If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

top posts and sermons of 2013

Often bloggers will end the year with a review of "top posts." I'd like to do this for my blog and for my preaching. I am listing the "top posts" by the view count stat, accounting for the date posted (and how long each has been "up"). Feel free to read, share, or comment!

Top Blog Posts

Most Accessed Sermons
2013 Sermon Series
What stands out in my mind are several series I really enjoyed and learned from myself. I've linked the indexes below.
  • Jonah Series - Jonah was pretty much a wretched guy; we get a good, long look at the extent of God's love for the world
  • Lazarus Series - we spent a number of weeks slowly working through the Lazarus story and the significance of resurrection for us in daily life
  • Summer "Soak in the Word" Series - all summer we looked at well-known verses and studied them in context; we not only learned a lot about those individual and diverse texts, but also about how to read and study the Bible
  • Baptism Series - we spent six weeks (!) on baptism; highly recommended if you want to better understand this important sacrament of the church


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

on selfie's and other online behavior

Over on his blog, my friend, Nate Stratman, wrote a thoughtful piece called "Exegeting the Selfie" about the phenomenon of "selfie's," particularly among teenagers.  I'll send you there for that, but as we went back and forth a bit in the comments, I added these thoughts out of my own reflection:

As I think about WE adults and our closed Facebook Groups and customized Google searches and friends lists and ways of posting and relating online, I’ve got to think: “And we are different (than our kids)…. how?”

Our politics and discourse and information sources and online activity is collectively (and to be sure there are exceptions)… one collective grown-up selfie.

What will we do about that?

My best effort has been not to remove myself from the place where all this is going on, but to try to figure out ways to be an “authentic self” online, in groups, in seeking information, in holding discourse, in posting pictures and thoughts, in sharing…. and, back to your original topic, in how I relate in front of and with my daughters. Not perfect by a long-shot, but that’s the best I’ve come up with.
I'd be interested in hearing any thoughts YOU might have - either here or over at Nate's.

Friday, December 13, 2013

what is christian music?

Wow... quite the break from blogging that was... :)   I guess I've been too busy with THIS exciting personal development!

Anyway, I saw this post on the band Switchfoot last week and entered into a comment fray.  It's an interesting post on a topic many evangelical Christians have strong opinions on. I think the "lighthouse/searchlight" filter from the past 7-8 years has really re-framed how I see the Christian sub-culture, leading me to really appreciate Foreman's perspective (and his graciousness towards those who choose a different path).

Here's a link to the blog post (original longer article HERE) and some excerpts from the comments of lead singer, Jon Foreman. Asked if Switchfoot is a "Christian band," lead singer, Jon Foreman, responded:

"To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple [Switchfoot] tunes... There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds... None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music... My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that."
What I like is that the guy from Switchfoot does not seem to be operating out of a Christian sub-culture that American Christianity (especially evangelical) seems prone to. (I also mentioned appreciating him not taking potshots at that sub-culture, which is very in vogue to do in some circles.)

More constructively, as art or life is concerned, I think it should all be one piece. And if we can set aside the errors of the bubble (sub-culture) or syncretism (over-identifying with the culture), there is still a wide range left for those who would live in the world, but not be of it. Whether art or music or speech or works, some people are explicit about their faith and some more indirect. Both categories can be done effectively and well and both can be done offensively and ineffectively.

I don't know enough about Switchfoot to know whether they effectively inhabit the sphere of indirect witness in the world, but I have no problem with where they want to locate themselves. I'm glad there are faith-filled artists who want to inhabit that space, just as I am glad that there are faith-filled artists who want to inhabit the space of more explicit witness.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

something more than training?

So this past Sunday was "Youth Mission Sunday" at our church. We do it every year: the middle and high school youth who participated in summer mission trips share their experiences with the congregation. It is uplifting and encouraging - all these young people doing the Lord's work. :)

In recent years, these short-term mission trips have come under thoughtful critique (see Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts) (or if that didn't get your attention), and we have both appreciated and been responsive to the potential downsides while continuing to see benefit from getting our kids outside their comfort zones and community. While on our high school trip, our youth director had a meaningful heart-to-heart with the director of the mission organization about some of these critiques and we were pleased at his receptivity as an organizer.

This past Sunday I had prepared a sermon on Romans 12:1-2 ("offer yourself as living sacrifices... do not be conformed to the world, but transformed..."). Our congregation is waking up to the fact that church is not something we come to but something we are. We are working to see faith not as something (only) expressed within the church walls on Sunday morning, but lived out in all of life throughout the week. But here was the fresh revelation to me as that topic and text were set in the midst of youth mission Sunday: Neither is the "mission trip" a destination faith event.

As with Sunday morning church, there also are carefully attentive leaders, safe boundaries and borders, planned activities, all stuff that adds up to something more resembling a "training camp" than the actual event.

I was and am careful to note that more than training happens during community worship, but still:

What if our Sunday morning gathering, our summer missions, our camps and retreats could be seen not as destination events, but a training/equipping ground for lived ministry and mission: being the church in the world?
You can read or hear more about that here: "Life as Worship".



