Saturday, July 26, 2014

July Reading List

Evangelical Theology by Karl Barth
A meticulous scholar, relevant but dull at times.

Taking on the Cross in Youth Ministry by Andrew Root
A fantastic piece of theology which uses narratives from youth ministry to illustrate the importance of the crucifixion as a means for developing identity.

Children of Divorce by Andrew Root
I liked Root's other book so much I read this one too. It felt a little repetitive in the context of reading Taking on the Cross.

The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins (READ THIS BOOK)
This one is the find of the month. It is the big recommendation. Jenkins takes us briefly through the history of Christendom then argues, very successfully, that present Christianity is not dying. it is growing and it is also migrating south. A perfect book for anyone concerned about the "death of the church" it gives a lot of hope.

Conversation, How it Works by Anne Curzan
I like linguistics. This was a brief lecture about how we communicate with each other. It was pretty basic stuff.

Poems by Walt Whitman
I love poetry. I thought it was time for me to get acquainted with the grandfather of the American poem.

Monster Hunter: Nemesis by Larry Corriea 
I like to switch up my reading. Especially when the list gets too "thinky." So I read a book about the wolfman fighting the Frankenstein monster. It is not for everyone but for me, there is nothing wrong with a little pulp genre fiction every once in awhile. :)


Friday, July 4, 2014

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or
at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of
the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows,
robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
-Walt Whitman

Happy Fourth People

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How Can I Tell If My Christianity is Working?

I realized this morning I spend much of my time running a ministry. I am guilty of not take enough time to do a regular check up to ask, "Is my Christianity working?" I realized that I did not even have a rubric through which to run this important question.

I decided to start such a rubric. I constructed an initial list of questions that I think are important to ask while doing a spiritual self evaluation. It is by no means complete but it is a start. I think it also reflects my spiritual values because given 20 minutes to come up with a list these are the first things that come to mind for me.

I will spend the next few days reflecting on these questions. I pass them on to you in the hope they will inspire you into a similar time of self reflection.

  1. Am I compassionate? 
  2. What part do prayer and other spiritual disciplines play in my daily life? 
  3. How do I feel that my Christianity is working? 
  4. Am I humble? 
  5. How does God impact my daily perspective on the world and change my interaction with the world? 
  6. What does God care about and do I care about the same things? 
  7. What areas of my life are in need of redemption? 
  8. What areas of my life am I inviting others into redemption? 
  9. Do I have faith in Jesus Christ as my only hope of salvation? 
  10. What value do I place on that salvation?
  11. How is the value of that salvation manifest in my daily life? 
  12. Where is that value of salvation not manifest? 
  13. What have I given up or suffered for the gospel? 
  14. Where do I find joy in my faith? 
  15. What evil do have left unchecked? 
  16. What good have I neglected to pursue? 
  17. Am I being a good spiritual mentor to others?
  18. Do I have good spiritual mentors in my life?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June Reading List

A pastor once told me you can tell a character of a man by his friends, his check book, and the books he reads. I like to think some iteration of that saying is true even in 21st century America. So here are the books I read (or listened to) in the month of May and June.

I usually keep a tally of the books in a widget on the side of my blog but I decided it would help me with record keeping if I also created a post.

May 2014

1175 : The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric C. Cline
I do not recommend. It's a snoozer. Very little of the book is actually about 1175 B.C.

A Pretty Good Person by Lewis B. Smedes

Racing Hummingbirds by Jeanann Verlee
A fantastic slam poet whose content is not for kids and may even make some adults uncomfortable. I love the honesty and composition of many of the poems while others were too raw for me to enjoy.

Vikings by Prof. Kenneth W. Harl
So much fun. I loved learning about how vikings were more than just some berserkers with horned helmets. Made me curious about the coming of Christianity of Northern Europe.

The History of Ancient Rome by Pro. Garret G. Fagan
I will be drawing from this lecture series for some time in my sermons as a good cultural reference to the life of Christ.

Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil is one of my favorite fiction authors. This is a subtle rural fairy tale set in 1960s England. I loved it.

