Engineering a ministry around a single leader is inherently dangerous, but what's the alternative?
by Skye Jethani
I like airplanes, and given the amount I travel that is a good thing. Seeing these incredible machines--aluminum and composite monuments of human ingenuity--makes the atrocities of most American airports almost bearable. (My genetically tanned, ambiguously ethnic appearance must scream “al-Qaeda!” I get patted down more than Donald Trump’s mane on a windy day.)
Modern airliners, as one author put it, are “the most complicated machines man has ever built.” But they are still regarded as the safest form of transportation. There are over 20,000 commercial flights every day in the United States. If you were to drive rather than fly one of those routes, you would be 65 times more likely to be killed. Perhaps more surprising, since 1980 the number of airplanes, flights, and passengers has doubled, but accidents per year have been declining. Flying is five times safer now than 30 years ago.
How is that possible? There are many factors that contribute to air safety, but a significant one is what the industry calls “redundancy.” Modern airliners are engineered so that everything necessary for flight has a back-up--engines, control systems, computers, fuel lines, hydraulics, even the pilot. As a result no single failure should cause an aircraft to crash.
The brilliance of redundancy was displayed last year when a Qantas A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, experienced what the industry calls an “uncontained engine failure.” One of the airplane’s four engines violently exploded in flight sending metal shrapnel through the wing and fuselage. (I’m guessing what the passengers experienced at that moment would be called an “uncontained underwear failure.”) You can watch a video of the incident online.
The A380 was severely damaged. The engine was destroyed, numerous control systems had been cut by the flying debris, fuel was leaking, flaps on the left wing were inoperable, and the landing gear damaged. Still, the pilots were able to fly for almost two hours before landing safely. Redundancy saved the day.
This lesson from civil aviation may be relevant for the church today.
Piper, Keller, and Carson talk about aging and passing on their ministries.
by Url Scaramanga
Tim Keller and John Piper both lead very large churches. But what happens when they eventually leave their posts? It's a question that is facing many megachurches given that most were started by Baby Boomer leaders who are now entering their 60s.
Keller explains his church's 10-year plan to launch into four, and possibly eight, independent churches. This requires him to spend a great deal of time developing new leaders. Piper, on the other hand, shares tat his church has not yet discerned a plan for the future. They are engaged in a season of prayer to determine what to do.
However, since this video was filmed in April, Piper has announced his plans to transition from his role at Bethlehem Baptist in three years. He will step away from preaching and vision in June 2014 to give his attention to writing, speaking, mentoring, and teaching at Bethlehem College and Seminary.
After watching the video, share your thoughts. When should a long-serving pastor begin talking to the church about transitioning? Is there an ideal model? What have you seen work, or fail to work, in your congregations?
People engage electronic media an average of 8 hours a day. Do they really need more at church?
Read Mercer Schuchardt
The band is rockin', arms are swayin', and you're about to come on screen in high definition with such stunning visual clarity that even people in the nosebleed seats can see your perfect smile.
Is this a rock concert? A beer commercial? Or just a typical Sunday morning?
These days, it could be any of the above.
Whether you're a questioning congregant, a concerned pastor, or a perplexed professor studying the effects of media on religious practice (like me), the use of technology in the worship setting is worth considering.
Media are not neutral. Like ideas, they have consequences, especially in the church. And some of these consequences should give us pause. In Technopoly media theorist Neil Postman writes, "A preacher who confines himself to considering how a medium can increase his audience will miss the significant question: In what sense do new media alter what is meant by religion, by church, even by God?"
Given the impact of new media, we should carefully consider the medium of Christ's message.
Francis Chan addresses the controversy started by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named
by Url Scaramanga
It's not my habit to post videos that function as extended commercials for a product, but in this case I've made an exception. Francis Chan has a new book launching that he co-wrote with New Testament professor Preston Sprinkle (not a Baptist, I'm guessing). It's obvious that Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we've made up is a response to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his best-selling Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Read. (Chan never mentions Rob Bell or Love Wins in the video...the omission is kinda weird...the elephant in a very stark room.)