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

the world as our campus

I met this afternoon with a friend who is planting a church (with ECO, a new Presbyterian branch). In the course of conversation we talked about the old models of build-it-and-they-will-come church planting that no longer seem to work, and how the only "building" he was looking for was a place to rent a few hours a week for corporate worship. The rest of the time, he hoped to be out gathering where people live, work, exercise, and recreate. The pieces of that conversation caused this thought to come together in my mind...

Campus ministries have this thing figured out already. With the exception (perhaps) of the Baptist Student Association having a 'house' on campus, most of the groups I am familiar with (InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Outreach, RUF, etc...) do NOT. They do rent or reserve a meeting space for an hour or two each week for some kind of large-group gathering (worship, preaching, teaching, etc...), but most of their interaction is on-campus, in the coffee shop, one-on-one, in small groups, or in service opportunities together. Whether there are staff or student leaders, the organization exists "out there" in and among the campus life and activities.

I think the organized/traditional church could learn something valuable from this model. Not that we need to sell all our buildings, but we are so building-focused that even when we do "outreach" it is so often INSIDE our buildings!

What if we (the church... who are the people, not the building) could see the community and world around us as our "campus" - the place where we live and move in faith. It is important to gather as the faith community, but there is too often a disconnect between those gatherings and the rest of life. With the world as our campus, we would have to re-orient our language, our vision, our focus, and our programming. We might just find the church unleashed in a significant way as we are called out into the world God loves.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

summer hiatus (over)

I've been traveling quite a bit this summer, so haven't blogged here since May. I did write a piece for the NEXTchurch folks that went up this morning (so check that out!). It gives a lived-out example of the main topics in this blog, particularly the "What is the Church" series below. And here are some other topics/posts if you are just getting your feet wet with Lighthouse/Searchlight Church:

  • What is the Church? - a series on being the church in the world (unpacks the NEXT post a bit); and check HERE for some specific narratives about how the "Wednesday Night Experiment" worked in our local setting
  • Presbytery Vision - a reflection on how God is moving in my local presbytery (Charlotte)
  • Bluegrass Sunday - a good intersection of contemporary music, worship, and multi-church teamwork; and a video! - yes, it was my Mumford debut. 
And then there is always the welcome/favorites page with some key posts in my favorite topics over the past few years. Hope you'll check things out and stay a while!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

presbytery vision

I have been very involved in the life of my presbytery (the group of Presbyterian churches in an area, united for mission and ministry) the past number of years. We, like so many presbyteries, have struggled to adapt to declining membership and giving and rediscover our primary calling to making disciples of Jesus Christ through the local church.

I've written about this vision, our process of moving toward that vision, and some of our struggle to get there. We have come through much and have entered into a tangibly new and hopeful phase of life and ministry together. This new start was much evidenced at our most recent presbytery meeting on May 21 at Paw Creek. We had all those usual things to do like voting on amendments to our governing documents and dismissing churches to other fellowships, but it all was conducted with grace, truth, gentleness, and love - none of those easy or cheap, but hard-won and deep out of a shared journey of many years.I want to share one glimpse into that day, an indication (to me) of where our eyes and hearts are set, a profound insight into where God is already leading us.

We had a visit from the Rev. Dr. Tom Trinidad, Vice-Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He was invited to give (and gave) a "from where I sit" view of the denomination, including the interesting story of how he came to be a GA commissioner and then Vice-Moderator. And then he opened the floor for Q&A. Tom did a fine job communicating and responded to many of the questions asked (and comments offered), but his part is not my focus; what stood out to me were the nature of the questions asked. In any other year (and most any presbytery), I would have expected questions about church politics, numbers, debates, sides, etc... - people looking to score points or make points, or use the occasion for such things. But I simply want to list the questions asked to the Vice-Moderator, leaving out his responses and noting that those asking were from a wide range of theological viewpoint, church context, race, geography and more. In fact, those asking the questions represented pretty well the scope of the presbytery I described earlier in the links above. Listen to where God has led us to focus:

  1. How will GA (or presbytery) help my congregation grow disciples of Jesus Christ?  I work at a struggling urban church on the verge of life and death and sense such a profound disconnect with what we talk about at presbytery and the General Assembly; I am called to serve a congregation that grows disciples of Jesus Christ... if we don't do it, no one will. I want to speak up for what I think matters most: local congregations.
  2. Does Jesus still save? Why are we losing members?
  3. What about the name of Jesus? College students are going to campus ministries that speak the name of Jesus; will we do that?
  4. What best practices have you seen for "new beginnings" like you've heard described here today?
  5. Do we still believe that Jesus is Savior AND Lord?
  6. Who do we save that Jesus is? Can we call for and commit to seeking spiritual renewal in our midst?
  7. How does the work of General Assembly (esp. resources) translate to the local congregation?
  8. What call options are there for new candidates for ministry? (many are struggling to find full-time calls)
  9. Are we hearing all the questions focusing on Christ and discipleship?
  10. Is Christ not alive among us? We are experiencing a Holy Spirit movement and react as though Christ is dead; we need to stop talking about doing and start doing! 

It sounds to me like the Presbytery of Charlotte has a vision!


