Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: Family Driven Faith

There's a good chance I'm developing a man-crush on Voddie Baucham. I can't beleive I'm saying that, but ... I am. I have been struggling to define a feeling in my soul for (literally) about three years now. I've explored the world of Emerging Church in large part as a result of my soul's questions. I spent close to two years as a Children's Pastor doing a lot of philosophy of ministry thinking. Recently I've been reading in the "Family Ministry" movement. I have all of these to thank for guiding my thinking toward a particular philosophy of ministry. I have Voddie to thank for really beginning to codify my thinking...

There is a growing sense in this country that we've been doing something altogether wrong in the realm of youth ministry. Ask just about any Youth Pastor and they'll tell you the same thing: we do pretty good with teens when they're here, but once they graduate, the majority of them crash and burn spiritually. Countless volumes have been written to address this concern, with theories ranging from the need for more money to the need for more parental involvement to the need for more culturally post-modern methods, etc...

None of these are bad ideas, but they're missing the point.

It has seemed to me for some time that we've completely abandoned our priorities. Within the life of the local church, parents have almost universally given over their fundamental responsibility to others. Harsh words, I know. But what exactly is this fundamental responsibility? I'm persuaded that it's this simple: lead our children to Jesus and teach them to follow Him. So to whom have we relinquished this responsibility? To the local church: its pastors, its youth programs, its Sunday School teachers, etc... It seems very clear that the majority of American Christians now believe "the church" is the primary spiritual agent in the life of their children.

This must not be so.

We - parents, not the church - have a God-given responsibility to train up our children in the understanding of the LORD (Proverbs 22:6). We are commanded to teach our children the truth of God in every situation of life (Deuteronomy 6:7). We are required to exhort them, encourage them, and insist that they live in a way worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:11,12). We cannot shrug off this responsibility to "the professionals".

Voddie makes this point with all the wit, clarity, and grace that I'll never have. He calls us to the truly hard, but truly rewarding, work of discipling our kids. He then explains how the local church he's a part of has structured itself to best help (not do it for them) parents in this highest of callings.

This book is a slow read ... I found I could only read and digest it in small pieces. So challenging; so much food for thought. But it's a must read! For my part, I'm challenging myself to do better by my family, and to help my church do better by theirs.


Read More......

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Emergent Criticism

I don't generally commend really long articles here, since part of the nature of blogging is to be as short and concise as possible (without being too short, of course). But at the request of my pastor, I just finished reading this article from a site called Be forewarned: it's a tad long, but worth the read. Ideally, read it before you read my thoughts, please ...

First things first: what Carl (the author) is talking about is plainly emergenT church. He makes some effort to codify this in both the intro and end of his article, but I'm not sure he's adequately made that distinction. To help clarify, I found a chart plotting the spectrum of Emergence (originally posted by C Michael Patton; copied from David Herrick).

[Please note: I've modified this chart a bit from the original creator's version]

The article in question, then, is clearly dealing with the fading edge of Historic Orthodoxy. I'm not trying to minimize the contentions that Carl makes in his article; I'm attempting to place them in the proper theological landscape.


It's difficult to argue with Carl's basic contentions. He's condensed some of the essential differences between Emergent and Emerging (or emerging-friendly, like me). I particularly appreciated his point (near the bottom) concerning how Jesus is central to the "authority" of the Emergent movement. He's nailed it. Emergent folk have attempted to build an ecclesiology around the person of Jesus. As I've pointed out before (here and here), this simply will not do.

As Carl, I've been noticing a consistent trend away from Biblical authority, and particularly away from sola Scriptura. I had hoped to see this trend curtailed, but that does not seem to be the case thus far. The good news is that many voices are developing in the Emerging movement that refuse to go down that road. For my part, I appreciate men like Scot McKnight and Dan Kimball, though I may not agree with some of the things they say.

I'm glad that Carl makes clear that Emerging/Emergent folk have made (and continue to make) some very valid criticisms. I'm afraid Carl has understated some of those, but I'm glad he's acknowledging them. As I've said many times, one cannot understand the phenomenon known as Emerging without wrestling with at least two major issues: postmodernity and the rise of the mega-church. To explore this contention is beyond the scope of this post, though...

