Thinking Out Loud

December 12, 2013

The Christian Service Spectrum

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation?  What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

November 18, 2013

Were Strange Fire Participants Caricatured?

First of all, I want to start a rumor that John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference was actually a misspelling of its original name, Strang Fire Conference, named after Stephen Strang, the publisher of Charisma Magazine. I think with all that’s gone on before, during and after the conference, this story has as much plausibility as anything else.

Second, a question: Am I the only one who found the presence of Joni Eareckson Tada at the even somewhat unsettling?  I mean, I’m sure that over a lifetime she’s been besieged with people wanting her to “claim her healing.” Who wouldn’t want to see someone of her profile get up out of that wheelchair and walk? But Joni is more than a movie and a paperback biography. Her writings on various topics have earned her the right to be heard as a serious theological author, and if she falls on the cessationist side of the dispensational equation, so be it. I still find her inclusion in the conference…unsettling.

But mostly today, I want to direct you to an article at Desiring God (well, there’s a first for this blog!) dealing with what John Piper may have been quoted as saying, or characterized as saying, and what he really believes about spiritual gifts. Here’s a sample:

John PiperAt the conference, Piper was characterized as open to the gifts but not advocating for them or encouraging others to pursue the gifts themselves. This is a misunderstanding, says Piper. “I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31, ‘earnestly desire the higher gifts.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1, ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might prophesy.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39, ‘earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.’ I want Christians today to obey those texts.”

And Piper seeks to obey those texts himself. “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to “say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24–25 happens.”

For years John Piper’s words dominated the Christian blogosphere. I never quite got that. I think he’s still worshiped as some kind of God by various hyper-Calvinists and militant Reformers. But let’s set all that aside today, and consider the possibility that the man offers a great deal of balance on this issue.

Continue reading Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos at Desiring God.

August 3, 2013

Who Plays “Supply Teacher” At Your Church?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:39 am

Preaching - Cake or DeathI’ve mentioned before that I have my feet firmly planted in two different churches.

This summer, the one church is repeating something they started last year where some of the (mostly) younger people in the church are being given a chance to step up and preach the Sunday morning sermon. It’s a great opportunity for these guys (and one woman) to hone their Bible study and leadership skills. As a group, they’ve studied sermon development and have done some practice teaching for each other. The results are usually spectacular: Great messages with both background and application.

The other church is entering into a couple of weeks with the pastor away. They have a list of usual suspects who do pulpit supply, but it seems like both ordination and ministry credentials are required. The pastor prizes education of all kinds; and you are much more greatly esteemed simply by taking a course. As someone committed to lifelong learning, I think courses are most helpful, but unfortunately what I do here online is informal and carries no similar recognition. In this church there is also a smaller pool of potential candidates, but certainly several who are capable.

Meanwhile, back at the first church, they are about half-way through the summer schedule, and while I celebrate what they’re doing, the execution of the plan there is — with a couple of exceptions — somewhat guilty of ageism. Most of the participants are under 35, if not 30. That’s the target. This church is fairly large, and growing, and the list is significant not only for who it includes but who it leaves out.

At North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Andy Stanley is constantly developing a roster of younger leaders. But when he is away — as he has been this summer — the sense you get is that despite the modern mega-church’s penchant for marginalizing older people, his pulpit supply list reflects a mix of ages, and doesn’t skew as young as the one in our town does.

In some ways I can’t complain. I have actually spoken at that church on Sunday morning over a dozen times when I was on staff there, and have spoken twice at the second church. But it frustrates me beyond belief to think that perhaps those opportunities from a previous decade may never return.

Mid-life crisis defined, perhaps?

I was torn with what to do tomorrow, but decided to help out my wife’s worship team at the second church; even though I’d really like to hear what the young man does at the first church. I’ve seen him in a couple of ministry situations, and I know it will be excellent.

