Monday, December 31, 2007

One more reason I love this country

A 29-year-old man from Wenatchee, Washington man drove his car into a light pole last Thursday night. Asked by the police why he'd done this, the man blamed a pterodactyl.

(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thou shalt not covet another church -- but if thou does . . .

Over the years, I've had a number of friends ask why they don't get more respect in this conference.

"Maybe you're getting all the respect you deserve?" I'll say.

"Then why do I get all kinds of calls to pastor big churches in other conferences?" they'll reply. "It's only in this conference I get calls to small or middling-size churches -- the kind of churches I'm already pastoring. So why does everybody else see all kinds of potential in me that they don't see here in Oregon?"

It's a good question -- though it's not an easy one to answer. The Office Brethren have never made it clear just exactly what criteria they use in selecting pastors. Then too, pastors are not supposed to admit they've ever lusted after a bigger church.

(And for the record: I'm happy with the church I'm pastoring now. I've never been tempted to pastor another church. I've never wanted to pastor a bigger church. And I know for a fact that the moon is made of green cheese.)

But with another pastors' meeting coming up soon, I'm sure to get asked this question again -- so here's my best answer:

Reason #1: Most calls in this conference are for small to middling churches because most of the churches in this conference are small to middling churches. There are roughly 140 churches in the Oregon Conference. Roughly a third have an average attendance between 100 and 200; only 10% have an average attendance greater than that. If you want to pastor a big church in Oregon, in other words, the odds are against you.

Reason #2: Most calls to big churches will be to churches outside this conference because most big churches are outside this conference. I'm too lazy to do a similar analysis of church sizes in other conferences -- but even if the conferences in this division only average five big churches each (i.e. churches with more than 200 in attendance) . . . well, even that means there's at least twenty big churches out there for every one here in Oregon.

Reason #3: Most calls to big churches go to pastors who aren't so well known as you. I'm moving out on a limb here -- but over the years, I've seen how one strong objection by anyone is usually enough to get you thrown off the list of candidates for a big church pastorate. Now the more people who know you, the more likely it is that somebody will take exception to you . . . which is another way of saying that people from out of conference have an built-in advantage: nobody local knows them well enough to dislike them, and nobody who dislikes them is local.

Okay, so does all this mean you have absolutely no hope of pastoring a big church in this conference?

Yes, it does -- so stop your complaining and learn to enjoy the church you have.

But if you're still hankering after a bigger church, then let me suggest four things -- any one of which might help:
  1. Baptize a lot of people (i.e. more than twenty in a year).
  2. Serve as an associate pastor in a big church.
  3. Get a doctorate in ministry (though this will probably be more helpful in getting calls outside this conference).
  4. Take that call to the big church in another conference . . . then hope something similar opens up here in Oregon, ten to twenty years from now.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thoughts on this week's Sabbath School lesson: Blessed is Jesus

As we come to the end of this quarter's lessons, you might want to review the Beatitudes (i.e. Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23).

To be sure, we often view them as a burden -- as a long list of commands that would be impossible to keep in the best of times, much less in the face of troubles. ("Gotta be meek. Gotta be humble. Gotta be pure in heart.")

Yet as John Calvin pointed out, there is really only one command in the Beatitudes: the command to "rejoice and be glad!"

That is because the Beatitudes are best read as a survival manual -- as a guide that shows us three ways to endure suffering.

First, they list the tools that help us cope with adversity: meekness, humility, mercy, purity, and all the rest.

Second, they list the rewards that follow adversity -- rewards summed up in Christ's phrase, "the kingdom of heaven," then explained in terms of "finding comfort," "seeing God," and "being shown mercy."

Third, they describe the One who endured adversity -- both in terms of his character (i.e. humble, meek, and pure in heart), and his reward (i.e. the kingdom of heaven).

In short, the Beatitudes are:
  • ethical ("This is what we should do now!")
  • apocalyptic ("This is what God will do in the future!")
  • and salvific ("That is what Christ has done in the past!")
What more do you need to rejoice?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The BOB Awards

Here are this year's BOB Awards -- the best books I read in 2007. (And yes, the judge's decisions are final):

The Tears of a Clown Award goes to Ron Power's Mark Twain: a life -- it was funny. It was sad. And it left me wondering what Twain would have been like if he'd fulfilled his lifelong dream and become a Baptist preacher.

The Guilty Pleasures Award goes to all seven volumes of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which I knocked off in a month thanks to a bad head cold. And maybe it's the cough syrup talking here, but how could anyone read her books and come away thinking that magic is a good thing? It doesn't make you smart, happy, wealthy, or popular -- and while the wizards and witches of Rowling's books may have plumbed the mysteries of time and space, not a single, solitary one of them seem to have heard of Lasik eye surgery (or even contact lenses).

The "Aha! So That's What's Wrong!" Award goes to J. Stewart Black and Hal Gregersen's thin, little book, Leading Strategic Change. Read it, and you'll never view a pastors' meeting in the same way again.

The Best Biblical Commentary for Pastors Who Are Doing a Long Preaching Series on the Book of Acts Award goes to . . . whoa! It's a four-way tie!
  1. John Stott's The Message of Acts in the Bible Speaks Today series is great for background and structure.
  2. William Willimon's Acts in the Interpretation series shows you what a great preacher can do if he's not bound too closely by the text.
  3. Jaroslav Pelikan's Acts in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible is the go-to book for patristics.
  4. And while nobody is going to give Ajith Fernando a prize for profundity, his commentary on Acts in the NIV Application Commentary series comes from the perspective of someone who actually does the kind of stuff this book talks about.
The "Definitely Need to Read This Book Again" Award goes to Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Read it the first time, and it's an alternate-history science-fiction novel about a Jewish homeland in Alaska. Read it again, and it's a bitter commentary on the State of Israel's relations with Palestinians and the USA. Read it another time, and it retells the story of Christ's life in a whole new way.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The first Christmas in Oregon

Nobody knows who celebrated the first Christmas in Oregon. I suspect it was the crew of a fur-trading ship -- or possibly a shipwrecked sailor from the Manila galleon that ran aground near Nehalem around 1640 or so.

