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?
Amid the tragic loss of life, an amazing story of protection.
Brad Strait is pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver, and like many in the Mile High City, he was directly affected by the shootings at the Aurora Theater. One of the young women from his congregation was shot. The story of what happened to her is one we just had to share:
As a chaplain for several police and fire departments, I counseled parents just hours after the Columbine shootings in 1999. However, the tragic Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora hit closer to home. One of the victims was a 22-year-old woman from my church, Petra Anderson. Petra (pronounced pay-tra) was hit four times by a shotgun blast. Three pieces of shot hit her arm, and one entered her brain.
I spent all day Friday in the ICU with Petra and her family. Her condition was critical. A piece of buckshot had entered her face through her nose, traveled through her brain, and rested at the back of her skull.
She was admitted to surgery, but the doctors could offer little hope since so much of her brain had been traversed by the bullet. If she survived, the damage might limit her speech, thinking, and mobility.
After five hours, the surgery was finished, and a doctor brought us the news: “It went well, and she’s recovering now. There is minimal brain damage, and we removed the bullet cleanly.”
Each doctor wore a warrior’s smile, but they remained professional and reserved: “Something might still go wrong. We need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.”
Tears of joy and appreciation flowed. Hugs were passed around, and we prayed. Some people tried to sleep on the floor, and others were shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street.
I visited Petra the next day, and she looked surprisingly wonderful. The only signs of injury were a small hole in her nose and the medical wrap on her arm. I sat with her mother, Kim (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), amid the darkened room lit by glowing medical screens.
One of the surgeons came to check on Petra. As Petra lay asleep, he told us more about the surgery. What happened was amazing.
I'm blogging semi-live live from the Jacksonville Pastor's Conference and it's the first time I've heard Tullian Tchividjian speak. Here's one thing for certain about Tullian: he's passionate and clear about one thing—the gospel. And for Tullian the good news isn't first and foremost about what we do; it's about what Christ has already done for us. It's not about trying harder and doing more; it’s about trusting Jesus who already told us, "It is finished!"
It's easy to track with Tullian because he leads the major leagues of preaching with more tweetable quotes per minute than any other preacher. (That’s not a criticism or a compliment; it's just the way Tullian communicates. On the plus side, it sure makes his messages comprehensible and memorable.) For instance, consider these quotable, tweetable Tullian-statements:
• “The fire to do for Jesus comes from being soaked in the fuel of what's been done [by Christ].”
• “The only way to set our people free is if we [the preachers] have already been set free.”
• “For far too long preachers have been addicted to moral renovation.”
• “Based on a lot of American preaching you'd think God's primary goal is not worship but behavior modification.”
• “Antinomianism doesn't flow from too much grace, but from too little grace.”
• “The evangelical church is filled with a ton of Christless Christianity.”
•And my favorite: “Preachers have become prodigious in providing practical to-do lists instead of lifting up Christ's finished work.”
I was personally stirred by Tullian's clear focus on grace. Like Tullian, I could go back through my sermon archives and find example after depressing example of graceless, moralistic, try-harder-you-spiritual-sluggard messages. I get tired just thinking about all the pressure I put on people, including myself! Tullian is right about this: if we really get grace, if we really preach grace, it will revolutionize our own lives and our churches. Grace is dangerous and intoxicating, but it will always set you free.
But having said that, I did miss something in his message—and by “miss” I mean that I was left longing and thirsting for something. I wanted to know this: okay, I see what I’m set free from (the Law, judgment, insecurity, condemnation), but what am I set free for? I agree that preachers are way too addicted to moral renovation. But on the other hand, I still want and need Jesus to do a work of moral renovation in my heart. I also want Jesus to do a work of cultural, social renovation in my neighborhood and in the world around me. How does grace lead to all of that? I know Tullian wants all that stuff too; I just wanted him to spell it out (or at least drop some clues)—even in one 40 minute talk.
And I know that I’m set free from the crushing demands of the Law, but I still long for that “Old Covenant” delight in God’s Law. I mean, in Psalm 119 those guys pant, and yearn, and get up seven times in the middle of the night because they’ve been pierced with longing for God’s Law. To them, at least one aspect of the Law represented something beautiful about God’s presence. I want to know how that dimension of the Law fits into my desperate need for grace.
Rob Bell's farewell epistle to Mars Hill gives a glimpse into his faith and values.
by Url Scaramanga
This week marks the end of Rob Bell's leadership of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bell is moving on to new callings in California including creating a television show.
A few weeks ago he said his goodbyes to the congregation he founded and which provided him the platform to speak to Christians around the world. Bell wrote a lengthy farewell epistle to Mars Hill containing his parting wisdom and gratitude. I've excerpted a few sections of the letter below for you to respond to.
But Galli also responds to the negative connotations associated with "chaplain" pastors--those gifted in pastoral care, the shepherding of souls, and wired for peace and harmony. Some have even identified the presence of chaplain pastors as signs of an unhealthy church.
On this blog I asked whether Mohler's objection to attending a same-sex marriage ceremony was held by other Urbanites. And what about other marriage ceremonies that didn't mesh with sound Christian doctrine, like Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist weddings? Could a Christian attend those events?
It seems that Dr. Mohler caught wind of our conversation here on Out of Ur and has written another column to clarify his thinking. But it raises even more questions about what a Christian leader who does not theologically agree with same-sex marriage is allowed or obligated to do about it.
Al Mohler says Joel Osteen's willingness to attend a gay marriage ceremony, but not officiate one, is "theological nonsense" and "ministerial malpractice."
by Url Scaramanga
Al Mohler is mopping the floor with Joel Osteen's perfectly quaffed hair. Last week Osteen and his wife were interviewed by CNN's Piers Morgan to promote his new book Every Day A Friday, How To Be Happier 7 Days a Week. (I'm sure the board game will be released in time for Christmas.) During the interview Morgan asked the megachurch pastor about cultural issues like capital punishment, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Osteen's ability to dodge the questions rivaled the slickest politicians.
But that's exactly what annoyed Mohler. Unlike Osteen, Mohler is never reluctant to give a definitive answer (even when none is requested). The Southern Baptist leader took particular offense over Osteen's remarks about same-sex marriage. When asked about his opinion, Osteen said:
“You know, Piers, it really never changes because mine was - mine’s based out of the scripture. That’s what I believe that the scripture says that - that homosexuality is a sin. So, it - you know, I believed it before and I still believe it now. Again, I would just reiterate what I said, I’m not after - I’m not mad at anybody. I don’t dislike anybody. But, you know, you know, respecting my faith and believing, you know, in - in what the scripture says, that’s the best way I can interpret it.”
But later in the interview Morgan asked if Osteen would ever attend a same-sex marriage ceremony. He answered:
"I’m not going to disrespect somebody that’s dear to us and say, you know what, you’re not good enough for us or something like that. That’s the way that I would see it. Now, I’m not going to just run off and go attend, you know, certain marriages just to make a statement because that’s not who I am and that’s not what I stand for and, again, I don’t look down on those people.”
There's a renewed passion for justice and mercy--with an exciting new twist.
One of the things I appreciate about this conference is the beautiful blend of worship and compassion, evangelism and justice, love for the church and love for a broken world. The Catalyst culture promotes so much talk and action around huge issues like solving global poverty, protecting and adopting orphans, walking with the poor, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. This isn’t supposed to minimize the call to preach salvation in Christ alone (although I’ll let readers decide if that has happened or not). And most of this passion and energy is coming from a new wave of younger leaders.
But there’s also an interesting (and I think deeply biblical) twist to one aspect to this emphasis. It’s a better way to do justice and avoid “toxic mercy.” Here’s an example of toxic mercy: Bob Lupton told a story about a fairly typical suburban church program that brought gifts to a poor inner-city family at Christmas time. Of course the children in these inner-city families were always happy to get presents. The kids’ mothers were also at least semi-excited, especially for their kids’ sakes. But the fathers would usually disappear. It dawned on Lupton that these fathers couldn’t handle the shame. When the nice, well-meaning suburban church members swooped in to “help” the “needy” poor families, they emasculated the men and fathers. It provided one more concrete and public reminder of the fathers’ inability to care for their families.
Can't know everyone? “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”
BE PRESENT. That’s the theme for Catalyst 2011. I love the theme. I’ve spent most of my life learning how to show up—I mean really show up—and be present to God, my own heart, and of course people—church people, lost people, happy people, anguished people. But how do you pull that off, especially given the frenzied demands of ministry? Andy Stanley opened the day by offering one small step on the journey of being present.
He started with a simple premise: “The more successful you are, the less accessible you will be.” For instance, now that my senior pastor oversees 1,000 people, he can’t be accessible to everyone. Given this reality, Stanley says we have two options: (1) Ignore it and burn out being accessible to everyone; or (2) Face it and hide yourself from everyone. But here’s a hard-edge truth of ministry: we can’t shut out all the needs around us but we can’t take them all on either. According to Stanley, that’s the fundamental tension of ministry—a tension you’ll never resolve.
So what do we do? Here’s his advice: “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” That is how you can manage your limits in ministry. For example, you might not be able to do ALL the marital counseling in the church, but you should be knee-deep in at least one troubled marriage. Or you might not be able to do ALL the funerals, but you better be walking beside at least one grieving family.
Stanley offered a few maxims that go with this principle:
New survey finds most pastors will. Is that right?
by Url Scaramanga
A new poll conducted by LifeWay Research reports that 58 percent of Protestant pastors would perform a marriage ceremony for a cohabitating couple; 31 percent would not, and 10 percent were undecided.
There was some variation between mainline and evangelical pastors. When asked, "Will you perform a marriage ceremony for a couple whom you know is living together?" 68 percent of mainline pastors said yes compared with 57 percent of evangelicals. 24 percent of mainline pastors and 34 percent of evangelicals said no.
What do you think? Would you marry a cohabitating couple? Why or why not? You can also check out what others have been saying in response to the survey at Christianity Today's website.
Why ministry models are not universally applicable.
By Brandon O'Brien
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a gathering for small church pastors and lay leaders in rural eastern Michigan (locals call it “the thumb”). Eleven or so churches were represented; about 45 folks showed up, all members of the “Thumb Ministry Group.” They had read my book together as a group, discussed it at a meeting, and then invited me to come lead them in a daylong reflection/Q&A/workshop experience that would help them apply the principles in the book to their specific ministry contexts.
