Tag Archives: ministry

The Gospel According to Levi’s (or Dockers)

Levis vs. Dockers. This is a tale of two pairs of pants. Or better yet two kinds of Christians who tend to wear two kinds of pants. In one corner you have the skinny jean wearing, tattoo flaunting, hipster eye-glassed, latte sipping Christians who think that “the Kingdom deeds good deeds done by good people in the public sector for the common good” (4). In other words the Kingdom mission means working for social justice and peace. In the other corner you have the pleated pants crew – the Docker wearing Christians who have focused all of their kingdom theorizing on two questions – “When does the Kingdom arrive?” and “Where is the Kingdom?”

A typical Christian hipster... This guy is probably a pastor too.
A typical Christian hipster… This guy is probably a pastor too.

Their answer to these questions is generally “The kingdom is both present and future, and the kingdom is both a rule and a realm over which God governs” (9). We might summarize their position as “kingdom = God’s redemptive rule and power at work in the world.”

In Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight offers an Anabaptist interpretation of what scripture means by Kingdom of God & how that will affect the mission of the church. He concludes that kingdom means “a people governed by a king.” (66) Kingdom does not refer to rule, or a redemptive dynamic, it specifically refers to a people governed by a king. This leads to the surprising conclusion that “kingdom is a people and the church is a people, then it follows that the church people are the kingdom people… there is no kingdom outside of the church.”

This claim goes up against the evangelical consensus which has in general followed George Ladd who claims that:

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live in it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself… the Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men and women.

The upshot of McKnight’s position is that kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission. Or we might say that the criteria for deciding whether something is “mission” or not is whether it forms or enhances local churches. Something is only mission if it is about Jesus. This will certainly ruffle the feathers of the Skinny Jeans crowd.

Kingdom mission is church mission is gospeling about Jesus in the context of a church witness and loving life. Anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. They are probably doing good work and doing social justice, but until Jesus is made known, it is not kingdom mission. (142)

I believe that this last paragraph is the heart of this book – if its not pointing people to Jesus & if its not carried out by Jesus’ people then its not really kingdom work.

Just because you are a part of the dockers (i.e. pleated pants) crowd that doesn’t mean you can’t rock them with style!

Review

There are so many great things about this book. I love the fact that he makes a case for why all social justice isn’t necessarily kingdom work. I love the fact that he centers mission around the proclamation of King Jesus. I love the fact that he grounds his arguments in thorough readings of scripture. However despite the fact that I agree with his vision for who King Jesus is and what mission is, I can’t buy into what he sees as the implications of the gospel and mission. Before I push back on a bunch of things, let me just say that I ate up this book, I loved McKnight’s heart for the church and for proclaiming Jesus as the one and only king. In fact, I agree with Publisher’s Weekly who said that “This is must reading for church leaders today.” I really believe that this is a book that many people in my own generation, those who are drawn to a Skinny Jeans gospel, need to read. Having said that, here is where I want to push back:

  1. The Kingdom Story is All Mixed-Up: Most evangelicals hold to a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation story of the bible. Some have ignored some key parts of this story (Abraham, Israel, Exile, etc) but in the last few years we have been improving our understanding of this big picture story. McKnight however suggests a different story. He suggests an A-B-A’ story. The Story goes: Plan A: God rules the world through is elected people but God is the one and only King. Plan B: God accommodates to Israel’s selfish desires and lets David or an Israelite king rule. Plan A’: Plan B failed, Plan A takes on a new form, with God ruling in the God-man Jesus. What is wrong with this Kingdom Story? It makes it seem as though God’s plan failed and he had to come up with a brand new plan. It makes it seem as though Jesus was not the point the whole time, as though Jesus was God’s backup. I just can’t go there.
  2. McKnight’s Theology of Mission Needs to be Nuanced: McKnight is absolutely right, anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. However this position needs to be nuanced. He doesn’t do this, so I will try to offer a nuanced position for him ( I think he will agree). Here is my revision of his position: Kingdom work is work that proclaims King Jesus as Lord and Savior. Any work which proclaims the reality of Jesus’ universal reign as King – and is done by kingdom people is kingdom work. We need to remember though that proclamation need not be verbal at all times. Ultimately it will lead to verbal proclamation, but one can testify to the reality that Jesus is king without a verbal proclamation. Practically this means, that a Christian who works for an organization like Living Water International can do kingdom work because her work is done in the name of Jesus and proclaims the fact that under Jesus’ rule it is unthinkable that people would suffer from a lack of clean water. This means that a church who serves their community by opening their doors for recovery programs is doing Kingdom work because it is done in the name of Jesus by Christians. This means that the lone Christian who works in a secular non-profit that does public health education is doing Kingdom work because he is bringing God’s reign to bear (people’s health flourishing) and is doing so in an effort to proclaim “this is what life is like when Jesus reigns,” even though they might not be doing so explicitly with their words on a daily basis.
  3. The Kingdom is Not the Church: In an effort to make his case that Kingdom = Church he quotes D.A. Carson who says that “In no instance is Kingdom to be identified with church, as if the two words can occasion become tight synonyms. Even when there is a referential overlap, the domain of ‘kingdom’ is reign, and the domain of ‘church’ is people.” I agree with Carson. McKnight believes that one day Christ will reign over all of creation, but right now Christ’s reign is only over the church. Again I have to disagree – for there is no square inch of creation over which Christ does not say “mine.” How is that reign expressed? And to what extent do we experience that reign? That is a question for another place and another day. Nevertheless we can say with Richard Mouw that:

The Kingdom is the broad range of reality over which Christ rules… Kingdom covers all those areas of reality where Christ’s rule is acknowledged by those who work to make that rule visible…The institutional church is certainly an important part of Christ’s kingdom, but the church is only one part of the Kingdom…You don’t have to go into a church to do something related to the kingdom…Wherever followers of Christ are attempting to glorify God in one or another sphere of cultural interaction, they are engaged in kingdom activity.” (Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Person Introduction)

McKnight’s Anabaptist theology will not allow him to buy into this Kuperian-Reformed view of Kingdom and culture. I believe that contrasting Mouw’s/Kuyper’s vision with McKnight’s vision of the Kingdom reveals the core of McKnight’s kingdom theology – ultimately McKnight’s kingdom theology is Anabaptist – it is one in which the Church is radically separate from the world. This means that the church does its own thing and can only stand against culture. The church and its mission cannot begin from within the system. This is exactly what McKnight sees happening with the Skinny Jeans Christians and the Pleated Pants Christians. And according to McKnight this is a big problem. Even though I do have a few problems with this book – I certainly don’t want it to come off as though I don’t recommend this book. I highly recommend this book, I honestly believe that every person in ministry should read it, primarily because it will challenge your assumptions about what “Kingdom” means, and hopefully that will lead you to come to your own conclusions.

Kramer obviously prefers to roll with the skinny jeans Christians - he needs to read McKnight's book.
Kramer obviously prefers to roll with the skinny jeans Christians – he needs to read Kingdom Conspiracy. George Castanza clearly rolls with the pleated pants crew, he needs a new wardrobe.
Advertisements

Jason Sexton’s Advice to Students – Serve the Church!

Jason Sexton, a Systematic Theologian who holds positions at USC and Cal State Fullerton and heads up the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, advises those pursuing theological and biblical studies to serve the church consistently and faithfully in order to flourish during their education

What do Kids Really Want?

This last week I made my way through Kara Powell’s new book The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family – a book that contains a lot of research on creating sticky faith and even more practical tips on building lasting faith into kids. One chapter that really caught my attention was her chapter on “Service that Sticks.”

Dr. Powell interviewed five hundred youth group graduates and asked them the question: “what do you wish you would have had more of in youth group?” This was these student’s opportunity to openly and honestly share what they would have really wanted to do at Church. Its sort of scary question, because it can make a youth pastor/leader feel like the students didn’t actually like what the ministry was doing.

What do you think students really want from their youth groups?

Well Dr. Powell and her team at Fuller seminary compiled all of their research and discovered that youth group graduates wanted the following four things from their youth group:

  1. Time for deep conversation
  2. Mission Trips
  3. Service Projects
  4. Games

Who would have imagined that students didn’t place games and fun activities at the top of their list!??! Your pastors and leaders would do well to listen to what these students really want. If our students want to go on mission trips – give them mission trips! If they want to serve others, let them serve others! We need to be intentional about creating missional opportunities for our youth groups – hopefully those experiences carry over into adulthood!

High School Students on a Mission Trip
High School Students on a Mission Trip

Book Review – The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft

In just three short days I will be married. It blows my mind even thinking about that. Thankfully God has blessed me with a beautiful, loving, kingdom minded, missions focused, hungry for social justice, gospel loving woman to marry. I am truly blessed. Yet one of my biggest fears is that I will let work aka ministry hurt my marriage. I can stray towards being a workaholic, school-aholic, or even a ministry-aholic. I need to guard myself. So its timely that I came across this book called The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft…..

