Sunday, June 25, 2006

Carry a Mop

I am reminded of a recent church planting conference I was at (no, not that one), where a speaker talked about ministry and people. He said if you want to be involved in ministry, you better carry a mop and a bucket because there will be ... uh ... stuff all over the floor. (He did not use the word "stuff," nor the epithet that starts with the same letter, but since I do not want to be the next blog pinata I will not say what he said exactly. Email me if you are that desperate to know and can't figure it out. It was a very picturesque word that certainly drove home the point in a way that other words might not have.)

It has been said that ministry would be a good life if it weren't for the people. Of course, ministry wouldn't be if it weren't for the people.

I heard of a guy who was called to pastor a church and turned it down because it wasn't big enough for him to just study and preach. He was going to have to work with the people. My advice to him: Go dig ditches. The pastorate cannot stand people with that attitude. Fortunately, there aren't any churches that fit that description, especially that will hire a guy right out of seminary.

Ministry hurts. It involves a lot of tears, and pain, and upset stomachs. It involves watching people reap the consequences of their actions, or the actions of others. It involves total helplessness because your best scriptural advice won't change anything unless the person is willing to be changed. It will cause you to lose sleep (and not just because you are up late on Saturday night preparing your message for Sunday). It will cause you to throw up and sit up and wade through the mess. You cannot send them home with a verse and a pat on the back.

It will hurt because we have been called to love and serve broken people. We have been called to embrace the unlovely, to weep with the broken, to step in the messes that people leave on the floor, and to carry the mop to try to clean them up, often while the mess is still being made.

You have to be willing to take abuse and scorn. You have to have broad shoulders to carry the weight. You have to willing to sit and say nothing. And then to say the right thing. You have to be willing to invest in someone else, who probably looks like a bad investment.

So if you don't want to carry a mop and a bucket, then go sell cars, dig ditches, build widgets, or panhandle as a last resort. But please do not become a pastor.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Do We Need More Testosterone?

A Washington Post article points out what many of us already know. Modern churches are pretty un-manly. Modern Christianity is for women. Or at least you would think so by looking at the typical evangelical church.
The gender gap is not a distinctly American one but it is a Christian one, according to Murrow. The theology and practices of Judaism, Buddhism and Islam offer "uniquely masculine" experiences for men, he said.

"Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil, and although that was a prevalent teaching in Christianity until about 100 years ago, today it's primarily about having a relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally," Murrow said.

"And if that's the punch line of the Gospel, then you're going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not."
Murrow says on Sunday morning, "we're going to sing love songs to Jesus and there's going to be fresh flowers on the altar and quilted banners on the walls."

Perhaps the church needs to quit complaining about the lack of strong men and ask what we are doing that is perpetuating the problem.

I am quite sure that the problem is real. Next time you are watching some TV preacher, pay close attention when they pan the audience. See who is in it. Next time you sit in church, look around at who is there.

I am not quite sure what causes the problem, nor how we fix it. So if you, speak up.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

What's a Pastor to Do?

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

The role of the pastor seems to be mired in great confusion. What exactly is a pastor to be, and to do? Here I am not addressing “being and doing” in terms of qualifications, but rather in terms of function.

Today, many have given the pastor a CEO kind of position, where he is first and foremost a manager, a motivator, an organizer, and administrator. These pastors study business to see how Fortune 500 CEOs run their companies and make decisions. They divide the church into veritable “divisions” from which they can assess profitability and contribution. They read from the ever-increasing number of books on leadership (and many of them are very good and much needed). They focus on being a good people person, able to meet and greet in the foyer before and after church, to light up a room with his presence, and draw people to himself. Now let’s be honest—all of those things are an important part of ministry and are neglected only at the risk of confusion, disorganization, discouragement, and stagnation.

I think there are things in business that the church should practice because they are good common sense principles of management that ultimately spring from truth—things like accountability, assessment, delegation, involvement, teamwork, and the like. Pastor do have to be able to organize and manage, make decisions with wisdom and insight. He should be reading and studying to increase his leadership capacity.

