Church leaders are focused on best practices and missional theory, but what really matters is often overlooked.
by Skye Jethani
At any given moment we are each engaged in three dramas, but only one of them ultimately matters.
First, there is the drama of the practical. These are the events and measurable conditions that surround us every day. For many church leaders the current drama of the practical involves the economic crisis and keeping their ministries solvent. At other times the drama of the practical is about increasing attendance, launching a new program, or financing a building campaign. Those men and women who learn to master the drama of the practical are often the most revered and celebrated. They know how to get things done so we buy their books, attend their conferences, and listen to their advice.
But there is a second drama that many practical actors ignore - the drama of the theoretical. While we are busy living our lives and doing our ministry, there is a deeper drama informing and guiding our decisions. This drama of the theoretical is where our assumptions and beliefs are at play; where our often unspoken philosophy of ministry is behind the scenes pulling the levers and pushing the buttons - what we believe about the church, mission, culture, and theology. Those with more reflective faculties are able to speak and identify this drama of the theoretical in a way many practical dramatists simply cannot. For this reason, as my college professor used to say, they often find themselves writing about the world rather than running it.
Most pastors and church leaders, as well as the resources created to help them, are primarily concerned with these two dramas - the practical and the theoretical. What should I think and what should I do? For this reason we often ask secular experts in the practical and theoretical to help us lead our churches. But we deceive ourselves if we believe these two dramas comprise the bulk of our life or significance. Because behind the drama of the practical, and far deeper than the drama of the theoretical, there lies a third drama more powerful than either and whose outcome controls them both - the drama of the eternal.
On my bookshelf here at my Leadership office is a growing collection of books about intentional living--about new friars and new monastics and communes made up of multiple families under one roof. As with all such things, we wanted to get some perspective on the issue. So I spent an afternoon not long ago visiting with Jon Trott, a 30-year member of Jesus People USA (JPUSA) in Chicago. Since Jon has been living the communal life for three decades now, I asked him a few questions about life in community and for his perspective on the "new monasticism."
To hear more from Jon, check out the Winter 2009 issue of Leadership.
From "Having Ears, Do You Not Hear?" in the current issue ofLeadership.
"As a pastor, I'm not a theology policeman...But if we are part of a community where the Scriptures are honored, I don't think we have to worry too much. The Spirit works through community. Somebody will have a stupid, screwy idea. That's okay. The point of having creeds and confessions and traditions is to keep us in touch with the obvious errors."
To read the rest, pick up the Winter '09 issue of Leadership journal.
A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle. It's as though their eyes were bigger than their stomachs.
- David Allen, Getting Things Done
It's more than likely that you've heard a message, read a book, or done some thinking about "busyness" in the last year or two. Slightly less likely, but still entirely possible, is that you've heard a message, read a book, or done some thinking on "gluttony" during the same time.
It's highly unlikely that the two were connected. But maybe they should have been.
Why do we say yes to so much? Is it because we are guilt-ridden, co-dependent angst monkeys who lack the willpower to say no? No. We say no to a million things a day. Usually to things that are good for us, but still...when we want to, we know how to say no just fine, thank you.
Is it because we have a drive towards self justification that works itself out in our work and an ever-increasing load of commitments through which we seek to earn the favor of others and God? In part, yes...
But maybe it also has something to do with our appetites.
The new president represents more change than you may realize.
by Dave Gibbons
It's just the beginning. With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president we are seeing what many consider a dream fulfilled. Of course there are still conflicts, and there still is racism, prejudice, and stereotyping - including in the church. But it is a new day when the most powerful political person on the earth is black. This is a historic moment for the world to celebrate, but before we simply see this as a race issue, or even just a political party's victory, we need to see it through the lens of culture - or rather cultures.
"Third culture" is used to describe the fusion of multiple cultures, the art of adaptation and dialogue rather than dictation. It's about diplomacy over strong arm tactics, and the embrace of discomfort as part of the journey toward real community. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, to a White mother from Kansas with has Irish and English roots, and a father, from Kenya. He studied in Indonesia, Hawaii, California, New York, and Boston. His experience has both urban and surburban, he's engaged cities and villages, he been both rich and poor.
The text of Rick Warren's invocation at the inauguration.
Our previous post was Mark Labberton's reflection on how to pray for a new president. Rick Warren had the opportunity to do exactly that in a very public way as he offered the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Here's the text of his prayer.
Almighty God, our Father:
Everything we see, and everything we can't see, exists because of you alone.
It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory.
History is your story.
The Scripture tells us, "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one." And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
Seeking God's blessing for a pluralistic, conflicted, and divided nation.
by Mark Labberton
There is no better time to renew our commitment to "pray for our leaders," than the start of a new presidential administration. Barack Obama needs our prayers and we should give them freely and eagerly no matter how we may have voted.
I know our president needs prayer, because I know I do. My own life and pastoral leadership depends on prayer. I am aware that much of the blessing in the life of our church unfolds because of the prayers of people united in seeking God's way. Blessings are not earned by prayer, nor should blessings be presumed because of prayer. But I do believe prayer increases our readiness to live humbly, wisely, and courageously.