But the first recorded Christmas goes back to 1805 -- back when the Lewis & Clark Expedition spent a hungry, soggy, and thoroughly uncomfortable winter at their new-built Fort Clatsop. William Clark wrote in his journal for that day:
at day light morning we we[re] awoke by the discharge of the fire arm of all our party & a Selute, Shoute and a Song which the whole party joined in under our windows, after which they retired to their rooms were Chearfull all the morning -- after breakfast we divided our Tobacco which amounted to 12 carrots one half of which we gave to the men of the party who used tobacco, and to those who doe not use it we make a present of a handkerchief. The Indians leave us in the evening all the party Snugly fixed in their huts.
  • I received a present of Capt. L. a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks,
  • a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse,
  • a Small Indian basket of Gutherich,
  • two dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman [Sacagawea],
  • and some black root of the Indians before their departure . . .
we would have Spent this day the nativity of Christ in feasting had we any thing either to raise our Sperits or even gratify our appetites, our Diner concisted of pore Elk, So much Spoiled that we eate it thro' mear necessity, Some Spoiled pounded fish and a fiew roots.
Private Joseph Whitehouse was more sanguine (and a better speller):
We had no ardent spirit of any kind among us; but are mostly in good health, A blessing, which we esteem more than all the luxuries this life can afford, and the party are all thankful to the Supreme Being, for his goodness towards us. hoping he will preserve us in the same, & enable us to return to the United States again in safety.
And that is my Christmas wish for you -- that you may find time this day for "a Selute, Shoute and a Song" . . . and that God may preserve you and bring you safely home (wherever that home may be).

Monday, December 24, 2007

And "Figgy Pudding" turns out to have been the alias of a notorious London gangster, back in the time of Queen Victoria.

For the past several years, I have been urging our school to run a "Fruitcake Protection Racket," i.e. give us $10 and we will NOT sell you a fruitcake -- and if you give us $25, then we will NOT sell you three fruitcakes. (I've also suggested we sell "un-tickets" to the Christmas Program . . . but let it go, let it pass.)

Anyway, you can read the New York Times history of the fruitcake just by clicking on the title of this post.

Believing is seeing

Good article on Toronto's National Post that uses belief (or the lack thereof) in the Virgin Birth as a springboard to discuss the nature of faith.
. . . belief acts like a set of headlights to guide us through a foggy universe that "is far more complicated than we are smart." . . . [That is why faith is necessary,] because there will never be a time when we know everything.
(Click on the title of this post to link with the article.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Eleven things I've learned in ten years

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my stay here in Lincoln City. Lessons learned include:
  1. Funerals always come in batches.
  2. If you can't be right, at least try to be kind.
  3. Nothing is more difficult to staff than children's Sabbath School classes -- and nothing is more important.
  4. There's always somebody who doesn't get the word.
  5. The more they know about your church's finances, the more they will give.
  6. People who eat together don't usually stay mad at each other.
  7. Take written minutes at every meeting -- not only will this save you a lot of arguments later on, but it will result in better decisions at the meeting itself.
  8. Problems that don't get solved don't go away.
  9. You need to preach that sermon to yourself before you preach it to others.
  10. There's never enough time to exercise, study, or pray; do it anyway.
  11. Things always look better in the morning.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bet this is one "top ten" list that won't be on Letterman.

Doctors Without Borders (a.k.a Médecins Sans Frontières for all you Francophones out there) just released its list of the Ten Top Crises That Didn't Get Anywhere Near the Attention They Would Have Received If We Weren't All So Busy Smirking at Britney Spears. The list includes:
  • War refugees in Somalia face humanitarian crisis.
  • Drug-resistant tuberculosis spreads.
  • Conditions worsen in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Click on the title of this post for a link to the list.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No, last month's Business Meeting did not make the list.

Fortune magazine has just published its list of the "101 Dumbest Moments in Business for 2007." My favorite?
Disneyland announces plans to close the "It's a Small World" attraction to deepen its water channel after the ride's boats start getting stuck under loads of heavy passengers. Employees ask larger passengers to disembark - and compensate them with coupons for free food.
To link with the article, click on the title of this post -- you can always claim you're looking for sermon illustrations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Black helicopters" still didn't make the list.

Foreign Policy just came out with its list of the ten top foreign news stories that got overlooked in 2007; it includes items such as:
  • the US Air Force forms a "Cyberspace Command,"
  • the US Army deploys "killer robots,"
  • Dengue fever's on the move,
  • and the State of Israel loses support among young American Jews.
And if you want to know how long the US will be in Iraq, check out the US Navy's plans for the Persian Gulf.

(Click on the title of this post for the link to this article.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy, Shiny People

The emagazine GOOD just did a profile of Joel Osteen -- the smiling pastor who's turned the Prosperity Gospel into this country's largest church (not to mention a $13 million book deal AND a TV audience of 7 million).

And yes, it's pretty even-handed. On the one hand, it quotes fans like Jennifer Lee -- a Jewish agnostic who says:
"I look at him like a motivational speaker. I don’t think people get that until they see [him on television]. Yes, he’s a pastor and does it in a church, but the underlying [message] is just to live a good life, love yourself, and be happy. He pretty much doesn’t preach religion."
And then you have critics such as Ole Anthony. The founder and president of the Trinity Foundation -- a religious-fraud watchdog group -- Anthony says:
"The reason [Osteen is] so popular is because of the spiritual infantilism of America. Not just spiritual, the infantilism of American culture. And he feeds the Paris Hilton, Britney Spears culture. It’s all me. Benefit me. What can I do for me? How can I feel better? What can I do about me? How you can get the best of your life? It’s all me-centered."
(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Time to dig out that Foghat t-shirt

Just got word from our church's Social Committee -- it's sponsoring a "1970s Retro-Bowling Night" this February.

