January 30, 2008
Religion has become a political weapon in America, and in the church.
With the presidential campaign in full swing, politics has been a more frequent issue on Out of Ur, but that does not fully account for our interest in the subject. This time around religion is playing a much more prominent role in the debate. Leading candidates for the GOP include a Baptist minister and a Mormon. And on the Democratic side, all of the candidates are speaking much more openly about their faith in hopes of attracting disenfranchised evangelicals. The use of religion as a political weapon is the subject of a new book,
The God Strategy. Brandon O'Brien, Leadership's new assistant editor, gives us a brief review of the book, and wonders how church leaders can avoid being manipulated.
Given my age and childhood in the South, I cannot remember a time when being a good Christian did not require being a devout Republican. I accepted the situation as a matter of course until I realized that Republican politics has no corner on virtue. The Republican platform opposes abortion and defends family values. But the Democratic platform seems more sympathetic to the poor, orphans, and widows - as is God. As a result, until we vote on ballots that allow us to punch our position on issues, rather than select the name of a politician, I'm not sure whether to vote Republican or Democrat.
It may not be news to some of you, but I was encouraged to discover that my political confusion is representative of a historical confusion among Christians. According to David Domke and Kevin Coe, authors of The God Strategy (Oxford Press, 2008), it was only in the 1970s, after integration and Roe v. Wade, that Christians and Republicans began going steady. Since then, the authors argue, Republicans have had greater success than Democrats in employing the "God strategy" to curry the Christian vote.
Continue reading The God Strategy...
January 28, 2008
"In the modern world, we tend to reduce the complexity and diversity of the Scriptures to simple systems, even when our systems flatten the diversity and integrity of the biblical witness. We reduce our sermons to consumer messages that reduce God to a resource that helps the individual secure a reduced version of the 'abundant life' Jesus promised. And the gospel itself gets reduced to a simplified framework of a few easily memorized steps."
-Tim Keel is the pastor of Jacob's Well in Kansas City, Missouri. Taken from "An Efficient Gospel?" in the Winter 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
January 24, 2008
Can the hermeneutics quiz really determine your view of the Bible?
As expected, the blog has been abuzz with people's opinions about Scot McKnight's hermeneutical quiz in the new issue of Leadership. Some of the heat is coming from the assumption - primarily by those who have not seen the quiz - that it is a scientific instrument of high precision and accuracy. That was not McKnight's intention when he created the tool. He writes in the introduction:
This quiz is designed to surface the decisions we make, perhaps without thinking about them, and about how we both read our Bible and don't read our Bible. Some will want to quibble with distinctions or agree with more than one answer. No test like this can reveal all the nuances needed, but broad answers are enough to raise the key issues.
Earlier we posted the scores and responses from three Leadership contributors. Today we have another. John Ortberg has taken the Hermeneutics Quiz and scored 68 - on the borderline between Moderate and Progressive. His comments about the quiz are below.
Continue reading John Ortberg Takes the Quiz...
January 21, 2008
Scot McKnight creates a tool to uncover our biblical blind spots.
As you read this, the winter issue of Leadership is hitting mailboxes. One of the more provocative features of the issue will no doubt be a hermeneutics quiz created by Scot McKnight. The issue's theme is, "Is Our Gospel Too Small?" To help answer that question, we invited McKnight to develop a simple tool to assist church leaders in diagnosing their own biases and blind spots with Scripture. In the introduction to the quiz, McKnight says:
I'm curious why one of my friends dismisses the Friday-evening-to-Saturday-evening Sabbath observance as "not for us today" but insists that capital punishment can't be dismissed because it's in the Old Testament.
The quiz is comprised of twenty multiple-choice questions designed to surface the decisions we make, perhaps without thinking about them, and how we both read our Bible and don't read our Bible. Here are a few sample questions:
The Bible's words are:
A. Inerrant on everything.
B. Inerrant on matters of faith and practice.
C. Not defined by inerrancy or errancy, which are modernistic categories.
Continue reading The Hermeneutics Quiz...
January 17, 2008
The key to bridging the generation gap between church leaders: massive quantities of coffee.
David Swanson is back with the second half of his post about working with a church leadership team dominated by Boomers. He believes there are a few simple strategies that can help a younger leader not only survive in a Boomer church, but even begin to influence the congregation toward change.
This morning I met one of our church leaders, a self-identified Boomer, for breakfast. We talked about the tendency for younger leaders within established churches to eventually leave for greener (more exciting, more like-minded, more missional) pastures. As one who has remained, I shared how lonely it can be as a young leader whose priorities and passions are often not shared by the congregation or its Boomer leaders.
I imagine loneliness is not a unique experience among young leaders. Not long ago a youth pastor in his twenties visited me from out of state. His first year in ministry was going well, but he was beginning to feel like a fish out of water in a church dominated by older leaders. After commiserating, I shared with him the limited wisdom I had gained from working with Boomers.
