"Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world." - Todd Littleton
"I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see." - Anon
"Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all." - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
"Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals." - Jim Forest
"People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." - Anon
"... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all." - R.E. Slater
"An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst." - R.E. Slater
"Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics." - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated." - Emil Brunner
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Suck at Evangelism... But I'm really great at telling the story of Jesus!



Evangelistic Voice

by JRD Kirk
February 17, 2012

Evangelism isn’t my thing.

I have vivid memories of trying to pull it off.

One week in college I attempted the “Florida Evangelism Project”: contact evangelism on the beach during Spring Break. Easily one of the top five worst weeks of my life. Mostly because I sucked at it.

Years later, I was about to finish my Ph.D., and about to move into shepherding a core group through the process of becoming a church plant and onto grown-up adult church status. Church planter assessment didn’t go so well. They wanted people who could share the gospel on contact and close the deal with a powerful sinner's prayer. Easily one of the top five worst weeks of my life. Mostly because I sucked at evangelism.

Or, at least, I didn’t do evangelism well in the ways that made sense in these contexts.

Last night I found myself speaking the good news. I knew that I was speaking, in part, to people who do not identify with Jesus, and I was perfectly comfortable with my message. I found my evangelistic voice.

I was giving a talk on Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?. Feeling that this could only be partially a long commercial for the book, I wanted to give an overview of the Story that drives my storied theology.
  • The story of a very good world.
  • The story of a world in dis-integration from its good, created order.
  • The story of a God who would not rest until the blessing, restoring the power of God’s reign,  had been made known in every place where “the curse is found.”
  • The story of Jesus bringing wholeness to bodies, wholeness to communities, wholeness to people’s standing before God.

Whether it’s my Storied Theology, or Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel, or N. T. Wright’s fulfilled story of Israel, the holistic gospel of a transformed and reconciled cosmos is, itself, the message worth proclaiming, the story worth calling people to.

In the worlds where I failed in my evangelism, I was being summoned to first convince people that they had a particular need, probably one they did not feel before talking to me, and then convince them that I had the cure for the disease I had brought.

I get how deeply engrained this way of proclaiming the gospel is in our post-Great Awakening American context.

But what I experienced last night, and what I hope becomes the new normal, is a different way of understanding evangelism. This different way is to walk in the way, and to tell the story of, the reconciling, redeeming, reclaiming power of the reign of God at work in Jesus.

In other words, there is a beautiful story worth telling–and it is, actually, good news. God cares about the deficiencies and brokenness of our bodies. God cares about the alienation and loneliness of our communities. God cares about the sins that show our distrust of our Creator.

And God acts in Christ to bring healing, wholeness, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Every place where we experience the want of goodness, the want of glory, God sends the Messiah to set the world to rights.

This is the beautiful story, the story that cannot be told without a story of creation or a story of the life of Jesus. It is a story that paradoxically demands the cross for its resolution.

And it is the good news that Jesus himself enacted. With it goes out a summons to join–but a summons to join something restorative, to participate in the work of the God who cares more about the environment than we do, - to join in the work of the God who is far more passionate about doing away with our loneliness than we are, to celebrate the work of the God who cares enough about our eternal hope to create a people who can taste its fruit in the present.





Reimagining Our Living Faith



Where Do We Go From Here?

Sometimes I feel that I have taken on an impossible task of delineating a Christianity that can be both practical and pedestrian on the one hand, and academically salient on the other hand. All the while attempting to utilize outside resources that show the validity of not only my own thoughts and concerns, but what I think are also the contemporary thoughts and concerns of Christian activists better connect than myself between the real world of public communication and synthetic argument in society. 

