Category Archives: Reflection

“You Isn’t Kind. You isn’t Smart. You Isn’t Important.”

The title is the inverse of a line from the movie, The Help. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” These are the words spoken to the child cared for by an African American nanny, the last words even. Perhaps the most memorable words of the film, it instilled the question in my mind that perhaps this child would turn out to be kinder, smarter, and more important than her parents. Self-esteem is so important after all in a young child’s life. If the roles were reversed, reconciliation would have to start with self-esteem, right?

Recently, I was reading the books, Brain Rules for Babies and Nurture Shock, to get a better handle on this parenting thing. And both books spend a chapter or more each debunking the notion that telling a child that he or she is “smart” actually helps them perform better. Research shows that while telling children they are smart so that they feel better about themselves may feel intuitively right, but it actually may not help them learn. Children who were told they were smart actually makes them hesitant to do anything to disprove their existing “smartness” and thus, they don’t put in the requisite effort to learn.

On the other hand, when children were told, “You must have put a lot of work into that” at something the child had done, the child not only associated the result with effort, they were willing to put effort in other projects as well. And thus, learning became related to effort and being smart was a result of that effort put forth, rather than being a pedestal from which to fall.

What on earth does this have to do with reconciliation?

I wonder if it is more helpful to be heavy handed with critique regarding race, gender, class or whatever when I should probably be more focused on the effort we put in; and I also wonder what it means for us to understand our identities as simply “beloved” or “saved” as those feel like titles from which we can fall and not aspire. I understand the theological caution of not bringing back a works-based righteousness, but also want to say that Christians, particularly of the Evangelical stripe, aren’t known for our effort and action towards the reconciling of the world. Rather, we can exhibit the complacency and the fear associated with the static posture of the “saved” or if you will, the “kind, smart, and important.” Ah, and of course, for the true answer, I will definitely need some true “Help.”

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Reconciliation Thoughts For The New Year

One author whose writings I revisit over and over again is Henri Nouwen.   If you are not familiar with him I highly encourage you to read some of his work.  A colleague of mine recently emailed some Nouwen quotes concerning the art of reconciliation that I thought I would pass along:

Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established.  A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements.  There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation.  When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part.  Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act.  They all can become “them.”  Right there is where reconciliation is needed.  Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.  God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.

And:

To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others.  Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence.  We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label.  When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division.   Jesus says it clearly:  “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge; … do not condemn; … forgive” (Luke 6:36-37).  In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible.  But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily  recognized by those who long for reconciliation.

Amen Henri, Amen.


The Hurtful Santa

At the risk of sounding anti-Christmas, I just want to push back a little bit on this story of paying off layaway accounts at Kmart. I appreciate random acts of kindness. I think they keep us humble and makes the act of generosity or hospitality come alive with a sense of wonder and surprise. It is a good thing and the sense of anonymity is very important to me because it harkens back to the Sermon on the Mount passage about giving in secret (Mt. 6:3,4 – But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you).  That being said, having finished reading the book, “When Helping Hurts”, which is a great read for anyone dares to help others as  more than a hobby or whim, I’m not so sure if these random acts of kindness actually accomplish much, or more cynically speaking, what is the point of these random acts of kindness?

One of the key points that the book makes is that applying the wrong kind of help (relief when there should be development, for example) actually doesn’t solve the problem, it just prolongs it. So, what is the point of this “secret Santa”? It seems like it is more about the giver than the receiver. Anonymity of the giver is wonderful in the sense that the receiver probably can attribute the favor to the goodness of humanity (or perhaps divinity, hopefully; but the anonymity of the receiver is extremely problematic in this case. Without knowing what is on layaway and why means that the deed can’t be considered “good’ out of hand. What good the deed actually accomplishes also remains an unknown. In true random fashion then, an act of “kindness” could easily be an act of enablement or paternalism or self-righteousness, which is why incarnation always demands relationship. There is no good gift without knowing the giver and without the receiver being known.

Jesus, 1 / Santa, 0.


Humpty Dumpty and The Scale of Reconciliation

Reconciliation is… what exactly?

