Stay tuned for live blogging from the conference next week.
Next week I'm sending two Urthlings, Marshall Shelley and Skye Jethani, to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. They'll be blogging live from the event October 8 - 10, and mixing it up with 15,000 other church leaders. Whether you’re at the conference or not, be sure to check Out of Ur and add your comments about the speakers, workshops, and frivolity.
Catalyst speakers this year include: Joel Hunter, Mark Batterson, John Burke, Scot McKnight, Matt Chandler, Andy Crouch, Reggie McNeal, Cathleen Falsani, Dave Ferguson, Efram Smith, Seth Godin, Andy Stanley, Ed Stetzer, Craig Groeschel, and others.
They've endorsed presidential candidates from the pulpit. Will the IRS respond?
This election season, a group of about 30 pastors plans to challenge the IRS law that prohibits churches from endorsing a political candidate from the pulpit. As part of the "Pulpit Initiative," organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, many of these pastors chose to explicitly endorse one of the presidential candidates as part of his Sunday sermon yesterday.
The pastors say that the IRS regulation violates their First Amendment rights by permitting the government to restrict the free expression of religion. The government should have no authority to restrict what a pastor says from the pulpit to his or her congregation, they argue.
Minnesota pastor Gus Booth, who encouraged his congregation to vote for John McCain yesterday, says, "If we [pastors] can tell you what to do in the bedroom, we can certainly tell you what to do in the voting booth."
On the other side, supporters of the IRS code also appeal to the First Amendment saying the church should stay out of political affairs, and those that choose not to should lose their tax-exempt status.
What Election Day might reveal about the hopes of evangelicals.
by Scot McKnight
Somewhere between 6pm and 8pm, Central Time, on November 4th, 2008, the eschatology of American evangelicals will become clear. If John McCain wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if Barack Obama wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented evangelical becomes depressed and hopeless because McCain wins, or if a Republican oriented evangelical becomes depressed or hopeless because Obama wins, those evangelicals are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.
Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on November 4? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn't matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.
Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.
Is a green-letter Bible the answer to our environmental crisis?
by Brandon O'Brien
Late yesterday afternoon, I received a copy of The Green Bible (HarperOne), and I'm not sure what to make of it.
The Bible is "green" in composition, which I appreciate. Its pages are made of 10 percent post-consumer recycled paper, the words are printed with soy-based ink, and the binding is 100 percent cotton/linen. It is certainly a good-looking book (that marketing sleeve comes off). And it smells nice. I wouldn't mind if my bookshelves were lined with cotton covers.
But to put things in perspective, Thomas Nelson released a "green" Bible printed on recycled paper - the first of its kind - almost a year ago. So it's not the composition but the content of HarperOne's ecologically friendly canon that makes it unique.
Before they make it to Genesis, Green Bible readers encounter an impressive roll of contributors, each offering a sermon or article on some aspect of creation care: "Reading the Bible through a Green Lens" and "Knowing Our Place on Earth: Learning Environmental Responsibility from the Old Testament" for example. There's a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an introduction by Matthew Sleeth, poems by Francis of Assisi and Wendell Berry, and articles (mostly reprinted) by Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, N. T. Wright, and the late Pope John Paul II, among others.
But what truly sets The Green Bible apart is that it's a "green-letter edition." It's akin to the New Testaments in which the words of Jesus are printed in red. Except in this case, "over a thousand references to the earth and caring for creation" appear in green ink. While there are certainly more instances besides the highlighted ones that would have applied, the editors tell us in the prefatory material, they have chosen only those "speaking directly to the project's core mission."
Doug responds to the "death" of the emerging church terminology.
In this video, Doug Pagitt explains the relationships between the terms emerging, Emergent, and "emergence." It strikes me as trying to decide which layer of the Incredible Gobstopper is the actual Gobstopper. But you should decide for yourself.
An overused and corrupted term now sleeps with the fishes.
by Url Scaramanga
"The emerging church will disappear." That is what my informant told me as we shared drinks at our clandestine watering hole. I felt like Luca Brasi being handed a dead fish wrapped in newspaper. The hit had been ordered?the emerging church's fate had been sealed. In my informant's mind, the death of the emerging church was a settled matter. I double-checked my surroundings for listening ears before whispering, "How can you be so sure?" The informant (who worked for a publisher) leaned forward and said their marketing plans included dropping the "Emerging Church" brand within two years.
That was two years ago.
Now comes word from recognized leaders and voices within the emerging church movement that the term has become so polluted that it is being dropped. Consider Dan Kimball. He wrote the book on the emerging church - literally. His 2003 book, The Emerging Church, reintroduced the term into the evangelical lexicon. In Kimball's blog post from last week he writes:
Although I am finding that the term [emerging church] has become so broad now and so confusing, it is very important to know that I am not by any means stopping being involved and pursuing the heart and mission of what the term "emerging church" originally meant. At least in how I was personally using it when I wrote the book 6 years ago.
New research says people are looking for "sacred" buildings.
On the heels of David Gibbons' interesting thoughts on the way many churches squander their resources on underutilized buildings, Matt Branaugh has this piece over at LeadershipJournal.net. Apparently, if you're going to throw your church's money into a building, make it a sacred one. -Url
Does "sacred" space appeal to or repel the unchurched? A recent survey probed 1,700 unchurched American adults, putting photos of four different church exteriors in front of them. Respondents indicated their preferences by allocating 100 points across the four images, based on the appeal of the appearance.
The Gothic look averaged 48 points, more than double the next-highest finisher, a white-steeple-and-pillar exterior that averaged about 19 points. The other two churches, with more contemporary looks, averaged 18 points and 16 points, according to the study, commissioned by Cornerstone Knowledge Network and conducted by LifeWay Research.
