Consistency?

At the beginning of this month the American South was devastated by 65 confirmed tornado touchdowns in less than 72 hours. The storms resulted in 41 fatalities and countless injuries. Immediately following the horrific storms many in the Christian community began to weigh in, as often we do. We aim, with our words to bring comfort, perhaps hope and, at times, to help make sense of what has happened from a biblical point of view. Following nearly every such event, one well known American Evangelical can be counted on to give his perspective.

Within 48 hours of the last tornado touchdown, Pastor John Piper had posted “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God” to his Desiring God blog. In his article, Piper wrote…

“We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

Piper went on to identify five verses that seem to lend support to his view that God, by His sovereign power, directed the awesome power of these storms to bring about the death and destruction that ensued.

Several well known evangelicals have weighed in on Piper’s words, some uttering their own words in agreement with “amens,” while others challenged his theology. Although I’m not in full agreement with Pastor Piper and have several contentions with the passages he chose to support his view, I do agree with his three concluding points, (1) that we can (and should) bless God in the midst of such tragedy, (2) that events such as these should soberingly inspire repentance, and that (3) Christians are not exempt from such suffering. My purpose here is not necessarily to challenge or question Piper’s theology or position, rather to pose a question that came to my mind as I read his blog earlier this month.


When I visited the Desiring God blog mid-month I found it interesting that this featured article sat right next to another Piper article entitled “Tell Your Children What Hitler Did.” Upon seeing that title, I was immediately struck with a thought, “If I’m to believe that tragedies such as these terrible storms, which took the lives of 41 Americans were the act of God’s sovereign direction and plan, then why not entitle the second featured article, “Tell Your Children What God Did [to the Jews]?”

Just a thought…

Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7

Thoughts/Comments?

 

 

On Pat Robertson’s position

NYT

Washington Post

Aliens

Last week I jumped into the political fray on the issue of homosexual rights, I figured I’d continue the controversy and tackle political hot topic #2, immigration. As with the marriage debate, this one is fueled by great emotion and is often used as a political campaign weapon. The “right” cries foul in favor of lowering debt and taxes, while the “left” plays the human rights card. It’s an emotional debate for sure; one that causes division in our society as well as within the church.

While it may not be entirely correct to say that a majority of American Christians lean “right of center” politically, I think American (especially evangelical) Christianity tends to be more socially conservative. Within this group it is almost a curse word to be labeled “Liberal,” which is exactly what I am sometimes called when I discuss this topic with acquaintances. I truly want to have an honest discussion about this important issue, but I’ve found very few people who can leave their emotions at the door. Furthermore I think it is unfortunate that we seem to have slid to a point where any [apparent] threat against a conservative position is seen as a threat against the kingdom of God, as if “USA” were synonymous with God’s Kingdom (it’s not, by the way). How do we openly discuss issues such as this when we’re unable to do so civilly? Again, a reframing of the debate is [I think] necessary.

As with much of the western world, America is watching national debts multiply faster than gremlins in a downpour, which – at some point – will likely require an increase of taxation. As it stands now illegal immigrants have become the scapegoat for this problem of increasing debts, and since I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually likes paying taxes (I just had a meeting with my CPA this morning in fact), we clearly have a recipe for frustration and anger.

I live and minster in a fairly conservative town that, perhaps more than any other in America, could be labeled “Anti-illegal immigrant.” Fifty miles from the Mexican border, Escondido has a nearly 46% Hispanic population. At the direction of the city, law enforcement regularly sets up “license checkpoints” which have been highlighted several times on the national news and challenged by the ACLU. Several years ago we garnered national attention when a city ordinance passed that prohibited landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. I’m not sure what came of that one, but I’m sure it has been hung up in court. Each of these measures are the result of decreasing revenues and increasing costs; the easiest place to point is the illegal immigrant population.

Please don’t misunderstand, from a political stand point, I agree; if people are going to immigrate to our nation then it should be done legally. We are, and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. My grandparents (on my father’s side) immigrated here from Italy, and I’m grateful that they did. That said, if I grew up south of the border and could provide a better life for my family by moving north, I’d likely do that however I possibly could. Our biggest issue with such immigrants is not that they’re lazy, cause they’re not. It’s not that they don’t pay any taxes, because they do (i.e. sales taxes, many of them pay payroll taxes under fictitious Social Security numbers, property taxes as renters, etc…). As conservatives, our biggest issue is that we’ve been baited, by political rhetoric, to believe that they (“aliens”) are the cause of our fiscal problems. I’m not convinced that they are.