I gave an introductory seminar recently about reconciliation and this somewhat rhetorical question hung out there like a piñata. Reconciliation is…something broken being returned to wholeness; forgiveness between two people; credit to a debit and vice versa; South Africa; marriage problems; two groups of people making up. At one point, I felt like I had asked, think of a number between 1 and infinity. Good, that’s reconciliation!

The scalability of a word like reconciliation is part of the problem. It’s why even when we read it in scripture, the Greek word itself comes from two component words, kata + allos, which means “toward” or “for the purpose of” + “other” or “difference”. Together these components make up the “reconciliation.” And it is used in the interpersonal sense as well as the cosmic sense in the Greek. I appreciate it when Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice begin their book, “Reconciling All Things” with that tension and vagueness upfront:

We know the world is broken, and we know we’re too broken to fix it ourselves. We teach our children a realist’s rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall / And all the kings horse and all the kinsmen / Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” But Humpty-Dumpty realism begs the question, can anyone fix us? What air who is out there beyond our landscapes of brokenness?

In the modern world we try to bracket this question even as we seek reconciliation. We are aware that differences in religion can create conflict. So we try to find common ground without reference to anything beyond the common human experience. This makes reconciliation a very popular yet hopelessly gauge (and therefore increasingly unhelpful) concept. It also forces some (especially those who have suffered great injustice) to insist that reconciliation is not the right goal in human conflict. “When were we ever unified?” they ask.

Without reference to an explicit beyond, we are left with versions of reconciliation that offer little concrete hope that fundamental change is possible. We want to be clear: when we talk about the “beyond,” we mean the God who is revealed in Christian Scripture as Creator and Redeemer of the cosmos, the God of Israel who raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. A Christian vision of reconciliation needs a theological foundation. More than that, however, the term beyond reminds use hat reconciliation is a journey beyond our own vision, beyond human actors and our strategies and programs. God’s desire and vision is beyond our desire and vision. Reconciliation is not merely the sum total of our work; it’s also the peculiar gift we learn to receive as we live into the story of God’s people. This explicit reference to God’s story is missing in the prevailing versions of reconciliation today.

I didn’t mention this before when I looked up the Greek word for reconciliation, but the lexicon makes note that according to Paul, reconciliation is brought about by God alone, which is why in Rom. 5:11, we receive it. It is given to us, Paul reiterates in 2 Cor. 5:18, this ministry of reconciliation, given to us.

In a sense there is this reflexive property of reconciliation that is in symmetry with so many other biblical concepts: blessing – Abraham was blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations; incarnation – the Word became flesh and walked among us, even as Jesus himself began to preach the Word!; Forgiveness – we forgive as we have been forgiven. That which is done for us becomes our work to do. The noun becomes a verb.

Reconciliation is given to be a gift, to be received so that we might know how to share it. These properties are part and parcel of the gospel as a whole then it seems — which is why we know something is wrong when someone says they believe the gospel but cannot be reconciled in the simplest of relationships. That doesn’t show a transformation process of being the object of the gospel to being a subject to it. Question then: if many of our churches are just now getting to understand this justice and compassion-oriented side of reconciliation, is it possible we did not fully understand the gift of reconciliation through Christ?


A Tale Of Two Leaders

In August of 1998 a young intern walked into the office of the president of Circle Urban Ministries of Chicago and let him have it.  It was a week or so into his internship and he did not feel he was getting his money’s worth.  “I’ve uprooted my life and drug my family 300 miles for this!?!” was his mindset that particular day and he really didn’t care who knew.   At some point in the rant he shared “I’ve seen you at Promisekeepers, and I know you are a big wig in the denomination, but I’m not impressed with you national guys.  You’ve got the same Holy Spirit I got!”   It was one of many rants that president would have to endure over the next 13 years from the young man.

The young man was in a stage in life where he attacked viciously anybody he felt who had a superficial understanding of faith.  He had good reason to do so.  He was coming off an intense episode of “church abuse” where for 3 years he and his wife served their heart out for a leader, only to realize said leader was manipulating them for his own personal gain.  When it became apparent the manipulation no longer could happen, the young leader was slandered throughout his hometown.  The intern’s former boss actively tried to destroy the young man’s ministry career.  It was an attack of narcissism to the Nth degree.

