Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reason #7 - Professional Pastors' Sermons Are Thought of As Special Messages from God

Anyone who is part of the church has the joyful responsibility of teaching others.

In Colossians 3:16 Paul writes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (emphasis mine)

Within the modern church the people have largely handed this teaching responsibility over to pastors. One reason for this is that salaried pastors' sermons are thought of as holding special significance. In particular, many Christians believe that pastors receive some sort of special message from God that they then relay from the pulpit.

Just listen to Christians speak. You will hear things like the following, "Please pray for Pastor ________ as he brings a message to us today from the Lord." Praying for teachers is wonderful, but believing that they have special revelation from God is dangerous. This places the pastors on a higher spiritual plane than others. It is nonsense.

What pastors say in their sermons is important. However, what anybody in the church says in teaching is important. I'm not only referring to a structured setting such as a Sunday School class. I'm also talking about what occurs over a cup of coffee at Starbucks or over dinner at someone's home. As the priests to God that we are, what we all say matters.

Let me be clear: pastors do not have special messages from God. However, because many Christians believe they do, professional pastors ought to all resign today. Only in this vacuum will the church realize that it needs everyone to teach and that all our teaching has significance.

(This post is part seven of my series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Reason #6 - Professional Pastors Cannot Be Fully Accepted Members of the Body

Salaried pastors are almost always outsiders.

The pastoral search process is well known. When the typical church body begins looking for a pastor it first forms a committee. The next step is to advertise the position, followed by the collection of resumes. Then comes the interview process. Finally someone is chosen, the financial package is presented, and Bingo! the church has a new pastor.

The above process is full of problems. One of the primary ones is that the new pastor is almost always from outside the body. In most instances he has never met the people of the church prior to the search process. He may have resided hundreds of miles away. The church family cannot possibly know if he lives up to the standards set forth in I Timothy 3.

One of the side effects of the pastor being from the outside is that he can never be a fully accepted member of the body. He will, of course, be a member in the sense of signing his name on a membership card. He will also be present almost all the time. Despite this, he will always and forever be different. He is the paid person who receives money from the church to do certain duties. This puts him in a different category from everyone else.

No matter how hard the pastor tries and no matter how long he stays, he will always be an outsider. This is a natural outcome of the clergy/laity divide. He will never feel fully accepted. Even though he is very involved in the life of the church, he will not be thought of as one of the group.

This problem is harmful to both the pastor and the church. The pastor cannot enjoy the benefits of simply being a part of the group. He can never actually be inside. As for the church, the people in general are robbed of doing some of the most important things because they expect the paid man to do them.

Professional pastors spend a lot of time doing church things, but they can't be fully accepted members of that church.

(This post is part of the series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reason #5 - Professional Pastors' Sermons Put People in the Pews to Sleep

This particular post applies not just to professional pastors. Rather, I'm taking aim at the Protestant sacrament known as "The Sermon."

If you attend almost any church in this country you will hear some sort of sermon. It might also be referred to as a message. Either way, it amounts to a lecture. One person, usually a professional pastor, stands on some sort of platform/stage and speaks for 20-45 minutes to a silent audience. It is almost always a monologue. This is, as I stated above, a lecture.

Lecture as a form of instruction has been repeatedly shown to be the worst form of teaching. The more interactive learners are the more likely they are to recall the content presented. Since the people in the pews are not asked to do more than listen, they end up retaining very little of what the man on the stage has said. This in spite of the fact that many, many Christians believe that the most important aspect of a pastor's job is preaching (just ask).

When I was a paid pastor I spent several hours per week studying for my two Sunday sermons. I would preach my heart out. The effort was there. Although I thought I was good at it, I was probably just average. Regardless, no matter how I preached numerous people would still fall asleep. The majority seemed to be staring off into space, probably thinking about either lunch or relaxing that afternoon. Some were listening, but this was by far the minority.

Modern preaching is simply not effective. The church as a whole must rethink how it teaches the great truths of the faith. Lecturing (i.e., sermonizing) is just about the worst possible method. In order for reform to occur, all pastors (professional or not) should stop preaching - at least as we know it since the Reformation - right away. As part of this, the professionals ought to resign their positions since much of what they receive salaries for is sermon prep and sermon delivery.

When the church finally does away with the sermon it will be headed on the right track.

