In similar way, the worship leader, taking his cue from the pastor, chooses songs based on the criteria of what the people will find enjoyable or “meaningful”.  Of course, he would never choose songs that are not scriptural.  But that leaves a lot of leeway.  He may try to coordinate the songs with the sermon and the other parts of the service.  But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend.  They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long.  The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them.  As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”

Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine?

This is the morass into which we have sunk.

-Daniel Jepsen

 

Related post:  The Misunderstood God

November 4, 2010

So Why Exactly Does Scandal Hit Pastors and Religious Leaders?

Mark Barger Elliott tries to deal with this question — “How can we clergy explain such egregious transgressions?”  this week on the CNN Belief Blog.   He feels there are two culprits, “the work and the person.”

Take the first one:

As a pastor I identify with the pitfalls of “the work.” Fifteen years ago I took vows “to love God, my neighbor, and to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence and imagination.”

Today, however, my job description reads like the director of a mid-size non-profit. A million dollar budget needs to be raised and a monthly payroll of 12 employees met. To tread the churning waters of shrinking resources and demands for excellent programs, I take classes on strategic planning as often as classes on the Bible.

As to the second issue:

How do we explain the moral transgressions of a profession charged to teach morality?

In my years as a pastor I have witnessed marriage vows made and betrayed. I have visited those in prison and those trapped in a prison they have made for themselves. I’ve prayed with the lost and the found, watched fortunes flow and ebb.

“Broken” is a word that describes many of the people I have been privileged to walk alongside as a pastor.

I have also spent a great deal of time with other clergy; from preaching stars who soak up acclaim for their oratory gifts to pastors in inner-city churches barely making ends meet.

The solution to the first problem seems more simple:

One option is to intentionally separate the clergy from the church’s financial matters. Teaching people about God’s love while shaking a fundraiser’s tin cup seems to ultimately undermine one’s credibility. People suspect a bait and switch.

I wish he had been given more space to flesh this out.    He identifies a tension here, but it’s just one, and pastors are stretched physically and emotionally in so many different directions.  Is the point financial responsibility specifically, or the inconsistencies of the job?

The second solution is not so easily dealt with:

Clergy typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who, in the face of the brokenness that surrounds them, come to identify their own brokenness and in humility choose to “live with the questions,” to borrow the poet Rilke’s phrase. This person is reluctant to offer quick answers to the hard questions of life.

The other camp is clergy who choose instead to offer confident solutions to life’s struggles. The clergy I have watched transgress their ordination vows typically fall into the second camp. The temptation is to shift from speaking about God to speaking for God. When that line blurs in a pastor’s mind, all bets are off.

On this point, I wish he’d had space to discuss the “personality” as well as the “person.”   I’ve heard it said that the very personality traits which cause someone to want to be in the pulpit are the very personality traits that leave them vulnerable to temptation.   (My personal belief is that anyone in business leadership, or in a position where they are “upfront” before a crowd of people is equally prone to the same conditions.)   The second paragraph above is certainly an interesting insight into how that might play out.

To me, this is the question all of us — laity and church staff — need to be asking each time we hear a story about another fallen leader.   And “hearing” is key, because we tend to focus here in North American on Canadian and American stories, but Elliott points out there are similar stories in Europe that we’re not always being told.

I also wish he’d had time to broaden out the ending.  While pastors have made vows to serve God vocationally, each one of us has promised to honor God’s name and serve Him with devotion.   The moral collapse of a Christian leader may make headlines, but when it happens to any one of us, it is not any less significant to God.

To read the full piece, in context, which I encourage you to do, click here.

Mark Barger Elliott is Senior Pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of Creative Styles of Preaching.

Comments left at the original article come from the widest possible readership at CNN and should be read with discernment.

“Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, but is usually the result of a slow leak. ” ~source unknown

September 17, 2010

Suppose I Were To Tell You…

I hesitated to write this.   Just three short weeks ago, I wrote about confession in general, and the website PostSecret in particular.    While it would have been more simple to devote that space to a discussion about why it is that we have this need to vent or get something off our chests, I wrote instead about the fact that this type of confession doesn’t really go anywhere beyond confession itself.   It lacks what we experience in a liturgical church service following the confession of sin:  The assurance of pardon.

Why am I returning to this subject?

Because this week blogger Mandy Thompson (who just this week, in the link list, we referred to as not that Mandy Thompson) offered her readers an opportunity to comment (in this case, confess)  anonymously beginning with the phrase, “What if I Told You…”

While this sort of thing may not be your preferred brand of reading — perhaps you consider it prurient or voyeuristic — I think that every once in awhile something of this nature bears reading; in this case for two very particular reasons.

First of all, these were Christian readers responding to the opportunity, not readers from among the general population.   In fact, a very noticeable percentage of them were pastors’ wives or pastors; something very reminiscent of Anne Jackson’s books, and her current Permission to Speak Freely book tie-in website.   Apparently, clergy families are in desperate need for an Ann Landers or Dear Abby page on which to bare their deepest hurts.

As we are all from time to time.

Secondly however, and this is why I’m linking to this today; at what I’m sure was  great personal emotional exhaustion, Mandy took the time to answer each and every response.   That’s with the number of comments closing in on 200.

What if I told you I’m impressed?

This is the blogosphere at its best.   When someone tells you that blogs are a waste of time, let them see what’s happening at MandyThompson.com, and then don’t miss some of her post-mail-avalanche comments that follow more recently.

If you’re a blogger, do you see what you do as a ministry?  Are there times someone left a comment that resulted in you taking on the role of counselor?  If you’re a reader, have you ever had a blog writer that you really connected with and received help from?    For either category, have you ever continued the dialog off-the-blog?

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme Blog at WordPress.com.