It was a great day, from my perspective. The group was interactive, engaged, and prepared. They are learning among them to approach ministry cooperatively, which I find very encouraging. Despite the fact that all of them minister amid tough social challenges–i.e. the unemployment rate is well over 10 percent in that part of the state; so many young working families are abandoning ship–they were all there bright and early, enthusiastic to seek the Lord’s wisdom for their churches.
One thing that struck me after our time together is how seldom I hear from church leadership experts and curriculum materials, etc., the importance of recognizing that all ministry is local. We seem to assume that what works in one place will work everywhere, as if programs and processes are universally appealing and applicable. They just aren’t.
A new movie puts the spotlight on spiritual warfare.
The new film The Rite is based on the experience of real life exorcist Father Gary Thomas, a Roman Catholic Priest. In this CNN report, a journalist sits down with Thomas to talk about the facts and fiction of exorcism. It includes research that indicates more Americans believe in angels and demons, and increasing numbers are attributing events to the devil. What does it all mean? Share your thoughts after watching the video.
However, I've noticed in the last few years a real bandwagon of anti-leadership sentiment in some circles. I think it started as a push-back to the "CEO" model/mentality in some, and as such, I'm sympathetic. But from there, it has progressed to where we now have many arguing that any concept of leadership in the church should be avoided.
I am in favor of flattening things as much as is possible, but the truth is there always has been leadership in the church and there always will be. There will always be the community and from that community certain men and women will serve by exercising the role of (depending on how you translate) presbyter, overseer, or elder. And inherent in the concept is a sense of both serving AND leading.
We'll get to that in a second, but first let me respond to Fitch's points against using the term “leadership.”
1. The word "leader" is found and used in the New Testament.
Fitch cops to the "notable exceptions" of Heb 13: 17, 24 (forgetting vs 7, though!)... but then says that other than that, leadership is about diakonia, or service/servants in the NT. I agree that a biblical model of leadership includes servanthood, but it goes beyond that. Far beyond.
There’s been much ranting and raving on the inadequacies of leadership in the church, but I must admit I recoil whenever I hear people say “leadership is Biblical” for a lot of reasons. When I say “leadership” I am talking about the way the term has become adopted into the vernacular of evangelical conferences and books (most recently exhibited in this article). Last night at our “leadership meeting” (wink wink) I went off on a rant on this very topic (I have since had to repent – to me repentance is the best way of leading I know). I posted something on Facebook and a lot of brothers and sisters set me straight. So, after learning much on Facebook (it is good for something), I feel like I need to put out there why I think leadership in this mode is not Biblical, why we might need to find a new word when we are talking about what leaders do in a church, and why if we are ever going to truly “lead” a community into the Kingdom it requires a skill quite different than what many in the church have come to describe as “leadership.”
Here are five comments on why “leadership” is not Biblical.
1. THE WORD “LEADER” ITSELF IS GENERALLY AVOIDED IN THE NT Within the context of the church (with the notable exception of Hebrews 13:17, 24) we don’t find the word used. Likewise, the NT writers generally avoid using secular or Old Testament (LXX) titles for authoritative office. The NT instead uses the term diakonia (servant, service) to label people in leadership far more times than any other term in the NT (for example, Rom 11:13;16:1;1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6;6:4; 11:23; Eph3:7;6:21; Col 1:7,23; 4:7,12; 1Th 3:2; 1 Tim1:12; 2 Tim 4:5,11). The NT writers therefore used a word to describe leadership in the church which contrasted violently to the current secular notions of office. Hans Kung outlines how the NT writers saw that any words which suggest a relationship of rulers and the ruled were unusable in the new community context (see his book, The Church pages 498-502). The NT on this reading appears to carefully avoid the models of authority available in surrounding society by defining leadership in the church differently and by using different words. All this suggests that using the word “leader” as has been defined by the business culture of North America is highly dubious for the church and, dare I say, “unbiblical.”
Tomorrow is the first day of Catalyst, and today Nate Johnson and I from Leadership went to Atlanta for the pre-day of “labs,” Catalyst’s term for their workshops. This year’s theme: “The Tension Is Good.”
Several of the labs I attended were thought provoking, including Gayle Haggard’s account of her own crisis when she learned of her husband, Ted Haggard’s, moral failure, which was widely publicized three years ago. Gayle described the anger and betrayal she felt when she learned the sordid details, but said she realized, “This is my moment to confess to the whole world what I really believe.” This was not a time to abandon her faith, so she asked, “What is Jesus telling me to do?” She said the only thing she saw from Jesus was love and forgiveness. “And I can’t just say it; I have to do it.” So she has stayed with and stood with her husband.
She lamented that the church is often a difficult place to admit the need for help, especially for its leaders. “The church should be a safe place to admit temptations, sins, and struggles, but in many cases it’s not,” she said. “And so until it is, it’s important for leaders to find someplace safe to confess these things and get help.”
Are we inoculating people to the gospel by talking more about living FOR God rather than WITH him?
Yesterday Leadership Network hosted their very popular online conference "The Nines." 6 minute videos ran all day featuring church leaders discussing "game changing" insights. Skye Jethani, senior editor of Leadership Journal and Out of Ur, used his 6 minutes to highlight a turning point in his ministry when he realized much of what we do "inoculates" people to the gospel because we emphasize living FOR God rather than living WITH him.
There’s a difference between speaking about God and speaking for him.
by Christopher Bernard
I love and hate the book of Job. I love it because it poses challenging pastoral questions—like being tested by God or God’s tolerance for the devil—but I hate it because it challenges my understanding of what it means to have a pastoral spirit.
Most know Job’s story. Satan approaches God for permission to test Job. God says, “Fine, just don’t kill him.” Job loses everything, including his wealth and his children. His wife tells him to curse God and die. And then, as if that weren’t enough, he gets this weird skin disease and tries to scrape it off with broken pieces of a clay jar.
It is in this moment that his friends decide to pay him a visit. They spend a week with him, just being present with him, mourning with him, and providing for his needs—a great example of pastoral care. But after the week has passed, the real reason for their visit becomes apparent. They are there to help Job discover what he did wrong.
The audience knows Job hasn’t done anything wrong. God actually considers Job to be blameless, righteous. But in chapter after chapter, Job goes back and forth with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. He adamantly argues that he did nothing wrong. And while Job’s anger is expressed in truly poetic ways, he never curses God. Job’s commitment to God does not change.
Then in chapter 32 a young, overly zealous Elihu enters the story and takes on the mantel to verbally assault Job into submission. He uses phrases like “I want to vindicate you” and “I will teach you wisdom.” He accuses Job of being more interested in making a profit than pleasing God, among other things. It is only after Elihu stops talking that God finally says something—and what God says breaks my heart.
In your new book you write, "I cannot convince people to be obsessed with Jesus, and that's why you need the Holy Spirit." When did you come to that realization?
Once you pastor for a while, it dawns on you that nailing a sermon doesn't mean lives will change. Or you'll meet a person who's surrendered everything to Christ, and you'll realize that your sermon wasn't even good and nothing you did caused him to become a believer.
There was a guy who had been in our church for 15 years. One day he told me my preaching hadn't changed him. He said I spoke too much about the "narrow road" and how everyone needs to be radical for Christ. But he said there's also a "middle road" where people like him can do a lot of good things. I was floored by that. He's sat under my teaching for 15 years and he still believes there isn't only a wide easy road and a narrow difficult road, but also a middle road? I've been told many times that my teaching is really helpful, that I make things simple for people to understand. And then you hear something like that.
That's when I remember, I cannot make someone fall in love with Jesus.
So what's the point of all the work, sermon prep, and programs if the outcome is out of our hands?
Some of our toil is wasted, because we're toiling believing that these things change people.
A new survey of multi-site churches shows a growing disconnect between pastors and their large congregations.
In the hierarchy of church problems, most pastors wouldn’t mind figuring out how to handle a congregation that has grown so rapidly that they can no longer get to know everyone personally. The multisite church boom has met this very challenge by leveraging the best teachers with new technology to reach mass audiences at low costs. Motivated by spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, pastors understand the number of new professions of faith as a sign of God’s blessing. There appears to be little downside to adding new church sites. There is little of the personal risk and exorbitant cost of church planting. In fact, there are few arguments against multiple sites that can’t also be made against multiple services in one church building. And most medium and large-sized churches crossed that line without much consternation some time ago. So if people don’t mind watching a pastor on television, what’s holding us back?
Maybe some people really do mind. A recent report on multisite churches by Cathy Lynn Grossman in USA Today revealed some concern about the growing disconnect between pastors and their large congregations.
Five statements worth remembering during your next 50 years of leadership
1) Whatever you do, do more with others and less alone
2) Whenever you do it, emphasize quality not quantity.
3) Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you best.
4) Whoever may respond, keep a level head.
5) However long you lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace
Catalyst Leadership is a new digital magazine combining the wisdom of Leadership Journal with the innovation of the Catalyst Conference. Sign up for your free subscription today at CatalystLeadershipDigital.com/subscribe/
"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them … Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep." Romans 12
There was a point in my life when I hated weddings. I'd do anything I could to get out of going. I'd leave early. But now, when I think about all the celebrating I missed …
I think the main problem was that I wasn't married myself—and I hated just about any and every reminder of that fact.
Ditto things like dealing with hard issues in people's lives, confrontation, or even other people's sickness. Nothing in my life had ever exposed me to—much less equipped me for—much of that at all. So, of course, it was good to go into a vocation like ministry where I would deal with all of those things on a regular basis.
While I always hated going to weddings, I've found doing weddings another thing entirely. As I drove home from a wedding the other day, I realized just how much I enjoy this role I get to play in people's lives.
In fact, I think I've always enjoyed doing weddings—well, except maybe that first one. The "pressure to enjoyment" ratio was way out of whack on that one. Good thing it only lasted about 10 minutes. On this last one, I think I finally crossed the 90 percent ratio in terms of pressure to enjoyment. Now it's almost pure pleasure. I know what I'm doing. I feel like I have something to offer. And most of all, I can relax and enjoy my front row seat.
