Make your Last Supper one that will last.



The Impact of Status, Education, and Age on Clergy [umc]

The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church has an online version of their "health and wellness" report.  It has mostly to do with pensions (Zzzzzz wake me when it's over), but there are at least three interesting nuggests of demographic data that could spark discussion.  Credit goes to my ministry colleague Rev. Sarah (blog) for noticing some of these.

First, after the polling and lifestyle data, there is this information about Elders (fully-educated and ordained clergy) versus Local Church Pastors (no education or ordination requirements outside of training classes).

Elders are less likely than licensed local pastors and deacons to have experienced the presence and power of God in the ordinary, sensed the presence and power of God in their thoughts and feelings, consciously practiced discerning the presence and power of God, and felt that events were unfolding according to God’s intent.

In addition, licensed local pastors are the most likely to have felt that they have a vital relationship with God.
Um...ouch!  That seems like a damning dismissal of the spiritual makeup of the "fully-ordained" clergy and an affirmation of the "non-ordained" ministry of the local pastors.  While I certainly affirm the latter, I can't see this solely as an indictment of the clergy represented.

Having not been in ministry very long (currently in my fourth year of ordained ministry) and seeing the wide diversity of pastoral appointments, I won't agree with the findings but even if they were true, it would seem like an indictment of appointments not clergy.  Let me explain.  Full Elders are often appointed to larger churches with larger bureaucracies.  In larger contexts, it is little wonder that the minutiae of ministry may drag them down, as well as being appointed somewhere that may be out of their comfort zone.

Thus for local church pastors, who are often in smaller churches (though with LOTS of minutiae...I know that much!) but also in contexts closer to their comfort level, then it is little wonder they report being more spiritually connected.  Any pastors reading this can chime in and let me know if I'm on the right track with this.

Second, but in the same area, education has much to do with these results as well:
There are also differences in experiences based on education. Those with a course of study or bachelor’s degree are more likely than those with more advanced degrees to sense the presence and power of God in their thoughts and feelings, felt God’s grace and love as they are, felt their prayers have been answered, felt that events were unfolding according to God’s intent, and felt that they have a vital relationship with God.
Detailed Report, page 47
Huh...all the questions had to do with feelings and then they are judged based on academic achievement?  Weird. I know this is pounced on as an indictment of the inadequacy and spiritual stuntedness of our seminary system.  BURN!  So again, I will redirect, but in the opposite direction.

It seems more that academia focuses the pursuit of God in a different direction.  I'm academic in a lot of ways in the way I think and I would have a hard time answering enthusiastically to those questions. But looking back at my writings and musings from college, I would have enthusiastically affirmed them.

So perhaps the real indicator here isn't spiritual growth or stuntedness, but that our understanding of God progresses and grows as we do.  People with higher education see and experience God very differently (but not worse) than those without because they may have a better grasp of the theological concepts of God in all their diversity in academic.  This sounds mean, but it's easy to drill a deep spiritual well when you don't have to interact with the rest of the field (ie. having to wrestle with different well-constructed theologies in higher education).

Third and finally, there's this note less about ministry status/education and more about age groups engaging in prayer and bible-reading:
Full time clergy and those in extension ministry are more likely to say that they spend less than one hour a week in prayer and those who are less than 44 years of age spend less time praying than those who are aged 45 or older.

Slightly more than half of respondents say they read the Bible or other devotional literature, not in preparation for sermons or other work‐related tasks, at least once a day. Similarly to prayer, those less than 44 years of age are less likely to read the Bible daily.
This is a tough one...I really don't have a response.  Anyone else want to take a crack at why bible reading habits have changed for the under 45 crowd?  I would simply say reading the bible devotionally instead of utilitarianally (ie. what sermon or bible study can I get from this?) is a constant challenge for me.

Even though I'm not and you may not be in the Virginia Conference, these same issues affect clergy everywhere.  What thoughts do you have about them?

  • Does status in ministry affect spiritual outlooks?
  • Does education affect spiritual receptiveness?
  • Does daily practices affect spiritual effectiveness?


God will never give you up...

