Thinking Out Loud

April 22, 2015

Wednesday Link List

He Has Risen

Link List Returns to Previous Format

The return of the Wednesday List Lynx

The return of the Wednesday List Lynx

There were just a few comments on the blog on Saturday, as well as a few that came in on the comment form, and by email; but the general concensus seems to be that you prefer the shorter link teasers over the article excerpts, so as of today, we’re back to that format.  In case you missed it, we’re no longer being carried at PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal. Then again, the Christianity Today family produces some great stuff, and while I avoided too many internal links, you’ll now see more CT links to things at sites like Gleanings, Leadership Journal, Her-Meneuitics and CT itself. 

Warning: We started this new chapter with a bang! There’s a lot of links here…

Brian Doerksen's Music Ministry students at Prairie Bible Institute weren't allowed to use the word "nice" when critiquing a song, but they wanted him to know they thought he was a 'nice' teacher.

Brian Doerksen’s Music Ministry students at Prairie Bible Institute weren’t allowed to use the word “nice” when critiquing a song, but they wanted him to know they thought he was a ‘nice’ teacher.

April 14, 2015

A Letter to the Pastor

Filed under: Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

The Lost Voice ProjectDear Pastor,

I know we’ve never quite gotten together as I had hoped we would, but I kinda had to write this letter to you today.

I think you are quite familiar with the work I do in the next town over, and because of that work and the nature of its environment, people tend to dump a lot of their stories — especially church stories — on me. I guess they feel it’s a safe, neutral place; a sort of ecclesiastical Switzerland.

Anyway, some of the stories are about your church, but that’s not a big deal because given the numbers, there is bound to be some restlessness and dissatisfaction out there. There are stories about several churches, though a few seem to be somehow exempt. I don’t really expect Pastors and church leaders to put a lot of stock in what the critics might have to say anymore than you would expect me to give a lot of weight to comments people leave on my blog. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore them.

But then again, I’m writing you a letter, aren’t I? So there must be something troubling me.

Here’s the deal. I don’t personally believe that people get hurt by this church or that church. But people do get hurt by people in a church. Sure, sometimes it’s about the sound system, or the parking lot, or the color of the new paint in the Fellowship Room; but more often than not it involves a fellow human. People say things and do things and while some people are thick-skinned, some people are not, and there is always going to be some hurt and wounding in any institution, especially one which operates with a volunteer army and a presupposed adherence to the highest of ethical and moral standards.

Honestly, I’ve probably done my own share of the hurting. Wait, not probably, definitely. I was on staff at a local church once and the way the story is told, I got rather firm with a student who was helping out on the sound system after a particularly mistake-filled first service, and told him we really needed it better for the second service. Apparently he was quite hurt. I’m told he didn’t come back. I don’t remember him not coming back. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot of this story; it all got told to me years later. Ouch!

My point is, a lot of the stories I get told about your place of worship come down to one person. One guy. One individual. He’s a member of your church board, or deacons, or elders or whatever you call it your denomination. He’s a bit of a one-man wrecking machine.

On the other hand, he’s probably among the people in your church you are closest to. You and your wife probably socialize with him and his wife. He probably gets things done at a board level. You can count on him for support. You can’t imagine him being cast in a negative light.

Here’s the thing: Over the course of many years, because of him, you’ve lost a lot of good people. People who, if you added them all together, had so much to give to the life of your church. We’re talking a cumulative loss that’s worth more than whatever benefit you might see from one single leader.

At the end of the day however, I can’t be more specific. It’s all just random noise from the discontented being vented to a third party. But I think that, after many years, I’m a good judge of character. I think I can discern the sincerity of those dumping their stories on me, and it resonates with my own impressions of the person in question.

I hope you can connect the dots at this point and figure out who and what.

Sincerely,

Paul.


Though the format today was different, today’s piece continues The Lost Voice Project, a continuing series of articles about people whose circumstances have resulted in their contribution to the local church being diminished; their voices not being heard.