Live (sort of) from Willow Creek's Leadership Summit
by Kevin Miller
Opening illustration: Ship captains will sail if waves are 3 feet, 6 feet, or even 9 feet high; but what they fear are rogue waves--the unexpected high wave.
All of us in organizational leadership this past 8 months have been hit by economic turmoil and difficulty and ferocious conditions. Yet for seasoned leaders, such conditions are perfect for leadership to emerge. They force new levels of courage and creativity. The Holy Spirit whispers, "This is why I gave you a leadership gift. You were born for this." These times create great memories and strongest bonds with our team members. A "rogue wave" draws something out of us.
1. Philosophical Lessons. In one week last fall, the stock market lost almost 20% of its value--the single biggest drop in one week since the Great Depression. Many church members at Willow Creek lost their jobs. Calls began coming to the church, asking for help with groceries. A business guy called, who normally gives $200,000 to $300,000 to the church each year. He said, "Bill, I'm not going to be able to give anything. I not only lost my job and my investments, I think I'm going to lose my house."
Rethinking the church's relationship with the gay community.
When Andrew Marin's three best friends "came out" to him in three consecutive months, the self-proclaimed "Bible-banging homophobe" wanted desperately to understand his friends' experience. So he moved to Boystown, a Chicago neighborhood populated primarily by GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) folks. He founded The Marin Foundation in 2003, to build bridges between the GLBT and Christian communities. Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien asked Andrew what his experience might mean for the local church.
Why should the average pastor care about improving the conversation between his or her church and the GLBT community?
We are currently running the largest national scientific research study ever conducted about in the GLBT community. Preliminary data reveals a statistic that stands out above all the others: eighty-six percent of the GLBT community was raised in a denominationally based religion. This tells me that the Christian community's mindset about gays and lesbians is often flawed. It's not an "us versus them" issue; it's actually "us versus us." Up to age 18, 86 percent of the GLBT community is in our churches, sharing our pews. And who knows how many future GLBT people are still in the "closet." We need to be asking, How can the church be a safe place for them to talk about their struggles and attractions.
At the end of his lecture and after answering a smattering of questions, the pristine and aged New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger, asked Doug Moo if he could share something on his heart to the seminary students gathered that day.
With the moral vigor and verbal clarity Metzger was known for, he looked at his audience and simply said, "Stay married."
I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon called "Stay Married," or even a sermon that dealt with reasons to stay married. I suppose we can guess why this is so. At the top of my reasons would be a fear to offend the many - some say as many as 50 percent of evangelical Christians - who are giving money and serving in the church who are already divorced.
Next on my list would be our awareness of those listening to the sermons who are struggling with a spouse who is borderline abusive, or at least a creep. We know well that such marriages will likely dissolve.
Probably next would be that we have family and friends, some of whom are leaders and pastors themselves, who are divorced. I'm thinking we might come up with a half dozen or more other reasons that make us cautious about preaching on staying married. I hope not to offend this audience in what follows but, for the sake of the holiness of the church and the potent witness of a good marriage, I want to offer a pragmatic reason for staying married.
Do you believe in ordination? Or, more accurately stated, do you believe in denominational structures that regulate who is ordained for ministry based on prerequisites, credentials, and education?
Tony Jones, author and a leading voice of the emergent church, has started a ruckus on his blog about the legitimacy of denominational ordination after watching his friend, Adam Walker-Cleaveland, endure a slow and difficult ordination process. According to Jones, Adam has "suffered abuse" through the ordination process of his denomination. Jones wrote:
Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity. When rules and regulations trump common sense, then the shark has officially been jumped.
But what gets to me even more is that bright, competent, and pastorally experienced persons like Adam continue to submit themselves to these sinful systems. They assure me that it's not for the health insurance or the pension. They do it cuz they feel "called." And if I hear another person tell me that they're sticking with their abusive denomination because, "They're my tribe," I'm gonna go postal.
Jones' frustration led him to launch an online petition calling Adam to circumvent his denomination and accept ordination by "the body of Christ."
Mulling the "degree of difficulty" and the Great Judge
My son is a gymnast, so I've had to learn about "difficulty factor." That means a judge gives a gymnast better scores for harder routines. For instance, if your dismount from the high bar involves a double back flip with a twist, your difficulty factor, and thus your potential score, is greater than if your dismount is merely a single flip with no twist.
Today's sessions at Catalyst West never used the term, but "difficulty factor" was the common theme as speakers described the various levels of response to the gospel. The question they did NOT address was how the Judge will evaluate the lives of people who attempt the various levels of difficulty.
Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.tv, for instance, talked about "Line 3 believers."
By his categorization, those who step up to line one, "believe in the gospel enough to benefit from it." They're involved with the gospel because they like the church, the community, the sense of forgiveness and purpose and meaning that it gives them.
Others step up to line two and "believe in the gospel enough to contribute comfortably."
Leadership is live from Orange County and has an announcement.
by Brandon O'Brien
Today Marshall Shelley and I were at Mariner's Church in Irvine, California, for the pregame show of the first ever Catalyst West Coast conference. Led by Erwin McManus and the rest of the Mosaic team, the Origins Labs (as they were called) were an opportunity for some smaller group, interactive sessions on topics related to engaging culture, reaching the hard to reach, and other perennial challenges. Catalyst West begins in earnest tomorrow, and you'll here more from us about that then.
The Porn Pastor talks about ministry in Las Vegas.
The Spring '09 issue of Leadership journal should be arriving in mailboxes this week. The issue is called "UNHOOKED: Finding Release from Vices and Addictions." We editors searched for ministers who were tackling addiction head on, whether in their churches or in parachurch ministries. And we're pleased with the final product.
Our lead interview in this issue is with Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com and, more recently, the Strip Church in Las Vegas. In the video below, Craig talks a little bit about the mission of the Strip Church and what it means to take the gospel into the darkness.
As we journey through Lent toward Easter, I want to be mindful of the dangers that surround this season and threaten the soul of a community and the soul of a pastor.
What danger? The temptation to bait and switch.
Every year I need to remind myself that Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to market our programs or build "my" church, even under the guise of concern for lost.
And as I feel the pressure to create a winning, life-changing sermon for those who may only come this one time a year, I especially have to remember: It's not about me. (Please wait a minute while I repeat that to myself a few times.) Why? Because heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that communicates that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing it preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.
"What the congregation needs is not a strategist to help them form another plan for achieving a desired image of life, but a poet who looks beneath even the desperation to recover the mystery of what it means to be made in God's image." So says pastor-professor, and poet, M. Craig Barnes, in his new book: The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Eerdmans, 2009).
Wisdom needs to be the name of the pastoral game. Wisdom finds its way into the poetic (not as in rhyming and verse), and not enough of us are committed to a life intent on wisdom. I wish more pastors (and Christians) were committed more to wisdom than to success.
How can the pastor get beyond the ordinary, the routine, the boring, the mundane, and the concrete realities that (sometimes, often) numb the joy out of life? What perspective can the pastor find that leads behind and beneath and beyond?
If this is what you are wondering, this is the book for you. The prose is graceful, the thoughts emerge from experience, and the perspective as fresh as it is old: the wisdom of the poet.
Theologian J. I. Packer on restricting the Lord's Supper
Late in 2008, theologian J. I. Packer sat down with a few CTI editors to talk theology. Here's what Dr. Packer had to say when the conversation ranged to Communion.
Do you believe that access to the Lord's Table should be restricted, and if so, how does the church do that in a way that's inoffensive?
Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord's Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord's body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.
The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it's failed, then the text says, "Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican," a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, "Don't come to the Lord's Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that."
So a comedian, a Jew, and a monk walk into a conference...
by Brandon O'Brien
Skye and I arrived in San Diego this afternoon for the 2009 National Pastors Convention.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the opening evening of headlining sessions was the variety.
The evening started with a short routine by acclaimed comedian Michael Jr. Michael is a young black performer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who says he operates by a sort of "comedy accountability." Because he performs in bars, clubs, casinos, and even churches (Michael's a Christian), he says "everything I say in a club has to be clean enough to say from a church pulpit; everything I say in a pulpit has to be funny enough to say in a club." His material tonight drew from his experience becoming a Christian and encountering the Bible for the first time.
Time traveled to the frozen Midwest to report the obvious: Rural communities struggle to recruit trained pastors. The dateline could have read 1979 and the story would not have looked altogether different. The situation has certainly worsened in the last 30 years, but the problem's origins date back at least that long.
Plagued by severe "brain drain," rural American towns have been grasping for ways to entice doctors and motivated teachers to return and settle. According to Time, pastors may be even less inclined to serve small towns than their college-educated counterparts.
"The ticktock of farm auctions and foreclosures in the heartland, punctuated by the occasional suicide, has seldom let up since the 1980s," Time reporter David Van Biema wrote. "But one of the malaise's most excruciating aspects is regularly overlooked: rural pastors are disappearing even faster than the general population, leaving graying congregations helpless in their time of greatest need."
Church leaders are focused on best practices and missional theory, but what really matters is often overlooked.
by Skye Jethani
At any given moment we are each engaged in three dramas, but only one of them ultimately matters.
First, there is the drama of the practical. These are the events and measurable conditions that surround us every day. For many church leaders the current drama of the practical involves the economic crisis and keeping their ministries solvent. At other times the drama of the practical is about increasing attendance, launching a new program, or financing a building campaign. Those men and women who learn to master the drama of the practical are often the most revered and celebrated. They know how to get things done so we buy their books, attend their conferences, and listen to their advice.
But there is a second drama that many practical actors ignore - the drama of the theoretical. While we are busy living our lives and doing our ministry, there is a deeper drama informing and guiding our decisions. This drama of the theoretical is where our assumptions and beliefs are at play; where our often unspoken philosophy of ministry is behind the scenes pulling the levers and pushing the buttons - what we believe about the church, mission, culture, and theology. Those with more reflective faculties are able to speak and identify this drama of the theoretical in a way many practical dramatists simply cannot. For this reason, as my college professor used to say, they often find themselves writing about the world rather than running it.
Most pastors and church leaders, as well as the resources created to help them, are primarily concerned with these two dramas - the practical and the theoretical. What should I think and what should I do? For this reason we often ask secular experts in the practical and theoretical to help us lead our churches. But we deceive ourselves if we believe these two dramas comprise the bulk of our life or significance. Because behind the drama of the practical, and far deeper than the drama of the theoretical, there lies a third drama more powerful than either and whose outcome controls them both - the drama of the eternal.
