February 29, 2012
We should be measuring community impact rather than the size of our audience.
February 29, 2012
We should be measuring community impact rather than the size of our audience.
February 28, 2012
Does a cosmic gospel diminish the call to personal evangelism?
This interview by Ed Stetzer with Mark Dever caught me by surprise. They're talking about the renewed interest among evangelicals in a "larger gospel" that captures a kingdom theology. Dever sees it as exceedingly dangerous because a focus on doing good may take away from evangelism. Check out this clip.
What surprised me was Dever's honesty. Consider his remarks:
1. He admits that the word gospel is used in Scripture to mean more than "God-man-Christ-response." He recognizes that it refers to the "restoration of all things." In this regard he is in agreement with scholars like Scot McKnight who have challenged the narrow definition of gospel in the evangelical tradition.
2. But Dever worries that focusing on this biblical definition of gospel will diminish our focus on individual salvation and evangelism. So,
3. He wants us to rely on a "systematic" idea of what gospel means based on a "long tradition of reflection" that emphasizes the individual redemption of people rather than the cosmic restoration of all things.
Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?
February 27, 2012
What we can learn from Jeremy Lin's sudden rise to leadership.
Normally, February is the dullest month in the sports calendar. The NFL season concluded with the Super Bowl. March Madness is not yet on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers haven't reported. And games in the interminably long basketball and hockey seasons feel meaningless.
But not this year. This February has been more exciting than ever, dominated by Linsanity, the phenomenon surrounding the improbable rise of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.
In his first six games in the starting lineup, Lin has been unstoppable. He scored more points than any other NBA player ever had in his first five starts. In his fifth game, Lin hit a game-winning three pointer with less than a second left on the clock. In his sixth start, he had a career-high thirteen assists. Six starts, six wins. It has been Linsane.
The Lin story is so compelling, not just because of the endless puns based on his name or what he has accomplished on the court, but also because of who he is as a person and the road he has traveled to get to this point.
February 23, 2012
Sometimes following Jesus means leaving church ministry.
For the last two weeks we've been talking about the temptations and maladies created by our the celebrity culture within the church. Pastors are measured by the magnitude of their platform rather than the maturity of their faith.
Ed Dobson was a celebrity pastor with a large congregation and broad influence. Then he was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disease that changed his life and ended his church leadership role.
In a new set of videos, Ed shares how leaving pastoral ministry uncovered how the role had actually prevented him from following Jesus. And he now recognizes one-on-one ministry is far more important than having a growing platform or mega congregation.
I highly recommend that everyone take 10 minutes to watch Ed's video titled "My Garden."
February 21, 2012
It isn’t simply followers who are creating celebrity pastors, it’s the market.
This market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation. (Thankfully there are outliers like the Epic Fail Conference and the Q Gathering that defy these trends by platforming important, non-celebrity voices.) But there’s a reason you won’t see a flashy conference for the house church movement. And there’s a reason a brilliant, godly, wise, 50-year-old pastor with a gift for communicating, carrying a timely message, and leading a church of 200 in Montana is highly unlikely to get a publishing contract. And even if he does, good luck getting the stage at a conference or any marketing energy from the publisher; their efforts will be poured into the handful of megachurch pastors in their lineup whose book sales pay their salaries. It is exceedingly difficult to break into the club without a large customer base (a.k.a. a megachurch).
Are the publishers evil for focusing on sales potential more than quality? Of course not. They’re businesses that have to sustain themselves. They are simply reacting to the realities of the market. But sometimes they fail to see how they also shape the market by their decisions. And am I saying all megachurch pastors’ books are subpar? Not at all. Some of them are my friends and I’ve deeply appreciated their writings (Dave Gibbons and Tim Keller immediately come to mind.) But we mustn’t be naive--the system is rigged to favor a writer/speaker’s market platform rather than his/her content, maturity, or message.
February 20, 2012
Behind the rise of today’s pastoral pantheon is a systemic economic force.
Last week Bob Hyatt wrote about the temptations created by the celebrity pastor culture we live in and the harm it causes to our souls. He's not the only one talking about the issue. Both Relevant Magazine and the Together for the Gospel conference are talking about it. The issue I’m referring to is celebrity pastors. Rachel Held Evans’ recent article in Relevant, “When Jesus Meets TMZ,” seeks to explain the rise of celebrity pastors within evangelicalism. (A panel at the T4G conference will address the same topic in April.) Evans’ article does a good job of outlining our corrupt human tendency to make our leaders into idols--a temptation evident from Christianity’s earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 3:21), and which has marked every era of the Church. Before Osteen, Warren, and Driscoll, there were Moody, Spurgeon, and Whitefield. Celebrity pastors are not new.
But what is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed with which they are being created/coronated. This is what Evans’ article doesn’t address. Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within the evangelical world?
February 17, 2012
Should we read the creation account literally? Wright gets behind the question.
February 15, 2012
Can spiritual bondage apply to social institutions as well as people?
There was an occasion in the 60s where a bunch of hippies surrounded the Pentagon and tried to exorcise the demons. It didn’t work. Despite their valiant effort, not much happened that day.
Nevertheless, I am one of those Christians who believes in angels and demons. But I think the traditional Christian understanding of these things needs a major makeover. Seems to me the Tempter comes in many forms, and is just as likely to don a three-piece-suit and wingtips as he is to have horns and a pitchfork. And perhaps the angels look more like the bums in the alley than the feathered white babies on Hallmark cards.
