Category Archives: Church

Why We Still Need the Church

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“Whoever seeks Christ must first find the church. Now the church is not wood and stone but the group of people who believe in Christ. Whoever seeks the church should join himself to them and observe what they teach, pray, and believe. For they certainly have Christ among them.”

~Martin Luther

There is a popular trend in the social media sphere that has really been picking up steam in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat or Dubsmash. I’m talking about the tendency by many to attack and criticize the church. And while, in some ways, criticizing the church is nothing new, what surprises me about this trend is that the ones leading the way this time around are Christians.

In fact, it is a rare week that I don’t see some article or blog post about the ways in which the church is failing to reach the young, the old, the hipsters, etc. Likewise there are countless “Things the Church Should Stop Doing” posts and top ten lists. I know because I’ve heard the gripe-fests, read the blog posts, and even tweeted and re-tweeted a fair number of them.

But I would argue that while the church is imperfect, that is also the very reason we need the church.

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It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

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Mark Driscoll & The Road of Repentance

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence. Photo credit:  http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence.
Photo credit: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-step-down-mars-hill-elders-review-charges/

This is a re-post from my article over at Made for More.  Made for More is a great forum for exploring the intersection of life and faith and wrestling with the tough questions that are posed by both.  Head on over to their website and check them out.

FAREWELL PASTOR MARK?
This past Sunday Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of the Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, shocked the evangelical world once again when he announced that he is stepping down for at least the next month and a half while the leadership of his church investigates the charges brought against him by 21 former elders. For those who have not been following this story, Pastor Driscoll has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year as he has faced charges of creating a culture of fear among the church’s leadership, plagiarism, and using ministry funds to advance his own book sales.   In one of the more shocking developments of the past few weeks, Driscoll and Mars Hill were removed from the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting organization that he helped start, by its leadership board.

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What’s Our Code?

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One of my favorite movies is the film A Few Good Men.  I like it because it is an awesome courtroom drama in which a hot-shot JAG lawyer (played by Tom Cruise) has to defend the actions of two marines who are on trial for murder.  Over the course of the film he learns what it means to respect and defend his clients, even though he disagrees with their actions.

In one scene he offers them a plea bargain in order to avoid the trial.  However, the two men do not want to take it because they felt that they were doing right in following orders and seeking to discipline their fellow Marine for breaking the chain of command.  They said that he violated their code.  When Cruise’s character asks them what their code is, one of the Marines responds:

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Who is Doctrine For?: Theology in the Life of the Church

DISCLAIMER:  The following post is rated “Looooong” and may not be appropriate for people with short attention spans :p

This past quarter I took a course in Systematic Theology.  Honestly, it has been one of my favorite classes.  The readings have been great, the lectures engaging, and the assignments thought provoking.  We’ve addressed topics like Christian ethics, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, the sacraments, death, and resurrection.  For an egghead like me, this kind of stuff gets me excited.  I have been on cloud nine all quarter because I am in nerd central and I love it.

However, the other night Jenny and I were talking and she said something that really struck me:  “I feel like you are immersed in this subculture and you’re starting to speak a language that I just don’t understand.”  Her words really hit me.  I had to slow down and ask myself the question:  “Who is all this for anyway?!”  If I’m spending all this time (and money) learning theology, but it is not translating, then why am I doing it?

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Bearing False Witness

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“Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we still have another treasure – honor and good reputation.  We cannot do without these.  For it is intolerable to live among people in open shame and general contempt.  Therefore, God does not want the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished, just as with his money and possessions.”

~Luther’s Large Catechism, comments on the Eighth Commandment

This is a post that I have not been looking forward to writing, but it is an issue that needs to be raised.  Since coming to the seminary one problem has continued to bother me and it relates to how we, as seminarians and faculty, talk about those with whom we disagree.

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What is the Pastor’s Role?

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WHAT IS THE PASTOR’S ROLE?

Since starting seminary this question has been on my mind more and more.  After all that’s the reason that I am here:  to learn what it means to be a pastor so that I might faithfully live out that calling upon ordination.  But what is a pastor’s job?  What’s his role?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have yet to take a course on pastoral theology and the nature of the ordained office, but what’s funny about being at seminary is that there are as many answers to this question as there are people.  As I’ve been dropping in on the conversations of my fellow students it is kind of funny to hear what their responses are.  Of the responses that I’ve heard there are a couple that keep cropping up in some form or fashion:

  • The pastor is the administrator of Word and Sacrament
  • The pastor is the under-shepherd over God’s people
  • The pastor is like a COO, overseeing the proper order and operations of the church
  • The pastor is like a CEO, pushing forward and safeguarding the vision and values of the church
  • The pastor is the lead missionary
  • The pastor is a preacher and teacher

While there is probably some truth to all of these things, what I’ve found in each of them is that they are, essentially, task oriented.  Each of the distinctions describes things that a pastor does, but none of them answers the “Why?”  Why does the pastor administer Word and Sacrament, serve as under-shepherd, oversee the church, safeguard vision and values, and so on and so forth?  What is the goal of the pastoral office?  What should drive the heart of a pastor?

