The danger in loving preaching too much

The danger in loving preaching too much

Some people have to preach; they can’t last without preaching. Some leaders, when they leave the pastorate for a non-pastoral leadership role, almost feel an emptiness when they are not preaching. ~ Ed Stetzer     This quote comes from Ed Stetzer’s recent defence of David Platt’s decision to accept the role of teacher pastor at a local church while also serving as the director of the International Mission Board. I have no particular insight into Platt’s decision. It doesn’t really interest me. But Ed’s words about preaching have stuck with me. And I don’t think Ed is alone in this view. I regularly hear people tell me they love preaching, or that they were born to preach. Or as Ed puts it, that they have to preach. But when preachers say they have to preach, what exactly do they mean? According to Ed, non-preaching preachers experience a kind of emptiness that literally enervates them (“they can’t last without preaching”). It seems that in some people there’s such a deep-seated need to preach that quenching it has debilitating effects. Conversely, when these people do get to preach they feel a rejuvenating sense of deep pleasure. They come to life.  Joseph Stowell, writing in the Moody Handbook of Preaching, describes this when he says, … we should love to preach because you

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Can the seminary produce visionary leaders?

Can the seminary produce visionary leaders?

Recently, I was teaching a class on missional church when, in a moment of unguarded clarity, one of my students said, “I like hearing about all these new ways of doing church, but I don’t know if I could do them because I’ve grown up in church and I love it.” The unspoken end of that sentence was, “the way it is.” Don’t you love the honesty of some young people? Without knowing it, he had just spoken a mouthful. Can we expect people who have grown up in church and have enjoyed their experience (hence they’re still in the church) to renegotiate the church contract, to rethink how church could be done in a new era?   When I was doing my diploma of teaching (many years ago) one of our professors was introducing some new educational methodology when he broke off in the middle of his presentation, and with obvious frustration in his voice, said, “I’m not even sure why I’m teaching you this stuff. You’re the success stories of the education system as it is. You made it through. Better than that, you want to go back into it to teach others. You’re the last people who would ever try to change the way we do education.” That stayed with me. He was right. If you loved

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Things to do before I die

Things to do before I die

Each year at Morling College I teach a subject called the History of Christian Mission. Since I’m a storyteller and not an historian, I tell my students this course is church history minus the boring bits. They like that introduction. So they hear all about Adoniram Judson strung up by his feet in a Burmese prison cell, and Lillias Trotter and her Bible-reading drum circle in a native cafe in the Casbah, and David Livingstone slashing his way through the Okavango. They get stories of morphine-addicted CT Studd going bonkers in the Congo, St Boniface chopping down the Tree of Thor, and Francis Xavier and his Samurai warrior sidekick, Anjirō, traveling to Japan. We cover the Haystack Prayer Movement, the Student Volunteer Movement, and the Church Growth Movement. They look at the Nestorians, the Hibernians, and the Moravians. It’s all very exciting actually. Well, the way I tell it, it is. And then I heard recently that an old colleague of mine had died. Rev Mike Dennis was full of years and wisdom, a fellow minister in the same family of churches as me. He was old enough to be my father, but he treated me like a brother. Mike was superb preacher and a remarkable leader. He was humble and godly. And he was funny. And the guy had

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Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

I have previously blogged about how difficult it’s been for those Christians arguing the case against same-sex marriage because of the difficulty of using evidence from the Bible or our religious tradition in a secular debate. You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage. I’ve heard some proponents of the Yes case saying Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Sure, but he spoke about family quite a bit. It’s just that what he said was kinda, well, awkward. When discussing marriage, Jesus quoted the Old Testament book of Genesis (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” – Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5), but this was in the context of him laying down the law about divorce and remarriage. On that topic Jesus definitely votes NO (except in the case of sexual immorality). Pretty much everything else he says about marriage or family isn’t terribly quotable in a debate about marriage, whether same-sex or traditional. Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time. In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first

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Midwife rides swan through floodwaters to deliver baby

Midwife rides swan through floodwaters to deliver baby

Yep, you can’t make up a headline like that. As the floodwaters unleashed by tropical storm Harvey inundated the suburbs of Houston, one local woman went into labor. As interstates and freeways disappeared under water, Andrea Haley began to experience contractions. She knew she was approaching active labor. Her baby was going to be born in the submerged city. But when she phoned her midwife, 63-year-old Cathy Rude, to come quickly, Andrea was told the floodwaters were too high. Cathy couldn’t get out. Her birthing supplies would become contaminated in the filthy waters if she tried to wade through it. Still able to drive the streets around their home, Andrea, her mother, and her husband Daniel climbed into their truck hoping they’d be able to get through the water to pick Cathy up, but they were stopped. Andrea’s midwife couldn’t be reached. The water was too high in her street. After a few frantic calls to friends with kayaks, none of whom could be reached, the Haleys were getting desperate. And Andrea’s labor was progressing. It was then they saw the strangest sight. One of Cathy’s neighbors was floating down her street in a huge inflatable white swan. Yes, I said a white swan. Andrea called from the window of the truck, “Hey, would you be willing to give my

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Sometimes you need to start an argument with the idols of our age