These are also the qualities our new president needs. After a divisive campaign, an extraordinary economic collapse, a period of ecological vulnerability, and a time of war and global instability, our president and our nation need humility, wisdom, and courage. Wherever we or our congregations may be politically, these three qualities should guide our prayers for the leaders responsible for our nation and our world. Leadership that is lacking in any of these three will be far less constructive than these trying times demand.
The remarkable story of Flight 1549 carries lessons for church leaders.
by Gordon MacDonald
This morning I took a few minutes to watch video of the remarkable rescue effort in the Hudson River yesterday. For a long, long time, this will remain in the minds of people as a highpoint in the American experience. It appears to have brought out the best in just about everybody. And it provides a dramatic contrast to those who, in recent months, have ripped off people for billions of dollars and cared only for themselves.
These themes come to mind from the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson River."
The way of an airline pilot (age 57) who has spent his professional life becoming an expert in safety. He is a glider pilot, a military pilot, and an airline pilot. It looks like there could hardly have been a better person at the controls. In the impenetrable mysteries of a providential God, does He nudge a man prepared like this into the pilot's seat for that flight? Just wondering.
Story-tellers will celebrate his quick decision-making. He had less than a minute or two to decide whether to try to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or land on the river. No small decision. Made in seconds.
Some will highlight his courage in sticking with the plane, walking the aisles twice to make sure everyone was evacuated. Would you and I have done the same?
Then there's the co-pilot who, in the process of exiting the plane, took off his shirt and gave it to man who, apparently had taken off his coat, to give to a woman who had none. There's a Christian thought here.
Straight out of Ur...this week's e-newsletter lineup.
Instead of teasing you with a paragraph or two this week, let me tempt you instead with a table of contents. If you're not subscribed to the Out of Ur newsletter, here's what you're missing:
"Bible Society Supports Atheists' Ads"
(I think this is an exercise in reverse psychology.)
(Skye Jethani wades knee-deep into troubled waters to ask the question, How are young evangelicals expanding the pro-life platform?)
"Lent and Leaky Vessels"
(Brandon O'Brien recommends a couple of novels for reading during Lent. Their both by Catholic writers and both a little depressing, but--let's be honest--that's sort of Brandon's style.)
Failure to remember leads to economic recession and spiritual lapses.
By Collin Hansen
Over the holidays, you probably relished how gas prices largely returned to "normal." Prices higher than $2, $3, or even $4 per gallon just seems so un-American. So why are national opinion writers so diverse as Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman pushing for increases in federal gas taxes?
It seems Americans have returned to their old habits. Friedman notes that more Americans purchased trucks and SUV's than cars in December. This reverses a trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles that extended back to February 2008. You should be able to guess by now how this scenario will play out. Bigger vehicles means more demand for gas, which means gas prices will eventually return to the levels we saw in the summer of 2008. But by that time, the momentum for alternatives to gas-powered vehicles may have stalled yet again, leaving American consumers and their government at the mercy of foreign oil producers. "Have a nice day," Friedman writes. "It's morning again - in Saudi Arabia."
Krauthammer observes that Americans pay 18.4 cents per gallon in federal taxes. Drivers in Great Britain, like those in many other European countries, pay nearly $4 per gallon in taxes. Americans would hardly relish a new tax whose effect they would feel so directly. So Krauthammer and Friedman each suggest an offsetting cut in payroll taxes. But what's the point, if the federal government will reap no new revenue from the increased gas tax?
The columnists believe higher gas taxes would permanently shift consumption patterns. The American government might as well take the lead in manipulating gas prices. Otherwise America's so-called allies will continue to offer the carrot and wield the stick in order to control the U.S. economy.
Why can't we just remember this destructive pattern and resolve to break it?
It’s often neglected, but the imagination is critical to discipleship.
by David Swanson
The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful. –John Piper
I begin with two assumptions. First, John Piper is correct about the magnitude of the imagination to the Christian life. How else can we relate to our spiritual ancestors, distant in time and culture? The teachings of Jesus demand his hearers to imagine a different way of living; his parables draw us into worlds we’ve never experienced. Scripture is filled with the poetic, apocalyptic and prophetic along with nail-biting and head-scratching narrative. Imagination helps me participate in this active Word of God; it’s what moves me from an observer to an accomplice. Through a Christ-centered imagination history becomes my story, poetry becomes my prayer, and the coming Kingdom of God becomes my reality.
Second, Christian imagination is either stimulated or sedated by our surroundings. Having recently made the transition from the suburbs to life and ministry in Chicago, I’m convinced that our environment either hinders or stimulates this overlooked facet of discipleship. Consider a few generalizations from my previous and current zip codes.
