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Showing posts from June, 2008

Center for Problem-Solving v. Community for God-Following, cont.

Last post I commented on the difference between church as a Center for Problem-Solving and church as a Community for God-Following. One aspect of this I didn't discuss was the difference between a Center and a Community. When problem-solving is the point, a true community is not required. Relationships can stay on a fairly shallow level. Even when we open up to each other in order to solve personal problems, such as problems in one's marriage, we need not enter into deep relationship with each other. One can take the risk of transparency while still remaining emotional invulnerable. The way to do it is to treat the relationship like therapy. We let others know us in order to do something -- namely, solve a problem. But therapists are paid helpers; there is no relationship of mutual self-giving in therapy. That is why a patient can leave a therapist and not suffer a great deal of emotional loss.

In contrast, a community is made not of professional-and-client, but of friends. Rel…

The church: Center for Problem-Solving or Community for God-Following?

Continuing our thoughts about what it means to be involved in a community of faith (i.e., a church)...

There is a fundamental choice to make about how people in a church will relate to each other. What is the pastor's role, and how will parishioners interact with the pastor? In today's world of consumerism and pragmatism, there is a strong temptation to mold the church into a Center for Problem Solving. People come to the church wanting answers to important questions in life. "What job should I take?" "Can I get my spouse to stop opposing me at home?" "How can I balance career and relationships?" "How can I have a satisfying relationship with God?" The demand from the congregation is that the pastor be a dispenser of good advice. And the pastor reciprocates by constructing a business-like organization that operates by overlapping strategies to solve the common problems of life. Thus are born a myriad of ministry departments with highly sp…

Jesus is our example of ongoing self-emptying

Today I can appreciate in a new light how Jesus was our example of making an ongoing decision to empty himself. He did it, and he calls us to do it.

Here's how these ideas have woven together for me. A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I highlighted that Jesus called people to make a decision about him. He provoked a response, and he based his hearers' status with the Father on how they responded to the Son. I talked further about how for us this is an ongoing decision. It is not settled in a one-time "sinner's prayer." Rather, we must "take up our crosses" every day and follow him.

I have also been engaged in an unrelated study about the incarnation of Christ. Specifically I have been thinking about the self-emptying of the Word to become human. Phil 2:7 says that Christ Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness..." The theological term for this self-emptying is kenosis, taken after the Gree…

Desperate Pastors

Desperate pastors... the world is full of them.

How do you recognize them? One mark of the desperate pastor is that he (or she) chases people in order to "pastor" them. If you are waivering in your commitment to Christ, this pastor will call you repeatedly until you either return to the fold or politely -- or not so politely sometimes -- tell him to leave you alone. The desperate pastor gets jittery if he is not personally there to care for someone.

A second mark is that he will prop up ministries he thinks you will be interested in. He is like a private chef and a waiter, rolled into one. He will cook up anything you want and bring it to you on a gleaming platter. The desperate pastor leads by sticking his wet finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. If he thinks the flock wants it, he will provide it.

A third mark of the desperate pastor is that he will be seen everywhere the church meets. He is in every meeting, leading from the front, grabbing every bit of sp…

Eugene Peterson's pastoral wisdom

In my opinion, in all the shelves and shelves of books written about the vocation of pastoring, there is nothing rivaling the work of Eugene Peterson. He is transparent, taking us through his own struggles to unearth the essence of the pastoral vocation. Our world incessantly works to reduce pastors to purveyers of religious commodities and Christians to bargain-seeking consumers of self-fulfillment. Our Christian culture too often abides by a similar arrangement that pastors and churchgoers should live in a sort of pact -- the pastor delivers the desired goods and in return, the churchgoers affirm the pastor, even occasionally exalting the pastor to star status. Keep the pact, and there will be peace (of a sort). Upset this equilibrium, and who knows what will break loose.

