Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

Remember the controversy Tony Campolo caused back in the day when he announced that you can’t own a BMW and be a Christian? Well, the recent revelations about Bill Hybels’ treatment of female colleagues raise the question about whether a pastor should ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht.   Many years ago I recall a Baptist minister telling me how, after moving into the manse or parsonage of his new church, he noticed there were metallic handrails sticking up out of the middle of the back lawn. When he asked the church elders what the handrails were for, he was informed that the church had purchased the property years earlier at an extremely good price but it had a swimming pool in the backyard. The elders felt that it was too ostentatious for a pastor to have a swimming pool, but the house was so cheap they couldn’t pass it up. Their solution: purchase the property, but fill in the pool and plant lawn. Those handrails remained poking through the grass as a tangible reminder of two things – the church’s thriftiness and its modesty. The story about the underground pool always got a laugh and a roll of the eyes every time he told it. Those were the days when pastors were expected to display unstinting

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What Oprah 2020 tells us about the power of the spoken word

What Oprah 2020 tells us about the power of the spoken word

The whole lesson of history is that preaching doesn’t work. – Alan Watts   When Alan Watts made that claim in his provocative talk “Preaching is moral violence” he was convinced by his reading of history that no meaningful change in human conduct ever occurs as a result of listening to a speech or lecture or sermon. He’s not the only one. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that preaching is redundant in the age of Google, that it’s an inefficient method of education, that digital natives are used to interaction and can’t understand monologues, etc etc. But then along comes a moment like Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globe awards. Her rousing presentation resembled a sermon or a political stump speech more than a Hollywood acceptance speech. She wove together her own rags-to-riches story with references to Sidney Poitier, Rosa Parks and Recy Taylor, as well as exhortations of press freedom, justice for sexual assault victims, and the contributions and sacrifices of ordinary women around America. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote for Slate, “It was mesmerizing, pitch perfect, and gave voice to many lifetimes of frustration and vindication with eloquence and a full authority she has earned.” It put me in mind of the then Senator Barack Obama’s keynote address at

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Fans Arise!! When nothing is too esoteric to be outraged by

Fans Arise!! When nothing is too esoteric to be outraged by

I’m no Star Wars fan. If you ask me, most of those movies are sort of okay. Some are literally unwatchable. So, I find myself on the outer when it comes to fan fights about the minute esoterica of a film series with which I’m not terribly familiar. I don’t care that replacing Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi made no sense. I’m not gonna fight about whether it’s believable that a bunch of Ewoks could defeat the Galactic Empire. Jar Jar Binks has zero effect on me. And I have no opinion on whether Han shot first. In fact, reading the high dudgeon being expressed by fans over whether The Last Jedi burns the franchise to the ground or not is kinda quaint to me, actually. When fans start carrying placards protesting that Disney has ruined Lucasfilm, I might look up from my breakfast cereal for a second, but, meh, I don’t care. Good for them. All power to them. I’m gonna keep scrolling through my newsfeed. Which might be the same reaction most of the world has when Christians start splitting hairs and debating the minutiae of their doctrine. Like Star Wars fans, we can get so outraged so quickly by the tiniest difference of theological opinion, while most onlookers are, like, huh? This happened this

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The Impunity of Male Power

The Impunity of Male Power

Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Dustin Hoffman. Bill O’Reilly. Jeremy Piven. Brett Ratner. James Toback. George H W Bush. Hamilton Fish. Black, white, straight, gay, the one thing they all have in common is they are men. They are men who have either admitted to or been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. And they are powerful men in their respective fields who believed they could assault or harass others with impunity. The recent stories of actor Kevin Spacey routinely groping and soliciting men (one a boy of 14) reveal the true nature of these cases. A member of the Old Vic theatre company, where Kevin Spacey was artistic director, has claimed that everyone knew Spacey was a serial offender. He simply groped whoever he wanted to, whenever he wanted. And nobody said anything. Bill Cosby’s criminal activity is another case in point. Nearly 50 women have claimed he sexually assaulted them over a 40 year period across 10 US states. And Donald Trump’s pre-election boast that he could “move on” any woman he wanted was explained by him because “…when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” This included his notorious comment that he could even grab women’s genitals without repercussion. So while these assaults might have been sexual in

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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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