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    Entries in Church Ministry (65)


    God at Work

    When the spiritual gifts are operating in a congregation to equip it for various Christian ministries, it is the mighty God who is at work. He is the one who is working all things in all. . . . As a boy stopping by a construction site with its huge cranes hoisting steel girders into place, I frequently saw the sign, "Men at Work." It was exciting. However, any time you encounter a church that is fulfilling its mission in the world, you have God at work. There is no greater excitement than being a part of a fellowship where this is taking place.
    - Jack W. MacGorman, The Gifts of the Spirit (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1974)

    When good things are happenings in the life of your church or your ministry, never forget this. Remind others. Point out where God is at work. Give God the glory. Rejoice.

    As it is written in Psalm 115:1:

    Not to us, Lord, not to us 
    but to your name be the glory,
    because of your love and faithfulness.

    May it be so.


    Speaking Opportunity :: Friends Student Conference 2011

    Several weeks ago my friend Jesse Penna gave me a call, inviting me to participate as a speaker at the Friends Student Conference in Wichita, Kansas.  The event is held in late December and focuses on discipleship of junior high, senior high, and college students.  You can learn more about the event here.

    I will be speaking at three morning general sessions.  The theme is "Stop".  Young people are constantly being told to "go, go, go!", and thus lack space to reflect on their identity, the driving questions of existence, and the imperative for us to seek growth in our relationship to God.  As a contemplative type, this theme excites me.  But as someone who is passionate about evangelism, it is my hope that our reflection becomes a solid basis for action, rather than an end in itself.  The transformed inner life is a boon to evangelism, for it adds clarity to the claims of the gospel message.  God draws who he wills, of course, but a great mystery is that he chooses human beings to be his messengers.  Thus, stopping to listen to our own lives, receiving discipline and correction from companions we well as our Master, and waiting to hear God in the silence is critical for us as we seek to be faithful to our calling to share God's message of love with others through word and deed.

    Thanks to Matt Macy, Jesse Penna, and others who are working hard to prepare for this event.  I'm excited about the opportunity.  And to those that read my blog, please pray for me as I prepare to speak, that God might give me words that the students need to hear.


    Something to Chew On...

    This past week I finished reading Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.  He presents the reasons why this movement has experienced a resurgence, and why, in particular, it has had appeal among younger people.

    As Hansen told his own story, he included a bit of biographical information that might be of interest to United Methodists.  Hansen writes:

    I had been a Christian for about two and half years when I arrived in Evanston, Illinois, in 1999 to study journalism at Northwestern University.  During my last two years in high school I had helped lead United Methodist Youth Fellowship at my family's small church in rural South Dakota.  The denomination even paid for me to fly to Los Angeles to attend a conference for youth considering full time ministry.

    All the while, my knowledge of Scripture grew very little.  Sin plagued me with guilt, and I saw little victory over temptation. . . Yet I knew without a doubt that I had been saved.  I recalled with joy the moment my resistance fell and I trusted Christ to forgive me of my sins.  I knew God gave his church the Bible so that we might know about Jesus and learn the story of salvation.  I actively shared with unbelieving friends and family about the joy God had given me.

    Even before I enrolled, I confirmed that Campus Crusade for Christ ran a chapter at Northwestern.  I harbored no false expectations about the climate for Christians at this school that long ago ditched its Methodist roots.  I hoped Crusade would help me grow in faith and introduce me to other students trying to follow Christ.  Crusade did that--and much, much more.

    Our campus director studied for his Master of Divinity degree up the road at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Most Crusade students attended a nearby Evangelical Free church, pastored by a Trinity grad.  My first morning in church, the pastor rocked my Methodist sensibilities.  It wasn't so much that the sermon's content shocked me.  Rather, I was surprised the sermon contained any content at all.  On top of that, the pastor even raised his voice a few times and preached for more than thirty minutes.  That kind of behavior gets you fired by Midwestern Methodists.

    I had never heard of Calvinism until a Crusade friend, also a Methodist, told me she believed that God predestines salvation.  Before long that's what I believed too. My weekly Bible study with fellow freshmen worked through Romans.  An older student took me to hear R.C. Sproul preach.

    I didn't go looking for Reformed theology.  But Reformed theology found me.  Beginning college as I did with an almost blank slate, Calvinists impressed me with their knowledge of Scripture and devotion to theological depth.  Calvinism made the best sense of what Scripture teaches about salvation.  None of this theology seemed to dampen my friends' passion to evangelize the campus and consider serving as missionaries after graduation.  As I began teaching Bible studies and mentoring younger students, we discussed Calvinism.

