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!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

charlotte flips (presbytery, that is)

While the main purpose of this blog is to explore how my church and I bear the light of Christ inside and outside our walls, I do from time to time comment on pressing denominational matters since we are part of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The commentary below is my analysis of our Feb. 14 presbytery vote to remove G-6.0106b - the "fidelity and chastity" standard for ordained leaders - from our Book of Order (part of our denominational Constitution). This vote reversed a strong historic trend in Charlotte to vote conservatively on this subject. Charlotte Presbytery is 1 of 173 presbyteries voting nationally. A majority of 87 presbyteries must vote for "Amendment B" in order to remove the fidelity and chastity standard. A current (unofficial) vote count can be found HERE.

Analysis of the Amendment B Debate/Vote in the Presbytery of Charlotte
Yes – 133; No – 124; Abstain – 1
By Robert Austell - Pastor, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

Morning worship focused heavily on themes of justice and unity, with former GA Moderator, Doug Oldenburg, preaching. While he avoided any explicit mention of sexuality, the sermon and liturgy hit hard on themes that would come up later – unity in Jesus Christ and “no longer Jew/Gentile, male/female, slave/free.”

Amendment B was handled first of the amendments. A history leading up to this vote was given, ranging from the 1978 definitive guidance through the related authoritative interpretations (AI's) and votes through today. (The 2008 GA’s annulment of all previous AIs was not mentioned.) This presentation lasted approx. 15-20 minutes. Four presenters from the presbytery were pre-selected to speak for approx. 5 min. each.

5-minute Presenters
The first spoke for Amendment B, focusing on inclusivity and unity through sharing a personal story of a gifted gay man in his church who was suggested for elder. The man declined for the sake of church unity, even as another elder promised to quit and leave the church if the gay man was elected.

The second speaker spoke against Amendment B, focusing on leadership and the higher biblical standard for leadership in the church. This was all presented in the context of truth, with a repeating challenge, “Do not be deceived.”

The third speaker spoke for Amendment B, declaring her commitment to Scripture and obedience to it. She identified nine passages in the Bible which mention homosexuality and briefly exegeted each one to demonstrate why none directly dealt with our contemporary expression of homosexuality. While this paralleled material on the More Light Presbyterians (MLP) website, she made it her own and was thoughtful and winsome.

The fourth speaker spoke against Amendment B. Key components were expressed: grief over bringing this issue before the church again; poor exegesis on the part of those claiming scripture supports homosexual practice; and focus on the meaning of sin and repentance, with a comparison of homosexual practice to lying, gossiping, spousal abuse, or thievery. He ended with the question, “What if I’m wrong… what if they are wrong,” to point out the difference between obstructing some qualified people from ordination and encouraging those same people and others in sin.

The debate proceeded, with two-minute limits, alternating pro/con, and beginning with pro-B after the last con presenter. I will make some general observations about the debate content below, but the only speaker at the mic who really stands out to me is former GA Moderator, Thelma Adair, who was granted privilege of the floor (she happened to be in town visiting family). A small woman of powerful spirit, her voice filled the room and commanded attention more than any other speaker all day. She spoke passionately and intensely in favor of B. After 10 total speakers at the mic, there was a call to close debate, with overwhelming support. Voting Commissioners filled out numbered ballots and the Exec. Presbytery, one pro presenter, and one con presenter counted them. The body went on to consider all the other amendments and the results to B were announced afterwards (also the end of the presbytery meeting).

The press was present in full force. The large local paper had run a front-page article the day of the meeting, and two network news crews were there to interview folks as they came out. Both ran on the 10pm news and the paper ran follow-up articles (1, 2) the next day.

Overall Observations
1. Tone: on the whole, the pro-B folks were warm, genuine, full of faith, and focused on Jesus, Scripture, people, church unity, and justice (in that order); those against Amendment B, on the whole, were saying what was wrong with the pro-B folks and their arguments.