The Code of Hammurabi
I heard their were some parallels to this Babylonian text and to texts in the bible. It was a hard read given that I know little about Babylon.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller
A work of evolutionary psychology that reminds me of a saying, "When all you have is a hammer everything starts looking like a nail." The hammer is sex. The "everything else" is culture, arts, war, and what it means to be human. It was interesting but it made me glad my world view contains a loving creator and savior.

June 2014

Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean by Glenn Holland
A rich look at the religion of the civilizations in which God brought Israel out of. Very interesting. Provides some fantastic contexts for how Israel is both set apart from these religions and how they borrowed from them.

Influence: Mastering Life's Most Powerful Skill by Kenneth Brown
Still working through this one. It's ok. Useful advice but overall it feels like a textbook on how to manipulate people.

The Era of the Crusades by Kenneth Harl
A primer on the Crusades was long over due. Read partly in response to the viking lectures. Incredibly through introduction. Made me curious about the barbarians to the east, Constantinople, and  

The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes by Kenneth Harl
Great lecture series about the Barbarians. I read it in response to the curiosities I had after listening to the Crusade lectures. The Steppes are a place I have heard of but now I have a greater appreciation for them as a region and their impact on western (and eastern) civilization

A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neil
The barbarians, the vikings, the crusades, and the lecture about ancient Rome combined with a overall sense that I am living in a culture that is moving away from Christianity made me really interested in learning about Christianities pull on the world. This was a great book that wrapped up everything I am learning about in a nice lens  of mission.

Think Like a Freak by Steven Dubner
I think this book should be mandatory reading for all church elders. It is about the art of thinking critically. 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A re-read. I was inspired to pick up another Gaiman book especially after reading about the vikings as this modern book is a fictional work about European pagan gods in America.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher
I just like a good urban fantasy book. Jim Butcher is the best and his new book came out this month.

Letters to Malcolm on Prayer by C.S. Lewis and At the Master's Feet by Sadu Sundar Singh
Some jerk Presbyterian pastor recently published about speaking out against prayer. I love prayer. I was livid that this guy chose to split acts of mercy and prayer, then say one is more important than the other. I needed to read some good books about prayer to cleanse the palate. Lewis and Singh were my antidote. Two great early 20th century authors who come from completely different backgrounds (India and England) talking about the goodness of prayer. It was delicious. Lewis's comments about "liberal" Christianity made me curious about the difference between his understanding of the phrase and what we have come to accept it as in our own culture. 

An Introduction to Contemporary Preaching by J. Daniel Baumann
I take my preaching seriously. I'm always looking for more help. This book was discounted AND in the bargin bin over at the Fuller Seminary bookshop. So far so good. It is a bit dated but in someways the same issues he addresses are true today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Maybe Its Time To Change Your Name

Hi David,

As you know I have a little newborn now and I would really like to raise him in a church. I know you are a pastor now and I was hoping you could tell me which were the right ones to go to. I am not a member of any of these denominations, do I have to be one in order to go to their church? Are they going to card me at the door and check?

This is a paraphrase of an email I received recently. The woman is a life long friend of mine. She's smart as a whip but has little to no church background. She is also the mom of a young family and really really wanting to join a church. Any church would love to have her family become a part of their community. The very first hurdle she and her family face, what kind of church. She wasn't a Presbyterian, would the Presbyterians know at the door she was different and not let her in? That was a genuine concern.

I think churches like to pride themselves on being welcoming and friendly. However, a name says a lot about a person or group. Putting a denominational affiliation in the name of your church may be the first sign (literally in some cases) to outsiders that they are not welcome. It does not communicate "This is where people gather to worship God" instead it telegraphs "This is where PRESBYTERIANS gather to worship God."

This is by no means ever intentional. Almost every church I have ever worked with has had their denomination stated in their name. But in an era marked by a decline of importance in denominational affiliation, maybe for the sake of being truly welcoming we should be thinking about changing our names.

Also, I am not saying to deny your denominational identity. Just find other ways of expressing it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

3 Structural Alternatives to Bi-vocational Ministry

This is the second article in my meditation on bi-vocational ministry. As previously noted, bi-vocational ministry is considered by many to be "the next best step" for most churches who cannot afford a pastor. But when put into practice we find that it really it is not the best. It is simply the easiest and least imaginative step. It is also a harmful step that can damage both the church and the one called to ministry.