Christian TV lays the smack-down on rickrolling.



What the Church can Learn from Apple [3of4]

Yesterday, Mac fanboys/girls across the globe stared at their twitters, facebooks, engadgets and newsfeeds waiting in breathless expectation for Apple to unveil their newest gizmo.  I will admit to being pumped as well waiting for the unveiling.

Apple, of course, produces electronic equipment (computers, iPhone, iPods, accessories, software, and now the iPad); the church couldn't be further removed from its business model!!

However, Apple also produces something else: anticipation. This week as the unveiling took place, every Mac-lover waited with baited breath on the "new" thing that Apple will release to the consumeristic masses.

Me? Not a Mac-head, no iPhone, not even an iPod. But still I got excited and read the news for the new wonder.

A while back, The Daily Saint had a post up on how to build anticipation. His site is gone now but it still exists in my feed reader (foreeeeeeever muhahaha), so here's his bullet points verbatim:
  1. Promise results...and deliver.  Stick to a plan and deliver the goods.  A deadline.  A report.  A presentation, whatever.
  2. Be a person of your word.  If you lay out a gameplan, stay with it even when times get tough. 
  3. Be a person who is passionate about follow up.  Write notes.  Make calls.  Pay attention to details.
  4. Cross your t's. Little things matter a great deal.  During your weekly review, double check the details.
  5. Organize weekly.  Don't just show up on Monday, bring your A-game as a result of planning for the week.
  6. Conceive powerful ideas.  Go public with your notions of change.
  7. Listen to those who've been there before.  There are folks in your workplace and in your industry who know things- tap into their insights.
For the church, I would submit the following ideas about building anticipation for your church's events.
  1. Do what you promise to do.
    • Apple promises something big, they deliver an iPhone. They promise it will rock the planet, and it does. While we accuse Steve Jobs of really overhyping and creating the reality distortion field, for the most part, Apple does deliver.
    • For the Church, don't pull the rug out from people. Especially in service project areas, we tend to scale it back after we see who has shown up. If you promise that you'll repaint a barn, repaint the whole thing, no matter how few of volunteers show up. Do it anyway.
  2. Integrate and connect areas of ministry.
    • Discipleship is not static, nor should our ministry areas be.  By creating a flow of people from one discipleship area to the next, you may find that (1) fiefdoms of ministry areas don't occur and (b) people are more well-rounded and think more holistically of the church's ministries.
    • This creates anticipation in that people can look forward to changing ministry positions every so often and engaging a new challenge.
  3.  Innovate and simplify ministry goals and celebration-points
    • One of the criticisms of Apple and Steve Jobs is celebrating tiny advancements as "breakthroughs" and updates of products as "overhauls."  While exaggeration isn't becoming, celebrating the little changes and advancements in ministry certainly engages and affirms people. Like wikipedia, small incremental changes result in big things, so celebrating them is essential!
Discuss: Thoughts on how the church can better utilize anticipation in the context of ministry?

Thanks for reading and welcome to our visitors!


My name is probably already flagged

Recently I was offered the opportunity to go to Catalyst West Coast as part of leadership development.  I thought it would be nice to go get spiritually fed and stretched, attend a great conference, bring my spouse and visit family, tan.

Then I decided to look at the speaker list and realized I had mentioned FOUR of the pastors/speakers in less-than-favorable blog posts here on this blog.

  1. Andy Stanley: Church building a $5million dollar bridge which looks at where "convenience" is found in the cost of discipleship.
  2. Erwin McManusDon't Vote for Casket [consumerism+church] which critiques the message and the involvement of a church in a consumerism-driven contest.
  3. Kay Warren: Purpose-Driven Genocide. I know it's an error to conflate spouse's actions with each other (Rick's featured on Saddleback's Gated Church CommunityWarren is not Bonhoeffer too), but at least Kay's involvement in Uganda is indisputable.
  4. Mark Driscoll: Cool Kid Calvinism which looks at the false.hack that Driscoll appears to be for Christianity.
Hacking Christianity means to engage the ways in which Christian leadership, approaches, and decisions impact the way how we engage culture.  I focus inside the ballpark often so it is little surprise that I focus on errant Christian ministries and decisions like these above.  This may seem hurtful to criticize Christian leadership, but calls to accountability are both needed and biblical.

