Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

Job 1:21

July 26, 2022

Though I don’t condone theft of any kind, it’s hard to feel sorry for this guy.

When the Law Isn’t the Law

July 15, 2022

A few choice articles this morning when my brain is still fuzzy, highlighting the dilemma we create for ourselves when the law ceases to be the law. When the rules – even the ones we create for ourselves – are ignored in favor of other factors, chaos ensues. The alleged search for a better law, an amorphous law of equality or love or fairness or whatever term is seen as useful at the moment, a law that transcends the laws we actually *do* have in the end is never helpful. Only if the law can be redefined, recast, recodified into something that is actually better than what we’re trying to skirt around for various reasons can there be any hope of avoiding current and future chaos.

Of course, changing the law is complicated and difficult and time-consuming and expensive and all manner of other things. Oftentimes, there is no better consensus on what a new law should look like than there is on whether we ought to just follow the existing law. Public opinion can be vastly misrepresented by a remarkably small but vocal minority with the ear of the media and policy makers (or policy enforcers). And of course, some laws can’t simply be changed – and shouldn’t be. But more on that later.

The first example is this one, regarding legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. I’m no athlete and no historian of athletes but even I know the name, even if I didn’t know any other specifics. The upshot of the story is that Thorpe was stripped of his 1912 Olympic gold medals because he wasn’t technically an amateur – he had played for pay several years before the Olympics, which disqualified him from playing and therefore from winning. Based on the story, it appears that people were upset about this not because of the rules themselves, or whether or not Thorpe actually had violated them, but because he was a world-class athlete of great and deserved renown, and because he happened to be Native American.

I’m going based on what the story linked to above says. If the story is wrong then my facts are wrong and I apologize.

There wasn’t any indication that the rules have been changed (although with the US sending an Olympic basketball team comprised of professional NBA stars in the past, maybe it has?). There wasn’t even a complaint, per se, about the rules indicated. There was only the complaint that the rules were applied to Thorpe. I get the impression from the article that the rules are partially seen as ridiculous because of the small amount of money involved (although I presume it was a more reasonable wage in 1910 and we shouldn’t let our 2022 gauges skew things). And clearly there are other folks upset because they see a racial implication. But no indication is given in the article as to whether the rules have been unfairly applied to Thorpe, whether other minority athletes have been treated similarly, etc. The story states the decision to strip Thorpe of his medals was controversial but doesn’t indicate who else felt the decision was unfair, or why, other than Native American advocates.

Why does the IOC consider this an “exceptional and unique situation”? No clue from the article. So what I’m left with is because people complained on the basis of his ethnicity, the IOC bent the rules. Once in 1982, and now fully 40 years later because current sensibilities say it’s the right thing to do.

Were the rules broken or not? What does this decision mean moving forward? What other people who were disqualified for breaking a rule or not meeting other criteria will feel emboldened to complain and lobby that if Thorpe is permitted this violation, they should be as well? Does ethnicity override other rules, and if so, how and when and to what extent? My questions would remain the same regardless of the date or whether ethnicity was a factor or not (these days it always is though, so…). And if ethnicity is the driving issue here, what does this decision teach people? That rules don’t apply as much as your ethnicity? Who defines ethnicity? Who determines whether someone is actually a minority or not, and based on what factors? What does this mean to those who aren’t minorities – by their or anyone else’s standards?

Again, I have nothing against Thorpe. He sounds like an amazing and gifted man and he, his family, and his people ought to be proud of that. All people ought to recognize and respect that. Such is sports and sportsmanship at it’s finest – based solely on ability and not on other issues. Decisions like this one ultimately undermine that level playing field. It fosters the creation of a subset of unwritten (at least as of yet) rules because the existing rules are deemed inadequate in some way.

The solution to this is to change or update the rules. Otherwise the rules eventually cease to be rules at all because they can be circumvented based on an ill-defined and always evolving and changing set of unspoken criteria.

Second example is the ever-evolving poster-child case for legalized, universal, on-demand, no-holds-barred abortion to not simply be allowed (as Roe v. Wade permitted) but codified national law and policy (as Roe v. Wade never was). President Biden (self-proclaimed faithful Roman Catholic despite his intense advocacy for legalizing abortion) trotted out the terrible situation of a 10-year old girl who had to travel across state lines to obtain an abortion after she was raped. Turns out the situation is a whole lot more complicated and even potentially more tragic than originally described, though not of course for the reasons Biden promoted.