Monday, May 13, 2013

bluegrass sunday: confession and assurance

On May 5, my congregation joined two other Presbyterian congregations nearby for "Bluegrass Sunday" - a regular service in terms of liturgy (and the Lord's Supper), but with all the musical portions (and then some) rendered with bluegrass music.  One such element of the service was the typical "Confession of Sin" and "Assurance of God's Grace."  I took two well-known songs - "I Will Wait" by Mumford and Sons and "Home" by Phillip Phillips - and created a "mash-up," joining them together into one song.  The verses of "I Will Wait" fit well as a confession of struggle and needing help; the verses of "Home" offered a wonderful theological counter-point of assurance of God's presence and help.  To make this clearer, we had a spoken confession and assurance before the music, using words and phrases from the songs that matched scripture. Then, when we did the song, we had two different song-leaders to help mark the back and forth of confession and assurance.  

The spoken liturgy comes first below, then a link to a YouTube video of the live song, then the lyrics of the mash-up, as presented.  The combined song was long (approx. 7 min.), but would make a good alternative to some other special music like an anthem. On a serious note, it proved to be very meaningful; on a lighter note, I finally got to try playing, singing, and stomping on a kick drum.  :)  If you would like to try this, please let me know (robert@gspc.net) and I can send a chart!

Leader: Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)
People: We will wait for the Lord!
Leader: You are not alone; God is with you and will lead you home through Jesus Christ, our Lord. (Deut. 31:8; John 14)
People: We are not alone; the Lord will bring us home!


I have yet to figure out how to default to this, but definitely click the settings and watch in HD; it's better!

“I Will Wait” and “Home” - Mumford & Sons and Phillip Phillips

Confession: And I came home like a stone And fell heavy into your arms. These days of dust which we’ve known will blow away with this new sun. And I’ll kneel down, wait for now, and I’ll kneel down, know my ground, And I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Hold on to me as we go. As we roll down this unfamiliar road, and although this wave is stringing us along, just know you’re not alone cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

Confession: So break my step and relent, you forgave and I won’t forget. Know what we’ve seen and him with less now in some way shake the excess. And I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Settle down, it’ll all be clear.  Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

Confession: So I’ll be bold, as well as strong, and use my head along side my heart. So tame my flesh and fix my eyes that tethered mind free from the lies. And I’ll kneel down, wait for now. And I’ll kneel down, know my ground. Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold, and bow my head, keep my heart slow, cause I will wait, I will wait for you.

Assurance: Settle down, it’ll all be clear.  Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down. If you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

----------
Technical Note for the curious

If you start playing around with these two songs you will notice several things: "Home" is in C major, "I Will Wait" is in C# major (first chord A#m), and "I Will Wait" is faster than "Home."  This made creating and learning the mash-up a challenge.  Thanks to some cool technology, I was able to pitch-shift "I Will Wait" down to C major (first chord Am) and split the difference in tempo (speed), slightly slowing down "I Will Wait" and slightly speeding up "Home." Then it was easier to splice the two together and experiment. That also gave us a finished sounding practice track.


Monday, May 06, 2013

jury duty, accountability, and the light

At the age of 45, I've only been called for jury duty three times. The first time (age 26) I was excused for exams in seminary. The second time was in 1999 and though I reported for service, I was not needed and went home after an hour. Then I was called last week. We were told there were only three trials, two shorter civil cases and one criminal case projected to last the week. I was called right off the bat to a pool of 40 for the week-long case. We spent the whole first day in jury selection and as we were closing in on 5pm, with the jury of 12 finally selected, I was called up for consideration as the first alternate juror. After about 10 minutes of questions, the defense passed on me and I went home. Sound boring? Far from it...

Mind you, I only heard the most basic description of the case. But the 5-6 hours of jury selection were one of the more fascinating and revealing things I've witnessed.

The Process

We were randomly selected from voting registrations and driver's license registrations in our large county. If you aren't familiar with how jury selection works, an initial 12 people are put into the box, but then the judge, prosecutor, and defense have opportunities to ask questions and dismiss jurors for a range of reasons (from "cause" - like a mother whose infant had just gone to the hospital - to either the prosecution or defense not thinking a particular juror would be fair to the case). It was not made clear how many people or times the attorneys could pass... but each juror was questioned thoroughly, either as a result of group questions or individual questions.

Humanity on Display

I have what I think is a pretty realistic view of the human condition (i.e., our ability and propensity to sin and otherwise misbehave), but I was surprised that among the original 12 jurors there were at least half with drug charges (including two who had court dates later that week), 2-3 who had been charged or convicted of domestic violence, several others who were victims of domestic violence (in one case a victim of domestic violence had to sit next to a convicted perpetrator of domestic violence). A bit later in selection, one juror asked to be dismissed because he had been convicted of a murder charge, served his time, and been released (which is why he could be called, I think), but strongly believed he had not had a fair trial and could thus not offer an open mind as a juror.  There were others as well - a nurse that was dismissed for (presumably) bringing too much compassion to bear as a juror.  It was an interesting question that elicited most of this: "Have you ever been inside a courthouse? For what reason?" In several cases, the prosecutor (district attorney) asked if his office had not prosecuted several when they mentioned drug charges. Prospective jurors were (of course) expected to answer truthfully, and the early indication I got was that they would be caught if they tried to avoid answering the courthouse question, especially for those with former appearances in this county.

