Some say it's narcissistic for Christians to pursue their dreams. But one popular communicator says it's not only okay, it's a matter of discipleship.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Jon Acuff. Jon is a New York Times bestselling author and a popular conference speaker. His blog, Stuff Christians Like, is read by more than 5 million readers. His latest books are Quitter and Start,
Today we talk to Jon about the use of humor, the theology of pursuing dreams, and why it’s sometimes okay to be “horrible.”
You’re known for writing humor that pokes fun at the evangelical culture. How important is humor for church leaders in their speaking ministry?
I think it’s important. I would caution people this way: if you’re not funny or if it is not a gift, don’t feel you have to do it. If you’re not comfortable talking with a white board when you are speaking, don’t feel like you have to use one, even if it becomes popular. Play to your strengths.
You should always use humor to some degree. But I would never tell somebody, “If you are not as funny as Matt Chandler, you are not doing it right.” He has a natural gift of humor and he uses it.
It’s similar to what comedian Chris Rock says, “There are some topics people will not listen to unless they are laughing at the same time.” I use humor as a release valve, a permission builder. There are times as a leader that you don’t have the equity in the relationships to share something hard. For me, when I give a speech or preach, I use humor to build that relationship. People can relate to humor. It’s part of what makes us uniquely human, something God wired us for.
Satire, to me, is just a vehicle for truth. Look at shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Younger generations are going to those shows not just for humor, but also for news.
In your book Quitter, you talk about pursuing dreams. This has been a theme of your work of late. The church seems to have an uneasy relationship with pursuing dreams. We’ve grown up thinking that to pursue your dreams is worldly, not in line with “taking up your cross.” How do church leaders articulate this?
Shouldn't church be the best place to spend meaningful time with people?
James H. Gilmore
How well do your church members know each other? How much do people really share and care about one another’s lives? Does anything in their daily existence allow for anything other than superficial relationships? And do the demands of today’s “social media” and digital connectedness, which require so much individual attention to maintain, ultimately just intrude on what little sense of community (and real sociability) may actually exist in your local church body?
In the article, journalist Anand Giridharadas tells of moving with his wife Priya Parker to New York City, committed to an idea born during their honeymoon in Sri Lanka: as newcomers to the city, they will commit 12 straight hours, about once per month, to exploring some neighborhood of the city, sans any digital devices. Friends got wind of the idea, asked to join, and were readily admitted into the “anti-modern communal experiment.” The plan called for walking and talking, stopping (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and talking, shopping and talking—for a complete day, in hopes of fostering “a single, rolling conversation among the group, rather than one-on-one side chats.” The unplugged goal: to be “thickly in one place, not thinly everywhere.” At the time of the article’s publication, nine such encounters had been experienced, in what came to be dubbed “I am here” days.
The description of how these days typically unfold is interrupted by Giridharadas to make two reflections about the time the group spends with each other. First:
“It is, you could argue, a golden age for talk—or perhaps for chatter. More people have more ways to say more things than ever before. But for many of us our communicative lives have become lives of chaos, fragmentation, addiction, alienation, guilt. What we discovered when we turned off our machines and spent whole days together was how desperately we all wanted to talk.”
Thom Rainer undertook an unscientific survey via Twitter to discover how long pastors preach. Admittedly, how long a pastor perceives his sermon to be and its actual length may be different. But as Rainer notes, "I do believe most pastors watch the clock rather carefully."
Here's what pastors reported:
Less than 15 minutes - 1%
15 to 20 minutes - 1%
21 to 25 minutes - 5%
26 to 30 minutes - 18%
31 to 35 minutes - 23%
36 to 40 minutes - 18%
41 to 45 minutes - 26%
46 to 50 minutes - 1%
51 to 55 minutes - 4%
56 to 60 minutes - 1%
More than 60 minutes - 1%
Are Christian colleges adequately preparing students for ministry? We ask the president of Wheaton College.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Dr. Philip Ryken. He is the president of Wheaton College. Prior to his appointment (2010), Ryken was the pastor of the iconic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He is the author of several books, including Loving the Way Jesus Loves and Grace Transforming. He is a contributor to the Preaching the Word commentary series.
Today we talk to Dr. Ryken about moving from the pastorate to the academy, the future of Christian higher education, and how pastors and scholars should interact.
You recently moved from the pastorate of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church to the presidency of Wheaton College. What has been the biggest adjustment moving from pastor to president?
To be clear, I am still engaged in gospel ministry. From the beginning of my conversations with Wheaton's Presidential Selection Committee, I made it clear that the only kind of college president I could be is one who viewed the presidency as a form of pastoral ministry. My calling and ordination are for life.