Which brings to mind those long discussion my friends and I used to have back in high school -- back in the days when Happy Days was popular, and no school Spirit Week was complete without a "Nifty Fifties" dress-up day.

You know -- poodle skirts for the women; black leather jackets and an attitude for the men.

So we're watching all this happen, and we're speculating about the possibility that our children will actually feel some kind of nostalgia for the Seventies -- that the day will come when the sponsors of Spirit Week encourage students to dress up for a day in leisure suits, puka-shell bracelets, and the kind of hairdo that made Farrah Fawcett famous.

"Nah," we said. "It will never happen."

Monday, December 17, 2007

One more reason I love this country

Just picked up a free calendar for 2008 from one of my favorite restaurants -- it advertises "Portland's best authentic Mexican food: Burritos, Tacos, Tamales, Pastrami."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thoughts on this week's Sabbath School lesson: putting muscle on your good intentions

Three predictions:

Prediction #1:
During the first few weeks of 2008, each and every gym and fitness center near you will all be full of people -- and each and every one of those people will all be working out. How do I know this? It's called "New Year's Resolutions," and I've been there, done that.

Prediction #2:
After those first few weeks have passed, each and every one of those gyms, spas, and fitness centers will empty out -- and almost each and every one of those people who bought themselves all those expensive memberships for the new year will mumble and change the subject if you bring up this subject. How do I know this? Once again, been there and done that.

Prediction #3:
If those people had just stuck with it for two weeks -- just two lousy weeks! -- then most of them would have gotten themselves into the habit of exercise . . . and yes, they probably would have stuck with it for most of the coming year.

How do I know this?

Because nothing worth doing comes easy. This is true of exercise; it is also true of playing the piano, training a dog, or even learning to appreciate anchovies on your pizza.

No, it takes time to build habits. It takes persistence to learn skills. And even though your good intentions got you through the door of that gym (or church, or rehab center) . . .

You still need to go back tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The gift that keeps on giving

Hurricane-force winds? No problem.

Massive flooding? No problem.

Roads closed, trees down, and power out for anywhere from three-days to a week? Hey, this is the Oregon Coast; we deal with this all the time.

But last Sunday's Christmas Potluck sent home at least eleven members of the Nestucca Church with food poisoning (and trust me -- you don't want to know what it was like). So once again, it's time to repeat what we already know, i.e. when it comes to church potlucks:
  • Keep hot foods hot.
  • Keep cold foods cold.
  • Make sure everybody washes their hands before they handle food.
  • Don't eat the potato salad. Or the stuffing. Or the pumpkin pie. (If I were you, as a matter of fact, I'd stick with the whole-wheat rolls and the olives.)
  • And remember: a shot of the vaccine for Hepatitis A makes a wonderful Christmas gift!

Friday, December 07, 2007

This week's Sabbath School lesson: "Friends may come and friends may go -- but enemies accumulate."

If you think it's tough to be meek, then consider the alternative.

Consider Ahithophel and Absalom.

Both had been wronged by David:
  • Ahithophel by a sin of commission – by David’s seduction of his grand-daughter Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder of Ahithophel’s son-in-law, Uriah the Hittite.
  • Absalom by a sin of omission – by David’s refusal to punish his son for the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar.

And both had their revenge against David – revenge in a revolt that was privately directed by Ahithophel, and publicly led by Absalom . . .

Both of whom thought David was getting exactly what he deserved.

But by the time this revolt is over, we’ve lost all sympathy for these two conspirators. Maybe it’s the way they nurse their outrage through years of careful planning. Maybe it’s the way their outrage leads to outrages of their own. Or maybe it’s the fact that David does not respond to their anger with anger of his own.

Instead, David forgives his son. David tries to protect his son. And much to the disgust of Joab and the shame of his men, David is impolitic enough to mourn the loss of his son – the same son who did his best to kill David . . .

In a righteous cause.

No, it is not easy to be meek. It is not easy to forgive. It is not easy to let a grudge die when we would much rather plot our revenge.

But if you want to know where that road leads, then think of Ahithophel and Absalom: two men who did a terrible wrong to others.

And all because they’d been wronged themselves.

Actually, I'm not sure it has much to do with the talents required to build and run a small church.

So . . . what kind of pastor were you trained to be?

That's the question I'm currently working through, thanks to a recent article in The New Yorker. Over the past few years, it's been working hard to explain Evangelical Christianity to its readers. The result can be an overly-earnest statement-of-the-obvious ("They read from a book called The Bible, and talk to God in a ritual known to them as prayer"), but in a recent article on a megachurch in New England, it dropped this bombshell:
Scott Thumma, at the Hartford Institute, says that megachurch pastors need to have a very different set of skills than those required of small-church pastors. According to his data, a third of all megachurch pastors do not have seminary degrees; and in younger churches the less formal religious training a pastor has, the higher the growth rate of his church is likely to be.

Thumma thinks there are two reasons for this. First, pastors without seminary training are less removed from secular life, and less liable to speak "churchese." Second, and just as important, religious training has nothing to do with the entrepreneurial and managerial talents required to build and run a very large church.
Which brings me back to my question. When I was in seminary (lo, these many years ago), the assumption was:
  • If you were smart, you'd end up as a college professor.
  • If you were sincere, you'd end up as an evangelist.
  • If you were ambitious, you'd end up in a conference office.
But pastoring a church was mainly for "none of the above."

Has this changed? Should it change? And meanwhile, where do we learn to be good pastors?