Turbulent Societal Issues
And much like a news commentator, I have been directing this blog/journal to give a more positive direction in disseminating key issues-and-ideas that are fomenting within Christianity today... and especially as it relates to a newer branch of Christianity which I think is very quickly supplanting (i) old-line orthodox Christianity, (ii) Evangelicalism-at-large and (iii) the various denominational identities - including Catholicism itself - that is being expressed through the many forums of Progressive Christianity, with a more contemporary, and postmodern, version of modern day Christianity known as Emergent Christianity. A faith system that I felt a year ago needed better representation, better explanation, and better presentation from its too-many-versions of its fractured self. A movement that has lived or breathed in one fashion or another through the separate communities of Emergent believers not all interacting with one another. Nor with the main body of orthodoxy that they have left behind. An orthodoxy which, for all practical purposes, had also left advocates of Emergent Christianity behind, through self-proclaimed ignorance and dismissal of legitimate sociological, theological, and humanitarian issues at hand.

Dealing with Technology & Social Networking
Consequently, I have hoped to give my readers better tools to make more qualified judgements in this area of contemporary religious development that would help inter-relate valid Emergent Christian concerns with Orthodox practices and beliefs, while at the same time better explain why Emergent Christianity provides a larger plane of contemporary relevance to the world, and consequently a fuller opportunity to share Jesus globally across all faith and cultural differences. One that is non-threatening and more fully exposed to cultural adaptation and assimilation. While at the same time, importantly maintaining the foundations of the orthodox faith which must be updated into an era of postmodernism that will change again in the continuous succession of societal evolution.

Learning to communicate with those different from ourselves
With that said, Daniel Kirk made some observations below that we should all bear in mind when reading and interacting our faith with each other. Its called learning to listen both passively and actively so as to be better enabled to present a fuller presentation of just what the postmodern church is, where it is going, and how it needs to stay current in its faith-communities and witness. The piece below is a common, everyday example of this process as it is formed at the New Yorker magazine. And in our case, all the many vehicles and outlets that we listen to on air, or through the Internet, or the many voices we hear inside our head through pulpits, books, blogs and magazines. Through all of this we must pay attention to the words we're reading while assessing the central topics that they are vouchsafing back to us. We must be better active listeners and more passive in our first responses and immediate impressions that would prejudice us too quickly so that we cannot hear the writer's story, the meaning behind that story, or its helps and conclusions.

Trying to understand our past by not repeating our past
I find very often in the Christian communes that I write that my readership is too quick to judge and that I must work constantly at deflating those strong opinions in a variety of ways so that I can get readers to better listen to the topics at hand. And in this case, my arguments for a broader, wider, deeper course of Emergent Christianity than we have at present. One that is maturing us in the faith of Jesus as followers of the Cross; that is enabling its respondents towards finding a larger God who has a larger role in the world than we think He has; a God who infects the faith communities we live in with more realistic hopes and dreams that somehow can become brighter, more true, as counter-arguments to popular destructive dogmas; that creates perspectives that can reasonably attend to our personal circumstances without having to create self-delusions and imaginations about the Bible or doctrinal truths that seem elusive at best in more pedestrian fares and belief-systems; that can free us from the toxicities and addictions of our lives - or deliver us from the judgments and actions of significant ideologies around us - so that we might find liberation in our souls from the waste products that have grown up inside of us and must be discerned and excreted.

Learning to rethink our world
In all these areas this blog/journal has submitted time-and-again article after article on many of our self-narratives that once were destructive to our living faith, but now is empowering this same faith when separated from the many misleading stories that we tell ourselves. It is a matter of growing up, of maturing in the faith, of putting away the untruths and lies we have told ourselves, or have allowed others to tell us about ourselves. And of reclaiming the Jesus of our faith, and the faith of Jesus, in proportionate expansion to the infinities of God's amazing plans for our lives and the world at large when we become more active responders to the call of God to "Hear, and Obey." We have an amazing God. We need to become amazing listeners. Hear then His call this day and be led by the Spirit in new ways unimagined!

R.E. Slater
February 18, 2012

*For a related story of our postmodernism is affecting societal evolution please refer to Relevancy22's latest installment on the "Changing Nature of Public Eduction" by Sir Ken Robinson -
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/02/changing-educational-paradigms.html


Growing in the darkness of day's light
John 5
English Standard Version (ESV)

The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath

5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”





Unbounded imagination over the possibilities of God...
"Be ye as little children" (Matthew 18)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Writers and Readers

by JRD Kirk
February 15, 2012

Writes and readers are not the same things.