Sure, they’re using civil and social services as they live in our communities, but these services are offered to anyone who meet the criteria for receiving them. Thus the problem is not the low income immigrants as much as it is the social services themselves. Many conservatives are not exactly proponents of such social programs in the first place. If you provide social services, people will utilize those programs; but then you cannot turn around and be mad at the people using the programs that you provided. This being the case, I’m convinced that the best way to change the discourse is divert our attention from those using the services to the services themselves.

Is it the mandate of our constitution that we provide such services (i.e. health and welfare)? Is it the place of the government to provide them, and therefore tax the people to do so? Or, is it actually something that we, the church, should look to do for the fatherless, widows and strangers in our midst?

For much of history this was a domain occupied by the people of God. At some point in the last century the church vacated that sphere and abdicated their responsibility. The vacuum left by the church’s absence was ultimately filled by the government, who must provide such services via taxation and not charity. The need of services for the fatherless, the widow and the stranger will never go away, as “the poor we will have with us always.” But would we rather share the love of Christ by willingly meeting the needs of those who have them, or will we horde what we have? If we are unwilling to render unto God what is His in loving our neighbor, we will certainly be required to render unto Caesar what is needed to meet a need that will never go away this side of the Kingdom of God.

Daniel’s article yesterday is a good reminder. Preaching the gospel and living the gospel are not mutually exclusive realities.

Just saying…

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

– Deuteronomy 10:17-19

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

– 1 John 3:17

Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.

Thoughts?

Paradigm Shift

[dropcap style=”dropcap3″ color=”black”]L[/dropcap] ast week myself and two of our assistant pastors attended a seminar on “storying” the Bible. For 5 days we we considered both the process and the purpose of such an approach. The interest in such a course is the result of much reading and a growing conviction (especially as a result of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course) that, because of high rates of illiteracy, the unreached and unengaged of the world require alternate methods, or means whereby they can discover and harness the truths of scripture. In the process of walking this path, I’ve discovered several things that are potentially paradigm shifting.

Stepping out-of-the-box is difficult.

While not a groundbreaking statement, it does need to be recognized that we have a certain Christian culture that we prefer, and like any cross-cultural experience, this brought a significant level of culture-shock. Within the western evangelical church, we value inductive, expositional Bible study; especially in our Calvary Chapel stream. We’re most comfortable with an open Bible, a pen and a notebook or journal. When the leader of this seminar required that we close our Bibles and put our pens and papers away, I knew I wasn’t at a Calvary event. During our hour+ drive home each of the first three days we found ourselves talking much of our [initial] dislike for this process.

Westerns can benefit too.

It’s a striking statistic, 87% of Americans are preferred oral learners. While only 14% are illiterate (which is higher than many might imagine), it’s the smallest segment of our society (13%) that are highly-literate. This means that a very small demographic of Americans are able to engage in any meaningful self-study of the Bible. I know, it’s difficult for us to believe this, but because most of our church services are geared toward the highly-literate, we have a much larger demographic of the 13% represented on the typical Sunday morning. Is it possible that we’re neglecting a large segment of our society?

Western culture places high value on literacy. In many ways it is considered the key to success. This is certainly seen in the money that developed nations give toward literacy programs, like that which UNESCO has focused on for decades. All such things are definitely good, but the fact remains “The illiterate you will have with you always.” I’m not advocating for any removal of literacy training, but I am thankful that God inspired Paul to write, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

For the last several years our church has partnered with a ministry that records and distributes audio scriptures for people-groups in highly illiterate nations. They have an ambitious goal of bringing the Word of God in recorded form to the 30 nations of the world with 50% or higher illiteracy rates. As one called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, I have found myself wondering, “How do we disciple those that are receiving our audio Bibles?” Discipleship is key; Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and apart from it many groups will fall into syncretism. I’m more and more convinced that the answer to my above question is a narrative discipleship method. The reality is, this is not exclusive to third-world developing nations.