(The article is not yet available on-line -- but you can click on the title of this post for a slide-show about that megachurch in New England.)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Some things never change

It was 202-years (and two days) ago that Lewis & Clark paddled across the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon in search of a drier campsite.

This makes them the first tourists to the Oregon Coast ever to be disappointed by the weather. Even a stoic like William Clark was moved to write in his journal on November 28, 1805:
Rained all the last night . . . we are all wet our bedding and Store are also wet, we haveing nothing which is Sufficient to keep ourselves bedding or Stores dry . . . O! how disagreeable is our Situation dureing this dreadful weather.
The forecast for this weekend, by the way, calls for hurricane-force winds and driving rains, with a good chance of flooding and landslides.

Oh well -- at least it keeps our property taxes low.

Postscript: I love winter storms, and this one was great -- 45-foot seas, wind-gusts up to 125 mph, and no power for 39-hours. Highway 18 is still closed, and Highway 101 is closed north of Tillamook . . . but the road is open through Hebo, so those Safeway trucks should be rolling in by tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Golden Compass

Just in time for the Christmas season is Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (TGC). And if the book is any guide, TGC should be a wonderful movie -- a kind of Paradise Lost set on an alternate earth, where the bears wear armor and your soul shows up as a animal-companion that is visible to one and all.

So far, so good . . . in fact, I loved TGC (though I wasn't able to finish the two sequels -- more on that later).

But Philip Pullman is an atheist -- a very outspoken atheist whose TGC is essentially Paradise Lost retold by Satan (and channeled by Jean-Jacque Rosseau), i.e. God is a senile pretender who DESERVES our defiance. In that sense, TGC is best understand as an anti-Narnia (and yes, Pullman has made no secret of his dislike for Lewis and his books).

So . . .
  • here you have a potential blockbuster . . .
  • whose author's views on God are somewhat "problematic" to most Americans . . .
  • and you're hoping that parents will rush out and buy tickets for their children to his movie?
Hmmmm . . . as the Atlantic Monthly notes in its December 2007 issue, this may present something of a problem in marketing.

And that (says Atlantic) is why the movie's makers are trying to spin TGC into a children's adventure that just happens to deal (however tangentially) with the abuse of religion . And when Newsweek spoke with Pullman over the "hysteria" that surrounds his book, there's no mistaking just who it thought was on the side of the angels.
In person, Pullman is tall and inviting, with ruddy features and thatchy gray hair, and when he gets going about the attacks on the film, it's a reminder of how enjoyable it is to observe a polite English gentleman properly outraged. Pullman does, in fact, describe himself as an atheist, but his vocation is storytelling, and his only agenda, he said during an interview with NEWSWEEK, is "to get you to turn the page." "To regard it as this Donohue man has said—that I'm a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people—how the hell does he know that? Why don't we trust readers? Why don't we trust filmgoers?" Pullman sighed. "Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world."
You know -- nitwits like C. S. Lewis.

That said, I'm no too worried about TGC. If the Atlantic Monthly is right, New Line Studio has made an extraordinary effort to make sure the movie doesn't offend any parents. Expect more bears, in other words, and less religion.

Then too, not every believer is bothered by Pullman's work. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, has praised a stage-adaptation of TGC -- and Newsweek interviewed a theologian who argued it is actually pro-Christian (albeit in a feminist, eco-minded, liberation-theology sort of way).

What's more (and here my schadenfreude shines through), there's always a chance the whole thing will sink without a trace. Newsweek has a knack for waxing eloquent about movies that turn out to be real stinkers. (Remember how much it liked The Matrix: Reloaded? And even [if memory serves]Van Helsing?) And when it comes to Pullman's book . . .

Okay, I loved The Golden Compass -- I really did. It was creepy, exciting, imaginative, and wonderful. But when it came to the sequels, I just could not get through them. Oh yes, I tried; goodness knows I tried. But every time I did so, I kept getting bogged down in the fact that the sequels were just plain no fun to read.

And no, I'm not sure why. The closest I can come to explaining is to quote Justin (i.e. the youth pastor who runs the movie review site, Mutant Reviewers from Hell). Speaking of Joss Whedon -- another great writer (who just happens to be an atheist) -- Justin wrote:
[The good news is that] Joss writes great stories, plays against clichés, has created fully fleshed-out characters that are easy to grow attached to, and often whips up cliffhangers that were among the best in the biz.

[The bad news is that] Joss hates his imaginary TV folk. Honest and true. It may be a strong blend of love and hate, but after watching so much of his stuff, it’s apparent that he loathes having his characters be happy — despondant people in crisis are more interesting to watch, I suppose.

It’s part of Whedon’s worldview that I often come into conflict with, as I see him unable to create a happy situation that he can’t resist tearing apart with hopelessness and anguish. He’s lauded for his emphasis on strength of friendships, but ultimately he’s feels the need to show betrayals, failures, and separation… and where does that leave us?

In short, I can forgive the fact that Pullman doesn't like God.

But I'm not entirely sure he likes his characters -- and that, I can't forgive.

Sequel: Christianity Today recently ran a two-handed review of the movie -- one in which it said that:
  • on the one hand, Philip Pullman is probably not going to start writing a guest-column for Christianity Today at any time in the near future . . .
  • but on the other hand, TGC is certainly less hostile to God than its sequels . . . and the movie itself could possibly have some Spiritually Redeeming Value (SRV) -- maybe.
As you'd expect, even this oh-so-qualified approval this has stirred up a lot of discussion on the CT blog.

As for the movie itself . . . well, it's beginning to look as though Newsweek has fallen in love with yet another turkey. The Times gave it two stars out of five, calling it "a spectacular shambles," a "haystack of derivative film twists," and a "pudding" that lacks genuine magic and drama. Then again, its reviewer also thought the movie focused way too much on the bears -- so what does he know?