2. Content – Scripture: the pro-B folks lived up to their declared attentiveness to Scripture; the pro-B 5-min. presenter demonstrated how she interpreted each of the nine passages mentioning homosexuality and why she was voting consistent with her beliefs; the rebuttal to that was dismissive (“that’s poor exegesis”) rather than demonstrating equal or better attentiveness to Scripture.

3. Content – Morality: far more than I’ve heard in debate before, there was a steady and positive picture painted of the homosexual relationships in question being primarily long-term, committed, and monogamous. Those against Amendment B responded by attacking that premise, but it came across as attacking a class of people and was not effective. I think the real answer to this, which will come up again in other contexts, is to challenge the GLBT folks to define a “Christian gay sexual ethic.” That gets at the deeper theological question of “Is there any sexual sin?” “What is sin? What is holiness? What are standards for church leaders if all sexual issues are taken off the board?”

4. Presence: as noted from one analysis of the Western NC vote, the pro-B line at the mic was longer. More than once, looking for the alternating position, the question was called out “are there any ‘con’ in line?” The impression I got from the front was that there were few willing to speak against and many waiting and wanting to speak in favor. When the motion came to end debate, the line was still 10-12 people long, and the impression was that they were all for Amendment B.

5. Demographics: Charlotte is a large metropolitan area, and it is probably to be expected that votes would mirror culture (cosmopolitan!) more than in more rural areas. Having said that, the Presbytery of Charlotte has a large number of rural and smaller town churches. Many smaller churches are not involved (ever) in the life of presbytery, and many did not send elders to vote. Additionally, the presbytery has given almost all of the smaller churches who ever come to presbytery meetings an additional elder vote in order to correct the imbalance between ministers and elders. As many as 50-75 votes were not cast because small or rural churches did not send two or even one elder. Many of these would be more conservative. Conservatives did write, call, and otherwise invite these folks… to no avail.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

missional milk and cookies

Oh, oh, oh, ice cold milk and an Oreo Cookie. They forever go together, what a classic combination. When a dark, delicious cookie meets an icy cold sensation. Like the one and only creamy, crunchy, chocolate, O-R-E-O!

I loooove milk and Oreos. The jingle-writer got it right... "they forever go together!"

So it is with mission and worship. The scripture-writers got it right. Where oreos and milk come down to preference in reality, mission and worship hang together with all the permanency of a God-inspired biblical principle.

And this comes as some confession... I have played my part in clinging to worship as our chief end, resisting the missional prophets who say God is more "out there" than "in here."

And then I found a kind of "grand unification theory" or a "missional milk and cookies" as I prepared for this past Sunday's sermon.

I am in an eight week preaching series, paralleling the first chapter of my doctoral dissertation, looking at eight biblical principles for worship that run throughout the Bible. The first of these was service (or work) as worship. The second, and the source of the insight was obedience as worship. In that sermon and study, I explore how the keeping of God's Word or commandments is a key worship principle that runs through the OT into the NT.

After tracking this principle through numerous passages, it jumped off the page when I was reading the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. If there were a key missional passage, that would certainly be it:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Do you see it? In Greek, "observe" is often rendered "keep" - and the idea is to teach new disciples to obey God's Word or keep His commandments. It is to teach them to worship God through obedience! And, our following God out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission is an act of worship-obedience on our part!

Worship doesn't just happen "inside the walls" - it is the motivating principle and the heart and soul of missional theology. We worship God when we live as sent ones. And part of the salt and light we carry is the invitation to worship God through obedience to His Word and Spirit.

Now there's a classic combination that forever goes together!

biblical worship through music - my first book!

My doctoral dissertation is now up and running, self-published for now through Lulu.com (an awesome site and resource!).

Click the picture or link HERE to see a preview, read more, and even order your own copy!