Sometimes you need to start an argument with the idols of our age

Early Christians rarely grew in number because they won arguments. – Alan Kreider   My friend and colleague Karina Kreminski wrote a very helpful blog for Missio Alliance earlier in the year, entitled Five Real (and Risky) Ways to Start Peacemaking in Your Neighborhood. It’s really good. Her five ways are super practical and I can attest to the fact that she’s trying to live them out in her own neighborhood. But it was the last line in the article that seemed to strike a chord. I saw a bunch of people tweeting and sharing her restatement (taken from Alan Kreider) that the early Christians didn’t grow by winning arguments. And it got me thinking. Is that true? I’m definitely all across Karina’s argument that peacemaking and reconciliation were central practices for the early Christians. And I loved Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. I’ve previously blogged about it here. But is it true that the early church didn’t grow in some measure due to their participation in arguments? We know that Paul’s ministry of preaching against the gods of Greece and Rome stirred up a riot in the city of Ephesus when the local idol-makers union became incensed. Paul eventually had to be smuggled out of town. Then, on another occasion Paul attacked the Lystrans’ worship of

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When your monuments lie and your national day offends, change them

When your monuments lie and your national day offends, change them

What does it say about a modern liberal democracy when its memorials don’t accurately portray its past and its national day ignores the plight of its oppressed citizens?   Can you ‘discover’ something that other people already own and love? I mean, if you claim to have discovered something – like a cure for cancer or a new species of frog – it usually means no one else knows or has seen that thing before you. Right? Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity. The moons of Jupiter were discovered by Galileo. So, if you saw a statue of a very jaunty looking naval captain atop a huge plinth with the inscription, “DISCOVERED THIS TERRITORY 1770” you’d think that he, well, discovered the land you were standing on. Yeah? I’m referring to the rather dramatic depiction of Captain James Cook, telescope in one hand, the other held aloft, his palm facing the heavens. He seems pretty pleased with himself in his plus-fours and formal coat, the master of all he surveys, which in this case is Hyde Park in downtown Sydney. It looks like he’s announcing, “Ta-da, here I am!” So he discovered Australia in 1770, did he? Well, only if you don’t count the 60,000 years Aboriginal peoples inhabited this continent. Inspired by America’s current

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Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

Repulsed or Nonplussed: the problem with the No campaign

I was chastised some time ago when I questioned whether Australians could have a civil and constructive debate about SSM. People assured me that we are capable of debating the issue without allowing the discussion to become hateful or deceptive or aggressive. Then these despicable posters started appearing telling us that 92% of children raised by gay parents are abused, 51% have depression, and 72% are obese. The poster cites a study that has been thoroughly discredited. The hateful tone of the image needs no explanation. It’s clear for all to see. While the Australian Christian Lobby has distanced itself from the posters (I readily acknowledge the ACL had nothing to do with their production), earlier in the campaign they hosted a series of lectures by Millie Fontana, in which she explains how negative her experience of being raised by a same sex couple has been. I’ve seen a number of other sites explaining how detrimental being raised in a non-traditional household is. Not as repulsive, but still in poor taste, some No advocates have been posting a 20 year old quote by Paul Keating, taken completely out of context from his election debate with John Howard in 1996, reframed to make it look like he is campaigning against SSM today (presumably to appeal to lefty ALP Yes voters). I’ve

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Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

In 2005 Australia had its own version of Charlottesville when race riots and mob violence broke out in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla. It happened on a hot Sunday in summer when around 5000 people gathered to protest the presence of Middle Easterners in their predominantly white beachside neighborhood. It began ominously with white Australians chanting that they wanted Middle Easterners, particularly those of Lebanese descent from a nearby suburb, out of their town and off their beaches. When a Middle Eastern man happened into the middle of the crowd he was surrounded and attacked. The police intervened and all hell broke loose. Other assaults and retaliatory attacks combusted across the southern parts of Sydney, resulting in 26 serious injuries, including two stabbings, and attacks on paramedics and police. A local man, Eiad Diyab was quoted as saying, “We knew always there was racism, but we never knew it was to this extent.” It was as shameful to Australia as Charlottesville has become for the USA. The Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but refused to acknowledge racism was at the heart of it. “I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,” Mr Howard said, “I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.” Nonetheless, many other politicians, police, local

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It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

It’s the white supremacists you can’t see that you’ve gotta worry about

Some years ago I was on a speaking tour in North Carolina. A local pastor was driving me to my various engagements, and one day he casually asked me, “What do you guys do about your black problem down there in Australia?” “Our black problem?” I enquired. “Oh, you mean our indigenous community? Oh, we’ve treated them shamefully…” “No, no,” he cut me off, “I don’t mean Aborigines. I mean African Americans. What do you do about them?” It possibly hadn’t occurred to him that any Africans who live in Australia wouldn’t be referred to as African Americans, but I wasn’t going to quibble at that stage. I already had an ominous feeling about this conversation. I informed him that Australia has a very small African community. “You’ve got no blacks down there?” he asked incredulously, “Wow. Do you want some?” I felt ill. This man was the pastor of a church. He wore a blue blazer with gold buttons. His hair was immaculately coiffed. He had a doctorate in Christian ministry. And he was a racist. When racists wear black shirts, helmets, and boots they’re easy to spot. When they cheer the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and raise their arms in Nazi salutes, you’re under no illusions about their beliefs. When they march through the University of

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