Category Archives: Ministry

Something Better Than Heaven

A friend of mine asked me to preach for him last week while he was away on vacation. This is the rough draft of my sermon, which more or less follows what I actually wound up saying when I got there.

I’m going to depart from my normal preaching style this morning. That’s probably okay with you, because you don’t know what my normal preaching style is. Well, I’ll tell you. What I normally do is start with a reading from the Bible and spend the rest of the time in a sort of extended study and explanation of that passage, sticking closely to the text all the way through. One of the nice things about that kind of preaching is that no one ever asks “where is he going with this?” If they do ask, the answer is “I’m not going anywhere—we’re hanging out in this text all morning, just going deeper and deeper into it.”

That’s how I normally preach, but that isn’t how I’m preaching this morning. And I’ll tell you up front why I’m not. The first reason is that there are several passages I want to discuss, not just one. I want to give us a big picture of a Biblical teaching. My normal preaching is kind of like an architectural blueprint, with lots of notes that show how the planks and railings of a passage fit together. What I’m aiming for this morning is more like a water painting of a landscape. I’d like to leave you not with all the details worked out, but with a big picture that you can carry with you. The second reason I’m leaving my normal pattern is this: the passages that I really want to talk about are difficult for modern people to grasp right away. And that isn’t because the words are complex—they really aren’t. It’s because we have about an 1800 year history of reading them in a certain way that I’ve come to believe almost completely misses the point. Sometimes we read them the same way my daughter opens birthday presents. She’ll cut the ribbon and tear the paper off and then hold it up for everyone to see and say “Look! It’s a box!” You have to keep prodding her sometimes to get her to move past the box—which I admit is a wonderful and attractive thing—and get her to open up the present inside.

This morning, I want to try to get us to open up the box, but to get there we need to make some preparations. So let’s start someplace else. Let’s start with a Starbucks coffee cup.

Joel Stein is a writer for the Los Angeles times, and I think it’s fair to say that he had no idea when he first wrote those lines that they would eventually kick off such an enormous controversy.
World Net Daily conducted a survey asking its readers for responses to the coffee cup quote, and a near tie for first place among the 7600 responses:

27.64% said they will do their best to avoid buying anything at Starbucks in the future.
27.36% said it’s leftist garbage from a leftist company based in a leftist city.

Over at The Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson agreed, calling the cup “display of contemptible ignorance,” and asking his readers, “Why not put your money where your heart is, instead of into some humanistic-oriented corporation that has an agenda hostile to those who reverence the spiritual?”

You and are just barely getting to know each other. Right now, all you know about me is that I’m friends with Shane, and I don’t know whether you think that’s a good thing or not. So at this point I’m going to leap out in faith and make a confession.
Here’s my confession:

I think Mr. Stein has a point.

Try as I might, the popular images of heaven just don’t grab my imagination. Robes and harps, angel wings, lazy days among the fluffy clouds. That might be nice for an afternoon or even a few weeks. I’ll really stretch and say I could learn to like that for a year or two. But for all of eternity?

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had that thought, and I know what the approved response is: if you were just spiritual enough, you’d love the idea of heaven. Your problem is that you haven’t really cultivated the taste for worship and prayer. If you liked church better, you’d be excited about an eternity of praising God.

To quote Wayne Jackson:

The foregoing erroneous images of heaven are the result of….the lack of disciplinary training in things spiritual, in contrast to aggressive pursuits of the material. Many Christians truly do not fathom how they will be able to be happy in an environment where there is no golf, Monday Night Football, or shopping malls.
Quite frankly they find worship on earth dull—as obviously reflected in their patterns of church attendance. The thought of serving God continuously is a frightful nightmare to the “spiritually challenged.”

