Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Song and the Story Behind It - Not Be Moved

Below is a video we put together for Vineyard Worship about the story behind the writing of the song Not Be Moved.  This song was recorded as the title track for a new Vineyard Worship Album due out in a few weeks.  Not Be Moved was recorded in Atlanta a couple of months ago and lead by my good friend and fellow Vineyard worship leader - Diane Theil.  She did a great job on the song!

Thanks to David Reece for his mad cinematography skills on shooting and editing this clip.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Christians and Politically Charged Facebook Posts

I missed the debate tonight but that’s okay because I can get plenty of passionately opinionated responses on Facebook as to who won! 

Tonight one of my Facebook friends left a comment on his status that he will be getting off of Facebook until November 7th because he is sick of the political bickering on both sides.  Honestly I am very tempted to do the same.  One thing that particularly breaks my heart in the midst of this political season is how many Christians are so aligning themselves with one party or the other to the point that it comes across that they see their own opinions as being God’s opinion.  In other words if their candidate doesn’t win then evil has triumphed.  However, I think there is another kind of evil that is being propagated through social media that in my opinion is more destructive than the election of a certain presidential candidate.

I am not against Christians having political opinions.  The truth is that we all have opinions and hopefully most folks take great effort to make sure that our opinions are well-informed. However when any Christian becomes so vocal about a particular party or candidate it gives me pause because it is giving way too much weight to something which is certainly peripheral to the Christian faith.  The way some folks are posting on Facebook one might think that backing one of the two candidates is as important as any other matter of the Christian faith.  I am concerned because when this type of posture is taken it becomes a way of siding with the divisions of our fallen broken world and its systems rather than with the redemptive beauty of Christ. 

In the Apostle Paul’s day the world was just as divisive (actually probably more so).  And it was in that context Paul wrote the stunning words of Galatians 3:28-29
 “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.(The Message)”  
Whenever we, as Christ-followers, jump head-long into the political divisiveness of this world in a very public way we are not simply taking a political stand but endorsing and empowering the same barriers that keep people divided in our world.  The good news of the Gospel is that in Christ all of the identifiers of our world are made secondary in Him.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, what gender you are, what socio-economic class or race you are.  In Christ all of those divisions are made irrelevant or at least secondary. 

As people wishing to live in such a way as to announce the kingdom of God and the rule of King Jesus we are definitely taking a step back into slavery whenever we step into playing the same old divisive power game of the world.  I don’t think that this means that a Christian cannot have political opinions or even back a candidate, but when we do, it must be in a redemptive and reconciling way (we have some Biblical examples of this with Daniel and Joseph of the Old Testament). 

It would be good for us Christians to remember that the political system of Rome in the first century was both brutal and corrupt, yet neither Jesus nor Paul (or any of the disciples for that matter) spent any time railing against it.  They realized, as should we, that there is a kingdom more powerful than Rome and a king greater than Caesar.  They also realized that the foolishness and weakness of the Gospel would work like yeast through dough (in hidden and mysterious ways) and ultimately prove more powerful than Rome or Caesar. 

We must ask ourselves if the publicizing of our political opinions in such passionate and black-and-white terms is in line with the posture of Jesus and the apostles or if it is in fact a type of reasoning that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.  Whatever the outcome of the election our hope is in neither Romney or Obama but in King Jesus.

My hope is that democrats and republicans, anarchists and green partiers, libertarians an libertines, tea partiers and tea totlers, gays and lesbians, celibates and straight couples, rich and poor, black and white, illegal aliens and native Americans, protestants and Catholics, pro-guns and no guns would come to know Jesus as their king and to live in the reality of His kingdom.  May we live in such a way that tears down the barriers in our culture or society that stand against this end.

Listening Christians?

I suspect if non-Christians were asked for words or phrases to describes those in church, their responses would not likely include the phrase "good listeners".  Let's try and change that.  That's all I have to say...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Joining the Song, Reflections on Incarnational Ministry

A few months ago I watched a documentary called Throw Down Your Heart that followed genre-bending banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck as he traversed Africa from east to west re-introducing the banjo to African music.  Most folks don’t realize that the banjo is an instrument that originated in Africa.  For that matter, many don’t realize how much of American roots music (particularly bluegrass) was influenced by African slaves making music on banjos. 

I have been a peripheral fan of African music since I was young.  Many of my favorite albums as a teenager were by artists such as Paul Simon, The Talking Heads, and Peter Gabriel who fused African melodies and rhythms with rock music.  So from a music standpoint I was excited to see how Bela Fleck would incorporate African style music into his banjo playing.  But what I came across moved me in a much deeper way than I expected.

Here are a few observations on the documentary:

  • He became a student of their music – As he traveled from town to town meeting with African musicians and singers he became a student of their particular regional style.  He didn’t try to get them to play bluegrass or pop music from the U.S. but instead listened and studied their music on their terms.

  • Joining the song – When he finally joined the song of others his approach was that of musical conversation.  Again, he wasn’t looking for these people to back him up in his agenda but rather entered into what they were playing and joined it in a way that was every bit as conversational as musical.  His banjo playing didn’t dominate or take over their music but conversed with it.

  • Transcendent music – As Bela Fleck joined these indigenous varieties of African music the result was something quite transcendent.  The music that came forth was somehow greater than the individuals playing it. The result was something bigger than either African or Western styles of music.  It’s as if their little piece of musical community brought them in touch with something beyond any of them.

  • Rediscovery – There is no doubt that all forms of western music from Jazz to blues to rock and bluegrass would not exist apart from the influence of African music.  Bela Fleck came to Africa as a benefactor of African music to reintroduce them to an instrument that was lost on much of the continent.   He helped them rediscover something of their own music that has disappeared.  Sometimes outsiders have a way of reminding us of things that have forgotten because they bring a particular perspective which insiders can so easily miss.

I found that I was truly moved by this documentary and that it stirred something deep within me.  What I saw was a picture of incarnational ministry.  In John 1:14 we read “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (The Message).”

I am absolutely floored when I think about how Jesus spent 30 years just living normal life as a human before he ever healed person or gave a sermon.  Jesus moved into our neighborhood, the world where we live and experienced life on our terms.  This idea is captured so poignantly in Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  The very compassion of Christ is evidenced by the incarnation.

As the pastor of a church it is so easy to get caught up in thinking that the main success of a church is getting people to show up on a Sunday morning or getting people to attend this or that group or to participate in this or that program.  But I wonder if that kind of thinking is really backwards.  Perhaps our aim might be better expressed in not trying to get folks who are not in church to come to a Sunday morning service but instead to truly enter into the world of others.  

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a woman in our church.  I expressed that I felt compelled to go to a local bar to begin getting to know some of the people in our community.  The only thing is that this particular bar is not really the type of place I would normally go.  I shared how I felt a little intimidated to go in there.  Her reply was “It’s interesting how you are talking about being intimidated to move out of your comfort zone and yet think of how intimidating it would be for some folks outside of church to come to a church service for the first time.  We expect them to get over their fear but we are not so easily willing to do the same.” 

