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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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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Megachurches are not churches?

Megachurches are not churches?

I think the thing that’s most disturbing is the megachurch because megachurches are not churches. ~ Eugene Peterson   Some years ago, my car was broken into and my satchel containing my diary and computer was stolen. It was right on the eve of me going to the UK on a speaking tour and the loss of my diary and the notes that I stored in my laptop had a strange effect on me. I felt part of me had been lost. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was as if I had stored not only notes and ideas on the computer, but my very thoughts. Part of me. And it really threw me. I felt a real loss of confidence going into the various events at which I was making presentations. Even though I’d presented those talks before and didn’t need the notes anyway, their loss tripped me up. I felt unsteady. It was as if I was in a light fog the whole time, and not just because I was in dreary England. We store information on screens. We’re storing everything we need to know in apps, files, online diaries, websites and other screen-based ways. So the loss of our screens evokes in us an existential reaction. I’ve seen a friend have a complete meltdown at an airport

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Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

There’s been some general disquiet about the First Baptist Dallas choir performing a song entitled Make America Great Again as an ode to President Trump at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington. The rally, held on July 1, was sponsored by the megachurch’s pastor Robert Jeffress, and it gave the President an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to traditional Christian values (as he sees them), as well as reminding the audience of America’s Christian heritage. Mr Trump referred to God bestowing the gift of freedom on the USA, while praising the military’s defense of that freedom. “Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator,” he said. “Our rights are given to us by God and no earthly force can ever take those rights away.” “Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “The American founders invoked our creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer. Inscribed on our currency are the words: ‘In God We Trust’.” When the First Baptist Dallas choir fired up with a rendition of a song based on Mr Trump’s campaign slogan the fusion of religion and politics

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We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

When Christ disarmed Peter in the garden, he disarmed all Christians and cursed the works of the sword for ever after. ~ Tertullian   I’d never heard of Dave Daubenmire before this week. All I know is he’s a former football coach-turned-evangelist who has gained some notoriety for his televised rant about the need for “a more violent Christianity.” Explaining that “the Bible is full of violence,” Daubenmire went on to say that “the only thing that is going to save Western civilization is a more aggressive, a more violent Christianity.” To illustrate this point, he referred to President Trump’s behavior at a NATO summit where he shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside so that he could stand in front of the group of assembled leaders. Christianity should be like that, Daubenmire explained, “[President Trump] is large and in charge. Look at him. They’re all little puppies. Ain’t nobody barking at him … He’s walking in authority. He walked to the front and center and they all know it, too, man. He just spanked them all. The Lord is showing us a picture of the authority we should be walking in.” Get that? The Lord is showing Christians how to behave through Donald Trump’s aggressive, discourteous example. But Daubenmire wasn’t done yet. Warming to his subject, he then cited

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Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Uh-oh, it looks like it’s Jen Hatmaker’s turn. The protectors of orthodoxy appear to have drawn a bead on her as they did on Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren before her. And it’s getting ugly. Not only are they repudiating her views on various issues (especially on same-sex marriage), but they’re even attacking her for daring to express the pain that all this criticism is causing her. Sadly, this is what happens when religious communities become obsessed with building walls to exclude others. Sooner or later they start excluding their own, throwing those members they perceive to be recalcitrant over the wall to the wolves below. We see it most clearly in closed communities like Scientology, or in cults like Jonestown or the Branch Davidians, or among fundamentalist churches like Westboro Baptist. And we deplore it. We’re sickened by it. But often we fail to see it when it’s practiced within our own communities. Hey, I’m not saying conservative evangelicalism is as bad as Jonestown, but I do know this: once the pack starts circling an identified victim there’s very little stopping it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, recall John Piper’s incendiary tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell”, written in response to Bell’s book Love Wins. Over the wall you go, Rob Bell. When Jen Hatmaker wrote a

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Being silenced on sex isn’t the end of Christianity

Being silenced on sex isn’t the end of Christianity

In America and Ireland, the touchstone of public outrage about same-sex marriage seems to have been wedding cake bakers. In Australia, perhaps fittingly, its brewers. Recently, an Australian beer company appeared to sponsor a debate between two politicians arguing for and against marriage equality (same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Australia). The brewery didn’t actually sponsor the debate (explaining that will take way too long), but the mere appearance of involvement in a debate in which the conservative view was being presented touched off a firestorm. The brewery was the subject of a public boycott, social media ridicule, and even threats against their staff. They promptly renounced all involvement in the debate (which was true) and formally signed a pledge to support marriage equality. The response by conservative Christians to this strange episode was nothing less than feverish. One blogger announced, “The overriding lesson to learn from the debacle is that it’s over, baby – give it up.  The cultural narrative no longer includes us in its story except as the villain in the piece.  And we’d better get used to it.” Yikes. That sounds bad, right? Even worse, another distraught minister blogged that Christianity in Australia was going to be “pushed into Southern Ocean.” “Let the reader understand,” he announced, “anyone, any organization or person who allies themselves with civil