So now it was on – with everybody in established leadership.  The young leader was wounded, and like a wounded animal his major mode of engagement was attack.  He perceived established leaders to have no deep commitment to change the racial and social class status quo, and believed they possessed no deep thoughts.   They were only in ministry for the notoriety, he thought.   He saw Christian leaders (particularly nationally known ones) as having a colossal problem of possessing a faith not worth having.

At the end of the office rant the intern demanded more of the president’s time!   The president calmly said he would do what he could.  The intern said that wasn’t good enough.  “You need to meet with me because I’m worth it” the intern said, very arrogantly.  The president looked the intern dead in the eye and said “Ok.   We’ll see if you are as good as you think you are.”

The president helped the intern lick his church abuse wounds.  Over the next 2 years the young man learned from the president that faith meant a life lived in solidarity in Christ in all things, not a mental assent to the teachings of Jesus.  He learned to focus his ministry on productive good deeds for others, not trying to make a name for himself.

While other prominent leaders focused on Ephesians 2:8-9 and made an idol over the “not by works” phrase within the context of a myopic focus on heaven,  the president instilled in the intern that a right prayer prayed is not enough to go to heaven.  And while you are on earth waiting to go there, there is plenty of work to do.  He taught the young man never conclude from those verses that one didn’t have to do anything.  Just read the next verse.

When that intern left in 2000 the president kept his door open as the young man planted a church in Cincinnati based on the lessons he learned in Chicago.  The president worked tirelessly behind the scenes within his denomination to platform the former intern, having him serve on all kinds of boards the former intern shouldn’t have been on.  And when the young man predictably blew up board meetings the mentor cleaned up his messes quietly behind the scenes and instructed his former intern gently on how to handle things in the future.

Maybe the most important lesson the president taught his former intern was how to handle life when it comes undone. He gave him a theology of failure.   The former intern watched him handle one family and ministry crisis after another with grace, dignity, and truth.  The young man watched the president go through several dark nights of the soul and emerge with an even stronger faith.

The president for over 30 years held his denomination’s feet to the fire concerning reconciliation, compassion, and justice issues.  Most of the urban ministries within the denomination has a direct tie to Circle Urban.  He constantly agitated the national leadership to not contain all old white males, and to care for justice issues.  Over the years the leadership listened, first by hiring one of the president’s former staff.   They then hired another ethnic leader.   But the president was not satisfied.  “You need someone of color at the highest level.  You’re not serious until you do that” he told them.

So his denomination listened to the president, who in 2007 recommended they hire the young man who in 1998 had called him a shallow national leader.  The young leader is not so young anymore and to the core of his soul realizes that he stands on the president’s shoulders.  And he is eternally grateful.

I have met many Christians over the course of my life.  Sadly, I’d say half of them have a shallow faith totally centered on escaping judgement.  In other words they just want their fire insurance, or they see God as an ecclesiastical genie in a lamp to rub in the midst of a crisis.   Maybe only 5% of the Christians I know I would honestly say I have modeled my life after. These are people who have a genuine faith worth having and have shared that faith generously.  At the top of the list is Glen Kehrein, former president of Circle Urban Ministries and present resident of heaven.

Thanks Glen Kehrein for the gift of you.   You will be greatly missed.


For The Beauty Of The Earth

Where does reconciliation intersect with creation care? It’s not common to link the two, but I think evangelical Christians need to do so with a sense of intentionality, not just as a trend among the millennials.

I find that particularly now it is imperative that we demonstrate a greater consciousness towards these matters as a part of our witness to the gospel and the already/not yet nature of God’s kingdom. I know there are conversations as to whether or not the shrinking ozone layer and the melting ice caps are a reality or simply a plot of tree hugging liberals, but I think Christians need to quit playing politics as opposed to engaging in reconciliation. Here’s why: as a Christian in the new global village, you are going to have to stand before Buddhists and Hindus who care for creation in ways Christians have no clue or compulsion. And then what does that say about our Creator and our respect/esteem for his handiwork? When we display a lack of compassion for wildlife, the environment and our trash, the purity of water, a moral stand against overconsumption, and the uncurated beauty of the earth around us – it is going to be very difficult to witness to them that somehow our God reigns and doesn’t concern himself anymore about those things. There is something sociopathic about persons who don’t respect beauty and I’m sure people would attribute the same to a category of people that exhibited that same apathy.

