Friday, September 29, 2006

How Do You Get That Title?

I just got a flyer advertising a conference to be held at "One of America's Most Exciting Churches." I was disappointed. I thought we were in the running for it, but apparently we missed out by a hair. I am not sure I have the strength to go on now. The worst thing that they did not even notify me that we were not "One of America's Most Exciting Churches."

Seriously folks, who decided that this church was "One of America's Most Exciting Churches"? What kind of arrogance does it take to proclaim yourself "One of America's Most Exciting Churches"? I might be able to understand declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches on your block. I might even grasp the idea of declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches in your neighborhood? Declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches in your city is a big stretch. And going statewide is absurd. But national? Please. Tell me you did not take the time to study all the churches in America so you could declare yourself to be among the most exciting. And please tell me you did not just declare yourself that without actually knowing it to be true.

But more importantly, why does it matter? Is the church about excitement?

Hey, I have an idea. Maybe the answer to weak churchianity is coming up with tiers of excitement in churches. Then you could have first tier churches and second tier churches, and so on.

Perhaps we could even have a National Excitement Award for the top of the top tier churches. Perhaps a Adrenaline Rush Award for the church that managed to jump the most tiers in one years. Perhaps we should add in a Biggest Compromiser Award for the churches that fall the most tiers in one year. Hey, how about a T.O. Award, for the church that creates the most excitement while denying that you actually tried to kill yourself by taking sleeping pills. That way you can get national press for Jesus, and get Bill Parcells upset at answering "I don't know" to the same question fifty different times. The possibilities are endless. And we could have an Excitement Conference to pass the awards out. Maybe someone would even bring "the chair" to see who could fill it. Maybe a "pack the chair" contest to see how many bus kids you can get in "the chair." My mind is racing ... Remind me to drink decaffeinated coffee.

The irony is that the conference is the "National Old Paths Bible Conference." Do you really think the "old paths" were about excitement? Somehow, I have a hard time seeing the church in the New Testament in this light.

Perhaps rather than having tiers of churches, we should have tears for churches.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Consumers demand options, but this poses a problem. Formation into the likeness of Christ is not accomplished by always getting what we want. In ages past, choice was not heralded as a Christian's right. In fact, relinquishing our choices by submitting to a spiritual mentor or community was prerequisite to growth in Christ. Believers were guided through formative and corrective disciplines—most being activities we would never choose if left to our desires. But surrendering control ensured we received what we needed to mature in Christ, not simply what we wanted.

In consumer Christianity, however, church leaders function as religious baristas, supplying spiritual goods for people to choose from based on their preferences. Our concern becomes not whether people are growing, but whether they are satisfied. An unhappy member, like an unhappy customer, will find satisfaction elsewhere. As one pastor enthusiastically said, "The problem with blended services is that half the people are happy half the time. With a video venue, you can say, 'If you don't like this service style, try another one!'"

From iChurch: All We Like Sheep in Christianity Today. This is an article with some interesting insights.

Ironically, CT has a poll on the topic of why people choose a particular church.

Even more ironic is the location of the poll: Humor>Fun and Games.

Which is probably true for many. Church finding has become a game of finding fun.

The results are interesting.

52% say doctrine and philosophy are most important.
16% say pastor and preaching.
11% say it just feels right.
7% say worship style.

I wonder if this poll (and others like it) consider other issues. For example, how many of that 52% would find another church if their contemporary worship became traditional? How many of the 16% would dislike the pastor and preaching if the band was exchanged for an organ?

Do we really believe that Saddleback would be 25,000 people with a piano, organ, and choir? Even with Warren preaching in shorts and hawaiian shirts? Would Willow Creek be 15,000 people with a string orchestra and traditional hymns?

This poll, incidentally, is similar to one Thom Rainer has in his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched. I think a major difference is that Rainer's book allowed people to choose more than one option, while this poll allows only one.

So while I find the poll interesting, I also find it virtually useless. Which leads me to wonder why I have spent time thinking about it?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Looking for that Special Goodbye??

Looking for that special way to say good bye to a friend or loved one? Frustrated by funeral homes with the myriads of choices? Bothered by walking through the casket room trying to pick the final resting place?

Skip it. Have them with you forever thanks to Lifegem. You can take your loved one to your favorite jeweler and have them wrapped around your finger forever.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And That Too???