The girl’s (alleged but unconfirmed) mother is claiming the girl is “fine” and that somehow the accused is not at fault, though why that is the case is not made clear in the article which instead bends over backwards to defend abortion providers.

First off, if a girl is pregnant and receiving an abortion at the age of 10 she is NOT fine. Period.

The mother is defending a person who admitted to raping the girl twice. Why is she defending him? Why is she quick to insist she is not the one who pressed charges? Is this not the right person? Then why did he confess? I’m sure all of these questions are bound up in the fact the accused’s address is listed as the same address as the mother and daughter.

Although some outlets are reporting the perpetrator is in the country illegally the Post story above and other outlets make no mention of the man’s citizenship status, and formal charges are related only to the alleged and confessed rape. Although citizenship status doesn’t alter the horrific nature of the crime, if we’re intent on knowing all the details about an alleged criminal this seems like a fairly major one to omit.

The person who conducted the abortion also happened to be the person who brought the case to media attention. Ironic, considering she appears to have made a rather major mistake in her report, indicating the perpetrator’s age was 17 rather than 27. In typical current fashion, when caught in an error, go on the offensive. Her lawyer is hinting at potential lawsuits against prominent officials based on the age discrepancy involved. Granted, the doctor could have been lied to. Full disclosure of her report has not apparently been made yet (though why I’m not sure. Why leak part of it but not all of it?).

In the middle of all this grandstanding remains a 10-year old girl who has suffered some horrible things. That ought to be the primary discussion point and focus.

Instead, it’s a matter of law. But it’s a matter of which laws we want to emphasize and which we don’t. Do we want to push for laws permitting abortion and ignore laws which deny it? Do we want to focus on laws about immigration or push those to the side? And deeper still, do we still wish to ignore laws regarding marriage and the nature of adult relationships, preferring to rely on copy-cat partnership laws or, worse yet, ignore all of that completely and pretend people can safely and morally cohabitate as though they were married and committed for life even though they may have no such intentions?

All very important discussions to be sure, but secondary to the trauma this girl is dealing with. What sorts of resources are being provided to her to deal with it, and by whom? Who is her community, as opposed to those who simply want to exploit her for their own benefit, furthering the damage already done by her rapist? Which laws are we going to enforce or ignore?

All of this has to do with human law. Human law that is obviously imperfect, though supporters of this law or that law will argue their position is infallible. But the very existence of opposition – fallible opposition – implies our positions may be incorrect in full or in part. We can’t even follow our own laws or agree that they’re correct.

No wonder people are scrambling to run away from the reality of a law we didn’t create and can’t change. A law woven into the natural order and human nature. A law that serves as a guide for our best behavior, that restrains our worst impulses, and ultimately demonstrates our fallibility and guilt. No wonder we strive so hard to ignore any such reality and instead pretend we can simply dictate morality by creating or abolishing our own laws. We are creatures of law and we crave the chains which imprison us, believing in our burden that we are at least better than the people around us. That our chains are less deserved than the chains of others, and in this we imagine a kind of freedom.

God tells us otherwise. We can’t ignore his Law but at our own peril, a peril very much on display in huge ways as our country convulses with the consequences of indoctrinating generations of people with the idea that there is no ultimate accountability but therefore no purpose, no meaning to our own lives or the lives of others. That we are essentially accidental cosmic burps so whether we commit atrocities or acts of mercy makes no meaningful difference. People wonder why shootings are happening so often and they blame guns, but guns have been around for a long time, and part of our national identity (for better or worse) since the beginning. Yet their use to slaughter neighbors and children and loved ones is skyrocketing. Take away meaning, purpose, any sort of objective moral code and you set people free for many awful things. And while some would argue this is a false control placed on us by a contrived set of beliefs resting on an illusory divinity, our reality shows we have no ability to create any sort of meaningful laws on our own. All we can do is mirror – closely or poorly – the Law of our Creator. Results will vary in direct proportion to how far we diverge from his revealed order.