In the Light

However, my point isn't the background or record of the potential jurors, as surprising or abundant as those details were. What more profoundly occurred to me was how much was brought into the light for all those present. I don't think juror ___ woke up that morning anticipating that he would have to announce loudly to a room full of people (including the defendant) that he had been arrested of domestic violence (or, in other cases, drug possession, brawling, or murder). I would have guessed that the defendant would be "on trial" for actions, motives, and more; I did not anticipate how much the potential jurors would have to reveal about themselves, their actions, and their motives. Each juror had to answer the "Have you been inside a courthouse" question and the District Attorney was not satisfied until every occurrence had been noted. Many would quickly admit to a speeding ticket or watching a friend's trial, but then the attorney would always ask, "Were there any other times?" He would continue until the answer was clearly, "No, that's it." In many cases, these admissions were whispered with heads ducked and voices low. But the attorneys and court reporter had to hear it, so the potential juror would be asked to repeat the answer louder. Again, the answer would not be loud enough, so then a microphone would be passed to them and finally this or that 'sin' would boom through the sound system, "I was arrested on a domestic charge.... she pushed my buttons."

Again, my thought was not, "What a bad person," BUT how much was being drug into the light (and amplified through a sound system). And it's not like one could easily side-step this; when summoned, you have to appear. When asked, you have to answer. Refusing in either case would just put you afoul of the law.

Spiritual Realities

My preacher-brain was firing on multiple pistons. The whole experience was a powerful (if stark) demonstration of the unyielding nature of the law. The judge was the sole interpreter of law - both attorneys made that clear on numerous occasions. All movement, speech, activity, attention, and more inside the courtroom was diligently overseen and directed, with the bailiff at hand to enforce it. And when asked a question, truth was expected.


The jurors were not "on trial" - but our pasts, presents, and hidden secrets were brought into the light. And that did have bearing on our perceived (or real) effectiveness as jurors.

I think analogies between this earthly courtroom scene and spiritual realities are imprecise at best, but there was much about the scene that struck this pastor's mind as real and true. All will be brought to light; all will be known and held accountable. The jurors were not on trial, but they were accountable to the judge and to the truth.

I believe all humanity and each of us is and will be accountable to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Serving on jury duty was a sobering reminder of that, even as I was reminded of the great mercy shown to me through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 5, what to be?


Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.
13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 5 -- What is the Church to be?

These reflections on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 have several practical implications for us as we envision what it means to be the Church today. You may have heard it said by now, but it becomes clear that “Church” cannot refer to our buildings and property; it must refer to the communities of people following after Jesus Christ. If such communities have a building or property, those can be tools in the hands of the Church; but those things are not the Church.

So what are the communities of people following Christ as the Church to be?

Here are some beginning implications of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

If we are not to be of the world, then our lives must not be indistinguishable from the culture around us. Whether that’s our personal witness through language, lifestyle, and actions or the way we worship (re-wording the latest pop song as worship music or selling “Holy Grounds” coffee at church come to mind; but there are many more examples).

If we are not to be out of the world, then we must also not retreat completely into a “Christian sub-culture bubble.” Examples of this retreat are more “gray”: some examples may represent retreat; others may actually be intentional engagement with the world! Christian sports leagues, Christian schooling, Christian retail stores, and more can be positive engagements with the world or retreats from it (or both at the same time!). Christians are well-advised to give prayerful thought to the purpose and functions of such endeavors in their own lives. [I realize each of these examples may be controversial; my main point in mentioning them is to invite thoughtful reflection in relation to the subject of these scriptures and posts rather than assert a pro/con position on them.] We must guard against complete withdrawal, whether that withdrawal is geographical and physical (moving to a remote compound somewhere; relatively rare) or psychological and in-place, where a Christian is so “in the bubble” that he or she would be hard-pressed to identify any “non-Christian” to interact with in daily life.

If we are to be in the world, we should be interacting regularly with people not like us! These are people of other faiths or no faith. These are people disconnected from the Gospel or unfamiliar with the Gospel. If a Christian does not know anyone like this, then the scope of being the Church has shrunk too small! This also means that life, witness, actions, and more will not be as clean and tidy as some have come to envision Christianity. Our “hands will get dirty” and our hearts will be broken as we live among the ones Jesus would identify as “our neighbor.” (Re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30ff!)

If we are to be for the world, then this is not just a church committee assignment or periodic outreach; this is a way of life for every Christian and it is a defining characteristic of being the Church! This way of living life in the world and for Christ is to be not just our mission, but our worship and our joy! It is a way of living that the Father intends for us; it is something for which the Son prayed for us; and it is a direction the Holy Spirit is pleased to lead us.

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Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

Monday, April 22, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 4, FOR the world

Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.

13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 4 -- The Church FOR the world

I would add one final observation that doesn’t appear explicitly in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, though it certainly underscores Jesus’ understanding of what it means for his followers to be the faithful people of God.

For many in the Church today, it will be a challenge and stretch to turn back from retreat and engage the world in the manner modeled by Jesus and entreated in his prayers. But it is an insufficient understanding of this purpose and calling if we only do so fearfully and reluctantly. Church-in-the-world is not God’s backup plan or merely obligation for Christ-followers. It is God’s revealed purpose from the beginning.

