Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: the year "the powers that be" became "the powers that were"

Click on the title of this post for The Washington Post's year-end summary of religious news. The bottom line: whether the subject is Congress or church leadership, people are just not happy with the status quo.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Jeremiah 29:7

Year ago, the comic-strip Kudzu featured the Reverend Will B. Dunne -- a pastor who felt he'd been called to minister to the rich and famous. Somehow, it never turned out . . .

But click on the title of this post, and you get read the LA Times profile of Kim Dorr -- a Hollywood agent who runs Bel Air Presbyterian's outreach to the entertainment industry. (And yes, this is one woman you might want to keep in your prayers; I cannot even begin to imagine the challenges she must face in her ministry!)

The purpose-driven church comes to Hog Mountain

What happens when a little, bitty, rural church gets swallowed up by urban sprawl? Click here to find out! (And the next time you're tempted to mutter about "old fogeys," remember that the change-agent in this church is a pastor who's 81-years-old!)

Friday, December 22, 2006

You can do the same thing with most CCM.

Click on the title of this post for Benny Davis's "Four Chord Song" -- a pastiche of 19 pop songs that all use pretty much the same chord progression.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where would we be without Ned Flanders?

The Parents Television Council (PTC) reports that TV shows mentioned religion only half as much this year as they did the last -- and a full third of the references were negative.

The big exception? Reality shows, where religion often comes up -- and almost always in a positive light!

And even though the PTC doesn't mention it, religion is also an essential part of The Simpsons! Click here for a reprint of "The Simpsons have soul" -- and if you'd like to read a Wikipedia article on The Simpsons and religion, click here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today's communion service was brought to you by Welches grape juice . . .

So . . . you get a letter that offers you a chance to win both a thousand dollars and at a free trip to London; all you need to do is mention Disney's film, "The Chronicles of Narnia," in one of your sermons.

Would you do it?

And no, this is not a theoretical question. According to a recent article in the Wharton School of Business's on-line journal, major corporations such as Disney and DaimlerChrysler are looking for ways to reach church audiences . . . and if that means paying pastors to do "product placements" in church services, then so be it.

Full disclosure: as editor of Signs of the Times, I wrote an annual sermon that was sent out to all Adventist pastors; the hope was they'd use the sermon -- and in the process, they'd put in a plug for Signs. And yes, I've also run announcements in the church bulletin for upcoming Adventist Book Center sales; in return, our church got a $20 credit on future orders.

Click on the title of this post for a reprint of the article in "Out of Ur." As you do so, I hope you'll appreciate the irony of the fact that it's sponsored by Leadership magazine. And yes, you may want follow this article with William Willimon's mediation on consumerism; click here to read it.

Update: For part two of the Wharton article, click here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Love is blind -- and often tasteless

I don't know any pastor who's going to be surprised by this article in The New York Times -- it reports that a lot of couples plan to get married without really knowing all that much about each other.

Click on the title of this post for the article -- and if you'd like a list of the 15 questions a couple should ask before marriage, then click here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New York, New York, it's a [heavenly] town . . .

I dunno -- you think about starting an outreach ministry to the people who work on Wall Street, and you picture something . . . sophisticated.

But faith healing? Speaking in tongues? And the kind of straight-up belief in miracles that says the World Trade Center was kept standing as long as it did by prayer?

Meet Dan Stratton: a graduate of Yale and a former commodities trader who now leads a 400-member Pentecostal church in downtown Manhattan.

(Click on the title of this post for the article in The New York Times.)

Episcopalians face split over gays

The Episcopal Church has always prided itself on its ability to draw together all kinds of Christians:
  • "high church" Anglo-Catholics,
  • "low church" evangelicals,
  • and "broad church" liberals.
That era may be coming to an end. The American church's decision to ordain women dismayed Anglo-Catholics; its decision to ordain a gay bishop has outraged Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and Anglican leaders around the world. Now a group of American churches has announced its intent to secede from the local diocese, and form an alliance with a bishop overseas.

For a mix of perspectives on this issue, click here for an article in The Christian Science Monitor, here for an article in The New York Times and here for an article in The Washington Post.

Update: To read the response of a "broad church" Episcopal priest to all this, click here for the article in Slate. (You can sum up her view as "good bye and good riddance.")

Update: Click here for a NYT profile of Peter Akinola -- the Nigerian archbishop whose strong stance against homosexuality has made him the leader of 21 Episcopal churches in the USA.

Jesus was homeless too.

Click here for an article in The Christian Science Monitor about "Common Cathedral" -- a ministry to street people in Boston. And you can click here for an article in The Oregonian about "Dinner and a Movie" -- a ministry to homeless adolescents in Portland.

Thinking about trying something similar yourself? As both articles point out, ministries such as these take time -- time on the street, time to earn trust, and time to see results.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rest in Peace?

It's a scene that's played out by thousands of families every day . . . but when you're Billy Graham, it gets covered by the Washington Post.

Simply put: the Graham family has split over the question of their parents eventual burial.
  • Youngest son Ned wants his mothers' wishes honored; she's always wanted to be buried up in the hills of North Carolina -- and she wants Billy there beside her.
  • Oldest son Frankling wants them both to be buried on the grounds of the new Billy Graham Evangelistic Association museum that he's building in Charlotte -- a museum that features (among other things) a talking cow.
  • And Billy? He hates controversy.
Click on the title of this post for the article in the Washington Post.

Update: Billy Graham's response to this article was that he and his wife will choose the site of their graves; click here for the article in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not only are there no atheists in foxholes, but there don't seem to be many at the Pentegon.

Seven high-ranking Army and Air Force officers appeared in a promotional video for the Christian Embassy -- an evangelical outreach group that's run by Bill Bright.

Nothing wrong with that . . . but they did so in uniform, and that's raised some eyebrows.

Click on the title of this post for the article in the Washington Post.

But wait -- there's more! Click here to read an interview with Mikey Weinstein, the man who's leading the charge against this video. (And yes, I think it's safe to say that he is not a happy camper.)

Caught between two worlds

Sooner or later, it happens to every pastor.

One of the kids in your church -- a nice kid, always polite, never missed church or Sabbath School, did a great job leading Student Week of Prayer . . .

He finishes high school. Moves off to college. Gets a job in the big city.

Then you hear from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend that he's "come out of the closet."

And yes, he's still part of the church family -- part of the church family in a way that only someone who grew up in a small church can be.

But . . .

(Click on the title of this post for the article in the New York Times.)

The day Harlem got its steeple back.

It was one of Harlem's landmarks . . . but 35-years-ago, the Ephesus SDA Church caught fire and lost its steeple.

Today, the steeple is back -- and the church is on the front-page of the New York Times!

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ditch the praise team; add a belching contest.

Click on the title for an LA Times article on Brad Stine -- the Christian comedian who's made it his life's work to "dewussify" American Christianity. And yes, if you've read Wild at Heart, you know what he's talking about:
  • holding hands,
  • sharing feelings,
  • and Praise services that sound like the kind of music your wife listens to in the car?
All that is now verboten; the goal is a church service for "manly men."