I don’t care if you feel that “the inconvenient truth” is a left-wing conspiracy. It’s spelled out in our Bibles that God called creation “good”; commanded Noah to make sure to get two of all the animals before the flood and then exhibited grief that he had wreaked such havoc to get rid of humanity; it’s clear that Jesus was master of all creation, whose only act of destruction was on that fig tree that didn’t bear fruit when it was supposed to. I don’t see Christians taking this mandate very far, but I’m concerned that at some point our witness will be hampered because of it.  We purchase artwork and protect it when we know and respect the artist. How much more we need to do so when it comes to the artwork we live in.

 


No Act of Reconciliation Is Too Small

I have something of a perfectionistic streak. You wouldn’t know it by the way I dress or by the way my office looks sometimes. I’m not OCD, but there is something in me that appreciates aesthetics, beauty, and excellence. And I demand something of myself to perform a task well, to craft something to the point of pride. I’m no Steve Jobs, but I certainly don’t come from the school of “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”. And I know – some good thing is better than no good thing. I get it. But that doesn’t sit well with me.

But in short, if I’m going to consider myself in the work of reconciliation, I have to (in the words of my loving yet straightforward wife) “get over myself.”

Here’s the thing, I work at a small church that shares the building with a Latino Pentecostal congregation. But my Spanish is awful, so I shy away from having direct conversations. I like to meet when there are translators and people who can “listen” and “speak” for me. Well guess what, over the last year, the needle on the “trust meter” has barely moved, and so in my broken, childish, amnesia-from-high-school-Spanish-classes-level I struggled through a conversation and got to the word, “together” — “juntos” yesterday with my Honduran pastor hermano. And let me just say, that phone call broke something between us. And I hated the process of sounding like an idiot. I hated that I couldn’t even communicate my gratitude for him or the possibility of “juntos”. I don’t like not being able to do something well. But there is not enough time in the world for reconciliation to get it right the first time.

In my mind, I paint beautiful works of reconciliation, but I don’t want to cast an errant stroke and so I wait; or I practice in other areas, but not in the thing that God has put before me because I want it to be aesthetically pleasing. My first mistake and the one lesson that I’ve learned in the last week, is that we paint “juntos” and that there is no act of reconciliation too small. If we cannot even do the small things – how on earth can we do the big things?


I Love You CCDA, But We Gotta Talk

Now let me start off with a word of ignorance: I haven’t been around that long when it comes to Christian Community Development Association. I’ve been to the last three national conferences, been a part of a workshop panel, presented a workshop myself, worked a booth there, and been a part of a couple of soirees in the various cities. But yeah I admit it, I’ve only been to three. And let me also say that I “get” it. I like it and I admire it and I want more of it, but I gotta come clean, I do have a little beef with CCDA. I’m not a hater, but I got a few issues.

First off, I admire John Perkins and think he’s a great and godly man, but from the first year I showed up at national conference, I sensed a strong push to mythologize the man and his legacy. It sounded slightly cultish in the beginning and still feels weird when Coach talks about John Perkins the boy who vowed to love his White bullies and when others talk about his story as part of their own plenary talks – John Perkins this and John Perkins that. (Ironically, Perkins doesn’t talk about himself that much, but everyone around him seems to be rehearsing eulogies already).  Now I understand he’s important and integral to the Christian understanding of community development, particularly in evangelical circles. I get that he survived the Civil Rights movement and he’s from Mississippi, I get that, but the projection of the man for some reason makes me feel as though we are forgetting a whole host of other people who have given their lives for the work of reconciliation. We need not make a cult of Perkins just because there is this warped reflex in American culture to plaster someone’s face on a movement and to push the man into the realm of myth. This is dangerous to the movement in my point of view. Mythology about work that is profoundly incarnational and incapable of commodification makes the myth itself (and the object of that myth) a commodity. In other words, John Perkins the man and legend, becomes an idol, whom we all adore but rarely seek to aspire – similar to a Mother Teresa. We make them saints so we can remain pedestrians. Instead of being a path for practitioners to walk through, the myth becomes a sort of ceiling. Granted, I know that much of the ado about Perkins was because he was stepping down from responsibilities and intentionally lowering his profile, but as believers, I think we aren’t doing the movement any favors by wearing Perkins’ visage on our t-shirts and writing premature hagiographies. JP ain’t no JC, I know he knows that but do we?