When I reflect on the documentary it stirs my heart to want to be someone who can step into the world of others better—others who may be very different from me.  I spent so much of my life as one who was quick to tell others what they need to believe, but I long to be a better listener, to truly love others without an agenda.  I want to hear the song in the hearts of others and join the conversation, not to dominate or take over but to discover together what God is up to both in their story and my own story.  Perhaps we might just stumble upon some even greater music as we converse, music that draws us ever closer to the one who created us.

Friday, July 06, 2012

What Role Should Evangelicals Play in American Politics?

Below is a great dialogue between 3 generations of Evangelicals who have very well thought out views on the political involvement of Christians in America.  The conversation features Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne and is moderated by Speaking of Faith host Krista Tippet.  Though no discussions seem to be more passionate and heated as those concerning politics and religion the dialogue was both respectful and informative.  I would hope that many evangelicals would check this clip out and wrestle through the issues a bit before simply jumping in to the political process.  While I tend to find myself agreeing more with Boyd and Claiborne, I really appreciated Colson's very thought out reasons for involvement in the political process.  The video is over an hour long but is time well-spent.  Check it out:

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tom Wright Covers Bob Dylan

Who says a Bible scholar has to be stuffy?  Tom Wright, one of the premier New Testament scholars of our day (and one of my favorite authors) was recorded doing a cover of Bob Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In."  Very Cool!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Launching a New Blog All About Worship

Just wanted to let all you wrestlers out there know that I started a new blog today on the subject of worship called THE RUINED.  The blog will be a bit more focused than the conversation here.  The blog will be specifically geared to those involved in leading worship whether musicians, singers or worship leaders.  So if you fit that category or know of anyone that could benefit from a conversation on that subject send them over.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On How We Believe Statements

I really appreciate all of the comments on my last post about whether or not churches should have statements of faith. I still haven’t landed on what to do for Northshore Vineyard but I did come across a site the other day that seems to get closer to the concept of a How We Believe Statement rather than simply a What We Believe Statement.

The following is the manifesto that can be found on the website for a church called Renevatus in Charlette North Carolina

We are a people under renovation. ~ We are in an ongoing process of growth, change and development. We will own up to where we are, but we won’t stay here.

We are a community of liars, dreamers, and misfits. ~ We are a house of mercy. We will advocate for broken and marginalized people everywhere, inside and outside the Church.

We are a people from the future. ~ We act in fearless conviction that the rules have changed and that we are partnering with God to make that change visible. We will not be reactionary to anything or anyone, because the apocalyptic even of resurrection has already transformed the world.

We ARE your grandmother's church. And your great-grandmother's church. And your great-great-grandmother's church. ~ We embrace continuity with the Church’s past. We seek intergenerational and cultural diversity. We will harness the classic spiritual practices and truths that transcend time and place. We are a local representation of a timeless community.

We will practice the liturgy and the primal shout. ~ We will incite worship that engages both intellect and emotion, believing that the head and heart are to be integrated and not divorced.

We will build altars in the world. ~ We will collect and tell stories. We will celebrate and honor the people, places and things that God chooses to use.

We will reach out without dumbing down. ~ We will challenge you to think hard about God, Church and culture. We will not treat you like a consumer, but as a co-conspirator in the re-imagining of the world.

We will embrace flesh and blood. ~ We believe life in the Spirit has to be lived in a body. We celebrate the Eucharist as the full expression of God’s use of flesh to accomplish His purposes. Our own bodies are now broken with His for the sake of the world.

We are not looking to escape the world, but to re-make it. ~ We believe the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. We anticipate His kingdom coming and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We will not be done re-making the world until the final restoration of creation.
What I like about the above manifesto is that while it tells you about some of the tenants of their faith it also clues you into the way they intend on living these things out. The statement is filled with theology but in a way that also conveys personality. As far as I am concerned a statement like this is much more helpful than the typical statement of beliefs that most churches put on their web sites.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Are Distractions Such a Bad Thing For Creatives?

I’ve written and talked a lot about the practice of trying to eliminate distractions from technology and the modern world and how this is key both to the spiritual and creative life. But can there be anything good that can come from the distractions that we encounter throughout the day? Author Jonah Lerher says yes in his recent book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Jonah Lerher has set out to study the mysterious and magical world of creativity—Where does it come from and how does it work? One of the things he discovered was that creativity happens best when there is collaboration, even when it seems random and haphazard. Sometimes when we are in the midst of trying to solve a problem or create something fresh we just get boxed in by our own small perspective. Sometimes a conversation with a friend or coworker about something entirely unrelated can get us unstuck and get the creative juices flowing again. But just because these creative accidents happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be intentionality to them. Lerher sites the Pixar Animation Studio as a great example of this:

[Steve] Jobs had completely reimagined the studio. Instead of three buildings, there was going to be a single vast space with an airy atrium at its center. “The philosophy behind this design is that it’s good to put the most important function at the heart of the building,” Catmull says. “Well, what’s our most important function? It’s the interaction of our employees. That’s why Steve put a big empty space there. He wanted to create an open area for people to always be talking to each other.” But Jobs realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. Jobs began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria and coffee bar and gift shop. But that still wasn’t enough, which is why Jobs eventually decided to locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium. “At first, I thought this was the most ridiculous idea,” says Darla Anderson, an executive producer on several Pixar films. “I have to go to the bathroom every thirty minutes. I didn’t want to have to walk all the way to the atrium every time I needed to go. That’s just a waste of time. But Steve said, ‘Everybody has to run into each other.’ He really believed that the best meetings happened by accident, in the hallway or parking lot. And you know what? He was right. I get more done having a bowl of cereal and striking up a conversation or walking to the bathroom and running into unexpected people than I do sitting at my desk.” Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, agrees: “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space . . . But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact,
things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.”

I found this same phenomenon to be true when I worked at the Kenner Vineyard. Once or twice a week I would stop by a coworker’s office or bump into someone before I was leaving. Frequently I would find myself in conversations that would take 30 minutes to an hour. Conventional wisdom would say that these kinds of conversation are a waste of time, yet for me they became powerful ways to unlock my creativity, to get me unstuck. Nowadays I work a job from home so my interaction with others has to be a priority. I try to be disciplined about making time in my schedule for conversations on the phone, lunch or coffee with a friend. Not only am I better off by staying connected with others but my creativity stays much more vibrant as a result of the intentional accidental encounters with others from day to day.