April 7, 2015

Now The Student Has Learned More Than The Teacher

In my life I have been privileged to lead people into a prayer of commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It happened at a Christian camp, and at a concert, and I believe in one other church-based setting as well.  I say ‘I believe’ because all these incidents were a long time ago. While I probably have more ‘ministry’ hours in my days than ever before — and have more to offer now than I did back then — I am rarely in or near what would be called ‘the delivery room.’

discipleshipInstead, I connect people and resources, and connect people to other people who can aid them in their Christian walk. While I don’t have any formal mentoring relationships with the people I serve, I try to be an encourager and aid to their spiritual formation and discipleship. My passion for apologetics is far from a passing interest, and I enjoy being on the “front lines” of ministry; yet most of my contacts are people who have already crossed the line of faith.

Sometimes, these people grow in their faith to a point where I have to be totally honest and say they have surpassed me.

There is no particular shame in this. There is nothing wrong with being the middle school math teacher of the kid who grows up to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics. It happens. I suspect there are lots of elementary, middle school and high school teachers who have stories of former pupils who have gone on to greatness.

Still, there is a certain strangeness associated with the point in the relationship where the person just doesn’t need you like they once did.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they pray. You can tell if they’re moving toward the cross. You can tell if they have a faith that is deepening. I’m thinking right now of some people whose background was a mix of various ideas and faith traditions. A sort of leftover soup of doctrines and experiences, or if you prefer an audio metaphor, a theological cacophony. Or maybe just a faith that was swerving all over the road.

I wasn’t the only one in their lives. But I tried to be there to answer questions or correct misunderstandings.

It didn’t take long. I could tell. You can tell a lot about people by listening to them praying in a group setting. They were getting it. Before long, their spiritual identity was more set. I don’t use that word ‘set’ randomly. In The Mind Changers, a classic book on the spiritual decision-making process, Emory Griffin compared the process to candle-making with three distinct phases: Melt, Mold, Make Hard.

Before long these people were stepping up to take leadership positions in the church they attended. And then they didn’t need us anymore…

…Sometimes in church life we have students who surpass their teachers; people who simply flourish spiritually and exceed the ones helping them. That’s a good thing. While gratitude to the ones who helped us take our first spiritual steps is a good thing, I don’t think anyone is expecting the Physicist to return to the middle school teacher for help solving complex equations.

I think at that point, you do what I’ve done, and move on and find the next person who needs your help. Like the clerk at the fast food counter, you can say, “Can I help who’s next?” (My wife and I hate that phrase.) You find someone who needs you. Right now I’m thinking of someone whose walk with the Lord is growing by leaps and bounds, but if anyone is keeping score — and God isn’t — I’m always going to have something to offer simply by being more well-read.

But that doesn’t count for much eternally speaking. If you want a better barometer of how far along people are, I would say for a third time, you can tell a lot about people’s spiritual depth by how they pray.

 

Disclaimer: Today’s post is a mash-up of a couple of things, including an article that was going to appear yesterday but was pulled at the last minute. Some people referenced here are composites of various individuals and situations.

March 2, 2015

Martha’s Busyness vs. Mary’s Devotion

Today’s post appears courtesy of Christianity 201

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most of you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that — I hope groups don’t get named like that today — it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. (Select part 5.) We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.  Do the tour!

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…

February 7, 2015

Weekend Link List

gospel-reading

Our theme for our opening and closing graphics today is literacy. I really like the fact that the creator of this graphic realizes that kids are going to encounter all types of literature and that each potentially contains elements of truth and/or elements of deception. Does knowing the Bible well give kids an edge when it comes to discernment? I think it definitely can. (Click the image for source.)

Here are the weekend stories appearing at PARSE.