As I’ve been thinking about this, my mind keeps coming back to one verse from Scripture:

[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

~Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)

If I were to sum up the heart and passion of the pastor it would be this:  to present everyone mature in Christ.  And I emphasize the everyone in that verse.  Here is the pastor’s call to both ministry and missions in a nutshell.  We are called to reach all people, the churched and unchurched, the lost and found, the Christian and the non-Christian, with the Gospel message and help them grow up as mature men and women in Christ.

This calling to help all people grow into maturity in Christ is the end to which all of our pastoral activities must be directed.  Whether serving the sacraments, stewarding the resources of the church, teaching and preaching from Scripture, or leading the body of Christ in evangelism, justice, and mission, we should always strive to help people grow in Christ.

Sadly there are times when I think our church’s traditions have fallen far short of this glorious calling.  Too often the pastor becomes the Bible answer man, the one to whom everyone goes with their questions.  And sadly, pastors have enabled this mentality rather than helping the people of God grow in their own understanding of Scripture and how to apply it to life.  I see this immortalized in the pastor-led Bible study, which, in many cases, is simply another sermon before or after the Sunday morning service.  But this is not the only way in which I see this take hold of the church.  I can think of several congregations in which the pastor is the sole leader of all forms of ministry, from small groups to outreach events to mercy ministries.  Why?  Because the pastor is the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” as if everyone else is just a spectator or a cog in the church machine.

I would submit that this is not only unhealthy, but it is unbiblical.  Paul’s desire was that everyone would grow to maturity in faith.; that they would increasingly see their lives through the eyes of Scripture, living lives submitted to Christ and helping others to do the same.  And our role, as pastors, is to serve this end.  This is why Paul writes:

And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

~Ephesians 4:11-16, emphasis mine (ESV)

This is my calling as a pastor:  to serve the world so that as many people as possible might grow to full maturity in Christ.  This is the end to which I endeavor.  This is the calling which I must seek to live out.

So, as I continue in this seminary journey I am trying to keep this in mind.  My driving question must be: How can what I’m learning be used to help people grow to maturity in Christ?  And it is my prayer that those under my care, whether in my field education church or at my home church, would daily grow up in Christ, to the glory of God.  Amen.

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First Day @ The Mighty Fortress

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This past Monday was my first day of class at Concordia Seminary.  The past two months of test prep and paperwork have been building to this:  the start of the academic year.  Like orientation, it was a cross-cultural experience for me.  While my lectures were pretty straightforward, it was chapel service that was the biggest surprise.

After the opening music played everyone stood up, grabbed a book out of the back of the pew in front of them and began opening the pages.  Before I knew it the whole congregation was reading and chanting in response to the words of the chaplain.  They stood or sat on cue.  Prayed and sang on cue.  The whole time I was lost, flipping through pages wondering how everyone knew where to look and stealing glances over the shoulder of the person in front of me to find the page numbers.

That’s right, they were using the Lutheran Service Book.  I am ashamed to admit that this was the first time I had ever used one in a service.  I’ve seen these volumes sitting on the shelves of pastors and worship leaders and occasionally heard reverent references to the letters LSB, but I’ve never worshipped using one.  My home church has always projected the liturgy up on a screen as a way of helping newcomers follow along and to facilitate more audible congregational singing.  So using LSB was a surprise and a little disorienting.  I was so busy turning pages and trying to keep up that I really couldn’t focus on what was being said or the meaning behind it.  I’ll be honest, I walked out of chapel feeling frustrated and a bit ashamed.

Now that a few days have passed I’ve had some time to reflect on that experience a bit and here is what I’ve come away with.  On the one hand, I’m glad I had that experience.  After all, I am at a Lutheran school to learn about the rich history and heritage of our denomination as well as its theological underpinnings.  I’m proud to say that by day two of chapel I figured out LSB and could follow along with the rest.