(This post is part of the series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reason #4 - Professional Pastors' Salaries Place a Massive Financial Burden Upon the Church

Every church family must decide how to give. An important, specific aspect of this is how to give money away and who should receive it. When we look in the bible we see churches sacrificially giving in order to assist the poor and needy. Today we largely see something far different.

In the modern church one group of people receives FAR more money from the church than anyone else. That group is pastors. For example, when I was employed as a pastor my "package" made up a full 1/3 of the church's total budget! Soon after I realized this I knew I could not remain in that position much longer.

Because of the enormous weight that pastoral salaries place upon the church, all professional pastors should resign immediately. This would free up millions upon millions of dollars that the church in this country could then give to those who truly need it.

(This post is part four in my blog series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reason #3 - Professional Pastors Turn Gatherings Into Performance-Oriented Shows

Pastors need to give up their salaried positions immediately because they turn church family gatherings into spectator sports.

When we look in scripture we see simple church get-togethers where the focus was mutual edification. During these informal gatherings the believers spent a lot of time eating and talking. They carried out the "one anothers" of the bible.

Today most large church gatherings look more like shows than they do family meetings. Most of the people present sit quietly while watching a performance. A few select people do much of the activity on a stage or platform. Right at the center of everything is the pastor.

Due to the warping of what church gatherings should be, the church as a whole (at least in the USA) is largely immature and self-focused. Pastors ought to resign themselves from this performance-based industry. The church needs to rethink both why and how it gathers. This will not occur as long as pastors lead the show from the front.

(This post is the third in the series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reason #2 - Professional Pastors Take Jesus Christ's Spot as Senior Pastor

A second reason that all salaried pastors ought to resign right now is that they supplant Jesus Christ as Senior Pastor.

In I Peter chapter 5 we see Jesus referred to as the "Chief Shepherd," which amounts to the same thing as "Senior Pastor." Christ is the only one. Therefore, how does anyone else dare to refer to himself as "Senior Pastor," "Lead Pastor," "Head Pastor," etc.?

In reality no mere man can actually take Jesus' spot as Senior Pastor of His church. However, anyone who takes on that title confuses the situation for all within that local body. The people then tend to look to that man for leadership instead of looking straight to Jesus.

Of course not all pastors take the title "Senior." For this I am thankful. Despite this, enough of them do that it causes all sorts of problems for the church.

(This post is part of a series entitled 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reason #1 - Professional Pastors Propagate the Clergy/Laity Divide

This is the first post in the series 25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign.

Those who receive salaries for being employed as pastors ought to resign immediately because their very existence perpetuates and encourages the idea of a clergy/laity divide. This split is a real danger to the vitality of the church because it sets a small number of people up as a "special minority" within the body. This, in turn, brings about instant inequality.

The only special status within the church belongs to Jesus Christ, our Head.

(This particular reason is not number 1 because it is most important. All twenty-five are important. The numbering in this series holds no significance.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

25 Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign

I am a firm believer that Jesus Christ's church would be far better off if all professional pastors resigned their positions immediately. Although this would undoubtedly lead to no small amount of consternation, disorganization, confusion, and chaos in the short-term, the long-term benefits would be enormous.

Over the next twenty-five days I'm going to list and briefly discuss twenty-five reasons why all pastors who receive salaries from churches ought to step down right away. You'll see that some of the reasons are closely related, but the small differences are important. The number twenty-five is arbitrary on my part; we could probably think of one hundred more if we worked together at it.

One primary reason that pastors should resign sums up all the others. That reason is that professional pastors harm the church.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis"

I love C.S. Lewis. He is one of my favorite authors. I cherish a number of his books including Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters. The Chronicles of Narnia are also great fun.

When I saw If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis I knew I needed to buy it ("need" might be a bit strong; I really wanted to buy it). The book's subtitle tells what it is all about: "Explaining the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life."

Author Alister McGrath paints a picture of what it would be like to sit down with Lewis over a series of lunches to discuss a variety of topics. These include friendship, the importance of stories, apologetics, education, suffering, and hope. McGrath also spends a chapter on my favorite Lewis character - Aslan.

This book is a mix of biography and conversation focusing on the life and thoughts of Lewis. It is a fairly small text and an easy read. I recommend it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

7 Steps for How Christians Should Respond to Muslims

Below are seven concrete steps we followers of Jesus Christ should take when interacting with those who claim Islam as their faith:

1. Love Muslims.

2. Befriend Muslims.

3. Sacrificially serve Muslims.

4. Live holy lives in front of Muslims.

5. Willingly die for Muslims.

6. Do not retaliate against Muslims.

7. Share the Gospel with Muslims.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pendulum Swinging on God's Sovereignty

God's sovereignty is a wonderful thing. It would be horrid if God didn't have control over His own universe. In fact, if He did not He wouldn't be God at all. As far as I know, all Christians take comfort in God's omnipotence.