I heard such a claim from a theologian friend of mine once. He had been told that you could either write or read, but probably not do both. He thought it was lame.

Then he became a writer.

And understood.

I listen to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. It has confirmed this from a different angle.

The setup of the show is this: a writer reads someone else’s short story. Then the person who read the story talks about it with Deborah Treisman, the New Yorker fiction editor.

It is not uncommon that in listening to the conversation it becomes clear that she is a much better reader of short stories than the storywriters are.

She recognizes meaning where they don’t want to see any. She puts the pieces together to give a compelling reading of the story we’ve all just heard.

Of course, not all writers are the same. Nor are all readers the same. Some readers are fantastic for discovering meaning (David Dark is one of these–his writing is so enthralling because he’s showing you how he reads not only books but also the world) some are fantastic for telling you that your n-dash really should be an em-dash. (I just use hyphens—forget you people.)

Lame or not, I find folks falling more one way or the other. Some are great readers. Some are great writers. (Or, “express proclivities toward reading” v. “express proclivities toward writing.”)

Few do both.


Society-at-Large & Government Actually are Better at Fixing Poverty

Poverty: It’s Getting Better Without You

by JRD Kirk

Humanity Is Not Defined By "Militarism" and "Consummerism"

On “the War” and “the Economy”

by Mason Slater
February 16, 2012

Sometimes I think that American politics is simply a mechanism for finding one hundred different ways to promise the same thing.

Yes, there are differences between the various candidates for president, and the two main parties, but lately it has seemed to me that those differences are greatly exaggerated.

Points of dissimilarity, such as their stance on defining marriage or who gets which tax cuts, are pushed to the front to obscure the fact that they are all just offering us variations on the same narrative.
Almost every candidate, and the party platforms of both Republicans and Democrats, promise us year after year that they will grow the economy and secure America’s “special place in the world,” which is of course a not-so-subtle reference to our continued military superiority.

And this sounds right to us because we have convinced ourselves that our narrative, nationally and personally, is defined by consumption and war – what Walter Brueggemann calls “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism” in The Practice of Prophetic Imagination.

Consumerism and militarism have come to play such an essential and interconnected role in the American story that Wendell Berry can justifiably refer to them in terms of impersonal forces, The War and The Economy, in his novel Jayber Crow.
The War and The Economy were seeming more and more to be independent operations. The War, I thought, was just the single Hell that is always astir in the world…And the nations were always preparing funds of weapons and machines and people to be used up whenever The War did break out in full force, which meant that sooner or later it would … Also, it seemed that The War and The Economy were more and more closely related…The War was good for the Economy.”
We’ve decided that economic advancement at any and all costs, and America’s military superiority over any and all rivals, are worthwhile goals that somehow increase our peace, strengthen our communities, and advance the common good.

But instead we have unending wars and a whole “security” industry in our airports and public spaces, disintegrating communities from urban centers to the rural farmlands, and the shrinking of the “greater good” to nothing more than our collective ability to consume more year after year.

People are made for more than this, war and consumption may be parts of the human experience but they are not the most important parts. Such a view reduces our humanity, ignoring our souls, our loves, our neighborhoods, our environment, our art, our virtues and vices, our story.

As Gospel people shouldn’t we be offering a political vision of what it means that Jesus-is-Lord that is more than just a baptism of Right or Left wing promises of economic growth and national security?



John Piper on Men in Ministry, and the Masculinity of Christianity


by Ben Witherington
February 12, 2012

Alert reader of this blog, Craig Beard sent me the following link which presented a precis of John Piper’s recent address at a conference on the ‘Masculinity of Christianity’.

Here is the link -

God and Jesus, on this showing are not in favor of women in ministry, or for that matter female images of the deity either, despite the fact that there are many such images in the Bible. If you take time to read the article there are several things that come to light.