Still, Chan's video gets into some fairly important questions about how we understand God and Scripture. It's obvious Chan is taking issue with the theological "carelessness" some have accused He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named of on the issue of hell. Check out this video and share your thoughts. Does Chan put some of the controversy to rest by elevating divine revelation above human reason? Or does he simply compound the questions by talking about more unsavory parts of the Bible?
Last week the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, gathered for its annual meeting in Phoenix. The media pounced when stats were released indicating SBC membership had shrunk for the fourth consecutive year. In addition (or should I say subtraction), the number of baptisms declined by over 17,000 in 2010 compared to 2009. This is the eighth drop in 10 years.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay, was honest about the statistics. "This is not a blip. This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline,” he said.
The news about the SBC’s decline swirling around both the secular and Christian media only adds to the dismay in recent years. It seems like every time I logon there is a new report about the decline, decay, or demise of the church. The American church, and the evangelical branch in particular, seems infatuated with news of its own death almost as much as myths of its persecution. Perhaps we like these reports because they keep us in a perpetual state of crisis which fuels the theatrics long associated with our brand of Christianity.
Anthony, the junior high youth pastor who serves alongside me at River Valley Church, is an ace car mechanic. He’s my authority on all things pertaining to my 2001 Honda Civic. He can diagnose and fix my problem. He’s good, he’s knowledgeable, he’s cheap, and I know where he works and lives if something goes wrong. His authority rests in his expertise. His ability to diagnose, fix, and anticipate future problems flows from certification, skill, and know-how. I bow to his authority. I honor it. I rely on it.
But I’m a pastor, and the authority it takes to fix a broken head gasket doesn’t seem to work as well on a broken heart. Pastoral authority is more akin to the authority of a member of the body (Rom. 12:4ff). Let’s say for sake of illustration that the pastor’s authority in the church is analogous to that of the heart in the body. The heart has no authority on its own; its authority is derived and constituted only by relation (i.e. submission) to the head and the members. Electrical signals from the head tell the heart to pump blood. The heart receives oxygen molecules from the lungs and pumps enriched blood to the rest of the body . The heart’s authority isn’t based on skill, expertise, or ability to fix problems. Rather, it rests in its submission to the head and to its members.
Similarly, pastoral authority is inherently relational; it is exercised faithfully only in the context of relationships.
Can the values of entertainment and hospitality coexist?
by Skye Jethani
Many churches focus on providing a compelling worship experience. The desire is to attract people to an excellent production where they can sing, learn, and leave feeling renewed. For decades we've called this approach "seeker-sensitive." But does that sensitivity have limits?
News reports broke last week about a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy being removed from Elevation Church for being a "distraction" during the Easter service. The boy's mother said, “Easter Sunday he got all dressed up, got ready to go, no small feat with a kiddo like him." But, according to the report, after the opening prayer inside the sanctuary the boy voiced his own kind of “Amen.”
“We were very abruptly escorted out," the mother said.
Following the incident, the boy's mother contacted church leaders with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She told reporters that the idea was "rejected."
After the story was broadcast on the local news (you can watch the video here), Elevation Church issued a statement in which they clarified that "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."
The church also said, “It is our goal at Elevation to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”
Explaining the American church's silence around The Cape Town Commitment.
By Scot McKnight
If you are an Urbanite then you know that last October church leaders gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization. It was the largest, most diverse gathering of Christian leaders in history. Our own Skye Jethani was there and reported from the event. One of the tangible outcomes of the congress was "The Cape Town Commitment"--a theological and missional document declaring our united focus as the church of Jesus Christ. In this post Scot McKnight asks why more people aren't paying attention to this brilliant and important work. His reflections are worth your time.
First, the silence about the CTC reflects America’s insularity and willful choice to ignore anything that is produced by Christians from other parts of the world. We talk universal church, we talk global church, and we participate in missionary work, but the lack of attention to this incredible unifying statement reflects that what comes from elsewhere belongs elsewhere. Perhaps I’m wrong.
