Thinking Out Loud

February 23, 2015

The City Guy at the Christian Camping Mini-Conference

Short StoriesAs I thought about tomorrow’s 7th anniversary for this blog, I started reading some of the early stuff. This one seemed worthy of a third time around…I think that many of our organizations and local churches would be different if we could take this to heart…


 

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event. He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer. He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things. They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions. Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner. Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie. Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan. He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else. However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities. The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him. But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and mineral levels, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued, “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?'”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but lime and phosphates, and how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?'”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this. In any organization there are people. Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff. Some work on the front-lines and interact with the broader community. But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through. All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us. All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds. Those first impressions count. The love of God needs to be something we wear on our faces. There needs to be a difference.

“The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world. We miss the moment. We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives. We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people. We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded. He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question: In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, originally published July, 2006

 

February 12, 2015

The Sin of Embellishment

Filed under: Church, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 am

Brian Williams NBC Nightly NewsNightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.

He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.

Some say it’s the end of his career.

For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.

But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?

By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.

Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.

Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.

It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.

We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.

So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’

February 10, 2015

A Great Reason for Becoming a Church Member

Filed under: Church, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Short StoriesPastor Henders shifted on his chair several times. It had only been two years, but he really needed to ask the church board to consider a replacement office chair. The one he had was less than ideal, especially after a full day of office appointments. Thankfully there was just one left to go. His secretary administrative assistant said that he was on time for the Allerbys, a couple that had been attending for about a year, and then announced she was leaving for the day.

Mark and Diane Allerby had said they were interested in church membership. This appointment would be quick, especially since the Pastor had found a way to fast-track the process. After some customary small talk with both of them, the balance of the first part of the conversation was mostly between Mark and the pastor, with Diane joining in later.

PH: You’re already getting this in a letter, probably arriving on Monday, but I wanted to thank you for paying for the classroom set of Bibles for the Grade Six class. You were quite generous.

MA: We’re glad to help.

PH: We got an even better deal and were able to purchase more than we expected with the money, so we bought some early reader Bible story books the Grade One class has been asking for.

MA: Glad it all worked out.

PH: So as you know, membership requires you to take the newcomers’ class, but we just started one two weeks ago, and once we start, we don’t add people to that group. So, although you didn’t come here directly from Maple Grove Church, I called their pastor last week and he confirmed that you were members there for ten years, so I think we can call this a transfer even though there’s the three years in-between; but first I needed this office appointment that we would have done either way.

MA: Did the pastor at Maple Grove say anything about us? [Shifts awkwardly] I mean, did he say to say ‘Hi’ or anything?

PH: Well, he’s only been there for four months. So he just went through the records and confirmed the duration of your membership. He said he thought the secretary, er, administrative assistant might know you, but she was off for the week.

MA: That would be Thelma. She’s been there a billion years now.

PH: I’m not sure exaggeration is scriptural, Mark.  Anyway, the main thing we always ask in these interviews is, ‘Why do you want to enter into membership.’  Everyone has their own reasons; at one point you had to be a member to sing in the choir, but nowadays nobody knows what a church choir is. Of course you need it to teach Sunday School or teach in the midweek programs, but not to volunteer for a non-teaching role.

MA: Well actually…we’re interested in sort of getting involved in the issues.

PH: I’m sorry, issues?

MA: Well, yes. We want to be able to be more involved in various issues and concerns that arise in the life of a church and be able to speak to those issues with an involvement that is best expressed by being actual members and not just attenders.

PH. That’s encouraging. Are you thinking you’d like to put your name forward to be on the board? I mean, usually people are here two years, but if you join by transfer…

MA: Well, not exactly. We just want to be able to respond to things in a way that only church members can.

PH: I’m not sure I’m getting this.

MA: Well, for example, if the church was heading in what we were considering an unhealthy direction on a specific issue, we could then pull our membership.

PH: [blank stare]

MA: But we can’t do that if we’re not members.

[at this point, Diane clears her throat to speak]

DA: Basically, Pastor Henders, right now, we have no leverage.

PH: Uh…

MA: Membership gives us the voice we don’t have.

PH: So basically, you want to join the church because it gives you the option of quitting the church?

MA: Yes, that would sum it up, I think.

PH: We do have membership votes on anything that is considered controversial, you know. You can vote for, you can vote against, or you can abstain. It’s not necessary to threaten to withdraw from membership if there’s something you disagree with.

DA: [mysteriously] But it’s far more dramatic.

MA: What my wife means is that it has more impact than if we were just attenders.

PH: But attenders don’t vote at those meetings at all.

MA: No, I guess they wouldn’t.

PH: Is this what happened at Maple Grove?

DA: [in a Mississippi Southern Belle voice] Well now, isn’t that just a lucky guess?

