Category Archives: Discipleship

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

Its actually a plausibility problem…

What the bible teaches about same sex relationships sounds implausible to most people 51mnsxoryhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_nowadays. It sounds totally implausible to ask people to turn their backs on same sex relationships and live a lonely life as a perpetually single person.  Not only does it sound implausible, it sounds unhealthy. Listen to what Melinda Selmys, a Roman Catholic who experiences same sex attraction says:

“Though shall not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness.

She’s right, it in our world the idea that someone should say yes to the single life is absolute madness. And this is exactly where the problem lies, the church has unintentionally perpetuated the implausibility of a same-sex, single, celibate Christian life through a number of misteps. Ed Shaw, a pastor and the author of Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, seeks to address this plausibility problem by making what the Bible clearly commands seem plausible again.

Shaw’s thesis is that,

The reason that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality sounds so unreasonable is because of a whole number of misteps that the church ahs taken over the years; a whole host of ways in which evangelicals have become too shaped by the world around us. (22)

What Shaw does throughout the book is highlight 9 misteps that the church has made, unwittingly making the same sex celibate life implausible. He begins the book with a very personal chapter, describing what life has been like pursuing a life of sexual holiness as a pastor who has same sex attractions. This is an important chapter because the plausibility problem is a deeply personal and emotional issue for him, not only as a pastor but as a same-sex attracted Christian. This chapter really sets the context.

So what are the missteps? Here are the 9 incorrect beliefs that the church has adopted, thus perpetuating the implausibility of a single-celibate same-sex life:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality
  2. A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality
  8. Celibacy is bad for you
  9. Suffering is to be avoided

Although these 9 topics have certainly influenced how the church processes issues of same sex attraction in the church, they have wide ranging implications. Personally, I have an ax to grind against belief 4 and 9. Even apart from issues of sexuality, the beliefs that “if it makes you happy, it must be right” and “suffering is to be avoided” have done so much to harm the mission of the church. Because the church has imbibed these values (especially the American church) people are slow to sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. And perhaps even worse, students tend to abandon their faith in college precisely because they have bought into “happiness” as the goal of life, and hence their faith as well. I’ve seen it time and time again, people following Jesus because of the “happiness” and “blessings”

ed-shaw_medium
Ed Shaw is Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England.

he has to offer them instead of simply following him because he is the Messiah. It’s a consumeristic view of faith. All this to say, the issues Shaw addresses have major implications even beyond the topic of same-sex attraction.

I highly recommend this book to those in ministry. I wish all my pastor friends would take the time to read it simply because I know that some of them unknowingly are perpetuating these harmful beliefs in their churches (2 and 5 seem to be especially common in the circles I find myself in.) This would also be a helpful book for all sorts of leaders in Christian ministry to read. We would really benefit from being more careful about how we address issues of family life and relationships, as elevating certain topics in sermons or bible studies can unwittingly alienate a large segment of our Christian brothers and sisters.

Even though you may not agree with the details of Shaw’s proposal, this is an invaluable resource for those seeking to disciple their flock in the areas of sexuality and beyond.

NOTE: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

Johnny Mac on Developing Leaders

Now – if you know me, you know that I am not John MacArthur’s biggest fan. (Surprise surprise!) However, this short video by him about leadership development is so good, I can’t help but share it. MacArthur is absolutely right, strong churches will have a huge influence for God in this world, but strong churches begin with strong leaders…

Missions Insights with Dr. John MacArthur: Why Invest in Training National Pastors? from TMAI on Vimeo.

Should I focus on Discipleship or Evangelism?

This seems to be the perennial question for most leaders, especially those who are trying to be missional – where should I spend the majority of my time and energy?

Should I focus on discipleship or evangelism?

Andreas Kostenberger addresses this question in an essay in a new book titled Shepherding God’s Flock. Here is what he has to say (regarding the themes of Luke 15):

The figure of the “seeking shepherd” also makes clear that the dichotomy between pastoring God’s flock of those already saved and evangelizing those who are still lost is an unfortunate and unbiblical one. The seeking shepherd combines both functions in one He cares for the sheep who are already in the flock and provides for them spiritually (and if need be physically) and keeps them safe, but he is also concerned for those in the world who are lost in their sin. Not only does he lead by example in reaching out to the lost, he also seeks to mobilize the church to be moved with compassion for the lost and to take the gospel to them. This calls for wisdom and discernment, and wise shepherd guided by the Holy Spirit, will strike the right balance between caring for the saved and seeking to reach the lost.