Individual decisions and controversies don't deter from these people's obvious hearts for the Gospel, of course, and by all accounts Catalyst is a great conference.  But if this is the segment of Christian leaders who are being featured, all of whom I have serious theological disagreements with, then maybe it's just not my thing.  Oh well!


Methodist History in Claymation

An excellent claymation (stop-motion video made outta clay) that outlines Methodist history. Some funny moments and overall it's pretty decent!

(h/t "Dear Candler" via J.P.M. on Facebook)


Children's Sermons RE: Haiti

A colleague and I talked today about the earthquake in Haiti and pondered how to talk about such natural disasters with children.  Questions of theodicy "why did God let all those people die?" and coping "why are my Haitian friends crying?" might be on their minds.

I don't usually bore people with worship resources (this blog has a very mixed audience) but I thought I would share for those of you that are interested.  Here's two possible starters for a Children's Sermon on Sunday...adapt/reject/rewrite as you see fit.

Note: they are written verbatim in my personal voice which may/may not be yours.

#1 Focus on expressed coping behavior of crying:

"You know what, I've been crying a lot this week. Anyone else cry alot? What about? [responses] Now one of you said Haiti, what happened there? Any friends who have family there? I can understand them crying. I cried too about Haiti. I cried so much my tummy hurts, anyone else ever cried so hard their tummy hurt? Now what about God...does God cry? Do you think this made God sad? I bet it did. Can you think of any other time when God cries? [responses] I think God cries anytime people are suffering or hurting or have lost a loved one. Jesus cried when he lost his friend Lazarus. I think Jesus cried (a) because his heart hurt too (b) but also to remind us that God cries and is hurt whenever we are. So its OK to cry or have friends that cry this week, because we believe God cries with us. So maybe you can be good friends this week to your friends who are hurting, cry with them, because that's what Jesus did with us. Let's pray..."

#2 Focus on expressed questions of theodicy:

"I've been thinking alot about superheroes this week. Who are some superheroes from comics or movies? [responses] now, do they really exist? No, they do in our imagination, right? But what about us, is there anyone in our lives who is like a superhero? [responses] When I was your age, I thought my [dad, mom, grandma, teacher] was a superhero. S/he could do anything, if there was a cup on the top cupboard s/he could get it, if there was a car, s/he could drive it. Now, are those superhero superpowers? No, pretty silly huh?  I think there's a reason why we pray to Father God, Mother God, Parent God and not SuperGod or BatGod...because God is more like a loving parent than a superhero. Superheroes stop bad things from happening, right? What bad thing happened this week in a country on another continent? Yes, Haiti earthquake. If we believed in SuperGod, SuperGod could have stopped it with x-ray vision or superspideystrength, right? But we believe God is more like a parent, and what do parents do? When I cut my knee riding a bike, what did my [parent/whoever] do? They held me and bandaged my booboo. I think God is like a parent right now holding every person in Haiti, every person here with family in Haiti, and all of us who are scared right now God is holding us and here with us. Does that feel good to you to know God is holding us right now? Maybe squeeze yourself really really tight? [squeeze!] God is even closer than that squeeze and God will never leave you alone. Let's pray..."

 For other great Children's sermons and resources, I would suggest another friend's website "A Heart after Children."



When the Church is the Borg: Assimilate + Dominate

I'm really not interested in partisan political discussion, but blogger Andrew Sullivan has an observation that I want to post here for discussion on its parallels in the church.  He writes about former Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin joining Fox News:
In my view, we're seeing the fusion of a political party with a media company. It's like a state-run TV that only runs pro-GOP stories. Think of the TV in Iran and you'll get the fuller picture.