One of my favorite demon stories from the Bible is about a guy named “Legion.” As the story goes, Jesus is walking through an area near the sea of Galilee and meets a dude who is in chains, violently possessed by demons. When asked his name the fellow says, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Jesus drives the demons from the man into a bunch of nearby pigs that charge into the water and die. And the man is free.
February 13, 2012
Conflating ministry and celebrity is bad for our churches and our souls.
As my chiropractor was working me over yesterday, she was asking about the reading I’m doing for a degree I’m working on. After I rattled off the titles and subjects of a number of leadership books, she said, “Wow, what are you going to do when you are finished with school—rule the world?”
“Actually, I’m moving in the opposite direction,” I said.
And I am trying to mean that. Genuinely.
Over the last few years, I’ve thought long and hard about “my platform” as a pastor, a writer, an occasional speaker. And as I’ve done so, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a danger to my soul in pursuing more exposure, more name recognition, more money to be made from thinking, writing, and speaking about ministry issues. Especially while I am still in full-time, paid ministry to a local community.
I want to be clear, though: I have no issue with writers/speakers who sell lots of books, go on speaking tours, and generally promote their works however they can. But there’s something very “off” in the proliferation of pastors who are mixing ministry in and to a local community with “building their brand.” I think a good case can be made that the self-promotion that’s inevitably needed to build a brand in today’s world in incongruous with the servant-leader model of pastoring and the attitude of humility that ought to accompany it.
February 8, 2012
A conversation about work, mission, and why some Christians throw "crap" parties.
Last year Rob Bell made waves with his book Love Wins which he describes as "a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who has ever lived." The waves became a tsunami when John Piper tweeted "Farewell, Rob Bell" and dismissed him as a heretic. Agree or disagree with his point of view, Bell knows how to stir conversation. And there is one thing about Love Wins we cannot dismiss- how we think about the future shapes how we live in the present.
I've had the benefit of interviewing Bell a number of times and have always found him thoughtful, gracious, and genuine in his pursuit of Christ. He was kind enough to talk to me once again--this time about his decision to leave his church, the lost theology of vocation, and how our view of the end of the world impacts the way we think about our work today.
Skye: Apart from ministry, Christians talk very little about "callings." What do you attribute this to?
Rob: The problem goes back to how you read the Bible. A lot of Christians have been taught a story that begins in chapter 3 of Genesis, instead of chapter 1. If your story doesn't begin in the beginning, but begins in chapter 3, then it starts with sin, and so the story becomes about dealing with the sin problem. So Jesus is seen as primarily dealing with our sins. Which is all true, but it isn't the whole story and it can lead people into all kinds of despair when it comes to understanding just why we're here.
February 7, 2012
C.J. Mahaney has been reinstated as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but questions linger about the investigation.
Last year former leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) came forward with accusations against the group's president, C.J. Mahaney. As reported on this blog, Mahaney was accused of "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." In order for the board to investigate the veracity of these claims, Mahaney took a leave absence from SGM.
The scandal, which became known as SGM-gate, and has fueled numerous websites and blogs, came to be seen by some as an indictment of SGM itself and not simply Mahaney. Last year Joshua Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church where Mahaney was the previous leader, resigned from the SGM’s board. Apparently, based on a statement released from SGM, Harris believed God was disciplining all of SGM. Harris said in a Sunday sermon that “our denomination is being publicly spanked, we are being humiliated and being brought low."
But last month after completing its investigation of the accusations, SGM's board decided to reinstate Mahaney as the president. The full report, which is over 40 pages, acknowledges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders engaged in behavior that was “coercive, wrong and sinful,” but the board concluded: “After examining the reports of these three review panels, we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as president, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry.” (Read the board's announcement and the full report here.)
February 6, 2012
God is at work through the most unlikely people. A helpful reminder for us self-important types.
Some of the most important moments of faith do not come from the places we expect. They may not come from behind a pulpit or an altar, in corporate worship, or during a retreat. Those of us leading congregations are often tempted to think God works through us most. In our best moments, we are able to point to God’s work and simply step aside. But sometimes we forget that the Spirit of God is working even harder than we are. Sometimes this can catch us off guard. Like when I met Annie.
Annie was sitting outside the doors of our sanctuary. She had a battered, plastic blue shovel in one hand, her father’s hand in the other, and drool dripping on her shirt. Her father looked tired. No—beaten. Beaten by the unfulfilled dreams his daughter’s disease stole from him. Beaten by the guilt of wanting something more for his child. Frustrated at a God who would allow his daughter not to be “normal.”
I had just finished leading our children’s worship when I saw his daughter. To my naive surprise, Annie didn’t join the other children during their worship. And at the moment I thought about it, the reason was obvious. Kids with Down Syndrome aren’t like “normal” kids. They belong to the group of “special needs.” And since most churches don’t have the resources to accommodate this segment of our population, families who have to live with this struggle seldom feel fully welcomed.
February 2, 2012
The Elephant Room highlights the problem of authority in the contemporary church.
Above is a video from last year’s Elephant Room. The clip highlights a panel of popular pastors discussing the behavior of perceived “wolves” in the church and in Christian media.
During the first minute and thirty seconds, several members of the group react harshly against Christian bloggers as sources of doctrine or opinion. Painting them as limpwristed, “loving, inclusive guys” living “in their mom’s basement,” the group dismisses Internet-based writers as legitimate sources of doctrinal opinion or interpretation.
This dismissive response of a panel of high profile pastors to the general blogosphere garnered a sharp reaction by bloggers like Zack Hunt over at The American Jesus.
The small spat raises big questions. How does the church view authority in a digital environment? How do we determine if a given voice – whether blogger or pastor – is reliable to shape our theology and practice?