PH: And the church you just came from?

MA: No, we couldn’t get membership there, so all we could do there is threaten to leave. And we did.

DA: And then we did.

PH: But then, why not just do that here? If there’s something you don’t like you can simply threaten to leave.

DA: And then we would.

MA: But it would never show on any records. This way, we’re listed in the official church register as members one year, and the next year–

DA: [in a Kindergarten, sing-song voice] –Now you see us, now you don’t.

PH: Poof! [throwing his hands up in the air]

[Everyone laughs, except the pastor is clearly only pretending to laugh.]

PH: Okay [filling in form while shifting uncomfortably on chair] …’Reason for seeking membership’ …Joining… in order… to be able… to quit… being a member.

DA: It doesn’t get more committed than that.

PH: This form needs to be approved before we can include you our next membership Sunday. Right now I’m not sure–

MA: What about the Grade Four class? Someone said they needed a new classroom set of Bibles as well.

PH: Well we don’t expect one single family to pay for everything.

MA: Well see, there’s a policy right there we could take exception to. We could say, ‘Unless they allow people to throw their money around, we’re going to pull our membership.’

PH: [firmly] You’re. Not. Members. Yet.

MA: That’s just the point.

DA: Yeah, now you’re getting it.

To be continued, unless of course the Allerbys have some objection…

January 26, 2015

Encyclopedia of Modern Churches is Difficult to Read

Yesterday at Christianity 201, instead of using an excerpt from a book, I drew the day’s thoughts from a table of contents. I wasn’t given a review edition of the book anyway and was using a borrowed copy, and second, I had not looked at the individual chapters at that point. The table of contents is impressive supported our theme verse for the day

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor 12:4-7

We had a pastor who repeatedly said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsThe book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I did not quote index verbatim here, I just wanted to give readers there an overview. And it turned out there were more than ten churches covered; there are more than ten chapters! I combined a few, and warned my readers that listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churches
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine was generally positive. God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world. There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge among some adherents beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.

But let’s talk about the book itself.

I found this deeply disappointing on a variety of levels. Because I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto during some very formative years, I was looking forward to reading its listing in the section that goes beyond the author’s top ten choice, but after reading the first paragraph and turning the page, I discovered there was only a cursory listing for the additional churches.

Large sections of the book are copied directly from Wikipedia. While attribution is made for these, they appear in isolation, so the author then is forced to backtrack to give some of the chronology all over again. I guess if you don’t have internet…

Inexplicably, there are a large number of blank or mostly blank pages. At one point I checked to see if I was actually reading an advance reader copy (ARC) where information was waiting to be dropped in later. I was not. This was the finished book. I can see this as a style thing with the first ten chapters, after that it was basically a waste of good trees.

The book is very U.S.-centered. While there is mention of Peoples and four churches overseas, I can’t imagine a list of this nature, purporting to represent the most influential churches of the past 100 years not including Holy Trinity Brompton, which brought the world The Alpha Course.

There’s no mention of several prevalent styles. Because there isn’t a single church to represent them, a number of things are skipped over. One is the alternative, counter-cultural type of church like House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Or arts-based churches like (I believe) Mosaic Church in Hollywood. Another I would call prayer-based (or better, prayer-bathed) churches like the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A third would be the New Calvinist type of churches such as the Sovereign Grace churches with their deep teaching and modern hymns. And finally, if you want an anti-role model, if you’re talking churches of influence, you might even mention Westboro Baptist.

Because of the liberality of the mostly blank pages, churches like Peoples and the Crystal Cathedral could have and should have had their section extended. I should also mention that I have attended some of the churches covered here on more than a single occasion, and thought the chapters on Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel would present this history well to those unfamiliar.

Elmer Towns is no novice on this topic. Although the book is well footnoted, he also drew on his own memories of these churches including interviews he did with the major players during times of explosive growth. I just think the book suffered more in the planning, editing and layout stages; the transition from concept to finished product could have been refined to give interested readers more information and better flow.

January 22, 2015

As Christianity Loses Its Majority Status in the US

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework?  How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

January 19, 2015

Review: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ

Killed by the Church Resurrected By Christ - Rick AppersonIf someone decides to start something like Churchgoers Anonymous, I think I’ve just found your curriculum: Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ published by WestBow Press. Author Rick Apperson has had his share of strange church experiences. Remarkably, just weeks after visiting some of these congregations, the place would shut down. Someone suggested it was like having Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote show up at your front door, but clearly, none of this was Rick Apperson’s fault.

From Pennsylvania to East Tennessee to Croatia to British Columbia; and from Catholic to Charismatic to Congregational; Rick has seen his share of church governance models, worship styles, and quirky parishioners. But mostly he’s seen hurt, frustration, and disappointment. If anyone had the right to walk away from it all, it was him and the book’s final chapter should end with total rejection of faith in God.