John Piper is concerned, as are other Reformed writers and thinkers, for instance some in the Gospel Coalition, with what is perceived to be the stripping of male dignity and honor in our culture. He seeks to rub some healing balm in the wounds of men who have been assailed about their male chauvinism and macho approaches to women and life in general, especially in this case, men who are ministers. But as I have mentioned before on this blog, the problem with the church is not strong women, but weak men who can’t handle strong women, much less tolerate women in ministry. So, they have to provide rationales for these views. And to do so requires all sorts of exegetical gymnastics, ignoring of contexts, and even dubious theology and anthropology.

Here is some of what Dr. Piper said recently -

  • God’s intention for Christianity is for it to have a “masculine feel,” evangelist John Piper declared on Tuesday.
  •  
  • “God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother,” Piper said at this year’s annual pastors conference hosted by the Desiring God ministry.
  •  
  • The "Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.”
  •  
  • “God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men;
  •  
  • The Son of God came into the world to be a man;
  •  
  • [Jesus] chose 12 men to be His apostles;
  •  
  • The apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men;
  •  
  • And when it came to marriage the [apostles] taught that the husband should be the head.”

“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”

I decided to let this percolate for a while before I reacted. Let me be clear that this sounds like a classic over-reaction to what is perceived to be the malaise of our culture. It’s like the reaction of a certain Pacific Northwest pastor who decided to lecture the ‘men’ on the campus of a Christian University in Seattle on true manhood, by associating ‘real men’ with those who focus on getting their wives naked and eating red meat. That’s real manhood.

It’s an interesting portrait of true manhood since: 1) Jesus and Paul and many early Christians probably never ate red meat, and 2) Jesus was never married nor interested in objectifying women and treating them as sex objects. But back to Dr. Piper. What Dr. Piper says is not merely bad theology in various ways, its dangerous theology. If I am hearing him right, it sounds closer to Mormon theology than Christian theology. Why do I say that?

Well let’s start with the orthodox Christian point that GOD IS NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE IN THE DIVINE NATURE. The Bible is clear enough that God is ‘spirit’, not flesh and gender is always a manifestation of flesh. In the book that Laura Ice and I wrote some time ago, entitled The Shadow of the Almighty we made reasonably clear that:
  1. there are plenty of both masculine and feminine images and metaphors applied to God in the Bible; 
  2. that interestingly enough it is not true that God is much called Father in the OT. In fact such language is rare, with almost no examples of God ever addressed as Father in the OT in prayer or entreaty, and, 
  3. connecting such language with culture and human anthropology is a huge mistake on both sides of the ledger.
Just as it is wrong to say that the father language in the Bible is just a bad outcropping of the thinking of those who lived in an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture and couldn’t help themselves, so it is also equally bad theology to suggest that the reason for the Father and King language in the Bible is because this tells us something about the divine nature or even the divine will that ‘Christianity’ have a masculine feel.

In fact the Father language for God is much more plentiful in the NT than in the OT (for example about 145 times just in the Gospel of John). Is NT Christianity meant to be somehow more patriarchal than OT religion? One of my concerns here is the false suggestion that we should draw an anthropological conclusion on the basis of some of the theological language. Really? Really? I find this an amazing chain of illogic on so many fronts.

Let’s start with the fact that one of the probable reasons why we have so much more Father language in the NT compared to the OT is because of the unique relationship Jesus had with God who was, to judge from the metaphorical use of the language ‘only begotten’, to be seen as the only non-adopted child of God. Now none of us have such a relationship with God. We are at best sons and daughters of God by adoption. Not so Jesus. In other words, you can’t draw anthropological conclusions about all of us based on the masculine imagery used of God the Father and his Son. That dog simply won’t hunt.