Here is the problem:

The pastor and his family tend to face pressures that span a number of professions.” – up at crack of dawn, serve and protect others, witness pain and suffering, work long hours. (pg. 9)

Here is what the pastor needs to do:

“The pastor needs a lot of help to think clearly about his life, priorities, and well-being.” (pg. 10)

Here is where the book comes in:

This is a book written for men who have answered the call to serve the church of God as preachers, teachers, leaders, and shepherds…. How do you faithfully serve the church while serving your family? (pg. 13)

How to balance ministry and family….

Wait I got that wrong, it shold say How to prioritize family over ministry. Prioritizing family over ministry is something they don’t teach you in seminary and the sad truth is that there aren’t a lot of good models to learn from out there. In fact there are tons of stories about the bad examples. Some of the most famous pastors/preachers/missionaries weren’t great husbands: Whitefield, Wesley, Carey, and Barth (just to name a few).

Thankfully Brian and Cara Croft have written a book to help people like me, those are struggling or might struggle to keep family their priority.

The book is broken up into three parts

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Wife
  3. The Pastor’s Children

Overview

In part one Brian gets to the core of our problem: our hearts. Why do pastor’s struggle with neglecting their families? Its probably because they are seeking approval from others, trying to look good, wanting to be successful, desiring to be significant, trying to keep up with other’s expectations. In other words they struggle with a sinful heart. They (we) look to people and our accomplishments to fulfill our deepest heart desire, at the cost of neglecting our family. Neglect of family shows that we don’t get the gospel. We may be able to verbalize the gospel, but we haven’t internalized it. We haven’t really grasped that we are justified, accepted, and loved. We need to know the Gospel!

In part two Brian and Cara share their wisdom about doing ministry while married. I learned so much about how a pastor’s wife feels. She will probably deal with unrealistic expectations from the congregation, she might have to struggle with loneliness, she might feel overlooked or overshadowed by her husband, she might deal with the pain of having people talking behind her back, and she will also have to balance ministry and family. Thankfully Brian offers some practical tips for taking care of your wife. He tells us to encourage her, disciple her, and pray for her. Basically love her like Christ loved the church.

I loved this section so much that I am going to buy a paper copy and give it to my soon to be wife.

Part three is about kids. I don’t have kids so I will skip this section, but basically there is a chapter on the dad’s role in shepherding your kids, a chapter on shepherding your kids together, and a chapter on neglecting your kids.

Some Highlights

  • Great discussion questions for the husband and wife
  • An insightful chapter into the mind of a pastor’s wife
  • Candid reflections on the each of the three subjects written by other people with ministry experience
  • A very transparent reflection on dealing with depression as a pastor’s wife
  • A section giving advice to guys who will soon become pastors

Shortcomings

  • There were no real shortcomings… the only thing is that I wish it had a section for young guys who are doing ministry and are about to get married. Basically people in my own position!

Conclusion

This book is timely. I’m just starting out working full time in ministry and I am about to get married. I can definitely see myself going through this book with my wife. I highly recommend any pastor, missionary, seminary teacher, volunteer ministry leader go through this book with his wife. It can only help to strengthen your marriage and make you a more effective couple for the kingdom.

Note: I received this book free of charge through NetGalley and was under no obligation to give a positive or negative review.

This Paycheck’s Book Purchases (October 26th)

A few weeks ago I started a new type of blog entry, “This Paycheck’s Book Purchases.” Each time I get paid I buy a couple of books and I share with you, the world, what I am reading and why I am excited to read those books. As I get married I am sure this type of blog entry will slowly fade away. The truth is, when I get married their will be less money spent on books and more money spent on bills….

God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ – Sarah Coakley

God Sexuality and the Self

Ben Myers recommended this book to me and he seemed absolutely stoked on it. I don’t normally read these sort of books, but I guess its time to venture into unknown territory, especially with 2014 looking like its going to be the year of the Trinity (LATC14 & ETSFarWest), at least in Los Angeles. I think this will probably be an important book in those discussions, I wouldn’t be surprised if discussion about this book makes its way into these conferences. Here is the Amazon book summary: God, Sexuality and the Self is a new venture in systematic theology. Sarah Coakley invites the reader to re-conceive the relation of sexual desire and the desire for God and – through the lens of prayer practice – to chart the intrinsic connection of this relation to a theology of the Trinity. The goal is to integrate the demanding ascetical undertaking of prayer with the recovery of lost and neglected materials from the tradition and thus to reanimate doctrinal reflection both imaginatively and spiritually. What emerges is a vision of human longing for the triune God which is both edgy and compelling: Coakley’s théologie totale questions standard shibboleths on ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender’ and thereby suggests a way beyond current destructive impasses in the churches. The book is clearly and accessibly written and will be of great interest to all scholars and students of theology.

Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous

Embracing Obscurity

If you are like me you think you are the bees knees (what does that even mean?) and you hate it. You struggle with pride, you don’t want to be prideful but you find prideful thoughts creeping up on you. I saw Ed Stetzer refer to this book in a blog post and it seemed interesting to me. In fact it seemed to be excactly the kind of book I needed to read. If you work in ministry, have a job that serves others, or are a human being and you struggle with pride, this book is aimed at you. Here is the Amazon book summary: No matter how famous someone might be, the fact remains; most of the other seven billion people on Earth wouldn’t know him or her from the next person. Add this reality to one’s shrinking recognizability among the multiple billions down through history, and the worldly emphasis on standing out really falls flat; we’re all in this obscurity thing together. Ironically, the trouble with me and you and the rest of humanity is not a lack of self-confidence but that we have far too much self-importance. To live and die unnoticed would seem a grave injustice to many. It’s all too easy to think we’re somebody if our portfolio is strong, there are a few letters after our name, or we’re well-known at work, church, or school. As pride creeps in, we are tempted to want more: more recognition, more admiration, more influence, more, more, more. Few have ever given thought to wanting less. That’s why we need Embracing Obscurity. Putting the premise into immediate action, an established Christian author electing to remain anonymous writes about living and dying in simplicity, contending that true success, as modeled by Jesus, starts with humility, service, sacrifice, and surrender. Such a life involves mystery and banks on the hope that today is just a dress rehearsal for eternity. When we stop imitating the world and instead choose to embrace obscurity, real life — chock full of significance, purpose, and renewed passion — begins.

Paul and Introverted Pastors

“Do not go beyond what is written…” Paul says this in regard to assessing servants of Christ.  He tells us that he cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthian church, or even himself. His conscience is clear but even that doesn’t matter because ultimately it is the Lord who judges the motives of men’s hearts.

Through ought this letter (but especially 2nd Corinthians) Paul finds himself defending himself against the accusations and judgments of this church. He isn’t charismatic enough, he isn’t a polished orator, he isn’t a brilliant philosopher, he isn’t a beautiful man…. Paul was a man of “middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes and his, eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long….”

Basically Paul looked like a hobbit with a unibrow.

He wasn’t pleasing on the eyes, and according to the Corinthians his teachings weren’t pleasing on the ears either.

But notice what Paul says…. “Do not go beyond what is written.” We are not to judge God’s servants according to criteria beyond what is written in scriptures. We don’t know their motives, we don’t know their hearts, we don’t know whether they are being faithful to God’s call. We don’t have access to their internal life, but what we do have access to is their ministry in light of God’s revealed word. That is what ought to be basis of our judgement.

A lot of blogs and magazine articles has been written about introverted pastors in the past year, and for good reason. Our celebrity pastors have created a false image of what a pastor ought to be like (interestingly enough most of these pastors are actually heavy introverts, but their stage personas don’t reveal this).

These pastors have become the standard by which we judge the work of God’s servants.

We have gone “beyond what is written” when we do this. I will be the first to admit, I have succumbed to this as well. I judge other pastors based off the personality and “success” of these other pastors. In fact I judge my own ministry as a college director based of these super pastor’s personality and success. It’s a real struggle…. I feel inadequate because I don’t have the gift of gab. I feel inadequate because hanging out for long periods of time tires me out. I feel inadequate because some people in my congregation perceive me as cold or as a jerk because I am not friendly (and because I don’t hug people…. What can I say, I’m not a huge fan of affection). However If you ever catch me preaching, you would never be able to tell that I am an introvert. All this to say, being an introverted pastor can be difficult in our day of podcasts and books where the we only have access to celebrity pastor’s public persona.