    I'd temper Hansen's presentation with a tale from my own experience: I know that in my early to late twenties, many of my questions took the form of, "Why have I not been taught this before?"  I grew up in a healthy church environment, and upon reflection, found that it is more likely that I was not ready developmentally to receive all that I was being taught within my church community, rather than simply not being taught at all.  This does not mean that Hansen's church did not fail him (as he seems to suggest), but in my experience, we tend to frame things a certain way autobiographically, particularly when we have moved from one place to another.  No matter where we are headed, we like to portray our stories as moving us toward the Celestial City.

    I offer this story as something for my United Methodist readers to chew on, largely because this tale continues to be true.  I have met enough United Methodist students to know there is a lack of biblical and theological knowledge.  I have also worked with enough United Methodist students to know that there is a hunger for doctrinal and biblical teaching that is personally challenging and intellectually stimulating.  Calvinism is not the only theological system that can be taught with passion.


    Women in Ministry and Reformed Hermeneutics

    In his book Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, James K. A. Smith strikes up an imaginary dialogue with someone who has recently adopted the Reformed outlook, providing wisdom, insight, and direction that he wishes he himself had during his college years, as he first entered the Reformed tradition.  In a postscript to one of the letters, Smith touches on the topic of women in ministry.  Most Reformed leaders that I'm aware of differ from Smith's position, prerfering the complementarian viewpoint.

    James K. A. Smith writes:

    My position on women in office (and marriage) is no secret to you (given our Sunday school discussions about complementarian vs. egalitarian understandings of marriage).  What you might find surprising, or perhaps disconcerting, is that it was a Reformed hermeneutic that led me to that position.  The narrative dynamic of Creation-Fall-Redemption is the lens through which I think about these gender-related issues.  The C-F-R dynamic, you'll recall, begins with a good creation, is attentive to all the ways that the fall has cursed creation (both human and nonhuman), and understands God's redemption as the salvation of "all things" (Col. 1:20).  In other words, the effect of salvation is to roll back the effects of the curse (Gen. 3); so in the words of our Christian hymn, Christ's redemption reaches "far as the curse is found."  The curse isn't just personal; it isn't just about individual sin.  The curse of the fall affects all of creation (the serpent, the ground, fauna, our work); even our systems and institutions are accursed.  So the good news of redemption has to reach into those spheres as well.

    I found this interesting.  The logic employed by Smith from within the Reformed tradition matches well with my own, though I am not Reformed.  The work of restoration that has been actualized by the cross of Christ and the unfolding of the work of "new creation", in my reading, extends to marriage and ministry, opening the way for egalitarianism.

    What is your position on women in ministry?  How have you come to those conclusions?  Whatever your conviction, I think it is important that the biblical, historical, and theological evidence should be carefully weighted and considered.  All opinions are welcome here, though if you're in need of guidance on how to best state your conviction, visit my comment policy.


    Ministerial Temptations :: Buying God's Acceptance

    There are many temptations for pastors and church leaders.  Foremost among them is amnesia with regard to the grace of God.  We forget.  We forget.  We think that we owe God a debt in order to earn our acceptance before the throne of the Almighty, rather than relying wholly on grace, the grace that saved us and is saving us through Jesus Christ.

    In his book A Kingdom Called Desire: Confronted by the Love of a Risen King, Rick McKinley writes:

    It didn't take me long to veer off the path of responding to the grace given to me in Jesus and head down the path of works, striving to get God to like me by trying hard to obey him.  The church had needs, the world had needs, there was a lot of sin and a lot that was broken, and I was happy to accept the job of making things--or people--right.  And I was not overly religious in all of this, at least not outwardly.
    But inwardly I was playing religious games as well as any Pharisee.  In my mind, God had done his job, and now it was time to do mine.  Without really knowing it or paying attention to it, I woke up most days hoping I could keep it together enough to get God to accept me.

    Don't play religious games.  Don't think you have to work with people and enter their hurts, their brokenness, and their sin in order to somehow earn favor before God.  Rather, become a willing partner in the work of the Holy Spirit to bring your people in to the presence of grace.

    You don't have to buy God's acceptance, because your acceptance has already been bought.  You have already been reconciled to God through Christ.  You are a new creation.