Second, for as much diversity as the CCDA national conference has, which is awesome by the way. I’m still surprised by the fact that as long as the conference has been running, I only see the tips of the ethnic icebergs. What I mean by that is I feel like the minorities or even the majority represented there are in some cases the “early adopters” (to borrow language from the tech world). You say, of course, these are the people at the front lines of community development! But I say, this is a movement about 30 years old and it’s still only speaking to the periphery of ethnic consciousness? At some point, and maybe we’re getting close to that tipping point, if the tail is really substantive in what it is claiming, it begins to wag the dog. But I don’t see that yet. I don’t see people who are staunchly entrenched in Black identity (for instance, Jeremiah Wright’s crowd) being swayed by CCDA folk. And one of my personal heroes, Soong Chan Rah, I love the man and what he has to say, but he isn’t quite speaking from the heart of Asian American Christianity. Oh no, this is where the fragmentation of even American Christendom renders the potential influence of something like CCDA marginal or ineffective because while I believe in the groundswell of young, socially aware evangelicals, we have yet to really move the needle in our own communities. Which means to me that Christians talk big when no one else is around, but we don’t have as much impact as we dream of having when it comes to diversity as a whole.

Now I know I sound like a hater, but I’m not. These are just the impressions of a relative neophyte. I stand to be corrected, but hear me out. I love CCDA. I rep CCDA. I just gotta get it off my chest.

In terms of solutions, I would like to see John Perkins’ myth be more open to imitation as opposed to flattery. I know that’s hard to convey at the national conference level. Obviously, Perkins arguably is to CCDA what Steve Jobs has been to Apple, but that succession, that formation needs to happen and be more apparent soon. At the same time, there needs to be a deconstruction of Christian celebrity that runs counter to our culture’s bent to idolize him and even others like him. We need to somehow be able to platform failure and celebrate difficulty and pain with the same gusto as we platform success. We need to be able to see dysfunction and not look away — as Christ did with the woman at the well, as Christ did with Zaccheus; we need to stop looking at wonderful outcomes as always being caused by amazing people. Wonderful outcomes are caused by a wonderful God with ordinary, obedient, and faithful people. John Perkins is a giant in the faith, but God is fine with a John Doe too and CCDA needs express that sentiment, not just imply it. And then, we need to do some more soul-searching when it comes to tackling the subject of ethnic identity and its part in mission. The tension of black/white history in this country is still palpable and it brings power to the redemptive narrative that plays out in CCDA, but the various dimensions — Native American v. White; Asian American v. Black; Latino v. White. These dimensions need a more honest appraisal of how to shake the centers of solidarity within each ethnic enclave. I know that sounds ludicrous in a post-racial society and certainly race isn’t the only dimension, but it gives us a ready-made handle in which to approach communities without leaving the movement to some ethos of “random acts of kindness.” Intentional reconciliation should imply that we have a good grip on our self-awareness and identity. In other words, the more diverse a setting is, the more clear we have to be about what we are bringing to the table. CCDA has that potential but sometimes we are more about the work outside than the work inside. It’s natural of course, to work to meet the needs — but we also have to match our actions with reflection.