That being said, Christians have managed to find various ways to argue over this doctrine again and again and again. I've been part of that argument in the past and have been all over the place on the issue. You may have as well.

I was raised in a Wesleyan church in western New York State. I recall fondly discussions of how great God is, how wonderful God is, and how we can trust Him to care for us. However, when it came to salvation it was basically all in my hands. God was waiting for me, of my own free will, to select Him. God was portrayed as a sort of cosmic cheerleader, hoping I would surrender to His Lordship. It was completely up to me.

Many years later, after moving to Georgia and joining a Southern Baptist Church, I went to seminary. While there I swung on the theological pendulum all the way over to the other side. I became firmly entrenched in the Calvinism camp. Somewhat interestingly, this did not occur because of any of my seminary classes. Rather, a few friends of mine leaned in that direction. Upon their suggestion I began reading authors like John Piper and R.C. Sproul. The rest was history. God selected some, didn't select others, and that was it.

In the years since that time I've mellowed. As for the theological pendulum, I've swung back somewhere near the middle. While I believe God is sovereign over salvation, I also believe that each individual has a real responsibility to repent and believe. This is a real choice. It matters. While we do not have complete freedom of the will (how can a sinful person have that?), we also are not robotic in nature. Upon hearing the gospel message, we have what amounts to a real, true choice between God and the world.

As for daily living, I cherish God's care over life. He is active. He is involved. However, He also allows things to happen. What we do impacts the world for better or worse. God controls from behind the scenes, but we are real participants in what occurs in our lives - and the lives of others.

This is an important issue. We should all think it through. However, we should not allow this to divide us as followers of Christ. Sadly, this has through the years been extremely divisive doctrinally. Whole denominations have formed over the issue. Sometimes the opposing sides actually call the salvation of the other into question. This must stop!

I firmly believe that God cares much more about the unity of His body than He does about whether or not any of us knows exactly how sovereign He is. I don't know where you are on the pendulum related to sovereignty/free will. However, I do want us to be united. That is of first importance.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Must Read!

It is not often that I refer to a book as a "must read." Here's an exception.

Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence is a text that I believe every Christian, at least those who have been raised in the USA, should read. We American Christians have largely ingested a massive dose of militarism along with our Christianity. The church in this country for the most part is one of the biggest supporters when our military goes off to war (at least as long as the president at that time is a Republican). We also relish our perceived right to self-defense. Author Preston Sprinkle, while not writing a great deal about politics in this book, confronts his readers with a strong biblical case for nonviolence.

I appreciate this book for two main reasons. First, Sprinkle bases his conclusions in scripture. This book is simply full of bible. You may not agree with all of his conclusions (I didn't), but you will have to at least deal with the scripture passages he sites. Second, the author addresses difficult questions and objections such as "What about Jesus' cleansing of the temple?" "What about the two swords?" "What about the soldiers who are not told to leave the military?" "What about Israel going to war in the Old Testament?" and "What about the death penalty now?"

Sprinkle spends roughly the first 1/3 of this book looking at violence/nonviolence in the Old Testament. This is an important topic for certain due to Israel's repeated warfare as a nation. Sprinkle uses the next 40% on analyzing the life of Jesus Christ during his first advent and what we have to expect in his second coming. The final 20% of this text focuses first on how the early church lived related to violence/nonviolence, and second on how we should respond to and think about difficult questions related to nonviolence.

Violence is largely accepted within the church as acceptable under a range of situations. But should this be? This is not an easy question to answer. For this reason, I deeply appreciate Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. It challenges us to think through assumptions we have about how we interact with the world. It is not a comfortable book. However, it is well-written, well-researched, and worth your time. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Set Apart for a Different Kingdom

In Luke 4:43 Jesus Christ says, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose." This is a fascinating verse because we see Jesus give a purpose statement for why he was sent to earth. He came to preach the good news of God's kingdom.

This kingdom is far different from the kingdoms of men. While one emphasizes things above, the earthly kingdoms strive after the things below. As members of Christ's church, our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. It is in heaven. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

Even though we reside for a time here on earth, our true loyalty is to the kingdom above. God expects us to live holy lives, edify the church, preach the gospel to the lost, and care for the poor and needy. While doing this we must always remember that our allegiance is to God and his reign. We are here, but at the same time we are set apart for something better.

