Is your church pushing your pastor toward a fall like those found on Ashley Madison? What does the Ashley Madison scandal tell us about our churches?
In the aftermath of Ashly Madison, churches began picking up the pieces after their pastors fell (see these posts by Ed Stetzer). But David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw take issue with many of these responses, asking, “What should have been happening BEFORE these pastoral scandals happen?”
This scandal tells all of us that we don’t understand sanctification, and that our church systems keep us from practicing it. They talk about the need for evangelicals to have a more robust understanding and process of sanctification, not just for pastors, but for everyone.
Discount for “The Mission of Preaching” (Missional Learning Commons). As mentioned on the episode, listeners can receive a 20% discount when they register (code: theologyonmission).
In an image driven culture, why do we still craft sermons?
What good can a Sunday sermon have when everyone is bombarded by other messages all week long? What is preaching for anyway? (November 6-7, 2015, Chicago)
A worship “experience”? A time for “teaching”? Is the time on Sundays for our heads or our hearts, or something else? Fitch and Holsclaw talk cast a different vision for the worship gathering as a time of corporate spiritual formation.
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We don’t live in an oral culture. Not even a written culture. We live in a visual culture.
So why preach from a text in an image driven culture? What good can a Sunday sermon have when everyone is bombarded by other messages all week long? What is preaching for anyway?
With these and many other questions in mind, the 2015 Missional Learning Commons will explore The Mission of Preaching (NOV. 6-7, Chicago, IL), hosted by Northern Seminary.
“A justification for our own sorry existence as evangelicals.” Or, why We don’t fit in anywhere. Dave Fitch and I make a first attempt at articulating another way, a third way, for theology and mission for evangelicals, beyond the conservative/progressive dichotomy. We talk about some historical roots for this dichotomy and hint toward an alternative life in community. The next two episodes will flesh out this third way farther by exploring the topics of “Gospel” and then “Scripture”, showing how our theological commitments make a really missional difference (subscribe so you don’t miss them). If you don’t fit in as an conservative evangelical, but don’t feel drawn to progressive framework, then check out this episode.
And be sure to check out (or tell others) about Northern Seminary’s exciting new Master of Arts in Theology and Mission where Dave, Geoff and other students and pastor continue learning about these things.
Is being a bi-vocational pastor a necessary evil or a positive opportunity?
In the new episode of “Theology on Mission” David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw talk about bi-vocational ministry, how it is an opportunity to rethink pastoral vocation and church ministry, all wrapped in personal stories.
So I’ve been really busy teaching and grading, and haven’t done much writing her. But I have been writing and stuff.
And Fitch and I have been busy creating a new “Theology on Mission” podcast (which has been really fun and recieve really well so far). Please check it out, and if you listen through iTunes, please give us a review.
Lastly, as I’m sure you all know, I’ve been busy starting up Northern Seminary’s exciting new Master of Arts in Theology and Mission, made especially for those desiring theological education but already have a really full life. If you know of anyone who might benefit from it please let them (or me) know.
Ok, yes, it might sound extreme. But let’s be sober-minded. As Todd Hiestand (and the comments) notes in his great post, “10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-vocational Ministry”, being a missional bi-vocational pastor is hard, it takes commitment, it takes faith. But in this post-Christian context (or at least outside of the ever shrinking Christendom pockets), the option to be a bi-vocational is not an option at all, it is a missional necessity. I want to frame the discussion here with this image of guerrilla warfare exactly because I don’t want bi-vocational ministry to sound merely like a life-style choice, good for some, but not for others, or some kind of fashion accessory for missional pastors.
But I want to clear up one thing. I’m not taking about guerrilla warfare against the more established church, or mega-churches or anything like that. To think narrowly that way is just not helpful. I’m thinking that our battle is within post-Christian, post-modern, consumer-theraputic-individualistic culture. The warfare is in the terrain of our neighborhoods and families, our calendars and wallets.
So, to start this off, here are five thoughts.
Bi-vocational ministry is necessary:
1) not because missional churches are poor, but because they are rich. Some of the literature on bi-vocational ministry point to it being an option when churches are little, too poor for a full-time pastor. In this scenario church finances are the determining factor. Well, I know many missional churches that are small, and probably too poor for a full-time salary plus health insurance. But the missional church is rich in resources, resources that are flowing outward into the neighborhoods and communities. They are rich in leadership and talents that would go untapped if there was only one person (a man usually) who did everything and got paid for it. My own community is actually big enough to support a full-time pastor, but we choose not to do that because we believe it would make us poorer as a community. Bi-vocationalism, then, is to use what the culture sees as a weakness (money, resources) as a strength, and therefore is a necessary attribute of missional guerrilla warfare.
2) not because missional churches have little work, but too much work. Sometimes you hear the complain from a bi-vocational pastor that there is so much work and too little time (oh, wait that was me!). But we all know what the truth is. There is always too much work. No matter what. But instead of allowing ourselves to believe (which doesn’t really happen), or worse, allowing our congregations to believe (which almost always happens) that one or several “full-time” people can basically cover the work of the kingdom, missional churches know that there is always way too much work for one (or even some), but that all are engaged in the mission of God’s kingdom. Bi-vocationalism is an automatic safe-guard against thinking the work is manageable when really it is totally unmanageable outside of all entering the fields to bring in the harvest. Therefore, missional churches use another perceived weakness (lack of impact or results by a visible few) as a strength because the mustard seed is growing.