I frequently remind my congregation (and give thanks!) that when humanity turned from God in the Garden, God did not turn from us, but has continued to pursue us in mercy, grace, and love. This is not to say there were not dire consequences for sin, but to say that God did not abandon us to ourselves. When God cut the covenant with Abraham in Genesis, it was not to set aside a special people to withdraw out of the world into a new Eden, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world (see previous comments on “sanctify”). So also the Church, grafted in as God’s people, have not been set aside to withdraw out of the world, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world and witnessing to God’s glory as manifested in Jesus Christ.

The Church, then, is purposed for more than simply co-existing IN the world; we are purposed FOR the world, to live out love, mercy, and grace in witness to God’s great love, mercy, and grace in Christ. This act of witness is, in fact, an act of worship – at least obedience, but hopefully an act of JOYFUL obedience.

We have often been reminded that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son….” Jesus prays that God will send us as God sent him. This does not mean that God gave the Church to save the world (that’s Jesus’ role!), but it does mean that God purposed the Church FOR the world in love. May we view the world and the people around us as our neighbors, for the sake of Christ and in joyful, worshipful obedience to the One we follow.

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Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 3, INTO the world

Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.

13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 3 -- The Church is sent INTO the world (v. 18)

Jesus continues in prayer, asking the Father to send his followers (that’s us!) INTO the world. And we are not just sent without direction or any-old-way-we-please; we are sent as the Father sent the Son into the world. (v. 18a) And how is that?
The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw God’s glory… (John 1:14)
One of Eugene Peterson’s most memorable translations is of the phrase “dwelt among us”: Jesus “moved into the neighborhood…” THAT is how Jesus prays for the Father to send us into the world… to move into communities and neighborhoods, to flesh out Jesus’ teaching about “Who is my neighbor?”

And lest my personalization of the teaching miss the greater point, let me re-state this: Jesus desire is for His Church to make a home in this world and enflesh the Gospel in witness to God’s glory in Jesus Christ.

It is true that this world is not our home in the eternal sense. But like the Exiles in Jeremiah 29, God has asked us to make a home here for His glory. We are to build and live and plant and eat and marry and multiply (Jeremiah 29:5-6) in this world, because God sends us as living witnesses to His glory even as God sent the Son to dwell among us.

Jesus then returns again to the SANCTIFY language (v. 19). We now see that in the context of neither losing our identity to the world nor separating from the world, that sanctifying is to happen in the world… in the neighborhood. Somehow we are to be “set apart as holy” in the midst of this world that is both our calling and other.

There is another way to understand being “set apart” and that is as DISTINCT. To be distinct is to be in-the-midst-of yet retaining a particular identity. That is, perhaps, a more helpful way to understand Jesus’ prayer for the Church in the world… that it be made distinct in the truth of God’s Word while continuing to bear witness effectively as good neighbor witness to God’s glory.

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Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 2, NOT OUT OF the world

Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.

13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 2 -- The Church is not OUT OF the world (v. 15)

When we talked about Jesus’ followers not being “of the world” as well as Jesus’ prayer that God SANCTIFY his followers in the truth of God’s word, we recognized that one conclusion that could be drawn is that Jesus’ followers should retreat from the world. After all, what better way to be “set apart” in holiness than to be separate.

But Jesus’ prayer offers some context and a different meaning to our understanding of “sanctify.” He prays in verse 15: “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.” So there, sandwiched between two descriptions of his followers (and himself!) as being “not of the world” he clearly does not understand that to mean separating or removing his followers from the world.

Jesus’ understanding of the Church is not as cloister or retreat or walled community. (There was a model for this in his day in the Essene community; he did not choose that relationship with the world!) There has always been a strain of church-thinking that pushes to withdraw from the world; but that is not Jesus’ desire. Rather, we are to be somewhere between the extremes of looking just like the world and running from it.

What Jesus does pray in v. 15, in conjunction with the plea not to remove his followers from the world, is that God will “keep them from the evil one.” He asks for God’s protection. That begins to frame our understanding of that NOT OF but NOT OUT place the Church is to inhabit. We will not only face the hatred of the world (v. 14) but the attack and deception of the evil one (v. 15). Thankfully, Jesus already intercedes for us and our protection in the place to which he calls us!

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Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

Friday, April 19, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 1, NOT OF the world

Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.

13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 1 -- The Church is Not OF the World

At least we’re not supposed to be. Praying, Jesus said that he was not “of the world.” And he said the same of his followers. If we too closely resemble the world around us, then something is amiss. If we so blend in that we are indistinguishable from anyone else, then it may be that we are not following in Christ’s footsteps and purpose quite as much as we might think.

Whether it is over-identifying Christianity with a political party, equating our faith with a particular country, or indulging in the sins of the surrounding culture, Jesus’ followers are clearly intended to be a distinct people.

In the same breath that he identifies his followers as not of the world, Jesus says that he has “given them God’s word” and that “the world has hated them.” The first is a strong reminder that we don’t create the Jesus we follow, but we follow his teaching (and more broadly, the scriptures). The second is a realistic acknowledgement that being distinct in this world may be costly. It certainly was for Jesus.

Then, Jesus says it again in verse 16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This time he speaks again of God’s word, identifying it as truth, and asking God to “sanctify” his followers in that word of truth.