While I think that our methods for discipleship are good and should not be discarded, another tool in the toolbox is certainly beneficial. As I mentioned several weeks ago in a previous article, our success as equippers should not only be based on having good Bible students. In considering this method and the fruit of it, I think it has great potential for enabling our congregation to discover and digest significant Biblical truth in a way that they can retain and apply it.

Narrative bible discovery is not emergent

Now I know, “Narrative Theology” and “Bible Storying” are code for Emergent. Be that as it may, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren will not be guest bloggers on CrossConnection any time soon. Perhaps the most enlightening revelation in all of last week’s course was the recognition that, when done correctly this method is actually more textually correct than not. While it may be hard to believe, I was struck by the Biblical accuracy that was maintained in simply telling, retelling and examining the stories for the observations and applications that are found in them. Anytime that someone—in this very interactive, dialogic process—brought forth something that was even the slightest bit “off,” the moderator (i.e. storyteller) would simply say, “Can we find that in the story?” Immediately the group was brought back to the word and it was easily sorted out.

The process was [very] different than what I, as a pastor/teacher, am generally use to. But, as the week went on it became a joy to see God, by His Spirit, direct the discussion and bring forth truths that I did not initially see, although they were right on the surface. While I’m not completely sure just how we will incorporate this into the life of our church, I do know that it will be utilized in some fashion as we move forward.

Further consideration:

Simply the Story
The God Story Project
GCM Collective
National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Willing to Change

“Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

– Ed Stetzer

It is hardly debatable that we are creatures of habit. This is proved to me every Sunday as I look out upon the congregation. Almost without fail I know where certain people will be seated. It is as if we have assigned season ticket seating in the sanctuary. Regular routines help ensure a certain level of comfort, and we like comfort. There is of course inevitable conflict; someone is bound to [uneittingly] take your seat. But if there is one thing we can be sure of in this life it is change. Change decreases our comfort and increases our stress, so it is not uncommon to find that we generally resist it.

Our church, Calvary Escondido, has been in a transitional period, experiencing many changes over the last 6+ years. The biggest of those changes has certainly been transition in senior leadership that took place when I began pastoring the church 4 years ago. It was a huge change for all involved; a change that definitely brought about some stress and times of discomfort. By God’s grace and faithfulness it has proven to be a great transition. In my observations and interactions over the last 4 years I’ve come to see that much of the stress of this change has proven to be “eustress” or good stress.

Yes, there is such a thing as good stress. Think of finishing your degree, taking a new job, getting married, going on vacation, buying a house or having a baby. At some level each of these bring about stress, most of which is healthy and enjoyable, but it’s stress nonetheless. In a normal life such things are [essentially] unavoidable. To go a step further, I think that it is important to recognize that in the normal life of a healthy church transitional changes are necessary and good. Such transitional changes are about to become a far more regular and normal occurrence. The overwhelming majority of Calvary Chapel Pastors are among the Baby Boomer generation which, as of last year, has now hit retirement age.

I recognize and understand that retirement for Boomer’s looks quite a bit different than it did for those of the “Builder” generation. This is all the more true for Christians (especially pastors) who find no biblical support for retirement as we [currently] know it in America. That said, I think we all recognize that many of our pastors and churches are in transition, whether we were planning for it or not. Such transition does not mean a rocking chair on a porch retirement, but it may mean a life that looks radically different than the previous 25-30 years has.

Embracing Change

As I set now, 4 years into our [very successful] transition at Calvary Escondido, I am incredibly grateful that, although it was difficult at first, my pastor embraced this transition and change. Pat Kenney had pastored CCEsco for 27 years. He had seen the church grow from 25 to over 500, and move from a school, to rented spaces, to the purchase and buildout of our very own facility. Under his leadership CCEsco had seen great leaders raised up, missionaries and church planters sent out, and new para-church ministries established. When God began to bring the initial winds of change, Pat did not fight against it. I know for certain that he was not planning such a move, nor did he actively set out for transition. If God had so willed, Pat would have continued pastoring this church for many years into the future. But when God began to direct in new paths, Pat was willing and open to what God was doing.