Mind you, I'm not entirely sure that "rude and crude" is all that much of an improvement . . .

Thursday, December 07, 2006

When "purpose driven" meets NIMBY

It's not just the traffic -- no, it's also the impact on the environment that has their neighbors so upset.

Talking about shopping malls?

No -- we're talking about megachurches. Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

India's Christians

Yes, they make up less than three-percent of India's population -- but come Sunday mornings, you'll find more Christians attending church in India than you do in the United Kingdom. Click on the title of this post for a quick look at that country's believers in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Okay, you've shown me the money. Now what?

Want to realize just how rich you really are? Click on the title for this post.

As an Adventist pastor, you see, I make roughly $50,000 per year. That's not including my pension plan, medical benefits, and educational subsidies -- and when you have two children in SDA schools, that adds up fast!

Still, I'd always thought of myself as "middle-class" -- and in the USA, I'm about as close to the median for family income as it is possible to get.

But then I clicked on "Global Rich List," and I discovered that I make more money than 99% of the people on this planet . . .

It's an odd feeling.

Tax-collectors, sinners, and Democrats

Op-ed piece by the Washington Post's E. J. Dionne on Rock Warren's invite to Barack Obama viz. the Saddleback Church's recent conference on AIDS. The bottom line: Evangelical Christianity (says Dionne) is no longer a Sunday-morning pep-rally for the GOP.

Then again, E. J. is something of an anomaly himself -- he's a liberal Democrat, remember, AND a devout Catholic. So . . . has he really found a kindred spirit in the Purpose-Driven pastor? Or is this wishful thinking?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Harold be thy name

Too late for the holiday, I ran across BustedHalo' s guide to Thanksgiving prayers . . . but it still applies to Christmas (and an amazing number of pastoral prayers that I've heard in church).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mens sana in corpore sano

Don't want your kids to smoke or drink?
Then don't let them watch R-rated movies.
That's the suggestion from researchers at Dartmouth Medical School. According to the Washington Post:
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School who surveyed 2,600 children ages 9 to 12 and their parents found that [the 45-percent of all] kids whose parents did not let them watch R-rated films were 40 percent less likely to consider using cigarettes or alcohol than those with more-permissive parents.
Researchers admit there may be all kinds of reasons for this link -- but one of the simplest is that children want to be like the adults they admire . . . and the adults in R-rated movies are more likely to smoke and drink than those in G or PG films.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All I want for Christmas . . .

This year I’ve decided to ask for practical gifts – wool socks, not world peace.

It’s not that I’m against world peace; it’s just that asking for it is like wishing the Adventist church would come up with a leaner, flatter, more efficient organizational structure. It ain’t going to happen, so deal with it.

So . . . in the spirit of do-able giving, here’s my wish-list for Christmas 2006:

1. I’d like Pacific Press or the Review & Herald to put out a good, single-volume Bible commentary – an Adventist version of the International Bible Commentary or the Harper’s Bible Commentary . . . something I could recommend to Sabbath School teachers, college students, and the like. The SDA Bible Commentary is just too big (and expensive!) for ordinary use.

2. Next, I want the people who put together the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly to meet with Jon Paulien. “Jon,” they’d say, “the lessons you put together on the Gospel of John were outstanding; they were smart, practical, and easy to teach. What would it take for us to publish more lessons like that?”

3. Ministry magazine – just two words: advice column.

4. And could Spectrum magazine please stop publishing those long, melancholy, “coming of age” essays that describe how graduate school provoked a spiritual crisis in the author's life? (Yes, you are undoubtedly sadder but wiser for having gone through this experience. Now shut up.)

5. True fact: I’ve never met the high school student yet who didn’t prefer Guide to Insight . . . and it’s amazing how many college students are still reading Guide! What does this suggest?

6. To the art director of Adventist World: please stop using green on the cover! I don’t know what it looks like on your design-table, but in my mail-box it looks like pea soup.

7. The Adventist Review . . . sigh.

8. How about a regular column on church finances in Adventist Today – you know, one that talks about where the money actually goes, who spends the most on overhead, and why it is that every single church organization out there feels as though it needs to run its own payroll?

9. If Jan Paulsen started his own blog, I would read it. Honest.

10. And yes, wool socks are always nice.

Get me the International War Crimes Tribunal -- stat!

In a move that surely must have been foretold in the Book of Revelation, a museum will be opening soon in Sweden to honor the pop-group ABBA.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maybe if they started offering discount exorcisms?

Lots of interest in an article in the New York Times about a recent attempt by some scientists to forge a coalition against religion -- less than a week old it's already attracted over 500 comments (as of this posting).

Unfortunately for its future as a movement, the group was not able to agree on much of anything. Thus far, as a matter of fact, its creed would consist of the following.
  • Science good.
  • Religion bad.
  • Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris should shut up and stop antagonizing the yokels.

I'll believe it when the Village People do an album of praise songs.

The YMCA began as a ministry to inner-city workers . . . but in post-war America, it became little more than a chain of health and fitness clubs. Now there's a move to "re-Christianize" the Y, with 13% now offering some kind of program in Christian spirituality.

Click on the title for the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Have they ever thought of selling indulgences?

Click on the title for a Washington Post reporter's visit to a storefront church that offers "quickie" exorcisms for the low, low price of only $33. (But wait -- you also get a rose!)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Road to Armageddon

For all the complaining and kvetching I've done about the things some people do with Adventist eschatology, I have to admit one thing: it's never killed anybody. (Well, not a lot of people, anyway.)

Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said of millennial dispensationalism -- a view of prophecy that leads some American Evangelicals to rule out any moves toward a homeland for the Palestinian people. Just how this affects American foreign policy is a matter of debate. My guess? It sure doesn't help.

Click on the title for the article in TNYT. And as you read, you might want to ponder these words from Amos 9:7 (NIV) --
"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Peculiar Prophet

I've been a fan of William Willimon for the past couple of years -- and if you haven't read Pastor: the Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, then drop whatever you're doing right now, and get that book!

Anyway, he's moved from Duke University (where he was the chaplain) to the wilds of Alabama (where he serves as the Methodist bishop of a couple hundred churches). And as part of his job, he blogs!
  • The audience? His pastors.
  • The format? One-part pep talk, one-part kick in the pants, one-part wondering out loud "just what the heck are we doing here anyway?"
  • The reason why every Adventist pastor should read his blog? Ummmm . . . maybe we could learn something from his efforts to turn a hidebound and moribund bureaucracy into something that actually serves the Body of Christ?
Click on the title for a link to his blog.

Couldn't they just run DVDs of his old sermons?

Q: With Haggard out, what happens to the megachurch he pastored?
A: Nobody knows -- and if the truth be known, that's the question that dogs just about every megachurch out there. Scandal aside, it won't be too long before some of these guys start retiring . . . and the transfer of power from one pastor to another is tricky enough without the "cult of personality" that surrounds some of them.