But instead, Rick, later with wife Sarah, perseveres. We aren’t told what drives this desire to keep attending even in the face of lies and false doctrine, but he seems to always be willing to risk the vulnerability of starting from scratch in a new place of worship.

Despite the autobiographical nature of Killed by the Church, there is much teaching here and I would suggest that at 132 pages, the book offers more food-for-thought than books twice its size. What’s more, despite what some would consider the ‘in-group’ nature of a critique on the local church, it is presented in a very simple, very casual writing style that might actually resonate with that person you know who has walked away from weekly church attendance.

Most of the chapters in the book conclude with a section called “What I Learned on the Way to the Resurrection” where Rick does delve a little deeper into the life lessons underlying his personal journey. Then there is a section called “Taking it Deeper” which is a set of discussion questions that could be used in a group setting, but are also deeply personal to the reader.

I can’t say enough how much I think people who have abandoned church could identify with this book. However, despite the many ways that people in local assemblies may have wounded them, this book has a very positive spirit to it and could be part of their journey to healing.

…I’ve been following Rick’s blog, Just a Thought almost from its inception and have especially enjoyed the Five Questions With… series he runs with Christian leaders and authors. After years of association with Youth With A Mission, today he serves with The Salvation Army.

In the last chapter, just to show that God has a sense of humor, we learn that Rick and Sarah planted a church. Who better? 


Read an excerpt from chapter 2 of the book at Christianity 201.


Paperback 9781490853789 $13.99 US
Hardcover 9781490853772 $30.99 US

January 15, 2015

Missions Models: Paying the Staff

Ministry Salaries Deputation SupportWe continue where we left off on Monday and Tuesday with more of our missions theme. Today we want to look at how the actual mission workers — as well as people working for Christian parachurch organizations — get paid.

Salary – Several lifetimes ago I was hired by the publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was the warehouse manager for the Canadian operation, and to the best of my knowledge this was the only time in my life I was ever covered by a dental plan, though being young and carefree I never used it. They were probably the best organization I ever worked for full-time. I was also hired for three years by our local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and again, it was a fixed dollar amount, though I was basically subcontracted to them which meant not technically on their payroll. I also worked briefly for the Canadian Bible Society and again, the job included a guranteed pay rate, as did all the jobs in their head office.

Raising Support – Several times in my life I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with the too-often repeated phrase, “but you need to raise your own support.”  Sigh! Do they want me, my gifts and abilities, or simply to exploit my network? Some of these Christian organizations actually don’t have a cap on the number of people they will hire; if you have the support raised, you’re welcome to come on board. (The organization takes 10 to 20% off the top for ‘administration.’)

Base Salary + Donations – This one is a combination of the two above, and the place I’ve seen it practiced most often is with students working at Christian summer camps. They are promised a very conservative rate of pay which includes meals and housing, but can then do fundraising over and above that in order to increase their bi-weekly pay. Sometimes the donors remain on the camp’s mailing list long after the kids have left and the last canoe has been stored away, which can be a bit of a windfall for the camp long-term.

Deputation – This is a word used largely in the Evangelical community to describe the relationship missionaries have with the local churches that support them. It usually means that when they are home on “furlough” instead of having a season of sabbath rest, they spend their weekends driving around to visit those churches, hand out prayer cards, set up a table in the lobby with artifacts and possibly even preach the Sunday morning sermon. This guarantees that they will be kept on the missions budget for the following year. 

Bi-Vocational - We usually hear this term used in conjunction with pastoral ministry, as it’s a growing model. But anyone serving part-time in ministry and part-time with a ‘secular’ job qualifies. There are really two meanings to bi-vocational; sometimes it means two part-time jobs, but other times it may mean the ministry job doesn’t really pay at all. Despite this, the ministry job may actually have demands that leave the individual ‘on call’ 24/7. There’s a saying that, “When they have you part-time, they have you full-time.” You’re expected to be available at all hours.

You Pay Us – In many cases, the person working for the organization actually pays for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an organization like YWAM, its entry program, known as Discipleship Training School is really an educational opportunity, not anything resembling actual employment. Participants can do fundraising to cover the costs, or if they’re coming out of the business world, or a students who took a year off to raise funds to take any of YWAM’s schools, they might just show up on day one with their checkbook and pay it that way. However, in other organizations (i.e. not YWAM) the line between education and training and the need for people to actually work on the organization’s behalf is rather blurred. If you’re paying to sweep floors or do dishes, and that is the majority of your responsibility, then you have the worst of both worlds: It’s not a job, and you’re not learning anything.

