Monthly Archives: December 2012

Church values: Church has value

The church website already answers the question “why should I go to church?”

Jesus says that all of those who believe in him are his people.  He says that we are like his “body” – his living and moving presence on the earth until he comes back to earth himself.

So, being part of a local church is really important!  It’s important because we learn about Jesus’ Word (the Bible) from one another, we love each other, and we know that if we serve Jesus together we will accomplish so much more than we ever could alone.

Being part of a church that follows Jesus is just another one of the ways that we obey Jesus and follow him, because he told us to be connected to one another and love one another as members of one “body” together.

I want to answer this same question, but from a slightly different perspective, that regularly attending church is a right and good response of worship to God.

This past Sunday the message was on Hebrews 1:1-3. This passage presents a picture of the Son, Jesus, as highly exalted at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Such an image of Christ demands a radical response from us. We can either try to define God on our own terms or we can embrace the Son as the radiance of God’s glory. We can either respond in rebellion to His reign or we can worship the One who sustains the universe by His powerful word.

The response of worship is first of all a posture of the heart, mind, and will. But, like all religious responses, the internal “heart” response must always be followed by actions (James 2:14-26, 1 John 3:17-18). So, if we are to worship God properly we must do so not only in our hearts, but with our actions as well.

There are many ways to worship God – privately in prayer, around the table as a family – but the pattern of Scripture consistently emphasizes the regular practice of corporate worship, the coming together of the people of God to listen to the word proclaimed and respond in songs and acts of praise. This was the practice of Israel (for example, see Nehemiah 8 or the Psalms), the pattern in the early church (Acts 2:42-47), and is the ultimate vision of worship in heaven (Revelation 7:9-17).

In Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The purpose of this regular gathering is for mutual encouragement so that the people of God can “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (10:23) but it was also most certainly for the purpose of worshipping God together.

So, church matters, specifically, coming to church matters, for many reasons, not least of which is the proper response to the Son who deserves and demands our regular worship.

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Benefits of Bi-Vocational Ministry

Being a “slasher pastor” has its challenges, but bi-vocational ministry has its perks as well. Here they are in no particular order.

Less personal financial dependence on the church: When you have a second source of income you’re less dependent on the income from the church. Our church went through a bit of a rough patch several years ago and had to make across the board cuts, including to staff. I was able to make up for the cuts by increasing my hours in my other line of work. Also, I don’t have to analyze (from a personal perspective) our church’s weekly giving reports.

Less financial burden for the church: The other side of the coin is that bi-vocational ministry reduces the financial burden on the church for employing a pastor. This is especially good for small churches. Our church is somewhat unique in that we have two bi-vocational pastors. We could afford a single full-time pastor but I think the “pastoral team” approach works for us.

Reduces burnout of the pastor(s): This one is counterintuitive, but that’s how it works out in our church. The church as a whole recognizes that the pastor is not the only one called to serve the church. Everyone steps up and performs their role in accordance with the gifts and abilities God has given them. We don’t get 3 AM calls. Those go to other, qualified, gifted people in our congregation. Ironically, the fact that we both have second jobs saves us from burnout because it reduces dependence on us as individuals.

Gives opportunities to empower lay leaders: This is basically the same thing as I’ve stated above. When the pastor can’t do everything – he has to spend more time developing other leaders. This is always a good leadership practice; it’s just more acutely needed in bi-vocational ministry.

Reduces Monday blues: It’s easy to find yourself second guessing Sunday’s sermon on Monday. When you have another job to get to Monday, you don’t have the luxury of wallowing in Sunday’s mistakes, real or made up. You are always pressing on.

One more way to relate to your congregation: I think it helps those in our congregation to know that I also struggle with following Jesus in the workplace.

Cross pollination of ideas: On the surface, it would appear that software engineering and church work have nothing in common, but there’s more overlap than you might think. I regularly use ideas from my secular job to inform my role as pastor (project management, for instance). Vice versa, I use my pastoral skills in my computer programming job (presentation skills, peacemaking, etc.)

Being a pastor at work and a techy at church: Because people at work know I’m a pastor, I get to field “churchy” questions at work. Because people at church know I’m a computer guy, I get to field computer questions at church. I’m not very good at the latter. I probably cannot fix your computer.

Book Review: Church for the Fatherless

“Our culture’s decision-making created the mythology of the superfluous father.” -Jonetta Rose Barras

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review, but when you have a new baby you have to spend a lot of your time doing things that only require only one hand, and reading is one of those things. And so, in relative short order I was able to work through Mark Strong’s book, Church for the Fatherless.

Strong focuses on three general topics. First he describes the “epidemic of father absenteeism” in our society. Our culture, he says, has perpetuated the myth of the superfluous father. He also notes how, partially as a result of slavery and the Great Migration of African Americans, the problem is exacerbated in the African American community (the primary context from which he writes). He then lists the problems that accompany father absenteeism, especially what he calls “voluntary absenteeism” where fathers choose to be uninvolved in their children’s lives. These problems include emotional pain, poverty, teen pregnancy, crime, and lower education. While not everyone who lacks a present and loving father experiences these problems, they are statistically elevated among the fatherless.

Second, Strong sketches some ways the church can minister to the fatherless. This ministry includes embedding the value of care for the fatherless within the life of the church, supporting marriages, equipping men to be godly fathers, and providing mentoring for the fatherless in the community.