That said, I have left behind pastoral ministry in the local church—at least for the foreseeable future. Probably the biggest adjustment is moving from a multi-generational community to one that is dominated by college students. I grew up with college students and have always enjoyed working with this age group, so the students are a joy. I do miss the special bond that a pastor has with the children of the church, however, and the exceptional privilege of performing baptisms, which is rare for me now.
There is also some difference in the immediacy of the leadership I offer. In a local church setting, the pastor has an opportunity to speak to the whole community every week and to set vision for ministry through preaching. When I preach at Wheaton, it is mainly to students, with some faculty and staff sprinkled in. And I don't preach every week, so I have to take maximum advantage of my opportunities. Also, the structure of a college is more hierarchical than a church, so the influence I can exercise in the daily work of the college is more indirect.
When I think of the adjustment from Tenth Church to Wheaton College, what stands out the most is moving from the city to the suburbs. All of us miss the dynamic pace of urban life, and the amazing diversity of people we lived and worshiped with in Philadelphia. But we also embrace the opportunities we have in Wheaton to give students a vision for the wider world and to connect the campus to Chicago.
What are some ways you would counsel pastors to be more scholarly and scholars to be more pastoral?
As the "ex-gay" ministry ends a 37 year run, Alan Chambers sheds light on his decision.
Late yesterday, Exodus International, the 37-year-old benchmark for Christian “ex-gay” ministry, apologized to people it had hurt and announced its closing (and transformation to a new ministry). The official statements (apology and announcement of closing) are national news.
In his talk last night at the Exodus Freedom Conference (below, start 20:00 in), Chambers fills in much of the story behind the decision to end Exodus. In 1976, when the ministry was founded, it was as a safe haven for a minority of believers who had no place to run in the church. “The truth of our stories have not changed” Chambers said, affirming that closing Exodus does not negate the true stories of those, himself included, who found some sense of exit from unwanted same-sex attraction or lifestyle.
Chambers observed that
“We live in very messy reality. Everyone lives in that reality. But in the midst of that reality, we have a God...who is crazy about us. Mess and all. Your mess isn't the 'gay stuff', it's simply the 'life stuff.'” “But [God] would rather have messy children than no children at all.
Here on Ur a couple months ago, Skye asked "Do We Still Need Seminaries?" He described how on one hand enrollment in seminaries is dropping and on the other many of his peers are not formally trained in the classic (and helpful/necessary) preacher's tool kit of Greek, Hebrew, Exegesis, Preaching, etc. But the decline of traditional pastoral education presents us with an opportunity to re-examine why we go to seminary in the first place.
I did a graduate program in theology myself. I've benefited from it as a lay leader and engaged Christian. But I'm also troubled by the feeling that, if the truth we told, we go to seminary to become professional Christians.
A normal scenario includes a young person realizing (at about 14 or 15) that serving God is best done in formal ministry. They are zealous and become a leader in youth group, organize bible studies, play in the worship band, etc. When high school ends, our budding servant of God goes to a Bible or Christian Liberal Arts school. They attend seminary after that, then begin casting about for professional ministry jobs, likely working with a youth group. (Youth ministry is usually code for "Entry Level Pastor".)
I know personally that this model is both common and terrible. I was that kid.
Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans posted a list of 11 things she, as a layperson, wished that we pastors said more often. I commented that I thought the list was fantastic, and a fellow commenter suggested making a companion list of 10 things pastors wish their congregations said more often.
This is my attempt at such a list, and it should not be construed as a direct criticism of my parish--indeed, some of these items are things they already say to me that I wish other churches would say more frequently to their pastors!
1. How can I be praying for you?
I do a lot of praying with people and for people while rarely asking for prayer in return. But I definitely need prayer in return, because I am not Super-Pastor. Some days, I barely even feel like an ordinary, un-super pastor, because on my own, I am simply a very, very weak man.
2. I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
This is a direct copy-and-paste of Rachel's own #2 item, because it definitely fits for us as well. Pastors have to withstand a lot of second-guessing and--in unhealthier situations--ad hominem criticisms, but we are called to turn the other cheek rather than repaying meanness for meanness.
3. Enjoy your time away.
For pastors, vacation time is sacrosanct and vital to our well-being, but I have had to engage in educational efforts to show why my vacation time (of which I get four weeks per year) is so vital, so that I might stop being asked, "How come you get so much time off? I only see you once a week!"
Why I wrote sermon notes for a blockbuster Hollywood film.