No doubt some people are called to this type of ministry. I am not trying to argue that there is no place for it. What I am saying is that bi-vocational can not be expected to solve the pastoral problem in a majority of situations. While I do not think there is one silver bullet to help churches who want pastors but can not afford them, I do think there are a few things we can do in order to make full time ministry easier on those who feel the call to lead the church. Here are three ideas. For the purpose of this topic I am narrowing my focus to my denomination, The Presbyterian Church (USA).

A Pastor as a Fundraiser
In college I attended the para-church organization InterVarsity (IV). At UCLA, where I graduated, we have half a dozen leaders on staff. We had a fellowship of a couple hundred people but the students did not support the leaders. The leaders had developed a solid basis of support through donors outside of the fellowship. They were friends, family, wealthier churches, and others that gave to their cause because the leadership of IV was able to communicate that they were working toward the greater mission of God. Today, I still faithfully support one my my dear friends on staff.

When I did a quarter of hospital chaplaincy in order to fill my ordination qualifications I raised 5,000.00 again in order to pay my way. What was different this last time is that even though the Presbytery mandated that I take off three months to work full time in a hospital, there was little financial aid and they were completely unprepared to help me raise funds. Fundraisers usually do not live on much. However, if that was augmented with what the church could afford I think this could help a large portion of churches to get to a reasonable compensation package for many pastors.

I am not the only one who believes this model could help build the church. There is a ministry here in Los Angeles that is doing it. Bridge's goal is one hundred new worshiping communities in the city and fundraising as well as bi vocational ministry plays an important part.

Lower Standards

Presbyterians, let's be honest, we are a proud lot. We like our pastors to be well educated. We want them to have gone through heaven and hell before we make them a pastor. I am personally on year six of the ordination process and I have yet to receive my first call.

Next to Catholicism, our standards for ordination are probably the highest. The longer the process the more opportunities for debt to accrue. The later a pastor starts in life the more likely they are to need a larger salary in order to support a growing family. Let's give them a better chance at a long term ministry by allowing them to start early.

ALLOW STUDENT TEMPORARY CLERGY STATUS

What if we allowed candidates or inquirers a temporary ordination? What if instead of having to meet all our requirements up front, full ordination is something a minister could grow into? This is something the Methodists do. We recognize their ordination. (Meaning a Methodist pastor could technically lead as a pastor at a PCUSA church.)

ANOTHER APPROACH

Creating temporary student clergy would be a massive undertaking requiring some change to the book of order. It would take some time but I think it would be a good long term solution. Here is another approach that we could technically do right now. Make better use of directors. I know of a wealthy church with fifteen directors and two pastors. The directors are pastors in everything but name and sacraments. They preach, they develop and lead programs, they people in the church actually call them "pastor" before they are corrected. This is totally acceptable within the polity of our denomination. Directors are the life blood of most churches where they work. Why not just have one director for a smaller church? Instead of Youth Director, or Outreach Director, or Director of Worship, let's have Director of Ministry. We could use pulpit supply for the few things that only a pastor can actually do (Baptism, communion. session moderation).

Pension Reform
We have a great pension in the PCUSA. But is it worth it? It forces churches to pay more for pastors. The cost of a pension can push some churches to look for a part time pastor instead of a full time one. I know of many people looking for a call (myself included) that would rather have the job then the pension. What if we allowed churches to opt out of the pension in favor of a 403b retirement plan? The denomination already has that in place for non-ordained staff. It is our plan for every person working in our denomination who doesn't have the prefix "Rev." to their name. It could also make the cost of a pastor to a smaller church more affordable. This is another one that would require heavy lifting at General Assembly But just because it is hard, doesn't mean it is not worth fighting for.

I suspect most people are gong to hate these ideas for one reason or another. But the cold hard truth is Bi-vocational ministry is not going to work in a large scale. We need to start thinking about alternatives. We need to start having this conversation. So these ideas are my initial contributions to the conversation.