A 9-year-old's observations from a liturgical and a contemporary service.
by Skye Jethani
Back in college my professor of American religion gave us an interesting assignment. We had to visit a number of local churches, sit in their sanctuaries, and write down our observations of the spaces. Based on these observations, we were to deduce the theological beliefs of each congregation. How were the seats arranged? What was the visual focus of the space? Why did the Presbyterian church have a soaring pulpit? Why did the Episcopal church have a baptismal font at the entrance? (The most intriguing churches were ones where their explicit theology did not conform to the implicit theology communicated by their space.)
Because of this assignment I was intrigued (and rather proud) when I discovered my 9-year-old daughter conducting a similar exercise. Zoe has joined me at a number of different churches this past year, and during one of the services I noticed her writing in her journal. She later showed me a list of things she had observed in the service that were different from our home church.
The fact that she did this on her own, with no knowledge of each church’s theology, ecclesiology, or philosophy of ministry means her observations are the simple insights of a 9-year-old. But I was fascinated by what she noticed, what she didn’t notice, and what left an impact on her.
Based on Zoe’s notes, I think I can conclude that the non-verbal elements of each service impacted her most. Symbols were very effective. What might we learn by viewing our worship gatherings through the eyes of a child? What values are we implicitly communicating by our spaces, music, and liturgy? What do we hope people leave with?
Here are Zoe’s observations from two churches. I’ve copied them here in their raw, unedited form:
"I have so much to be humble about.... I am aware of my pride on a daily basis."
This video featuring C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald was produced by The Gospel Coalition last summer. Given the current accusations against Mahaney and the mess unfolding at Sovereign Grace Ministries, the comments in this video take on new meaning.
C.J. Mahaney’s “leave of absence” and Josh Harris resigns from the board. What’s going on a Sovereign Grace Ministries?
by Url Scaramanga
The hurricane of news and accusations swirling around Sovereign Grace Ministries is moving too fast for many of us to keep up with. The story has become so big and complicated that some blogs have actually dubbed it "SGM-gate."
Earlier this month C.J. Mahaney, president of SGM, took a leave of absence when accusations surfaced against him. When this sort of thing usually happens the accusations are of sexual immorality or financial mismanagement. But Mahaney is accused of being a jerk. A statement issued July 6 says "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy" are the reason of his indefinite leave of absence.
Brent Detwiler, a former SGM pastor, has been one of Mahaney’s more vocal accusers. In an email written to Christianity Today, Detwiler said:
"[SGM] has been a wonderful organization committed to planting Gospel-centered churches in the United States and parts abroad. There are many outstanding pastors and people in the denomination. But temptation and sin come with rapid growth and recognition. That was especially true for C. J., and we did not serve him well by allowing him to play by a different set of rules—a double standard. We certainly share the blame for his fall. But C. J. genuinely loves the Lord and people, so I am confident he will respond to God's discipline in his life."
The entire affair has become even more unsavory since 600 emails written between Detwiler and Mahaney were anonymously published online--although Detwiler has since admitted knowing who released the documents.
You may be thinking, “But we are called to do things for God. And what’s the alternative--continuing to allow the people in our churches to be self-consumed Christians seeking only their own comfort?” That is a very fair concern. And I completely concur with the consumer posture that is choking much of the modern church both in North American and increasingly around the globe.
But the prescribed solution I hear in many ministry settings is to transform people from consumer Christians into activist Christians. The exact direction of the activism may depend on one’s theological and ecclesiological orientation. For traditional evangelicals its all about evangelism--getting believers to share their faith, give to overseas missions, and grow the church. For many younger evangelicals it may focus compassion and justice--digging wells and eradicating poverty. But what the traditional and younger evangelicals agree upon is that we are to live our lives for God by accomplishing his mission however we may define it.
The “life for God” view makes mission the irreducible center of the Christian life. And everything and everyone gets defined by some great goal understood to be initiated by God and carried forward by us. An individual is either on the mission, the object of the mission, an obstacle to the mission, an aid to the mission, or a “fat” Christian who should be on the mission.
Please don’t think I am trying to dismiss the importance of the missio dei or the church’s part within it. Like other church leaders, I greatly desire to see more Christians hear God’s call and engage in the good and life-saving work he has given us. And I am incredibly grateful for my friends in ministry who have awakened the church to the theological and practical necessity of mission in our age. But as Tim Keller has deftly observed, “An idol is a good thing made into an ultimate thing.”