Click on the title for the article in Yahoo! News.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Now if anybody wants to send ME a set of White House cufflinks, I wouldn't mind.

Q&A in Salon with Richard Cizik -- the guy in charge of politics at the National Association of Evangelicals. The big news: Evangelicals went 90% for the GOP in the last election; in this one, "only" 66%. The reason: They're mad about corruption -- and even though Cizik doesn't say it, I'll bet they're none too happy about Iraq and the economy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a control issue

Full disclosure: many of my friends in high school were charismatics -- and they were continually after me to "speak in tongues." Never did . . . but I've always been curious as to just exactly what is going on here.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Studies have already shown that people who speak in tongues are emotionally and mentally more stable than the average person who doesn't. And recently, researchers at the University of Pennysylvania did brain scans of five women while they were speaking in tongues; what they found is:
their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior. . . .

The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. . . . [which is] involved in motor and emotional control . . . so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.

Update: check this article in Slate for a somewhat skeptical view of this experiment.

Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Remember: vote early and often!

Q & A with John Green, a Senior Fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, answering questions from readers of the Washington Post about the impact of religion on this year's election. Bottom line: Catholics and white Evangelicals may be giving the Democratic Party another look -- but they still ain't happy with what they see.

Why is it the Navy and the Air Force that continually hassles with this, and not the Army?

Okay, so you're a military chaplain who's supposed to minister to the religious needs of everyone in your unit . . . but you really, truly believe that the best way to do this is to make them all Christians who believe the same way that you do. What to do? (Click on the title for an update in The Washington Poston the legal challenges posed by this issue.)

That "whirring" noise you hear is Jesse Helms, spinning in his grave.

Evangelical (read "Pentecostal") Christians make up 20-30% of Nicaragua's voters -- and that makes them the "swing voters" in that country's upcoming Presidential election. As a result, Nicaragua's politics now feature alliances that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
  • Evangelicals with Catholics.
  • And yes, Evangelical's with Sandinistas!
And by the way -- one of the trends we're seeing in Latin America is the rise of Evangelical political parties. Does this augur a new "middle force" in regional politics . . . or the Latin American equivalent of the Thirty Years War?

Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thou shalt not be afraid . . .

The New York Times just ran an impressionistic interview with a Marine medic in Iraq (and yes, I know that he's actually a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, but it would take too long to explain why the Marines use Naval personnel for medics and chaplains, so give me a break -- okay?)

Anyway . . . read the article. Say a prayer. And read Psalm 91 with a whole new appreciation for what it can mean to those who serve.

I admire what they're doing -- so why does this make me uneasy?

Article in The Washington Post about the efforts of Christian groups to reach Chinese students who study here in the US -- an article that makes me wonder just exactly when it is that "showing Christ's love in a helpful way" crosses the line and becomes "manipulating people when they are vulnerable."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Actually, I liked him better when he was a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama.

Sam Harris is the kind of atheist who makes unbelievers squirm.

It's not just that he reject the idea of God; in both his books (and an upcoming movie), he also makes clear his belief that believers in any kind of god are evil, nasty, and irrational people.

Except Jains. Jains are okay. Harris wouldn't object if everyone became a Jain.

Then again, it's anybody's guess as to whether Harris's idea of Jainism squares with the beliefs and practices of Jains themselves. That's one of the problems with his books -- they don't always fit the facts on the ground.

Take his horrifying (and utterly convincing) description of a suicide bomber. In his first book, he describes everything except the reason why the bomber is prepared to do such a horrible thing. But then Harris asks the question, "Is there any doubt in your mind as to the religion this man believes?"

Actually, there is.

Suicide-bombing, remember, was not pioneered by Moslem extremists, but by Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka -- separatists who are pursuing the "secular" goal of a national-state for their people.

Now we could go on to talk about all the other "isms" that have inspired violence (and even suicide). Last time I checked, for instance, nobody was arguing that the "Kamikaze" of World War II were Moslems (or even theists); neither were the Khmer Rouge, nor the followers of "Heaven's Gate."

No, any belief can degenerate into violence; any faith can spawn hatred and death.

But find me someone who loves their enemies . . . now there you'd have something unique!

(Click on the title for the article in The Washington Post.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Grief Observed On Stage

Julia Sweeney was a devout Catholic.

Then her brother died of cancer, and her faith didn't help.

Julia's now an atheist, and in her one-woman show, she talks about her "spiritual journey" -- the journey of a woman who doesn't believe anymore.

Click on the title of this post for the New York Time's review of her show.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The wages of sin are death -- but as an investment, it looks pretty good.

Turns out that a lot of "socially responsible" investment fund managers are rethinking bans on companies that deal with alcohol or gambling. Ask them, and they'll tell you that these issues aren't as "black and white" as they used to be . . . but the real reason may be buried in paragraphs 18 and 19 of The Christian Science Monitor's article on the topic:

Finances could also be a factor. Pax's three funds have largely failed to keep pace with average mutual-fund industry returns over intervals of one, three, or five years, according to data from fund-tracker Morningstar. In one particularly painful episode, Pax last year reluctantly divested its profitable stake in Starbucks when the coffee giant struck a deal with Bourbon distiller Jim Beam and triggered a requisite "sell" in accordance with a zero-tolerance policy for companies that make alcoholic products.

Meanwhile, vices are paying dividends. The Vice Fund, which seeks out alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and defense stocks, has beaten the market with returns in excess of 18 percent on average over the past three years.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

If you thought those secular humanists in Hollywood were bad, just wait till you see what Christians can do!

Matthew Crouch makes Christian movies.

And no, the movies themselves are not very good. And if this profile of him in The Los Angeles Times is any guide, the man himself is not very . . . nice.

But his parents do run the Christian TV network TBN -- so hey, what do I know?

You don't suppose Matthew Crouch is working for him, do you?

Sure as eggs, you're going to get asked about Richard Dawkins' book -- in The God Delusion, he argues that belief in God is just not mistaken, but positively evil.

Fortunately, you can click on the title of this post for a review of Dawkin's book in the New York Times -- and while you probably won't agree with everything he says, the review's author makes it pretty clear that theism is safe (for now).

(Dawkins, by the way, has proposed that atheists should launch a PR campaign, and as part of this, they should start calling themselves as "Brights." Works for me . . . just so long as believers are referred to as "Lights." "Brights" and "Lights" -- I like it!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I still think they should have asked Little Richard to play the Apostle Paul

Turns out a lot of actors are devout Christians -- it's just that nobody noticed 'cuz they're Black. (And yes, some of them are Adventist too!) Now a new all-star audio-recording of the Bible is giving these members of Hollywood's elite a chance to talk about their faith. Click on the title for the article in the LA Times.

Monday, October 16, 2006

2000 years of Christianity are disappearing in Iraq.

Fifteen years ago, there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are somewhere between 600K and 800K -- and more are leaving every day. Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How long before they do "The Passion of the Christ" as a musical?