I no longer have a desire to be a part of man's systems any more than I have to. For example, man tries to make things better through government. Occasionally this can be helpful, but usually it fails. This is because most of the people involved in this are not part of God's kingdom. Count me out.

I'll continue to obey the laws of the land and pay my taxes. However, my involvement in government ends there. I'm done with voting. I will never seek any sort of public office. I will not join the military under any circumstances (I'm too old anyway). I'm not going to be involved in any sort of man-created governmental activity. I'm done with it.

My motivation in this stems from three places. First and foremost, Jesus gave much instruction to his followers. Trying to change the world through politics was not one of them. Second, the early church did much good but none of it was through political means. Third, I hold much in common with the Anabaptists. They shunned political involvement. Of course, this got many of them killed, but that was a price they were willing to pay.

I desire to live out a life as a member of the kingdom who does not look to man's kingdom processes to make a difference. Count me in when it comes to doing good through God's means. Count me out of secular politics.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jesus as Savior or Jesus as Example?

Is Jesus Christ primarily our Savior? Or, is Jesus Christ primarily our example?

Among traditional conservatives Jesus is primarily Savior. What I mean is that their focus tends to be what Jesus Christ has done on the cross to save them from their sins. His death pays for their transgressions and allows them to go to heaven. What Jesus accomplished at Calvary trumps both how he lived and what he taught while on earth.

Within the liberal Christian camp the emphasis almost always upon what Jesus taught about how to live. These folks stress Jesus displaying a peaceful lifestyle, not engaging in or sanctioning violence, caring for the poor and needy, and avoiding materialism. While they give a head nod to Jesus' death on the cross, they speak of it in terms of being an example to us rather than a sacrifice for us.

Both the traditional conservatives and the liberals have gotten it wrong. Jesus Christ is both our sacrifice and our example. Neither aspect of his life should be elevated over the other. He has both saved us from the eternal death we deserve and has taught/shown us how to live as members of his Kingdom. Both are critical.

Speaking as a conservative, I'm tired of how other conservatives sweep portions of Jesus' life and teachings under the rug. These often include the sharing of goods with others, meeting the needs of the poor, turning the other cheek, emphasizing peace, and not demanding what we perceive to be our rights. Ironically and sadly, it is often the liberals (many of whom do not even understand their own need for salvation) who follow these teachings of Christ more than conservatives do.

Brothers and sisters, let's take Jesus' example to us very seriously. Yes, Christ came to earth to die for sinners. He also came preaching the Kingdom of God. His intent was to save us to live as the new creations he made us into. We must, therefore, seek to be the people we in fact are. To do that we need to cherish Christ's teachings and example as much as we do his sacrifice.

Monday, February 9, 2015

One More Reason Why World War II Was Such a Travesty

Wars are generally murky things.

It is often difficult to know who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are. Many times wars involve bad guys fighting bad guys. Secular governments usually struggle to decide whether or not to get involved (unless they have been attacked directly). Individuals face this same dilemma. This is because wars are usually not black and white, good versus evil in nature.

World War I is a great example of the murkiness of war. Europe had managed to make it through the 1800's without any major conflict. This was a great blessing from God. Unfortunately, by the early 1900's few people remained alive who remembered the horrors of war. Additionally, the industrial revolution had brought about new weapons that many in the military wanted to try out. Because of all this (and many other factors), saber rattling began. All it took was Archduke Ferdinand's assassination to unleash warfare like no one had ever seen before.

Who were the "good guys" in World War I? The answer is that there weren't any. This is how we, as followers of Christ, should think about war. The vast majority of the time wars are not good versus evil, but evil versus evil (or at least more evil versus less evil).

This brings us to the one more reason why World War II was such a travesty. On the surface the second World War looks like a clear-cut decision. There were really bad guys who had to be stopped, and we good guys were going to stop them. Hitler attacked, so we attacked back. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so we nuked them (twice no less!). We were good, and they were bad. End of story.

I believe that Christians should not have been involved in World War II, at least as far as killing goes. However, for the purposes of this post I just want to point out one thing: the additional travesty of World War II is that many within the church still think of all wars as being the World War II type: clear cut good against evil. This thinking, in turn, leads the church (ironically and tragically) to be one of the biggest supporters of the military when we go to war.