However congregations have real needs. They need to feel loved. And for a lot of people feeling loved will require stepping out of our introverted shells and treating people a certain way. So for those of you who are introverted pastors/community group leaders/Life Group Leaders/servants I present to you Thom Rainer’s 7 tips for introverted pastors (note: the following was written by Thom Rainer for his own blog):

  1. You just have to mingle sometimes. I really don’t like small talk. When you mingle before or after a worship service or some other church event, you hear a lot of small talk. My temptation was always to avoid mingling so I could avoid such conversations. Unfortunately, pastors are perceived to be unfriendly and uncaring if they don’t mingle. Force yourself to get out among the members frequently for short periods of time.
  2. You just have to counsel people sometimes. I avoided counseling for more than one reason. First, I never felt like I was equipped or trained to counsel. Second, I am task oriented with the temptation to advise someone on three easy steps to get their lives in orders. Third, my introversion pushes me away from conversations with people I don’t know well. But pastors can’t avoid all counseling. My counseling load tended to diminish over time because people left our sessions feeling worse than when they arrived.
  3. You just have to attend a few social events. I’m probably wearing out the introverted pastor with these first three tips. But pastors who avoid all mingling, all counseling, and all social events tend to be viewed as impersonal and uncaring. While an introvert should never plan too much interaction, that pastor must be involved to some level.
  4. Be transparent about your introversion. Church members will understand you better. Many will be more forgiving about some of the introvert’s more annoying traits. Some will identify with you and be glad you were willing to address your introversion publicly.
  5. Use the power of social media to be your voice. Introverts don’t like small talk conversation, but they typically don’t mind writing. The more people can “see” you on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or a blog, the more they will feel like they know you, even though you don’t have one-on-one interaction with them.
  6. Be accountable to an extrovert. I still am today, even though I no longer serve as a pastor. He reminds me of when I am sinking into extreme introversion. He sees me when I don’t see myself. He tells me how my actions or lack of actions may be perceived.
  7. Book time on your calendar to recover. If you have been expending lots of energy mingling, counseling, or socializing, you need some down time to recover. Put it on your calendar so you can be intentional about it. And for an hour or so, go to a place by yourself. Read, relax, or do nothing.  No one is there to talk to you for those minutes. Enjoy your blessed aloneness for a brief season.

 

Living an Unhurried Life – Prayer

I recently picked up a book by Alan Fadling, called An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rythms of Work and Rest. I picked it up upon the recommendation of Paul Jensen, the executive director of the Leadership Institute, whom Alan is the director of a ministry within that ministry.  Its kind of cool actually, many years ago Alan Fadling used to be the college pastor at the church that I am now the college director for. Things have really come full circle, Alan is coming to our college ministry to lead a half-day spiritual retreat. I don’t actually know Alan, but I do know Paul, and if he has the same kind of heart that Paul has then I know we are in for a real treat. But I digress….

In this book Alan calls us to find a balance between our sense of calling and our call to rest. He has a chapter on productivity, and he says that being unhurried doesn’t mean that you lack productivity. He also has a chapter on spiritual practices for living an unhurried life. This chapter is great. I got a taste of a few of these practices in my class with Paul Jensen at Fuller. He also talks about how living an unhurried life allows us to care well for others. Today though I want to pull out an excerpt on his chapter on being “unhurried enough to pray.”

Check out what Alan has to say on prayer:

Some of us are paid in Christian leadership roles. Others volunteer our time to serve. As a leader myself, I think about Jesus’ rhythm of ministry and prayer. What is inviting to me? What resistance rises up within me. For example, to what degree do I see prayer as a strategic activity of leaders in general and of my leadership responsibilities in particular…. One of the single most fruitful activities in which a leader can engage in is praying. Praying for the people God has entrusted to our care.

As a paid Christian Leader, I ask myself whether prayer is legitimate work during office hours or whether I should do it only “on my own time.” Do I see the office as the place where I do the important stuff, where I deal with paperwork, prepare messages, run the institution, plan the events, keep appointments, talk on the phone, and get things done? Is it at all possible that our office hours could reflect the kind of time that the early church leadership spent together sharing in the word, praying, and enjoying fellowship? And is it possible that I might do every task or conduct every meeting in a spirit of prayer? (106-107)

He brings up some very important points. I honestly find myself using my office hours for “office type things.” But is that all that my job consists of? Shouldn’t prayer be a part of my “job?” What about spending time alone with Jesus? I think the same type of questions could be asked about leading a Life Group: Should our pre-meetings simply be a time where we assign tasks and plan out the night? Or should we spend that time praying? Perhaps we need to engage in prayerful planning… These are all the type of questions I don’t have answers to. But I do know that Paul calls us to pray unceasingly, which probably means that everything we do must be infused with a prayerful heart and attitude.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What do you think the role of prayer is in leadership?
  • Does the way you actually lead reflect your beliefs about prayer?
  • What steps could you take to help your belief and actions match up?

An Unhurried Life