Friday, September 30, 2011

Some Thoughts on Pastoral Theology

John Piper has an article in Christianity Today on racism, his personal story, and the gospel. The line that catches my attention most is this one, near the end:

I am not a good example of an urban pastor. Because of the way I believe God calls me to use my time, I don't have significant relationships with most of my neighbors. Nor does our church reflect the diversity of this neighborhood.

There is diversity, but nothing like the statistics above. Probably I could have been far more effective in immediate urban impact in this neighborhood if I had not written books or carried on a wider speaking ministry. Some thank me for this ministry, and others think I have made a mistake. Again, you may see why I cherish and cling to the gospel of Jesus.

The reason this line sticks out at me is because of the pastoral theology built into it. I think many seminarians would like to pattern their ministry after Piper’s.

I think they are misguided.

Even if Piper was right to do what he did in his ministry (and I am not questioning that), most seminarians and pastors are not gifted that way. The sooner we realize that, the freer we will be to be and do what God has called and gifted us to do.

The better path to pastoral ministry is the one Piper didn’t take—the one that builds significant relationships with people, does the work of an evangelist, and knows and love those who live in your neighborhood.

Carl Trueman has a related post, related at least in my mind. He quotes an letter or email sent to him this week, and concludes with this:

These people need to realise that, in the current context, if you come preaching a message which doesn't draw attention to yourself, doesn't make your name a brand, doesn't pull in huge crowds and doesn't bring in the big money, there's only one thing that they will do to you.

They will crucify you.

This continues the theme of my previous post, namely, that most of us are just going to be ordinary pastors. And that’s okay.

We aren’t going to build megachurches after starting with two stray dogs and a dead cat. Our congregations will not double every six months. Our entire church budget will probably be less than a congressman’s salary. And most years we will fall short of that congressman’s salary

And that’s okay.

We are going to work hard, preach faithfully though probably not very eloquently, and get to know the people in our church and our neighborhood. We are going to cry with them with they grieve and rejoice with them when they dance. We will welcome their babies, marry their children, and bury their parents. We will weep over their marriage troubles and pray over their major surgeries. We will be able to scan the congregation on Sunday morning and see who’s missing. And we will do all this because we know them.

And that’s okay.

We won’t be invited around the world to speak to large crowds. No one will ask us to sign their Bibles afterward. We won’t have our own section in the bookstore. We will never even get published.

And that’s okay.

We will carry out the charge given to a man hardly anyone has ever heard of. In fact, if I didn’t give the man’s name, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell us who he was.

This man was told:

"Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." (Colossians 4:17).

And if we do that, it will be okay.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thabiti and Me on Multi-Site

“Thabiti, what arguments for multi-site have you found persuasive?”  My articulate response: “Uh, none.”

Thabiti Anyabwile enlarges on the reasons why he is unconvinced about multi-site churches here.

I agree with him for the most part, which no doubt means nothing to him. And very little to you. But I thought I would say it anyway.

This article highlights my concerns with the celebrity culture and maybe even ego (as the poster mocks) in the modern day church world. There seems, among the multi-site model, the idea that a church in X city cannot grow by means of a local pastor-teacher. We need to transmit the Big Guy in to teach and leave the little stuff to someone local who can’t preach all that well, but can pray with the sick and take up an offering.

And the Big Guy has to agree to it, which is where the go comes in. He is convinced that no one in that city can do the job as well as he can.

One megachurch pastor spoke of one of their campus pastors who was a campus pastor because he could only speak to about 350 people. After that, he couldn’t do it. (I am not sure why.) So they made him a campus pastor and piped the Big Guy in on DVD.

The reality is that multi-site works in a lot of cases. As one guy said, “People follow communicators.” Which is why spinning off a congregation usually doesn’t diminish the attendance at the Big Guy’s site.

But is it a good idea? I am less than unconvinced. I think the dangers and issues I raised a while back when I wrote on the modern day bus ministry still exist. In the old days, bus ministry brought the people to the pastor. The modern form of bus ministry takes the pastor the people via means of video.