Now, that might be the right diagnosis for some people. I don’t know. But I’ve got to tell you, I don’t find worship dull—well, most of the time I don’t. And I’m a pretty faithful church goer. I read my Bible regularly, I sing and pray every night with my children, and I spend a fair amount of time meditating on the things of God. Sunday morning is my favorite time of the week. I love a good gospel meeting. I’m sure I have a ways to go, and it’s dangerous to deny your own weaknesses, but I don’t think my lack of excitement about heaven has to do with not being churchy enough. I’m pretty churchy.

Furthermore, I have no interest at all in either golf or shopping malls, and—while I realize this is a true heresy in these parts—I’m really not all that much of a football fan. I can give those things up with no hesitation at all.

And, of course, there are some things about the traditional picture of heaven that I just love. Really, really, love. No more death! Hallelujah! No more sickness! Amen. No more pain or sorrow! No more farewells! The hope of dwelling in the true presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus—to be surrounded by the saints of all the years before. To walk with loved ones who have passed on before me. That’s a joy and a wonder.

Those things are so wonderful that it makes me a little embarrassed to admit that I find the harps and clouds and wings part pretty boring to contemplate. But I do. Not only do I understand where Joel Stein is coming from, I kind of resonate with this coffee cup, too:

And even though in the church we know we are supposed to long for heaven, it’s a challenge for some of us to work up much excitement. I think the problem is that there isn’t much that the Bible tells us about heaven; the little bit we do read is pretty vague and the incomplete picture that results just isn’t always enough to stir a person’s imagination.

What’s missing in that picture for me are things like surprise. Challenges. A sense of accomplishment. Worthy goals. And, to be honest, things like feeling wet beach sand pushing up between my toes. Pushing myself to hike up a mountain, feeling the blood pump and the muscles groan and respond. I’m going to miss things like learning and exploring. The feel of a handshake or a pat on the back. Can wispy souls shake hands in the clouds?
I’m going to miss building things.

There’s a lot about life on earth that I love.

And you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that the things I’m talking about are bad or frivolous things. Don’t the scriptures testify that those things sprang from the creative mind of God? As he made the things that fill our planet, didn’t he say over and over again “This is good! This is good! This is very good!” I agree with God! I like the Earth! I think he did a great job! It brought him pleasure to create and it brings me pleasure to receive it, and to join with him in the work of building and restoring. I like it—and I think I’m supposed to like it.
I guess what it boils down to is this: if the traditional picture of heaven that you and I grew up with is right—if the physical is stripped away and there is nothing left of me but a soul, there’s just a lot that I’m going to miss.

You know what I think I would really love? If I could have the good things about physical embodiment without the down sides. If I could have hugs but be done with heart attacks. If I could have exploration but be done with illness. If I could have challenges but no more losses. If God’s actual plan wasn’t to do away with the Earth, but to renew it and restore it—I would love that. No more spilled oil, no more litter, no more rubble. Just clear blue skies, soft green grass, pristine oceans. If his actual plan wasn’t to leave us as bodiless souls but to resurrect us into perfect, eternal bodies, real solid bodies that could never age or die, forever—wouldn’t take be marvel? What if we could have all the things we love most about the traditional picture of heaven, but at the same time hold on to all that we love best about life on Earth. Hugs and handshakes and swing sets and forest trails, with Jesus himself and all the people we love.

And what if I were to say to you that as near as I can tell, that’s exactly what the Bible promises, over and over?

1) The expectation of the disciples was that if Jesus came back, he was going to come back in a bodily form.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

2) Jesus is only the first of many who will be raised in a new body.

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.”[c] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
–1 Corinthians 15

This is much more than a promise that “my soul will live forever in heaven after I die.” The Biblical promise is that I will be back—changed, immortal, renewed, and restored, certainly, but me.

But it doesn’t end there.

3) God will restore and renew all of creation.