This proves to be a key word in understanding the relationship with and role of the Church in the world. SANCTIFY can be translated as “set apart” or “make holy.” Certainly in the context of this prayer and the phrase “not of the world” we get a sense of being set apart and different. One logical conclusion might be to think, then, that the Church should withdraw OUT OF the world. That would certainly set it apart. But that proves not to be the case…

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Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 4

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

Some Personal Comments
  1. In a very important sense, the responsibilities of a pastor are the responsibilities of all Christians.  We are all to be faithful disciples, obedient servants, and loving neighbors.  We are all to encourage and spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  We are all to follow the example of Jesus Christ and give ourselves humbly to draw others toward the grace of God in Christ. 
  2. What sets pastors apart from the general responsibilities of being Christian?  In a word, it is their “call” – brought about by the Holy Spirit, witnessed by the Church, and signified in their anointing and ordination for service.  That “call” is how God called forth leaders, judges, and prophets of old; it is how Jesus formed the disciples, and it is a pattern by which God equips the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11).  It does not grant an earthly or human authority to be wielded in power, but a Spirit-borne authority in the service of Christ.
  3. While various gifts and skills may be helpful in ministry, it is certainly clear in scripture that God can and does work through human weakness.  Moses was no public speaker; Jonah ran the other way; Jeremiah and Timothy were seen as too young; Paul admitted an ongoing “thorn in the flesh”; Peter denied his Lord; Thomas doubted.  But the Lord called each of these to service to God’s people.  Another distinguishing aspect of pastoral leadership is that it is in terms of groups rather than the general Christian responsibilities towards other individuals.  A pastor, then, is an ordinary Christian called to oversight of a flock – part of the body of Christ.
  4. What I believe God desires of His flock everywhere is that they be “shepherded” after the example of Jesus Christ.  My desire is to shepherd after the pattern of Christ and, in doing so, to point the flock heavenward, toward their perfect Shepherd.  

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:



Monday, April 15, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 3

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

On Shepherding the Flock

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28, NASB)
  1. Guard yourselves and your flock
  2. The Holy Spirit has made you shepherd of God’s blood-purchased Church
  3. Shepherd the church (guard, lead, tend, etc…)
Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments
Related Posts:


Saturday, April 13, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 2

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

The Nature of Pastoral Authority (Oversight)

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:1-3, NASB)

“Shepherding the flock” has several implications here:
  1. A gentle authority – “oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily”
  2. A godly authority – “according to the will of God”
  3. A willing authority – “not for sordid gain (not only money, but power over others), but with eagerness
  4. A humble authority – “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge”
  5. Exemplary authority – “proving to be examples to the flock”

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:


Friday, April 12, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 1

This and the next several posts will explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

The Pastoral Charge to Peter 

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep." (John 21:15-17, NASB)

Responding to Peter’s declarations of love, Jesus charges him to:
  1. Tend (food, water, basics) my lambs
  2. Shepherd (all-encompassing – safety, protection, guidance, leadership) my sheep
  3. Tend (food, water, basics) my sheep
By extension, I understand this to charge pastors with:
  1. Teaching the Word and worshiping in Spirit and Truth  (feeding and ‘watering’ God’s people)
  2. Caring for the people of God (particularly those under the pastor’s “charge”) in regards to earthly needs (physical, emotional, material) and spiritual needs; includes defense and protection in those realms
  3. Leadership of those under my “charge” – where would the Great Shepherd have this flock go?  How do we go safely and faithfully?
  4. Seeking those who wander astray (lost sheep)… spending extra time and energy to bring them home or to safety.

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

nextchurch and a bluegrass band

Yesterday's post on "the Water bug" and some of the NEXTchurch conversation about collaboration and improvisation reminded me of a post on bluegrass and the church from a couple of years ago.  Here is a re-posting of that...

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Summer 2010

I got back a week ago from "Camp Bluegrass" with my brother.  It was something he first mentioned 2-3 years ago and it sounded like the perfect opportunity to spend some good one-on-one time with him, commuting 30 min. each way daily while staying at his house in Lubbock, TX.

So he went as a beginner banjo player and I took my mandolin, thinking I could experience the most musical growth on it (and boy did I!).  That's all background to the story I want to share...

On the opening morning, the whole camp gathered (about 200 people) to meet the instructors.  There were about 20 instructors on the various instruments (guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle, dobro, vocalists).  After being introduced by name, they were introduced musically.  They all played unamplified and, as is the custom with bluegrass music, took turns improvising.

Several things struck me during this 10 minute "introduction."

  1. While the auditorium was AMAZINGLY equipped for amplification of this style of music, they played down on the floor (unamplified), which meant that when one of them soloed, the other 19 instruments played amazingly softly in order that each might be heard.  And each, in turn, was heard clear as crystal.
  2. I am fairly confident that the piece was unrehearsed, though it was familiar to each of them.  They just soloed in the order of the 20-person line they formed across the stage, and the handoffs were SEAMLESS.  As each neared the end of their improvisation, they "set up" the next, who often picked up a riff or sound from the one before and wove it into their own improvised solo.  And each nodded and honored their 'neighbor' (and even left space for the applause of the one who went before).
  3. There was very little ego up front, though these were world-class musicians.  This was borne out in class, when these virtuosos would patiently meet each of us at our level and help us grow.  These soloists weren't trying to upstage their neighbors, but build on, add to, support, and interact with what each had brought. 
As the week progressed, I came to appreciate bluegrass as a particularly humble and communal musical art-form.  While one can get written music, most tunes and chords and licks are learned from the community, around the circle or in friendly and willing collaboration off to the side.  The whole culture of bluegrass is family and friends sitting around swapping stories, tunes, lyrics, and encouragement - and is one of participation WITH rather than attention TO a performer.