For all of us ordinary guys out here, there can be a tendency to get discouraged, to wonder how we can measure up, to wonder why God isn’t blessing us like that, to wonder if we got a second-hand video camera if we might be able to have more influence. To wonder if we are doomed to either DVDing someone else or surviving with mediocrity. We might even wonder if we should at least imitate a multi-site guy to get better results.

At these times, if you are not firmly committed to your calling, to the garden in which God has you planted, and to the belief that God is the one calling shots, these temptations can become overwhelming.

In these days, we need a fresh dose of being An Ordinary Pastor. It is okay to be ordinary.

Don’t worry about celebrity pastors and multi-site churches. These you will always have among you, to borrow a line from one Guy.

Let us be faithful, passionate, involved in the lives of our people, teaching and preaching the word to the ones we have without undue concern over the ones we don’t have. Let us pray and be diligent, even if we never get a conference invite. Let us labor week after week, year after year, and let God do his work in his church.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 2

Following up on part 1 of this series, let me address a second reason why a church might consider changing a name, namely, to distance yourselves from problems of the past without going so far as to actually reconstitute.

Every church (or organization) is has a history, and most histories of any length are probably going to have some unsavory moments in them. Some of these issues, depending on their visibility, can cause a church to develop a reputation that is not good for the gospel in a community.

It may be their history of financial dealings. It may be a string (or single occurrence) of unethical or illegal behaviors by high profile leaders or members. It may have to do with the stance on community relations or racial relationships. It may have to do with a previous pastor’s ministry emphasis. And the possibilities go on.

Sometimes, these things can be dealt with by public statements and restitution where possible. And as much as possible they should be.

But on occasion, these things have so badly damaged the testimony of the church in the community that renaming the church may be a very wise thing to do.

Renaming your church can provide a fresh start and some distance from the past. It can say, “We are a new old,” or “We are an old new.” It can change away from the focus from “The church where the youth pastor molested a girl” or “The church where the pastor stole $100,000 and left the creditors unpaid.”

However, this must not be used as a way to avoid legal or moral obligations. Neither should it be done while retaining the people or policies that were either cause or contributor to the problem. In other words, this is not an “easy way out.”

Changing a name for this reason is, in my opinion, more controversial that closing a church and restarting it. It runs several risks.

First, it runs the risk of simply being wrong on the issues. Some pastors lead churches to apologize for things that weren’t necessarily wrong. Just because someone differs on philosophy of ministry does not mean that they have compromised the gospel or hurt the church.

Second, it runs the risk of attacking faithful believers by implicitly (or explicitly) accusing them of something that they didn’t do, or that wasn’t wrong for them to do. It can become an attack on the heritage of godliness that has preceded a particular ministry at a church.

Third, it runs the risk of shaming the gospel and the church by becoming just another church that finds fault with everyone who doesn’t do things their way. It can become the pastor pursuing his pet issues without respect for the larger body of Christ.

Fourth, it runs the risk of further damaging the church’s testimony in a community because it can appear to be a rather transparent way to avoid problems, like putting lipstick on a pig.

So tread carefully here, and consider whether some other tack may be more effective for the gospel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Name Change – Interruption

In the midst of my series on name changes, let me highlight two recent articles by Ed Stetzer on the consideration of changing the name of the SBC (with actual numbers about how people view the name of the SBC) and the name change of Campus Crusade to Cru (with a link to the page where CRU describes its motives and process for its name change).

Consideration of labels, particularly denominational labels, is the subject of the third part of my series, so I wait to talk more about it.

Reading Cru’s explanation should remind us all to take a step back before blasting some group for a name change.

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 1

These days it is somewhat common for churches to change their names. Particularly common, it seems, is the dropping of denominational labels. Even presently, the Southern Baptist Convention is considering a name change for itself.

Is this good or bad? Well, it depends on who you listen to. And why you do it.

I think there are good reasons to change names, and bad reasons to change names. In this series of posts, I want to discuss some of the reasons why a church should, or should not, consider changing its name, beginning with reasons why a church should consider changing its name.

Leading off, and perhaps the most obvious, I think name changing is a good idea when you are restarting a church. It creates a new identity. Studies have shown that a church’s greatest period of growth is in the first five years. There is a “try it out” attitude that people have. It’s not “old hat” anymore. A church that is being restarted is probably a church that has been around for some time, and been in decline for a variety of reasons. Adopting a new name creates some freshness, even if the building and people are the same.