It’s just hard to be sidelined, and realize that a generation of newcomers doesn’t really know who I am and what I am capable of. I guess I simply recognize my gift of teaching, and as time slips away, hate to see it under-utilized. But really, it’s more than a desire to be “the guy at the front of the room,” what I call a “gift of teaching” is more a “passion for sharing.” I wrote here about how I like to introduce people to ideas and resources they might never have considered, and with each passing day, I feel I’m better equipped to do this than I was the day before. 

Sigh! 

But while I want to celebrate what a particular doing is to foster the next generation of leadership, this is also a lament that more churches aren’t doing the same. Many people are greatly strengthened through sermon preparation. They need to be doing such things, or similar things, and your church needs to hear them share their gifts and ministry.

So what about your church? Especially those of you in small(er) church settings: Who fills in when the pastor is on vacation? What is being done to help lay-people mobilize their spiritual gifts?

Image: Cake or Death (click to link)

January 30, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Moses Tablets

This week’s linkelele (you pronounce it like ukelele).

  • Kent Shaffer has gone back through ten years’ worth of charts from The Church Report and Outreach Magazine and has compiled a list of 493 churches to watch on the basis of growth, influence, innovation, church planting and sheer size.
  • This is the one not to miss: The principal figures in the Chick-Fil-A /LGBT conflict last year get together at Dan Cathy’s invitation to Shane Windmeyer and Shane ‘comes out’ (in a different way) at Huffington Post to explain why his organization has dropped the boycott of the fast food restaurants. [HT: Kevin]
  • As a pastor, Andy Stanley was impressed with the ‘pastoral’ side of President Obama following the Newtown tragedy. But when he called him the ‘pastor-in-chief’ many people took it out of context
  • Bobby Schuller is the new television pastor for the Hour of Power, but understandably, donations have dropped.
  • Rick Apperson scores an interview with the 29-year old Liberty University vice president Johnnie Moore, author of Dirty God.
  • And now it’s time for … wait for it … a clergy fashion show. What are the hot trends for clergy vestments this spring?
  • Nadia Bolz Weber is somewhat disappointed that snarkyness and sarcasm aren’t spiritual gifts. Dont read this; click the player to get the audio. (Warning: The church’s yoga classes are mentioned in the sermon.)
  • The man who gave the Christian world talking vegetables has relaunched the Jelly Telly website as Club Jelly Telly, a subscription based site with more than 150 hours of video for kids for only $5 per month. They’ve also added all of the content from the What’s In The Bible series… 
  • …And at his blog, Phil Vischer’s weekly (Tuesday) podcast has a special guest, an associate professor at Wheaton College with a specialty in Christian Education who may or may not have given birth to Phil many years prior. (You’ll just have to listen.)
  • Flashback video of the week is from the veteran ‘Rock ‘n Roll Preacher’ from the Jesus Music days; Chuck Girard sings the much more mellow song Lay Your Burden Down.
  • And speaking of the Jesus People days, another veteran, Kelly Willard is still performing, set to do an Orange County coffee house in February.
  • The 15-year-old son of a former Calvary Chapel pastor has been charged in a murder that included the pastor, his wife and three children. 
  • In a video made months earlier, former Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids) pastor Shane Hipps previews his now-available book Selling Water By The River. A fuller book rundown is available on the Relevant Magazine podcast.
  • Add a link of your own — insert a recent Christian blog story in the comments…
  • Looking for more?  Visit the Friday Link List at fellow Canadian Kevin Martineau’s blog Shooting The Breeze by clicking the icon below for a recent sample.

Favourite-Links-Friday

January 26, 2013

Defining Charismatic

Yesterday afternoon, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate.

But Michael Patton, ever analytical, had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.)

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very  expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart.  (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Read the entire article here.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense.  Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4)  The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact.  Good comments on the blog, too; one more time here’s the link.

December 11, 2012

The Gifts We Bring

On October 30th, I was a guest blogger over at The Master’s Table, the blog of Clark Bunch. I decided to pick up on the ‘table’ theme and used that as a springboard to look at what it means to add value or substance to a situation where we find ourselves; the issue of conflict and unity in Christian community; and creating ministry environments and community where everyone is given a voice. You can read by clicking here, but I’ve also reproduced it below.