  • Lessons from the Altar Girls Controversy – David Murrow would be well-versed on the broader topic, so he picked up on this story right away. “Girls were excited to begin serving at the altar back in the ‘90s. But once girls became the majority (and performed so well) boys began losing interest. So more girls stepped forward. Eventually altar service became a female-dominated activity. At this point no self-respecting boy wanted to have anything to do with the altar because it was seen as something that girls did… Star of the Sea [parish] also noted that girls generally did a better job than boys – which further discouraged boys from serving. Boys are intensely competitive. Once a male realizes he’s no good at something (or a girl is better than he is) he often feels like quitting.”
  • On Church Being Fun – This is an excerpt from John Piper at a recent conference. “I think one of the reasons so many worship services in America are so playful and amusing and entertaining and casual and flippant and jokey and trifling and downright silly is that there is so little sense that anything ominous is really at stake in this service. This service is for secure believers to have fun and for unbelievers to see them have fun; so they will know Christianity is fun. And “fun” has become the most common word among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. It’s very telling. . . .” There’s also a link to the full transcript and video, but also, at the same blog there’s this discussion on ‘Jovial Calvinism.’
  • Church Culture: The Welcome Card – “In other cultures (often far from our own), communicating through a card would be an affront, impersonal if not rude. Newcomers are welcomed only through a gracious and lively conversation, one that elicits all the information the welcome card seeks: name of spouse, names and ages of children, whether the visitor is new to the area, and so forth… And then there is the box next to ‘Would like to know more about being a Christian.’ You just don’t say that to the stranger sitting next to you in the pew, not in this culture. But on this welcome card, you can hint at your sense of emptiness, your guilt or shame, your fear of death — and your desperate hope that there is an answer.”
  • Things We’re Not Supposed to Think or Say – “We need to dialogue about common doubts evangelicals often feel they’re not allowed to express.” Sample: “Both Jesus and Paul held progressive views about women. In the cultures of Jesus and Paul, men were not even supposed to speak to a woman in public. The fact that Jesus included women among his followers was nothing less than scandalous. While scholars disagree on Paul’s view of women overall, Paul clearly credits women as leaders within the church…”
  • That TV Commercial Festival They Kept Interrupting to Show Football Scenes – “Of course, the art of advertising is to make the audience associate something positive with their product. It doesn’t matter if you put a sexy woman next to a big sandwich or a powerful looking guy in the driver’s seat of a car. You want the audience to make subliminal associations between the product and what people really want… Unfortunately, there isn’t much about our culture that makes it easy for us to have the things that really matter to us… People are the only things in the world that can give other people what they deeply, truly want. We cannot substitute a product for a person.”
  • Christians, Groundhogs and Superstitions – “We also need to remember that Christians are not immune to superstitions either. Often, without even meaning to, we behave in a superstitious way. For example, if $6.66 pops up on a cash register while buying groceries, some Christians freak out and ask to pay another price. Christians might cross their fingers (to make a cross), an old Christian superstition, for good luck and protection. Or a bride might not want her groom to see her before the wedding so she doesn’t bring bad luck into the marriage.”
  • Conversations After Church – Read a synopsis and watch a 2-minute preview of a forthcoming documentary: “Six ordinary individuals, committed to the church and seeking to serve God, encounter a dark night of the soul moving them beyond organized religion through the door of a personal faith crisis. What started out as a mounting tension between personal experience and the old forms of faith and community forces each individual to radically reexamine their worldview and change their lives to move beyond the fragmentation.”
  • Secret Church Simulcast – The next installment of David Platt’s Secret Church multi-site live events happens near the end of April. This one deals with the topic of the church and culture. “How does a Christian respond to the rapid rise of so-called same-sex marriage and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality? How does a Christian live in a world of sex slavery and rampant pornography, a world where babies are aborted and widows are abandoned? How does a Christian think in a culture of pervasive racial prejudice and limited religious liberty? What does a Christian do in a church that exalts prosperity amidst a world of extreme poverty?” On the technical side, all your church needs to host this is a reliable, high-speed internet connection. On the commitment side, you need people willing to stay up until midnight! Costs vary by church size.
  • The Eclectic Jewish Community in Wal-Mart’s Hometown – “‘The fascination in the Bible Belt with who we are and what we believe is amazing,” said [Rabbi} Lennick, who developed a ‘Taste of Judaism’ course to address the locals’ desire for knowledge. ‘I’m constantly invited to teach church classes. I look at this as an opportunity to break down stereotypes and build alliances.’ Interfaith families, and even non-Jews, often attend services at Etz Chaim. Some come to expand their understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, while others are seeking new answers. In the latter category is one family of 10 — with kids ranging in age from 9 to 24 — who came to Lennick as devoted Baptists. After asking a lot of questions, they have become regulars at Etz Chaim and are now pursuing ‘becoming Jews by choice,’ as the rabbi put it.” Read about the strange, interfaith, syncretistic world of religion in Bentonville.
  • From The Archives – (By internet standards, February three years ago constitutes ‘archives.’)  “Since some are saying that we are entering a period of heightened tension between clergy and laity in the American church, it might be helpful to recognize some areas in which we might diligently work in our understanding of each other...Pastor and people need to work hard at communicating at a heart level to get each other…”
  • Can’t Get Enough of Me? – Check out my other blog project, which is growing at a time that many blogs are waning. Daily devotions and Bible study since April, 2010:  Christianity 201