This morning I was reading an article on C. S. Lewis that was attempting to show that Lewis was not a Christian. I am not a big Lewis fan. My experience with Lewis started with four or five of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was in Junior High (which I did not understand to be any kind of allegory, much less spiritual), Mere Christianity (which I found less than interesting), and The Great Divorce (which I found to be just wierd). I guess my imagination is not well-enough developed or something.

There are certainly some questions about Lewis' orthodoxy. To call him a Christian is more than I am willing to do, but I admittedly am no expert on it.

Back to the article. The author, after detailing a number of the his concerns with Lewis, closes with this bombshell: "C.S. Lewis, who never stopped smoking his tobacco-filled pipes, had earlier been an actual witch, illuminist, and member of the coven known as the Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn."

"Never stopped smoking his tobacco-filled pipes"???

First, what other kind of "filling" is there for pipes? Perhaps I am naive since I am not up on pipe-smoking. I tried to call Pastor Spurgeon this morning to ask him, but his secretary said he was out and she didn't know when he would be back. But I assume that "smoking pipes" would include filling them with tobacco.

Second, if what the author says about Lewis is true, his pipe-smoking and former associations with the occult are the least of his worries.

Which leads me to wonder: Why do people include absolutely non-contributive information in an article like this? This seems an attempt by the author to lay a fall back position. In case you do not agree with him about Lewis' theology, you can certainly condemn for his "smoking his tobacco-filled pipes." And then we get him either way.

Which leads me to conclude: Write better articles, and omit the ad hominem attacks. I am not a smoker. I find it pretty disgusting. I am not a fan of Lewis. I find him pretty boring. But most of all, I am not a fan of this kind of writing that tacks on an irrelevant piece of information in an attempt to shore up an article. I find it pretty weak.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

At the Diner

I was having my usual three eggs over easy with white toast and coffee this morning, while reading, listening, and learning. In fact, I don't even order anymore. When I come in, Donna brings my coffee and water and puts my order in. That's the price of predictability I suppose.

I finished a book entitled a.k.a. Lost,by Jim Henderson (The link is to the newly revised and retitled edition). I quoted from it a couple of weeks ago. It is a fairly short book (152 pages), filled mostly with observations about ordinary evangelism. It is an interesting read, with some good insights (and some bad ones). The forward by Brian McLaren will give a little insight as to where the author and book are coming from. But it still contains some useful challenges. If you can get it cheap, it might be worth an hour or so to read. Or perhaps someone will loan it to you (like they did to me).

Perhaps more than any thought in the book, the general impression I come away with is that we need to spend more time listening ... actually listening. Ask people questions and then see what they say. Avoid pat answers and cliches. Avoid arm twisting and manipulation. Be real. Avoid, at least at the outset, questions designed to get a particular response.

Too often our typical approach to evangelism is preset, molded to fit a particular situation. And our evangelistic approach is to manipulate the conversation so we can get situated to insert our preformed discussions. Lack of flexibility and creativity actually harm the process. Listening to people rather than forcefeeding Jesus to them will help build trust and a relationship in which Jesus naturally comes into focus.

As with all books, exercise due caution and discernment. And don't blame me for the bad stuff. I am only recommending the good stuff in it.

While I was reading, the normal morning conversation was going on in the background. There were complaints about the local school system (a.k.a total failure central). One lady complained that a particular child she knew was now on her second four day suspension of the year. (I quickly did the math. School has only been in session for eight days.) Her basic complaint was that the school was being too hard on children. My thought was that the parents have not been hard enough on children. Here's how you know I was never suspended from school: I am still alive.

The other general topic of conversation was actually more interesting to me. It was about men and women. Of course, the women were talking about the men. One lady commented that men were only good for two things: sex and paying the bills. Another lady complained that her husband just went to work (about half the time, she surmised), and then came home and did nothing ... didn't carry out the trash, clean up the kitchen, do the housework, or anything else. She had to get him up for work, and even lay out his clothes on the bed. Another lady said, "You know why he won't do those things? Because you always do it."

The men, of course, were talking about women. One single man (his wife died a few years ago) is always talking about finding a woman. Today, he said he wanted a woman who would stay home and not talk. A few minutes later he said he wanted a woman who would go to work and not say anything. One lady pointed out that he said he wanted a woman who would both stay home and work. He said he didn't care as long as she didn't talk.

Another man commented that he heard someone once say that if you treat a woman like (insert common four letter expletive for body waste), she will come back for me; if you treat her like a queen, she will leave you. He is probably right, to at least some degree, especially on the first.