It is very easy for us to hold on to the status quo, and find ourselves kicking against the goads of God’s will. But being lead by His Spirit means being open to His moving, even if we are not initially desiring the change.

Mitigating Change

One of the reasons that our transition has gone so smoothly is that many years before it happened our Elders, in recognize the call God had placed upon my life, began allowing me the opportunity to preach and teach before the larger body. To that point I had been a youth pastor, with very little interaction with the adult congregation, but at 22 I was given the responsibility of leading our Saturday night service and regularly rotated in on Sunday’s and Wednesdays. A year before our transition in 2008, I began teaching nearly all of our Sunday services. This teaching schedule was not the product of a transitional plan, as much as it was out of necessity. Pat’s wife was undergoing treatment for cancer – which ultimately took her life – and Pat was facing health problems of his own that precluded him from taking a regular preaching schedule. Even so Pat was willing to allow the bulk of the teaching responsibilities to fall to his 27 year-old assistant. This openness greatly mitigated the ultimate transition; so much so that when it was announced in April of 2008, there were many newcomers to CCEsco who already knew me as their pastor.

Maintaining Consistency

Sure, we’d like things to stay the same, but they rarely do.  It is however important to maintain a level of consistency in whatever areas possible.  Thankfully we have a great team of elders, leaders and staff at CCEsco.  If it weren’t for the consistent leadership team, I’m fairly certain we would not have had as successful a transition as we have.  There is no way that everything will remain the same when new leadership steps in, but maintaining consistency of core values and mission is critical.  Furthermore, I believe it is important to make changes strategically and slowly in a church with a well established culture.  Even if they are big changes, they should be presented clearly and sometimes implemented incrementally.

After almost 6 years being married and 4 years as a head pastor (it’s hard for me at 32 to use the word senior :)) I’m more convinced now than ever that a church is like a bride; not my bride, but a bride nonetheless.  My bride [Andrea] desires security and consistency.  If I were sporadic or fickle she would have a very difficult time following or being submissive.  Although the church is not the bride of the pastor (some pastors sure live like it is, but that is perhaps a future article), she still desires security and consistency.  Sporadic and fickle leadership will scatter the sheep; thus maintaining consistency wherever possible during periods of change is important.  But resistance to change is not an option.

As the winds of change fill the air among many of the churches in our movement, it is vital that we face them with reasonable thoughtfulness.

Beyond Bible Study

For 21 years I’ve grown up in, been discipled under and now served within a movement of churches that is dedicated to verse by verse exposition of the scriptures. Prior to attending Calvary, my family attended an Episcopal church for several years and a fairly charismatic Pentecostal fellowship for a short time while living in London. Calvary has remained our home due largely to the fact that the scripture, and the teaching of them, has always been central. Expositional bible study is certainly not unique to Calvary, but “Simply teaching the word of God simply” has been something of a mission statement for the Calvary Chapel family of churches; may that never change.

Being raised up under such a model, and ordained a pastor within such a movement, I’ve always elevated bible study highly. I mean, the bible is God’s word, right? And God has exalted His word above His name; shouldn’t we therefore exalt it in bible study too? Of certain that has been the logic I’ve often employed and encountered; and not only within Calvary. The centrality of bible study within many evangelical churches is good, even great. Yet there is a downside I’ve observed, especially since becoming a senior pastor.

In my church and others, many believers find their Christian experience to be summed up by bible study. If asked to describe their Christian walk it is often boiled down to the bible studies they attend or are involved with. Planning to have a group of believers meet together in your home? It’s a home bible study. A coffee shop meeting, it’s a bible study. We have men’s bible study, women’s bible study, youth, college, young adults, mid-week, Friday night… The list could go one and on. If you say, “We’re going to start a Saturday night meeting,” the question comes, “What will you be studying.”

This was all the more evident to me more than a year ago when we put our men’s and women’s bible studies on hold for the fall, while we focused our attention on the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement class. I received more than a few notes and emails from people saying things like, “You’re taking away our bible study.” Some of them very dramatically said things like, “This is going to be catastrophic for many people in our church.” It wasn’t. Then again several weeks ago when we announced to our fellowship that we would no longer be having a mid-week bible study in the new year. Several people approached me with real concern. “What will I do with out the Wednesday night bible study?”