It would probably take shelving on this scale to hold all the books in my personal library…what seems like a blessing could be a problem if we decide to move.

My Library

January 23, 2015

Seeing a Counselor No Longer Considered a Sign of Weakness

Therapy for Healthy People

I never quote here from the NIrV, the simplified (children’s) version of the NIV, but somehow it seemed appropriate:

  1. Matthew 9:12
    Jesus heard that. So he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.
  2. Mark 2:17
    Jesus heard that. So he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to follow me.”
  3. Luke 5:31
    Jesus answered them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do.

I grew up in a culture where only people who had mental or emotional problems sought professional counseling. Anyone in my elementary or high school who admitted to having an appointment with a psychologist would be treated like a leper, and as I got older, there was a certain stigma that remained attached to having a need for a mental health professional.

Recently, however, I’ve been listening to sermons and podcasts and reading books by respected Christian authors who freely admit regular — usually weekly — visits with their counselor, including pastors of some of the very largest American churches.

The stigma of the past just isn’t there now.

I’m not sure if this has more to do with the level of detachment we feel in modern society and therefore simply need someone to talk to, or if it has more to do with the possibility we’re more messed up than previous generations.  Or perhaps because we now speak in terms of having a life coach the process is just a little bit less mysterious.

Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde looked into this two years ago at Q blog. Rather than take the easy way out and advocate for therapy as a preventative strategy, they suggested that we’re all messed up one way or another.

Good therapy is challenging and costly, because it exposes both the depths of your woundedness and the extent of your sinful self-sabotage…

When we go to therapy, we admit—at some level—that we don’t have life figured out, that blind spots erode our sense of vision for ourselves and others, that our motives are mixed. To say, “I’m in therapy” takes courage, because we’re admitting we don’t have it all together. And that is a rare admission these days…

We may spend years avoiding our pain, avoiding our stories, avoiding our subtle forms of self-sabotage and relational sabotage. But when they catch up to us, therapy is one way God uses to awaken us…

In a subsequent article — now offline — LaLonde returned to the blog with some practical steps for people to take in selecting a counselor. He admitted that some offer quick fixes, while with others, it takes a few weeks to feel comfortable sharing your inner self with that person.

But probably the best thing articles like this accomplish is to remove the longstanding association between counseling therapy and more severe mental illness.

So then what do we do with our opening? Is it only the sick that need a doctor? Well, either Jesus was wrong, or perhaps we’re all just a little more messed up than we think. After all, in the context of the statement — repeated in all three synoptic gospels — Jesus is Himself the doctor and for all the various types of emotional, social, mental and spiritual wholeness we need; more than anything else, we needed a Savior.

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 18, 2015

Weekend Link List

Dan Phillips thinks that for many these are the doors to the ideal church:

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Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

It turns out there are some links that ran at PARSE that we never posted here on Wednesday. So… here’s a weekend edition of the Link List; there are also some fresh links at PARSE you can read by clicking here, including a story about Karen Kingsbury becoming a university professor!