Musically, all that was fascinating, compelling, and inviting - and plenty to marvel about, but I could not help but see and hear and share in all that as a Christian and as a pastor and think this is what the church should be like, from the humility to the participation to the invitation to the fellowship, with the Good News as our song.

Sound like a church you'd want to be a part of?  I sure would!


Also check out Steve Lindsley's great description of NEXTchurch and comparisons with jazz!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

nextchurch and the waterbug

Attending NEXTchurch this year I heard two themes - collaborative leadership and risking failure - that reminded me of something I experienced only three days earlier...

I watched intently as six 3rd and 4th graders excitedly performed a skit to "sell" their bug-attracting pest crusher and then loaded nearly 300 pounds on it to crush their imaginary bug.

What I was watching was the culmination of nearly six weeks of weekly kid-collaboration, to fulfill the challenge #4 of this year's "Odyssey of the Mind" contest: "Tumblewood."  Basically, they had to design a small structure made of only balsa wood and glue, roll it down a ramp and over to a weight-bearing platform without touching it, then load as much weight as possible on it until it broke.

This group of six 3rd and 4th graders (and several hundred others like them from our part of the state) all collaborated, tested, and tried multiple structures until settling on one. They added creativity and expression, and included everyone on the team, and they bonded as a team over the weeks of meeting. What was even more amazing was seeing thousands of kids come together for the district event and seeing this played out with greater and lesser degrees of "success" - but with a stunning degree of community, trust, and teamwork.

Odyssey of the Mind invites a beautiful synthesis of creativity, expression, ingenuity, teamwork, collaboration... and RISK of FAILURE.  My daughter's team had to go through a number of designs before settling on the one they used.  In fact, Odyssey of the Mind so encourages creative exploration and risk of failure that they have a special award for it, called the "Renatra Fusca Creativity Award."

"Renatra Fusca"

This creativity award is "presented to teams or individuals who exhibit exceptional creativity, either through some aspect of their problem solution, or an extraordinary idea beyond the problem solution.  A successful problem solution is not a criterion for winning the award; rather, the award is a way to acknowledge and encourage creative thinking and risk-taking."

Did you get that?  One of the highest special awards is given to someone who exhibited extraordinary creativity, even if the result was (apparent) failure!  (The reason for the name is a fascinating story worth reading!)

"The Church and the Waterbug"

What if the Church (whether local, presbytery, or PCUSA) not only offered grants, lifted up, and shared stories of success for creative and collaborative communities of faith, but also rewarded, lifted up, and shared extraordinary stories of creative risk (and even failure)?  I've heard more than a few groups encourage risk-taking, but might we actually enable creative movements and groups to take the risk and share lessons learned?


Monday, March 04, 2013

nextchurch - a year later (2013)

A year or so ago I attended the NEXTchurch conference in Dallas.  This year, the national conference is in my hometown, Charlotte, NC.  I write this after the first full day, with another half-day to follow tomorrow, and I have already found a number of points of resonance and inspiration in the conference.  I continue to be encouraged that across the Presbyterian Church there is movement out of our inward-focused, attractional, and traditional models of DOING church toward a more embodied, outward-focused, missional, and malleable (by the Spirit) model of BEING church.  I am hearing teaching and testimony to that effect in healthy doses here at NEXT.

I participate from what may be an unusual position in that I also attended the national meeting of the Fellowship of Presbyterians in Orlando, FL, in January of this year.  (I have been participating in both the Fellowship and NEXT meetings since the second meeting of both.)  A year ago I wrote about the number of shared values and emphases between NEXT and the Fellowship, ruminating that many in each group would find great collegiality and shared vision with the other group (and indeed there has been some overlap at the national meetings).  I also noted what I think are forces pulling each away from the theological center (and each other).

This year, if anything, I have heard MORE overlap between the groups, particularly in two areas (so far):

  1. Emphasis on Leadership - both groups had several keynotes emphasizing the need to develop leadership in the church... leadership gifts, strategies, competencies, etc...
  2. Value on Accountability - I heard a new note at NEXT this year, picked up by two different sets of keynoters.  Bill Golderer and Aisha Brooks Lytle shared about the positive role administrative commissions had played in bringing helpful accountability and outside wisdom to two different church situations in which they were involved (to the point of even inviting one in intentionally!) Another speaker (Andrew Foster Conners, maybe?) later picked back up on that theme and highlighted the value of outside evaluation as a form of accountability.  This theme jumped out at me as one that the Fellowship has strongly emphasized in the form of small clusters of accountability between congregations, sessions, and pastors - this is what they call "covenanted order" and involves inviting pairing up to four sessions and pastors for similar roles of sharing and accountability.
Why do I point these things out?