Article in The Christian Science Monitor about Hollywood's new-found interest in movies based on the Bible. The reason? Hollywood's long-established interest in movies that make money. When TPotC made $600 million, that made a lot of studios get religion. (And didn't they used to call these movies, "Bathrobe Epics"?)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And no, "Jesus Camp" is not the answer.

Christianity Today asked over a hundred youth leaders how we're doing at reaching youth.

The answer?

Not very well "They come to our events," say the experts. "They come forward when we make an altar call. But none of this seems to be making the long-term difference that it should.

So what's the problem?

"We've created a youth ghetto," say the experts -- "one that doesn't tie in with the larger church."

Click on the title for the article

Monday, October 09, 2006

Is there some way I could get Caesar to keep an eye on what I've been rendering unto God?

Okay, so I'm reading part two in The New York Times series on churches on the law -- the one where it says that pastors can't sue their denomination if they get fired.

And as I'm reading, I'm going, "yeah, yeah, yeah -- so what else is new?"

But then I read this:
Religious employers are exempt from Erisa, the federal pension law that establishes disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest restrictions for employee pension plans. That exemption has given rise to several cases in which workers at religious hospitals found that their pensions had vanished because of practices that would not have been allowed under Erisa’s rules.

A related exemption frees religious employers from participating in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government-run insurance program that provides a safety net for corporate pension plans.
Okay, that's . . . interesting.

Does anybody out there know how this affects us? I mean, even if we don't need to obey Erisa, we're still in compliance with it, right? And as for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation . . . oh well, never mind.

(By the way, the last few paragraphs of this article concern SDA hospitals. I knew that most SDAs won't join labor unions; I was a little surprised to find that our hospitals won't let any of their employees join labor unions, either.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Never mind "rendering unto Caesar" -- what about my local planning commission?

Troubling article in the NYT: Romans 13 urges me to "be subject to the governing authorities" -- but does that mean I have to obey local zoning laws? How about state regulations on child-care? And could somebody tell me how to build a baptistry that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sure glad we don't have to worry about this.

Interesting article in the New York Times about youth ministry -- right now, many evangelical churches are running scared; they're afraid they're going to lose the next generation.

Monday, September 25, 2006

In God(s) We Trust

A new poll by the folks at Baylor University suggests that Americans tend to have one of five views about God:

Only 5% of all Americans say there's no God.

Type A: Authority
31% say God exists, and view Him as a "hands on" deity with definite ideas about right and wrong (and a full array of rewards and punishments that are based on those rules).

Type B: Benevolent
23% believe God exists . . . but while they'd agree with people in the first group that God gets involved -- both in the world and in the lives of individuals -- they see Him as more caring and forgiving.

Type C: Critical
16% think God doesn't get involved in the here and now . . . but He does exist, and He does judge you in the afterlife.

Type D: Distant
Finally, 24% believe in the Deity of Thomas Jefferson, i.e. God established the laws of this Universe, set the whole thing in motion, and then walked away; He neither judges nor intervenes in human affairs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Funny, they tried this on people who were listening to one of my sermons, but nothing happened.

Buddhist monks chant. Franciscan nuns meditate. Pentecostals speak in tongues.

But hook them all up to a brain-scan while they're doing these things, and you get . . .

Well, judging by the letters that came in response to this article in Salon, you mainly get a lot of people who are sure this proves whatever they happened to believe before this study came along.

Myself, I can't help but think the Adventist concept of the soul would be a helpful addition to this conversation -- is there anybody out there who's thinking about these things?

Nirvana meets James Dobson

This is one article in Salon where I'm not sure how to react -- it seems the author spent some time at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle; it's your basic (and wildly successful) grunge-Goth fundamentalist church . . . but if the author's right, it's also gone big-time into the idea of "wives, be obedient to your husbands."

And yes, the author has an axe to grind. I'm not sure, for instance, why I'm supposed to think it's so sinister that members of this church actually sell real-estate (gasp!) to other church members.

Still . . . this wouldn't be the first time a church has started pushing people into boxes. And the pastor of Mars Hill is pretty conservative theologically -- in fact, he's been pretty vocal about the "liberal" failings of the "emerging church" movement.

So how about it -- is the author over-reacting? Or is Mars Hill offering a post-modern version of kuche, kinder, und kirche?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pro-life in Pennsylvania

Nice profile of Robert Casey in The Washington Post -- he's running for the US Senate in Pennsylvania.

So why's a pro-life Catholic running as a Democrat? His answer:
"If we are going to be pro-life, we cannot say we are against abortion . . . and then let our children suffer in broken schools. We can't claim to be pro-life at the same time we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children's Program."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's a Zen thing -- you wouldn't understand.

Interesting overview of American Buddhism in The Christian Science Monitor -- with 1.5 million believers, it's now the fourth-largest religion in America (just behind Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). What I find fascinating is the article's statement that it's growing so fast because it doesn't try to convert people.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you own a building that seats 600, then why do you call yourself an "emerging church"?

"The emerging church," said Dennis Colby in The Christian Century, is "a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, up-to-date interpretation of Christianity and a reluctance to directly answer questions."

Close enough -- though The Washington Post's recent profile of "emerging church" guru Brian McLaren points out he's actually 50-years-old! (And no, the article doesn't tell us whether he has any tattoos or body piercings.)

Then too, I can't help but wonder what happens when the members of these churches start having children. Most are the alumni of conservative churches, after all -- churches that stressed structure, order, and discpline. It's easy to understand why they'd grow up longing for something a little more "laid back."

And yes, many "emerging church" members make no secret of their disdain for megachurches. "Too slick and professional," they say, "too much like McDonalds."

Fair enough -- but start raising children, and words like "structure," "order," and "discipline" (much less "slick," professional," and even "McDonalds") start looking pretty good!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"When you're in a hole, stop digging."

Back in 2004, roughly 40-percent of American voters said the Democratic Party was "friendly" to religion.

"Whoa!" said the Democrats. "We've got to do something!"

And so, after three years of the Democrats trying to figure out how they can appeal to white Evangelicals and ethnic Catholics . . .

The number of American voters who say the Democratic Party is "friendly" to religion has dropped to 26-percent.

Click on the title for an analysis in Slate.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The stained-glass ceiling

Half of all Protestant seminary students are women -- but when it comes to big, multi-staff churches, only 3% have been willing to put a woman in charge. (And even many of the little-bitty churches that can't get anybody else will only accept a woman pastor as a last resort.)

Want to know what you can do?
  1. Invite a woman to preach in your pulpit.
  2. Click on the title of this post for the relevant article in the New York Times.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Own Party takes a hit

47% of Americans surveyed think the Republican Party is "friendly" to religion -- down from 55% a year ago. The drop was sharpest among two groups that have been key to recent GOP victories: Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

But no, this isn't good news for the Democrats -- only 26% of those surveyed say that party is "friendly" to religion!

Other finds:
  • 69% think the Left has gone too far in trying to keep religion out of public life, while 49% think the Right has gone too far in trying to bring religion into public life.
  • 51% think it's okay for their pastor to discuss politics in the pulpit, while 46% think it's wrong.