    • He Had Me With The Opening Paragraph – “I’m sitting in a donut shop.  I’ve been here many times and nobody has ever complained about this place, saying, “This donut shop is too donuty.”  It’s a donut shop; so you expect it to be donuty. No one ever said that a sporting event was too sporty, a library too booky, a concert too musicy, an airport too planey, a home too homey, a college too schooly, or a hospital too hospitally. Yet, I hear all the time, ‘That church was too churchy.'” A good reminder of our priorities, though I think you double the ‘t’ in donutty.
    • No I Haven’t Read the Latest Leadership Book, But I’ve Seen the Movie – Now you can actually say that: “We have all heard ‘leaders are readers’ but even though we know it’s true we just don’t have enough time to read the books we really want to. Our passion is to help other pastors and church leaders become more productive and effective. We do that by making short and fun video summaries of leadership books.” You can get that from a new subscription service at Ministry Library.
    • On Vanishing Numbers – Though using only anecdotal evidence, Wil Mancini’s conversations with leaders all seem to point to a single emerging trend: Church attendance is declining because of a decline in the frequency of attendance by members. “What does this mean? Simply that people who used to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.” He then offers some counter-moves churches can consider.
    • Sunday Choices: Church versus Watching the Big Game – “People have been skipping church for centuries. And though we may think we’re busier today than ever before, we should remember that in agricultural societies, harvest season sometimes interfered with attending church to the point congregations would gather for prayer in the fields. Pastors and church leaders expect congregants to miss from time to time due to health reasons, vacation, or occasional conflicts. But skipping church for football rubs pastors the wrong way, perhaps because they sense an inherent competition with the event itself.” Trevin Wax on worship attendance and guilt. (Also, some poll results at CT’s Gleanings page.)
    • Becoming The People We Have Despised – Benjamin Corey: “As I write in my forthcoming book, Christian Outsiders, once we begin to draw our identity from a Christian label instead of Christ himself, we quickly find ourselves in a destructive cycle of needing to police the borders of that label – correcting, chastising, and expelling those who cross outside of the lines the label has drawn. While fundamentalists and Evangelicals do this, progressives do it too – and I find it exhausting to deal with. Progressives do this mainly via the Progressive Twitter Police – folks who are probably well meaning, but have failed to realize they’ve just crossed over into a different kind of fundamentalism.”
    • The Military Model Church – David Murrow: “Have you heard about the church that’s building itself on a military model? It’s led by a general — not a bishop. Their clergy are not referred to as pastors, priests or vicars – instead it’s captain, major, colonel and commander. Officers go through seven years of training and are barred from earning outside income. This church even tells officers whom they can and cannot marry.” Okay, I think we know there is headed, but then he ends with a teaser that leaves me waiting for part two.
    • On Women and Girls Who Don’t Dress for Church When They Dress for Church – “I’m not sure if you’ve ventured into a Forever 21 or Abercrombie and Fitch lately, but being a young woman with a commitment to modesty and purity isn’t easy. Marketers aren’t pushing girls toward the ‘respectable apparel’ that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy but toward the opposite. If the girls in your church are going to live like Christ has called them to in this area, they are going to need reinforcements. Care for her heart, first, through love and Bible study, but then help her give teeth to what she’s learning by venturing with her into the mall with ideas and encouragement.” However, the author says you don’t start with confrontation or with that shopping trip, but rather you start with an open Bible.
    • It’s Not Just Megachurch Pastors – “Clearly, ‘lifestyles of the rich and religious’ doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis. The pontiff has said it ‘breaks my heart’ to see priests and nuns driving the latest-model cars. He’s blasted ‘airport bishops’ who spend more time jet-setting than tending to their flocks. And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the ‘psychology of princes.’ The Vatican fired one such ‘prince’ last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — aka ‘The Bishop of Bling’ — who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad. (Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricey.)” A photo-research story from CNNs revamped religion page.
    • Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Every once in a while I find something online that literally leaves me without words. I waited more than a week wondering what to do with a couple of websites dedicated to help married couples learn the routines of “Domestic Discipline,” where the “Head of Household” (read: husband) disciplines (read: physically) the other partner (read: wife). I offer it to my readers as an internet curiosity first and foremost, and secondly as a glimpse into the world of some (adjective desperately needed here) Christian marriages. Reporting definitely does not imply endorsement.
    • One (really good one) for the road – “24 Things World Christians Wish North American Short-Term Missionaries Would Quit Doing” from the Pathways International blog, Becoming Indigenous.
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