But wait -- there's more! MoreIntelligentLife.com recently did an interview with Pullman -- one of those "more in sorrow than in anger" pieces that he does so well. Here's the money-quote:
I dislike his [i.e. Lewis's] Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn't touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings' is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don't like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Perhaps HBO could do a mini-series?

I don't know if this is proof we live in a post-Christian society, or a commentary on the sad state of education in this country, or a reminder not to take anything for granted in our sermons.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll think of something.

But the Oregonian recently ran an article about a lawsuit -- one that alleges a local boss kept sending an employee out of town on business trips so that she (the boss) could spend some quality time with the employee's boyfriend. As the paper notes,
What the suit next describes reads a bit like the Old Testament story of King David dispatching one of his army commanders on a suicide mission so that the king could claim the commander's beautiful wife, Bathsheba.
True enough -- but then the paper goes on to say that "neither of the Portland employment lawyers [who are handling the case] said they knew the biblical story of David and Bathsheba."

(Click on the title for a link to the article.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Seventh-day Cosmopolitans

I've been mulling over Christianity Today's interview with D. Michael Lindsay -- the author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Linday believes Evangelicals have developed two subcultures: populist and cosmopolitan.
  • Populist Evangelicals are middle-class and middle-brow; they love Focus on the Family, adore Thomas Kinkade's "paintings," and look to their local church for guidance and support. When you think "evangelical," in other words, this is the group that comes to mind.
  • Cosmopolitan Evangelicals are well-educated, well-connected, and financially well-off. They read The New York Times, disdain Kinkade as "Christian kitsch," and don't really connect with their local church. (It's just not professional enough.) Instead, they get their nurture from peer networks and parachurches such as CEO Forum (not to mention those donors-only weekend events that have become so popular with some ministries).
Now stop and think how this plays out in the Adventist Church. I'd argue that much of the difference between "conservative" and "liberal" Adventists, for instance, isn't one of theology so much as culture -- the same cultural divide Lindsay describes in his book.

In short, those "liberals" who've been giving you such a hard time as a pastor may be just as loyal as the "conservatives." It's just that they're loyal to a different group -- to ASI and AAF rather than your local church. And if they don't seem to be "your kind of people" . . . well, maybe you're not their kind of pastor?

(Click on the title for a link to the interview.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

And did you notice the name of that megachurch in Walla Walla?

Randy Stapilus has long been *the* go-to guy for politics in the Pacific Northwest; his blog is one of the few I read daily. That's why I find it interesting that he's just added a blog on megachurches in the region. As he says:
Political viewpoints are shaped by many things, and we keep greater or lesser watch on many of this at this site. One of those, which we intend to explore more over time, is the world-view which churches and their ministries help create. . . . These churches are major contributors of ideas in our society, developers of world views that in turn come to influence voting patterns and political activity, even if only very indirectly.
(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Either that or just standing around, waiting for something to happen

Pastoral ministry is like Elijah's experience on Mt. Carmel: you live for those moments when the fire falls -- but most of the time, you're just hauling rocks.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Faith vs. Reason, Round 562,890

Check out the Times Literary Supplement review of two more books that discuss religion and science -- one of them written by the guardian angel of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins! (That's what the author says, anyway.)

Click on the title of this post for the link.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

His grace is sufficient for thee -- but not me?

Nice article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about "the imposter syndrome," i.e. the persistent feeling that you are a fraud who will soon be found out and sent packing.
Self-doubt and negative feedback weigh heavily on the mind, but praise barely registers. You attribute your failures to a stable, inner core of ineptness. Meanwhile, you discount your successes as accidental or, worse, as just so many confidence jobs. Every positive is a false positive.
While the article focuses on this syndrome in academia, I see a lot of it in the ministry -- not least every time I look in the mirror! Why?
  • The unrealistic belief that pastors should be experts in a wide variety of fields -- everything from finance to archeology to marriage counseling. ("What? You've not read the latest book on the post-emergent church? What kind of a pastor are you?")
  • A perfectionism that is reinforced by poor role models. ("His church grew from a membership of 25 to 25,000 in just three weeks -- so what's wrong with you?")
  • Loneliness and a lack of friends who know what we're really like on the inside . . . but love us anyway. (And the older we get, the harder it is to maintain a facade.)
(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rap hits middle-age

You think the "worship wars" over praise music were bad?

Wait until rap shows up in your church.

As Jeff Chang's article in Foreign Policy points out, hip-hop is now 34-years-old -- and it's gone global.
  • In Shangai, Chinese-speaking rappers face off.
  • In Paris, the children of Arab immigrants use rap to protest government policies.
  • I'm told that, in West Africa, posters of Tupac Shakur are everywhere.
And yes, there are Christian rappers too -- Oakwood College's student CD for 2005-06, for instance, included at least one example.

In short, it's payback time: our children are doing to us what we did to our parents.
  • They want to listen to "their" music in church,
  • and we just want them to turn it down!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Willow Creek packs them in -- but what happens next?

There's a big kerflubble going on at Out of Ur -- the blog run by Leadership magazine. As near as I can figure (and to be honest, some of the pastors who post on this blog are neither clear nor concise):
  • For the past thirty years, Willow Creek has been the model for church-based evangelism.
  • But Willow Creek recently published a study that indicates it doesn't do a very good job of encouraging spiritual growth in its members.
  • This has prompted a number of pastors to say, "See -- I knew it! I knew it! I just knew that anything so popular must represent a total sell-out! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!"
  • This has prompted a number of other pastors to say, "Now wait just one cotton-picking minute. That's not really what the study says -- and besides, Willow Creek should get credit for recognizing there's a problem (whatever that problem may actually turn out to be).
  • And this has prompted a number of pastors to jump in with their own solutions to whatever it is that ails Willow Creek.
Myself, I'm going to wait and see. Number one, I'm still not entirely sure what's going on at Willow Creek. Number two, I'm not sure the rest of us are doing any better.