I think the pastor should be at least somewhat of a people person, at least able to give the appearance of comfort in meeting new people, even though it might not be his favorite thing to do.

Yet it is clear that God places the highest value on preaching and teaching. A man can be a great manager, a great administrator, a great organizer, fund raiser, and motivator, but if he cannot handle the word properly, with integrity and clarity, iin study and in delivery, he is not an “elder who rules well."

Good preaching does not come easy. In fact, it does not come at all for some, though it can certainly be developed over time, with much study and practice. It requires shutting oneself off from the distractions around him, gluing himself to his seat (metaphorically speaking for all you horselovers out there), and figuring out what the text says and how to repeat it in away that does justice to the Word, holds the attention of the hearers, makes them understand what it looks like for them to live by it, and then calls them to practice it.

Good preaching requires the study of other great preachers, both by reading them and listening to them. Ultimately, you will develop most of your delivery ability by listening to others who do it well. It is doubtful that reading a book on delivery will ever teach you much about opening your mouth and speaking better.

Good preaching includes the hard work of exegesis, starting with the original languages. (Yes, I said starting with the original languages.) It requires sorting through the various interpretive options (but don’t plan on preaching them). It requires knowing your culture, community, and people well enough to know how a particular passage relates to the lives that they lead. It requires meditating long enough to get from an exegetical lesson to a picture of real life obedience in the 21st century, complete with the ugly side of ignoring the passage and the beautiful side of living it. It requires figuring out how it ties back to the gospel and how to make the connection clear.

Pastors must color in the pictures of God’s revelation so that people can see in vibrant, living images what they will look like when they fully obey God.

So pastors, close your door, turn off the email, let the phone go to voicemail (except for your wife and kids), stop administrating and planning, and work hard at preaching and teaching. Your church depends on it.

That is what makes you worthy of the respect (and remuneration) of your church.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rattling Around in My Head About Elders

Discussions of models of church polity and governance are frequent, and frequently heated. While there are several models in the large scheme of "church," there are two that are most often brought up in evangelical circles: plurality of elders vs. single elder. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe them as plurality of equal elders vs. senior pastor. A plurality of elders seems to usually exist of more than one elder (I know, profound), all conceived of as equals. Decisions by the "elder board" are usually unanimous, and everyone's position is given a theoretical equal weight.

A senior pastor model seems usually to vest the pastoral office in one man, with all of its leadership and authority roles and functions. The model frequently has other elders, usually called assistants, but there is a clear demarcation of authority and responsibility. In many churches, assistant pastors or associate pastors are frequently described as "extensions of the pastoral office." The senior pastor will often (if he is wise) seek the advice and input of others (assistants, deacons, members with experience, etc). However, in the end, he is "the man."

Without delving into the whole question, 1 Timothy 5:17-25 has been rattling around in my head for a few months on this topic, so I thought I would dump it out here and see what it brings out of the woodwork.

In this passage, we see a single man (Timothy) charged with the oversight of problems in the church at Ephesus. He is particularly charged with the discipline of sinning elders and selection of other elders. In this passage, Paul makes no apparent reference to anyone in authority other than Timothy, whom he has left there to straighten out the mess (1:3ff.) In fact, the whole book is addressed to Timothy as if Timothy is "the man" in the church at Ephesus.

In 5:17-25, Timothy is indicated at the one who determines which accusations get "received" and how they are handled, as well as the one who decides who gets ordained.

Here's the question: If the NT really envisions a true plurality of elders, all equal in authority, then why does not Paul address them? In Acts 20, he had no problem addressing the elders as a group. Here, they are notable by their absence. He addresses Timothy alone as if he has this authority and responsibility. Why?

Some might argue that Timothy was an apostolic delegate while pastors today are not. This is true, but of what relevance is that? How does that give Timothy more authority or responsibility than a man today?

I am persuaded that the biblical model at the very least allows for a heirarchical model in the local church (senior pastor, possibly with other elders). I see no real practical viability to a plurality of elders, even though it might sound good in theory. But I wonder if this passage carries any water for the single leader position.