Here's the description from the back:

Seeking a faithful solution to conflict over musical worship, the pastor/musician author begins with biblical principles for worship, examines historical and contemporary models for worship, and evaluates worship practices in one presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to propose guiding principles and specific applications for the use of music in worship. The project shows biblical worship to be described by a number of characteristics and grounded in God's Word, presence, and community. After exploring these principles biblically, historically, and culturally, the outcome of the project is a significant collection of music-related worship resources for use in the local chuch and for equipping in broader teaching contexts.

For those who are interested, there is significant interaction with Luther and Calvin, as well as with contemporary authors, Robert Webber, Marva Dawn, and John Frame. I will soon have some PDF sections up, including the field research in the Presbytery of Charlotte over worship philosophy and practice among our churches.

Feel free to comment or e-mail me further!

Monday, January 12, 2009

tribal church comes to town

It is wonderful when a virtual acquaintence becomes a real one... I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Howard Merritt of Tribal Church blog last Saturday at a training event for the Presbytery of Charlotte. Carol was the keynote speaker and someone's whose blog I read regularly. I thought I'd share some of my notes on her keynote address, as I found us in sync about several things. One of those is what I call being "searchlight church" - focused outside of ourselves, our buildings, and our programs. The other is the incredible and unusual capacity of the church to be an intergenerational family (or tribe!), though we find our culture exerting pressure in the other direction. Here are my notes... comment or e-mail if you have thoughts or questions.

And Carol, if you read this, it was a delight - I'm sorry I didn't get to stick around for conversation. I went looking for your morning seminar and found that there wasn't one... and I had already told my family I'd be back in time for lunch (ah, the priorities of a generation!).

Keynote Address by Carol Howard Merritt
Presbytery of Charlotte "Find Your Path" Event, January 10, 2009

Church is one of the last places where we can speak to each other intergenerationally.
- The young can learn from the old: e.g., what is death? saving for retirement?
- The old can learn from the young: e.g., forgetting the struggles of young adults
[ra: the church has the unique human resources needed for the generation gap!]

Misconceptions about "Young Adults" (20s/30s) - the sociological landscape
1. Employment: YA seen as too narcissistic; the reality is that short-term solutions are often all that is available (e.g.: temp work in the 90s); so-called "slackers" actually work very long hours and are very productive; STAT: 30% of 20-somethings have no insurance
2. Finances: YA seen as frittering away $; the reality is that student loan debt is at an all-time, staggering high; housing prices have soared; half of 20-somethings live with their parents
3. Commitment: YA seen as commitment phobic ("failure to launch"); the reality is first marriages come later than ever (at 27-28); the divorce rate is lower among YA; YA are waiting longer to have children

People are Looking to Connect
- the average YA is a single woman (yet churches often target young families)
- Needs/Solutions (examples from Carol's church in DC)

- worship is central
- small group opportunities important
- focused mission on neighborhood (homeless and college students, in her case)
- there is a connection with God AND a connection with the world ==> this is often messy* (arson, assault, other crime)
- connecting to one another (coffeehouses, etc...)
- YA seem to seek community/relationships over theology or "spiritual truth"

*On messiness... (a snippet - see my whole sermon HERE related to our own pursuit of being a searchlight church)

I’ve said it before – it might get messy. We may find God calling for our fatted calf to be used – maybe a teenage band using the “holy sound system” or God’s house being filled up with all kinds of people who have come home to God.

It might get easy to long for the “good old days” when every face was a long-familiar face and every song a long-familiar song. That cherishing of our beginnings and our heritage is valuable and precious, but it cannot cost us fellowship with the Father and those the Father would bring home.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

and they say the attractional model is dead...

Who says churches can't attract those thirsty for the streams of living water. Apparently, one deer really wanted to see what we had to offer, but the doors were locked. The pictures below show what happened after a buck tried to ram his way in.

As one clever member quipped, "The buck stops here."

For those who may be concerned about the fuzzy friend, neighbors did see him leave the scene,
apparently unharmed.

[There are, however, pieces of deer
head fuzz in the head-sized impression in the glass.]

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