What do you think of this approach to creativity?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When God Talks Back to the Evangelical Church

NPR's program Fresh Air featured an interview with anthropologist Tanya Lerhmann who did a study on the evangelical concept of having a relationship with God. Her study focused primarily on a Vineyard church in Chicago as well as another Vineyard church in California. I found this interview fascinating as it gives an outsider's take on prayer and relationship with God. During her months studying the Vineyard she said that on a few occasions she experienced God herself, though she is not quite sure what she even means by that. Check out the segment, WHEN GOD TALKS BACK TO THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH

Friday, March 30, 2012

Anonymity and the Internet

A scandal regarding blog comments posted by federal prosecutore Sal Perricone has come to light in recent weeks here in New Orleans. Perricone's blog comments, posted under a fake name, trashed local government, judges, and aspects of certain cases in federal court. While his conduct wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was certainly unethical. This story sheds light not just on ethics but on the trend of many people posting on blogs anonymously or under a hidden identity.

I was listening to WWL 870 AM radio station today. The host of a local talk program noted how ugly some of the text messages are that come into his station. He remarked that because there is some anonymity in texting in comments that people will say things they would never say on the phone or in person.

When I first started working for the Vineyard Church of Kenner we would occasionally get letters sent to the church that were very critical of me and my worship leading. However the most hateful letters were never signed and it really sucked getting them. I remember talking to my pastor about it and he told me a great word of wisdom, “If you get a letter that isn’t signed and with no address then just through it in the trash because if the person who sent it isn’t brave enough to sign it then you don’t need to read it.” I have been so thankful for that advice in the years that followed.

What do you think of anonymity on the internet?
Do you agree with the advice my pastor gave me?
Have you ever commented on blogs, or through text, or emails in a way that was anonymous? Why?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do Churches Need Statements of Faith?

I visit a lot of church websites and most of them have a statement of faith somewhere where you can read a list of the things they believe. While I think it is good for churches to believe things I wonder if a faith statement is the way to go. I have not put a statement of faith on our church web site yet. Instead I have put links to some thoughts about how we process the faith journey and what kind of church we envision. If one reads through the articles they will see that we are definitely a Christ centered, Bible believing church but probably won't walk away with a creedal statement. I am not opposed to statements of faith but they do seem more to me like preaching to the choir rather than about connecting with outsiders. The truth is we do have a brochure in our church with a statement of faith published by the national Vineyard office.

What do you think about statements of faith and their visibility on web sites?
Also if your church have a statement of faith on your web site give me a compelling reason why I should put one on my site.
And finally, is there perhaps a better framework to communicate belief than a creedal statement?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Don't Even Know What We Don't Even Know

I came across a very interesting story a few weeks back entitled People Aren’t Smart Enough For Democracy to Flourish which reported evidence from scientific studies that made the case that for most people most issues are far too complex for them to have well thought out opinions on the complex issues of today.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:
The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.
As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries.
He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found that people always assess their own performance as "above average" — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
We're just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. "To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people," Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. "We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students." Essentially, they didn't recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.
The reason for this disconnect is simple: "If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others," Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

When I look at the increasingly complex problems in our world from economics to the environment I realize that there are a host of issues of which I am really incompetent. While I am grateful that I get to vote sometimes I wonder if I am really qualified to vote on some issues. I have to admit that on more than one occasion I have gone into the voting booth to vote for a candidate in a national or state election only to realize at that moment that there were several state constitutional amendments to vote on as well. In those moments I tried really hard to read through the legal jargon of the amendments and then to form enough of an opinion to vote yes or no. Many times I just didn’t vote at all. Now some would say that I should have done my homework prior to getting in the voting booth and I would agree… but still on many of these issues homework does someone like me little good because I just don't understand these issues as well as people who have spent many years focussing on them.

For instance, let’s say there was an issue up for a vote concerning issues of when Louisiana should allow the Mississippi river to be diverted into the Achafalaya Basin or Lake Pontchartrain to help alleviate flooding up north. I could spend a week studying about the benefits and downsides of diverting the river, but the truth is no matter how much homework I do in a week I won’t really know enough about the issues of destabilizing of ecosystems, swamps and lakes, or of what a river can introduce into these environments to make more than a guess at what the right course of action might be. In the end I would probably take the approach of sparing humans from flooding. And yet this short term solution may very well have long term effects on the environment and eventually humans as well.

I use this as one example that illustrates from my own life some of the findings from the above article. If you want to talk church, music, or theology, I am reasonably qualified (at least from experience with these issues) to contribute to the conversation (though certainly not an expert).

The truth is we don’t even know what we don’t even know and many times what we think we know is just a mix of our own culture, background, sprinkled with sound-bytes from news outlets and the internet.

Speaking of not knowing stuff… I read a great blog by Frank Viola entitled I Don’t Know. Please go read it. It’s full of advice I wish I would have come across many years ago.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What Mormons Can Teach the IRS - Tithes and Taxes

Planet Money is a great podcast. If you haven't checked it out do yourself a favor. The podcast comes out about 3 times a week in 15-20 minute episodes that all have to deal with economics in some way or another. But this ain't your typical boring economics program. It's quite informative and fun to listen to.

Today I was driving around and getting caught up on a few episodes when I came across an episode on tithing, specifically tithing in the Mormon church. Many a Christian might be surprised to find out that Mormons give more money per capita than any other religious groups (the average church goer in America gives less than three percent of their income). This story was about how the federal government could learn something about creating better tax systems from the Mormons. Tithing has come up as a topic on this blog a few times recently so I thought I would through this podcast episode into the mix.

Check out the podcast here: WHAT MORMONS CAN TEACH THE IRS

The KONY 2012 Campaign


The last few days I have begun to notice the name "Kony" appearing in various places. I have to admit that I didn't know what this "Kony" was all about. I thought it must either be some sort of fashion brand or fragrance or something of a political campaign. This morning I came across a video from the organization Invisible Children that explains the campaign. The video is about 30 minutes long but is worth taking time to watch.

Joseph Kony is a rebel warlord in Uganda that has been responsible for kidnapping and conscripting some 30,000 children to fight in his LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). This guy is about as bad as scumbags come. The Kony 2012 campaign is based on the idea of making Kony famous so that the international pressure to find him and bring him to justice won't let up. The video explains this idea more so I won't go into that much detail here. I will say that the campaign worked in raising my awareness. I watched the video this morning with my son Ezra.

My initial thoughts are that this is a good cause to back because it is not simply anti-war in an abstract way but rather focused on a specific situation with a specific plan. The strategy to make Kony famous is quite creative as well by turning the tables on this wicked leader.

What do you think?
Is this a worthy cause?
Is this a good strategy to take or does making him famous send the wrong message entirely?
If you disagree then what would you propose to do to deal with Kony?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Slow Church Anyone?

“[Old Entish] is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” – Treebeard, from Lord of the Rings

Several years ago my dad passed a book on to me called In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore . In the book Carl writes about the growing Slow Movement around the world. The movement is a revolt against the relentless drive to do more, better, faster that has characterized the world since the industrial revolution and continues at an exponential pace as a result of the technological revolution. The slow movement questions whether societies and cultures may be losing their soul for the sake of efficiency and productivity, building a wonderful world where wonder itself is relegated to the margins.