Bamboozled

I had never heard of Pastor Shaun King before, but now that I have through this provocative blog post about his resignation I have the utmost respect for him.  An excerpt:

The vision of my heart was for a committed community of people that first and foremost served God in radical ways in inner city Atlanta and in broken places all around the world.  Sunday morning would simply be the time when those people came together to celebrate and honor God and invite others into our Monday-Saturday adventure. Instead, I started a super cool Sunday worship service centered church with 700 people and spent the next 3 years begging thousands of people to help me be the hands and feet of God by fighting child trafficking and caring for widows and orphans……I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and could never quite get it back.

I’m feeling him.  Here is the dirty little secret about the majority of pastors within American Christianity.   All most of us care about are the 3B’s:   butts, budgets, and buildings.  We say we care about other things, but at the end of the day whatever the other things are we really don’t use them to judge our ministry success.  All you have to do is go to any church conference of your choosing.  Most if not all the plenary speakers are people who have mastered the art of the 3B’s.  I could make a list of about 20 people and guarantee that you will see at least one of them at whatever conference you chose to go to.   They are the masters of the 3B Universe.

These 3B masters have been anointed with “sage on the stage” status and the not so subtle message is if you do things like they do you too can become a 3B master.  We drink the the Kool-Aid!   We work tirelessly to put a lot of butts in pews.  We have highly orchestrated financial campaigns to erect beautiful buildings to meet in every Sunday.   And we work those  budgets and make pennies holla.   We’ve been bamboozled.

The pursuit of the 3B’s creates a huge tension for the American pastor because they are not the standard Jesus uses.  Our Lord measures ministry success by judging how effective we are in engaging the brokenness of the people within our spheres of influence.  Really,  Jesus uses reconciliation-type stuff to grade us (Matt. 22:37-40.)

Our goal as pastors to be the best church in the community (chasing the 3B’s) oftentimes clashes with Christ’s charge to be the best church for the community.    In other words, there are things that you could do as a pastor that would be great for the community but terrible for you achieving the 3B’s.  A prime example is implementing a multiethnic vision for the congregation.   I have yet to meet a pastor who took this challenge on who did not at some point want to resign over the conflict it created.   The balancing act is to lead those butts and use the tools of budget and building to minister to those on the margins of society.  Pastor Shaun felt the burden of this tension:

In March of this year, I announced I was preaching my last sermon series of all-time.  For the next 8 weeks, I preached the most radical, game-changing sermon series ever entitled “Disciple.”  Our average attendance was its highest ever.  Our average offering was the highest ever.  Excitement was its highest ever.  Man, I was pumped!! Then, almost literally the day we jumped into change, all types of stuff started falling apart.  People left in droves.  Scores of people started falling through on leadership commitments they made.  Systems starting failing.  Attendance was down.  Offering was down.  Excitement was down. I had no idea that zero correlation exists between how much people love hearing about change and their actual willingness to make it.

I’m feeling him here, too.   Again, I don’t know the man but from the outside looking in it seems to me that he is suffering a bit from idealism.  As pastors it always has and always will be hard to lead people down the right path.  I remember realizing something obvious while reading in the New Testament one day.  A good portion of it was instruction on how to deal with the very real problems of shepherding people.  In other words, as pastors we should expect people to struggle mightily as we lead them towards the teachings of Jesus.  Unfortunately this reality has lead to what I think is a faulty conclusion by Pastor Shaun:

Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it.  Big buildings.  Huge crowds.  Few disciples.  I’m not with it.  It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul.  This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all.  A better way has to exist.

If you look at the comments section after his blog post  it’s easy to see he is not alone in his thoughts.   Actually I’ve been in the exact same space he is in.   I started a church in inner city Cincinnati with an ideal in mind.  By year 3 that ideal was shattered.  Just last week I had a conversation with a colleague who is on his way out of the pastorate because of the tension of chasing the 3B’s v. Shepherding people towards Christ.

If what Pastor Shaun says on his blog are truly the reasons he resigned its unfortunate.  He can find a different way and it may be slightly better, but because shepherding people will be involved it will be the exchanging of one set of problems for another.  You can change the form of how we do church in America but you can’t change the reality of the problems of pastoral leadership.  What Pastor Shaun, my colleague, and many others who want Matt. 22:37-40 churches need is to develop the lost art of lament.