The remarkable story of Flight 1549 carries lessons for church leaders.
by Gordon MacDonald
This morning I took a few minutes to watch video of the remarkable rescue effort in the Hudson River yesterday. For a long, long time, this will remain in the minds of people as a highpoint in the American experience. It appears to have brought out the best in just about everybody. And it provides a dramatic contrast to those who, in recent months, have ripped off people for billions of dollars and cared only for themselves.
These themes come to mind from the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson River."
The way of an airline pilot (age 57) who has spent his professional life becoming an expert in safety. He is a glider pilot, a military pilot, and an airline pilot. It looks like there could hardly have been a better person at the controls. In the impenetrable mysteries of a providential God, does He nudge a man prepared like this into the pilot's seat for that flight? Just wondering.
Story-tellers will celebrate his quick decision-making. He had less than a minute or two to decide whether to try to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or land on the river. No small decision. Made in seconds.
Some will highlight his courage in sticking with the plane, walking the aisles twice to make sure everyone was evacuated. Would you and I have done the same?
Then there's the co-pilot who, in the process of exiting the plane, took off his shirt and gave it to man who, apparently had taken off his coat, to give to a woman who had none. There's a Christian thought here.
Failure to remember leads to economic recession and spiritual lapses.
By Collin Hansen
Over the holidays, you probably relished how gas prices largely returned to "normal." Prices higher than $2, $3, or even $4 per gallon just seems so un-American. So why are national opinion writers so diverse as Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman pushing for increases in federal gas taxes?
It seems Americans have returned to their old habits. Friedman notes that more Americans purchased trucks and SUV's than cars in December. This reverses a trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles that extended back to February 2008. You should be able to guess by now how this scenario will play out. Bigger vehicles means more demand for gas, which means gas prices will eventually return to the levels we saw in the summer of 2008. But by that time, the momentum for alternatives to gas-powered vehicles may have stalled yet again, leaving American consumers and their government at the mercy of foreign oil producers. "Have a nice day," Friedman writes. "It's morning again - in Saudi Arabia."
Krauthammer observes that Americans pay 18.4 cents per gallon in federal taxes. Drivers in Great Britain, like those in many other European countries, pay nearly $4 per gallon in taxes. Americans would hardly relish a new tax whose effect they would feel so directly. So Krauthammer and Friedman each suggest an offsetting cut in payroll taxes. But what's the point, if the federal government will reap no new revenue from the increased gas tax?
The columnists believe higher gas taxes would permanently shift consumption patterns. The American government might as well take the lead in manipulating gas prices. Otherwise America's so-called allies will continue to offer the carrot and wield the stick in order to control the U.S. economy.
Why can't we just remember this destructive pattern and resolve to break it?
It’s often neglected, but the imagination is critical to discipleship.
by David Swanson
The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful. –John Piper
I begin with two assumptions. First, John Piper is correct about the magnitude of the imagination to the Christian life. How else can we relate to our spiritual ancestors, distant in time and culture? The teachings of Jesus demand his hearers to imagine a different way of living; his parables draw us into worlds we’ve never experienced. Scripture is filled with the poetic, apocalyptic and prophetic along with nail-biting and head-scratching narrative. Imagination helps me participate in this active Word of God; it’s what moves me from an observer to an accomplice. Through a Christ-centered imagination history becomes my story, poetry becomes my prayer, and the coming Kingdom of God becomes my reality.
Second, Christian imagination is either stimulated or sedated by our surroundings. Having recently made the transition from the suburbs to life and ministry in Chicago, I’m convinced that our environment either hinders or stimulates this overlooked facet of discipleship. Consider a few generalizations from my previous and current zip codes.
Music, theater, visual arts and film all prod us to consider the world in new ways. Chicago has dozens of small theaters, film festivals and galleries of all kinds. A woman from our church recently staged a series of one-person Bouffon clown shows; something I didn’t even know existed until she invited my wife and I to a performance. With few exceptions, suburbia’s artistic exposure comes from one place: the megaplex. The movies consumed at these theaters generally reflect Hollywood’s interest in the box office bottom line. The aesthetic quality of standard megaplex fare can be argued, but there is no comparison with the myriad of imagination-provoking artistic venues found in the city.
Leadership's upcoming interview with Craig Gross from The Strip Church.
The winter issue of Leadership is still a few weeks away from your mailbox, but the editors have already started working on the spring issue. They're still refining the topic, but it will be something about ministry in a culture of brokenness and addiction.
In a few weeks Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien will be traveling to Las Vegas to interview Pastor Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com - "the #1 Christian porn site on the Internet." Craig has been on a mission to help the church talk more openly about the epidemic of pornography and provide support for those seeking to escape its grip. He's also recently relocated to Las Vegas to start a new ministry called The Strip Church.
Here's a video of Craig Gross being interviewed about his ministry to porn addicts and producers.
Jethani and O'Brien will be talking with Gross about how ministry needs to adapt to a culture where vices are becoming more prevalent and more acceptable. They may also connect with other pastors in Sin City to hear how churches are wading into these cultural currents. They'd like to know what questions you have for Craig Gross, and what the editors of LJ should ask churches on the front lines of the vice wars.
I imagine you may be paying more attention to the market news. Our 401Ks have turned into a 201Ks! The markets are in transition. Most likely this recession will not be quickly fixed with bailouts and the lowering of interest rates. The unraveling of our security seems to be happening at unprecedented speed, leaving many disoriented and stressed.
This is affecting churches too. Giving is down. Layoffs are happening not only among our members but also our church staffs. I spoke to one friend who said their giving is over thirty percent below what was expected. Many of us in church leadership are facing hard decisions. To avoid some of these hard choices by closing our eyes only delays the inevitable pain.
When chaos happens it's easy to just hunker down, think of quick strategies to get out of the mess, or make rash choices. But perhaps slowing down for a season of reflection would do us well. What might God be saying to me, to our country? While we gravitate quickly to happy endings and stories of inspiration, perhaps a period of confession and repentance is also in order. Could this be a disciplining from God?for America?for our churches? for me?
A pastor reflects on the challenges of a new ministry context.
A couple of weeks ago, Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien spent a day talking with Out of Ur friends and contributors in Chicago. The result of his efforts is a series of podcasts we'll be releasing on Ur over the coming weeks. Today we present the first of those.
Brandon spoke with a regular contributor to Out of Ur, David Swanson. David writes the monthly Urban Exile column, which chronicles his experiences and reflections as he adapts from suburban ministry to urban ministry. In this session, David discusses what he perceives as the differences in values between the urban and suburban congregations he has served in.
Sometime last year, a short passage of Scripture lodged in my brain. It's been rubbing and needling there ever since and challenging the way I think about ministry.
The passage is from Isaiah 42. Describing Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the prophet says: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." These beautiful snapshots of compassion and tenderness bring to mind the ministry Henri Nouwen describes in The Wounded Healer (Image, 1979). They present a vision of Christian service that suits my personality. That's why I find it so troubling how discordant this sentiment is with the following words of Jesus: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
To put the matter bluntly, this offends my understanding of authenticity. When I think of someone being "real," I usually have in mind that said person behaves the same way around everyone. He's confident "being himself." That's what makes the TV doctor House so endearing. He's a jerk, sure; but he's a jerk everywhere and always. He's so authentic. And, because authenticity is such a central cultural value for people my age, it's easy for me to adopt the mantra, Be yourself. If you're nothing else, be real. But Jesus - he interacted with some people in one way and others in another. That's the textbook (if junior-high) definition of "inauthentic."
"It's not an issue of whether or not we should engage moral evil and politics, but is it our primary job? It's not the main job of the church to be running the government or to influence legislation. The main job is to live out the kingdom. I feel like some Christians put the political cart before the kingdom horse. Christians in America differ very, very little from the broader American culture. We're almost indistinguishable. I'm focused on getting my congregation to live out radical kingdom principles 24/7. If we get that done, I think we'll have a lot of clarity about how to engage the culture, including politics."
-Gregory Boydis pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Taken from "Body Politic" in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
If you live in a suburban or urban area, you have probably asked and answered these questions countless times. The follow-up question is meant to uncover something about your conversation partner that can't be learned by hearing which faceless suburb he or she inhabits. But at the rate Americans continue to move, this follow-up question may not elicit a better answer.
According to a USA Today report last fall, nearly 50 million Americans - more than 16 percent of the population - moved in 2006. Mobility increases during inclement economic weather, which is one reason why during the late 1990s the rate slowed to pre-World War II times. Though 2008 data has not yet been analyzed, we can expect the moving rate to increase given the high number of home foreclosures.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently connected this trend to the Republican and Democratic nominees for President. Sure, you know Sen. Barack Obama lives in Chicago, and Sen. John McCain lives in Arizona. But do their places of current residence tell you anything about them?
Scot McKnight says N.T. Wright and Christopher Wright show the future of theology.
Recently I was asked where theology was headed. I assured my reader that I wasn't "in the know" but that I would hazard a guess or two. First I thought we were likely to see a more robust Trinitarian theology, one deeply anchored in the great Cappadocian theologians like Gregory of Nyssa. But in some ways all the main lines of Trinitarian thought have already been sketched by great theologians like Karl Barth, James B. Torrance and others. With this first idea now set aside, I had a second idea of where theology is going: "The Wright Brothers."
No, not those Wright Brothers, but another set of Wrights (who aren't even brothers, except in Christ): Tom and Chris. Even if they don't map where all of theology is headed, these two scholars and devoted churchmen, both Anglican, do set before us two words that have become increasingly fruitful and I think will be the subject of serious theological reflection in the future. The two words are "earth" and "mission." Each scholar discusses both, but I will focus in this post on Tom Wright's focus on "earth" and Chris Wright's focus on "mission."
Increasingly we are seeing more and more Christians own up to the earthly focus of biblical revelation - the claim God makes upon this earth through his Eikons (humans made in his image). We are seeing a deeper reflection on what it means to participate in the historical flow, in government and politics and society and culture, and we are seeing a renewed interest in vocation and work. One of the more striking elements of this new surge is that theologians who are deeply anchored in the Bible also see our eternal destiny having an earthly shape.