Much of the “slow” movement started around the concept of slow food. Slow food is food that is prepared with intentionality, fresh ingredients, and celebrated with others. As far as the slow foods proponents are concerned the journey (preparation of the meal) is as important as the destination (the meal itself). The slow foods movement recognizes the central place of the table in relationships and that a meal can be nourishing relationally and emotionally as well as physically. But the growing slow movement isn’t simply about food but about coming out from under the tyranny of the urgent in all areas of life, living as human beings and not just human “doings”.

When I read In Praise of Slowness it really resonated with what I was beginning to feel at that time in my life as well. It seemed as if I had spent so many years working at a frenzied pace and all the while missing some of the greatest blessings that were all around me yet that I was too distracted to notice. So I was pleased to stumble across a blog today called Slow Church. The subtitle of the blog is, “because you can’t franchise the Kingdom of God.” While I haven’t read that much from the blog I am excited to see people in the church wrestling with the idea of slow church.

In the past few decades the church has become so influenced by the culture and practices of corporate America that the idea of Slow Church seems not only countercultural but almost heretical in some circles. There are very few churches questioning the paradigm of “more, bigger, faster” church growth. It is assumed that if a church is successful it will embody that way of thinking. Perhaps there is a different way to grow a church that isn’t so focused on numerical growth and quantity but depth of growth and community.

So here’s a few slow questions for today (take your time in answering them):
How do the ideals of the slow movement resonate with you?
What can church learn from the slow movement?
What might a slow church look like?

Related Posts:
Running to Stand Still
Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Eyes
My Holograph Preaches Better than Your Hollograph

Monday, March 05, 2012

REPOST: Where is Your Church Going to Be?

The following post was originally published on June 3, 2009 at a time when we were still making preparations to plant a church but had not yet started even meeting as a small group. I referenced this blog in a message this past weekend: WE CARRY EACH OTHER and got to thinking that it might be cool to repost it here over two and a half years later. For what it's worth I still agree with what I wrote here and am still working to see these ideas take shape in downtown Covington.

June 3, 2009

Since announcing our intentions to plant a Vineyard Church in the Covington / Mandeville area (which we are calling North Shore Vineyard) a couple of months ago I have been asked two questions just about every day and some times more frequently than that.

The first question—“Is ‘north-shore’ one word or two?” On this particular question I have sided with the Microsoft Word version of spell-check and have kept is as two words (I know deciding anything based on a Microsoft program is heresy to a Mac user but at least I used the version of Word for Mac.)

The second question that I am asked, even more often than the first, seems easy enough on the surface but is really packed with certain assumptions—“Where is the North Shore Vineyard going to be located?” I realize what folks mean when they ask this question and it has something to do with the location of the building in which a Sunday service will be held. However, the implications of this question have really got me thinking. The very question implies that the church building is perhaps the central defining element of what constitutes a church. And while most folks ask this question innocently, I can't help but think that it is indicative of the way church is increasingly perceived in this day and age where the most meaningful part of the Christian faith is linked with the attending of a service in a building. Now, before I go on any further I want to make it clear that I am not against church services or having buildings to meet in. It just seems to me that this type of thinking is evidence of a deeper problem with church in our culture, no doubt tied to the highly consumerist society in which we live, where church is looked at more as a product or service rather than a vibrant community of faith and mission.

I have heard the question posed, “If your church were to disappear tomorrow would your community notice, or for that matter, even care?” While this is a very good question to wrestle with concerning mission and outreach and connection to the community, another helpful question might be, “If your church building and Sunday service were to disappear would your church still exist?” This may sound like a very odd question to ask in a country with so much religious freedom and so little persecution of Christians but I believe it is a very constructive question to ask because it gets to the heart of some of our false assumptions about church and can maybe help us to a better understanding of what church could be.

This August will mark four years since the church of which I am a part experienced the very scenario posed by this question. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area, most members of our congregation evacuated to various locations around the country, only to find that many would end up being in those places for more than a few days (some for weeks, months, and some never to return). Our old building was a mess from roof damage and flooding and our new building, which we had just been moving into over the previous weeks, was without power and had sustained some minor damage itself. So for several weeks we had no central location for weekend services and when we finally did start using our new building it was under a paradigm that had been completely altered in the wake of the hurricane.

What happened with our church in the months following Katrina was interesting to say the least. Looking back I can see that there was in fact more to the church than the building. In fact Christ-followers from our church who had evacuated all over the country began finding each other in the cities they fled to—Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houston (I was a part of some gatherings with folks from our church in the Houston area). And wherever folks from our church ended up, they did what Christians naturally do—they gathered together, worshipped, prayed, shared meals together, and did a lot of grieving and processing loss together. But what is even more interesting is the type of church experience folks began returning to back here in Kenner. In the aftermath of Katrina the Kenner Vineyard lacked the resources and volunteers to offer the previous schedule of multiple weekend services, and the lineup of classes, programs, and Bible studies that had typically occurred on a weekly basis before the storm. But amazingly even without being able to offer folks much in the way of services and programs the Kenner Vineyard began to thrive. How could it be?

What began to happen was that folks began to gather around mission—cooking and serving hot meals to people, ripping out sheet rock and carpet in flooded homes, staging job fairs, praying with people, or just sitting with folks in front of their ruined homes and listening to their stories. It’s as if the New Orleans metro area had suddenly become a mission field (really it always was, we just needed the veil pulled back a bit to reveal it again) and instead of folks just showing up to be attendees of a weekend service they were actually beginning to be the church in the community—being the touch of God to a hurting and broken world.

Was it messy? You bet!
Chaotic? At times very!
And, by the way, it wasn’t all good.
The truth is that the shaking up of everything caused some pretty ugly stuff to come up in the hearts of many a sincere believer, certainly including myself (I will no doubt address this aspect in another blog).
Yet in the wreckage of Katrina, when all rhythms of life were broken, when infrastructure was crumbling all around, when the very fabric of the culture and the government seemed to be coming undone, Christ-followers almost instinctively began to move from passivity to active mission.
The church in a very real sense had left the building!

The largely untold and unreported story of relief and reconstruction in the New Orleans area after Katrina is just how much of it was done without fanfare or hype or news conferences—by Christians. But in spite of the lack of publicity, people in the New Orleans area know the role the church played in it all. They know that when the government was bickering over how to respond, when FEMA couldn’t seem to get their act together, when even reliable non-profits like the Red Cross were stretched thin it was the church who just did what Christians have done through the ages—helping hurting people.

So back to the question—“Where is your church going to be?”
Well hopefully wherever there are broken, hurting people who desperately need to experience the love of God through compassionate humanity. It will be with at-risk children in the public schools and single moms who are just trying to make ends meet. It will be with those struggling to find their way out of addictions and those who are empty after being filled with everything this world has to offer. With down-and-outers and up-and-outers. It will be with those who are fumbling towards faith and those who are wrestling with doubts. It will be with those who gather in homes, coffee shops, the local bar and those who gather on a weekend to celebrate who Jesus is and what he has done. The actual location may be hard to pin down from one moment to the next, but hopefully the church will be recognizable not just by a building where it meets weekly but by its mission, and by a community of people who have been absolutely ruined by the love of God.