And when pastors do talk about politics, what do they say? Based on the people surveyed who attend church regularly, the most common topics are:

  • hunger and poverty (92%)
  • abortion (59%)
  • Iraq (53%)
  • homosexuality (52%)
  • evolution or intelligent design (40%)
  • stem cell research (24%)
  • immigration (21%)

Click on the title for a link to the article in The New York Times.

Monday, August 21, 2006

This is not your parent's Bible commentary

Chapter by chapter, book by book, David Plotz has been blogging his way through the Bible. He's almost done with the Book of Numbers -- and if you want to know what a post-modern Jew with a quirky sense of humor thinks of the Good Book, then have I got a blog for you!

Monday, August 07, 2006

All truth is God's truth

Interesting interview in Salon with Francis Collins -- head of the Human Genome Project, and a devout Christian. (And no, you're probably not going to like some of the things he says -- he believes in both miracles and evolution, in both the Virgin Birth and the Big Bang -- but as Jesus once pointed out, "God's kingdom is a net that catches all kinds of fish.")

Is it "dispensational premillennialism" or "premillennial dispensationalism"?

Click on the title for a thorough (and amazingly fair) explanation of the way many American evangelical Christians read prophecy -- and the impact this has on American foreign policy.

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's not a Moral Majority -- just a very loud minority.

When it comes to "moral" issues --issues such as abortion or gay marriage -- most Americans are in the middle.
  • They don't like abortion, but want to keep it legal.
  • They don't like gay marriage, but favor some kind of "civil union" for gay couples.

In fact, only 12-percent consistently favor the "conservative" stance on these issues -- and while the article doesn't say it, I'd suspect that an even smaller number consistently favor the "liberal" view.

What the articles ignores, however, is the power of these relatively small groups to set the agenda for the rest of us. (Click on the title for a link to the article.)

The one thing that makes us a pastor

The Christian Science Monitor did a "feel good" piece on a day in the life of a young priest -- the kind of stuff you'd expect to find in People magazine. ("He golfs! He eats cereal! He had a high school sweetheart!")

But in the midst of all that puff, there was one paragraph that is pure gold: "We often, often, often get called in the middle of the night. The callers don't want to see me," [the priest] says. "They want to see Christ."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I wonder if he could do the church bus next?

Okay -- this has absolutely nothing to do with pastoral ministry as it is currently practiced in the Adventist Church . . . but some things are just too cool not to pass on.

So click on the title of this post for a link to Ron Patrick's web-site. He's got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. A Volkswagen Beetle. A jet turbine engine. A waaaaaaay too much time on his hands.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Bible speaks to teens (kind of)

The good news: 70% of US teens say the Bible speaks to their lives -- and roughly half say they read it at least once a week.

The bad news: only one-in-five consider the Bible's message when they're making decisions about sex.

Click on the title of this post for the link to EURweb.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Funny, but some of the arguments against this sound kind of familiar.

Interesting article in Salon about the ongoing movement to ordain women as Catholic priests, regardless of what the leadership says. (You have to watch an ad to read the article, but it's free.)


Ran into an old friend who pastors in Fayetteville, North Carolina -- the closest church to Camp Bragg, i.e. the Army's home for the 82nd Airborne Division, Special Forces, and Delta Force.

His best guess is there's roughly 500 SDAs in uniform on that base. Roughly half are "hiding out," while the other half eventually show up in church.

So let's help him out -- if you have a church member (or know of a church member) who's stationed at Fort Bragg (or nearby Pope Air Force Base), send his or her name to me, and I'll forward it to my friend.

Yes, and this is exactly the kind of article you'd expect to find in the Washington Post

Ever wonder how those morons who disagree with you can actually believe all that drivel the idiots on their side keep churning out?

It turns out that the human brain is extraordinarily good at spotting the speck in other people's eyes, but ignoring the beam in our own. Click on the title of this post for an interesting article on the neuro-anatomy of hypocrisy.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The problem with "rendering unto Caesar" is that Caesar wants it all

Interesting article in The New York Times on Gregory Boyd -- a megachurch pastor in Minnesota who told his people that being a good Christian isn't necessarily the same thing as being a good Republican.

The immediate results?
  • His church lost 1,000 of its 5,000 members (mainly white, middle-class professionals).
  • He had to lay off seven of its fifty staff members.
  • His church's drive to raise $7 million stalled out at $4 million.

Then again, his church has picked up members from the Black, Hispanic, and Hmong communities.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I thought the Blues Brothers had dealt with this problem?

Just last year, the Catholic church closed 170 schools.

Stop and read that sentence again; read it and think about what this means. 170 schools -- the heart and soul of at least 170 parishes -- are gone forever . . . and that was just last year!

And in the past two decades, the Catholic Church has been forced to close 1600 schools!

If you'd like to know one man's opinion on the impact this will have on American cities, click on the title for a link to an op-ed piece in USA Today.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An elephant in sheep's clothing

Click on the title of this post for a really irritating article from the Reuters News Service about one megachurch that blends religion with politics.

Why is it so irritating? Number one: the article itself is a essentially a profile of one congregation -- the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, Ohio -- that the author has "puffed" into a trend, i.e. "Evangelical Christian megachurches have become little more than the Republican Party at prayer." Yes, that's true of some megachurches It may even be true of many megachurches. But if you've been following Rick Warren's career lately, then you know the true is far more complex (and far more interesting).

The second reason why this article irritates me is the behavior of that church's members. The pastor is under investigation by the IRS for alleged violations of the law that prohibits non-profit groups from backing political candidates. And then you have this quote from one of the members:

"Christians stepped back too far. I prayed in school but my kids can't pray in school," said volunteer Lisa Sexton, 42, a Bible school volunteer. "I should have spoken up earlier."

Well . . . no. Do the math, and you'll see that Lisa was born in 1964. The Supreme Court banned government-mandated prayers in school back in 1962 -- two years before she was born.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hmmm . . . seems to me the Bible also forbids us to charge interest

Should Christians ever declare bankrupcy? A number of conservative Christians say, "no." Others aren't so sure. Click on the title for the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Yes, the famous "MicroSoft Blue Screen of Death" is a lot like the Judgement, i.e. you never know when it might happen.

Okay, I admit that I'm a little wary of a church service going high-tech. Number one, as this article in the Christian Science Monitor makes plain, the stuff has a way of crashing on you. Then too, I'm old enough to remember when overhead projectors first came out -- and suddenly, too many pastors were using them to illustrate sermons that shouldn't have been preached in the first place.

My advice? Don't use technology as a substitute for clarity or meaning. No, get the bones of worship right, then add technology to make it better. Meanwhile, click on the title for the article.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rendering unto Caesar

Click on the title for a nice profile in The Christian Science Monitor of SDA Pastor Barry Black, chaplain to the U. S. Senate.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Raiders of the lost copper mine?

Okay, so the Bible talks about Edom as a powerful and prosperous rival to Israel back in the 12th-century BC . . .

"But we know that isn't true," say the revisionist historians, "because there was nobody living in Edom at that time except a few scraggly nomads."