What this long summary reminds me of is this: We live in a broken world. Sinfulness has killed our relationships. The marriage relationship, designed by God to be the closest human relationship, is probably the relationship most affected by sin. Men look at women wrongly; women return the favor. Until we begin to regain a basic civil recognition that both men and women are in the image of God, while also recognizing the depths of sin that affects our relationships, we will never recognize that the only real hope for marriages is redemption found only in Christ. That is why Ephesians 5 says marriage is a redemption issue. Love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. Submit to your husbands like the church submits to Christ. Only when we have experienced redemption in Christ can we truly recognized what it means to have a good marriage. And even then it will be hard. Until then, we are simply shoring up a shaky house with toothpicks. If you use enough, and walk very softly, you can keep it from falling in. But you can never make it stronger.

Most marriages seem to consist of two people who use each other until they find something better. They should consist of two people who serve each other because they found Jesus, or rather Jesus found them.

Until we learn to ask the question, we will always have bad marriages, or at least marriages that aren't what they should be. What is the question? "How can I serve you?" Or "How can I help you?" Or "How can I make your life better?" Learn it ... ask it ... act on it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Pilgrim, Women Preachers, and Big Churches

Last week, the New York Times had an article lamenting the glass ceiling for women pastors. Putting aside, for the moment, the biblical issue at hand (which could hardly be more clear), consider the lament of one woman pastor that many of her fellow seminary graduates who were male had already been promoted to positions as pastors of larger churches while she had not been. All she wanted to do, according to the article, was pastor a large church in her hometown. It was presumed (without much argumentation or support of course) that the reason she had been "held back" was because she was a woman.

Which brought to my mind an issue that I have considered many times. Why the pursuit of a bigger church that you did not build? If one desires to pastor a bigger church, why does he not go out and do the work of an evangelist to build the church? Why should one man (or woman) benefit from the labors of another man?

I mean no ill-intent to those who have left a smaller ministry for a larger one. I would simpy encourage us all to examine our hearts. If we desire to leave because it is a small ministry, and desire to go to another because it is a larger ministry, something may be amiss. I have no doubt that God at times calls men to leave one congregation for another. However, I wonder how often size is a factor? How many times have we seen a man leave a bigger congregation for a smaller one? Not often (though it does happen).

As pastors, we need to check our egos at the door, and be satisfied to grow where we are planted.

How does the Pilgrim fit in? I have recently been reading Pilgrim's Progress (one of those books that everyone talks about and few have actually read ... So I am changing that for myself). Last night, my mind was drawn back to the NYT article by the scene that occurs just after Faithful has been put to death, and Pilgrim has moved on to the town of Fair-speech. There is an intriguing exchange between some very Piperesque figures (because they have hyphenated names) concerning the use of religion for personal gain.

Mr. Money-love lays out a scenario which is stunningly believable, just as it is stunningly troubling.
And first, to speak to your question as it concerneth a minister himself: suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason why a man may not do this, provided he has a call, aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why?

1. His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted,) since it is set before him by Providence; so then he may get it if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.

2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man, yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.

3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by deserting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argueth, 1. That he is of a self-denying temper. 2. Of a sweet and winning deportment. And, 3. So more fit for the ministerial function.

4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he is improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hand to do good.
This answer was "highly applauded by them all." Can you not hear these reasons put forth by some today? I was particularly caught by the third reason, almost laughing aloud at how magnanimous it makes compromise sound.

Christian, however, had a different response.

Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, as it is, John 6:26; how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and wizards, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens: for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them but by being circumcised, they said to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs be ours? Their daughters and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story, Gen. 34:20-24.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion: long prayers were their pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment. Luke 20:46,47.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion: he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was put therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the wizard was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith: and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according. Acts 8:19-22.

5. Neither will it go out of my mind, but that that man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

At this answer, "they stood staring one upon another, but had not the wherewith to answer Christian."

Men, let us guard our hearts against an ungodly desire to be big for the sake of bigness, or the sake of prestige or money that it might bring. Let us never use our Christianity or pastoral position as a platform from which to pursue gain.

At the same time, let us guard against becoming comfortable, lazy, or apathetic, satisfied with so little effort in the service of our Christ and His church. The fact that a church is not growing might not be because we are fundamentalists and "people just won't accept the truth." It might because we are lazy, unfocused, unintentional, satisfied to just survive.