When we are unable and unwilling to follow even the laws we create, how much worse will things be when we refuse to acknowledge the divine Law in which we live and breathe? We have only two options provided to us by the Creator and the embodiment of that Law. One is that we can rage against it, continue to be crushed by it, and die without hope in it. Or, we can recognize our guilt, seek mercy from God, and find – miraculously – that mercy has already been extended freely through his Son, Jesus the Christ, who fulfilled the requirements of the Law and then offered his own wrongful conviction and execution to pardon us.

When we find the latter, we begin to recognize that God’s law while not always what we’d like in any given moment is always best in that moment and in all the moments before and after. In that law we find true equality based on our created nature rather than our accomplishments or genetic blessings. In that law we continue to be guided, though through faith in Jesus Christ we no longer face the eternal consequences when we violate that law. We are freed to live our lives in that law not in fear but in joy and relief.

Or we can keep trying to redefine it and replace it. And the results will continue to be as abysmal as they are right now. Repentance is always possible but I believe gets more difficult the longer we remain in our rebellion. I pray that people’s hope and purpose and joy comes to lie not in what they’ve done or whether what they’ve done has been properly honored. I hope their hope and purpose and joy comes from knowing who created them and everyone around them, and who loves them unendingly and unceasingly and demonstrates this in his gift of a Law that cannot be changed or ignored, a call to obey that Law, and the promise that because of Jesus, our performance of that law will not be the basis of our eternal condition.

There is a law, greater and deeper and more eternal than the transitory laws of any human society. At best, human laws should model and support this deeper divine law. At worst, they contradict it directly and in so doing reap the obvious consequences, just as pretending fire wasn’t hot or oxygen isn’t necessary for breathing would lead to very dire consequences. Continue to pray that our nation – and all nations – recognize this deeper law and seek to protect it. And continue to pray that we as a community and nation would argue not about whether we should enforce or ignore a given law, but continue to require our lawmakers and representatives to wrestle with these difficult matters on our behalf. If a law needs to be modified, then do so. If a law needs to be repealed, do so. But always with an eye towards how well (though imperfectly) any such changes match the deeper law of our Creator.

When You Have a Lord

May 21, 2022

So, just to clarify – Christians (including Roman Catholics) profess a personal faith in not simply an impersonal deity but rather a very personal God. This God is accorded their faith and obedience not simply by dint of His existence as their Creator, but also because of His far more personal interaction as their Savior. Specifically, this Triune God entered into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth specifically to offer his life and death up in exchange for ours, freeing us from the prison of sin we would otherwise be lost in eternally.

This is standard Christian stuff, hardly some sort of fringe or esoteric assertion. All Christians believe this. Their Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ commands their ultimate allegiance. In any situation where their own personal preferences or desires run contrary to his, they are to die to self, to set aside what they want in order to try and be obedient to what they are commanded by God in His revealed and inspired Word, the Bible. In some cases this may be a singular event of obedience contrary to their impulse – the resistance of temptation in a given moment. For others it may be a daily sacrifice of their desires and impulses to be obedient to their Lord.

Finally the Catholic Church is deciding to remind it’s flock of this, in a very high-profile situation. Arguably one of the most powerful women in American politics is Senator Nancy Pelosi from California. She is also one of the most unabashedly in favor of abortion on demand. She also claims to be a faithful Roman Catholic.

As further clarification, the Roman Catholic Church – along with 2000 years of Christian history around the world – rejects abortion as the immoral and unlawful murder of an unborn child. It isn’t just a small issue of esoteric doctrine, it is central to the Christian faith. Despite the efforts of many Christians in the West in the last 100 years to justify allowing it unilaterally.

Now the Archbishop who oversees the See of which Pelosi is a communicant member has issued this decree – Pelosi is not to seek to receive, or be given if she does so seek – Holy Communion until such time as she repents of her sin (public, repeated behavior against Church doctrine and Biblical teaching). Holy Communion is one of the most sacred rites of the Christian church, traced back to Jesus’ commands the night before his execution. While differences of opinion (unfortunately) abound regarding the nature of this sacrament and what happens in it and how and why, most every Christian group acknowledges that whether weekly or quarterly or annually, Christians ought to partake of it. It does not in and of itself provide salvation, but it is as I like to call it, the taste of forgiveness, the tangible, physical reminder of the greatest blessing we receive in Jesus Christ.