Peterson is not the only Christian leader to recognize and cry out against the pressure to live under the smothering blanket of this unholy and unspoken agreement. But he speaks with a rare combination of transparen…

What the elementary school musical taught me about leadership

This morning I had the privilege of attending the Alta Vista Elementary “Spring Sing,” which was a musical performance put on by the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades for us parents. Little did I know it would turn into a lesson in leadership.

Our music teacher came on staff only recently, and in a short period of time, she put together the best elementary musical I have ever seen. The 3rd-graders opened with “Feelin’ Groovy” – which sets just the right atmosphere because it is, well, groovy. :-) But the thing is that in “Feelin’ Groovy,” Beach Boys songs, and others, ordinary school were performing complex vocal elements. They were singing parts, and the parts were overlaid with other parts. I even heard some harmonies in there! I found myself being emotionally moved. I felt like a sentimental dork, until another dad said something afterward about getting misty-eyed. And he's a pretty tough guy, so I felt better about myself. But back to the point -- this other dad and I ware moved by the…

Homosexuality and the church -- post 4

More dialogue with Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church...

Point #4 -- Supporting people in the church.

-- From Kimball: One of Kimball's interviewees, Chad, states well on p. 157 that gays sacrifice a great deal to give up not only a sexual attraction but an entire support system as well. Most of the church does not understand the relational toll involved in transitioning out of a homosexual lifestyle. The most critical missing piece in the church's ministry to homosexuals is providing close relational support, especially from heterosexuals who can come alongside. Chad says, "The church does not know how desperately [homosexuals in the church] need emotional support. I know plenty of examples of gays who were trying to change and joined a church but could not find the support they needed."

-- My comment: It would be heartbreaking to have someone leave the church because he/she was unable to find relational support to follow through on a life-decis…

Homosexuality and the church -- post 3

More dialogue with Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church...

Point #3 -- Practice and Orientation.

-- From Kimball: Kimball differentiates between sexual practice and sexual orientation. The Scriptures condemn engaging in homosexual practice. However, a Christian can have a homosexual orientation (i.e., same-sex attraction). For the Christian with a homosexual orientation, it takes great sacrifice and commitment not to act upon one's attractions. For this person who has a homosexual orientation but does not act upon it for the sake of Christ, Kimball does not object to using the term "homosexual Christian."

-- My comment: I agree with Kimball's argument. However, I would not use the term "homosexual Christian" unless I was in a setting where I could carefully and clearly unpack what I mean -- and even then I might not go so far as to use the term, because it would lend itself to much confusion. Given the overwhelming desire in today's w…

Homosexuality and the church -- post 2

More dialogue with Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church...

Point #2 -- Stigmatizing homosexuality.

-- From Kimball: One of the most harmful ways the way the church has dealt with homosexuality has been to stigmatize it, casting gays as sexual deviates with an insidious political agenda. It would be much more helpful if the church would treat homosexuality as one sin alongside many others -- no worse and no better. (This is best stated on p. 142 by Karen, a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction.)

-- My comment: I completely agree! We all have compulsions to stray from God's will in one way or another. I don't see homosexual practice as being qualitatively any better or worse than human ambition, overeating, gossiping, coveting, etc. However, these sins are repeated in the church so regularly that they are practically part of accepted Christian culture. When someone exercises human ambition in the church, he is usually promoted to greater respon…

Homosexuality and the church -- post 1

Dan Kimball includes a thought-provoking chapter on the church and homosexuality in his book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church. He correctly underscores the importance of dealing with this issue openly by observing that "homosexuality is increasingly becoming a normal part of our emerging culture" (136). Whereas Kimball has settled on the position that homosexual practice is a sin, he challenges the church to a much more open and respectful dialogue about the issue.

In the next four posts, I will mention some points from Kimball's chapter that caught my eye and add some brief comments.

Point #1 -- What Scripture really teaches.

-- From Kimball: There are fairly sophisticated arguments that Scripture only condemns homosexual promiscuity, not homosexual practice in general. These arguments are increasingly well known and used by Christians of the emerging culture, regardless of sexual orientation. Church leaders who want to promote an open and respectful dialogue must deal …