If we look at U.S. warfare post World War II we see a murky quagmire. The good versus evil thinking fails when looking at Korea and Vietnam. Were we (the U.S.) really with the good guys? Were there any good guys? What if we were the bad guys?

The first Persian Gulf war seems to be fairly clear cut as wars go. However, our involvement there has led to all sorts of terrible ramifications since (such as the 1993 and 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center). Wars always have unforeseen, negative consequences (see the far too harsh Versailles Treaty that ended World War I and its leading to the rise of Nazism in Germany).

America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq post 9/11 has been an absolute disaster in almost every way possible. We've lost hundreds of soldiers, killed thousands of civilians, spent billions of dollars, and left both situations in worse shape than before we arrived. And this makes us the good guys? I don't see how.

Wars are murky. We ought to think of them as they are: much more like World War I than World War II. Additionally, we Christians are members of a far better kingdom: our citizenship is in heaven. Why then would we followers of the Prince of Peace ever kill on behalf of a secular government? We do far better to abstain from warfare as it rages around us.

Let's be people of peace, not war.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Announcing Two More Book Winners!

Copies of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity do more good in the hands of readers than they do on my shelf. Therefore, I'm giving away two more copies. The winners are Stephanie and LaDon! Enjoy!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What Bible Versions We Use

About a week ago I asked What Version of the Bible Do You Use? Thank you to those who answered the question. In case you are wondering, I like to read from both the ESV and the NKJV.

The results from this informal poll are as follows (with me included): ESV - 4, NIV - 4, NASB - 3, NKJV - 2, YLT - 2, ISV - 1, and The Message - 1. As a small group, we choose to read from quite a variety of versions (The Message is a paraphrase).

My guess is that if we asked the entire church in this country this same question we would receive similar results. Although we speak the same language, we read various versions for various reasons.

As I ponder these results I'm struck by three things:

1. We are greatly blessed to have so many excellent translations at our disposal.

2. Even though we read different versions, we are united (or at least ought to be).

3. Most importantly, we serve the same Lord Jesus Christ.

An additional blessing is that all of these translations contain the same content. We do not have to be confused about any important doctrines because all solid versions present us with the same information. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Could You Ever Kill? Would You Ever Kill?

I've never been a fan of killing.

The Ten Commandments make it clear that murder is wrong. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. The epistles are full of exhortations to look out for the good of our neighbors. One general theme throughout all scripture is that the taking of another life is not good.

Despite the above, I've previously held to two exceptions when it comes to killing. I believed it was acceptable to kill if it was part of a war I deemed just or if someone was attacking my family or friends.

I've been pondering this issue quite a bit for the past couple of years. It has been a challenging process. I've arrived at the following conclusion: I could no longer and would no longer kill another human being for any reason. No exceptions.

Now, if someone was attacking my family I would certainly defend them. However, killing is no longer part of the equation. As for warfare, count me out. I would never take up arms as part of a national military.

My two questions for you mirror the title of this post: Could you ever kill? Would you ever kill? Why or why not?

I'd love to hear your reasoning. If you differ from me I will not respond with any sort of attack. I may question you further, but I won't let the discussion turn ugly. Thanks for responding.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Please Read This Book

I'm only part way through Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, but I'm already recommending it to all followers of Jesus Christ. I'm not suggesting you read it because I agree with everything author Preston Sprinkle says (I don't). I am recommending it because Sprinkle writes thoughtfully about a topic that is largely ignored within the American church today. We do well to consider Jesus Christ's teachings related to violence and peace.

I'll have a full review after I've completed reading the book, but for now let me simply say that you will benefit from it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What Version of the Bible Do You Use?

What version of the bible do you use?

We English speakers enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bible translations. While many languages have only one translation, English has multiple good versions. We are truly blessed.

This particular blog post stems from nothing more than curiosity. I'm not sitting in judgment over what translation you use. I'd just like to know.

Please take a minute to leave your response in the comments of this post. If you tend to use more than one translation, then answer with whatever ones you want. Just please answer. Thanks.

Well That Blog Theme Was a Mistake

I tried out a new blog theme for a while, but it was a mistake. The more I looked at it the more it felt too busy. In the end the verdict was this: yucky.

I've switched back to something simpler and smoother. I've always liked the combination of red, white, and blue. I'm not patriotic, but the colors are nice nonetheless. Not that any of this matters in the the big picture of life, but since this is my blog I get to blather about it regardless.