But there is more to be said as well. Jesus had a human mother. He could not and would not address God as mother lest he dishonor the one who was actually his mother. And this leads to a further point– the language of Father and Son when applied to God the Father and Jesus is, wait for it, metaphorical language trying to indicate the special and intimate nature of the relationship of these two. It is relational language and it tells us nothing about the inherent divine nature of either the Father or the Son. It tells us nothing about the gender or masculinity of God. It tells us that God the Father and God the Son are family, intimate. Why do I say this?

Because, unless you are a Mormon and think God literally, sexually begat the Son, then you realize that this language has nothing to do with gender or sex. Nothing. It is simply making clear the intimacy of the relationship between two members of the Trinity. Were there something inherently gendered to the relationship we would expect the same to be true of the relationship of God the Father with the Holy Spirit, and yes, it’s heresy to genderize the Spirit and talk about the Spirit as a woman. No member the Trinity, in the divine essence, has a masculine or feminine DNA.

Now there was a further good reason that God-talk in the Bible avoided genderizing God, especially when it came to female language. This was because most pagan female deities were so highly sexualized in both image and concept that they were seen as deities of fertility. But the God of the Bible is not a fertility God, not a God of the crop cycle, not an Astarte or an Aphrodite or an Artemis.

The God of the Bible is a God of history, a God of grace rather than a God that is simply part of nature, like the pagan deities who manifest themselves in all too human or animal ways by copulation and propagation. In other words, the ‘regenderizing’ of the God language in an attempt to rescue the floundering masculinity of Christian males is a ploy of desperation which does dis-service to the nature of such language in the NT which is relational without being genderized.

And at the anthropological level we must take seriously what Paul says, namely that we are not carrying on the old fallen patriarchal heritage of OT times, because frankly in Christ there is no male and female (Gal. 3.28).

It was the original curse, not the original blessing that was pronounced in the following form— ‘your desire will be for your husband and he will lord it over you’. The effect of the Fall on human relationships is that ‘to love and cherish’ became ‘to desire and to dominate’ which entailed unilateral submission of females to males, something that was never God’s original creation plan. You won’t find a single statement in Gen. 1-2 (before the curse of sin, and fall of man) about the silence or subordination of women to men. Eve is simply the necessary compliment and suitable companion to Adam. What you will find is statements making clear the inadequacy of the man without woman who is the crown of creation, for the text says ‘it is not good for man to be alone’. This is never said about the woman. Patriarchy is not an inherently good thing, an inherently God thing, and it should not be repristinized and set up as a model for Christian ministry.

Let’s deal with some of Piper’s ‘subordinate’ arguments. Jesus picked twelve males. Of course Jesus operated in the context of OT Israel didn’t he? And the Twelve were quite specifically sent to the lost sheep of Israel which was still living under the Mosaic covenant, were they not? You will notice that after Acts 1, the 12 as 12 literally disappear from the landscape of early Christianity and the telling of its tale. And you will also remember that Jesus had said that even at the eschaton the role of the 12 was to be in relationship to OT Israel, sitting on judgment seats judging the 12 tribes. The choosing of the 12, in short, is no paradigm for "Christian ministry" of the sort that John Piper and I do [that is, "minister"] - which is to say, ministry in relationship to an over-whelmingly Gentile audience!!! Ministry to a group of people who never lived under the old covenant, and as Paul makes clear, never should!!

Now I could go on about how Jesus also chose female disciples (see Luke 8.1-3) and how they were the first and crucial witnesses to the Easter events last at the cross, first at the empty tomb, first to see the risen Jesus with Mary Magdalene commissioned to go and proclaim the Good News to the remainder of the 12, but you can get all that from reading my Women in the Ministry of Jesus.

More importantly I would want to stress that there were women apostles. The 12 were not all the apostles, as the example of Paul himself shows. Romans 16 is clear enough that the husband and wife team of Andronicus and Junia were noteworthy apostles. Acts 18 is clear enough that Priscilla and Aquila both taught the notable Christian evangelist Apollos. 1 Cor. 11 is clear enough that women can share inspired speech and prayer in worship, yes speaking out loud, to the glory of God. Romans 16 is also clear enough that there were women deacons too.

