For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Michael Wear. Michael was the faith outreach director for President Obama's 2012 relection campaign and until recently served in the White House Office of Faith and Community Partnerships. He recently cofounded Values Partnership with another Obama faith veteran, Joshua Dubois. This is a social enterprise that helps nurture public, private and non-profit partnerships within the faith community. Michael and his wife, Melissa currently reside in Washington, D.C. where they attend National Community Church. You can follow Michael on Twitter here: @michaelrwear
What is the biggest misconception evangelicals have about the President's faith?
There are some surface level misconceptions, or insufficiently informed judgments, some hold that are obvious: that he’s a Muslim (he's not) or otherwise not a Christian (he is), for instance. But I think a more fundamental misconception that some might hold runs deeper and applies to a range of politicians and public figures: that his faith is inanimate. What I mean by that is, I fear many of us talk about the President’s faith as if it is like anything else related to The White House or government—something to be debated or dissected, something to be poked and tested. And this can be done without much regard for the soul of the man.
I’ve prayed with him, and I’ve been with him as he’s discussed his faith in public and in private. He is no theologian, but he is a man on a walk with Jesus. He ponders scripture. He prays. He starts his day with a Christian devotional. We should be very careful about how we address the faith of such a person, President or not, particularly if we don’t have a relationship with him.
The President alluded to some of this in a speech he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010:
My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
If we care first and foremost about seeing men and women come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and to grow in that faith, than that should be our modus operandi when thinking about the faith of the President or any other person.
Working in the White House and on a Presidential campaign is a pretty intense job. How did you maintain your spiritual vitality?
Continue reading Friday Five: Michael Wear...
April 11, 2013
A public service announcement
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April 11, 2013
Is faithful invisibility the antidote to church decline?
Nobody knows better than New England Baptists how ministry is changing in America. And that shouldn’t surprise us. They’ve been at least a generation ahead of the rest of us for a couple hundred years. They practically invented evangelicalism in the 1740s. That was nearly a century before my home state (Arkansas) was admitted to the union. And while many of us west of the Mississippi fear the creeping influence of secularism, our New Englander brethren minister in the least religious states in America.
Fortunately, they are also a generation ahead of us in recovering the critical ministry value of faithfulness.
Earlier this year, I spent a long weekend with a group of Baptists from Vermont and New Hampshire. Before an evening session, one pastor reflected on the fact that the Bible only records three years of Jesus’ life and ministry. If Jesus died at 33, then we only know about ten percent of his life. Or, as this pastor put it, that means Jesus’ life and ministry was “ninety percent obscurity.”
That’s a feeling with which he and his fellow shepherds could relate. The Baptists were once the leading spiritual lights in New England. Following the Great Awakening, Baptist churches grew in massive numbers. Within about sixty years of the revival, Baptists grew from just dozens to nearly twenty-five thousand in New England. Those swelling ranks had influence beyond the church world. They carried with them considerable cultural clout. The Baptists did a lot to see the first amendment added to our constitution, for example, to ensure religious liberty for dissenters like themselves. They were a thriving, culturally relevant force.
But now the region’s churches are shrinking. Several of the pastors present that weekend hold services in church buildings erected in the 1740s which, on the one hand, testifies to the longevity of the movement. On the other, it speaks to a certain stagnation, a leveling off of 200 years of growth. Many pastors are bi-vocational, because their membership can’t support a full-time minister. And instead of being a shaping influence in the broader culture, the churches are fighting to prove their relevance in their profoundly secular environment. They labor in obscurity.
At the risk of sounding like a forecaster of doom, their story is our national story. It’s how we often tell our story, anyway. There were days when people went to church—most people, maybe. When the church was a cultural force for change for the better. Times have changed and are changing. If we want to know what awaits us in a generation, we need only look at New England.
But this is not a cautionary tale. It’s a story of hope.
Continue reading Ninety Percent Obscurity...
April 10, 2013
Hopping down the money trail.
James MacDonald pulled an unusual rabbit out of his Easter hat this year. The megachurch pastor preached his Sunday morning sermon on money.
You can view the sermon video here. Start at 2:00 in.
Whatever you think of MacDonald's logic (Easter = freedom, bad money management = bondage, therefore, good money management = good idea for an Easter sermon), is the day the church celebrates resurrection the time to talk finances?
What do you think of MacDonald's connection between resources and resurrection? Appropriate? Absurd? Discuss.
April 9, 2013
Phil declares the age of great CGI animated movies is over. And with the proliferation of digital media, are we becoming too fragmented as a culture? Skye manages to not watch a single minute of "The Bible" miniseries, and "The Walking Dead" beats the Apostles in the ratings on Easter. The team decides to build a Johnny Depp theme park: Depp World. Plus it appears that only gays and lesbians want to be married as cohabitation is on the rise among straight couples. The gang asks, would you still want to be married if you were not a Christian?
Listen via iTunes here.
Download it directly here.