If reading Carl's article lit a fire under you, stoking your fervor to defend the Word of God against those that would minimize or even trivialize it, I say "Amen". If it's piqued your curiosity about the Emerging/Emergent phenomenon, I'd encourage you to use the search feature on this blog's home page to poke around a bit. I'm not a fount of knowledge on the subject, but the last several years of posts should provide a good starting point to your inquiry.


Read More......

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: Family-Integrated Church

I just finished reading J. Mark Fox's Family-Integrated Church today (one of the few benefits of a snow day). Though it wasn't exactly what I expected, I appreciated the book nonetheless...

I confess: I was expecting a discourse on what "family-integrated" means to Mark and the church he pastors. And while he does get into some of that, his book is for the most part a sort of play-by-play of the life of his local church. Along the journey, he shares wisdom from their experiences at starting and growing a family-integrated church. He even briefly discusses how they transitioned in their thinking to a family-integrated approach.

Want to hear first-hand what to do when a heretic dressed in white and proclaiming herself to be the "bride of Christ" shows up on a Sunday morning and starts cat-calling? Seriously. Mark's been there and handled that.

Looking for advice on training males to be men, husbands, and fathers? Mark's got plenty of tidbits for you.

All told, I found the book encouraging. Here is a pastor who knows he doesn't have it all figured out. He's quite sure he's not a finished project, and neither is the church he pastors. I find that honesty refreshing. The landscape of pastor-written books is littered with those that give lip-service to the notion that they're a work in progress; here's one that really seems to believe it.

The larger question remains: what exactly does "family-integrated" church mean? Mark's quick to point out that there is and always should be great diversity in the forms taken by churches that choose to be family-integrated. I like that: different isn't always bad - often it's just different.

Fundamentally, it seems to me that as churches we must commit to leading men to be the leaders in their homes that they're called by God to be. We must do nothing that will implicitly or explicitly usurp their position, even if they're willing to surrender it. We must fight the overly-pragmatic church forms that have dominated the last 75 years or so. We must work to be a family of families.

Now there's a load expression: a family of families! If nothing else I've written has provoked you to think, let me humbly ask you to chew on that expression for while...


Read More......

Friday, January 8, 2010

Children are people, too

I told a new friend of mine the other day that one of the mantras I work with in pastoral ministry is "Children are people, too". He chuckled a bit, largely because to him that truth is self-evident. But for too many, we too easily forget...

Over the years I have regularly made my point to groups of people by this simple scenario: The Bible says to love your neighbors, so please picture your neighbors in your mind's eye. Got the picture in your head? Good. Any children in that mental picture? If you hadn't already read the beginning of this post (and you're being honest) you'd have to admit that most likely kids didn't enter your thoughts.

This is a shame.

When we're thinking about discipleship, do we stop to think about children? Too often, no. We think about entertaining kids, playing with kids, keeping kids safe, loving kids, etc... but we rarely (in my experience) think about discipling kids.

If the Gospel is powerful enough to make these earthly children into children of God, surely that same Gospel is powerful enough to make of them faithful followers as well.

Discipleship should and, frankly, must include our youngest souls. Failure to include them in the conversation of local church discipleship activities will only perpetuate the problems we already have with children and young people today.

What's particularly encouraging to me is the (culturally) postmodern notion of life in community. We as the local church are called to live in community; culturally postmodern people tend to desire life in community, too. The only trouble I sometimes see: pomo culture is interested in life in (adult) community. Too often there's little room for children even for this sub-culture.

What's to be done?


Read More......

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Elements of Discipleship

[Note: if you're a BCS student looking for the quiz, it's the post AFTER this one... ]

With that bit of house cleaning out of the way ...

As many of you know, I've recently been hired as Director (soon to be Pastor) of Discipleship at Auburn Alliance Church. In thinking about how to lead our Discipleship ministries into one Discipleship ministry with many facets, I've been trying to condense my thoughts on the subject. I'd love your input on a few thoughts...

I'm increasingly persuaded that our role as a local church body - any local church body - is to lead people to Jesus and to teach them to follow. I'm not arguing that this is the responsibility of the pastors/staff - it's the responsibility of the church (for those of you playing along at home, that all of us in His Kingdom). So don't take this as my thoughts about a pastor's job. Anyway ...