This is a big deal.

Firstly, it is not intended simply as a punishment. It is intended as a the gravest warning the Church can give to a member that said member’s public behavior and attitudes place them in mortal peril, place them at risk of being outside the kingdom of God and facing eternal separation from God by their choice to directly ignore His Word.

This is not political. Such a stance should have been drawn hard in the sand decades ago. Had it been, perhaps we wouldn’t be over 60 million dead children in the US because of Roe v. Wade. Perhaps it would have been a shocking call to jar the consciences of those who profess to know best what is right and wrong. It will be panned in the press as a political move, but ultimately it is a singularly personal call to the individual Nancy Pelosi to recognize she is wrong and to repent of her sins and be restored to the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.

Interestingly – tragically – in this. Pelosi has apparently refused to respond to the Archbishop’s requests to speak with her personally and privately on this matter. Now, we all may have differences of opinion on ecclesiology and church infra-structure, but that’s all quite secondary. Pelosi identifies herself as a Roman Catholic, which means she also, in addition to having a Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, also has a series of offices and individuals tasked with guiding her in this earthly life in accordance with the Word of God, and thereby hopefully helping her avoid the dangerous sort of sin that could lead her to reject the grace of God in Jesus Christ for her own personal – and erroneous – ideas. Ideas like life is subject to government regulation of any kind, and that a person is defined by the number of cells they possess rather than their inherent identity as a unique creation of a loving God.

I applaud Archbishop Cordileone for this difficult step. It’s a step no spiritual overseer ever wants to have to make, because it means all other efforts to call someone to repentance have failed and they must be treated as an unbeliever in the hopes they will return to obedience to their God and Savior (1 Corinthians 5, etc.). A pastor or bishop or archbishop or pope never takes delight in doing this sort of thing. But there is a lot at stake for Nancy Pelosi eternally, and for the many people who look to her as a guide on morality. I pray she heeds the call to repentance. It won’t be easy. But now she should clearly understand what is at risk – eternity itself.

Because there can only be one Lord. And while Pelosi is free to serve her country, she does so guided by the Word of God, and is not free to act or speak against it except at the peril of her own soul, and the souls of those who look to her for guidance. What a beautiful example of humility and obedience and repentance she could be! We should all be praying for that.

Church Authority

May 10, 2022

An interesting – if too vague – article on the necessity of Church authority. By this, the author basically means every professing Christian ought to submit themselves to the authority of a church body – a local Christian congregation. Church membership as a whole continues to decline in the Western world, even as reported rates of theism in America remain very strong. Clearly there seems to be a trend where people believe they can believe in Jesus without being part of a Church. This article – rightly – questions this assertion and boldly questions such rationale.

I like his terminology – theological anarchist – for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ but refuse to submit to the authority of the Church. The typical rationale – the risk of abuse of power within the Church – is not a valid rationale as the author rightly points out. Jesus established the Church not to be perfect but to be the place in this world where the faithful can be fed and nourished (albeit imperfectly) towards their eternal place in the perfect creation that is already inbreaking. Sometimes it is not possible to be connected to a community of believers because of intense risk and danger. However it’s interesting that it is in exactly such conditions the Church seems most resolute and permanent. Not as an institution but as the reality of Christians gathering together to sustain their souls by the promises of God conveyed in the reality of brothers and sisters willing to risk this short, frail, mortal coil to affirm the equal reality of what all believers are supposed to be anticipating. Japanese Christians had to hide for a time but did continue to meet. The same happened in China and the USSR and other places where Christianity and the Church were suppressed or outlawed.

What remains as a rationale for avoiding submission to Church authority is something else, something far more personal. The author’s language is very strong here, offensive even. But isn’t the refusal to submit to Church authority equally offensive? Isn’t the assertion that no congregation is good enough for me offensive, even if the person hasn’t thought about it like that before?

I think the article can be a bit misleading in the title. It led me to expect a discussion about the exercising of church discipline and authority over members as opposed to the need and mandate for submission to Church authority vis a vis membership or attendance or however you want to name serious commitment. Committing to a community of faith is often, tragically, only a commitment of convenience, lasting only as long as the individual happens to agree with what is said and done and asked of them, and terminated when it suits their personal preferences as opposed to for reasons of heresy or theological error.