Are there some I’ve missed? Probably. One faith ministry I worked for frequently gathered the staff together and announced that the payroll would be late that week. I was a single guy, but there were people working for them that were the sole earners in their family, with dependent children. That’s why I’m sure this story is incomplete; there are all manner of variations out there because, after all, “It’s the Lord’s work.”

January 5, 2015

Your Church Winter Retreat

My parents sent me to camp in the summers I was 13, 14 and 15; and then there was a seven-year gap before I started serving on senior staff of another camp for another four summers. At the end of the last year, I was invited to speak at yet one more camp and it was there I met my wife who was on paid staff there. We volunteered in subsequent years and our kids spent at least a week there for most of their pre-teen and teen years.

All that to say, I am a great believer in the power of camp ministry; getting people out of the city and away from comfortable, familiar surroundings and experiencing Christian community in a nature setting surrounded by aspects of creation that we miss in an urban environment. I like to feel that I write what I’m about to say with some authority or expertise, and while it applied here to a youth retreat, it also applies to similar winter camps experiences for men or women.

Basically, I was rather upset on the weekend to see a group of people who were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t that they didn’t choose a good facility, or have a good speaker booked, or (hopefully) offered the thing at a reasonable price (with assistance for those who might need it.)

No, my issue is that they went “away to camp” but basically took the church building with them. By that I mean, they brought all this:

Winter Retreat setup 1

Now then, having a great sound and lighting system is part of how this youth group rolls. I’ve actually been able to slip into a couple of their meetings a few years back — they were meeting at an abandoned night club at that point — and they create an environment that high school students and college/career love to attend, long-term hearing damage notwithstanding.

I would also suspect a handful of the kids invited school friends, and it was important to have a decent band creating lots of worship energy, so that those friends might want to attend something back at the church in subsequent weeks.

But this was a retreat, a time away in the outdoors. And most of the worship bands I know are quite capable of doing a very powerful acoustic set.

I think it’s important in a situation like this to play to the surroundings. With the pine trees, the snow, the rustic cabins, etc., you’ve got a hot element to offer so why compete with that with another element?

My suggestion would be that once you’ve contracted for the accommodation (food and lodging) and which outdoor sports facilities you plan to utilize, the next step is to absorb the expertise and wisdom of the camp’s or retreat center’s staff, and ask them questions like, “What have other groups done here?”

Furthermore, I would suggest that you not only leave the building behind, but in terms of the actual spiritual emphasis time leave the format behind. Exploit the natural environment of the place where your group finds itself.

 

December 23, 2014

Calvinist Manifesto

Filed under: Church, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:54 am

Recently unearthed, or it should have been:

 

“Our goal is to completely dominate Christian publishing and internet media so that anyone, searching out any topic related to scripture or Christian living will land on one of our publications from one of our authors connected to one of our churches which is linked to our parachurch and conference organizations; and all quotations contained therein will be from the ESV.”

I want to continue where I left off yesterday. Consider this a two-part year-end rant.

I don’t mind if people want to believe differently on issues such as Bible translations, women in ministry, eschatology (end times), whether children should partake of the communion elements, the role of the laity in church life, or a host of other subjects. God knew what he was doing and his divine providence, he seems to have left a variety of things open to interpretation. Working out your salvation seems to involve a certain amount of thinking.

What I object to is the attitude that overshadows everything else when it comes to certain denominational tribes.

The problem with being so preoccupied with being right, is that it comes across Pharisaical, or to put it another way, not very Christ-like.

But all that is symptomatic. There’s also the issue of the underlying cause.

Here’s what I think: Some people simply want to be in control.

The nice thing about having God in a box is that once you have God all figured out, in a sense Christian growth has been achieved, the only thing left at that point is to amass further knowledge. When everything is word-based instead of Spirit-led, you end up simply wanting more words, more background, more truth, more axiomatic principles; and then there is no place for experience, no room for the Holy Spirit.

This then manifests itself in different ways, especially in print and online, and one of those is a very troll-like attitude, where there is, as we showed yesterday, a quote from an author you regard as outside your particular fence, and, like the proverbial kid with the finger who wants to test the ‘Wet Paint’ sign, you simply can’t leave it alone.

You have to defend the brand at all costs.

And you have to be seen as a brand defender.

And you have to re-post every article or book excerpt by the other brand-defenders because then you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

My point here is this: Try to identify this when you see it and resist the temptation to become absorbed into this mindset, resist the tendency to end up becoming like them.

Having God all wrapped up may look enticing. Having a God you somewhat control may be self-satisfying. But eventually, God breaks out of the box and you’re left with the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. Because you never should have tried to contain him.


Related:

December 19, 2014

Defining Your Terms

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry ?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

???

Any other positions out there that bring confusion?

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