Oops -- it turns out that somebody was mining a lot of copper in Edom back then . . . and that implies all kinds of economic and political and even military stuff was going on at that particular time.

You know, kind of like it says in the Bible.

Click on the title for a link to the article in The New York Times.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Forget "megachurch" -- this is a GIGAchurch!

His revival services routinely pull in 300,000 people. He has five million followers around the world. And his goal is a church within five minutes of every household on the planet.

What -- you mean you've never heard of the Reverend Enoch Adejare Adeboye?

Then click on the title of this post for a quick look in The Washington Post at what's happening now in Nigeria . . . because it's probably going to be happening tomorrow right here.

Actually, we plan to wait until it's out on DVD.

Click on the title for an interview in BeliefNet with Ralph Winter -- the producer of the X-Men trilogy (and a devout Christian).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Whose life gets changed?

One out of three kids will go on a cross-cultural mission trip before they graduate from High School -- and this year alone, roughly 1.6 million American youth and adults will go on some kind of short-term "mission trip," either at home or abroad.

Good news?

Maybe -- as critics (even within the church) like to point out, there's precious little evidence of long-term benefits for those who go (and even less for those on the receiving end of these trips).

Not pleasant news, I know. So take a deep breath, and click on the title of this post for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Big Brother can preach at your church every Sabbath!

It's called "godcasting" -- and if past trends are any guide, it's going to start hitting the Adventist church big-time in two to four years.

Here's how it works:
  1. Find a pastor who knows how to preach.
  2. Record his or her sermons.
  3. Get a team who knows what they're doing to edit and add special effects.
  4. Show it on Sabbath morning.
  5. Use a local team of lay people to provide worship music during the service (and personal follow-up afterwards).

The advantages: church people get a good sermon every week (and the Conference saves on pastoral salaries).

The disadvantages: if you're over 50-years-old, you probably won't like it . . . and yes, it does open the possibility of good preachers gaining a cult-like following.

Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let it shine

Click on the title for an article in the New York Times about a Christian youth group that meets in an elite New York public school.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

So that's why they call them "cell groups"!!!

So you're a Chinese Christian stuck working in some out-of-the-way town where nobody speaks your language . . . but you have a cell-phone with free weekend-minutes? Welcome to the Church of Grace -- a Chinese-language Christian church that holds services by conference call. Click on the title for the article in the New York Times -- and let me know if anyone out there would like to start something similar.

Does this mean "Kumbayah" is making a comeback too?

Interesting article in the Washington Post about the political rebirth of the religious left. The big question: sure, mainline Christians who care about the environment, poverty, and the poor are better organized than they have been in years -- but do they have the numbers to make a difference?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Perhaps the House of Representatives needs to read Matthew 6:5-8?

Every now and then, I get asked to have prayer at a public meeting -- a city council meeting, Kiwanis, whatever. And whenever I do, I always ask myself just how "Christian" this prayer should be. Many of the people taking part, after all, are not church members -- and some are most definitely and defiantly not Christians!

So . . . do I pray "in Jesus name" or not?

It turns out that military chaplains struggle with the same issue -- and for a quick look at the issue, click on the title for a link to the relevant article in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gnostic gnews

Click on the title for a ton of links that will help you deal with questions about the Gospel of Judas.

The real question: why is Tom Hanks wearing a mullet?

Click on the title for lots and lots of links to stuff that will help you deal with The DaVinci Code.

Attack of the phantom church members

The good news? Roughly 40-percent of all Americans will tell you they were in church last week.

The bad news? Somewhere between one-fourth and one-half of the people who said this were lying (or mistaken).

Click on the title for a link to the article in Christianity Today.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

With Jesus in the family . . .

Nothing brings people back to church like having children -- but what happens when the parents still don't believe, even though they'd like their children to have all the benefits that come with going to church (or synagogue)? Click on the title for an interesting article on this topic in The Washington Post. (And while I'm at it -- have any of you run into a similar experience in your church? What was it like, how did you handle it, and what was the result?)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wait until they hear my eight-part sermon series on the Book of Habakkuk

68-percent of the people who attend church say that music is their favorite part of the service. Click on the title of this post for the latest poll results, as well as quick updates on Moslem attitudes towards women, the Catholic church and condoms, and religion in public schools.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Vote for Caesar!

This campaign season promises to be a lively one -- so remember:
  • As a pastor, you can talk about issues, but . . .
  • You cannot endorse candidates -- not unless you want to lose your church's tax-exempt status.
  • And yes, you can distribute "voter education guides" that endorse candidates . . .
  • But if you do so, then you must provide a variety of "voter education guides" that endorse a variety of candidates. If you distribute a pamphlet put out by your local ministerial alliance that endorses local Republican candidates, for instance, then you also need to provide material by other groups that endorse other candidates.

And if all this seems picky, then click on the title of this post for a link to an article in The Washington Post about churches that may lose their tax-exempt status because they were endorsing specific candidates.

Again, you can talk about issues all you want. But start endorsing candidates from the pulpit, and the IRS ain't gonna like that at all!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Jerusalem. Rome. Azusa Street?

The modern Pentecostal movement is just 100 years old. It has 500 million members. And if it keeps growing the way it has, it won't be too long before it's bigger than the Catholic Church. Click on the title of this post for a link to an article in the Christian Science Monitor about THE religious movement of the 20th-century . . . and maybe the 21st?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Revolution WILL be televised after all.

Interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about "guerilla videos" -- short, punchy TV commercials that push an idea or philosophy (not a product). And thanks to the Web, they can reach millions in a week at no distribution cost. (Anybody tried something like this with their church? Just an idea.) Click on the title of this post for the link.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ttttalking 'bout my generation

Interesting article in the London Times about British youth who rebel against their parents by finding God. How widespread this might be, the article doesn't say -- it gives a figure of 150,000 annual conversions to Islam, but says little about Evangelical Christianity other than "it's growing." Click on the title for the link.

This isn't your parents' contemporary worship service.

There are days I wonder if the best preparation for preaching today would be to spend time as a stand-up comedian, or maybe a rap artist. And if that sounds crazy, click on the title of this post for an article in the Washington Post about an African-American Episcopal priest who's borrowed from both genres to reach the under-40 crowd.

Something to think about at the next church potluck

Maybe you remember seeing it in the news a couple of years back -- the church in Maine where somebody put arsenic in the coffee? It turns out to have been a disgruntled church member who was trying to "get even" for a bad cup of coffee he'd been given earlier. A sad story -- click on the title of this post for the latest details in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We don't dance, but we sure can spin

What do Billy Graham Rick Warren, T. D. Jakes, Promise Keepers, and movies such as The Passion of the Christ and The Prince of Egypt all have in common?