April 8, 2013
If you're still coming off the Sunday slump into the Monday madness, lighten up with this .gif-rich blog of commonly felt pastoral emotions: On Staff at a Church. Thanks to the anonymous creators of the Tumblr for writing us and sharing! Enjoy.
That moment in the 1st service when I nail the punchline to my opening sermon illustration:
THAT MOMENT IN THE 2ND SERVICE WHERE I SLIGHTLY CHANGE MY DELIVERY AND IT DIES A THOUSAND SLOW DEATHS:
View many more here.
April 5, 2013
What's ahead for the The Gospel Coalition and the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
D.A. Carson is the author and editor of numerous books and commentaries. Since 1978, he has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, currently serving as research professor of New Testament. Dr. Carson is also the co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. Dr. Carson was kind enough to stop by for some questions about The Gospel Coalition, Christian higher education, and his latest book, Jesus, the Son of God.
You recently released a book, Jesus, the Son of God. Why the emphasis on son-ship for pastors and theologians today?
The title “the Son of God” is one that is repeatedly applied to the Lord Jesus, so there is a perennial responsibility to understand it. There are two factors that make this responsibility more urgent at the present time. First, sometimes the world of biblical interpretation and the world of systematic theology do not mesh very well. In this instance, how do we move from the various uses of “Son of God” in the Bible to the meaning of “Son of God” in Trinitarian theology? There are important ways of making the connections, but not many Christians these days have thought them through. To restore such knowledge is a stabilizing thing, and an incentive to worship. Second, certain voices are suggesting that we can do away with “Son of God” and other familial terms in new translations for Muslim converts. In my view this is both bad linguistics and bad theology, and needs to be challenged.
You're one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition. As you approach the sixth year of its existence, what do you see as the future for the organization and for the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
Continue reading Friday Five Interview: D.A. Carson...
April 4, 2013
How far will you take this “Christ-like thing?”
Since his installation, Pope Francis has impressed much of the world with his humility. Shunning the ostentatious outfits worn by his predecessors, the new Pope has exchanged red silk shoes for regular black leather ones, a golden crucifix around his neck for a plain iron one and ditched altogether the furred ermine stoles we often saw Pope Benedict wear. He’s chosen not to live in the luxury of the Apostolic “palace,” but in community with other priests in a nearby dormitory. He has washed the feet of prisoners, including notably two women, one a Muslim, both papal firsts. He even picked up his own luggage and paid his own bill at the hotel used during the Conclave.
Humble style isn’t new for Pope Francis. As an archbishop he lived in a simple downtown apartment, took the bus to work, and cooked his own meals. He was a challenging example of a true pastoral heart to the priests who served under his care. He once stated that he believed too many priests had become administrators rather than pastors.
Priests, he said, should strive to “go out to meet the people,” especially those who were not a part of his church. The pastor who confines himself in the rectory, he stated, is not an “authentic pastor.”
His lifestyle has been a powerful challenge to clergy excess and entitlement, for both Catholics and Protestants.
Simplicity or Duplicity?
I know that most pastors live lives that we could call “simple.” We’re often underpaid, underappreciated and underwhelmed by the results of our ministries—both in our quality of life, and in our retirement accounts.
Yet we still see a flood of images of “successful” pastors. They’re living large. He or she leads a large congregation, lives in a large house, has a large book publishing deal and speaks to large conferences for large fees.
And it’s those pastors that many of us long to become.
Continue reading The Challenge of Pope Francis...
April 3, 2013
Worried about same sex marriage? Scotland has legalized Jedi marriage.
Does the new Bible miniseries depict President Obama as the antichrist? And why is Satan always depicted as an unattractive character? Phil and Skye discuss why Christian bookstores don't really sell books anymore, and what's with all of the niche marketed bibles? Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against same sex marriage, while in Scotland they've legalized Jedi marriages.
Listen via iTunes here.
Download it directly here.
April 1, 2013
Reports of declining seminaries raise many questions about the future of the church.
I graduated from seminary 12 years ago. At the time it seemed like seminary, or some kind of post-graduate theological education, was expected for those pursuing pastoral ministry. But after graduating and entering the "real (church) world," I discovered how few of my peers suffered through courses on Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, hermeneutics, or ethics. This was especially true of pastors under 40. What I found instead were quite a few with undergraduate degrees in Bible or ministry, and a number with no formal training at all. Their informal theological reading or mentoring was their only preparation for leading a church apart from their success in the marketplace.
We all know how difficult it can be to carve out the time/funding for education once you are working and supporting a family. But what surprised me about many of these younger pastors was their complete lack of interest in seminary. "Why would I want to go to a cemetery?" one said to me. He was getting all of the ministry training he needed on the job, he argued. and the deep theological stuff he could pick up from books and blogs. Why incur the debt and bother learning languages he'd never use?
Apparently this pastor is not alone in his thinking. An article by Libby Nelson for Inside Higher Ed indicates seminaries are facing tough times. Enrollment is down, financial support from denominations is eroding, and the demand for seminary trained pastors is weakening.
Continue reading Do We Still Need Seminaries? ...