But add this to my previous post on the New Hope Community Church in Portland, and it looks as though megachurches are not the be-all and end-all some thought they might be.

Then too, I'm heartened by Willow Creek's report that the best ways to grow spiritually remain Bible study, prayer, and relationships. These are things any church can encourage, regardless of size.

(For a link to the discussion in Out of Ur, click on the title of this post.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Megachurch gets malled

Forget "megachurch."

Think "urban lifestyle center."

That's the dream of New Hope -- the 3,500-member church that pioneered the concept of megachurches in Portland. Now its leaders plan to tear down the church's sanctuary and develop the 33-acre site into "Eagle Landing," complete with:
  • nearly a thousand apartments and condos,
  • a dozen restaurants,
  • 600,000 square-feet of office space,
  • a skybridge to a nearby health club
  • a rock-climbing wall and skate-park . . .
Oh yes, and a church building too.

The plan is rooted in the church's "Target 75" -- an attempt to reach the 75% of all Portlanders who do not belong to a church.
For someone new to church, [says Ray Cotton, the lead pastor at New Hope,] taking that first step through the door can be an intimidating prospect. "There's such a need out here for community gathering places," Cotton said. "It doesn't matter whether it's sacred or secular. How do we take the walls of the church down? . . . How can we create a place where people can feel comfortable to come and take the next step?"
Keep in mind, this development is still at the talking stage. No permits have been granted; no construction has begun. And given the recent slowdown in Portland's real-estate market, it's not going to be as easy to arrange financing for this project as it might have been, even a few month's ago.

What's more, it will be interesting to see how New Hope's leaders combine managing a major real-estate development and pastoring a 3,500-member church. (The apostle's concern that "waiting at tables" not replace "preaching the gospel" does come to mind.)

Still, it's nice to see a church recognize that "business as usual" isn't good enough anymore. And if they succeed in creating "neutral spaces" where people can learn about God . . .

Maybe we should open a Subway at the Gladstone Adventist Convention Center?

(Click on the title for a link to the article in the Oregonian.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

In "God" we "trust" (and there's a lot of argument as to just what we mean by those quotation marks).

Was the United States ever a Christian nation?

Encyclopedia Britannica runs a blog that stumbled into that debate -- a blog that attracted some very heavy hitters on that subject. To read what they said, click on the title of this post.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Odyssey Years

Trying to attract young adults to your church?

Keep in mind that young adults have changed. As David Brooks pointed out in a recent column, "People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family."
  • In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things.
  • By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.
For more stats (and more thoughts on what it all means), click on the title of this post.

Monday, October 08, 2007

At least it wasn't "Grand Theft Auto" -- heaven forbid we should glorify stealing!

The New York Times reports that hundreds of youth pastors have found a sure-fire way to get young men into the pews: they're holding "Halo Parties."

And no, it's not what you think.

Halo 3 is an incredibly popular computer game; it is also incredibly violent -- so much so, that it's rated M. That means you can't buy it unless you're over the age of 17; that also means any youth pastor who invites kids to "come on over to the church and play it" is going to be:
  • very popular with adolescent males,
  • very unpopular with the adult members of that church.
Thus far, the debate has been pretty predictable: the adults argue that killing is wrong. The kids argue they're not really killing anybody -- and besides, it keeps them off the streets and out of real trouble.

Myself, it's difficult for me to imagine Jesus playing Halo 3 -- but in all honesty, I've never understood the appeal of computer games; like golf and gambling, they've always seemed pointless. That's why I'd appreciate some insight by somebody who actually knows something about these games.

And if you'd like to read the article in The New York Times, then click on the title of this post.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cash for kids? Fuhgedaboudit!

If you live in Oregon, you've been seeing and hearing a lot of ads from the tobacco companies, all of them asking you to vote "no" on higher taxes for cigarettes. This is a no brainer for them -- higher taxes mean fewer smokers, with teens and pregnant women especially likely to quit.

Anyway, I've been wondering about the accent of the actor who plays a "concerned citizen" in the radio ads. I guess he's supposed to sound like a working stiff, but he sure doesn't sound like a local to me. In fact, I'd swear he's from New Jersey!

You don't suppose Tony Soprano . . . ?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Add "Protestant Medievalist" to the list of oxymorons (along with "systematic theology" and "church organization").

Article in The New York Times about New St. Andrew's College -- a Christian school in Moscow, Idaho founded by a local pastor named Doug Wilson.

And yes, there are several phrases in that sentence that need explaining.

First, "New St. Andrew's College" is not accredited. It has no dorms, no campus, and only 150 students or so -- students who spend their time discussing The Great Books of Western Civilization.

Second, "Christian" is defined by this school as conservative, Calvinist, and critical of contemporary culture -- so much so, the anti-slavery movement would be regarded by some as a dangerous innovation.

Finally, "Moscow, Idaho" was my home for three years -- and while there, I had several friends who attended Doug Wilson's church, and several more (including some Adventists) who attended his school for Grades 1-12. Nice people one and all . . . but not terribly fond of uncertainty.

(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And yes, I believe you can buy "round tuits" at Staples.

One of these days, you might want to read these Twenty Tips on How to Avoid Procrastination -- myself, I've found #3 to be especially helpful.

No rush. Whenever you get around to it -- that would be fine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Anytime somebody says "it's not the money -- it's the principle of the thing," it's really the money.

Out of Ur offers a snapshot of just exactly what pastors are making in terms of salary.

I don't have any hard data to support this, but my gut feeling is that our salaries are slowly falling behind those of our peers in other denominations. (We used to pay our newbies better than most, but "topped out" sooner and lower than most; now we're paying our newbies about the same, and "topping out" relatively sooner and lower than before.)