The church and its leaders desperately need a vision of a life with God and not just for him.
by Skye Jethani
“There is a first-rate commitment to a second-rate mission.” That is what Roger, a leader in global church planting, said as he looked at the rock climbers ascending a cliff in the Alps. Many of us called into ministry feel the same way. Rather than giving our lives to climbing a rock, building a business, or amassing a fortune, we are committed to what really matters; a first-rate mission--advancing the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.
But what if we’re wrong?
Roger spent decades serving Christ by planting churches on four continents. But after reflecting on his labors for the kingdom of God, his confession surprised many of us. “I’ve given most of my energy to a second-rate mission as well,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. Church planting is important. But someday that mission will end. My first calling is to live with God. That must be my first commitment.”
What Roger articulated was a temptation that many of us in ministry face. To put it simply, many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God. Before exploring how this shift occurs in church leaders, let me take a step or two backwards and explain how I have seen this tendency within the Christian college students I’ve worked with in recent years.
As a pastor, I have authority in my community. But authority is not really what I want. What I really want is influence.
Authority is the ability to get people to do what I think they should do. Influence, however, is the ability to move people to want to do what they need to do.
Here’s what I know from Scripture: Pastors/elders/overseers have authority in the local community. Hebrews 13:17 encourages us all to “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.” First Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work.” Of course, this isn’t carte blanche for church leaders to have control over every aspect of peoples’ lives, though I bet you have met some leaders who’d like to think so.
Jesus pointed us toward the correct use of authority, both in His strong-yet-compassionate example and in His admonition that we lead through serving and avoid using authority in an “authoritarian” way (Mark 10:42-43).
As we continue our exploration of pastoral authority, the theme for the upcoming issue of Leadership Journal, it's worth our time to look at the ultimate authority. In this video John Piper interviews Rick Warren about the sovereignty of God.
Pastor. In the eight years since this label first applied to me, it has been fascinating to notice who uses it and who doesn’t. The church that first entrusted the title to me was suburban, predominately white, and largely middle-aged. As a twenty-something associate pastor, I was mostly referred to by my first name. The lack of a title before my name suited me fine. At the time I was coming to grips with being a pastor and, frankly, the idea of regularly being identified as such by people ten to twenty years my senior was frightening.
In hindsight I realize there was something more to my timidity about this title. Being identified as a pastor carried with it a level of intimidating responsibility and authority that I felt I didn’t deserve. Surely I needed another ten years or so in the trenches before anyone could confidently call me their pastor. Being called simply by my first name was a relief, evidence in a way that I was still trying on this vocation to see if it fit.
The fact that this congregation indulged my skittishness with my pastoral role didn’t mean I had no authority. As Matt Tebbe pointed out, there is a kind of authority that comes over time, one that is established through faithful relationships. I felt both honored and surprised when congregants twice my age confided their struggles and listened to whatever biblical counsel I might offer. Despite my meager experience the church elders willingly listened to my ideas for future ministry. My authority as a new pastor came from ongoing presence in the community, being faithful to the church despite my insecurities and mistakes.
Are you wielding power for your sake or for others?
by Url Scaramanga
The next Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit is around the corner (August 11-12). For those of you unfamiliar with the event, its list of speakers (or "faculty" as the WCA likes to call them) has tended to follow a tried and true recipe. This year is no different.
Along with the obligatory baby boomer megachurch pastors, there must be at least one CEO of a popular consumer brand for credibility (2011: Howard Schultz, Starbucks), one politician for controversy (2011: Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark), one best-selling business guru for stability (2011: Seth Godin, Tribes), one spiky haired young pastor for vitality (2011: Steven Furtick), one social crusader for conscience (2011: Mama Maggie Gobran, "Mother Teresa" of Cairo), and one Australian just because we like the accent (2011: John Dickson).
All kidding aside, the Aussie role will be filled this year by John Dickson from the Centre (yes, r before e...remember, it is the "Global" Leadership Summit) for Public Christianity. He's written about the nature of humility. In this short video he unpacks his definition. It's worth watching and discussing. Do you agree with his take?
State power, church identity, and the nature of true freedom.
By Mark Schloneger
I choose to belong to a strange tribe. Goshen College, my alma mater, made national news last month when its board of directors decided that the “Star Spangled Banner” would not be played before athletic events.
As could be expected, the decision was met with confusion and contempt. Wasn’t this just another example of our traditional values being trampled by the unrelenting march of political correctness? What sort of ingrates object to our nation’s anthem, anyway? Fluffy-headed campus philosophers? Lazy latte-sipping liberals?
The decision not to play the national anthem reversed last year’s decision to play it for the first time in Goshen College’s 116-year history. That, too, caught the media’s attention.
It also caused widespread concern and confusion among the college’s students, professors, alumni, supporters and, yes, donors - many of whom felt like playing the anthem compromised the college’s Christian values.