10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
–2 Peter 3

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved.
–Romans 8

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
— Revelation 21

Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Acts 3:17-21

Why we almost completely stopped talking about restoration, renewal and resurrection and shifted to hoping that our souls would wind up in heaven is a long and complex story, but I think the short version is that a cultural tendency to discount the importance of physical things led our spiritual forebears to assume that God couldn’t really be interested in renewing earth and reviving our bodies—that his actual goal must be rest for our souls. And so, in spite of an abundance of verses about resurrection, and shortage of verses about the hope of heaven, we began to preach and sing as though getting in to heaven is what Christianity is all about. But that was never meant to be where we placed our hope.

Our hope is that just as Christ was raised, we too shall be raised, to new life, on the new Earth, forever.

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Shifting Over Time

There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks.  We packed up our house and then I drove from North Carolina to Texas in a 26 foot U-Haul moving van–just me with my almost-four-year-old daughter and 14-month old son, traveling over 1300 miles in 2 1/2 days.  Packing up everything you own is a good spiritual exercise.  It makes you realize just how much stuff you’ve accumulated.  For me, it’s somewhat depressing, as I like to think of myself as freer from materialism than the average American–and I probably am, but “less materialistic than the average American” is kind of like being “less murderous than Ted Bundy.”  You can meet that standard and still leave a trail of bodies in your wake.

So, blogging has been set aside while we moved into our temporary headquarters, AKA job search central.  I know I want to settle back in Texas, nearer old friends and family, but exactly where depends on where my wife or I find a job and perhaps what jobs are close to a school where I can train for a post-ministry life.

While I’m doing all this soul-searching and stock-taking, I’ve been thinking about the major ways that my thinking has shifted over the years.  I probably want to think and write a little more about each of them over time, and it’s already late tonight, so think of this as kind of a place-holder for content that may or may not follow later.  Even this is subject to revision.  But I think my major shifts have been:

1. From a static Bible-based faith that sought to preserve and maintain the first-century church to a stance that sees the Bible as one part of a living, breathing tradition that grows and changes as it engages God freshly in each era.  Part of this shift has been my acknowledgment that the Bible itself is far from monolithic, and itself models wrestling with existing traditions and adapting practices to new situations.

2. From an emphasis on orthodoxy (believing the right things) to orthopraxy (doing the right things.) Both are necessary, but I feel like I grew up in a church culture where doctrinal correctness and “chapter and verse” Bible knowledge were expected, but whether anyone ever actually fed the hungry or clothed the naked was completely off the radar.  Frankly, a lot of the minutiae we studied was either pointless or actively harmful, and kept us from going out into the world and being Jesus for the dying.

3.  From looking for the work of God in the congregation alone to seeking Him at work in the world.  I think that 12 or 15 years ago I pretty much thought that anything I should do for God would happen within the context of the congregation, with the possible  exception of personal evangelism, but even then, the point was to get some, ahem, “unchurched” person to join my church.  But I don’t want to “church” people–I could stand a little less “churching” myself.  I think the hardest part, for me, about trying to be a deeply devoted Jesus-follower and a minister in your standard American religious congregation is that Jesus has this tendency of calling religious leaders on the carpet for burdening people with the legalism, for caring more for like-minded insiders than struggling outsiders, and for missing the radical love and grace of God even though they had memorized so many verses.  I kept seeing myself and my tradition in the people that Christ excoriated.  I spent a lot of time asking myself where Jesus would be if he were incarnated in the 21st century, and no matter how I ran the numbers “in ordained congregational ministry” was never the answer.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it, or that some churches aren’t doing a wonderful job of forming people into ambassadors for Jesus.  There is and they do.  But I do think it’s harder than most folks think to be a preacher and to be like Jesus.  He won’t be bound in church life.  But this is more biography than theology, perhaps.  What I mostly mean is it’s a lot harder for me to radically follow Jesus from the context of a staid ministry position than I realized until recent years.  He keeps pushing me out among the pagans, and I keep finding Him already at work there.

I feel like there’s something more kicking around in my brain.  Maybe it’ll crystallize in a day or two.  Time for bed.