I wrote the Sermon Notes for the recent Man of Steel blockbuster film. Thousands of pastors took the time to visit a website, enter their address, and download the notes. I am glad that many have found the parallels (and distinctions) drawn between the life of Jesus and the myth of Superman helpful. Countless moviegoers from different faith traditions (or lack thereof) noticed the rather obvious connections between Jesus of Nazareth and Kal-El of Krypton. Hopefully, such comparisons do not detract from either story. My sermon notes were designed to connect (and separate) the superhero film from the enduring testimony regarding Jesus.
As a young pastor I hated the “fishbowl effect” of ministry. You know—that feeling that everyone's watching you, and that your mistakes count more. It seemed unfair to my young mind that my personal shortcomings (which would never be an issue in terms of most people’s employment) could lose me my job, my reputation, and my community.
Maybe the reason it bothered me so much was that I had such a surplus of those shortcomings.
But through years of living in the unfailing eye of critics and cranks (along with cheerleaders and encouragers!) I’ve come to see the fishbowl in a slightly different light.
Now the fishbowl is my friend.
Think not to lie hid
Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor who lived in the 1600’s spoke of pastoral life this way:
“While you are as lights set upon a hill, think not to lie hid. Take heed therefore to yourselves, and do your work as those that remember that the world looks on them, and that with the quick-sighted eye of malice, ready to make the worst of all, to find the smallest fault where it is, to aggravate it where they find it, to divulge it and to take advantage of it to their own designs, and to make faults where they cannot find them. How cautiously, then, should we walk before so many ill-minded observers!”
Baxter understood that those who call others to live like Jesus would necessarily be faulted when failing to live so themselves. He understood that the fishbowl's a perennial dynamic in ministry. And so he encouraged us to live as though the world was watching. Because they are. There are those in our lives ready to shout “hypocrite” at the slightest provocation, to call us out for human failings which they themselves share and even, as Baxter says, to make faults where they cannot find them.
But Baxter took it further. He said we ought to be glad for this.
How do busy moms find the space to pursue their God-given callings? We asked the author of the new book, Freefall to Fly.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Rebekah Lyons. Alongside her husband, Gabe, Rebekah serves as cofounder of Q Ideas, a nonprofit organization that helps Christian leaders winsomely engage culture. Rebekah Lyons is the author of Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning.
Today we talk to Rebekah about mental illness, speaking with vulnerability, and how Christian moms can navigate the tension between home and career.
You are pretty open in your book and in your recent public speaking about your struggles with anxiety and depression. Was it difficult to admit this, given your role as a Christian leader?
Actually, no. I’ve been an “over-sharer” all my life.
This story overtook me. I never intended to write a book, but it was an earnest effort to get it down, for my own healing and processing. The week I began writing, I realized this wasn’t a story of my anxiety or spiral, but God’s story of redemption and rescue. The best advice I received early on was, “Don’t hold back.”
I didn’t unearth how much my story would resonate with others until I started hearing feedback in the early stages. It seemed everyone shared angst over someone they loved struggling with the same thing—especially within the church.
What can church leaders do to create a culture where its people are free to talk about anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses?
Pastors attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention this week in Houston were faithful tweeters. But a hashtag mixup turned humorous when many of them mistook the Seak Foundation's Sports Bra Challenge 2013 feed (#SBC2013) for their Convention's official hashtag (#SBC13).
The Sports Bra Challenge (an "annual one day outdoor charity fitness movement," taglined "Reveal Yourself") is an event designed to help encourage women to overcome insecurities and exercise in a supportive environment. It is, as you'd imagine, unrelated to the Southern Baptist Convention...
Two worthy events, made so much better by sharing a single twitter feed. A few highlight tweets from SBC pastors to the (other) SBC:
“Wisely dorms are freezing.. even with the air off! #SBC2013”
"Why is it so cold in this arena?" #SBC2013
"Anybody else think we look small on television #SBC2013"
"I find myself growing more and more irritated." #SBC2013
“Your affliction is only for a time. This too shall pass... #sbc2013”
We must be doing something right to be so widely hated! #sbc2013
So thankful for time with my beautiful friend ... #sbc2013
"That was incredibly uplifting!" #SBC2013
"God raises up the leaders He needs. Stop dwelling on your insecurities. #sbc2013”
Huckabee's recent SBC speech highlights an important question.
With religious freedom a major topic of national discussion, it was only a matter of time before the issue of church tax-exempt status came up. In a recent speech to a gathering of SBC pastors, ex-pastor, former presidential candidate, and Fox News staple Mike Huckabee said:
“The recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting people of faith—people who are conservative, people who are pro-Israel—and have been picking out the parts of belief and speech and faith that government seems to approve and that which it doesn’t approve has brought up a very important reality that I think, sooner or later, as believers, we need to confront ... we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God, and if it means that we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me permission to say what God wants me to say.”