Please don’t miss understand. Bible study and a knowledge of the scripture is certainly important. But I’ve realized in the last year that I’ve often weighed my success as a pastor by whether or not the people under my oversight are good students of the bible and not by the exercise of spiritual discipline or bearing of spiritual fruit in their lives. I think, in part that this arises from the fact that we tend to make little to no distinction between the pastor-teacher role we find in Ephesians 4:11.

Many pastors, myself included, look to Ephesians 4:11-12 as those verses that describe their very calling. I have taught them and heard them taught many times.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-12

These verses unfold for us what has been oft referred to as the “fivefold ministry” within the church. Here we are presented with five roles or offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) that many evangelicals believe to be – in some way – still active within the church today. There are certainly different ways in which these roles are defined (especially apostles and prophets), but I think few would say they’ve completely disappeared. However, some question, whether it should be a fivefold ministry or four, as there is some reason to connect the roles of “pastors and teachers” into one office of “pastor-teacher.” The wording in the Greek makes it possible to connect pastor-teacher while separating apostles, prophets and evangelists. Yet, I believe the roles should be separate, albeit overlapping.

I could get real technical and delve into Granville Sharp’s rule, in which I’m convinced I could make the case for separate, but overlapping offices; for the sake of this article, I will not. Needless to say, I think it’s important to recognize that not all pastors are called to teach, and not all Christian ministry should be wholly bible study oriented. There is a real need in our day for pastoral leadership that aids in the development and encouragement of spiritual disciplines and fruitfulness in every area of the Christian’s life (i.e. church, home, work, school, recreation, etc…). Our Christianity must needs extend beyond bible study.

These realities are incredibly important for modernistic western Christianity to grapple with as our own culture continues to move beyond postmodern and Christianity persists in it’s push through the global south. Perhaps we would do well to consider how Christianity grows and flourishes in these settings. In such environments discipleship is more relational than informational. Narrative based discovery of the biblical texts take precedent over expositional exegesis. The applications of the biblical narrative overflow in intentional missional outreach; and churches are planted through spontaneous multiplication and not demographical manipulation.

 

Recommended Reading – “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader

Vision

By this time you might be beginning to recover from yesterday’s food coma.  Hopefully.  We (my family) are waiting for the arrival of our 3rd little baby.  She should be here any day; I hope we’re ready.

This time of year always brings me great joy.  I love the fall and winter; and preparing for the end of the year always brings great anticipation for what God will do in the new year.  Each year in early November our pastoral team goes away for a few days to plan and pray for the upcoming year.  As the result of a very full schedule this year we had to bump our meeting up a month to mid-October, but I’m pretty sure that everyone on our team is expecting good things in 2012, although it is supposed to be the end of the world.

After nearly 13 years in vocational ministry and almost 4 as a senior pastor, I’m more convinced than ever that one of the major roles for a lead pastor is vision seeking and vision casting.

In the early spring of 2001 I began teaching through the book of Exodus as a Jr. High pastor at Calvary Escondido.  At that time I was also working closely with Joey Buran and Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.  Joey was (and is) a pastor with great prophetic vision.  God used his discipleship and influence in 2000 and 2001, as well as my personal study and teaching of Exodus, to plant in my heart some important realities about vision seeking and casting.

In Exodus 25 God commands Moses to take up an offering from the Children of Israel, so that they might build a sanctuary for the Lord, which would be a tabernacle of meeting for the people and God.

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

– Exodus 25:8-9

With God’s command to build the tabernacle came a vision, from God, for that which was to be constructed.  As I studied and taught through this section of scripture over 10 years ago, the Lord spoke very clearly to my heart that as I sought Him, He would give me vision also.  It is incredibly important that those in leadership positions be actively seeking the Lord for direction and vision.  This should be a given for all Christians, but especially those in leadership, for where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18).

Vision from God primarily springs out of our devotional time with the Lord.  Moses was on the mountain-top, alone with God when he received the vision from the Lord.  This patter has held true in my life as well.  Dedicated time away to seek the Lord for vision is essential.  If we trust Him for this, He will certainly prove Himself faithful.  God’s word must always be the foundation of vision; the core values that govern what you do and how you do it, but I have found that God uses many [extra-Biblical] ways to reveal vision.