In short, roles in ministry have nothing to do with gender, whereas some roles in the physical family do, as the household codes in Paul suggest. One of the great problems in modern conservative Christianity of all forms is the muddling up of the physical family with the family of faith. Roles in ministry are and should be determined by calling, gifting, not by gender. And there is a good reason for this. It is the Holy Spirit who determines what gifts and graces a person is given, for the common good. It is not male leaders who should decide this issue, or for that matter female leaders.

Did Paul and other apostles appoint overseers to congregations? Yes apparently they did according to not only the Pastorals but other Pauline letters. Were they all men? Nope. Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi are Paul’s co-workers there, and the term ‘sun-ergoi’ is precisely the term Paul uses for his fellow leaders of congregations. In any case, he would not have addressed the issue of a private squabble between two church members in a public letter like Philippians.

No, he addresses the problem and asks for crisis intervention precisely because these two women were some of the leaders in that church. One of them may even have been ‘the Lydian’ referred to in Acts. In other words, Acts and Paul and other parts of the NT make clear enough that there were women in ministry in the early church, just as there should be today.

What about those household codes? Just a final word about them. Paul is a wise pastor and he must start with his converts where he finds them, and then correct things as he goes along. One of the dominant institutions of the Greco-Roman world he must deal with is the patriarchal household structures, and if you bother to compare what Paul says to what Plutarch or other pagan writers say it is clear enough that Paul is putting the yeast of the Gospel into the existing fallen structures of society and working to change them in more Christian directions. For example, when Paul says things like the body of the husband belongs to the wife alone, this was a radical notion in those days (1 Cor. 7). He is eliminating the prevailing sexual double standard which was typical of the patriarchal system.

Or for example when Paul places more strictures and responsibilities on the husband/father/master than you ever find in the secular literature, he is changing the nature of the game and ameliorating the harsh effects of the existing patriarchal system. Paul addresses both children and slaves not as property but as persons who are moral agents and can respond positively. And yes, Ephesian 5.21 does show where all of this is meant to end up– with mutual submission of all Christians to all other Christians in love, not merely unilateral submission of females to males, or wives to husbands.

Christ himself, who indeed was a male, provides the model of true submission for us all. He did not come to be served but to serve, and what characterized him most of all is what Phil. 2.5-11 says characterized him– he stripped or emptied himself and took on the role and function of the most submissive member of that society– a slave, and died a slave’s death.

In short, John Piper is not helping the cause of either orthodox theology or orthodox praxis or orthodox anthropology with his pronouncements. And it is a great shame and pity.



Three Good Questions Every Church Leader Should Ask

people3.jpg
1
One Question Every Church Leader Should Ask

by Jim Martin on February 15, 2012

What is it like to be someone else in your church?

I’m convinced that some people never wonder. These are the people who sometimes make awkward statements to others. These are the people who sometimes sound smug as they talk about people who have various problems. They seem to have no appreciation for how tough life has become for some people.

My friend sat in an assembly one Sunday morning. The minister began his sermon by referring to his “extraordinarily difficult week.” Then he explained that he had a fender-bender in a car last week. He went on to talk about trials and tribulations that people face.

Meanwhile, my friend listened, amazed that he would talk about a fender-bender using language like “trial and tribulation.” After all, for the last several months, my friend had spent his days sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed while she was dying of cancer. That morning, he left her bedside to be a part of this assembly. My friend decided this preacher really had no idea what it was like to sit beside the bed of a loved one and watch her die.

John Killinger, in one of his books, suggested that ministers need to realize that people in churches find themselves in a variety of circumstances on any given Sunday morning. He suggested an exercise in which a minister reflects on some of these situations. (Actually, this exercise would probably be useful for anyone.

What would it be like to:

  • Have just experienced divorce?
  • Have an adult child in jail?

  • Be living on government assistance?


  • Be a new parent for the first time?


  • Have just learned you have cancer?