One of the things I found here was that there were (and still are) a large number of people in our community who are familiar with Grace because their grandma and grandpa or mom and dad went here, and they went here as kids. It is old hat to them. They know what it is (or at least what they think it is), and they are not coming back to try it again.

Changing a name removes that barrier. No one can say they grew up in a church that was started last week, or last month, even if it is a restart.

The downside of changing the name of a church is history. When I started at Grace, we had ninety-five years of history. Now we have almost one hundred and ten years of history. You can’t get that overnight. Theirs is something significant about saying “We have been in this community more than a hundred years.”

Each situation is different, and requires different considerations. Restarting a church (disband and reconstitute) can give new life into an old congregation. And changing the name probably is a wise thing to do in that case.

A church may try to rebuild without restarting. But even in this, a name change may be a good thing, even if the name is similar.

As a side note, restarting a church can also give good and faithful people an gracious exit ramp if they are simply attending church out of a sense of history rather than a sense of mission. Many old-timers feel a sense of commitment to a church, not to a mission, and not to a community. Providing them with a grace-filled way to exit that honors their commitment without guilting them is a valid consideration in some cases.

More to come …

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Word About Fatherhood

A few months ago a postcard came to my house addressed to someone I have never heard of and who has never lived here at least in the last fifty or more years. There is no indication of who might have written it. No return address. No personally identifiable information.

The front of it is covered with Snoopy graduation stickers.

The back of it reads:

Just reaching out again. I know I told you about his graduation but since we didn’t see or hear from you for his b-day, I wanted to remind you its this Friday July 10th at 4 pm at his school. He keeps asking about his daddy. It’s been over a year since he saw you so please try to make it. He would love it.

I wanted to cry when I first read it.

I still want to cry.

It is a sad reminder that way too many children are growing up without a dad to hug them, tuck them in bed at night, and wake them up in the morning. Every night. Every morning.

And it is a challenge to remember that we, the church, should take seriously the chance we have to impact these young lives. The men in their lives up until now have let them down.

Where we have opportunity, let us do good to them for Jesus’ sake and for their own sake.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Around the Horn

Here are some interesting pictures from 9/11. The scale of size is hard to grasp for me. But the pictures and fascinating and sobering.

Dave Doran has some good thoughts on ministry here. I think one of the downsides of the the CEO/business model of ministry is that it can lead to an in-depth organizational chart that looks great on the wall with its line and boxes, but it sends the message that ministry is a place on the chart. Furthermore, in small church ministry (and perhaps in large church), there is no practical way to get an org chart that big if I wanted one.  Even more important, a place on the org chart in the church probably (usually) removes people from real ministry outside the church in terms of reaching friends and neighbors with the gospel. Simple church has a lot of appeal. Quit creating positions on the org chart in the name of “ministry.” Encourage people to find someone and serve them.

Kevin Bauder comes strong with this list of characteristics of hyper-fundamentalism. The book they are found in should be interesting. Andy Naselli links to some online discussions of it. Of particular interest to me were the comments at John Stackhouse’s blog. Like most comment sections on blogs, they reveal an awful lot.

Speaking of blog comments, check out this article and see what people say about it. Pretty interesting to get a little window into the minds of some, or perhaps a window into the little minds of some.

A bonus base for the pennant race. The Detroit Tigers have reeled off ten straight wins for the first time since 1968. And you know what happened in the fall of 1968 right? That’s right, I was born. Is this an omen of more good things to come?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Broken Justice

A story hit the Detroit Free Press recently about a man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for three years for a sexual assault.* Apparently, this man committed this sexual assault while he was dictating medical records on the dictaphone. Very talented he is.

Or at least the jury thought so. They convicted him on the word of an accuser and her boyfriend, in the face of physical evidence that he was actually doing something else at the time they swore he was assaulting her. They sent him away for more than a decade, leaving a wife and children behind.

Turns out this particular piece of evidence about dictating during the time frame was presented at trial, and the problems with the timeline were shown.