About lament.  You remember the boring book of Lamentations, don’t you (is it ok to call a book of the Bible boring?) Nobody, and I do mean nobody, preaches from Lamentations.  But I think we need to heed its lessons.  The essence of the book can be found in Lamentations 1:16 which says “No one is here to comfort me; any who might encourage me are far away.”   You see lament throughout the Gospels, the Psalms, all throughout Scripture.   It is a picture of the tension of faith vs. doubt.    To lament is to accept your limitations of being human – you don’t have all the answers, you’re in a season of frustration with God, and you need to vent about it.    It is the art of disappointment.  Disappointment is not lethal to pastoral ministry but part of the process.

What is lethal is to move from disappointment to despair.   Despair is when you conclude that further pursuit of the goal is pointless.  Unfortunately I have seen many pastors take this road.   Literally they just drop out, some from the faith altogether but many retreat to what I sarcastically call “The Church of the Living Room.”   They start a house church or something similar and meet with the same 10 people for 20 years.   Not exactly the best way to fulfill the Great Commission.

I’m glad to see you are disappointed Pastor Shaun.  I’m sorry to see you have resigned with the conclusion that the grass has to be greener on the other side.    I say the grass is green where you water it.


What is the Breaking Point?

When it comes to love, at what point do you say, “I have had enough. I don’t think we can go any further”?

I suppose in a case of domestic violence or infidelity, it doesn’t seem reasonable to say the above and still say, “I did my best to love you” and then walk away.

But what about for the ministry of reconciliation? What’s the point of no return, the breaking point of the relationship?
I think most evangelicals would say something theological. And with good reason. Up to a point. Up to a particular theological point. With Rob Bell, the farewells came at the questioning of hell. The biggest beef I hear most evangelicals have with Martin Luther King was his infidelity to his wife. With others, it’s been the issue of women in authority, or spiritual gifts, or inerrancy or the appropriate expression of worship or the matter of grape juice versus wine in the administration of the Lord’s Supper or loyalty to conservative or liberal politics or; wow, come to think of it, there’s a thousand breaking points that evangelical Christians have expressed in the ministry of reconciliation. It makes me wonder if we are really committed to reconciliation or we just haven’t found which bridge to burn next.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a good enough theological reason to part ways. I’m just suggesting that we have too many theological reasons, and that’s just within Christendom, not even about reaching out to the other. And honestly, it’s this reputation of theological error-sniffing that makes people not want to befriend Christians from the start. This is a missional problem when our efforts to reach out are suspect because we are notoriously “high strung” from the word “go” (into all the world…).

In general, we have a posture of critique and not of action. I hear the criticisms of Occupy Wall Street from Christians and I think, but we weren’t going to do anything, were we? I mean, the prophetic language for holding the rich accountable for their greed comes directly from Scripture, and I haven’t heard much ado from church leaders or pastors about it. We are good about soothing and praying for mercy and comfort, but action — there’s just too much risk that we’d set off the criss-crossed laser-beam guarded world of sin-sniffing fellow Evangelicals. What was that – social gospel? a different atonement theory? oh yeah? Well, how’s your thought life? How’s your walk with Jesus? What are you a communist? postmodernist? liberal? Are you saying you approve of their lifestyle then? Etc. Etc.

My Christian brothers and sisters, our best witness is the love we have for one another — not enlightenment, not better looks, not better jobs, not a higher salary, not happier kids, not a better eduction — just a supernatural capacity to love others. Read 1 John 4 and tell me that’s not the measure of our faith. We say we want to tell people the good news, but we have so much fine print that comes with it, we sound like today’s latest pharmaceutical release that claims to treat one thing but gives you a whole host of other problems. That’s not good news. That’s a clinical trial that hasn’t gotten FDA clearance. That’s a cure that is worse than the disease. I don’t mean to get preachy here, but I find that we back out of opportunities for reconciliation far too quickly, and we are far too prickly in relationships with each other and non-Christians to the point that instead of having a deep faith, we have one that’s one thread away from breaking ties all together. And even that perception becomes an obstacle to overcome for the next Christian who is willing to reach out and embody Christ.