It seems to me that discipleship (that is, learning to follow Jesus) should involve all of the following: Fellowship, Prayer, Bible Study, Service to others,Justice and Mercy, Connection to our roots.

I suspect Fellowship, Prayer, and Bible Study will seem fairly obvious.

By service to others I mean those kind acts that teach us we are here to serve, not to be served. As simple as raking a neighbor's leaves or changing a single mom's oil. This is fundamental, no?

By justice and mercy I mean involvement in the "bigger" issues in our world. Whether it's volunteering at a Crisis Pregnancy Center or an AIDS hospice, working with ONE or raising money for a local refugee ministry. The issues are out there: sex trafficking, abortion, racism, extreme poverty, environmentalism, etc... It seems to me that working to improve God's world and the lives of His creations is part and parcel of learning to better follow Jesus.

Connection to our roots ... what is that, exactly?! I mean a few things here. Certainly communion and baptism - these roots run all the way to the New Testament and serve to bind us to the Church universal in a palpable way. But I also mean remembrance. Learning about and then remembering those whose shoulders our faith stands on is a valuable exercise in learning to follow Jesus. It encourages me to know that Martin Luther needed encouragement. It inspires me to hear about Jim Elliot. I causes me to pause and take seriously the sin within me when I think about those who've stumbled along their own journey.

So, assuming I'm on the right track so far, I'm toying with this list of statements as guides for a Discipleship ministry:

Love in community
Pray at all times
Know the Word
Serve our neighbors
Seek justice and mercy
Remember our roots

What do you think? Am I missing anything obvious? Am I making too much of something too little? What have your local churches done to guide and direct the process of discipleship?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I have more of my own forthcoming ...


Read More......

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Food for thought

Once upon a time, I linked to an online quiz I took, including my results. Because I'm assigning this quiz to my World Religions students, I thought I'd take it again...

The quiz is titled "What's your theological worldview", and can be found here.

Here are my current results:

Emergent/Postmodern 79%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 75%

Fundamentalist 75%

Reformed Evangelical 54%

Neo orthodox 50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal 36%

Classical Liberal 25%

Roman Catholic 14%

Modern Liberal 11%

Here are my results from September, 2007.

Emergent/Postmodern 79%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 71%

Fundamentalist 71%

Reformed Evangelical 54%

Neo orthodox 50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal 39%

Classical Liberal 18%

Roman Catholic 11%

Modern Liberal 0%


In general, it appears that my theological head is in about the same place it was two years ago. One might note that the bottom of the scale changed a bit for me - I'm apparently a bit "modern liberal" now, whereas I was previously 0%. Your guess is as good as mine how that happened!

Though the quiz is a bit long and is, after all, just an online quiz, I do think it makes for good thought provocation. Should you choose to take it, I'd love to see your results and hear you thoughts.


Read More......

Updates and apologies

An open letter to all of you left still who still read this blog:

I need to apologize for how infrequently I've been posting the last several months. I also want you to know that it's my intent to change that situation.

This past year has been a time of great change and challenge for me. As most of you know, I've gone from paid Children's Pastor to volunteer Children's Pastor to unemployed Pastor to (just a few days ago) Director of Discipleship, soon to be Pastor of Discipleship. We've transitioned from one church family to another, peacefully and amicably. I really miss those folk, and I'm really enjoying getting to know the "new" folks.

The year has been remarkably challenging on a number of levels. As you might readily guess, money has been tight (to say the least) as I've worked a series of part-time to barely-time jobs to make ends meet. We finally sold our previous home a few months ago (after about 9 months on the market). Vehicles break down and so does the homestead ... You know the routine!

Through it all, I've had impressed upon me over and over again that the LORD provides for his children. I don't know why He provides for one such as I, but I'm grateful.

You might wonder why this post at this time, eh? A couple of reasons come to mind:

1. Starting a new pastoral job has caused me to reflect and re-evaluate a bit; the importance of this blog in my spiritual development (and some of yours, I think) has been re-impressed upon me.

2. I'm teaching through some basic Emerging Church stuff in my World Religions class right now; it's reminding me of how important so many of these issues really are to me. Postmodernity, missional living, reformation in the local church: all topics I hope to ponder further in the coming days.