The jury, however, was unable to figure the time line out. So they simply disregarded it. How thoughtful of them.

Now this piece of evidence doesn’t mean that he was innocent. He may have been guilty and the accuser was simply wrong on the timeline. But the fact is that a key piece of evidence was simply disregarded by people who are supposed to be seeking the truth.

On top of that there was a letter from a priest, seeking justice for the accuser by imprisoning the accused. Turns out it was forged.

But why was the priest writing a letter? Why wasn’t he showing up in person and taking the oath? Why didn’t the prosecutor subpoena the man and compel him to testify? Why didn’t the judge compel the man to come and testify?

Later, the accuser’s boyfriend had a twinge of conscience for lying on the witness stand and fessed up. The prosecutor wired him and now has the evidence that the accuser was laying on the stand.

The accused and convicted man spent three years in prison before being released after pleading to a lesser charge.

Now the prosecutor is trying to determine whether or not to charge the woman with perjury.

Really? Still trying to decide? What is the missing piece of evidence that will push you over the edge on this one?

And this is only one story of many. Others are detailed by The Innocence Project.

This should remind us all of the weakness of a jury trial. Simply put, a jury trial is a horrible way to get at truth. It is made up of a two sides, each presenting only arguments that favor their position. They have a vested interest in hiding certain things. Neither side is dispassionately interested in the truth. The defense attorney wants his client to go home. The prosecuting attorney has already staked his claim that this man is guilty and he has to see it right on through. And losing sex crime convictions is never a good way to get re-elected next time around.

A jury trial is overseen by a judge whose sole purpose is to make sure that the evidence is presented properly. He has no role in making sure that proper evidence is presented, or that proper consideration is given to the evidence. He can’t interject when attorneys or witnesses say stupid things, or make bad arguments.

It is based on the judgment of twelve people who, most likely, have better things to do than sit in the courtroom. While we would like to appeal to their noble side and think they would do their best, most people are very ill-equipped for the type of thinking that is necessary to process trial evidence. On top of that, in most cases they are not allowed to question the witness themselves. So they can’t even satisfy their own minds about questions. They can only judge on information that is presented.

If I were being tried (and for those who are linguistically challenged, I am not guilty of anything since “if” is a hypothetical, not an indicative), I don’t think I would want a jury trial. I know too many people. I know what they are like. I know the level of critical thinking in our society. And I can’t imagine the horror of trusting my life to a group of randomly selected people from Wayne County, or any other county.

This jury was utterly inadequate for the task. The prosecutor was utterly incompetent, and probably downright dishonest; knowing the timeline discrepancy, this should never have come to trial; it is hard to imagine any honest person could have ignored that. The judge should be impeached for allowing this. He is there for a reason, and he failed in the basic reason of controlling the trial to make sure it was a fair trial. The moment that the timeline was questioned and physical evidenced presented, if the prosecutor did not immediately back away from that line of reasoning, he should have intervened and declared a mistrial. A man’s freedom and family was on the line, and he stood by when he knew better. That is dereliction of duty.  It is unfortunately made by a man with no consequences. The judge, the prosecutor, and the jury will never have to face any consequences for this. And that makes it a lot easier to be cavalier with the facts and the truth. After all, it’s only someone else’s life.

Some suggest that you only want a jury trial if your case depends on emotion. If your case depends on facts, you want a bench trial. Why? Because judges are better with facts and reasoning. Juries are better with emotions.

If I were guilty, I wouldn’t want a bench trial. Judges are too smart; they are usually highly educated; they are quite often attorneys who have been through law school. They are more likely to be committed to the law, and less likely to be deceived by personalities on the witness stand. I would rather take my chances that there is at least one person on the jury that can be persuaded.

If I were innocent, there’s no way I would want to trust twelve random people from my community. Or your community. Because it’s not about the community. It’s about the nature of people.

In the final analysis, we should always remember that jury actions are forensic in nature. They are the conclusions of a group of people who make a legal determination, not necessarily a factual one.


*This article comments only on what was reported in the Free Press. It does not take into account the totality of evidence, since I have read no trial transcripts. However, the facts as presented in this article were enough to cause the prosecutor to free the man.