And by sealing off Fox viewers from any other news source, and feeding propaganda 24 hours a day, and having a monopoly of the base, FNC is more powerful than the RNC in determining Republican politics.
Andrew Sullivan, The FNC-RNC Merger

In Sullivan's view, the Fox News' approach of assimilate and dominate is unhealthy to the elected leadership of an ideology in that it replaces the elected leadership of the RNC with Fox News corporate-chosen agenda.  Regardless of whether the results are as Sullivan outlines, the approach of Fox News seems to be this embrace of the echo-chamber:
  1. Rail against the "liberal media" so that you only watch the one network (theirs) 
  2. Promote a one-sided viewpoint that may fudge the lines of fact
  3. Recruit and exhibit a monopoly of voices in their ideology.
It strikes me that I've seen this approach in churches as well.
  1. Rail against other churches and/or ideologies in the town/area so that parishioners treat their statements or actions with suspicion.
  2. Promote perceptions and beliefs that are counter to the facts but helpful to the pastoral/leaders' message
  3. Allow in only voices that complement the pastors' or leaderships' messages
I think this is a natural tendency to exclude, assimilate, and dominate a particular area of is certainly the most effective!  But in doing so we are not critiquing the most dangerous aspect: the echo-chamber that reduces Christian compassion and stunts Christian expression!  Indeed the churches that most often use these tactics are ones that spawn replicas of themselves rather than partner with local expressions of their faith, which further extends the echo-chamber to new areas.

I admit that I don't invite in Beth Moore bible studies or Pat Robertson content into my parish.  But I do engage their sentiments and theologies in sermons and interactive bible studies.  I get uneasy when the choir sings songs that promote pre-dispensationalism or when the lector prays to "Father God" but I don't dictate that such things are anathema or seek to insulate people from those ideologies.

Engagement with dissonance is preferable to insulation.  The worst thing you can do for a growing child is put them in a medically-pure bubble where they do not build up immunity to disease.  I fear such chambers that we create in our churches are free of dissonance and full of self-fulfilling statements that are harmful to Christian witness and personal growth.  If you build your whole life around freedom from dissonance or challenge, then how can Christ (who challenges and offers dissonance) be made real?

This is a problem, from my perspective.  I just don't know what to do about it.  Thoughts?


Don't Vote for Casket [consumerism+church]

Sigh.  It's a shame when a church uses their resources to promote (a) consumerism and (b) try to win money from corporations.  But the worst part?  It's actually really funny.

Doritos has a competition to see who can shoot the best video and have it be aired in the Super Bowl.  Among the top six (out of 4,000 entries) is this one entitled "Casket" (h/t The Christian Post)

Hilarious, right?  The thing was made by a churchA mega-church called Mosaic, to be exact, with Wal-mart church campuses in several cities.  So they have the resources and probably some people with tech expertise to enter this type of competition.  All well and good.

But I can't help but look at what it includes:

  • Gluttony to the point of swimming in it.
  • Desperate actions to get the "reward": a week off work
  • Deception and deceit to get the "reward"
  • Using the epitaph "It's a miracle" at the end in a disingenuous way
  • Promoting Consumerism to buy more fatty foods
I'm all about Christ of culture, but depicting a worship service that doesn't critique culture but instead celebrates its negative aspects (see above) isn't a good thing.

Again, the worst thing is that it is (a) hilarious (b) well-made and (c) might just get the top due to Christian support.  And then what does that say about our church?

I can't help but wonder the same thing that some free-thinking websites wonder: if this was made by an atheist and not a church, wouldn't we call it sacrilegious?  And if so, why don't we because of its source?

So, I'm not gonna vote for Casket. It's funny, the money could be used for good things, but like the guy in the casket in the video, the ends do not justify the means. And by not critiquing consumerism and obesity and deceptive tactics, indeed, celebrating those things, its success would do more than $1m worth of damage IMO.

Again, it was hilarious.  And in that hilarity I worry for what its success means.



Jesus and the Nazi [art.hack]

An art.hack is the use of an artistic medium to show an alternative or contemporary understanding of the Christian message, often using dissonance.  Click here for a list of art.hacks.

Blogger and Pastor Eugene Cho posted the picture up for discussion on his blog here.

Thoughts?  What is evoked in you from this image?

::edit::  a commenter found the original work by Michael Belk, so here's the original


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