So if I fail to keep this resolution of sorts, feel free to email me and complain! Otherwise, I trust you'll enjoy interacting with some of the posts I'm working on in the near future.

Grace and Peace,

Read More......

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Carthaginian Foundation myth

Okay, I know this is a major departure from my normal (though now infrequent) posts, but I need to do this for my students ... the rest of you may disregard this as you will.

Students, should you choose to accept the challenge: What follows is the story of Pygmalion and Elissa. It is the primary Foundation myth for Carthage. Please read it and then explain it in your own words, using no more than one page. Please abide by all of my standard nit-picky, grumpy old man rules and regulations for academic writing.

Beware: here be large, cantankerous words; let the dictionary be your guide!

Without further ado:

The Tyrians [...] sent a portion of their youth into Africa, and founded Utica. Meanwhile their king died at Tyre, appointing his son Pygmalion and his daughter Elissa, a maiden of extraordinary beauty, his heirs. But the people gave the throne to Pygmalion, who was quite a boy. Elissa married Acerbas, her uncle, who was priest of Melqart, a dignity next to that of the king. Acerbas had great but concealed riches, having laid up his gold, for fear of the king, not in his house, but in the earth; a fact of which, though people had no certain knowledge of it, report was not silent.

Pygmalion, excited by the account, and forgetful of the laws of humanity, murdered his uncle, who was also his brother-in-law, without the least regard to natural affection. Elissa long entertained a hatred to her brother for his crime, but at last, dissembling her detestation, and assuming mild looks for the time, she secretly contrived a mode of flight, admitting into her confidence some of the leading men of the city, in whom she saw that there was a similar hatred of the king, and an equal desire to escape.

She then addressed her brother in such a way as to deceive him; pretending that "she had a desire to remove to his house, in order that the home of her husband might no longer revive in her, when she was desirous to forget him, the oppressive recollection of her sorrows, and that the sad remembrances of him might no more present themselves to her eyes."

To these words of his sister, Pygmalion was no unwilling listener, thinking that with her the gold of Acerbas would come to him. But Elissa put the attendants, who were sent by the king to assist in her removal, on board some vessels in the early part of the evening, and sailing out into the deep made them throw some loads of sand, put up in sacks, as if it was money, into the sea. Then, with tears and mournful ejaculations, she invoked Acerbas, entreating that "he would favorably receive his wealth which he had left behind him, and accept that as an offering to his shade, which he had found to be the cause of his death."

Next she addressed the attendants, and said that "death had long been desired by her, but as for them, cruel torments and a direful end awaited them, for having disappointed the tyrant's avarice of those treasures, in the hopes of obtaining which he had committed fratricide."

Having thus struck terror into them all, she took them with her as companions of her flight. Some bodies of senators, too, who were ready against that night, came to join her, and having offered a sacrifice to Melqart, whose priest Acerbas had been, proceeded to seek a settlement in exile.

[....] Pygmalion, having heard of his sister's flight, and preparing to pursue her with unfeeling hostility, was scarcely induced by the prayers of his mother and the menaces of the gods to remain quiet; the inspired augurs warning him that "he would not escape with impunity, if he interrupted the founding of a city that was to become the most prosperous in the world."

By this means some respite was given to the fugitives; and Elissa, arriving in a gulf of Africa, attached the inhabitants of the coast, who rejoiced at the arrival of foreigners, and the opportunity of bartering commodities with them, to her interest. Having then bargained for a piece of ground, as much as could be covered with an ox-hide, where she might refresh her companions, wearied with their long voyage, until she could conveniently resume her progress, she directed the hide to be cut into the thinnest possible strips, and thus acquired a greater portion of ground than she had apparently demanded; whence the place had afterward the name of Byrsa.

The people of the neighborhood subsequently gathering about her, bringing, in hopes of gain, many articles to the strangers for sale, and gradually fixing their abodes there, some resemblance of a city arose from the concourse. Ambassadors from the people of Utica, too, brought them presents as relatives, and exhorted them "to build a city where they had chanced to obtain a settlement."