Keep in mind, however, that:
  • My memory of how our salaries used to compare with others may be wrong!
  • This survey only counts full-time pastors; there are a lot of part-time pastors in other denominations who would love to be making what we are.
  • This doesn't include the educational subsidy you get if you have children -- and if you have kids in academy or college, that adds up fast!
Click on the title for the link.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Just say "ARGH!"

As a public service, we've provided the following guidelines for National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day (September 19).

What exactly is meant by "ARGH!"?
Like "aloha" or "shalom" or even "tax cut," "ARGH!" has many meanings -- the precise nature of which can only be determined by context. These may include:
  • "If I could have your attention, please?"
  • "Stop that right now!"
  • "Hello there!"
  • "I wasn't expecting that."
  • "Yes, that's a gun -- and no, I'm not happy to see you."
A friend of mine likes to say, "Argh, me mities!" Is this correct?
No. The correct phrases are "Argh, me hearties" or "Argh, maties!" Then again, your friend may be indicating that it is time to get him a new flea collar.

May one refer to one's friends as "lubbers"?
One may, but in as much as "lubber" is a synonym for a stupid, clumsy landsman who doesn't know a bowline from a bowsprit, one may want to reconsider one's choice of friends.

What about "scurvy dogs"?
Since dogs are able to synthesize their own Vitamin C, this term refers to a condition that is technically impossible. As such, it should be avoided.

A detailed examination of Yoda's syntax indicates that he is, in fact, a pirate. Would you care to comment on that?
No.

What about Jar-Jar Binks?
Argh!

Any final words of advice?
Just remember, me hearties -- kind words and a gun will get you a lot further than kind words alone!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Home and School

Looking for a charter for your local Home and School? Send me an email, and I'll send you a copy of the one we developed for Lincoln City.

And yes, I realize that Home and School may not be all that high on your agenda . . . but it is a church committee (and not a sub-committee of the School Board). It's your baby, in other words -- not the principal's. Add the facts that it:
  • has an annual budget that can run into the thousands of dollars,
  • can be a lightning rod for discontent and disagreement,
  • and has no guidelines for making decisions -- not in the Church Manual or any other document that I've been able to find, at any rate . . .
Well, that's why we put together a charter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Green Day

From The Christian Science Monitor comes this op-ed piece, asking us to reduce our carbon footprint by keeping the Sabbath holy.

Click on the title for a link to the article.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007)

I grew up reading science-fiction -- the old stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that promised you the stars if only you put your faith in Science (with a capital S). Asimov, Clark, and Heinlein were my trinity; Star Trek my secret vice.

But I was also a Christian -- a fundamentalist Christian who believed in angels and miracles and a life after death that didn't require some kind of nuclear transmogrification.

This created problems. Most of the people who read (and wrote) my kind of science fiction thought religion was bosh; most of the people who attended my kind of church thought any kind of fiction was suspect -- and science fiction positively demonic.

Then I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and I saw how these two sides of my life could be bridged. It was science fiction and it was Christian; it spoke of both tessaracts and the psalms with the same respect.

To be honest, I've never managed to finish any of the other books L'Engle wrote . . . and to be really honest, I don't think A Wrinkle has aged all that well. Her description of IT's planet, for instance -- a world in which even the children's games run on time -- once struck me as horrible in its stifling conformity. Today, it seems downright homey -- the kind of place that might show up in a campaign commercial. ("Vote IT for a safer tomorrow.")

But long before I discovered hobbits -- back in the days when a wardrobe was just a piece of furniture and "hogwarts" something known only by veterinarians -- A Wrinkle in Time taught me that the old, old story could be told in a brand new way. And for that, I honor Madeleine L'Engle.

She died this week at the age of 88. If you'd like to read her biography in The New York Times, then click on the title of this post.

Update: to read Laurel Snyder's eulogy in Salon, click here.

Another update: for Kimberly Roth's tribute in the Burnside Writer's Collective, click here. And for Luci Shaw's tribute in Christianity Today, click here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Church newsletters: threat or menace?

Looking for advice on church newsletters? Here's a reprint of the article I did for pastors in the the North Pacific Union Conference. (And if you'd like to see NPUC's website for pastors, then click on the title of this post.

Three tips for church newsletters:

1. Keep it short. That way, you’re more likely to keep doing it. My advice: one page for news, with a church calendar on the back.

2. Keep it legible. Your church members won’t read it if they can’t read it. That means 11-point type (12-point is better for older eyes) and no fancy fonts. (And if you’re using more than three fonts, you’re working too hard.)

3. Keep it helpful. You want it to be something your church members will stick on the refrigerator because they keep referring to it. Your calendar, for instance, should include sunset times, birthdays, board meetings, school vacations and early releases, plus (in a multiple church district) just who is preaching where. (And when it comes to news, don’t forget a monthly summary of just how your church’s budget is doing!)

Bonus: I use MicroSoft PUBLISHER for my newsletter; with a little modification, its template works pretty well. But one thing I don’t use is a lot of clip-art; IMHO, more than one or two “clips” on a page makes it look trashy.

Super double-bonus: You can eliminate the problems of church members finding "typos" or mistakes in your church newsletter by announcing that anyone who finds a "typo" will type the next newsletter.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I cannot even imagine what a $70 million building project would be like.

Interesting article in Tacoma's newspaper about the latest megachurch in the area.

The Christian Faith Center boasts an attendance of 8,000 every week on two campuses (Everett and Federal Way) -- the pastors (it's a husband and wife team) commute between services by helicopter.

And all this in one of the least-churched states in America. (But you'll notice how long it took them to get where they are today.)

(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why do I have this sudden craving for donuts?

From BurgerKing comes "the Simpsonizer" -- a free website that allows you to see what you'd look like if you were a character on the Simpsons. Just download a photo, fiddle a bit with accessories, and . . .

