Saturday, March 06, 2010
Friday, March 05, 2010
The Gospel humiliated?
Wilson's title cuts to the heart of it:
An Earnest Call For Evangelical Leaders To Recover The Gospel From Its Present HumiliationI was struck first that I do not think "The Gospel" can be humiliated - we can be, but it cannot. The truth remains the truth regardless of what we do with it. But I am not a big fan of discussing "The Gospel" in that fashion anyway. It reduces the good news of Jesus Christ to some paradigmic formulation of our invention.
Christianity is truth, and that is important, but it is so much more. Edelen goes in the right direction when he says:
As Kierkegaard so ably said, if we American Christians genuinely lived the Gospel we say we believe, every single aspect of how we live, work, love, commune, and bleed would be radically altered. Almost none of the way we live would resemble the lifestyles we have becomes so enamored of. We wouldn’t recognize our old lives at all. And we would look so profoundly different from the rest of the world that it would have to sit up and take notice.But again, there is that "gospel" language that I find problematic. We don't act on the truth of Jesus, it acts on us. Our problem is not that we don't "act like Christians," our problem is that we are not transformed.
Here I am using words to describe something that is decidedly unwordy - A difficult task. Truth, "the gospel," is an intellectual concept. We are part intellect, but we are not all intellect. We are very concerned about how we "feel" about Jesus. Again, emotions are part of us, but they do not define us. Hence we refer to the "spiritual." That words means some level that defines the very essence of who we are. It is not another part of us - its ALL of us. We have to contact Jesus on that level. And that requires the least likely thing in any modern American, genuine self-examination.
In the end it is simple. You want to "save the gospel from its present humiliation?" Then each of us, and it must start with leadership, must allow ourselves to be humiliated.
- Angular Momentum. It makes the world go ‘round.
- f(x)=x^2 + 3x walks into a restaurant and asks for a sandwich. “Sorry”, says the waiter, “we don’t cater for functions”.
- There are 10 types of people in this world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t.
- Why do programmers mix up Halloween and Christmas? Because Oct 31 == Dec 25.
- Mrs. Schrödinger to Mr. Schrödinger: What did you do to the cat? It looks half dead! (ed note: FOTFL!)
- Two atoms are walking down the street. One stops and says, “I just lost an electron!” -- “Are you sure?” asks the other. -- “Yes. I’m positive.”
- There is no place like 127.0.0.1.
- A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. He asks the bartender how much. The bartender says, “for you, no charge.”
- Protons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic.
- Dr. Heisenberg is stopped by a traffic cop who asks him, “Do you know how fast you were going?” -- Heisenberg replies: “No, but I know exactly where I am” -- The cop exclaims “You were going 95 miles per hour!”. -- Dr. Heisenberg gasps, looks around and says “Where am I?”
- Then there was the Mathematician who got a job at Social Services. He was an expert at integrating radical neighborhoods.
I apologize, sort of - Gilbert Gottfried once made a joke in is act that involved a Jewish reference, and while he was laughing himself silly (and the audience wasn't) he muttered, "Sure make a Jewish reference so obscure that even Moses won't get it." That may be what happened here, but I did amuse myself.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Here's one way that I try to discern what I need to be serious about: Was Jesus serious about it?Fair enough as far as it goes, but a lot hinges on what saves the lost and builds disciples. For example, worship styles are not quite as trivial as we think. Some worship styles can fail to call us forward into discipleship. And more importantly, is there salvation without discipleship? Scot McKnight wrote about "the problem of hell" for Christians. He says that believing in an eternal hell creates a "justice problem" for a loving God. Well, there is a justice problem in a God that grants salvation in the absence of any serious effort to change too.
I mean... what was Jesus serious about? Because that's what I want to be serious about.
Saving the lost? Yep. Carpet color or worship style? No. Making disciples? Yes. Arguing about money or service times? Not so much.
My point is that the distinctions Todd is making are not as clear cut as they might appear at first glance. Bottom line is, everything should be taken seriously. Todd's issue is not about what we take seriously or not, but how we handle and deal with what we take seriously.
Between nations there are serious issues worth going to war about (just war) and some that must be handled diplomatically. Both are equally serious, but the cost of settling them in various fashions must be weighed. So it is in the church.
Service times for example are indeed a serious issue. The families in the church build their Sunday lives around those times. In some cases they have been doing it for decades. To change the times causes enormous disruption for them. Everything from work schedules to meal times for infirmed parents can be affected. It is not trivial. To say it is "not serious" grossly minimizes those profound and problematic effects for those families.
That said, is such a thing worth a church civil war? Probably not, and yet it happens. One must wonder why. Frankly the attitude that it is "trivial" is the source of such civil war. When you minimize those real and painful effects on people, you wound them in ways that is worth civil war. This is particularly true with people that have been a part of and served the church for long periods of time. They rightfully feel a sense of connection to the church that raises the trivialization of their concerns to the level of personal betrayal.
Even if people do not start a civil war over such betrayal - word gets around. Temporary gains that results from the actions that resulted in the pain usually disappear in the longer term as people find out that the church is increasingly willing to step on people's feelings in such a way.
That does not mean a church does not change service times, but it does mean the church has to learn how to do so in a way that allows for the relationships to be upheld. It requires enormous time and energy, and the boundless resource of love that only the Holy Spirit can provide.
I wonder what would happen if a church's first concern when making such "trivial" changes was how to minister to the disgruntled? I wonder if the love of Christ might not be seen in a light that really changed the neighborhood?