Music, theater, visual arts and film all prod us to consider the world in new ways. Chicago has dozens of small theaters, film festivals and galleries of all kinds. A woman from our church recently staged a series of one-person Bouffon clown shows; something I didn’t even know existed until she invited my wife and I to a performance. With few exceptions, suburbia’s artistic exposure comes from one place: the megaplex. The movies consumed at these theaters generally reflect Hollywood’s interest in the box office bottom line. The aesthetic quality of standard megaplex fare can be argued, but there is no comparison with the myriad of imagination-provoking artistic venues found in the city.
Why "John 3:16" being the top Google search isn't something to celebrate.
by Brian Lowery
Today, Friday, January 9, 2009 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America has officially become utterly and inexcusably biblically illiterate. Let me explain.
Each Friday, over on the Preaching Today blog, I write up a weekly pop culture roundup. It's a way to help preachers know what folks are watching, reading, listening to, and learning about. I list the top-five movies, the top-five books, the top-five albums, the top-five songs, and the top-five search items on that particular Friday morning - all with a bit of hyper-linked commentary.
Of all the material I gather for the roundup, I'm almost always most intrigued by the top-five search items. I go to Google Trends, find the day's date, and just like that, I know what people are obsessing over as they begin their Friday.
Today's top-five list was a bit unexpected:
1. John 3 16
2. Mary Lynn Rajskub
3. Windows 7 beta download
4. All inclusive vacations
5. Ana Ortiz
You read number one right. As Friday, January 9th, was just getting rolling, the top search item on Google was John 3:16. Why? Oddly, because of last night's BCS Championship football game between the Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners. Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, came out to play the game with "John 3:16" written on his eye black ("John" under one eye," "3:16" under the other - hopefully in the right order).
The Bible has multiple books with multiple authors for a reason.
The great Reformer Martin Luther famously found the letter of James to be a strawy epistle because, in his judgment, it did not teach enough Christ or faith or grace. It had too much law for him. Most of us have forgiven Luther for overcooking his confidence, but he illustrates how many of us often read the Bible. We fasten upon a "maestro" ? and Luther's maestro was clearly the Apostle Paul ? and make the rest of the Bible fall in line with our maestro's lens of interpretation. Let me trade a moment in a few stereotypes.
Protestant liberals, Anabaptists, and Red Letter Christians have all made Jesus the maestro of their Bible reading. Everything is seen through the angle of the words "kingdom" and social justice as "discipleship." We are tempted, of course, to forgive anyone who makes Jesus their maestro, but the wisdom of God in giving us a canon - a list of 27 books that included Paul and Peter and John and Hebrews and Jude - which renders making even Jesus the maestro suspect.
Conservative evangelicals and the (strongly) Reformed have made Paul their maestro, at times a bit like Luther. In their view the rest of the Bible either anticipates or clarifies "justification by faith" and "soteriology" and "grace." Paul's theology, it must be admitted, is gloriously rich and his categories breathtakingly clear and the implications profound. But the wisdom of God was to give us a bundle of books and a bundle of authors. A fully biblical approach to reading the Bible reads and accepts each author and each book.
Leadership's upcoming interview with Craig Gross from The Strip Church.
The winter issue of Leadership is still a few weeks away from your mailbox, but the editors have already started working on the spring issue. They're still refining the topic, but it will be something about ministry in a culture of brokenness and addiction.
In a few weeks Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien will be traveling to Las Vegas to interview Pastor Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com - "the #1 Christian porn site on the Internet." Craig has been on a mission to help the church talk more openly about the epidemic of pornography and provide support for those seeking to escape its grip. He's also recently relocated to Las Vegas to start a new ministry called The Strip Church.
Here's a video of Craig Gross being interviewed about his ministry to porn addicts and producers.
Jethani and O'Brien will be talking with Gross about how ministry needs to adapt to a culture where vices are becoming more prevalent and more acceptable. They may also connect with other pastors in Sin City to hear how churches are wading into these cultural currents. They'd like to know what questions you have for Craig Gross, and what the editors of LJ should ask churches on the front lines of the vice wars.
I've been giving a lot of thought to the state of the church as we enter a new year. In these uncertain times we naturally look to reliable and wise voices to guide us through the fog. And who is more reliable and wise then yours truly? To help you plan ahead, I've compiled my list of the top five predictions to watch for in 2009.
The next BIG word: Post-Missional
There was a time when everything was "postmodern." Then we all "emerged." Now it's nearly impossible to find a ministry that isn't passionately "missional." But in 2009 I predict the truly innovative ministries will be "post-missional." No one will actually know what post-missional means but the word will become ubiquitous, finding its way into the subtitles of at least 34 percent of all ministry books published in 2009.
The next BIG outreach trend: The 30-Day Alcohol Challenge
A number of churches have gotten enormous attention for variations of the 30-Day Sex Challenge. These ministries have tried to attract the sexually charged unchurched by proclaiming that Christians have better sex and more of it. In this "more is more" philosophy of Christian liberty, I predict the next hot outreach trend will focus on alcohol as a way of deconstructing the church's teetotaling reputation. Pastors will challenge church member over 21 to drink everyday for a month - an expensive proposition for Lutherans who only drink imports.