3) not because we battle outside, but within ourselves. This one gets tricky, but follows from #2. Too often people, organizations, nations, and yes, churches, come to think that the battle is outside, that all those in must conform to a certain image or idea, and then move outward and attack (this happens even for laudable causes). Many churches have implicitly or explicitly adopted this organization/operational structure, and even for those churches that haven’t it is a constant temptation perpetuated by full-time ministry. But we must always remember that the battle is within our churches, and within ever leader (I referred to it before as a power addiction). I’m reminded of the lyrics from U2’s “peace on earth”: “And you become a monster / So the monster will not break you.” Ministerial bi-vocationalism is the necessary spiritual discipline to ward off this temptation toward consolidation, and not just spiritual discipline, but relational, financial, and temporal discipline befitting those on the front lines (which are never front but always shifting) of the missional battle. In this sense you don’t fight fire with fire. We must creatively resist.
4) because the culture is already fighting a guerrilla style war against us. Advertising, opinion polls, new television shows, iPhone apps, American Apparel, and on and on it goes. The culture is an ever evolving parasite on others beliefs and practices, always moving toward how to make a dollar off you, or spin something as propoganda. So it is necessary for missional churches to be just as nimble and creative, culturally creative even. In this way it is necessary to fight fire with fire, guerrilla warfare again guerrilla warfare.
5) not because the missional church is against formal leadership, but because we seek to form proper leadership. I will not spend as much time on this because de-centralized leadership has been a common enough theme, especially in regard to actual guerrilla warfare, cell groups, and house churches.
So, those are five reasons off the top of my head that missional bi-vocational ministry is not a cute lifestyle decision, or something that we try for a little while but then abandon, or a missional accessory that so like an others don’t. But I truly believe that if the kingdom is to fruitfully gain ground in this post-Christian context that we must adopted strategies for the long run. Anything less will perpetuate the stagnation of the American church.
(p.s. I know I could qualify this a little and mention all those in larger churches who are legitimately following God’s call in a full-time ministry and such [many whom I know and love]…but I prefer to just let this start out more black and white without fading everything to gray too quickly).
Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.
Taking our cue from the angelic announcement that Jesus is “Emmanuel”, God with us, we have been asking about the “Presence of God” from Genesis to Revelation, and how this help us understand the story of God and our mission within it.
Last time we talked about how humanity failed to remain in the presence of God (Gen. 3) and failed to regain the presence of God (Gen. 11, Tower of Babel). Heaven and Earth no longer overlap because God’s un-mediate presence is lost (Heaven is removed from Earth).
But is all lost, and has humanity fully abandoned its call (election even) to be the “image of God” as re-presentative (royal-image) and re-presentation (cultic-image)?
The Blessing Continues: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
In Gen. 1:28 (a key text that we must always keep close to us) we hear that God blessed humanity and calls humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Well, all is not lost in the Fall because these three ideas, if not these exact words, are used to describe the calling and promise of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the best translation to see this is the NASB).
Abraham: God called Abraham and blessed him to be a blessing (Gen. 12:1-3). And when God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham God say that he will make Abraham “exceedingly fruitful” and will “multiply him exceedingly” (Gen. 17).
Isaac: God promises to Isaac: “I will be with you, and will bless you…I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven” (Gen. 26:1-5) and again God says, “I will bless you, and multiply yourdescendants” (Gen. 26: 24). Notice that God is promising to be with Isaac, not just to bless him from afar.
Jacob: God says to Jacob: “I am [l]God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 35: 11) (We’ll get back to Jacob’s so-called ladder in a second).
In each case, the promised blessing that was meant to rest on all humanity, but that was abandoned, is now promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the ones through whom blessing would come again, and through whom the promise of being fruitful and multiplying would come again.
The Altars are Built: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
In each instance where these promises are made the author of Genesis is clear to point out that God 1) appeared to them and that each responded by 3) building an altar.
The particular places where a person had encountered the presence of God became a place of worship. Or we could say, it because a precursor to the later tabernacle and temple of Israel where God would dwell among His people.
And why would I say a “precursor”? Because this is exactly what we see in Jacob’s vision of a Ladder/Stairway coming down from heave.
Jacob’s Stairway to Heaven (cue the music)
After Jacob receives (or steals) his blessing from Isaac, a blessing in which Isaac says, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples” (Gen. 28:3), Jacob then flees from his brother. Notice the connection again of blessing, fruitful, and multiply (this is again the Edenic blessing of Gen. 1:28).
When he lies down to sleep, he has a dream in which “a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12). The Lord also speaks to him there and promises that He will be “with him” always, going wherever Jacob goes (28:15). When Jacob wakes up he declares four things: 1) God was in this place; 2) It was awesome; 3) It was the house of God; and 4) It was a Gate of Heaven.