What Do I Have to Bring to the Table?

I don’t do a lot of formal meetings in the course of a year, but when they come up, I like to arrive prepared. If there are multiple people involved, sometimes I will say nothing for the first twenty minutes, looking for the idea that’s being missed, the implication that’s not being considered, the parallel to another situation that’s not being remembered. Then I will interject something that I feel is helpful. I want to make a contribution, not simply nod in agreement or call for the vote.

When moderating comments at my blog, I often tell people I’m looking for “value added” remarks. Something that furthers the discussion. If you attend one of those churches where the pastor still goes to the back door as you’re leaving, you’ve probably heard people say, “Good sermon;” the way the kids on the midget soccer team bump fists with the opposing team and say, “Good game.” It’s all very pleasant but it doesn’t say anything. Try something like, “As you were dealing with that chapter of Romans, it reminded me of this passage in Hebrews where…” Your pastor will probably collapse in shock. Adding value is a way of letting everyone know that you “get it.” That you’re willing to take it to the next level.

In a circle of Christ-followers, people will speak of “the gift of encouragement,” but true encouragement is more than saying “Good game;” it’s about building people up. When I was a weekly worship leader in a local church, I once asked our congregation, “What do you have to remember to bring with you on Sunday mornings?” Some people teach children and have to bring their lesson plan. Most bring their tithes and offerings. Some bring a casserole dish (full) for the church potluck or a similar container (empty) that they’re returning to someone who brought them a meal when they were ill. However, sometimes I think we need to bring a word, a thought, a concept, a scripture verse that will encourage someone, or the overflow of a book we’ve read or a sermon we downloaded that we can’t help but want to share with someone receptive.

Bringing something to the table is intentional. It’s part of a type of table fellowship where everyone gives and everyone receives. It’s about making the people who come in contact with you leave richer because you connected.

The problem that we have as Christ-followers sometimes is that nobody wants to make waves, or be the one who is simply rocking the boat. We want to avoid the friction created by challenging traditions and norms, so we tend to make contributions that we feel lead toward consensus. We’re basically asking the question,

Are We All on the Same Side of the Table?

One of the features of the Christian blogosphere is the way things tend to get very polarized. Issues become black-and-white, and people who postulate a different interpretation or a different take on one individual element of doctrine are immediately written-off.

The point is here is that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should be able to entertain differences while at the same time affirming our overarching unity in Christ. I can read something on Clark’s blog that I feel is totally wrong — and he on mine, though I can’t possibly imagine what it would be — and perhaps even suggest in a comment that not everyone shares his view. But I click back to see what subject he’s covering the next day.

Too many times in the body of Christ we shoot our wounded. The bottom line is that we all “see through a glass darkly.” We’re not going to be on the same side of the issue on every item on the agenda, but the person with whom I disagree the most at this moment may prove my greatest ally ten minutes from now. I think that’s also why it’s important to ask ourselves,

Is There Room at the Table for Others?

I love the equal opportunity that the blogosphere offers. People can, in fact paint graffiti all over my walls if they so desire. I see people coming and going all the time and in many respects, this ought to be the model of all Christian community, with what we call church (i.e. weekend services and midweek events) being but one expression of that community.

That’s why I love the vulnerability of pastors who have Q&A times at the end of their sermons. It invites even the first-time visitor to have a seat at the table and there’s nothing at all that they can state or ask that God’s Word isn’t capable of responding to. No comment or opinion cannot be deflected with the same ease that Jesus, when they were ready to stone him, demonstrated by disappearing into the crowd.

We don’t have to defend the body of doctrine by excluding people from the discussion; because ultimately, it’s His church, not ours; it is the master’s table.