Feel free to bat it around if you wish. I would be interested in your comments, particularly if you happen to actually know something about the topic.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Interesting Reading

Steve McCoy noted an article in the Chicago Sun-Times on Rob Bell from Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. Rob Bell is the author of Velvet Elvis, which I have heard is very good ... and which I have heard is very bad. I haven't read it so I don't know. He is another of the crop of young pastors of emerging churches that are blowing the doors off in attendance.

On another note, if you are concerned about how people dress in church, here's an example you can follow.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Have You Asked?

The Bible gives us standards for those who hold the office of leaders and servants in the church. Consider these qualifications for elders and deacons given in 1 Timothy 3:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife ... He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), (1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5)

Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households (1 Timothy 3:12).
Often, we are quick to look at a man's family to see what they are like, but we are slow to ask their family what he is like. Why is this so? If the requirements for pastor and deacon are so closely tied to his family relationships, should we not take all possible steps to find out what those relationships are like? If a man's wife and children do not respect him, why should we ask the church to respect him? If a man's wife and children will not follow him, why do we want the church to follow him?

So I ask you: Have you ever asked the families of men nominated for positions of elder and deacon if they think he is qualified?

Have you ever asked a wife what kind of husband he is? Does he care for her emotionally? Does he take care of her sexually on a regular basis? Does he respect her all over the house, including the bedroom? Is he passionate in his love and devotion to her? Does she desire him? Or does she merely put up with him? Does she feel respected and cherished? Does she feel like he listens to her? Does he talk with her? Does she feel at one with him? Is he selfish? Is he aloof? Is he non-communicative? Is he cut off from family affairs and concerns? Does she see him connecting with the children? Would she say their marriage is better today than it was a year ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Are they closer today than they were then? Does he regularly pray with her and lead her spiritually? Does she trust him explicitly and without reservation or hesitation? What would she change about him if she could?

We should also observe them when they are together. What are they like when they are together? Are they distant? Are they merely "getting along"? Are they passionate about each other? Do they show a marriage that you can hold us as an example? If some young couple comes to you and says "We want to learn have to a have a godly, biblical marriage," would you point them to this man and his wife? It is hard to hide the signs of a bad marriage over the long haul. Things that begin in the privacy of arguments and tension in the house will usually slip out in public.

Do you talk to his children? Have you ever asked the children what kind of father he is? Does he care for his children emotionally? Does he play with them? Read to them? Plan for them? Put aside the phone and books for them? Turn off the TV for them? Put aside the job for them? Do you ask them if they respect him? If they want to be around him? Have you asked them what he does when he gets mad? Have you asked them how he responds when he is upset with them? Have you asked them what kind of TV programs he watches? What kind of TV programs and movies he lets them watch? How often is the TV on in their home? How many of their ballgames, school concerts, and special occasions does he attend?

We should also observe them when they are together. What is he like when he is around them? Do they love him? Do they respect him? Do they want to be around him? How do they talk to him? How does he talk to them? Does he look at them when they are talking? Is he trying to get the conversation over as quickly as possible? Do they obey him immediately? Does he correct them with firm love and direction?

The recent charges and arrest of a pastor has brought this to my mind again. If these questions had been asked and answered truthfully, it is likely this would have been known many, many years before it became public. A man is usually not able to completely and permanently hide the disrespect for his wife and family that such actions require. It is hard to imagine that there were no signs that his wife picked up on, or that his kids experienced.

It is understandable that a family might be hesitant to tell the truth, and great discretion must be exercised in asking these kinds of questions. But I have yet been able to find a reason why we should not ask them. How else will we know if a man is qualified in these areas?

In fact, maybe we should ask his business partners, co-workers, clients, supervisors, and employees, and neighbors what kind of person he is.

There's too much at stake to take these things for granted, or to guage them based merely on the public demonstration that can be observed a few hours a week in the artificial setting of church.

Do you have a strategy for evaluating a man's qualifications, along with an ongoing accountability partnership of mutual guarding and care? If not, why not?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another Perspective on The Da Vinci Code

The following brief article is contributed by my old friend, Jon Bell.