So there you have it!

Discipleship vs. evangelism is a false dichotomy!

15 Life Giving Habits for Ministry

I really didn’t expect things to be like this – but its simply the way things turned out. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing – it was just unexpected.

You see – this weekend is my friend’s birthday, and every year he plans a snowboarding/ski trip to either Big Bear or Mammoth. I really look forward to these trips. However this year I was coming off a really bad flu; so I figured that it was probably wise if I didn’t spend two whole days doing intense activity in freezing cold weather. So the whole crew went up the mountain and I walked (a few mile) over to one of my favorite coffee shops in the world, Looney Bean.

I started out doing my morning scripture reading and moved into reading some stuff on the Trinity by Stephen Holmes, then I made my way back to reading scripture. I was reading Psalm 23, sitting in a quaint little coffee shop, staring out the window at the beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevadas. And then I realized – I have just entered a 3 day period of forced sabbatical.

For the next 4 days I have no responsibilities at church. I have no real agenda. I get to hike, work out, read, spend time with God, and just relax. Its a time to recharge!

I started journaling about this – how the Lord has given me a few days to just be and not do. My tendency is to always do – in fact I originally brought my computer with me in order to get ahead on some work. But no – the Lord had other plans. He gave me time to rest and time to stoke the fire within me for Jesus. Those are two crucial habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate if they are going to make it for the long haul. I admit I’m really bad at stopping and doing those things – I tend to do them on the go. Anyway, there are many habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate in order to maintain a healthy walk with God in ministry.

Justin Buzzard recently wrote a blog in which he listed out 15 of these life saving habits – here are a few:

Prioritize friendship
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?

Disciple men
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?

Rest
Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?

Play big
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?

Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?

Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.
➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?

Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.
➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?

You can find the rest of these 15 Life-Giving Habits on Justin’s Blog.

Writing Your Spiritual Biography

We have all been designed by God to make an impact – both on our community and the world around us. He has given each one of us specific gifts and life experiences that are unique to us. Nobody else has those same combinations of gifts that you do. Nobody else has ever had, nor will ever have, the same life experiences that you have had. Your design and your life story are unique. However, the truth is that we don’t often take time to reflect upon how God has uniquely designed us and orchestrated our life story. Sometimes its helpful to step back and prayerfully think through the things that have shaped us to become who we are today. In the following video we are going to see a Christian Rapper – Propaganda – reflect upon different circumstances in his life that have shaped him to be who he is, and have prepared him for the type of ministry that God has called him to.

I am Second® – Propaganda

 

In the video, the rapper Propaganda shared some of the experiences that shaped his life. He shared about what it was like growing up as the only African-American kid in a Mexican culture, what it was like feeling alone at church, as well as what it was like to be a male in his particular culture with artistic passions and desires. As he reflected upon these things he noticed that “all this was on purpose – everything you are – your whole goulash of experiences and gifts – all the scars, every hurt every failure…. Its on purpose, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are exactly who I want you to be.”

Exercise – Writing Your Spiritual Biography

Take 20 minutes to prayerfully reflect on how God has shaped you over the years through various means such as:

  1. Life experiences – Think about the various phases of your life: childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Which experiences during those years have shaped you the most to be who you are today?
  2. Spiritual experiences – i.e. experiences of God’s presence and guidance through Scripture, church, mission trips, camps, nature, or some spiritual experience. List out at least 3 experiences that have significantly shaped you.
  3. Spiritual mentors including historical figures.
  4. Your context—i.e. cultural, family, ethnic, socio-economic, geographical & historical factors.

After you have done this, take some time to craft a “spiritual biography” (using Propaganda’s testimony as an example) around these four categories. How might God want to use your experiences to make an impact for his Kingdom on this world?