August 11, 2012

A Field Guide to Pentecostals and Charismatics

Found this in my recent overhaul of my files. It was printed in 1978 by Jesus Outreach Ministries in Fairmont, West Virginia. I don’t believe any sarcasm was intended, rather they were trying to make the Charismatic environment more user-friendly for visitors.  I only deleted the bottom section because the person who gave it to me had written on it.

March 13, 2012

Thoughts on Church Life (1) – The Pastor

With the number of people in my community who have graduated from Bible College and Seminary, there are, for all I know, people who are capable of preaching a better sermon than the pastor.

There are probably a handful of people who are just as good, or better, than the pastor is at administration and organization.

I know for sure there are some saints in the crowd who have what even the pastor would admit is a deeper walk with God, shaped by experiences of life in The Spirit.

There might even be an elder or board member who excels at listening, at counseling or has a better bedside manner when it comes to hospital visits.

There may be many with a deeper prayer life.

A handful whose spiritual pilgrimage reflects a depth of experience in worship.

A good many who are more handy when something in the church needs fixing.

A measurable percentage who are better singers.

A few whose kids are better behaved, whose relationship with their spouse is more harmonious.

There might be a lot of people who can do individual things that the pastor does better, and possibly they know it, and probably he knows it, too.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter at all.

The pastor is the one that is set apart. While others focus more on career and success, his focus is the life of the local church, what God is doing in the Church at large, and interpreting the world through the lens of pastoral vocation.

He doesn’t have to do it best, but he has been set apart to do it all.

Others can excel in various areas, but he has a unique calling and mark upon his life.

He is set apart.

November 28, 2011

A Refreshingly Different Guest Speaker Contract

While logging into my blog this morning, I checked to see how we were doing on Christian Blog Topsites — yes, I do check stats now and then — and noticed that Supernatural Truth was registering a very high number of visitors for such an early hour.  (The link is to their homepage, the blog link is below.)  I decided to investigate Art Thomas Ministries a little more closely.

He’s obviously a Charismatic — his book, published by Destiny Image, is titled The Word of Knowledge in Action — and it’s easy for non-Charismatics to jump to conclusions when they see spiritual gifts and evangelists on the same page.

So I decided to check out his page labelled “Financial Compensation.”  If you haven’t been party to guest speaker contracts, it’s a very dark world, not unlike the dark worlds in the video games my kids are forbidden to play.  Like rock star contracts.  M&Ms in the dressing room with all the red ones removed.  A pre-service snack with three types of imported cheese.  A minimum three star hotel.

I was figuring, here’s the catch, this is the page where I roll my eyes and click away to something else.

Instead, I found this:

Financial Compensation:

The most common and obvious question I receive from pastors and ministry leaders who invite me to speak is in regard to financial compensation for ministry.  What do I charge?  What are my expectations?

The answer is very simple.  All I ask is for simple travel and lodging to be covered.  If food can be included, that’s a blessing.  Outside of these, I do not request any payment whatsoever.  If a church can provide beyond these, then I consider it a blessing.  But nothing is required.


Travel:

If the church or event is within a half-hour of my home (in Plymouth, Michigan), I do not need any compensation for travel.  If traveling by car, I will usually come with my wife and son.  If the church or ministry cannot afford lodging for all three of us, then I will be happy to come alone. The current “business” rate-per-mile is preferred.  If distance requires air travel, then I’m happy to travel alone.  Economy class is fine–I don’t need any special treatment.  If I do travel by air, I’ll need someone to receive me at the airport and provide for my return.


Lodging:

If the church is within a one-hour drive of my home (in Plymouth, Michigan), then I’m happy to commute for each day of meetings.  If, however, distance requires lodging, I am happy to sleep on the floor of a tent in the church’s backyard.  Anything beyond that is a blessing!  I do not have a problem staying with a host-family or sleeping at the church.  I would, however, like to be able to shower so as not to offend the visitors!


Food:

I can be happy with peanut-butter and jelly, three meals a day.  Anything more is a blessing.