Of course this is a dominant problem in America and the West where individualism is reaching absurdist heights, and the Church is not exempt from these problems. Good but competing models such as democracy are often absorbed into congregational polity. Sometimes they can be good. Sometimes they can be harmful. But most dangerous is when they are confused with the Church, with the Gospel, with God’s will and work in our lives and world which is only and ever in Christ and not in the well-intentioned creations of any other person or group.

The Church is not -as some insist – part of such a subset of human-created ideas and institutions. The Church is Christ’s command and creation (Matthew 16:18). It is not perfect, but it will be, just as every individual who is part of it is not perfect but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ one day will be. As surely as I am not perfect, no congregation is perfect. That does not excuse me from the necessity of being part of one. To profess an invisible Lord while refusing to submit to that Lord’s visible, though imperfect Church is problematic in the extreme.

As a note, the questions and answers with Biblical citations at the end are from the Westminster Larger Catechism, crafted for use by the Church of Scotland in 1647 and followed by many Presbyterian church bodies. I don’t agree with all of the statements printed at the end of this article (I’m not Presbyterian!), but the author feels they help support some of his assertions.

Hospitality, Meals & Scripture

May 9, 2022

I’ve had a long interest in the intersection of hospitality, meals and Scripture. The Bible frequently uses the language of food and feeding to teach spiritual truths, and hospitality is not only repeatedly described throughout the Bible (Genesis 18, as just a single example), it is also prescribed (Hebrews 13:2 as just a single example and related most likely to Genesis 18).

I finally verified something I suspected for years – I have access to a theological database called Atla (originally short for American Theological Libraray Association). So now I can start to research what others have said on this topic as I continue to draw my own conclusions from the Word.

The first article I read can’t be accessed without paying for it (unless you also have access to Atla). It’s by a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina by the name of David W. Priddy. The essay is entitled Eating with penitence: An essay on the local church eating responsibly (sic) and it was published in the Review & Expositor, a quarterly Baptist theological journal.

Priddy’s thesis deals with what the local church can do towards food reform and agricultural renewal. He posits three key issues. Firstly, a high regard for Word and Sacrament; secondly, examining the role of meals in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and specifically in association with themes of judgement and a call to humility; and thirdly, the importance of continued remorse over sin (penitence).

Although at times abstruse, Priddy does a good job outlining these key issues, and I concur with most of the ideas he presents. Although we come from different denominational backgrounds I suspect we’d have a lot in common theologically, at least on this particular topic.

The only difficulty I had with the essay was his disdain for the history of some property owned by his congregation. His difficulty reflects modern notions of contemporary remorse (penitence) as well as potentially the appropriateness of some sort of compensation for past injustices (penance) although he stops short of such an assertion here. He relates how a 200-acre plot of land and large home was donated to his congregation well over 100 years ago (perhaps as long as 170 years ago). The problem isn’t the property per se, though Priddy has ideas about how it could be better put to use in food reform and agricultural renewal. The problem is the man who donated it to the church owned at least ten slaves and apparently sired children through at least one of them (and it’s implied that it was far more). The congregation’s fellowship hall is named after this man, something Priddy clearly finds offensive and problematic.

However in the little he says in the essay, it’s hard to know whether Priddy has investigated the donor’s penitence. The life of faith is indeed a constant one of confession and absolution, of contrition as well as accepting the gracious forgiveness of God, something Priddy highlights admirably in his brief discussion of historic liturgical formulations. Yet the presumed damning evidence of the congregation’s benefactor all those years ago leaves little room in Priddy’s words or spirit for the idea of forgiveness either sought or granted, the idea that the offending donor might have in fact been penitent, which may have spurred his donation of land to the church as an act of penance.

Priddy speaks a lot about penitence but very little about absolution and this is most clear in this real-world application. The Church must speak this loudly in the face of rising intolerance in cancel-culture. The irony is that culture has discarded Church, the Bible and God, and with it the only worldly assurance – and demand – for forgiveness and absolution. In lieu of this we are now daily on trial by a culture that rapidly evolves in it’s ideas about what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and that views any past sins of either omission or commission as equally damnable and irredeemable. The psalmist might these days say If you, O Culture, should mark iniquities, O Culture, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3, modified). The answer is no one, and unfortunately Priddy conveys a similar unwillingness to accept the possibility of penitence or penance if the sin is great enough, and therefore denies effectively the possibility of forgiveness and grace – certainly in this world and if so, then perhaps in the creation to come.