Conversations with friends, family and co-laborers; articles and books I read; videos I stumble upon online; stray thoughts I have running through my mind (especially as I’m about to fall asleep).  All of these things God has used over the years to develop and reveal vision.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not have a half-dozen or more inspirations for myself and my family personally and/or the church that I pastor.  Thus it’s crucial that I’m ready with a note pad – or the notes app on my iPhone (my current default) – to take down the ideas, because stray thoughts vanish quickly.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that it was a Wednesday night in the fall of 2001 that God spoke very clearly to me about casting or imparting vision to others.  I was walking to the main office at our church to get the teaching notes I’d just printed on Exodus 31; the first 11 verses of which read…

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

“And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:  the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle—  the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”

– Exodus 31:1-11

After meditating upon the passage and prepping my message I had a conversation in my mind that went something like this, “Miles, I’m going to give you vision just like I did with Moses.  But the vision that I’m going to give to you is something that you will not be able – by yourself – to accomplish.  So I am going to gather people around you that I have gifted to accomplish the vision I’ve given you.  You will have to impart the vision to those I’ve gifted, and then the work will get done.”

A vision is just a dream until it is shared with others.  Only then can you, by God’s grace and power, step out to make it a reality. But many dreams are not [completely] clear when we initially have them.  So I have found that it is important to develop the idea, make it clear and then share and impart it to others.  Some people will probably think that your idea is crazy, foolish or “out there,” but those that God has gifted and called will lay hold of the vision and run with it.

Be seeking the Lord for vision.  Be ready for when it comes.  Be diligent to clarify and cast it to others.  For…

The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
– Habakkuk 2:3

Switching Fish Bowls

For all but one year of my ministry life I’ve served in an area [North San Diego County, CA] that is blessed with an abundance of solid, biblically sound, evangelical churches. Southern California truly is a “Christian Disneyland.” At present the website for our ‘denomination’ lists 329 affiliate churches in California. Our administrative pastor at CCEsco has often joked, “You can’t swing a dead cat in San Diego without hitting a Calvary.”

All kidding aside, I think it is a good thing we have so many [good] churches in this area. Would to God that we had twice as many (or more) bible believing/teaching churches in California, and an exponential increase nationwide. In Escondido there are three Calvary’s (one of them Spanish speaking), which have a combined weekly adult attendance of about 1,000, in a city of 140,000+. There is certainly no lack of opportunity and no room for territorialism. The push for church planting and church revitalization is [to me] greatly encouraging. But I’m bothered by an observation I’m sure many pastors could identify with.

Week after week we have new faces in our fellowship. Rarely does a service go by where no one raises their hand to identify there self as a guest, or does not drop a visitor card in our offering or agape box for more information about the fellowship. The irritation comes when you interact with the newcomer and find that they’re attending your church, having left another solidly biblical church to do so. So, church growth does not always mean CHURCH growth, especially when Barna has, in recent years shown a > 90% increase of unchurched adults in America (approaching 100 million in 2007). (1) (2)

The landscape is filled with a multiplicity of varying sized fishbowls, in which the Christian [fish] swim. They were once caught in the sea of humanity by fishers of men, but now much of the [apparent] growth comes through fishbowl switching and not drawing in the net. Furthermore, much of church growth initiatives I see come across my desk are aimed at casting the net in other fishbowls. When a mailer goes out from a church with words like “rapture,” “sanctification,” or an advertisement for Phil Wickham leading worship, it’s not exactly aimed at non-believers. The fact is, spiritual inbreeding is twisted.

“Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church” said Outreach Magazine in 2006. There’s an awfully big sea of people out there needing to be caught. Jesus’ word’s to (the fisherman who never caught a fish apart from Jesus’ help) Peter, are appropriate…

“Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”

Luke 5:4

The simplicity of Jesus’ command is striking; it surely went against everything that Peter’s expertise as a fishermen would have said. With all the writing out there on church growth, we sure seem to have a lot of expertise in our day too. Perhaps it’s time to seek the Lord for direction from the shore as to where to go for fish. His ways always seem to yield a draught.

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?