I do so because I continue to hear so much in common between two groups of Presbyterians that more or less run in different circles.  We still live in the shadow (if not the direct glare) of our liberal/conservative (or progressive/evangelical) and other polarities.  And yet there is so much we can do and share and be in common.  The folks that can't are already withdrawing (on both sides).  My question is what will the folks who remain in the broad center of the PCUSA do?  Will we keep DOING church as usual and form new polarities to debate and fight and debilitate?  Or can we find enough common ground and common grace to work together on the many things we can share?

I should add this... I've appreciated all the speakers today.  Aisha Brooks Lytle and Bill Golderer were excellent on sharing what God has done in their midst, but over and above that Rev. Brooks Lytle hit it out of the park in terms of being able to speak to race issues in a way that a predominantly white audience could hear and receive... masterful... effortless.  I know she is a blessing to every community of which she is a part.  And Steve Eason, pastor at one of the local host churches, Myers Park Pres., preached a profoundly disarming, witty, and poignant sermon about listening to the voice of the One who called us, despite all the voices clamoring to be heard instead.  He could have preached that at the Fellowship, at General Assembly, in my congregation, and any other number of places; we were blessed to hear it here tonight.  We can't manufacture "what is next" - God already knows; but we can listen and follow.

Amen!

Friday, February 22, 2013

lessons from jonah, pt. 2

Takeaways from the series on Jonah...

After the service on Jonah 4, and in relation to Jonah’s seemingly extreme response to God, several people mentioned Les Miserables, which is playing on the stage in Charlotte right now and in the movies. One of the main characters in Les Mis is Javert, a policeman who pursues the other main character the whole length of the play, wanting to exact justice and not understanding the mercy, compassion, and forgiveness he witnesses along the way. In the end, though we want Javert to have a change of heart, he responds like Jonah, angry to the point of despair and death. Rather than simply be disappointed at the lack of a Hollywood happy ending, we should be challenged to look inward at the Jonah and Javert lurking in the shadows of our own hearts. That’s the question we asked last week: are there those for whom we do not want God’s mercy?

lessons from jonah, pt. 1

Takeaways from the series on Jonah....

Is there a part of us – a part of you – that gives lip service to sharing the Good News of Jesus, being a good neighbor, or helping others; but that isn’t ready for just anyone to walk through the doors of the sanctuary? Are there those who are ‘outsiders’ and ‘foreigners’ to us that we’d just as soon see be saved somewhere else?

We’ve been talking for years about getting outside the walls of the church and being a good neighbor right here in this neighborhood. It is a neighborhood filled with an amazing range of ages, races, lifestyles, and economic realities. How does one grow a church? Many these days just build better and better programs and swap sheep with surrounding churches. But we are surrounded by THOUSANDS of people who have no church connection – within a mile of the church. What would we do if they started surging in, moved by God’s Holy Spirit to venture into this lighthouse church? Would we celebrate? Would we rejoice at the compassion and mercy of God? Or would we sulk in the corner?

It is a piercing question. And it is one we must figure out if we are to truly become the light of Christ in this place, inside or out, because what we would do in here reflects how we carry on out there. The good news is that it’s a work God longs to help us with. It is already the heart of God – for the nations; is that something we can envision? With God’s help, surely so!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

on excellence and humility

I have two observations on excellence and humility:

The first has to do with musicians and worship. I feel free to write this because 1) I am a lifelong musician; and 2) the music director I work with agrees and understands this 100% and has helped diagnose the challenge. I believe one of the biggest challenges facing church musicians (and church music) is the reality that nearly all serious musicians train from an early age to be performers. I was one of them. I started playing piano when I was five, started classical training at 7, and continued that formal training until I was 22. Yes, I studied the art and the theory and the interpretation, but it always ended with recitals and public performance with me taking a bow. And it's not limited to formal training. I started writing and recording music (and playing in band) in 9th grade, and that has continued in various forms until today. We were either looking for places to play for an audience or submitting our recordings to record companies to "hit it big." In some variation, that is the background of many musicians, including church musicians.

So, what does that mean when we bring someone who has been performing organ recitals for 16 years in to be our organist? What does it mean when we bring a 20 yr. old guitarist in to lead our praise band? Do you see the problem? And the solution isn't as easy as saying, "Play for the Lord." Musicians - and I - are nearly hard-wired for performance.

Secondly, for all we smug, spiritual pastors nodding knowingly about the musicians we work with, we face the same reality, but it's ever so more subtle. Again, I point the finger first at myself. Is not the pulpit our instrument? Do we not go to seminary and train in public speaking? (At least I did.) How do you use gestures and intonation and pitch to best communicate the text? How easy it is for the focus to move off the text and onto me! And then there's all the stuff I've mentioned before. What is a "successful pastor?" Do I run the church well? Do I have good business sense? Do I visit often enough? Do I entertain from the pulpit? Is the church growing in numbers and budget? Will I one day become a "tall steeple pastor?"

In addition to the training I've described above, I was also raised to be a go-getter, 110%, smart, successful person. I've competed all my life - in school, sports, and anywhere else I can.


Yet I am convicted that good pastors (and good musicians) must deflect attention away from self and onto Christ. We point away from ourselves perhaps only after we have experienced godly brokenness, humility, and dependence. That's Jesus' model for ministry, but boy doesn't that sound weak?

Re-posted from 2007.


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