Book Review – Slow Church by Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus explores what it would look like for the church to embrace the “slow” way of life. The authors explore the possibility of doing slow church by focusing on three areas – ethics, ecology, and economy. By “ethics” they are referring to what it means to be the embodiment of Christ in a particular location. By “ecology” they are referring to their place within God’s mission of reconciliation. By “economy” they are referring to God’s provision to carry out his reconciling work. As the authors tackle each section they give us a sampling of what it looks like to live as a “slow church.” They do not provide “steps” or “instructions” or “how-to-lists” – because that would be characteristic of a “fast” way of doing church, rather they paint pictures with words, give plenty of examples of churches who practice “slow church,” and open up the reader’s imagination as to what God might want to do in each local church community.

Review

Efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control – are four words that nail down the essence of MacDonaldization. These are the same four words that nail down the essence of (many) Mega Churches. Working in a Mega Church I know that many see these four words as “good words” but Smith and Pattison see them as “bad words.” They aren’t qualities that we as a church should strive to achieve. Nevertheless I have seen ministries built around these four concepts. As I see churches strive to achieve these things I can’t help but think to myself – Is this the way that Jesus would have done things? Is this the way that Jesus built his “little flock?” Is a MacDonald-ized (Supersized) church the church that Jesus envisioned? I don’t know. Either way, I know that this is the Church that Jesus loved and died for. Whether it’s a “fast church” or a “slow church” Jesus loves his church. However because Jesus loves his church he desires to see his church flourish. I honestly (along with Smith and Pattison) think that the “fast church” isn’t flourishing. Humans can’t thrive and flourish on a fast food diet – neither can the church thrive and flourish with a “fast church” mentality. Change is needed – the church needs to slough off its industrialized and Macdonald-ized approach to church. It needs to embrace a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of life grounded in a grand gospel. Slow Church helps us imagine what it would look like if the church were to do that.

A Personal Note

I believe that I have embraced (or at least have tried to embrace) a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of living out the gospel. Of course, being a fallen human being, I am tempted to Macdonaldize my ministry. I am tempted to value efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over and above relationship and God’s sovereignty. However Jesus helps me to recognize my sin and repent of such things. One area in which the Lord has been helping me to do that has been in the area of discipleship. I want people to grow in Christ, I desperately want that. I want the college students I work with to grow into a Christ-centered community of missional disciples. But my temptation has been to try to systematize that growth. However as I read this book I came to realize that much like a political revolutionary I wanted, no I demanded, instant change. However (as the authors say) “unlike human revolutionaries, who demand instant change, God is not impatient.” I am impatient – I want growth to happen now – on my time and my conditions. As this book has forced me to rethink how people grow I have come to realize that God’s primary means of growing people is through the slow process of intentional one on one and small group relationships. Spiritual Growth takes time and effort, it’s a slow process, it’s a messy process, its a relational process, and I am certainly not in control of it. Spiritual Growth cannot be “Macdonaldized” – it’s a slow and organic process.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Becoming Sequoias and Doing College Ministry

In his book College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture Stephen Lutz asks the reader two questions that frame the rest of his book. Even though they are questions directed at college/campus ministers I think they are great questions for anybody in ministry to constantly be asking themselves:

  1. Does the grounded, growing, fruitful tree describe you?
  2. Does the grounded, growing, fruitful tree describe your ministry? (30-31)

Stephen Lutz warns ministry leaders from becoming spiritual tumbleweeds, tossed about and shifted around by the winds of change. He suggests that we be like trees instead. We ought to strive to be like Sequoias who are known for their impressive mass and strength. We ought to be like Bristlecone Pines, known for their resiliency. We ought to be like the Trembling Giant aspen in Utah, a tree known for its reproductive capabilities.

Sequoia Tree

Helping your ministry become that sort of tree begins with you. What does it look like for you to be grounded, growing, and fruitful? Only once you have asked that question can you ask what it looks like for your ministry to be grounded, growing and fruitful.

I like to think that being grounded means standing firm in two particular calls

  1. The truth of God’s grace and our identity in Christ. (Gospel)
  2. The truth of God’s call upon our lives. (Mission)

Both of these are callings. The first is a call to come to Christ. The second is a call to go for Christ.

Any growth and fruit will flow out of knowing these two truths.