Second, the silence about the CTC reflects American evangelicalism’s numbness about the vibrancy of gospel leadership in other parts of the world. We’ve got so much here, we’re worried about our problems, and we’re absorbed with our culture and consumeristic lifestyle to the degree that we are numb — and so we simply never awoke to the significance of the CTC and the Lausanne event in Cape Town.
Third, American evangelicalism has become tribal, and this silence reflects that what isn’t from our group isn’t important.
When does involvement with porn disqualify you from ministry?
by Url Scaramanga
James MacDonald asks Mark Driscoll for a definitive answer on porn. When does viewing it disqualify a person from leadership--once a year, once a quarter, once a month, once a week? Driscoll avoids giving a one-size-fits-all answer. What do you think?
These ministers faced their compulsions—and stayed in ministry.
by John W. Kennedy
Addictions come in various forms: alcohol, gambling, drugs, pornography, overeating, and binge shopping, just to name a few. Whatever the particular vice, addictions thrive on secrecy and shame. And while addictions can be difficult for anyone to divulge, pastors face an even greater challenge in revealing their struggles. They risk losing not only friends, but their livelihood as well. As a result, many wander down the dark path of secrecy, isolation, and despair. But more are beginning to seek help.
David, a 41-year-old Lutheran minister in Southern California, has been free for more than a year from online pornography, although no one else on staff at his church even realizes he had a problem.
He kept taking bigger risks, escalating to a crisis point where he found himself in a chat room with video capabilities with an underage girl. David found help through anonymous weekly meetings of a church-based sexual addiction recovery group, Operation Integrity. The meetings, along with the help of online accountability software, helped him overcome his destructive behavior.
"Even though I realized other pastors had struggles, I still felt like I was the only one," David says. "The Operation Integrity group has provided a place where I can make a public confession, find absolution, and not be condemned. There's support, understanding, and encouragement for the road ahead."
An odd study (finally) gives Mainliners something to celebrate.
by Url Scaramanga
A study released last week by the Duke University Medical Center finds that Mainline Protestants have larger brains, literally, than "born-again" Christians, Roman Catholics, or the religiously unaffiliated. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Templeton Foundation, discovered that "those identified as Protestant who did not have a religious conversion or born-again experience — more common among their evangelical brethren — had a bigger hippocampus."
What is the hippocampus, you may be asking? It is an area deep within the brain that regulates emotion and memory. A small or shrinking hippocamus is often associated with mental health disorders like depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's.
So why would those with born-again experiences have a smaller hippocampus? Some researches speculate it has to do with stress.
OBSERVATION TWO: The American Church still has a vital role to play as the global church rises.
In 2008, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria wrote the best-selling book The Post-American World from which I borrowed the title for this blog post. In his book Zakaria refuses to join the “America is in decline” bandwagon. Instead he uses the term “Post-American” to describe the emergence of new economic super-powers into the zone previously occupied by America alone. China and India are the two most obvious nations in this category with Brazil increasingly being added to the conversation. To paraphrase Zakaria’s argument, it’s not about the decline of the West, but rather the rise of the rest.
Like the doomsday prophets that have nothing positive to say about the American economy, there seem to be no shortage of doomsday prophets surrounding the American church. (Remember the “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” released by James Dobson’s political group in 2008?) Reading too many of these dire predictions about the American church would lead one to believe that everyone under 30 has abandoned the faith, every pastor is a closeted bi-sexual, and Muslims are salivating at the chance to convert abandoned mega-churches into mosques.
Well, I hate to disappoint the “prophets” profiting from this fear-mongering, but the evidence suggests the American church is far from dead. Sure, we have problems and many of them are significant, but the Christian religion in America is actually more robust today than it was two centuries ago. (Only between 10 and 20 percent of Americans belonged to a church in 1776. See more here.) And the idea that the U.S. is just one generation behind the secular and Islamic forces influencing Europe is like comparing Lady Bird with Lady Gaga.