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Thoughts After Lunch

I had lunch about a week ago with Pastor Mike, one of the co-pastors of our “new little church.”  Mike is an insightful preacher, thoughtful person, encouraging soul and all-around great guy.  But congregational ministry isn’t his day job, although it used to be.

I don’t know all the details, but once upon a time Mike was pastoring a church and things went sour and he was forced out.  A friend told him about a position nearby as a hospice chaplain, and he accepted that as his new vocation.  He’s been a chaplain ever since, more than a decade now.  About six years ago, he and Pastor Rebecca, who is, I think, a counselor by day, founded our new little church, where they take turns preaching, and keep a hand in pastoral ministry while drawing a paycheck somewhere else.  I certainly see the appeal in that, and in some ways I think it’s actually good for the community to have relationships with pastoral leaders who are modeling involvement in good work in the world, and who are not going to be able to drop whatever they are doing at the drop of a hat to come visit a church member.  It creates a different set of expectations.  It’s also good, though, to know that Mike and Rebecca do what they do for the church out of the sheer joy and love of it, not because they get a salary from it.

I had lunch with Mike because chaplaincy is one of the few jobs out there that I could conceivably go into where my education and experience would be seen as directly relevant assets.  I took a course in healthcare ministry when I was in grad school that involved a lot of visiting sick patients at a hospital, but I didn’t pursue that path long enough to get a completely clear sense of the rhythms of life in a chaplaincy career.  Mike was enormously helpful in giving me the lay of the land.

On the topic of our mutual departures from full-time congregational work, Mike mentioned the book Clergy Killers, which he said includes the statistic that 30% of ministers will be terminated or otherwise forced out of a ministry posting at some point in their careers.  30%!  That’s a pretty sobering statistic.  I’ve seen citations in other places about extreme rates of burn-out and depression among ministers.  According to some researchers, 70% of ministers are struggling with depression at any given time.  It’s a good thing that ministry has such a deep appeal in other ways, because it if became widely known that your average ministry job is going to require 90 hours of seminary, pay far less than your would get doing almost anything else with that much training, and come with a 70% chance of depression or burnout and a one in three chance of getting canned at some point, we’d have a hard time keeping the pulpits filled–even harder than we do now.

The other thing that interested me about Mike was that he was raised Methodist and is now in the Disciples of Christ.  That probably doesn’t seem like a strange thing to most of you reading this–and it doesn’t to me, either, anymore, but in all my time in the Churches of Christ, I only heard of a handful of people who left C of C ministry to go to a different denomination–and I never heard of anyone who did the opposite journey.  For a long time, I had a sense that denomination switching was something that was virtually unknown.

But then when I started attending ministerial association meetings, it turned out that almost every pastor I met had made a denomination change at some point.  Some of them spent their seminary years finding the right match; others started down a career in a certain network and realized it wasn’t for them a bit down the road.  None of them seemed to think that switching was a terribly difficult thing to do, logistically or emotionally.

Part of why Churches of Christ are different, I think, is our own sectarian past.  We just haven’t played very well with others, and the rest of Christendom can seem like a very different world.  For a lot of the major Protestant groups, though, they are used to associating with and respecting leaders in other folds.  It’s just not that big a chasm.

Which is to say, I’m realizing that I had made a denomination change out to be a bigger thing than it really has to be.  The doors are open out there, if I want to walk through.

Or there’s chaplaincy work.

Or being a cop.

Or a kindergarten teacher.

Or a landscaper.

Or myriad other ways to contribute to the restoration of the world.

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Marketing the Messiah

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
–Luke 10:1-4

I’ve had this passage stuck in my brain for a couple of years now*, always wondering the same question: how do the people of Christ today fulfill their calling in a way that is congruent with this beginning? (Maybe I’m still a restorationist at heart after all.)