Answer: Larry Ross handles their PR -- and if your reaction is "Larry who?" then click on the title of this post for a link to a nine-page article (!!!) in The New York Times magazine about the King of Christian Spin-doctors.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ask, and you shall receive

Click on the title of this post for an interesting article on tithing in (of all places) The Washington Post. Bottom line: you won't get if you don't ask -- but you won't keep getting if you don't spend it right.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

We are His hands

Neat article in The Christian Science Monitor on an Episcopal priest who set up a residential program for recovering prostitutes -- click on the title of this post for the link.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rendering unto Caesar

With apologies to Heraclitus -- the philosopher who said that "you can't step into the same river twice" -- I'd have to say that "you can't step into the same election twice," i.e. the world of politics is changing fast.

Take the Christian Coalition -- long a favorite bugaboo of conspiracy theorists everywhere. But click on this article in The Washington Post, and you'll find that it ain't doing so well -- no leadership, no credibility, and (probably the most important of all,) no money. That doesn't mean the Christian Right is dead -- far from it! But the players have changed.

And believe it or not, the Christian Left may be showing signs of life. (Maybe.) For a sympathetic (if overly long and wordy) look at what's happening on that side of the aisle, try Dan Wakefield's article in The Nation. And if that article is just a little too long and wordy, there's a quick summary of who's who on the Christian Left on BeliefNet.

Finally, the noted classicist and Catholic writer Garry Wills takes a look at both Left and Right, only to declare "a plague on both your houses" in The New York Times.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas (updated April 16)

There's been a big to-do in the news lately about The Gospel of Judah -- a brand-new version of Christ's life that reveals the shocking fact that Judas was a hero!

You know -- just like in Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Actually, there's nothing new about the message of this particular "gospel" (even if this particular gospel is "new"). It's just one more example of "gnosticism" -- that old, old philosophy that says Jesus was a kind of "New Age" teacher who had nothing to do with the God of the Old Testament.

Want to know more? Click on this title of this post for a link to Collin Hansen's article in Christianity Today. And for another view, try this article in The New York Times: Document is genuine, but is its story true? Adam Gopnik has a good summary in The New Yorker. And if you'd like to read excerpts from the "gospel" itself, it's available in a PDF file from
National Geographic

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's like a library without walls

Click on the title for a link to Bookcrossing -- a group that encourages you to read a book, then give it away. The incentive? They'll help you keep track of who reads your book next, and what they thought of it! (And somewhere, somehow, somebody's going to think of a way to use an idea like this for evangelism.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Just another reason to reconsider that call to South Dakota

'Tis the Spring -- that time of year when the voice of the Ministerial director is heard throughout the land, and the calls to pastor another church doth begin to multiply and increase.

Well, yeah . . . and just to give you one more thing to think about, you can click on the title to this post for a quick, easy, and amazingly detailed comparison of the cost of living in just about anyplace you might think of living with wherever it is that you're living now.

Perhaps they should have read Joel Osteen's book?

So this researcher with the Harvard Medical School spends $2.4 million to study the effects of prayer on 1,800 heart patients . . . and the good news is that prayer does have some effect if the patients know you're praying for them.

The bad news is, they do worse.

Don't believe me? Click on the title of this post and read it for yourself.

Well, it certainly works for him

God wants to make you rich -- and if you need proof of that, consider this article in The New York Times. (And do I need to keep telling you to click on the title of this post in order to link with it?) It seems that Joel Osteens's last book on "the gospel of prosperity" has already sold three million copies . . . and he just got a $13 million advance from Simon & Schuster for his next book. (And for his third book in the series, he's going to tell us why Job's friends were right after all.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kosher cell phones?

Myself, I'm beginning to think that cell phones are a form of demonic possession . . . but click on the title of this post for an article in the Wall Street Journal on some of the ways people have found to make their religion go wireless.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dealing with DaVinci

The DaVinci Code will be coming out soon as a movie -- and if you're like me, you're already getting questions about it.

Click on the title of this post for a link with an article in The Christian Science Monitor about all the ways different Christian groups plan to deal with the questions raised by this movie. (Some are even seeing it as an evangelistic tool -- go figure!)

Friday, March 17, 2006

In the end, it's still the Word.

Know what's really hot in New York City?

People on stage, talking. (Really! Click on the title for a link to the article -- and if it wasn't true, then it wouldn't be in The New York Times, right?)

So . . . if the New York Public Library can pack them in for lectures, then maybe the Sabbath-morning sermon is ready for a comeback?

Is the M.Div. the new M.B.A.?

Seminary enrollments are up -- but the number of students who plan to make a career in the pastorate is down. Click on the title for an article in The New York Times that explains why more and more people want to work for God . . . but don't want to work for a church.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

House churches

Click on the title for a good, balanced article in Time on the house-church movement. The pluses: intimacy, authenticity, and low cost. The downside: sometimes the crazies take over. (Think "David Koresh.") And what the article doesn't mention is something that's a problem with any small group -- it's great for the adults, but what do you do with the kids?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The best book ever written about the ministry

I'm not a youth pastor.

And I've been a pastor way longer than two years.

But Doug Field's book, Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, is the best I've ever read on being a pastor.


Doug is the youth pastor at the Saddleback Church in southern California (and yes, he's written a book called Purpose Driven Youth Ministry). But don't let that scare you. Your First Two Years won't leave you feeling depressed and inadequate. Instead, it's like having a cup of (decaf) coffee with your best friend from seminary as the two of you chew over what's been happening this past week.

And yes, even rapidly aging Senior pastors (like me) will appreciate Doug's advice. Take, for instance, the fifth of his Ten Essentials for Minstry: "I will avoid the comparison trap." Think about that one the next time someone you know gets called to a bigger church than the one you're currently pastoring!

So stop whatever you're doing. Drop whatever you're reading. Click on to the title of post -- it will take you straight to the Amazon web-page for Doug's book -- and BUY THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY!

Got that done?

Then the next time you're in Lincoln City, drop by and we'll talk about Doug's book.

I'll even buy the coffee.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rebel with a cross

They're young. On the edge. And deeply committed to Jesus. But as The New York Times reports, the current proliferation of Christian groups that are into Goth, hip-hop, and alt-rock may owe more to marketing than genuine rebellion.

With God on our side

Interesting article in the Washington Post about the impact of evangelical Christians on Bush's foreign policy. The big "winners" so far: Darfur, AIDS in Africa, and religious liberty.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Live Audio Basics

So you've just invested in a new PA system, and now you're trying to figure out how to run it? Check out Down 2 Earth's DVD training course on "Live Audio Basics." As it's name implies, this three-hour course covers the basics -- and in the process, it gives some good tips on how to avoid common mistakes, and does so in a lively enough way that it captured (and held) the attention of the high school students who run our church's PA system.

Yes, at $70 it is a little pricey. And I wish that talked more about the ways you can tie in "auxilary" systems (such as tape decks and CD players). But if you're looking for a place to start, this is the place to do it.

Follow the money

Big article in the Washington Post about money problems in the Orthodox Church of America -- donors say it wasted millions to in paying off the credit-card debts of its leaders. (There are even charges that some donations went to pay blackmail!)