Finally, Strong looks at the theology of God as Father. The Church needs to teach this, he says, because those who have no fathers, or abusive fathers, will have a skewed picture of fatherhood. They need to know what it means for God to be a loving and faithful Father which will allow them to lean on God as their true Father while they work through the pain associated with fatherlessness.

Strong writes this book from a pastoral perspective and it is filled with testimonies of people with whom he has personally worked with. I read this book from a dad’s perspective, mostly because I was reading in the hours immediately before Benjamin’s birth and in the days the followed. I’m thankful that I had such a loving father and I’m thankful I can be a dad to my kids. My heart breaks, though, for those who deal with the pain of having an absent or abusive father. Our church recognizes that many of the kids who we encounter through our outreach activities are dealing with pain. I pray we’ll be able to be a “church for the fatherless.”

On Faith: Delayed Gratification

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. …Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13, 16b TNIV)

I heard about a study where researches offered young children the choice between getting one marshmallow now and waiting for a few minutes to get two marshmallows. Some kids took the single marshmallow while others waited and received two. As the researches followed the lives of the kids, they discovered that those who waited generally did better in life. This is the principle of delayed gratification and it is a very important life skill.

Delayed gratification is also an important spiritual skill.

Those heroes of the faith already listed in Hebrews 11 (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham) all practiced some sort of spiritual delayed gratification. They gave up the temporary pleasures of this world to wait for the eternal rewards that only God could offer.

There are serious limitations in comparing the example of delayed gratification above with the spiritual delayed gratification practiced by our fathers in the faith.

In the example of the marshmallows the kids waited for one thing to get more of that same thing. Those whole live by faith, however, gave up something of one kind (visible, temporary, the result of disobedience) for something of a different kind (invisible, permanent, the result of obedience). For that reason, they were always restless, living as aliens in the land, looking for a land of their own.

The other problem with the comparison is that the likes of Abraham and Noah never fully received the promise of God while they were living. “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” They did receive a glimpse. Abraham had the son of the promise and Noah and his family were saved from the flood. But their ultimate reward was not to be found in this life.

The last words of this passage are sweet. “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.” Enoch, Abel, Moses, and Abraham lived by faith because they understood just how sweet those words really are. Because they grasped the greatness of the promise – friendship with God – they were able to delay gratification for the present to receive an eternal reward.

The Story of My Pastoral Call part 3

I’ve been waiting to write this until I could figure out what to say about my seminary experience. That never happened so I’m just going to stream-of-consciousness this thing.

I started seminary at GRTS in the Fall of 2006. The common joke of the day was “so, you’re going to cemetery now?” the implication being that seminary is a life-sucking, soul killing institution… or at least just really boring. I found it both interesting a life-giving.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to prospective GRTS students. I told them that during seminary I was also working close to full time (30-35 hours/week) while a student. One prospective student asked how I was able to do that and still maintain a social life. My first thought was to ask, “What social life?” Instead my answer was something about time management.

In reality though, there were several factors to having a positive seminary experience. I was, of course, blessed with a very supportive wife. We lived simply, living in a one-bedroom apartment and shunning television for the first year or so. This allowed me to focus on the task at hand. I also had a very flexible job. I could set my work schedule based off my class schedule. I would often go to class in the morning, drive to work, come home, eat dinner, and study Greek flashcards, or head back to the library to work on a paper. And, of course, I had no social life.

The work hard, but it was never oppressively hard.

It helped, too, that I was very interested in the material. With the exception of a few classes, I was never bored.

I had some great profs, too. I really believe that wanted us to do well. They were also willing to have fun and get to know you. One of the stories I like to tell the most is from one of my Systematic Theology classes. Dr. Wittmer  was my prof and we were talking that day about the attributes of God. Dr. Wittmer said that God could not do something illogical, because that would be to go against His nature. So, for instance, He could not great a round square. Another student asked, “What about the loaves and the fishes?” Wittmer replied that that was not illogical, it was just miraculous. I rose my hand and asked (in jest) “wasn’t the miracle of the loaves and the fishes that after one boy shared his food everyone else saw the example and shared too?” Wittmer responded by throwing a dry-erase marker at my face. Maybe that’s why he likes St. Nicholas so much.

And that’s just one example – they were all pretty great.

Seminary wasn’t all fun and games. It was a wake-up call, too. One of my first classes was hermeneutics. It’s a weeder class. I was pretty proud of the first paper I submitted. My professors were not. I wasn’t in undergrad anymore. But, with lots of support, I persevered.

Summer breaks were actually pretty hard. When you focus so hard and spend so much time on something, it becomes part of your identity and, for a time, my identity was “student.” Being away from school for long periods of time was accompanied by a sense of loss. Because of my personality I could easily get lost in academia. I considered briefly the possibility continuing after my M.Div. to get a doctorate. This is still a possibility (for the distant future). By the time graduation came, though, I had been involved in church ministry as a pastoral resident for over a year and was getting a taste of what the next step looked like. It had been fun, but I was ready to move on. By God’s grace I had made it through and had grown significantly (intellectually, spiritually, professionally) because of the experience. Seminary had prepared me to further pursue pastoral ministry.