What's really at issue in the new masculinity movement?
Back in April, Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien wrote an article in Christianity Today about the recent trend toward manly Christianity in some evangelical churches. The article generated quite a buzz on the website and in the blogosphere. Brandon was recently interviewed on the subject for an article in USA Today. Last week, Skye Jethani, Leadership managing editor, talked with Brandon about the articles and asked him a few hard questions. What really keeps men out of church? Where do our gender stereotypes come from? What's really at stake here?
Ur's O'Brien featured in USA Today regarding men in church.
Today you can read Leadership's own assistant editor, Brandon O'Brien, was in USA Today. The report by Cathy Lynn Grossman highlights the lengths churches are going to reach men. O'Brien wrote an article last spring for Christianity Today on the errors that plague some of these Christian masculinity movements. He was tapped by USA Today to comment on the trend. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
O'Brien says most of the "guy churches" don't go to the degree 121 has, "but much more prevalent and more alarming is the number of churches that promote a stereotype of muscular male behavior as the only correct godly way to be."
He describes a 2002 gathering of comedian Brad Stine's GodMen ministry, featuring videos of karate fights, car chases and a song with lyrics urging, "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed ? Grab a sword, don't be scared - be a man, grow a pair!"
O'Brien counter-punches that those who prefer lattes and books to bows and arrows are equally able to embody Christ-like qualities. "Guy church" pastors should not forget that "humanity in the image of Christ is not aggressive and combative; it is humble and poor."
A fresh look at Jesus’ miracles may change the way we do outreach.
Conventional ministry wisdom goes something like this: When launching a new church, first analyze the felt-needs within the target area or population. Then construct ministries to address those felt-needs. Felt-needs based ministries will draw people to your church, and simultaneously positively predispose seekers to the gospel message. In this scenario, caring for peoples' felt-needs plays a supporting role in the mission.
What if this conventional wisdom is wrong?
The idea outlined above is what I was taught in seminary, it's what I read frequently in ministry books, and it's what I see practiced virtually everywhere I go. But I increasingly suspect that the theological foundation for felt-needs based ministry may be sand rather than stone.
The biblical rationale comes primarily from the gospels. Jesus, it is thought, performed miracles in order to confirm the content of his preaching. His "acts of power" (the word "miracle" is rarely used in the Greek-language gospels) function as validation for his verbal proclamation. In other words, you should believe what Jesus says because look at what he can do.
Translating this principle into contemporary ministry, we are told that identifying and satisfying felt-needs will confirm and validate the gospel we preach - and hopefully draw a crowd the way Jesus' miracles did. But there are a few problems with this understanding.
"To me, the church should not aim to be 'real' as an end. The church is there to proclaim truth. Trying to be hip and cool and real does a disservice to the church. We're not called to be successful. We're called to be obedient, even if they don't come.... If somebody doesn't find you objectionable, I wonder if you're preaching the full counsel of God."
-James Gilmoreis co-author of Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business School Press, 2007). Taken from "Keeping It Real" in the Spring 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
"This divorce of APE (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist) from ST (Shepherd, Teacher) has been disastrous for the local church and has damaged the cause of Christ and his mission. In my opinion, this contraction of fivefold to twofold ministry is one of the main factors in the decline of evangelical Christianity in the West. If we want a vibrant missional church, we simply have to have a missional leadership structure with all five functions engaged. It's that simple!"
-Alan Hirschis a leader of the Forge Mission Training Network in Australia, and author of The Forgotten Ways (Brazos, 2007). Taken from "Three Over-Looked Leadership Roles" in the Spring 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Brandon O'Brien, assistant editor of Leadership, has a provocative article over at ChristianityToday.com about the shortcomings of the new Christian men's movement. From worship songs that inspire men to "Grab a sword, don't be scared. Be a man, grow a pair!" to chest-thumping sermons, the de-feminizing of the church may be doing more harm than good. Here is an excerpt from O'Brien's article:
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, desires greater testosterone in contemporary Christianity. In Driscoll's opinion, the church has produced "a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. ? Sixty percent of Christians are chicks," he explains, "and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks."
The aspect of church that men find least appealing is its conception of Jesus. Driscoll put this bluntly in his sermon "Death by Love" at the 2006 Resurgence theology conference (available at TheResurgence.com). According to Driscoll, "real men" avoid the church because it projects a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" that "is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for." Driscoll explains, "Jesus was not a long-haired ? effeminate-looking dude"; rather, he had "callused hands and big biceps." This is the sort of Christ men are drawn to - what Driscoll calls "Ultimate Fighting Jesus."
Shane Claiborne on grace, Baghdad, and the imagination.
Here at Out of Ur we've been hosting a conversation about the themes found in Shane Claiborne's latest book, Jesus for President (part one and part two). As is evident from this conversation, Shane is a guy who provokes a response in those he encounters. Certainly those at the Shift conference who just heard Shane speak about The Scandal of Grace got a taste of this.
Before proceeding, let me tell you how hard it is to summarize Shane Claiborne. The guy is a non-stop storyteller! Stories about growing up in Tennessee attending youth group. Stories about his home in the rough neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Stories about going to Iraq on the eve of the bombing of Baghdad. On top of his stories, Shane quotes incessantly: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King JR, and Dostoevsky among others. Consider this a plea to check this post in a couple hours when we can post some video of this session.
Update. Here are some video highlights from this session.
Have Christians forgotten that discipline is a gift from God?
For the past couple of weeks, Ur-banites have been wrestling with questions about church membership. Below, Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, takes one of the big questions head on: how does a church discipline its members?
On January 18, 2008, The Wall Street Journal Online published an article by Alexandra Alter on church discipline entitled Banned from Church. When Alexandra interviewed me before writing the article, I explained the biblical basis for church discipline and acknowledged how churches have sometimes neglected or abused the process. I also described how properly applied accountability can help people break free from sinful and destructive conduct. I even provided examples of churches that had used loving discipline to stop crooks from defrauding elderly people, protect lonely women from being seduced, and move child sexual abusers to confess their crimes ("A Better Way to Handle Abuse").
Despite our conversation, Alexandra chose to paint an entirely negative picture of discipline by using the example of a 71-year-old woman who had been removed from her church for questioning her pastor's leadership. Examples of protecting the elderly, the lonely, and the helpless from abuse apparently did not fit into her preconceived notions of church discipline.
I'm sad, but not surprised, when secular writers present a negative stereotype of church discipline. What troubles me far more is how many Christians share these distorted views.
What will pastors be pondering as they return from the National Pastors Convention?
The pastors who attended last week's National Pastors Convention have now returned to their churches across North America. David Swanson presents his final reflections on the convention and the issues it brought to his attention.
Now that the National Pastors Convention has ended, I'd like to offer my highly unscientific observations about some trends I observed this past week.
Bishop John and Bishop Wright reflect on the power and great cost of following Jesus.
In his second report from the National Pastors Convention, David Swanson describes how two Anglican bishops helped him recognize Christ's presence among all the convention glitz and kitsch.
May I confess something? I've experienced a bit of cynicism at this conference over the past few days. Everywhere I look, I see another Christian item for sale. I'm writing this post in front of a TV showing the latest installment of a hip teaching series. Off to my left is a display for the new Narnia movie, and to my right is a recruiting station for Army chaplains.
My cynicism is probably not helpful. But I have nevertheless found myself wondering, "Where is Jesus in all this stuff?" One answer to that question has come in the form of addresses from two Anglican bishops.
Bringing hope is one responsibility no leader should delegate.
Ronald Reagan once gave this nugget of advice, "Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere." Recently, John Ortberg read the biography of another president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and through FDR's story he came to the realization that there is one aspect of leadership we should never delegate - hope.
I don't have a problem with delegation. I love to delegate. I am either lazy enough, or busy enough, or trusting enough, or congenial enough, that the notion leaving tasks in someone else's lap doesn't just sound wise to me, it sounds attractive. But I am coming to the conclusion that the one task a leader can never delegate, especially in the church, is hope.
I have been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time (Simon & Schuster, 2004). She notes that Franklin was not the most intelligent president of all time (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously called him a "second-rate intellect but a first rate-temperament.") He was surrounded by leaders who were more educated, more accomplished, more gifted, and more knowledgeable. But he had one gift that mattered more. "No factor was more important to Roosevelt's leadership than his confidence in himself and in the American people," she wrote.
"The old paradigm of evangelism was a transactional sharing of the gospel. I would try to get people to intellectually agree with me. But the new paradigm is different, an approach in which I invite you to walk alongside me, examine my life, and see evidence of the truth, and hopefully there will be something compelling that you see. It's a no-strings-attached invitation to enter my life as I follow Jesus."
-Ken Fong is the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. Taken from "5 Kinds of Christians" in the Fall 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
A CEO says pastors would never make it in the business world, but is that bad?
The line between ministry and the business world has blurred. It is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between secular leadership and sacred leadership, and there are some influential voices arguing that any differentiation is artificial. As a result, many pastors have eagerly sought the wisdom of business leaders to help them manage their churches. But what if the tables were reversed? Could a pastor successfully lead in a business environment? Friend of Ur, Andy Rowell, is back with his thoughts on this question.
Jack Welch is the legendary former CEO of GE and one of the most respected leadership and management gurus in the business world. In the September 20th issue of BusinessWeek, Jack and Suzy Welch wrote an article called "Leaving The Nonprofit Nest." You can also watch the video or listen to the podcast.
Welch recounts the story of a woman who has tried to move from a nonprofit organization (think "church") into the business world. She gets nowhere. She can't even get an interview. The reason is simple - businesses have not had much success with people from the nonprofit world.
Welch says the fundamental problem is that nonprofit people just can't adjust to the competition.
If a church refuses to marry gay people should it still bury them?
In August, leaders at High Point Church in Arlington, Texas, "cancelled a memorial service for a Navy veteran shortly before it was to start because the deceased was gay." That is how the event was described by the Associated Press. The report ignited a firestorm of bad press for the church with many accusing the congregation of homophobia.