I've always said that, if someone really wanted to reform the church, they'd start something like the Journal of Adventist Church Finances, and provide accurate information on where they money goes. Wouldn't you like to know, for instance, which Conference spends the least on overhead . . . and which spends the most?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The children of Jubal

Rock-and-roll is over 50-years old. Christian Contemporary is at least forty. And even Rap has been around for thirty-years.

So why are we still fighting about music in church?
Because our taste in music is pretty well set by the age of 18. And because the Adventist health message enables us to stick around even longer to fight about it.

That sounds rather cynical.
Music is important. So is worship. But even after 50-years, most of our discussions about music boil down to “I like this. I don’t like that. And I know God feels the same way I do.”

So what would you add to the discussion?
Two points: one is that God can use just about any kind of music. The second is that the devil can use just about any kind of music.

But how could God speak through . . .
The Blues? I can’t think of any music that is more rooted in misery, despair, and sin than what Mahalia Jackson used to call “the devil’s music.” But when Thomas Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord,” the Blues bowed down in worship.

But surely some kinds of music are just more . . .
Elevating? Back in the 20th-century, remember, nobody did more to promote good “Classical” music than Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

So you’re in favor of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM)?
I actually prefer Pink Martini. (Hey – I’m 48-years-old; what do you expect?) But my daughters listen to CCM, and that’s fine with me.

Would you play it in church?
In my community, I would be better-off going with a “Country & Western” church service. As it is, our church has four Praise Teams. Two are traditional. Two are “contemporary” – though you’ll notice the quotation marks. We’re not talking Reliant K, or even the Newsboys here; more like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

No, it comes down to one of my biggest complaints about CCM: the stuff is actually more difficult to perform than a “traditional” worship service. You need more musicians. They’re playing more songs. They’re using more electronics, putting more demands on the PA system, and illustrating it all with handy-dandy PowerPoint presentations that always manage to freeze up halfway through the song service.

Practice, practice, practice.
Yeah, and who has the time? Then too, a lot of CCM works better in concert than it does in a worship service. People listen, but they don’t sing along.

Why is that?
Some of it is just hard to sing along with. Then too, you have to work the volume a little harder with CCM than a traditional service – and that means you need a good PA system operator. Too loud, and people just shut up to listen. Too soft, and people lose the beat.

I wondered how long it would be before you brought up “the beat.”
All music has a beat – and if you’re leading a song service, then you need to set the beat. If you have a dozen people, you can do it with an acoustic guitar. If you have 75 or less, you can do it with a piano. More than that, and you need a conductor, an organ, or drums.

Drums in church?
Been there. Done that. And the good news is that a good drummer can add life to any song service – traditional or contemporary.

The bad news.
The bad news is there aren’t many good drummers out there. And since the drums will be the loudest instrument playing, that means your song service will soon take on a dreadful sameness. If the song’s in ¾ time, for instance, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-BOOM.” And if it’s in 4/4 time, it will sound like this: “BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha, BOOM-cha-BOOM-cha, BOOM-cha-cha-cha.”

So what’s your advice?

  1. Use the musicians you have as much as you can in whatever format they feel comfortable using.
  2. If you switch to a CCM worship service, then get ready to practice a lot. (This includes the person who runs your PA system . . . and yes, you will need to upgrade your PA system as well.)
  3. Use kids as much as possible. It's good for them; then too, most of your Seniors will be so happy to see them in church that they won't care what kind of music the kids are playing.
  4. Pray a lot. Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too soon old, too late smart

William Willimon notes that it takes three or four years for a new pastor to make the mental transition from attending school to leading a church.

Myself, I think he’s over-optimistic . . . but thinking about his statement, I came up with the following list of the ways my time at school was different than my subsequent life in the ministry.

1. In school, I knew I was working hard if I stayed up late (i.e. “I was up till 2 AM working on that paper!”) In the ministry, people judge how hard I’m working by how early I get up in the morning. (In fact, I’ve had several church members who’ve made it a point to find out!)

2. In school, I knew what the questions were, I knew those questions had answers, and I eventually found out what those answers might be. In the ministry, none of this is always true.

3. In school, I was required to answer every question I was asked. As a pastor, I’m usually better off if I answer with another question – or even just shut up and listen.

4. In school, all things eventually come to an end – the papers are completed, the exams finished, the grades handed in for the semester. In the ministry, there’s always a sequel.

5. In school, the highest values are truth, creativity, and self-expression. In the ministry, the highest values are loyalty, reliability, and community.

One more thing – in school I learned Greek and Hebrew. While I’m glad I did, I’m beginning to suspect I might have been better off learning Spanish.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Why churches burn

Arsonists torch an average of 15-20 churches every week. Click on the title of this post for a good article in The Christian Science Monitor on what's behind this statistic. The chief culprits? Burglars who are covering their tracks. But yes, we do get hit by the occasional knothead with a grudge.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Adult Sabbath School lessons

Need help teaching this quarter's Sabbath School lesson for adults? This link takes you to a series of "relational" studies that I'm writing for my Sabbath School teachers -- a new lesson gets posted every Thursday PM.

The Trouble with Tough Love

So you have a teen in your church who is out of control, and the parents are asking you if they should look into one of those "tough love" programs -- the kind of program that takes kids out in the woods, takes away their priveleges, and gives them mega-doses of structure and control.

Well . . . maybe. But as this article warns in the Washington Post, some of those programs may do more harm than good.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Who gives what to whom?

Five times this past year, I've had to sort out when a donation by a church member is tax deductible, and when it is not. That's why I put together the following guide -- and if it helps, feel free to borrow it.

Sam Smith is a student at our school, and needs help with tuition. A friend gives $500 to the church and says, “This is for Sam.”

What a nice gift!
But it’s not tax-deductible.

Why not?
You can’t give money to a person — the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) won’t allow it.

But the church helps students pay their tuition.
Yes, we’ve a program that’s run by the church.

So Sam could apply to the church’s program . . .
And donations to that program are tax-deductible. Donations to Sam are not.

Can I give the money to the church, and tell it to give the money to Sam?
You may suggest it goes to Sam, but the IRS says the church needs to decide who benefits — not the donor. Likewise, you can give money to Community Services, but you can’t tell them who gets help.

What if Sam gets sick?
The church could set up a special fund to help Sam, or it could use donations to the Pastor’s Fund. But again, the church decides where the money goes.

What about gifts to Student Missionaries?
The same rule applies — let’s say Sam wants to go on a mission trip, and the church votes to give him $2000 from the Mission Fund “just as soon as we can afford it.”

So Sam asks for donations to the Mission Fund.
And if enough money came in, then Sam gets the money that was voted.

What if Sam’s friends donate $2500 — $500 more than was voted?
The IRS says that money went to a church program — the Mission Fund — so the church decides where that “extra” money goes.

Could Sam ask for it?
Yes, Sam could ask for another $500. But if the church decides somebody else needs the money even more, then it could give that money to them.

That’s not fair!
Fair or not, the IRS does not allow “directed donations” to specific people.

But churches allow it!
The law is clear: gifts to programs may be tax-deductible. But gifts to people are not.