Monday Morning Quarterback - Teaching the Bible Better Pt.6

One thing that has really helped me get better at teaching the Bible over the years has come from the simple practice of listening back to a recording of myself speaking. I know a lot of musicians and pastors who really hate listening to recordings of themselves. I get that! When I first started listening back to recordings from the weekend it was oftentimes really painful. I remember listening back to some of the first recorded messages I had. I could believe how many times I said "like" and "you know". I remember thinking that I sounded like a freakin' valley girl!. The same is true for listening back to live recordings of my singing. But I highly recommend this process to anyone who wants to get better at speaking.

My weekly ritual involves being a Monday morning quarter back, so to speak. I download the podcast from Sunday and go for a jog or a drive and listen. What am I listening for? First off, I just want to see if the talk connects with me. If I am bored by it or distracted by rabbit trails then I know others had to be. Secondly, I pay attention to the intro, the transitions, and the conclusion and try to take note of those aspects that were kind of flat. I am not trying to be a perfectionist, I just want to be sure that I am consistently growing and getting better at communicating. Finally after listening back I start to work on the next weekend's message. This really helps me connect one weekend to the next. I find many times that I actually get inspired with new ideas by listening back to the weekend message.

More from this Blog series:
Pt. 1 - The Teaching Team
Pt. 2 Preaching What You Practice
Pt. 3 - LEarning from Listening
Pt. 4 - The Teacher as Pastor
Pt. 5 - Sharing Struggles

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Reconciling Community

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr.

The above quote is one of the most famous quotes in American history and one of the underlying values of the whole civil rights movement in this country. But where did Martin Luther King Jr. come up with such an amazing idea? I think he got it from the scriptures. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

It is quite a trap to think of Christianity as merely being a religion about morality and private devotion to God. Sadly this philosophy has characterized much of the American church of recent history. But as St. Paul sees it we who have been reconciled to God through Christ are now called to a ministry of reconciliation. We can't just form clubs populated with only those of our race, religion, culture, or politics. Rather, the church is to be the one place where the differences that separate people in the world are done away with. While Martin Luther King Jr. took issue with the racial segregation of his day, there is still plenty of other kinds of segregation that are allowed in the world, and sadly in the church as well. The truth is that wherever humans gather they will look for ways to divide themselves whether in a small group or in a nation.

Here are a few questions to wrestle with:
What does it mean for the church to have a ministry of reconciliation?
How can reconciliation be carried out without coming across as forced?
What does this look like on an individual level?

I'll close with an interview with Ruby Bridges. If you have never heard of her story go look it up. It is very powerful. Her story is a window into a kingdom point of view on reconciliation.

Related Post:
Racism in the Church is Anti-gospel

What Could You Really Do With $10,000 Worth of Apps?

It is likely that some time today Apple will cross the 25 billion downloaded apps threshold. To celebrate this they will be awarding a $10,000 App Store Gift Card. While I will probably download some app today when the numbers get much closer to the 25 billion mark, I really have no idea what I would do with $10,000 worth of apps. In my opinion this is kind of a lame prize for such a milestone (at least throw in an iPad and a MacBook Pro). As it stands I have probably spent about $30 total on apps in the last 2 years of owning an iPhone. I love apps but thankfully most of them are very cheap or free.

So the questions for today:
What do you think of the prize?
Will you try to win it?
If you do win it what will you really do with it?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frank Viola Interviews Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright

Two of my top three favorite books that I read last year were: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright. Frank Viola has some great interviews with both of these Bible scholars on his blog. Check them out when you get a chance:

Scot McKnight Interview: “The King Jesus Gospel” & McKnight Responds to Critics

N.T. Wright Interview: “Simply Jesus” & Wright Responds to Critics

Related Posts:
The Bible Made Impossible, A Review
How Did the First Christians Read the Bible

Theology Needs Pastors

On Observing Lent

So Lent season is in full swing. I didn't really used to celebrate Lent at all since most of my Christian experience was in non-denominational, charismatic, evangelical churches that really never emphasized such seasons. For most of my Christian journey I saw Lent as just something that those real traditional types of Christians got into, something that was just a dead religious ritual. It is true that celebrating Lent seems rather interesting in this part of the country where the Lenten season is preceded by weeks of parades and partying and festivals culminating in Fat Tuesday. For many down here carnival season and lent are an engrained part of culture that seems to have a life of its own apart from spirituality. Just this morning I heard an advertisement on the radio from a local restaurant advertising overstuffed, fried seafood poboy sandwiches for the Lent season. It made me laugh because for many people down here Lent is an excuse to eat lots of fried seafood under the name of sacrifice. That's the kind of sacrifice I can get into.

However, in spite of all the silliness that can accompany Lent, I have found the Lent season to be a special time in connecting with God, others and my own heart. For me Lent is a time about getting more intentional about connecting with God and others in my journey. Sure, I usually give up something, or a few things during Lent but most of all I just try to make more space in my life for the things that matter.

I read a great piece on giving things up for Lent over at the Jesus Creed Blog that I would suggest folks take a look at Lenten Challenge The piece ended with this:

I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. Not at all. Go for it. More power to you.
Or in other words, I wonder if God might have these words for me (and for you if I may be so audacious):

“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to give up your life to me.

Do you observe Lent?
If, so how?
What is the most meaningful aspect of the Lent season concerning your faith?

One more thing, there is a great piece that John Acuff wrote last year about fasting from technology called DIGITAL FASTS Go check it out.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Worship and Hospitality Coexist?

I read something pretty cool in Spirituality According to Paul by Rodney Reeves today. Here’s an excerpt:

The earliest reputation of the church, the first things Christians were known for were hospitality and their strange way of worship. Eighty years after the death of Christ, Pliny the Younger (the Roman governor of Bithynia) complained to Caesar about a growing menace: Christians who assembled on Sunday in order to sing together a hymn to Christ as if they were singing to a god. Even back then the practice seemed off. Of course in those days singing praise to human rulers was a common occurrence; Caesar was more than willing to receive such accolades. And songs of praise were offered in temples to gods all over the empire. But to gather in a room (not a temple!) without an idol (where is the god?) and sing to one another as offering praise to God was considered bizarre. And especially to Pliny, what these Christians were singing was even more peculiar… Imagine Pliny’s confusion when he hears that some Gentiles in his province are gathering on a certain day to worship a Jewish messiah who was crucified—just one man among thousands who were put to death by Rome. No wonder Pliny was suspicious of these people; it must have seemed to him like they had lost their minds (P 112-113.)”

It seems that there are two extremes that modern churches can slip into: those that get crazy with worship and spiritual gifts and are not hospitable to outsiders and those which try so hard to be hospitable and seeker sensitive that they dumb down worship to make it seem not so strange. I love how Reeves points out that initially worship and hospitality actually seemed quite at home together in the church. Worship, by its very nature, can seem to be very restrictive and closed to outsiders but does it have to be so?