An inclination to detain the strangers was felt also by the Africans; and, accordingly, with the consent of all, Carthage was founded, an annual tribute being fixed for the ground which it was to occupy. At the commencement of digging the foundations an ox's head was found, which was an omen that the city would be wealthy, indeed, but laborious and always enslaved. It was therefore removed to another place, where the head of a horse was found, which, indicating that the people would be warlike and powerful, portended an auspicious site. In a short time, as the surrounding people came together at the report, the inhabitants became numerous, and the city itself extensive.

When the power of the Carthaginians, from success in their proceedings, had risen to some height, Hiarbas, king of the Mauretanians, desiring an interview with ten of the chief men of Carthage, demanded Elissa in marriage, denouncing war in case of a refusal. The deputies, fearing to report this message to the queen, acted towards her with Carthaginian artifice, saying that "the king asked for some person to teach him and his Africans a more civilized way of life, but who could be found that would leave his relations and go to barbarians and people that were living like wild beasts?"

Being then reproached by the queen, "in case they refused a hard life for the benefit of their country, to which, should circumstances require, their life itself was due," they disclosed the king's message, saying that "she herself, if she wished her city to be secure, must do what she required of others."

Being caught by this subtlety, she at last said (after calling for a long time with many tears and mournful lamentations on the name of her husband Acerbas), that "she would go whither the fate of her city called her."

Taking three months for the accomplishment of her resolution, and having raised a funeral pile at the extremity of the city, she sacrificed many victims, as if she would appease the shade of her husband, and make her offerings to him before her marriage; and then, taking a sword, she ascended the pile, and, looking towards the people, said, that "she would go to her husband as they had desired her," and put an end to her life with the sword.




Read More......

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The secret value of Children's Ministry

Like so many other pastors, I sometimes find myself pondering some of the less than encouraging statistics reported about the Church in America. One that particularly bothers me is that (per Barna) 2 out of 3 teens involved in a local church will graduate from high school and rarely even grace the doors of a church building again until they marry and have children.

How is it possible that we're failing this badly? Surely the local church alone can't bear all of the responsibility, but just as surely we must bear some. We spend gobs of time, effort, and money on Youth Pastors, youth ministries, youth centers, etc... but to seemingly little long-term effect. Is it perhaps time to rethink things...

I have wondered out loud for some time now ... wondered if good CM isn't part of the solution. Hear me out for a moment.

CM is typically handled one of two ways in most American churches. A) It's left as a strictly volunteer ministry, believing that good CM "just happens". B) It's loaded with all the latest bells and whistles; Disney-land meets daycare with a Bible theme.

It's my considered opinion that neither is the right way to go.

Good CM is designed and led to be so. It focuses on both evangelism and discipleship; that is, it leads kids to Jesus and then teaches them how to follow Him. When done right, we're building a foundation for future, further growth and maturity. When done well, we're crafting safeguards against many of the problems common to kids when hormones and peer-pressure really start to weigh in.

It seems to me that the standard mantra about Youth Ministries ("teens these days face so much more difficulty than we ever did") misses the real point: teens these days were generally given no significant foundation by the local church when they were young to cope with and conquer the trials in their lives.

If that's the case - and can anyone really argue otherwise? - then why do we continue to repeat the same flawed formula? Why is it that most churches will hire virtually every other "specialty" pastor before thinking about hiring a Children's Pastor? We keep doing things the same way yet expect different results...

I know, I know ... there are certainly other issues here. For example, what about the time-honoured debate over how to care for the teens with roots in our local churches and the teens that simply show up looking for love and encouragement? Plainly we have an obligation to both.

What about parents? Surely I'm not letting them off the hook! Mom and Dad have the primary responsibility for leading their own children to Jesus and teaching them how to follow Him; the local church works to partner with them. But how are Mom and Dad supposed to know how? If the local church doesn't model and teach these principles, how will Mom and Dad ever stumble across them? Oh, some will for sure. But the majority? We will have failed to serve them and failed to serve their children.

I'm not being too idealistic here - I have no delusions that good CM will vaccinate kids against all the troubles that beset most teens. But it's obvious that what the local churches in America have been doing with regard to making disciples of kids has been an almost universal failure.

Isn't it time to seriously consider rethinking our methods?


Read More......

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Pyramid

For my World History class and anyone else interested in how the Great Pyramids might have been created:

Read More......

What Jehovah's Witnesses believe

For my World Religions students and anyone else interested in Jehovah's Witnesses:

Read More......