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What the Weird Cities movement is showing the suburban church

What the Weird Cities movement is showing the suburban church

In my last blog I explored some of the signs that suburbia is dying and warned the church against identifying itself so strongly with suburban culture. There’s a cultural shift happening and some cities are catching on quicker than others. In 2000, Austin, Texas, adopted the expression “Keep Austin Weird” as its city slogan. Generated as a grassroots expression of place attachment and anti-commercialization, Keep Austin Weird became a rallying cry for local business, a sense of neighborhood and a zone for creative resistance. The slogan has since been appropriated by Santa Cruz, Portland, and a bunch of other cities across the US. The “Keep [insert city name] Weird” tagline was interrogated by Joshua Long in his 2010 book, Weird City. He defined the weird city doctrine as a combination of the following elements: attachment to a sense of place; more socially and environmentally responsible consumption patterns; sustainable development; and urban politics. The weird city doctrine values such things as the beautification of the built environment, resistance to irresponsible gentrification, the promotion of boutique local industries, being a refuge for alternative lifestyles, addressing homelessness in more meaningful ways, and generally defying the cultural trends that make many other American cities so much the same. Of course, the most obvious question to ask is what are they keeping Austin weird from?

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The Death of Suburbia and the Suburban Church

The Death of Suburbia and the Suburban Church

Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next. ~ William Ralph Inge   Most Americans grow up in suburbs. Forty-four million people live in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million live in their suburbs. And suburbia isn’t exclusively a white domain as it’s often depicted. One-third of suburbanites across the country are racial or ethnic minorities, up from 19 percent in 1990. Students in suburban public schools are 20 percent Hispanic, 15 percent African American and 6 percent Asian American. For better or worse, the suburbs have reflected American society. In fact, suburbia has been so popular that, according to the American Farmland Trust, the US loses more than 1.4 million acres of farmland, forest and wetlands to suburban sprawl each year. Between 1982 and 2007, suburbia devoured an area the size of Illinois and New Jersey combined. But like Truman Burbank from The Truman Show, there are thousands of kids who grew up in the suburbs and want out. Like Truman they want to be explorers. Or visit Fiji. Only their Fiji isn’t in the middle of the Pacific. It could be just across country in one of the increasing number of cities that are eschewing the master-planned generic nature of American suburbia. The movement of young adults out

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Theo Epstein and the art of discipleship

Theo Epstein and the art of discipleship

I don’t know much about baseball. Because I grew up in a culture without baseball, its appeal eludes me, sadly.  Sure, I’ve seen a few movies about the magic of the game (The Natural, Field of Dreams) or the science behind it (Moneyball) or the romance of baseball (For the Love of the Game). I just haven’t seen much actual baseball. But that hasn’t stopped me from hearing about this guy from the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Epstein, in case you don’t know, is the president of baseball operations for the Cubs. He guided them to their recent World Series victory, their first since 1908 (expect the film version to be out sometime soon). He turned around an over a century long losing streak not just by signing the best players in the game, but by looking for the best people. When Epstein and his scouts went looking for players they didn’t just assess their skill level. Epstein wanted players with character. “In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. We ask our scouts to provide three examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.” Say what? According to Epstein, to

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When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

“The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell   Lord Russell wrote that back in 1933 just as Adolf Hitler was being installed as the duly elected chancellor of Germany. Benito Mussolini had been ruling Italy since 1922, and fascist dictator Franco was on the rise in Spain. Moderates like the UK’s decent leader Ramsay McDonald sought appeasement, but they were no match for Hitler’s fanaticism. Russell had put his finger on an issue of his day, but he had also voiced a timeless truth. Fanatics are always so certain of themselves, while wiser people, aware of various possible solutions to any problem, struggle with self-doubt. The latter know that immigration policy in a globalized world is complex and vexing. They know that overhauling an entrenched system of cronyism and lobbying in modern politics will take time, tact and resolution. But fanatics can just chant “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” And they do so with great gusto and confidence. They seem so… to use Russell’s term, cocksure. It’s the same in the church. Some of us believe we need to do the work of developing a detailed and compassionate biblical response to issues like gender roles

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