So should churches opt for the cathedral look as a way to attract the unchurched?
Rethinking our stewardship of the church's space and staff.
by Dave Gibbons
We are witnessing what some are calling the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. The McKinsey Global Institute has shown how assets are moving primarily from Europe and America to the oil countries of the Middle East and the manufacturing giants of Asia.
At the end of 2007, these oil producing countries owned about 4.6 trillion dollars of assets. That's about 1.6 times the whole economy of the UK. The six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are receiving 1.5 billion dollars a day. Those are pretty staggering numbers.
Our "dangerous dependence on foreign oil" and the transfer of wealth it is producing, is moving both political parties to emphasize a new green agenda. This includes new technologies, further exploration into alternative energy, clean energy, drilling off-shore, and conservation.
As we consider conserving energy resources for environmental and economic reasons, maybe we should reconsider how we steward our resources in the church.
Sometime last year, a short passage of Scripture lodged in my brain. It's been rubbing and needling there ever since and challenging the way I think about ministry.
The passage is from Isaiah 42. Describing Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the prophet says: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." These beautiful snapshots of compassion and tenderness bring to mind the ministry Henri Nouwen describes in The Wounded Healer (Image, 1979). They present a vision of Christian service that suits my personality. That's why I find it so troubling how discordant this sentiment is with the following words of Jesus: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
To put the matter bluntly, this offends my understanding of authenticity. When I think of someone being "real," I usually have in mind that said person behaves the same way around everyone. He's confident "being himself." That's what makes the TV doctor House so endearing. He's a jerk, sure; but he's a jerk everywhere and always. He's so authentic. And, because authenticity is such a central cultural value for people my age, it's easy for me to adopt the mantra, Be yourself. If you're nothing else, be real. But Jesus - he interacted with some people in one way and others in another. That's the textbook (if junior-high) definition of "inauthentic."
"It's not an issue of whether or not we should engage moral evil and politics, but is it our primary job? It's not the main job of the church to be running the government or to influence legislation. The main job is to live out the kingdom. I feel like some Christians put the political cart before the kingdom horse. Christians in America differ very, very little from the broader American culture. We're almost indistinguishable. I'm focused on getting my congregation to live out radical kingdom principles 24/7. If we get that done, I think we'll have a lot of clarity about how to engage the culture, including politics."
-Gregory Boydis pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Taken from "Body Politic" in the Summer 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.
Former suburbanite David Swanson reflects on ministry in the big city.
by David Swanson
Pulling up to a busy intersection recently, my wife and I were startled to see a car with its rear windshield shattered. Out of the damaged car leaped a man with a baseball bat, yelling and chasing the two apparent perpetrators. As we slowly drove by, my wife reaching for her phone to call the police, we saw into the back seat where a young girl sat trying to make sense of the chaos that had erupted around her. Arriving at our apartment three blocks away I became aware of an emotion I hadn't felt in a long time: fear.
Three months after moving into Chicago from one of its affluent suburbs, we are still getting our bearings. Is it the Mexican or Polish market that has the better produce? What time is too late for my wife to take a walk by herself? How long will it take to get from the church office to my lunch meeting via the Blue Line? We expected these kinds of questions. Unanticipated, however, was the proper response to shattered windshields and guys with baseball bats. I knew the transition to life and ministry in the city might be tough, but this tangible sense of fear came out of left field.
Our eight years of suburban life and ministry were not without fear, albeit of a different kind. I oftentimes worried about the effect of affluence on our congregation. Anxiety about spiritual formation in a landscape of individualism and crass consumption is enough to keep any pastor awake at night. Conversations with friends and suburban colleagues often centered on pursuing the way of Jesus while being surrounded by the deep-seated values of safety and comfort. You could say my fear was of a spiritual nature: I was anxious about how suburbia affected our souls.
If you live in a suburban or urban area, you have probably asked and answered these questions countless times. The follow-up question is meant to uncover something about your conversation partner that can't be learned by hearing which faceless suburb he or she inhabits. But at the rate Americans continue to move, this follow-up question may not elicit a better answer.
According to a USA Today report last fall, nearly 50 million Americans - more than 16 percent of the population - moved in 2006. Mobility increases during inclement economic weather, which is one reason why during the late 1990s the rate slowed to pre-World War II times. Though 2008 data has not yet been analyzed, we can expect the moving rate to increase given the high number of home foreclosures.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently connected this trend to the Republican and Democratic nominees for President. Sure, you know Sen. Barack Obama lives in Chicago, and Sen. John McCain lives in Arizona. But do their places of current residence tell you anything about them?
"People cannot tell the difference between a conservative evangelical message and Rush Limbaugh, or a mainline Protestant message and Howard Dean. Because of the media, any news item related to a major social issue...is politicized in 24 hours. By the time I get up to preach about it on Sunday, it's been spun and polarized a hundred times over."
-Efrem Smithis pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Taken from "Does Your Preaching Touch Politics" in the Summer 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.
Visionary preaching taps into people's innate longings.
by Bryan Wilkerson
As men and women created in the image of God, believers are designed to become like Christ in ever-increasing measure. Effective, biblical preaching taps into this innate longing by helping people envision what God created us to be in Christ. This is the definition of visionary preaching.
Visionary preaching is not content merely to instruct people in the ways of God, or to confront the sin in their lives and the world, or to exhort believers to do better and try harder. Visionary preaching empowers people to pursue God's better future by painting a vivid and compelling picture of that future with words, images, and stories.