Thinking Out Loud

October 6, 2012

Knowing When It’s Time To Quit

A year ago at this time I wrote an open letter to Harold Camping congratulating him on exercising the wisdom to step down from his ministry following several errant end-of-the-world predictions. While it may seem harsh, I then addressed a few other letters to Christian leaders I felt should do the same.  I feel the need to share those again, but this time around I want to follow up with some other material which had appeared here earlier the same month.


Dear Pat Robertson,

I have always greatly respected you ever since reading your early biography Shout it from the Housetops as a much younger Christian. You don’t know this, but one night while you were still in the old Spratley Street Channel 27 studios, I was in your office and sat in your chair; and the next day was privileged to watch The 700 Club from the control room. You’ve played a big role in my life and taught me much about both faith and media.

But like the letter above, I’m wondering if perhaps it’s time to step back from the microphone and the camera and allow God to work through others. Remember that story in Shout It… where you were doing a telethon and God told you to, “Get out of the way”? Well, perhaps we’ve reached a similar juncture. Many of your recent pronouncements have been unusual to say the least, and I suspect even some of your staff are concerned. You built a great broadcasting network and a great university, and you’ll always have my respect for that. I just want to see the story end well.

Sincerely,

Paul Wilkinson.


Dear Jack Van Impe,

You have been relentless in your pursuit of relevant television ministry, especially where the prophetic writings of scripture intersect with the pages of the local newspaper. Your awareness of current events coupled with your Bible knowledge have given you a unique voice among Evangelicals.

But lately, you’ve been somewhat seduced by the writings of Noah Hutchings, who I guess is also trying to stay attuned to what’s going on in the world, but has lately focused his attacks on other Christian pastors, writers, organizations and ministries. You know, we need to be discerning to some extent, but we can’t spend valuable television airtime attacking each other, especially in a public forum. You’ve run a good race, but perhaps it might be time to step down before it all ends badly.

Sincerely,

Paul Wilkinson.


Dear Fred Phelps,

By now you’ve seen the above three letters, and you’re probably thinking that I’m going to advise you that perhaps it’s time to step down as well, right? But really, step down from what? Your ‘organization’ consists of only a handful of mostly family members, and truly gives new meaning to the term, ‘a tempest in a teapot.’

While you are semi-skilled at getting media attention — which says more about the need of print and electronic news organizations for the sensational than it does about the content of your message — the scope of your ‘tribe’ represents such an infinitesimal percentage of Christians in the United States that it’s amazing that even the most news-hungry reporters still bother sending a film crew. You’ve had more than your fifteen minutes of fame, and every American with either a television or a newspaper subscription knows who you think God hates. It’s too bad you never considered using your immense media platform to actually preach the gospel; the story that begins with, “For God so loved the world…”

Sincerely,

Paul Wilkinson.



Serve God When You’re Young… and Ready

I’ve written before, including this article, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game. We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young. And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.

But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do. But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.

So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full.

However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me. So…

To the young:

  1. Take the opportunities as they present themselves. Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
  2. Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
  3. Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
  4. Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.

To the old(er):

  1. Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job. Now get over it. The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way. In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
  2. Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored. Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
  3. Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism. Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
  4. Become a translator. Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”

Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.

Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?

The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter

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March 8, 2012

A Message to Elder Evangelical Statesmen: Retire Graciously

I’m not sure the mystery writer known as Bene Diction has connected the dots on the last three (almost) consecutive posts that ran on his blog on March 6th and 7th. To me the common theme is inescapable.