On the other hand, though, it reminded me of just how disorienting walking into church can be for those who have never been raised in a Christian home nor come from a churched background.  The sense of isolation and disorientation that I experienced is just what so many people outside of the church feel when they walk in our doors.  It was a powerful reminder that we cannot assume that everyone is like us.  Not everyone was raised in our traditions.  Not everyone comes from the same background.  And if we want to reach those outside the church, we must give careful attention to how we articulate and explain our faith.

This goes not just for our worship services, but extends into every area of life.  Too often we Christians use a kind of religious language that is foreign to others.  We don’t pause to ask ourselves, “Am I explaining the truth in a way that it can be heard?  Am I taking into account my hearers so that my language doesn’t become a barrier to the Gospel?”  Now, I’m not suggesting that we water down the truth of the Gospel nor that we dodge the difficult subjects.  I don’t think we would be faithful to our calling as witnesses if we did.  What I AM suggesting is that we should give careful thought to how we present our faith.

The apostle Paul was an excellent example of this.  It is fascinating to compare how he talked about Christ with Jewish and Gentile audiences.  For his Jewish listeners he would take them to the Scriptures and highlight how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that we find there.  For his Gentile listeners, however, he did not start with the Scriptures.  He started with philosophy, poetry, or natural revelation (see Acts 14:8-20 & Acts 17:16-34).  He was doing what missionaries call “contextualization”.  He started with where his audience was at spiritually and presented the Gospel from there.  This is why he says,

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Paul understood that our religious traditions and ways of speaking can, at times, be a hindrance to the work of the Gospel if they prevent people from hearing it in a way that they can understand.  Chapel was a powerful reminder of this lesson.

So, while I look forward to future chapels so that I can learn more about our tradition, I also hope that Seminary will be a time of giving careful consideration to how we might reach the next generation for Christ.  This was what was promised in our orientation last week.  This is what I hope we will pursue over the next several years.  May we learn to be all things to all people so that by every means we may save some.  To God be the glory. Amen.

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The Church Hunt: “Where Can I Find Community?”

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Since arriving in St. Louis, Jenny, the kids, and I have been spending time worshipping in a variety of different churches.  While we’re holding off getting involved in a church until we know where I will be stationed for my Field Education, we have approached this process as if we were looking for a church to join as newcomers to the area.  We’ve tried to be anonymous and just see what it is like being a random family entering a new church for the first time.  It has been an eye-opening experience.  In the coming weeks I’m going to be posting about some of these visits, but before I do that I wanted to take a couple of posts to talk about how to select a church and what to look for.

As I was cleaning out some of my files the other day I ran across a handout that I used to give to my graduating seniors when I worked in college ministry.  It is entitled “Getting Involved in a Local Church”.  As I was reading through it I realized that it has a lot of really good advice.  It was adapted by one of my former supervisors from the book Following Jesus in the “Real World” by Rich Lamb.  It poses a series of questions that every person should ask when evaluating a church along with some comments.

In his opening comments he writes the following:

Just because God may be at work in a particular church doesn’t necessarily imply you should join it.  Many factors contribute to preferences in church selection; obviously it would be foolish to talk about preferential factors.  It would be like saying, “You should only eat chocolate chip ice cream.”  But some aspects of a church are not like eating chocolate chip ice cream – they are more like bread and butter, or meat and potatoes (or for some people, sprouts and tofu).  They are essential for a healthy diet, not simply dessert after a meal.  It is helpful to ask some probing questions.

The first evaluative question he poses is:  “Where can I find community?”  Here is what he has to say:

Though essential, finding satisfying community in the context of church can be difficult.  Do community-forming structures exist?  Church small group structures vary, but usually at least offer the hope (and desire) for community.  Obviously, small groups that meet only once per month or every other Sunday evening for one hour will not be conducive to the kind of community we are hoping to find in a church.  In fact, this may be a good indicator that the church doesn’t really value community.  On the other hand, a church may not offer deep and developed community but may have the ingredients present for community to grow.  If you and a couple of friends were to take initiative and bring together a group of people or join a struggling but hopeful small group, then the right conditions for community may come together.

 

My advice:  Take initiative with people (invite them over or go out with them).  Be prepared to learn from many different kinds of people.

What I like about the advice given here is that it takes the search for community out of the consumer mindset that we often had by challenging us to ask the question:  “How can I help strengthen or even build community within an existing church?”  Oftentimes it is easy to slip into a consumer mindset:  one in which we expect community to come to us or just meet our needs.  But what is interesting here is how he is challenging us to think in terms of building community and taking initiative with others.

So what about you?  How well does your church do in fostering community?  In what ways can you help build or strengthen community?

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