Unless you have been renting Ted Kaczynski's cabin in Montana for the last 6 months you have heard about
The Da Vinci Code. Clearly such an insidious attack on Christianity must be answered by the church. Or does it? The obvious problem is that the book and movie are a fiction, but purport to be factual. And the alleged historical facts of this story have been used to attack the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and the Inerrancy of Scripture. Now, last time I checked, these are both core fundamentals of christianity so we have to defend them, right?

The problem, as I see it is that if these are really part of the nucleus of christianity then should not every one who calls themselves a christian know this. We should certainly not have to worry that any member of our church would be confused by this assault. Furthermore, if our church is in the business of edifying, building up, and strengthening the saints then our members should be sanctifying God in their hearts and readying themselves to give an answer to anyone who questions the foundational truth on which our faith rests (1 Peter 3:15).

I am an ER nurse. It is not unusual for someone to come to the emergency room for some seemingly minor problem, only to find out that they have a major problem like cancer. Imagine a fairly healthy person in their early 50's that has a fainting spell and comes in to be checked. As part of the routine exam we do a chest x-ray. We are all shocked to see a huge cancerous mass in the left lung. Everything seemed fine but in just a moment this person goes from being healthy to being very sick. Their ability to get life or health insurance is completely changed. This may affect their ability to get a job as well as their ability to keep a job.

Dan Brown has done a great service to the church. By writing a simple work of fiction, lacing it with an improbably 2,000 year-old conspiracy that has spanned centuries and continents, and then stating that his work is factual, he has revealed a huge cancer in the very breast of the church. Answering questions about the divinity of Christ and the preservation of scripture should be bread and butter to any true believer in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And especially in Fundamentalist circles this should be true. But The Da Vinci Code had revealed that this is not the case. Pastors and churches everywhere are scrambling to be sure their people know how to answer this attack and how to springboard from discussing a work of fiction to sharing the message of hope that is the Gospel. Instead of the church saying, "Bring it on!" she is whimpering, "Wait a minute?!"

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul says, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” This is the Gospel! Jesus Christ, the very Son of God came and fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and this is recorded by multiple eyewitnesses in the New Testament! Every one of us has to know this! If we cannot defend these truths against all comers, I assert that we do not KNOW them! If you try to tell me that the earth is flat you are going to get no where with me because I really, really know that it is a globe. And these truths are just as fundamental.

So, I tell you that you have a huge cancer in your chest. I guess there are several responses you might make. You could deny it. You could ask how it got there. You could cry and wail and get depressed. But the healthy response is to ask, "How do we need to treat this?" Our churches have to be about the proclamation of the Gospel. The Good News of the Kingdom. We have to be able to articulate what it is. Perhaps the reason why the church is having so little impact on our society is that we really do not know the Gospel. Perhaps the reason that Fundamentalism is in the state it is in (whatever that may be!), is that we really do not apprehend the truth that we purport to proclaim. So if that is true, we have to get back to the clear teaching of the Word of God. At its heart is the message that Jesus explicitly stated that He was God Very God. His disciples understood it, and His enemies understood it. The Jews killed Jesus because of this truth and He validated His claim by rising from the dead. His disciples knew He rose, and His enemies knew he rose. It was attested by hundreds of people. And it was immediately recorded by multiple authors.

This is not the kind of knowledge that you learn in seminary. This is the kind of truth that must be taught in Sunday School. These things are not some part of a complex theory that one needs an advanced degree to be able to speak of. What it is is a fact of history that our children should learn just as they learn about George Washington and World War II. Furthermore, these are not just pieces of factual knowledge because they are eternal truth. When we are in God's presence joining in that eternal, joyful, raucous worship service before the eternal throne, I don't think that medical knowledge or quantum physics or Magna Carta is going to mean much to us. But the Eternal Son and the Everlasting Word will be central to our never-ending existence.

Let us be ready to give to every one an answer of our Great Hope. And let us build up others that they may do likewise!