  • Know you are having major surgery tomorrow?


  • Be told by your wife, “I’m moving out. I’ve found someone else I love.”

  • Be told by your employer, “We won’t be needing you anymore.”

  • Live alone for many years?


  • Live in an abusive home?


  • Be single?


  • Want children and yet be unable to have children?


  • Face a move to a new community in a state where you’ve never been?


  • Experience severe depression?


  • Realize you are in serious trouble financially?


  • Grieve over your mother’s death?


  • Feel old and useless?

  • Care for aged parents while you try to be attentive to your children and grandchildren?

What thoughts, feelings, experiences, names, situations, places, etc. come to mind? There are times when I ask myself as I prepare to teach or preach, “How would a person in one of these situations hear this message?”

Far too often, we see life only from our point of view.

Perhaps there are some people whom I will never totally be able to identify with. However, I can try. I can at least ask the questions. I can consider what it might be like to be another.

Question:

What can church leaders do that might help them better understand the experiences of the people they interact with?


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Leadership development that substitutes dazzling events for developmental equipping is not a short cut — it is short sighted. We make a series of terrible tradeoffs. We exchange transformation for information, mentoring for meetings, and mobilization for communication.

What is your method for developing leaders and empowering teams? Here is a comparison.
  •  Event-driven vs. Development-focused
  • Satisfied with Inspiration vs. Committed to Transformation
  • Moves people with Emotion vs. Moves People into the Mission
  • People Watch Performers vs. People Become Performers
  • Relies on a Program vs. Begins with a Relationship
 Your people will FEEL great when you focus on events; your people will BE great when you focus on development.

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3

The Cycles of Pastoral Ministry

http://theburnerblog.com/leadership/the-cycles-of-pastoral-ministry/


I made a presentation at a Fuller DMIN alumni event in suburban Chicago last week. I built the presentation around some work done by my Evangelical Covenant Church friend and colleague Dan Pietryzyk published in Faith & Leadership. It was well received and seemed to resonate with most in the room. See if this rings true for you.

Ministry is never static. With Paul in Philippians 3 we “press on.” Ministry is always fluid and challenging. We ask four questions in our ministry journey.

First, we ask, Lord, how might I serve? We sense the call to ministry on our lives. We can’t imagine doing anything else. We are excited about ministry. And sometimes we get paid, and feel guilty for being paid for something we love to do.

Second, after just a few years in ministry we ask, What am I doing? The idealism of ministry fades. Ministry becomes harder. People are hard. The word is hard. We realize that we don’t know as much as we thought we did. Many drop out of ministry at around years 5-8. It is not easy.

Third, a bit later in ministry we ask, Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? Mid-career we get tired. The work is rewarding, but exhausting. The rewards don’t always outweigh the costs personally and to one’s family. So we ask the hard question around years 13-15: Do I want to keep doing this?

This is another period of walking away from ministry. I am convinced that lifelong learning is so critical at years 5-8 and years 13-15. We need good supportive people around us, a place to vent and to pray. We need to engage our minds with new thinking. We need to develop new skills. We need encouragement to refresh our own walk with the Lord. This is why I am such a strong advocate for Doctor of Ministry programs (especially Fuller’s!), and other programs and conferences Fuller and others develop to keep us fresh.

Those who make it through enter into a wonderful season of ministry. They are wiser. They are able to discern better between what is important and what is not. They know the difference between fads and gimmicks and paradigms that are generative and transforming. These can be the very best years of ministry characterized by personal humility and professional will (Jim Collins).

Fourth, later in ministry–if we hang in–we ask, How do I finish well? With greater degrees of wisdom and maturity, we are able to minister to others and mentor. We pour into the lives of others, watching them succeed and flourish, helping them to avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way. This is a period of significant impact.

What stage are you at? What question are you asking? At each stage, we all need: to gather with community of support, a commitment to lifelong learning, and a determination to cultivate our walk with the Lord.

So we press on!



