March 14, 2012
Risky Business (Part 2)
Pastors should be more focused on observing the culture than engaging it.
So what is the solution to the captivity of ministry leaders to business models?
I've got a theory: to the extent that the church does not know its Bible, really know the Bible, the more it seeks distraction in terms of participating in other ministries and making junkets to ministry conferences.
We truly neglect the reading of God's Word today. We give it lip service, beginning with pastors. But I have heard too many pastors who obviously know more about Seth Godin's Purple Cow than know about historical-critical interpretation of the Bible.
And I've got a very simple suggestion. Pastors should preach through the book of Galatians and read the epistle in its entirety every day in the process. Encourage your congregation to do the same. Luther called Galatians the Magna Carta of Christianity. If we committed ourselves to that, we probably wouldn't need most of these ministry conferences. Let me add, no church should ever send any pastor to any conference if they have not first read Luther's commentary on Galatians.
How is ministry a different calling than leadership in other areas?
"Ministry" in the church should not be singled out as distinct from other vocations in terms of being ministry. I'll tell you who and what is very helpful here: Os Guinness and his book, The Call. We do a great disservice when we treat those who do not hold positions in the church as somehow not equally called to ministry. We set up a false sense of guilt. Worse, we end up with some of the most unqualified men in the pulpit.
I'm working on a book, in part, about vocation and how Christians should relate to the world. Who has influenced your thinking on that issue?
Again, I find Os Guinness so helpful here. As he puts it, calling means "Do what you are" not "You are what you do." And I've always held as a conviction what I heard James Boice preach during my college days at Penn: Labor where God has placed you. How should one relate to the world? Don't develop grandiose schemes for greatness, just labor where God has placed you. Don't do some rain dance; dig some ditches.
And how should pastors think differently about the culture?
Why, oh why, do they have this need to "engage the culture"? The culture ain't interested back. Now, I think pastors and elders, and deacons, and all church members should seek to understand culture. I teach a course in cultural hermeneutics at Westminster Seminary California. Here’s what I tell my students: Invest the minimal amount of effort for the maximum amount of understanding so that you can know the cultural norms in which your congregants are situated.
Some simple suggestions: Read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and your local newspaper daily; these are wonderful filters for what is happening of significance. Channel surf TV once a week on different nights of the week, with your spouse, so you know what others are watching. Read movie reviews more than you actually watch movies. Movies, while the dominant medium of our time, are an enormous waste of time. Visit the magazine rack once a month; take note of the headline topics, and look especially for premier issues of new publications. Walk the mall. Watch what people wear, and notice what they do. If you look closely, you'll find it quite easy to engage culture simply by calling attention to what you observe. Jesus had this skill of observation. Seek likewise to look, really look, for yourself. I think just noticing what others miss as they walk by, head buried in a screen, goes a long way in this regard.