I have more than one problem with Huckabee's politics and general paradigm. Additionally, having had my father (a pastor) decide to form a new ministry technically as a “for profit” business, though thoroughly Christ-centered in practice, it's a subject that I've personally thought through a good deal. Typically (my father excluded here), the conversation runs in channels that I don't count particularly credible. (At least from a cursory Google search on "Tax exempt church," Conspiracy theories and internet ads for “untraceable” AR-15s are the norm here, if that paints a picture.)
The typical subtext in many of these conversations—that the government has gone out of its way to train its crosshairs on the church—is baseless. I'm not concerned about a cackling, demonic Obamachrist plotting the enslavement of Christians. But Huckabee's question is relevant, and ranges far wider than just the right-leaning Christians he was addressing.
Once again Hollywood is trying to leverage pulpits for marketing. This time let's stand up.
by Skye Jethani
Back in 2005 I wrote a series of posts when I discovered the Disney Company was trying to market their Narnia films through pulpits. At the time, Disney was offering pastors a chance to win a vacation to London if they mentioned the films in a sermon. The idea to leverage sermons for movie marketing was the byproduct of Mel Gibson’s successful plan to use churches to push The Passion of the Christ project after the usual Hollywood distributors bypassed it.
Since The Passion and Narnia, numerous other films with far less Christian content have tried to sneak into the pulpit including The Road and Evan Almighty. Marketers know that even an indirect endorsement of a movie by a pastor during a sermon can be one of the most effective means of motivating consumers--it’s as close to God endorsing a film as they can get.
The latest attempt to put a cash register behind the pulpit is MinistryResources.org (tag line: “The stuff you use to fill the pews.” I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I read that.) They’ve contracted with Warner Brothers and DC Comics to create a ministry resource website for the upcoming Superman film Man of Steel.
Let me be transparent--I’m a big Superman fan (here’s proof), and I’m really looking forward to Man of Steel. I also admit that the Superman mythology has always contained Christological themes. A celestial father sends his only son to earth to guide and save humanity--that sounds familiar. And apparently Man of Steel plays with biblical imagery, including a scene with a young Clark Kent talking to a priest with a stained glass image of Jesus positioned just over his shoulder.
Willard taught his granddaughter to "give'em heaven."
Last month the church said goodbye to Dallas Willard. Tributes have filled blogs and websites, but this one caught my attention. Willard's young granddaughter speaks about the wisdom she received from "the smartest guy I know." It's a touching tribute to a man who lived what he taught. I hope you're inspired by this short video as I was. -Skye Jethani
Are young evangelicals taking seriously the pursuit of holiness? One author and pastor doesn't think so.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Kevin DeYoung. He is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. His blog, DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, is one of the most popular in the Christian blogosphere. Kevin is a council member of The Gospel Coalition and the author of several books, including Why We Love the Church, Just Do Something, and his latest, The Hole in Our Holiness.
Today we talk to Kevin about the future of the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement, why pastors shy away from preaching on holiness, and how he manages to root for Chicago sports teams in the heart of Michigan.
Five years ago, Collin Hansen profiled the YRR movement. Where is that movement today?
It’s hard to say what has become or will become of something as amorphous as the YRR movement. There are certainly weaknesses: friendships get frayed and coalitions get fractured. And of course there are the sins that plague any human movement—pride, envy, impatience, judgmentalism, cowardice. But on the whole I think the movement has matured. I’m encouraged by a growing interest in personal holiness and world missions. I’m also encouraged, and this may sound strange, that YRR is not “all the rage” like it was several years ago. People are investing in their specific groups and denominations.
Most importantly, people are investing in their local churches. That’s the key. Our little movement, at its best, celebrates and supports the confluence of many like-minded networks, congregations, and pastors. I believe God often uses movements like ours, but Christ did not promise anything to movements. His promises are for the church (Matt. 16:18). That’s what really matters.
You're part of a mainline denomination (Reformed Church in America) that has endured some of the same cultural battles over homosexuality and other issues. How would you counsel pastors like yourself (with core evangelical convictions) who pastor in liberal-leaning denominations?
Anthropologist & podcast guest Brian Howell talks about rethinking short term missions.
Is the Pope spouting heresy? Should churches boot the Boy Scouts? Skye shares his love for The Brown Hornet, and special guest anthropologist Brian Howell talks about his new book on the peculiar anthropological phenomenon known as the "short term missions trip." (We aren't kidding.) Check it all out on this week's podcast!
Listen via iTunes here.
Download it directly here.