How do you think a church can be both hospitable and worshipful at the same time without falling into the ditch on both sides of the road?

Related Post: The Gifts of the Spirit and Centered Set Faith

Review - The Lost World of Genesis One

I have been reading a fascinating book called The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. The main argument that Walton makes in this book is that most interpretations of the first chapter of Genesis are based on flawed exegesis. Exegesis is the first and most important task when studying the Bible. One must approach the text asking what the author originally intended to say and how the audience would have heard or read the words. This task comes before we try to apply the meaning of the text to our modern context.

Walton makes a compelling case that we have brought questions to the text of Genesis One that it was never intended to answer (modern scientific questions). And because starting point is wrong then everything that follows will be flawed as well. The major flaw exists in the way we view the act of creation as primarily material. One need only look at how the whole “Origins” debate is framed to see that this is true. Young Earth Creationists see Genesis One as an account of how the material world was created. The same is true for Old Earth Creationists. But Walton sees this as a failure to understand the type of thinking of the Ancient Near East.

After studying much of the creation myths of the cultures of the Ancient Near East it is clear that “creation” meant something much different to the people of that day. For cultures of the ANE something was created when it had a function. While they would have no doubt seen God or gods as the creators of the raw materials they never thought of things existing materially but rather functionally. Walton uses the example here of the creation of a new university. The buildings are built, the landscape put in, the professors are hired, the teaching materials secured etc. The University doesn’t truly begin until it is fully functional with students and teachers and schedules. To speak of the beginning of the university as the day when the foundation was poured would be true in one sense (materially) but would hardly be the way that most people would refer to the beginning of the university which would be when the classes started.

The beginning state of Genesis one isn’t nonexistence but rather nonfunctional (formless and void). God begins to bring functionality to a formless world or put another way – order out of chaos. Walton writes, “In the ancient world function was not the result of material properties, but the result of purpose (P.49).” The ancient world saw gods and goddesses behind every functioning thing such as the sun, the moon, the seasons, the oceans, the plants etc. From that vantage point everything was infused with purpose. Something without purpose would not have been thought to truly exist (even though it might be made of materials). With this understanding Genesis 1:1-3 are all about establishing functions such as light for days, darkness for nights, the sun and the moon to mark time. Furthermore days 4-6 are about establishing functionaries (animals, plants, and humans).

One other main point that is brought up in this book has to do with the idea of Genesis 1 being about God making a temple for himself. “Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple. This is what temples were built for. We might say that this is what a temple is—a place for divine rest. Perhaps even more significant, in some texts the construction of a cosmic temple is associated with cosmic creation (P71).”

But “rest” in the ancient world didn’t mean taking an afternoon nap. “In the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis had been resolved or when stability has been achieved, when things have “settled down.” Consequently normal routines can be established and enjoyed. For deity this means that the normal operations of the cosmos can be undertaken. This is more a matter of engagement without obstacles rather than disengagement without responsibilities.” Walton sees the creation narrative of Genesis one being about God who brought function and order to an order-less world with the main purpose being to create a dwelling place for himself, a temple so to speak. Adam and Eve were to serve a priestly role stewarding creation and gathering up the praises of creation and presenting them to God.

This understanding doesn’t impose modern scientific reductionism on the text or try to make the verses fit into some kind of scientific framework but rather sees the whole point of Genesis One in an area that has nothing to do with science. As Walton sees it the biggest champions of a “literal” understanding of Genesis have come away with an understanding of the text that isn’t really literal but built on modern ideas. The above view is actually built on much more solid exegesis of both the culture and the scripture. This also leaves plenty of room for science to keep making discoveries without the pressure to try and conform them to the opening verses of Genesis.

Related Post: Wrestling With Genesis

Monday, February 20, 2012

When God Shows Up in a Storm

My son Ezra has had a fear for years now concerning tornadoes. He’s not a big fan of thunderstorms or hurricanes but tornadoes have captured his imagination as particularly terrifying. I’m not exactly sure how this started but I recall he had a really vivid bad dream that involved a tornado five or six years ago and ever since has been really scared of a tornado destroying our home and family.

I have heard preachers talk about having the faith of a child and I am sure that I have preached the same thing on more than a few occasions but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Both of my kids have really struggled with faith in the last few years. Maybe all kids do but my kids have actually voiced their doubts with Dina and I in many a bed time conversations. Ezra has told me several times how he has had trouble believing in God. Sometimes I feel like a lousy parent and even a more lousy pastor because I tell him that I struggle with those feelings as well some times. I want him to know God and to experience a vibrant faith but I don’t want to just give him pat religious answers that either ignore his questions or just shut him down. But sometimes that is a very scary path to take with a kid because you have to trust that God will reach them in time in their own way.

A few weeks ago we were getting ready to do a baptism service. Ezra wanted to be baptized but was really struggling with doubts about God. It wasn’t that he was hostile to God because he really wanted to believe but he was struggling with doubts. He even went up for prayer at church on a couple of occasions in the last month desiring to know God. Well he did get baptized a few weeks back because he wanted to know God better but still he struggled with some lingering doubts… that is until a couple of days ago.

Yesterday there was quite a storm that hit our area. The rain was pouring down as hard as I’d ever seen it and the thunder was rumbling all around. I was trying to cook something in the kitchen when the power began flickering on and off. Ezra was beginning to get anxious because he was wondering how bad this storm was going to get and if there might just be a tornado coming. He stood looking out our back window when I heard him scream something about a tornado hitting our house. A split second later I heard a big crash and looked out the window to see that the gazebo on our back porch had been lifted off the deck, slammed into the house and dropped on our roof. The gazebo hung off the corner of our roof as a twisted pile of iron bars and canvas. I don’t think it was a tornado but it was pretty scary. Ezra saw the whole thing happen with the gazebo flying in the air right before his eyes. After a few minutes the worst of the storm had passed and we went outside to assess the damage to our house, which was thankfully pretty minor, just some siding ripped off here and there. Later that afternoon Ezra remarked that God protected us from that storm. I agreed with him but didn’t realize the depth of what was going on inside him.

Tonight Ezra was laying down in bed next to me (he gets to sleep in my bed when Dina is out of town). I was reading a book and he decided he wanted to read something as well. He looked through several of the books on Dina’s bed stand before grabbing her Bible. He picked the Bible up and began reading the book of Ezra (of course). After about ten minutes he told me, “Dad, God makes reading the Bible fun!” I replied, “Yes He does!” Ezra then began telling me how until yesterday he just thought the Bible was a bunch of words, stuff about wisdom (which in his eight year old mind means boredom). But tonight the words were coming alive to him. He then told me that he really likes reading it and wants to read it more. It is very evident that his prayers to encounter God have been answered and that it has made a real difference in his faith.