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
One of my comments about that church was that it had all the welcome the guest procedures down. What it didn't have was a congregation who would say hello or even make eye contact with someone who was obviously a visitor. The Sr. Pastor posted a comment saying that he had printed off my blog post and taken it to a staff meeting. For some things, like information missing from a website, that is important. What I wanted to know is why didn't he forward it to his Board of Deacons? Aren't those the people who should be your front line in terms of hospitality to visitors? You know what? They aren't at my Church either. So, why not?My headline says what I think about this pretty much, but it is a serious question. And it is a chicken-and-egg thing. Every pastor I have ever challenged on this has, in private, admitted that their lay leadership, especially ordained lay leadership just does not rise to the occasion. My response is always "TRAIN THEM" which garners the response that "They won't show...."
One of my pet peeves is that the best way to really foster growth in mission work is to support the rank and file members who have a vision or are doing something on their own. Our membership are degreed professionals (primarily). We can accomplish great things by empowering our own members. I would like to see a Church's mission team acting as the equivalent of a small business incubator for mission projects.
It's true, its hard to get lay people to step up to the plate. When you ask someone to do something it always comes with conditions and provisos, and endless negotiations. "Too busy with the kids." "Work is a bear right now." So it goes.
That's real, but I want to speak about something that is at least part of the problem - particularly in the PC(USA). Note JusticeSeeker's reference to the congregation as primarily degreed professionals. That means they are leaders and innovators and organizers all on their own. But too often the "Word and Sacrament" types treat them like obstacles or cats to be herded rather than resources or real leaders. Way too many pastors treat Session as something to be managed rather than allow it to fulfill its role. Most never pay attention to the Deacons at all (hint, hint)
See, here's the thing the pro's need to remember - it's not your church, it's ours. If we elders want to make a "stupid" decision - its our prerogative. Yours is to go along dutifully and if you are really worried, get your profile out there so you have a place to land when our screw-ups come home to roost. But it is not your job to try and get us out of the way somehow, or force your "better" ideas down our throats.
Here's an even bolder point - if you trained us, if you spent time developing us - then maybe, just maybe we wouldn't be such screw-ups. And that does not mean just those currently serving. You need to be working actively to develop the next generation so the Nominating Committee has something decent to pick from.
Those are severe words and the problems I raise are probably not as widespread as I make them out to be, but I have seen them more than I would like. But the bottom line is this. Leaders need to lead - they need to generate ideas, mold them, discuss them, make them their own. They do not need to simply vote the money for what the staff proposes. For Deacons they do not merely fill slots in some bureaucratic organism the Congregational Care Pastor has developed. If their role is limited you turn leaders into middle managers of the worst sort - the mindless, numb, unmotivated wage slave (only in this case, Christian duty slave.)
I do not fool myself here. Many are those unable to rise to a challenge like that. Such a road will be littered with failure. I keep thinking about the fact that the crucifixion looked a lot like failure at the time.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Caution or Whining?
To lay people it seems strange, since they work hard themselves. Should they raise this, they will be treated to a lecture from these same overworked clergy about how they, in bravely trying to take better care of themselves, are “modeling” appropriate self-care for the laity. Such talk is condescending to the laity, tedious to listen to at ordinations and most of all, unsuccessful in changing clergy behavior.AMEN!
I would personally like to declare a moratorium on all clergy self-care conversations, in the interests of clergy self-care.
My hunch, based upon my own experience in times when I have not taken care of myself, is that what I was missing was not within me already. I was lacking something, but it was not something that a lecture in self-care would fix.God empowers and God cares for us. And in my experience, lay people understand that better than clergy.
Many successful people that I admire work extraordinarily hard - massive hours - and yet they care for themselves and their families quit well. How is that? Well, in the ones I admire, they rely upon the Lord.
I am going to be entirely frank. My own sojourn into professional ministry was not so much a call to ministry as it was an effort to work out my own faith. What I discovered was that the issues of my faith could be worked out in any professional setting - because our relationship with Jesus Christ is not about what we do for a living but how we do it.
When I hear pastors whine, forgive me but that is what I hear most of the time, about "self-care," I want to tell them to get out of ministry becasue they do not get it. If they were truly tapped into the power the Holy Spirit has to offer, they would have the ability to prioritize and organize, and the energy to do all that has to be done, and let be that which does not.
It's not what we do, but who helps us do it that matters.
Monday, March 01, 2010
A Balanced Message
We all love the phrase: ‘The Gospel is not good advice, it’s good news.’ Or at least, we should love it. It’s an essential reminder that we don’t preach a moral ladder to Jesus. Instead we announce that He has come down.Christ incarnated so that He could minister to the totality of our humanity. Use whatever divisional paradigm you want - intellectual/behavioral or mind/body/soul - Christ wishes to minister to all of it - ALL OF IT! And when we limit Him to only part of it, we not only reduce His impact, we make an idol of that part.
But I am worried about a similar error in our evangelism. It’s thinking that the Gospel is a good idea - even the best idea. The crowning ‘world view’ among ‘world views’.
In reality this is precisely the ‘good advice’ problem transposed to epistemology. Where ‘good advice’ preaching proclaims a moral ladder to Jesus, ‘good idea’ preaching proclaims a reasoned ladder to Jesus.
Both approaches are just as opposed to the good news as each other. One is moral pelagianism, the other is intellectual pelagianism.
Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. The Pharisees had the Law, the problem was they had made an idol of it. Today, we often make an idol of God's immense grace.
The church is a tool, the most powerful tool, we have to make disciples of all men and nations. Yet many make church growth an idol - the point of it all instead of a means to an end.
Many of this issues develop becasue we see ourselves with limited resources. We fight between factions becasue "the church has to focus" or "the budget is limited." But the sad fact is GOD HAS NO SUCH LIMITATIONS. That does not mean we be fiscally imprudent, but it does mean that we have to understand and live like God has room in His Kingdom for ALL OF IT AND ALL OF US.
But that, of course, means we have to face the dark corners of ourselves so we can pace them too into His care. It's scary, but it is what needs to happen.