Pastors and congregations do have an opportunity to encourage members to reflect more on the choices they make as consumers (in this case, specifically as consumers of food products). While I don’t have the basis Priddy apparently does to label the entire food industry as essentially evil, I recognize wholeheartedly there are some major problems that affect land and health. Congregations have the opportunity to read Scripture with an ear towards how these topics are discussed, avoiding the temptation to simply apply Biblically-specific verses and situations to modern-day issues, yet recognizing the Church is continually called to contrition and penitence as well as to joyfully proclaiming the forgiveness won for us in Christ. Failure to do either inevitably leads to darkness.

I’m excited by the prospect of continued research and academic engagement, and grateful my seminary provides this benefit to alum, particularly now that my work has taken me to places where obtaining physical books (including my own professional library in boxes in storage) is either impossible or unreasonably expensive!

Catching Up, Philosophically

May 1, 2022

Now that I have reliable Internet for the first time in almost three months, I want to catch up on a backlog of bookmarked articles to share or comment on.

First up (literally) is this article explaining the prevalence of scientism in the West, and noting the fundamental philosophical flaws that render it’s confidence problematic at best, dangerous at worst. If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us as Westerners raised in the 21st century suffer from this to some extent. Living in another part of the world for a while, I begin to realize the extent goes a lot deeper than I’d like to think. The author’s distinction of scientism zealots vs. agnostics is helpful in this regard.

Realizing that even in Christian communities there are a lot of folks who are effectively scientism agnostics even though they profess Jesus as Lord and Savior is complicated, to say the least. Examining our own ideas about things is a good place to start, both towards humble reconciliation with what we claim is Truth, as well as loving care and outreach to others struggling with these two irreconcilable ideas of truth.

Well You Can Just Rock Me to Sleep Tonight

March 4, 2022

And in case you’d like to stay awake a little longer tonight silently contemplating things you never thought about before as well, here’s this little article on whether or not Superman – were he real – should be baptized.

As the article indicates, the main factors the author uses to consider this are based in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, some 900 years later arguably still the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest theologian. I appreciate the attempt to provide a consistent, coherent answer to the question while addressing some very legitimate questions. The author isn’t the first to ponder this possibility, as I’ve noted before. I’d prefer to lose sleep if/when we actually discover alien life to which we might apply such questions as this (as opposed to microbes or other forms of life we deem baptism inappropriate for). But it’s nice to be reminded others are being more proactive in their theology.

Speaking Clearly

January 27, 2022

Though not Roman Catholic myself, I found this resource provided by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be well-written. It speaks as to Church teaching and policy on issues of gender and sexuality at a time when certain cultural minorities are seeking to redefine these concepts and demand universal acceptance of these redefinitions across all of society.

I appreciate the even tone that does not condescend or insult. It speaks clearly and with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and two millennia of doctrinal development based on the revealed Word of God in Scripture. It makes no apologies for this Word or the resulting doctrines and practices, while still seeking to be considerate of those who may be confused in their personal experience of their gender and sexual identities. It speaks positively about what the Church does and has taught on these subjects rather than reactively against a particular situation or incident. In doing so it proposes to provide guidance going forward that must be of great help to various Catholic institutions grappling with these issues.

Where Is the Spotlight?

December 14, 2021

I was sitting around the other night with a group of folks, all church-going Christians. All Lutherans, even. And they started telling a story. This story involved an associate pastor at their church – a very large, successful church by contemporary church standards. This associate pastor was a gifted preacher and teacher and also had a gift for working with young people. During his time with the congregation, focused on outreach to youth, large numbers of youth were attending the various programs offered by the church. Some of them were bringing family members as well. All seemed good and wonderful.