Initially, High Point Church had volunteered to host the funeral because the dead man was the relative of a church employee. However, the church withdrew the offer when the family asked that a choir of homosexual men (Turtle Creek Chorale) perform at the funeral. In addition, they wanted a homosexual minister to officiate the service. The church's decision to cancel the funeral was "a slap in the face" according to the man's sister.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the church's reason for cancelling the funeral had nothing to do with the man's homosexuality but that "his friends and family wanted that part of his life to be a significant part of the service." This contradicted the church's policy and beliefs.
Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?
Gordon MacDonald's column for October is my own lament: Why are there so many spiritual babies? And why don't the mature believers do something about it? We're really good at bringing people into the kingdom, Gordon says, but lousy at prodding them to maturity. Our sage is not afraid to point fingers.
I have been musing on the words of Martin Thornton: "A walloping great congregation," he wrote, "is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints.
The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre."
"Saints," he says. Mature Christians: people who are "grown-up" in their faith, to whom one assigns descriptors such as holy, Christ-like, Godly, or men or women of God.
Now mature, in my book does not mean the "churchly," those who have mastered the vocabulary and the litany of church life, who come alive only when the church doors open. Rather, I have in mind those who walk through all the corridors of the larger life - the market-place, the home and community, the playing fields - and do it in such a way that, sooner or later, it is concluded that Jesus' fingerprints are all over them.
Does Christian radio have more influence over your flock than you do?
Sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura,?sola radio? The following conversation is based on true events.
Church member: "Pastor, I'm very disturbed by something you said in your sermon yesterday."
Pastor: "I'm glad you came to talk with me about it. What's bothering you?"
Church member: "In the sermon you mentioned Erwin McManus."
Pastor: "That's right. I quoted something he said about church membership."
Church member: "Well, I'm very disturbed that you would reference someone like him in a sermon! McManus is part of the emerging church, and I have serious problems with their theology based on what I've heard on the radio."
Expert advice from Leadership’s first sage, Fred Smith, Sr.
Leadership's longtime friend and sage Fred Smith, Sr., died on Friday, August 17, 2007 at age 91. Smith was an accomplished businessman, church leader, and mentor at the time Leadership journal was launched in 1980. He was featured in the first issue, and we have welcomed his sage advice in the journal's pages many times since.
When his health prevented him from leaving home for lectures and group meetings, Fred began inviting young leaders to his house for a weekly breakfast. That led to a website and new interaction with a new generation of leaders through his "Ask Fred" e-mails.
Even at his advanced age, Fred was learning what's really important in life and ministry. Here an excerpt from Fred's last article in 2005, the distillation of Fred's final years as a mentor.
It must be awfully safe to write to a 90-year-old, because I get lots of questions. Most of them deal with hard issues of character, spiritual growth, and suffering. I suspect many think of me as playing in my second overtime, so they assume that the answers may be coming from a little closer to heaven.
They tell me they believe I will give them an honest answer and that at my age I should have more answers than they do. I do my best to thoughtfully respond. But sometimes I just have to say, "I have been struggling with that same issue for all of my adult life, and I will be praying for you."
A few weeks ago Scot McKnight shared how the gospel we preach is having an adverse impact on the church. Last week at the Spiritual Formation Forum he spoke in greater detail about this problem. He called the standard evangelical gospel, outlined below, "right, but not right enough." Essentially, we've watered down the good news in a way that has marginalized the church in God's plan of redemption.
This fact was driven home recently by a friend of mine who teaches at a Christian college. He said a hand in the class went up in the middle of his lecture about the church and culture. The student, in all sincerity, asked, "Do we really need the church?" My friend was struck by the question, and by the fact that the classroom was filled with future church leaders. Something is amiss when even Christian leaders are questioning the necessity of the church. That something, according to McKnight, is the gospel we've been preaching.
A rant from the pastor of a small, organic, missional community.
Crack your knuckles and prepare to type your comments. Pastor/professor David Fitch is back with his take on why leading a small church is more difficult, and more rewarding, than being a mega-church pastor.
My recent conversation with Bill Kinnon over the big church superstar mentality spurred me on to think of my own experience as a church planter. I have often pondered the church planter's task versus the mega church pastor's. To me, what the smaller, organic, missional community leaders do is much more difficult. Here's why.
It is more difficult to take 10 people and grow a body of Christ to 150 than it is to transplant 200 or 300 people and then grow that congregation to 5,000. A crowd draws a crowd. From day one if you have all the bells and whistles, 5 full time pastors, a youth program, and a charismatic speaker with spiked hair (a shot not aimed at anyone in particular) and you don't mind putting the smaller community churches out of business, it will be harder to stop attracting a big crowd.
(BTW, did you know that statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, occurs? Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?)
Pastor and professor Scott Wenig understands the profound responsibility church leaders face in the aftermath of a tragedy. Nine years ago his community was devastated when two teenage gunmen entered Columbine High School. Wenig shares the wisdom he gained after that heartbreaking event with church leaders now struggling to respond to the murders at Virginia Tech.
"Death in the morning," the eighteenth century lexicographer Dr. Johnson said, "powerfully clears the mind." Just as they did nine years ago at Columbine, our minds once again got tragically cleared this past Monday with the dreadful slaughter of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech. In light of this horrendous event, pastors, teachers and other Christian leaders will seek to provide some words of comfort and understanding to those under their spiritual care. What can they affirm that might supply some solace? And what should they avoid lest they unwittingly hurt rather than help?
First, I would suggest that we avoid well meaning words of unintentional foolishness. Telling our listeners that those who were murdered are now "in a better place," or that "God needed him or her for a job up there" or that "Someday we'll know why this happened" may not be true and almost certainly cannot heal hurting hearts. In our desire to minister, let us be pastorally reflective rather than theologically sentimental.
Second, I would suggest that we avoid any sort of theological pontification.
Dallas Willard has said, "We fail to be disciples only because we do not decide to be. We do not intend to be disciples." But which is the greater problem, the person who does not intend to be a disciple or the church that never expects him to be one? Dave Johnson, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota, shares about a man from his childhood church. Ray was an elder who showed no evidence of transformation, and the church never seemed disturbed by that fact. Johnson asks the obvious question: What's up with that?
His name was Ray. He sat in the 3rd row on the aisle seat of the church I grew up in. Every Sunday, there he was - watching, critiquing, making sure my father said it right. Ray's Bible was a thing to behold. Words underlined and circled with arrows pointing to other words - notes in the margin of almost every page. I think he knew the Bible better than God.
Ray was a church guy. When I was 10, he scared me. When I was 20, after my father had begun to share with me the inside story of life in ministry, I came to realize that Ray scared him too. My dad was the pastor of our church. Ray was one of his elders - at least for a time - and he wasn't a happy guy. The Spirit's fruit, like love and joy, rarely showed up in him in any discernable way, and he didn't much like it if showed up in yours.
Have you ever heard of Nikolai Velimirovic? I hadn't either until Brian McLaren introduced me to a prayer written by the Serbian Orthodox bishop. McLaren credits the bishop with helping him process the increasing criticism he's received in recent years. In this interview, McLaren shares his thoughts about the blessing of having both friends and enemies.
How do you handle criticism? Did your years as a pastor prepare you for what you're now experiencing?
As you know, I have people writing books and saying very critical things about me, but in some ways it's no harder then being a pastor was. In fact, it might even be easier. Many pastors know what it's like to have people they've cared for - people they've married, and baptized, and counseled - come up and say, "You're not meeting our needs anymore, and we're leaving." It's wounding. It's very, very hard.
When we hear criticism, it can echo in our minds for days. On one hand, we can't stop beating ourselves up and second-guessing. On the other, we're tempted to get revenge. We torture ourselves. What I found I need to do is retrain my instinct to defend myself. Of course that is what Jesus was talking about when he says to turn the other cheek.
"Modern Christianity has emphasized the immanence of our Savior, but, pushed too far, we are in danger of making the God of the universe little more than our buddy."
-Tony Jones is coordinator of Emergent Village. Taken from "Prayer Beyond Father Weejus" in the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Shane Claiborne wants to tear down the walls that separate us.
In part one of his post, Shane Claiborne challenged our assumptions about hell. Is it merely something people experience after death, or is hell a living reality for many on earth? Claiborne continues by proposing an offensive rather than defensive posture for the church toward hell.
C.S. Lewis understood hell, not as a place where God locks people out of heaven, but as a dungeon that we lock ourselves into and that we as a Church hold the keys. I think that gives us new insight when we look at the parable of Lazarus or hear the brilliant words with which Jesus reassures Peter: "The gates of Hell will not prevail against you." As an adolescent, I understood that to mean that the demons and fiery darts of the devil will not hit us. But lately I've done a little more thinking and praying, and I have a bit more insight on the idea of "gates." Gates are not offensive weapons. Gates are defensive - walls and fences we build to keep people out. God is not saying the gates of hell will not prevail as they come at us. God is saying that we are in the business of storming the gates of hell, and the gates will not prevail as we crash through them with grace.
People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. I say that I am more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or we can fear those things which can destroy our souls, and we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia.
Shane Claiborne on ministering to those trapped in hell on earth.
Last year Brian McLaren shared his views about hell in a series of three posts on Out or Ur. This year we welcome a new voice on the subject. Shane Claiborne is a founding member of The Simple Way, a new monastic community in Philadelphia, and the author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. In part one of his post, Shane discusses his childhood memories of preachers "scaring the hell out of him," and reflects on a more Christlike alternative.
I figure anytime you are about to talk about hell it's good to start with a joke, so here we go?.It was a busy day in heaven as folks waited in line at the pearly gates. Peter stood as gatekeeper checking each newcomer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. But there was some confusion, as the numbers were not adding up. Heaven was a little overcrowded, and a bunch of folks were unaccounted for. So some of the angels were sent on a mission to investigate things. And it was not long before two of them returned, "We found the problem," they said. "Jesus is out back, lifting people up over the gate."
I remember as a child hearing all the hellfire and damnation sermons. We had a theater group perform a play called, "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" where actors presented scenes of folks being ripped away from loved ones only to be sent to the fiery pits of hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and we all went forward to repent of all the evil things we had done over our first decade of life, in paralyzing fear of being "left behind"? the preacher literally scared the "hell" out of us.
But have you ever noticed that Jesus didn't spend much time on hell.