Love Beyond Existence



by Peter Rollins
February 14, 2012

This is a repost of my Valentines message from last year (sorry, currently traveling so can’t write something new)…

Love is so humble that it seems impossible to ever really catch anything but the briefest glimpse of her. She is like a tiny field mouse dwelling in the dark. Should we hear her scratching in the corner and shine a light she will, quick as a flash, scurry away so that we catch sight of only the tip of her tail. Indeed love is so bashful that we often forget about her entirely. For love, to change analogies, is like light. When we are sitting with friends we do not think about the light that surrounds us but only of the friends that the light enables us to see. Likewise love illuminates others and so our attention is focused on what she illuminates rather than with the illumination itself.

Love, in a very precise way, enables us to see. For in daily life we perceive others in much the same way as a cow gazes at cars. We walk past thousands of people without really seeing anyone. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine told me of something that happened when she took a train from Connecticut to New York. As the conductor, a large and imposing man, approached she realised that she had left her purse at the house. When he got to her seat and asked for her ticket she, with much embarrassment, explained the situation and braced herself for the worst. But the conductor just sat down in the seat opposite and said, “Don’t worry about it”. Then, for the remainder of the journey they talked. They shared photos of their family, they exchanged jokes and they spoke of the ones who meant most to them. When the conductor finally got up to continue his rounds my friend began to apologise again, but the conductor stopped her mid sentence and smiled, “please don’t pay it any thought, you know its just really nice to be seen by someone.”

This might initially seem like a strange thing to say as the conductor was being seen by thousands of people every day. But only in instrumental terms, only as the extension of a function he performed. In this brief conversation with my friend he felt that he had actually been seen as a unique individual and that was a gift to him.

This is what love does. It does not make itself visible but rather makes others visible to us. Love does not exist but calls others into existence: for to exist means to stand forth from the background, to be brought into the foreground. Love does not stand forth but brings others forth. When we love our beloved is brought out of the vast, undulating sea of others. Just as the Torah speaks of God calling forth beings from the formless ferment of being so love calls our beloved from the endless ocean of undifferentiated objects.

In this way love is not proud and arrogant. She does not say, “I am sublime, I am beautiful, I am glorious”. Love humbly points to another and whispers, “they are sublime, they are beautiful, they are glorious.” She does not tell us that they are perfect despite their weakness and frailty, but that they are perfect in the very midst of their weakness and frailty.

Love does not want our hymns of praise or prayers of adoration. She does not want our sacrifices or seek our time. One cannot and should not even try to love love. For love always points away from herself. To honour love is to be in love, to swim in the world illuminated by her.

That which love illuminates means everything to us: a reality that can be exquisitely pleasurable or devastatingly painful. As such we will always experience the one we love as the most sublime existence in the universe. This experience however hides within itself a deep truth, a truth that we would do well to forget as soon as we learn of it (for it works best in darkness). Namely, that the most sublime presence in the universe is not our beloved but the love that exposes them as our beloved. The love that stands beyond existence, raising our beloved to the level of existence.*

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*After reading Peter's column go back and re-read it again from God's viewpoint about how He would think about us... That because of God's love we now stand out expressly as God's only beloved in the midst of our weakness... And because we are loved of God it enables us to better see ourselves in Him and those around us that consider themselves unloved, or haven't recognized their value and worth.

Real love, true love is active love built upon a Savior's love expressed for us from the very Godhead itself. Love is because God is. Without God there is no love. Without love there is no God. We know God is there because His Love is there. We feel it. We know it. We bear it. We give it. We are immersed within it, carried upon it, lost without it, re-purposed and driven because of it. Love is. And because it is we are. Thanks be to God for His great Love. It is a mystery we do not understand but yet must give back to Him through sharing it, being it, trusting it, to those around us, including allowing it within ourselves. We are loved. We are fully, completely, eternally part of God's all-consuming Love. Be at peace then and allow God in no more refusing this quiet, selfless selflessness. Be loved. And Be love.

- R.E. Slater
February 18, 2012