First, we have John Piper make pronouncements as to the message behind the run of tornadoes in the U.S. heartland that left dozens dead and thousands homeless. This is nothing new. Piper is required to have a take on everything. It’s in his job description. Just as sure as the morning DJ on the local radio station will fill time between commercials pontificating on the events of the day prior, so also does JP feel compelled to weigh in on everything from soup to nuts.  Bene D links to Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk, who in one of his most heated posts ever, spares no words to express his disdain for Piper’s analysis:

After directly attributing these devastating, death-dealing storms to the sovereign, all-controlling God, Piper comments on what he might be trying to teach us. Despite his own warning — “We are not God’s counselors. Nor can we fathom all his judgments. That was the lesson of Job. Let us beware, therefore, of reading the hand of providence with too much certainty or specificity.” — Piper goes on to read three lessons in the storms:

  • Like Job, we should just submit and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • We should heed Jesus’ words in Luke 13:4-5 and take every storm as a divine warning to repent.
  • We should not think that God’s people themselves are exempt from such judgments.

This is a pastor’s message in the immediate aftermath of a terrible disaster.

How comforting. How helpful. How sympathetic. How sensitive. How pastoral.

Not.

But then, a day later, Bene D. reports on the firing of three family members from the Crystal Cathedral/Hour of Power; a media ministry conglomerate now just a shadow of its former self. Lesser people would have waved a white flag at this point, but apparently the church and its television broadcast are soldiering on.  Bene links to the Orange County Register:

…On Sunday, Sheila Schuller Coleman is expected to give the sermon.

Meanwhile, the Hour of Power program, which once reached millions of viewers across the world, will replay previous episodes for the next few weeks while leaders “determine a new direction for the show.”

“Organizational changes affecting ministry leaders are never easy to make, especially when it involves individuals who have devoted their lives to this ministry and have served with great distinction,” John Charles, president of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board of directors prayerfully deemed was necessary in order to make a change in direction for the ‘Hour of Power’ and reverse recent declining donations and viewership.”

Five other individuals were expected to lose their jobs in the reorganization.

“Because of privacy concerns, we won’t identify them,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

This is the latest shake-up for the troubled ministry. Last month, Schuller Coleman was removed as the chief executive officer and president of the Ministries and replaced by Charles, who had previously held different positions with the Cathedral.

Then, on the same day, Bene D. reports the apology (sort of) from end-of-the-world date-setter Harold Camping, with the spin emphasis on the people who delved into Bible prophecy as a result of his flawed prophetic calendar. For this, he links to the Family Radio ministry website via Strang News:

Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way. In the months following May 21 the Bible has, in some ways, come out from under the shadows and is now being discussed by all kinds of people who never before paid any attention to the Bible.

Do you see the connection? All that’s missing is Fred Phelps and the guy who was going to burn the Qur’an, whose name we have thankfully forgotten.  

Ministry organizations and individuals who have contributed greatly to the spiritual life of many have a sell-by date, and it’s time to disappear graciously and start writing memoirs. Memoirs that can be edited by others, as opposed to media statements and blog posts which appear all too quickly.

I say this with empathy. Having already reached an age where I have been sidelined from certain activities — worship leading is apparently now a young man’s game — I know that being silenced is not easy to take. But in the case of the men and women at the center of these three stories, it’s necessary.

Time does not permit me the luxury of fleshing out this topic as fully as I would like, but perhaps some of you can continue in the meta. Meanwhile, I want to add one extra story.  James Alexander Langteaux is a former senior producer for The 700 Club, who is the author of the forthcoming (April) book, “Gay Conversations with God – Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God who Loves Us All.  In an interview with Phil Shepherd at Huffington Post, he’s asked how he thinks his former boss, Pat Robertson will react when he comes out of the closet in a major way:

“…Well, after the uproar that resulted from Pat’s comments of dementia being grounds for abandonment in a marriage union, I’m not sure that really matters much…”

In other words, in Langteaux’s eyes, Robertson has already lost his voice.

Joining the dots in Bene Diction’s stories, John Piper, the Crystal Cathedral and Family Radio have lost their voices, too. 

Just as today’s younger communicators need to earn the right to be heard, the elder statesmen of the Christian church need to see that the ‘wisdom of age’ is not a respect automatically granted. Rather, it needs to be proven on a regular basis by statements that continually reflect that the person in question is wise.

In the end, the only expiry dates on credibility in ministry life are the ones we create for ourselves.

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