On Sunday morning Pastor Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church arrived at the coffeehouse where his congregation worships to discover three of the three hundred sketches decorating the space were nude drawings. After debating the nature of art, holiness, and the church's responsibility, Dan had to make a decision - flash the flesh or lose the nudes? Dan's first post outlined the nature of his deliberations. Here is the rest of the story.
The nude drawings were very tastefully done, classical and artistic, it was not erotica. But we took them down. I felt keeping them up would cause more questions than it was worth. Additionally, there was no time to warn parents about the nudes on the walls of the coffeehouse before our worship gathering.
"We modern, well-educated, pastoral Dr. Phils may, if not careful, begin to think our answers are more important than God's Word or God's presence. But we must remember that we are servants of Christ in the ministry of healing damaged hearts, not religious answering machines."
-Randall Hasper is pastor of Paseo del Rey Church in Chula Vista, California Taken from "Domestic Disputes" in the Fall 2006 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
One of the most famous churches in the world, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, was originally decorated with dozens of nude figures on the ceiling. Painted by Michelangelo, the chapel is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art. However, a later Pope was uncomfortable with the nudity and hired another artist to paint loincloths over Michelangelo's nudes. For centuries people have debated the pope's actions. Was he advancing holiness or desecrating art? Not long ago Pastor Dan Kimball from Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, faced a similar decision.
I got a call Sunday morning as I was driving to our worship gathering. A friend informed me that the coffeehouse our church worshiped in had new artwork displayed including a number of nude drawings. He asked what we should do? No one taught me how to handle this in seminary.
We recently opened the coffeehouse as phase one of our building plan. We are using it for worship until we develop a business plan that allows us to open the coffeehouse to the neighborhood every day like a normal coffee shop. The mission of the coffeehouse is to be a place where those outside the church can meet us, develop friendships, and hear and experience the gospel in a variety of ways.
The coffeehouse has an art theme that changes every 6 to 8 weeks. We recently asked people from inside and outside the church to submit art from their sketchbooks. Our art team strung cords all around the room like a spider web, and the artwork was fastened to the cords. A local tattoo artist submitted beautiful tattoo sketches. Another artist created landscapes. But among the three hundred sketches submitted were three nudes.
"Most Christian leaders sense that there should be something different about our leadership than what is offered in the secular marketplace, but we're not always sure what that is."
-Ruth Haley Barton is a spiritual director, teacher and retreat leader. Taken from "Is My Leadership Spiritual?" in the Summer 2006 issue of Leadership Journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
"Christian leaders have to admit this is the system we have put together. We can't build churches that advertise 'tons of ministries to meet your needs,' then be surprised when people expect us to continually meet their needs."
-Kent Carlson, pastor of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California Take from "Cookie Cutter Community" in the Summer 2006 issue of Leadership Journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
Leadership editor Marshall Shelley is in Atlanta this week for the Catalyst Conference, where 9,000 mostly younger leaders of churches are meeting to discuss ministry in today's culture. Here's his first report.
The conference officially begins tomorrow. Today was filled with "labs," 15 seminars on topics ranging from "Passion" (led by pastors Eugene Peterson, Craig Groeschel, and Mark Buchanan) to "Culture" (writers Andy Crouch and Lauren Winner, and the National Endowment for the Arts' Erik Lokkesmoe) to "Mission" (Shane Claiborne, Mike Foster, and Gary Haugen).
Right now I'm sitting in the balcony of the Performing Arts Center, where in a few minutes an informal "unplugged" session will feature a conversation between neo-church pastors Chris Seay of Ecclesia in Houston and Rick McKinley of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Oregon, and a Rwandan pastor whose name I don't know.
I heard McKinley for the first time this afternoon when he presented a lab on "This Beautiful Mess: a conversation on the Kingdom." Most people, especially the Catalyst crowd, know McKinley as "the pastor of the church where Donald Miller of ?Blue Like Jazz' goes." So I was somewhat surprised that Miller's name was never mentioned during the introduction or the hour-long session. But McKinley didn't need any borrowed credibility.
What makes a good pastor? In seminary I was told a good pastor knows Greek and Hebrew. Church elders told me a good pastor keeps the budget in the black and people in the pews. In part two of his post, Jim Martin, pastor of Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, Texas, continues his thoughts on good pastors (a.k.a. "Jesus Leaders").
We are at our best when we help move men and women toward the kingdom of heaven. Contrast this with Jesus' observation that some teachers of his day seemed to get in the way of people moving ahead toward kingdom living. In far too many churches there is a disconnect between the men and women in the pews and those who are leading the church. How tragic when the church appears to be ahead of the leaders. How tragic when those who lead no longer have a genuine pastoral heart for people. Not so with Jesus leaders. They shepherd people like Jesus.
Pastors have an image problem. Despite the growing number of celebrity pastors on television, radio, and bookstore shelves, the wider culture's respect for clergy has been declining for generations. Jim Martin, pastor of Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, Texas, reflects in this article about Jesus' words to religious leaders and how they can help us
The plane was about to take off from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I noticed the man in the seat across the aisle, one row up, as he began to read The Dallas Morning News. On the front page of the paper in bold letters was a jarring headline. A local pastor had been found guilty of sexually assaulting three women. I watched my fellow passenger as he began reading the story. I wondered what was going through his mind.
Many people are cynical about the church. That's not news. There are many reasons for this cynicism. Some are cynical because of a basic mistrust of the people leading these churches. Some feel burned after learning a leader was living an immoral lifestyle. Others have been burned by placing their confidence in some church leader only to be severely disappointed due to displays of anger, ego, manipulation, etc. In contrast to these experiences, many people today would find genuine Jesus leaders to be quite refreshing.
Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.
This post is a preview of McLaren's commentary in the upcoming Fall issue of Leadership. Here the Emergent leader encourages churches and parents to begin investigating why young adults are leaving the church - not to argue them back into the fold, but simply to understand their perspective. NOTE: Some of the more thoughtful comments to this post will be reprinted in the Fall 2006 print issue of Leadership, available in mid-October.
There was irony in the title of the old TV game show Family Feud. The irony was that the feuding between families was much less intense than the cheering within families as members tried to answer the same trivia questions.
In our churches, family feuds of another sort arise when members of the same family are asking different questions. For example:
In the third row, left side, mom and dad are asking how they can raise their 14-year-old daughter so she will never rebel and never get in trouble. Meanwhile, their daughter, seated with her friends in the last pew, is asking how she can get out from under their control.
Some churches are more unstable than others. This may not be the result of impulsive leadership or poor planning, but rather the life stage of the congregation. Dave Terpstra pastors The Next Level Church in Denver, a community comprised primarily of young singles and families. Here, Dave compares the instability of church attendance to the half-life of radioactive material and gives some helpful suggestions from his own experience.
I have noticed a trend in the churches of which I have been a part. Most church attenders have a half-life. In other words, on average, one can predict the longevity of an individual's participation in the church by their life stage. [I'm going to be using general terms and rough numbers so please don't get lost in the details, but try and stick with the overarching analogy.]
After high school students graduate from high school, about half of them will leave the church. After college students graduate, about half of them will leave. When a college grad takes a career, again half of them leave the church. When they get married, when they have kids, when they become empty nesters, when they retire?half, half, half, half.
In this final installment of his interview on hell, Brian McLaren provides more insight into how he understands the teachings of Jesus, and offers five suggestions for rethinking our traditional understanding of hell.
Let me offer five suggestions on how we could re-approach this subject by looking at the Scriptures in a fresh light. After all, my opinions aren't worth two cents compared to what the Scriptures actually say. First, I'd suspend the common assumption that every time the word judgment occurs in the Bible, it means "going to hell after you die," or every time the word save occurs, it means "going to heaven after you die."
Second, I'd encourage people who say, "Well, what about Matthew 25:41?" or some other specific passage to also pay attention to the reasons those passages give for people experiencing those negative consequences. Jesus never says, "If you don't believe in a particular theory of atonement . . ." or "If you don't accept me as your personal Savior by saying the sinner's prayer . . ." then you'll experience the lake of fire. That's not what he says. I put a table in the book that tries to help people attend to what the texts actually say, and in case after case, they simply don't say what many Christians commonly say they do.
In part one of this post, Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo tried to deconstruct the traditional evangelical view of hell. Here, McLaren continues to outline his view as neither universalism nor an exclusivist understanding of hell. And he pushes us to reconsider the questions we pose versus what Jesus really says.
McLaren: Tony [Campolo] and I might disagree on the details, but I think we are both trying to find an alternative to both traditional Universalism and the narrow, exclusivist understanding of hell [that unless you explicitly accept and follow Jesus, you are excluded from eternal life with God and destined for hell].
Tony is presenting the inclusivist alternative. The fact is, many people who claim to be exclusivists are actually inclusivists and they don't know it. For example, if you ask them if they believe all babies who die before or shortly after birth go to hell, they'll say no, that children who die before the age of accountability are included in Christ's saving work. They'll say the same for people who are mentally incompetent, and so on. So really, strict exclusivists are rather rare.
My approach is a little different. Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists, in the end I'd rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important.
No contributor to Out of Ur has elicited more responses than Brian McLaren. Part of McLaren's appeal is his courage to rethink long-held evangelical assumptions and call the church to shed the baggage of modernity. Brian's critics, however, accuse him of throwing the orthodox baby out with the modernist bath water. In this interview McLaren discusses his view of hell and judgment, and explains why some have mislabeled him a universalist. Part one of this post also features fellow prophet Tony Compolo.
Brian, in your book, The Last Word and the Word After That, you focus heavily on "deconstructing" the evangelical view of hell. Some critics think your deconstruction has moved to the point of your embracing a "universalist" position. Are you a Universalist?
McLaren: No, I am not embracing a traditional universalist position, but I am trying to raise the question, When God created the universe, did he have two purposes in mind - one being to create some people who would forever enjoy blessing and mercy, and another to create a group who would forever suffer torment, torture, and punishment? What is our view of God? A God who plans torture? A God who has an essential, eternal quality of hatred? Is God love, or is God love and hate?
Are you looking for new people to attend your church? Try eBay. In January, DePaul University graduate student, and committed atheist, Hemant Mehta listed his services on the auction site. Mehta promised to attend one hour of church for every ten dollars of the final bid.