Continue reading Disarming the Boomers (Part 2)...
January 14, 2008
One sociologist says Willow Creek’s research may not be as revealing as we think.
The research conducted by Willow Creek and published last year in the book REVEAL: Where are you? has generated a great deal of conversation on this blog. Some have heralded the findings as conclusive evidence that Willow's popular philosophy of ministry is fatally flawed. Others have applauded Willow for the courage to be transparent about its shortcomings and seek more effective methods of making disciples. While the discussion has been stimulating, most of us lack the credentials to offer anything more than a layman's opinion about REVEAL. But not Bradley Wright. He is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, and has written an 11 part analysis of Willow's study on his blog. Wright has summarized his take on REVEAL below.
When I go to my physician for a check-up, he starts with a series of simple tests - shining a light in my eyes, looking at my throat, listening to my breathing, and so forth. If the results of these don't seem right, he then orders more sophisticated tests, such as blood work, a biopsy, or x-rays. I would hope that he wouldn't cart me off for surgery or chemotherapy based solely on the initial, simple tests.
This illustrates how we might think about the REVEAL study conducted by Willow Creek Community Church. As described in the book REVEAL: Where are you?, this study collected data from about five thousand respondents in seven different churches. Its results have caused quite a stir. Critics point to them as evidence against the Willow Creek model of ministry. In the foreward to the book, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, describes the findings as almost "unbearably painful." The findings of REVEAL, he writes, "revolutionized the way I look at the role of the local church." Coming from as successful a pastor as Bill Hybels, this is a powerful statement.
Is such a strong reaction warranted? I would say probably not, and here's why...
Continue reading REVEAL Revisited...
January 9, 2008
Can a younger pastor bring change without getting blown away?
Let's be honest. The distance between the Boomers and Busters isn't just a generation gap - it's a generation gorge. The cultural, technological, and philosophical shifts that have occurred in recent decades have given these two generations fundamentally different perspectives. Although some younger pastors have abandoned the Boomer church to launch their own communities, there are many struggling to serve side by side with the older generation. In part 1 of his post, David Swanson shares the lessons he's learned as a younger pastor attempting to bring change on a team dominated by Boomers.
In his letter introducing me as a new associate pastor to the congregation, the senior pastor included the Apostle's advice to his young apprentice, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). I was 25 years old and, while it was a nice sentiment, the verse hardly seemed necessary. Five years later it is clear Paul's words were more than a kind gesture; they were a hint at the reality to come.
The generational gap between myself and those I was leading quickly became perceptible. As long as my energy was primarily spent maintaining ministries, the difference between the Boomers and me was negligible. It was when I began asking questions about our ministry strategies and effectiveness that Paul's councel took on new significance.
Continue reading Disarming the Boomers...
January 7, 2008
Can a church support a presidential candidate without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status?
The race is on for the White House and it began with excitement last week in Iowa. Tomorrow it's New Hampshire's turn, and on February 5, "Super Tuesday," near half of the country will be voting to select the Democratic and Republican nominees. With one of the most open races in recent history many Christians are still undecided, and some are looking to their church and pastors for direction. Should the church wade into the murky waters of politics? And if it does what is the risk? Allen R. Bevere, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Ohio, and contributor to RedBlueChristian.com, has written to share what a church is legally allowed to do in this political season.
The Associated Press has reported that several pastors in Iowa, who have publicly supported Governor Mike Huckabee for President have received anonymous letters warning them that their churches are in danger of losing their nonprofit status. The fact that the letters are anonymous means that they are probably from someone opposed to Huckabee, who wants to silence these ministers who support him.
There is great misunderstanding, even in government, as to what tax-exempt status does and does not mean in reference to what churches are and are not allowed to say and do when it comes to politics and elections in particular.
First, for some history:
Historically there was no law in the United States restricting any church or other nonprofit organization from endorsing or opposing a candidate for political office.
Continue reading Politics from the Pulpit...
January 2, 2008
Should the church be striving for excellence, or is it time to abandon the loaded term?
Last year I met with a team of leaders from my church. Our task: to rethink and rearticulate the guiding values of our congregation. The work was relatively easy. Upon investigation we determined that most of our core values hadn't shifted. We still believed in the centrality of relationships to ministry, our bent toward creativity, and the importance of participation. But then we came to "excellence."
For years our church has listed "excellence" as one of its core values. Support for this word, if not the idea behind it, has been slipping for years. A growing number of leaders are uncomfortable with excellence for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common objection is that it's a more subtle way of saying we are perfectionists. Others object that the word is off-putting to people in the church that cannot achieve "excellence." It's exclusionary.
Defenders of the term say it has nothing to do with perfectionism or elitism, but a desire to "do our very best for God." And one person's very best may differ significantly from another's, but both are upholding the value of excellence. In the end the decision was made to change the articulation of the value and drop the word "excellence." But what word should we use?
Continue reading An Alternative to “Excellence”...