Then this pastor took a Call (a job offer of sorts, in our vernacular) to another congregation in another state. While it wasn’t stated explicitly, the implied result is that the youth attendance dropped dramatically. And now the congregation was in the position of determining what sort of person they ought to Call as their next associate pastor. And the consensus of the folks gathered there was that they needed someone very charismatic who could once again be a draw to youth.

Not an atypical story by any means. I’ve heard variations on this story in recent years. A beloved pastor retires and through careful planning and a five-year transition plan, leaves the congregation in the hands of a known and vetted pastor. And yet within a short span of time the congregation begins to shrivel and die. Vibrancy disappears. The new pastor isn’t this or that. The new pastor doesn’t have the same gifts as the older, retired, beloved pastor.

These aren’t congregations that I would imagine to be flimsy in any sense of the word. I know some of these pastors personally. I know their depth of character, their lives of faith, their excellent knowledge of the Word of God and their understanding of what the Church is as the Body of Christ. Yet somehow, when they retire – sometimes after decades of service to that congregation – the congregation begins within just a short time to shrink and shrivel.

What is the Church? What does it mean to be part of the Church and more specifically part of a congregation, one small piece of the Body of Christ? What does that entail? Where is the spotlight? I ask that question not as a condemnation of these retired pastors, as though they intentionally sought to be the center of the life of the Church. They weren’t and aren’t. They worked hard to emphasize discipleship and to instill in people an understanding of what the Church is, an understanding that goes back to 1 Corinthians and St. Paul. An understanding that the particular pastor is not what matters. What matters is Christ. The spotlight needs to be on Jesus, not on St. Paul or this pastor or that pastor. And what is apparently happening these days is that despite pastors who recognize this and try to practice this, at the end of the day (or their service), it turns out that for their parishioners, the spotlight really was on them as the pastor. Somehow what they sought to teach and instill in their parishioners never really took hold. Or, as the parable of the sower, took hold in a rather superficial way that only lasted until the pastor retired and people were disenchanted with the replacement.

Something is missing. Something is not getting communicated. Or more accurately, something is not taking hold. As a result, the Church has a tendency to utilize worldly wisdom to determine what sort of pastor they need to have in order to remain healthy and vibrant. And yet the irony (at least in my denomination), is that the health of the Church and congregation ought to be maintained even when the pastor is less than capable. Martin Luther designed an entire teaching curriculum to assist fathers and parents to teach their children the essence of the Christian faith in case they weren’t getting it on Sunday mornings, and in the understanding that even if they were getting good preaching and teaching Sunday morning, Sunday morning wasn’t enough given the plethora of other voices and ideas encountered or dominating their lives the other six and a half days a week.

Christ is what matters. And a healthy congregation needs to recognize that the pastor’s sermon and Bible study on Sunday morning cannot bear the weight of the faith, or even the weight of holding a congregation together. The Church is where the Word and Sacraments of God are rightly received, but that narrow definition is inadequate and always has been. The closing verses of both Acts 2 and Acts 4 make it clear that the Church was more than just a once a week gathering, and that the emphasis was on Jesus and his teachings rather than the particular rhetorical or empathic gifts of the teachers.

Somehow this needs to be communicated once again, so that Christians might draw strength and nourishment from their communion with one another, focused on Christ. Not to the detriment or diminishment of corporate worship or the Office of Holy Ministry or the Sacraments. But that these things might be more rightly revered and cherished. Somehow our programs are missing this, and pastors retiring from successful decades of service are forced to watch (or hear about) how their former parish is withering away.

Thoughts?

Book Review (Partial) – Healthy, Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry

November 1, 2021

Healthy Resilient & Effective in Cross Cultural Ministry by Laura Mae Gardner, D.Min

I call this a partial review for two reasons. The first is the copy I was gifted from long-term overseas Bible translators is a pre-release copy that only has the first eight chapters – roughly the first half of the book. Secondly, I only really skimmed it as it’s designed for sending agencies and those who oversee overseas workers.

From that perspective it’s an amazing book, even in the unfinished form. I have no doubt that folks in our own Office of International Mission have read this or other resources like it, as I recognize some of the recommendations from the book in how OIM is structured and the interactions I’ve already had with them. A fantastic resource (and the link above is to the finished Kindle version of the book – a print version of the finished book is here) for those entrusted with the recruitment, evaluation, deployment, management and ongoing care of overseas workers!