Off the Map.org purchased the atheist's services for $504 and sent Mehta on his assignment to attend churches throughout the Chicago area. With an open mind, an outsider's perspective, and a dose of humor, Hemant has been reporting his findings on Off the Map's "Atheist Blog."
In a recent post, Mehta explained why he's addicted to Christian media. He began with his musings about TV preacher and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen:
I enjoy watching Joel [Osteen] for the same reason many Christians don't watch him? it's Christian-lite!
The song "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode describes the faith of many: "Your own personal Jesus. Someone to hear your prayers. Someone who cares." In this post, John Suk, a professor of homiletics at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, The Philippines, challenges popular evangelical jargon by questioning whether having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is poor theology or, worse, a capitulation to theraputic secular values? Below is an excerpt. You may read Suk's full article at Perspectives Journal's website.
Evangelicals generally insist that "the meaning and purpose of life is to have a personal relationship with Jesus." That's how a Methodist pastor I was listening to a few months ago put it. Philip Yancey says it another way in his Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000): "getting to know God is a lot like getting to know a person. You spend time together, whether happy or sad. You laugh together. You weep together. You fight and argue, then reconcile."
But we also confess that Jesus is not physically present on earth. So how does one have a personal relationship with someone you can't talk to, share a glass of wine with, or even email? We need to do some fundamental reflection on the whole notion of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. While, on the one hand, I respect the longing for intimacy with God that these words reflect, they also concern me because they betray a creeping sort of secularization of our language about God.
How do we organize a church without becoming "organized religion"? Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church and pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, wrestles with this paradox in the upcoming Spring issue of Leadership. Here is a preview.
Leadership in the emerging church is a paradox. I am someone who fully sees the need and value of mission statements, organizational charts, and a strategic approach to leading. I read everything John Maxwell, Bill Hybels and Jim Collins write, and they really do fuel my heart and passion for leadership. The irony however, is that most growing up in our emerging culture are fairly critical of anything that looks like "organized religion." So when it comes to developing a leadership culture, there is great suspicion of anything that seems to be "business" oriented or too structured, since that feels like a reinforcement of the exact thing they are critical of.
I've heard Tony Campolo speak enough to know you're in trouble when he takes off his glasses and squints his eyes so tight they disappear into his skull. At that moment his brain is loading a spiritual bombshell into his mouth and preparing it for delivery. Campolo's bombs found their target on Wednesday night at the National Pastors Convention is San Diego.
He formed his talk around a sociological study (Campolo is a sociologist by training) conducted with people over the age of 95. The survey asked them, if you could do life over again what would you do differently? Most responses fell into three categories:
1. Reflect more
2. Risk more
3. Do more that will live on after I'm gone
While each of his points were powerful, I was especially impacted by Campolo's exhortation that church leaders take up their prophetical calling to be the opinion shapers of the culture - a calling that always involves risk.
I read with interest - and some pain - the first few days' worth of responses to my article. I thought that some readers would be interested in a few of my responses to their responses.
Before beginning though, I should say that I just learned today that Leadership Journal/CTI has an informal editorial policy on homosexuality. I was unaware of this policy when I wrote the article. If I had known, I wouldn't have submitted the article because it assumes a variety of opinion on the issue that is beyond the journal's policy. If I were a guest in your home, I wouldn't knowingly bring up subjects that are against family policy, out of common courtesy as guest to host ? and I feel that I have been rude, albeit unintentionally, in causing discomfort to the hosts and readers of this column. Please do not hold the hosts responsible for your disapproval of my guest column. In my defense, I was told that the subject of this issue was sexuality, and I was simply trying to offer something of value to pastoral leaders on this subject. But I should have inquired as to a policy on this subject before writing my column. Speaking of rudeness, I would also like to express my dismay that the editors allowed my friend Doug Pagitt to be treated despicably in one response. I'm glad they removed the most offensive sentence, but I find it stunning that people would applaud that kind of thing. I would much rather stand with Doug as ones being insulted than stand with those casting or celebrating the insults.
Hundreds of readers have posted comments about Brian McLaren's article on forming a pastoral response to the "homosexual question." One such reader was Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. As "one of the 50 most influential pastors in America" and an outspoken critic of the emergent movement, we thought others would like to read Driscoll's comments.
Well, it seems that Brian McLaren and the Emergent crowd are emerging into homo-evangelicals.
Before I begin my rant, let me first defend myself. First, the guy who was among the first to share the gospel with me was a gay guy who was a friend. Second, I planted a church in my 20s in one of America's least churched cities where the gay pride parade is much bigger than the march for Jesus. Third, my church is filled with people struggling with same sex attraction and gay couples do attend and we tell them about the transforming power of Jesus. Fourth, I am not a religious right wingnut. In fact, when James Dobson came to town to hold the anti-gay rally, we took a lot of heat for being among the biggest churches in the state, the largest evangelical church in our city, and not promoting the event in our church because we felt it would come off as unloving to the gay community. The men who hosted the event are all godly men and good friends and I've taken a few blows for not standing with them on this issue. Fifth, I am myself a devoted heterosexual male lesbian who has been in a monogamous marriage with my high school sweetheart since I was 21 and personally know the pain of being a marginalized sexual minority as a male lesbian.
Since posting Brian McLaren's commentary about homosexuality we've had difficulty keeping pace with the responses being written. Reading through the comments reveals why homosexuality is known as a "wedge issue" in our culture. Our readers appear divided between heralding McLaren as a prophet, and condemning him as a heretic. Below is one response we received by a blogger named Jeff who disagrees with McLaren's suggested five year moratorium on making pronouncements about homosexuality. But unlike many other critics, Jeff also writes about his very personal engagement with this issue.
1. To make the accusation that "we" (evangelicals or the church or the "religious right" whoever "we" are) consider homosexuality to be somehow "more sinful" than any other transgression based on the fact that we seem to be giving so much time, energy and attention to it at present is somewhat unfair. The church didn't have a secret meeting somewhere and decide that now is the time to take action against "those homosexuals." Our reaction has been totally defensive, forced upon us by court-mandated acceptance of homosexual marriage, the consecration of homosexuals to leadership positions in the church, the media's glorification of the homosexual lifestyle and the continuing actions of the militant portion of the homosexual community.
In his prominent role as author, theologian, speaker, and leader of the emergent conversation some forget that Brian McLaren is also a pastor. In the latest issue of Leadership Journal, which focuses on ministry in a sexually charged culture, Brian shares a story that reveals the complexity of the homosexual question - a question where theology, truth, sin, grace, culture, politics, and pastoral wisdom collide.
The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.
That "still, small voice" told me not to answer. Instead I asked, "Can you tell me why that question is important to you?" "It's a long story," he said with a laugh.
Leadership associate editor Skye Jethani tells the story Mike Sares shared with him at a conference earlier this year. Tell us what you would do if you were Mike.
A few days before Christmas, pastor Mike Sares got a call from his associate. "Mike," he said, "Mary Kate Makkai has agreed to read one of her poems at the Christmas Eve service. It's really, really good, but it's got the F-bomb in it several times, and I just thought I should check with you about that."
Sares first told me his unexpected "F-bomb story" last March at the FutureGen conference in Orlando. We've all heard the tales of pastors accidentally detonating a vulgar ordnance from the pulpit (everyone's recent favorite being Blake Bergstrom's infamous "pitch your tents" faux pas). But the dropping of multiple F-bombs during a Christmas Eve service with laser guided premeditation? That is nothing to laugh about.
Mike Sares pastors a congregation called "Scum of the Earth" in Denver, Colorado. No, Scum of the Earth is not your typical congregation. Scum calls itself "a church for the right brained and the left out." They embrace authenticity, creativity, and those who are on the margins of society. That explains why Sares didn't immediately take the nuclear option off the table. But he wasn't quite ready to push the button either.
Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren are influential among church leaders, although their influence is often from a negative position. Some would say their value is in how many people they make mad. Both men have taken contrarian stances on many topics, from homosexuality to hell. In the second of our four-part interview, Campolo and McLaren discuss the feedback they're getting.
What are you hearing from pastors and leaders who are in the trenches who are reading the kind of things you are writing about?
Campolo: One thing I hear, and I'm sure you do too Brian is, ?I'm so glad you're saying what your saying - I wish I could say it, but I'm afraid to.'
Hello from the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. I just heard a new Guiness World Record set: more than 8,000 people sitting on Whoopee cushions simultaneously. It was explosive!
I am hopeful that the rest of the Catalyst conference will be as exhilerating, if not more substantive. If Andy Stanley's message this morning is any intication, it will be. More on Andy, other speakers, and the whole Catalyst experience later. Editor Marshall Shelley is here. He's taking good notes will share some thoughts. Carol, Cory, Jennifer, and Jesse from our Leadership team are also here. We're giving away 2 free copies of the Journal to the first 1,000 people who visit our booth, and one of them will receive $300 in iTunes.)
Five characteristics of a Catalyst leader:
1. Courageous in calling.
2. Engaged in culture. (Culture is not the enemy, but rather the environment we serve in, says Andy.)
3. Passionate about God.
4. Uncompromising in integrity. (The subject of Andy's message.)
5. Intentional in community.
Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren have much in common. They have been hailed and hammered, venerated and vilified. Lately they are said to have an orthodoxy that has become too generous. The pair was interviewed by Keith Matthews, former lead pastor with McLaren at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Cedarville, Maryland, and now a professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University. This is the first of four parts in our blog conversation.
Matthews: How do you both see yourselves - your calling within the evangelical church? Are you prophetic voices, reformers, or just agitators and rebels to the status quo?
McLaren: I think I'm more aware how others see me versus how I see myself in the evangelical world. I think a number of people see me as a problem, but I hear from an awful lot of other people who say they can't stay evangelical with the rising "religious right" identity - they are embarrassed to be associated with a lot of the people that they see on television representing evangelicals, they are embarrassed by the strident language, they are embarrassed by their narrowness, and they are looking for someone who speaks for them, someone like a Tony, or Jim Wallis or myself and say there's at least some alternative.
Campolo: I don't particularly know if we've become prophetic as much as returned to what we used to be, but now, the evangelical community has moved much farther to the right and has left many of us out their stranded - I think that's the best way to describe it.
You know, I basically believe the same stuff I did thirty years ago, but the world has changed and the sense of commitment to the poor and oppressed has taken on a different form.