Sometimes we think the palpable weirdness of the New Testament is a function of gaping chasms of linguistic and cultural difference that must be crossed when reading an ancient document from another part of the world. And sometimes that’s true. But even in his own day and age, Jesus was a weirdo. I can’t imagine that anyone else who intended to start a new global movement would do it this way–send people out into the world resourceless and vulnerable, looking for a friendly home to take them in so they could spread their message of the kingdom.

Churches today–at least, the ones I know anything about–do almost the opposite. Rather than walk through the world empty-handed, looking for places where the Spirit is already at work, our impulse is to show the world how much we can offer it. “Exciting Youth Program! Upbeat Worship! Relevant Preaching!” I remember getting a advertisement in the mail for one congregation’s Easter service. Six different times it mentioned that the Easter bunny would be there in person to meet the kids who came to the egg hunt. Not once did it mention that Easter was a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the words Jesus or Christ didn’t appear anywhere in the ad. And this wasn’t one of the flaky “Best Life Now” temples to personal success. It was a fairly well-grounded congregation that I had attended for a couple of years. But their idea of reaching the world, at least on that day, involved a volunteer in a bunny suit and a proclamation of the good news of free eggs and prizes.

The rebuttal I usually hear when I get all cranky and reactionary about this stuff is that we are supposed to do Nice Things for Our Neighbors and, anyway, Once We Get Them in the Door, We Will Tell Them the Gospel. This is where I’m kind of simple-minded. I think we ought to do Jesusy things in Jesusy ways. If you can honestly picture Jesus spreading the word that his new movement will have “Well Staffed Nurseries!” and “Beautiful Worship Spaces!” and “Your Kids Can Meet Astarte Herself During the Spring Fertility Rituals!” then go for it, I guess, but that’s not the vibe I get from him in the gospels. It looks to me like a bunch of us are deciding that the world doesn’t want what we actually have to offer, so we’ll give them what we think they do want, and kind of see what happens from there. Maybe everyone is in agreement that the pastor they interviewed on the Daily Show, who tries to win converts through Ultimate Fighting, has gone off the deep end, but I think of him as a kind of living reductio ad absurdum argument against evangelism that relies on the power of clever marketing rather than the power of the spirit working through our resourcelessness and poverty. Once you decide that you are going to offer the teeming crowds what they want in order to get them inside, you may as well notice that some of them really want Ultimate Fighting, so what’s the harm?

I think it would be an interesting learning experience for a church to try to recreate some of these gospel scenes as closely as possible. What if we agreed that one Saturday morning we would put on simple clothing, leave our wallet and keys at home, and walk out into the world looking for a place where God is working, praying for open eyes that will let us see where we can join in, and praying also for hospitable strangers who will welcome us?

Yeah, I know–do I want people to think we’re a bunch of weirdos?

*In fact, I probably blogged it before, but it’s on my mind again and I’m not going to let redundancy slow me down. The internet isn’t running out of pixels.

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Deep Personal Desires

Since we are both intuitive types, we do not decide things as much as we gravitate toward them. This is not very theological language, I know, but on the subject of divine guidance I side with Susan B. Anthony. “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do,” she once said, “because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Having been somewhat of an expert on the sanctification of my own desires, I try not to pin them on God anymore. At the same time, I recognize the enormous energy in them, which strikes me as something God might be able to use.

When I read the stories in the Bible about people such as Sarah, Jacob, or David, what stands out is not their virtue but their very strong wants. Sarah wanted her son to prevail over Hagar’s son, Jacob wanted his older brother’s blessing, and David wanted Bathsheba. While these cravings clearly brought them all kinds of well-deserved trouble, they also kept these characters very, very alive. Their desires propelled them in ways God could use, better than God could use those who never colored outside the lines. Based on their example, I decided to take responsibility for what I wanted and to trust God to take it from there.

–Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

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And Then There’s That Other Thing

So I left my ministry position at a Church of Christ at the end of January. That wound up being two big changes at once since (1) I left the only career I’ve ever had and (2) I left the only denomination I’ve ever known. Since then I’ve been trying to discern which of my frustrations are unique to Churches of Christ and would be ameliorated in another denominational context and which of them are common to ministry everywhere. There’s a lot riding on that, since soon I’ll either apply for standing as a licensed minister in a new denomination, train for a new professional career all together, or acquaint myself with the safety procedures for the aforementioned Burger King Frialator.*

So, if you’ve been tracking this blog the last couple of days, you’ve got a pretty good idea about why I think I’m done with Churches of Christ. But suppose I find some church that’s all about justice and equality, where I fit right in theologically and they have a strong respect for the ordained clergy. Then I’m happy and all is good and I can just continue on in my ministry career, right?

Maybe.

But the other aspect of all of this stuff is that I’m increasingly drawn to a missional paradigm in which the church is sent out into the world to bless it, and I am drawn to go out into the world as God’s ambassador, with this message of reconcilation. (2 Cor 5.) And by that I do not mean street preaching or established inner city mission work–I mean finding some kind of meaningful labor that makes a positive contribution to society** and that allows me to form relationships with people outside the Kingdom so that I can demonstrate the love of Jesus by loving them. In contrast, I have lost interest in the kind of ministry that measures success in terms of the Three B’s of Church Life: buildings, budgets and butts in the pews. A church that thinks they are succeeding in God’s mission solely on the evidence of increased membership is no longer enough to drive me. Although increased membership is well and good, my own criterion for success is the increased involvement of the saints in God’s work of justice and reconciliation. I can’t be at a church that raises money to give their own kids a playground and then puts up a fence to keep neighborhood kids out. That just seems backward to me.*** I don’t want to be the person designated to drop in on folks who have been Christians for 40 years to see how they are doing and if there is some way I can “meet their felt needs” or make them happy. I expect that mature Christians have learned how to minister to one another, and desire to follow Christ into society to minister to others. I certainly want to be available to church members in need of special care, but I also think that my job should be to encourage a culture of mutual ministry–and that mutual ministry should reach outward to embrace the stranger.

Now it might very well be that the truth is I just don’t want to be a pastor anymore, because the things that I am draw to are such a small part of the job, and the things that drain me such a big part of it. I’m trying to figure that out. But maybe there are churches out there who want someone to help them learn to be ministers to the world, not someone who is hired just to minister to them. I don’t know.

I have to say though, when you read through the gospels, it seems like Jesus is always bumping up against an entrenched, inward-looking, closed-off religious tradition with such a small vision of who God is and such a limited desire to be a source of blessing that the people who invoke the name of the Lord the most turn out to be the same people who are consistently hindering his will. If your desire is to be a radical Jesus-follower, going where he went and doing what he did, I almost wonder if you wind up having to give up the institutional church to do that–or at least give up positions of leadership.

I really bet there is some good ministry that can be done while manning the Frialator.

One big disclaimer–I’m really talking here about my journey with God and my Spirit-given gifts and desires. Most of my close friends are ministers, and if they are able to do meaningful work and follow Jesus in that setting, I wouldn’t begin to second-guess that. I’m just going through a major discernment process of my own path right now.

* That is, by the way, what that thing is actually called. I only know that because I was in a fast food joint one day and made some reference to the dude working the Frialator, which is a term I thought I was making up, but then I glanced at the machine, and burst out laughing when I saw the label. I only hope that helps me out on Jeopardy someday.

** Like crafting the most delicious French Fries ever!

*** Yes, I understand concerns about injuries and legal liability. So don’t build the playground–send your kids to the public park where they can be salt and light in the world.

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Reading Alasdair MacIntyre in Church

It’s not the most profound thing ever, but I just presented a conference paper on Alasdair MacIntyre and moral formation. You can get to it by clicking the articles link in the upper right, or find the link under “pages” in the sidebar.

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Filed under Ministry