As I ponder his words of wisdom and his encounter with God I am so grateful for the way that God shows himself to each of us in our own ways and sometimes right in the middle of our biggest fears. Reading the Bible without God is a drag and so is pretty much everything else. I love to have the opportunity to get to watch his experience of God as it takes shape. It is truly a gift and an answer to many prayers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Schroeder Family Valentines Day Tradition

Many years ago, shortly after my daughter was born, we started a tradition for Valentines Day. I can't remember how it all started that well but I think we had just moved into a new place (well it was new for us but a really run down old rent house). Everything was in boxes and we weren't prepared to cook so I picked up a couple of orders of spaghetti and meatballs from a local restaurant and we had a picnic on the living room floor. So, for years since then our Valentine's Day doesn't involve chocolate or roses but always includes a family picnic on the floor with spaghetti. Well... gotta go get to work on dinner!

Where's the Love?

Since it’s Valentine’s Day I thought I’d write a bit about love.

As a pastor I have had the opportunity to officiate a few marriage ceremonies in the past few years. In every ceremony I have officiated I have found myself encouraging the couples from the famous “Love Chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13. And while this is a great passage to use in weddings or any time that we want to reflect on love it is easy to let Paul’s words become simply inspirational with no real bearing on actual situations in the real world. Yet, when we look at the book of 1 Corinthians as a whole we can see that the Love chapter isn’t delivered as some sort of abstract inspirational text but is in reality the climax of Paul’s argument in trying to address very real situations in the church of Corinth. Understanding the situations leading up to chapter 13 gives us profound insight into what living this kind of love looks like.

The first issue that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians is divisions around teachers. On this Paul writes:
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Paul then develops his argument by contrasting the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). The wisdom of the world, according to Paul, is prideful, divisive, cliquish, it’s all about titles and who’s the best. Yet the wisdom of God seems like utter foolishness. The greatest example of this is Christ crucified. To the world the ministry of Jesus seemed like a failure. It was short lived and ended in a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. To the world Jesus looked like someone to be pitied, like someone who was weak, and yet this was the very wisdom of God.

Paul goes on to speak of God’s wisdom as coming from the Holy Spirit to whom all believers have access:
12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1Corinthians 2:12-14)

Then Paul puts real teeth to his argument by saying:
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere human beings? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

The important thing to realize here is that this is all one argument though it is covering many chapters. The church in Corinth is becoming more characterized by the wisdom and ways of the world rather than the wisdom and ways of Christ. They are not being disciples of Jesus but rather trying to put a Christian veneer on the ways of the world. Then Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18 “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.”

From this point on Paul addresses pride, arrogance, sexual sin, law suites by believers against one another, food sacrificed to idols, abuses in communion, and abuses of spiritual gifts. The interesting thing is that Paul sees all of these issues as manifestations of the same core issue. They are not living by the wisdom and Spirit of God but rather by the wisdom of this world. And then he closes chapter 12 with, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way…”

This brings us to the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.
1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

When we read these words in context of the whole book we find that they aren’t abstract at all. In fact they are tied to real life struggles face by even modern Christians.

Have you ever found yourself getting arrogant because of the teachers you follow?
Have you ever defined yourself and your group by a pet doctrine or the one who teaches it over and against those who don’t follow your doctrine or spiritual guru?
Have you ever demanded your rights even when it hurt the conscience of other Christians?
Have you ever taken communion and failed to recognize the importance of your connection to fellow believers (seeing them as the body of Christ)?
Have you ever become puffed up because of your own spiritual gifts or felt like less than others because you may not have such spectacular gifts?
Have you ever failed to realize that you and the gathering of other Christians around Jesus are the very temple of God, the very place where God dwells?
Have you ever thought that your relationship with God was just a solo endeavor?

I can answer “yes” to all of the above questions. But Paul, encourages us to consider a better way, the way of love.

When I am being led by love I don’t have to get caught up in defining myself by my favorite teachers, authors, or doctrines. In fact I can hear truth even when it comes from folks with whom I might have theological or philosophical differences.

When I am motivated by God’s love I don’t demand my right to do this or that thing that I want but rather consider others.

When I am living around the reality of Christ’s love I take the Lord’s Supper realizing that I am part of a community of people that make up the body of Christ and that I need others in my journey as much as they need me. I can’t let unforgiveness or selfishness rule for I am under the rule of Jesus.

When I am aware of God’s love for me then I can treat spiritual gifts as just that: gifts, not badges or trophies. I can also receive from those who might be more gifted without feeling jealous because I see the same love giving to and through them.

I think the modern church has a lot more in common with the church of Corinth than we realize. My prayer for the church, myself, and whoever reads this blog is that we can be motivated, led, and more aware of God’s love, for it truly is the wisdom that transcends and overthrows the kingdoms of this world.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pastoral Authority

In light of the last few posts (read them if you haven’t already) how might we begin working to a more redemptive understanding of what pastoral authority might look like. I have been around plenty Pastors over the years that demand submission, respect and obedience. This may seem to have the appearance of Godly wisdom but is not. As James 3:13-18 says:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
In many ways what James wrote is a development of what Jesus had said to his own disciples in Matthew 20:25-28
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

New Testament authority is power under not power over. Power under is demonstrated in humility and love. This did not mean that Jesus was just a pushover who let anything go but rather when he had to address sin in his own disciples it came from a place of love and it was received.

The people that I have consistently looked to as spiritual authorities in my life over the years have been a great example of Jesus kind of authority. They could address sin in my life and call me to account because I knew that they loved me and truly cared for me. The truth is that if you get any joy from confronting someone about sin in his or her life then you probably aren’t coming from a place of love and humility. If you are truly loving and serving the people you pastor then confrontation isn’t going to be tied to your personal success or the success of your organization but rather to the health of that believer as well as the surrounding church community.

The Goal and Role of Leadership in the Church

I think one of the ways in which leadership can get twisty is when there is not a fundamental understanding of why that leadership is there to begin with. Leadership in the church should not be seen as an end unto itself but rather as part of the process of the life of God being cultivated in people.

Here are a few ways that the role of pastor is seen in many churches today:
The Pastor as Priest: Some leaders see themselves as priests, mediators between the people of the congregation and God.
The Pastor as Policemen: Some leaders see themselves as policemen sent to enforce the rules
The Pastor as CEO: Many pastors have so bought into the models of business in the surrounding world that they see themselves primarily as CEOs running a business.
The Pastor as King: I actually heard a quote from a local pastor who got up in front of his church and told them, “This church is the kingdom and I am the king.” Though his statement seems frightening I think there are many pastors that think themselves above the people and actually see the church as their dominion.

If one starts out with any of the above understandings of pastoral ministry then it is no surprise when churches get run like businesses, mini-kingdoms, courtrooms, or gatherings where the only guy who is qualified or gets to do ministry is up there on stage.