In Summary:

While some of these statements may have seemed like humor on my part, I truly do mean them.  I care more about ministering and representing Jesus than I care about my own personal comfort.  I lived for twelve days in the bush of Uganda, traveling about an hour each day down muddy roads with three of us on one motorcycle.  No electricity.  No running water. The least accommodations in America can surpass that in quality.  My desire is to love the Church rather than be a burden to my brothers and sisters…

Well that was refreshingly different.  So, okay; now if this is true, and he means this, which I Cor. 13 tells me you have to accept at face value, then this guy could not only have a blessed ministry, but he could change the world.

I mean that.

BTW, he also has a blog, and the most recent post on this morning was a very lengthy piece about the verse that says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” (I Corinthians 14:33.)  I know that disorder is the first thing most mainline Protestants or mainstream Evangelicals think of when we picture a church bringing in a Charismatic or Pentecostal guest speaker.  But he addresses this issue in a balanced way, and I encourage you to read it.

I’m sure there are d1scernment ministries (spelling mistake intentional to avoid attracting certain types of comments) who would love to spend a quiet afternoon jumping all over Art Thomas’ doctrines and theology, although personally, I have more sympathies for the spirit-filled crowd than most of you imagine. But if you hold your fire and simply examine his financial compensation page, which is all we’re asking you to do today, you find something rather faultless, rather blameless.

And it needs to be held up as model.  For all of us.

August 29, 2011

Mark Driscoll’s Visions

Okay, I missed this one. But sometimes there are advantages in arriving late to the discussion. Especially when other people may have missed it, too. 

Mark Driscoll made a video in which he described how in counseling sessions, he sometimes ‘receives’ a picture of things the counselee isn’t necessarily sharing.  What some charismatics might call a ‘word of knowledge’ which Driscoll mistakenly calls a ‘gift of discernment.’ If Mark were an Assemblies of God minister, I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelash at this announcement. But Mark is generally seen sitting in the Reformed section of the church, so this raises all kinds of issues that non-Pentecostals haven’t seen hit so close to home.

Nor does it stop there. The nature of some of the images, or impressions, or visions that Pastor Mark has seen are, for lack of a better word, explicit. All of which led Phil Johnson at Team Pyro to refer to it as Pornographic Divination. No, Phil, tell us really think.  The link gets you nearly 300 comments and begins with this intro:

In a post last week, I pointed out that the preposterous claims, unhinged behavior, and spiritual quackery that are so prominent at the charismatic movement’s lunatic fringe are by no means limited to the outer edges. Goofiness and gullibility are necessary byproducts of a belief system that fails to take seriously the principle of sola Scriptura and its ramifications (i.e., the authority and sufficiency of Scripture).

So we know — actually we knew – where the bloggers at Pyromaniacs stand on revelatory supernatural gifts. But as I said earlier, this time the issue has come home to roost.

I remember years ago trying to nail down a definition of the “Charismatic Movement” that began around 1970, and someone much smarter than I said that it was a seeking after a deeper experience with God or a deeper experience with the Holy Spirit characterized by “a manifestation of spiritual gifts occurring in denominations which heretofore had no history of those gifts being operative.”

Now, I am not the president of Mark Driscoll’s fan club.  But what do you when someone has a supernatural word given to them? Do we say, “That turned out to be true, but they didn’t get it from God.” What if it’s a healing? Do we write it off to, “the meds kicked in” or some more earthly explanation?

I think Phil Johnson raises some valid issues. But I’m also convinced that in the Christian pilgrimage, some issues are simply not so black-and-white. Bloggers often want to be liked, and I know my desire is often to say, “I agree with him and I agree with her;” but I truly believe in the plausibility of Mark Driscoll’s story, and the conviction of Johnson’s trashing of it.

Problem is, I wasn’t there; I didn’t see what Mark saw. Whatever it was, he is giving God the credit. Whatever it was, the people at Team Pyro are not. The battle lines are drawn, and not a single Assemblies of God or Charismatic pastor started the fire.

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