This place of God was the house of God, and the house of God (as we know) is always a reference to the Temple where God dwells, which (as we also know) is connected to Heaven, which means this place was the very Gate to Heaven, or in other words, it is a Stairway to Heaven. Jacob names this place Bethel, which means the house of God (Gen. 28:19).
And of course, Jacob builds an altar there to mark it as a place where God’s presence had appeared (Gen. 28:18).
All of this adds up to the fact that these altars, and especially the one in Bethel, functioned as little gateways to Heaven, which is the place of God’s presence, the place humanity had in the Garden of Eden but had now lost. These altars that began to mark the promised land as places of God’s presence were precursors of the Tabernacle and Temple which were the house of God particularly, even if creation was God’s house generally.
To Sum Up
So, God’s presence is coming to particular people in particular places in order to reengage the general blessing to all humanity of being fruitful and multiplying and able to experience the presence of God. God hasn’t abandoned humanity to be with His presence, but is making a way to be present to His people.
And all of these are precursors of God’s presence as it will be in the temple and the tabernacle.
But to talk about the tabernacle and temple leads us in the book of Exodus and beyond. This is it for this series.
Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”
~This is a LIE.
I never say this to my boys at home. And I never say this to members in our church. The truth is, words do hurt. They wound and break us just as much as they heal and build us. Words matter, and we should never let our children think that they don’t.
A broken bone will heal in a couple weeks, but a broken spirit can last a lifetime. Don’t we all know people who are wounded and scarred by words (ugly, failure, worthless, unwanted), living out of these lies as if they were the truth?
Sticks and stones can break your bones, and words can destroy your soul.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, and words can bind the broken.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, so cling to words that bring life.
Truth is, we are in a battle of words.
Did Satan bring sticks to kill Adam and Eve? Did he use stones to make them eat the fruit?
No. He came with words. He came with words of doubt: “Did God really say…?” He came with words of deception: “You will surely not die…” He came with words to persuade and insinuate, to sow seeds of doubt that grew up into the fruit of disobedience, disaster, and death.
Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.
As we saw in the last post, humanity was created in God’s image and likeness to be God’s representative in the world (royal-image), and to be God’s very representation in the world (cultic-image).
God’s presence had been given to humanity (indeed, to the entire cosmos since creation is God’s temple-dwelling place), and God’s presence was supposed to spread and fill the earth through the faithful agency of humanity (Gen. 1:28). But all this was lost in the Fall, which is the topic for todays this post.
Failure to Keep God’s Presence: Genesis 3
I’m going to skip the details of what theologians call the Fall, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of why they did it and what it did to them. I’m skipping it not because it isn’t important, but because it is so familiar that we forget that in a sense all of Genesis 3-11 is the record of the Fall, recording the effects sin and death on individuals (Gen. 3) to institutions (Gen. 11).
The most important detail about Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden is not the fact that they are being kept from the Tree of Life. Rather it is the fact that the way back into the Garden is guarded by Cherubim (Gen. 3:24).
Let’s think about this. If I said two security guards are in front of a door you would think something valuable was behind it. If I said two of Secret Service were in front of a door you would think the President was there. If I said two dragons were guarding a door you would think something magical was there. The kind of guards posted tells us about what is there.
So, if who is guarding the door tells us something about what is being guarded, then perhaps the fact that Cherubim guard the Garden tells us something more than merely that humanity was not supposed to eat of the Tree of Life.
Cherubim are almost exclusive found in the very presence of God (around the Ark of God’s presence in Ex. 25: 18-22, and in heavenly visions like Ezekiel in Ez. 10:1-20). We need to understand, then, as every ancient reader would have, that the Cherubim are guarding the presence of God from those who have lost the ability to bear the presence of God. In the Fall, not only do we lose the Garden-Temple and our Image-Bearing mission, but we lose the very presence of God.
In a very real sense, Heaven and Earth are now separated, with humanity being bound to the Earth, and Heaven becoming the primary place of God’s presence.
Failure to Gain God’s Presence: Genesis 11
But this arrangement is not to the liking of those tower builders of Babel. That God is in Heaven and they on Earth is not tolerated. So they decide to build a tower that “will reach up into Heaven” so that they could “make a name” for themselves.
No longer does humanity want to be God’s representatives nor be God’s very representation on earth, but rather they wanted to make a name for themselves (presumably by overthrowing God from Heaven and installing themselves).
Naturally God does not think this is a great idea, not because God is threatened by such schemes, but because this tactic is the most destructive of humanity and human flourishing.
So humanity fails to regain God’s presence by storming Heaven, reinforcing the very real sense that now humanity (on Earth) is separated from God (in Heaven).
So, the question we should be asking ourselves at the end of reading Genesis 3-11 is “How will the presence of God come to humanity?” because it is impossible for humanity to bring itself into God’s presence (barred from the Garden and thwarted at the Tower).
Well, as we turn to Israel’s Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) we find that although humanity has fallen from Heaven God is going to appear and make a way for humanity to be “with God” and to again bear the image of God in the world.
To this we will turn in the next post.
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Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.