I think we need to start with how church leadership is defined in the Bible. For example let’s look at Ephesians 4:11-16

Ephesians 4:11-16
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

He Must Increase
John the Baptist once had his own followers questioning the ministry of Jesus because Jesus was now beginning to gather more disciples while John’s group seemed to be dwindling. John’s response? “He must increase, I must decrease.” This mentality has to be the foundation of pastoral ministry. Our ministry is not to cause people to be dependent on us but rather to be dependent on God. I love what Paul writes as the goal of the 5-fold ministry: to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So from this vantage-point leadership is not an end in and of itself but rather working towards equipping others and helping them grow in the knowledge of Jesus and the love of God. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul, for all of the churches he planted, did not stay very long at any of them. The longest he stayed at any one church was in Ephesus where he lived for around 3 years. This itself is a testament to what Paul was doing. He was trying to teach them to live around the reality of Jesus as King.

In the church I pastor I try to keep mindful of Paul’s approach. I would hope that if I died or suddenly got called to relocate somewhere else that the church I pastor wouldn’t shrivel up and die.

Starting in the right place is a start but that still doesn’t answer the question of how pastoral authority should be expressed within church. But I think that we are doomed to end up in the wrong place if we don’t at least start in the right place.

Related Audio:
The Kingdom and the Empire

Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll, and Spiritual Abuse in the Church

Mars Hill, lead by Mark Driscoll, has become one of the fastest growing churches of the last decade. Not only have they been extremely successful in Seattle but in franchising Mars Hill to other cities and states around the country through multi-site campuses. Mark Driscoll has led the way for a new generation of Calvinists who are edgy in their style and dogmatic in their doctrine. Throughout his career he has become as well known for his inappropriate comments as he has for his beliefs (he has frequently had to make public apologies for his remarks about women, homosexuals, and worship leaders).

I first ran across an article on Mars Hill Church about 12 years ago when the church was just a few years old. I was struck by their unique approach to ministry, their emphasis on theology, and their intentionality about reaching out to young men (something for which the church at large has not done so great). I remember being really inspired by what I was reading about them back then. Since then I have also read books by Driscoll and listened to several of his online messages, which I have found very helpful in my journey as well. However, in the last few years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the tone and direction of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. The brash off-the-cuff comments that seemed cute 10 years ago have come to seem immature and sometimes even destructive to others. When I add to that his increasingly dogmatic embrace of Calvinism, I find it very hard to get much from his ministry these days.

However, what concerns me more about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill than their theology and style is the increasing number of reports of abusive and controlling leadership. I read an article yesterday entitled Church of Cult?: The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church. The piece looked at how Mars Hill has enforced “accountability” and discipline through a very authoritarian and hierarchical leadership structures. It’s really the same old story of abusive leadership in the church that seeks to control every aspect of people’s lives under the guise of discipleship. But the end result has nothing to do with freedom or learning to live by the Spirit but rather a legalism and abuse that choke the very life out of the believer.

My Experience With Abusive Authority in the Church
One of the hardest experiences of my life came as a new Christian when I got heavily involved with a church that, in many ways, reminds me of Mars Hill: an incredibly gifted preacher, a well-communicated vision, passionately held convictions, as well as controlling, authoritarian leadership structures. I was a part of that church for about 4 years but it has taken many more years than that to get over the damage caused. In that church discipleship was a huge emphasis, but along with discipleship there was a huge emphasis on submission to authority. When I read about how leadership at Mars Hill was trying to tell people who they could and could not marry I am reminded of similar comments made to Dina when we were dating that we were somehow missing God and they knew better for us (I’m really glad that we didn’t listen to them).

Had I not had some relationships with pastors outside of that church who could speak the truth to me I think I would have ended up either becoming a legalistic controlling leader myself or would have just quit Christianity all together. I came very close to completely quitting church because I saw all the damage that had been done to myself as well as others in such a short amount of time. Every time I would approach the pastor about something that I might disagree with or have a question about I was just told to submit to authority. My faith became increasingly performance driven. I only thought God loved me if I was praying enough, reading my Bible enough, serving the vision of the church enough. I was becoming insecure in my walk with God because I was so afraid I wasn’t following the rules enough.

Things came to a head for me towards the end of a crazy week of “revival” at that church. What had started earlier that week with an extended prayer meeting had turned into 24-hour prayer meetings at the church. But this was no ordinary prayer meeting. The pastor’s office quickly became the “holy of holies” in which only the most spiritual people could enter. Those who did enter were given titles such as “guard dog of the revival” or “gatekeeper”. All of the decorations and pictures in the church were taken off of the walls so they wouldn’t compete with God’s glory. In fact, they wouldn’t even let people set foot in the church without taking off their shoes saying that the church was “holy ground”. I could go on because there was much crazier stuff than this that took place but this will do for now.

About four days into this revival I came home and told Dina something which became a true epiphany for me, “I don’t feel the love of God in this.” In spite of all of the craziness, legalism, and abusive leadership I was hearing the voice of God. I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I couldn’t stay any longer. Within another month I had quit my job (I was full-time staff with that church) and we ended up leaving that church. This of course meant that I ended up on the churches black list because I was in rebellion. People who had previously been friends wouldn’t speak to me for years. I would hear rumors from other pastors as to why I had left the church. One rumor was that I had moral failure in my marriage. Another rumor was that my band was into voodoo (I am not making this stuff up). But in the last 5 years I have had many people apologize for shunning me as they have eventually come to an awareness of the destruction wrought by the same abusive authority in their own lives.

I have come to realize that those who have to demand submission are usually very insecure in their leadership. Those who have to control, manipulate, and guilt people into action are not helping people submit to God but to fear man.

There was a movement that popped up in that church towards the end of my time there called G-12. G-12 ended up creating a very hierarchical system of accountability, which expanded the spiritual abuse that I had experienced. The basic premise of G-12 was that the Jesus pattern of ministry was to disciple twelve disciples and that his model should be our model in the church. Under the G-12 (government of 12) model, the pastor would have twelve disciples (the pastoral staff) and, in turn, each of those twelve would gather twelve more, and so on. The G-12 emphasis really began to make the church look and feel like a cult. I remember bumping into people years after I left that church. I would ask them how they were doing and they would get a glazed look in their eyes and mumble the G-12 vision to me as if some kind of automated response and move on.

The G-12 model ignores the fact that Jesus did not choose twelve disciples for a church growth strategy and He didn’t lord authority over the disciples either. He led his disciples by serving, by loving, by relationship. Jesus was not a control freak and he wasn’t insecure in his authority. In fact, after 3 years of ministry he could trust his entire ministry to his disciples.

I know that Mars Hill is different than the church that I was a part of but I am very concerned by the warning signs. Back in the late seventies there was a movement called the Shepherding Movement that gathered quite a following and yet wounded many a believer with authoritarian leadership, strict accountability, control and manipulation. I pray that Mars Hill doesn’t become the next shepherding movement of our day.

Related Posts:
Jesus is not a Control Freak

Related Audio:
The Kingdom and the Empire