Well, I'll let you be the judge. But myself, I think this has some real potential for church directories.

(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Welcome to Orygun!

I once attended a workshop on church growth by Lyle Schaller that began with these words: "Is anyone here from Oregon? Sorry -- nothing I say here is going to do you any good; Oregon is just that different."

And if you'd like to get a handle on how and why Oregon is "just that different," here are some suggestions:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Advice for young seminarians

Okay, so you've made the move to beautiful downtown Berrien Springs, and you're looking forward (more or less) to spending the next few years at the Seminary (a.k.a. "the Cemetery"). Here's my advice.

1. You're a student again. Get used to it.
Yes, I know: for the last year or so, you've been an adult with a REAL job (and all the rights, reponsibilies, and respect that came with it). Now you're back in school and they're treating you like a kid again -- like some brainless adolescent who doesn't know the difference between heilsgeschichte and a hole in the ground.

So . . . what's your point?

My advice? Sit down, shut up, and try to remember that humility is a virtue.

2. If you're married, then try to stay that way.
With all its faults, the Seminary does provide you with friends, structure, and purpose (even if is only to survive that class in Hebrew). Your spouse, on the other hand, gets none of these things; all they know is that they're living a long ways from friends and family on an income that's just barely adequate with a spouse who's busy all the time.

What's wrong with this picture?

My advice? Don't wait until you're through Seminary to "make it up" to him or her. Make time for your spouse right now.

3. Take the money you'd spend on books and use it to travel.
No offense to my colleagues in teaching, but the best part of Seminary is the part that isn't Seminary, i.e. those long, lovely vacations between semesters. Add the fact that you're not going to get that kind of spare time again until you retire and . . .

What does this suggest?

My advice? Buy just enough books to get through your classes, and start planning that road trip ASAP. (And don't worry -- whatever books you don't buy now will still be there when you graduate and return to the pastoral ministry . . . and when that days comes, you'll be able to deduct them from your taxes as a business expense).

4. Meet, greet, and repeat.
No matter how good your teachers may be, the most interesting people in your classes will be your fellow students. On your right: an evangelist from Tanzania. On your left: a hospital chaplain from northern Italy. Sitting behind you: a youth pastor who works with street kids in the inner-city of Chicago. And the guy in front of you who always comes late to class?

Okay, he's clueless -- you can ignore him.

Seriously, the Seminary is your chance to find out just how high and how deep and how wide and how seemingly weird the work of God around this world can be. So take some time and get to know the people who are taking classes with you. It's like I always tell people: "Make all the friends you can in school, because you're going to be using these people for the rest of your life."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Building habits

Starting a new habit is easy.

Keeping at it long enough to make it part of your life . . . now that is tough!

That's why I appreciate this great idea from Jerry Seinfeld (yes, that Jerry Seinfeld) on how to keep on keeping on. (And yes, it works with exercise, devotions, working in the yard -- anything!)

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Monday, July 23, 2007

This may explain why Anglican bishops are sometimes called "primates."

Okay, so in that last packet of material we got from the Conference, there was an advertisement for the NAD Church Resource Center's "Vervent Worship Conferences."

And ever since then, pastors have been asking me, "What's a 'vervent'?" Is it a noun (as in "this worship converence is for vervents only") or an adjective (as in "this conference will make your worship service more vervent")?
  • The dictionary's no help -- there's no such word.
  • Googling "vervent" gives the name of a tech company, the name of a string quartet, and the NAD Church Resource Center's website -- but that's it.
  • And while it's just barely possible that the NAD has decided to confuse us all by making up a word (as in "verve + fervent = vervent"), I wasn't able to find any explanation on its website as to why the NAD might have done this (much less what "vervent" means).
That's why I've come to believe that "vervent" is a typo; in actual fact, the NAD is advertising a worship conference for vervets. And why not?
  • They're cute.
  • They're sociable.
  • And since they don't smoke, don't drink, and are pretty much vegetarians already, vervets are obviously prime candidates for some kind of outreach by the church.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Actually, this is already true of several churches I've pastored.

If present trends continue in this country, in thirty year's time there will be more people over the age of 80 than under the age of five.

Think what that's going to mean for the ministries of your church!

Want to know more? Check out Atul Gawande's "The Way We Age Now" in the New Yorker.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"The better adapted you are to the present, the more trouble you'll be in when things change."

We don't deal well with change.

Unfortunately, it happens anyway.

That's the thesis of Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable. And in his review of this book, Tyler Cowen gives good advice to businesses (and pastors) who don't want to be lulled into complacency by the "same-old, same-old":
. . . getting out of our comfort zones is good for innovation and thus good for the economy. Young entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, in his recent memoir, My Start-Up Life, offers similar business advice: "Expose yourself to as much randomness as possible. Attend conferences no one else [in your field] is attending. Read books no one else is reading. Talk to people no one else is talking to."
To which I'd add, "and be careful to whom you talk about the fact you are doing this." People in authority, remember, got where they are because the status quo worked for them; talk that it might change is apt to be seen by them as a threat.

Friday, June 15, 2007

D.Min. or not D.Min. -- that is the question.

Anyone out there have any advice about D.Min. programs?

Here's the deal: in a year's time, the last of my children will head off to college. This will leave me with more time on my hands -- and given the nature of denominational benefits, it will actually leave me with a little more money as well.

That's why I'm thinking about enrolling in one of those distance-learning Doctor of Ministry programs. It's been twenty years since I got my Master of Divinity, after all -- time to see if anything new has come along in the meantime.

Then again, I'd hate to get stuck in a program that turned out to be a waste of time; that's why I could use some advice. So . . .
  • Anyone out there ever finished one of these programs?
  • Would you do it again?
  • What advice would you give to someone like me?
And yes, if you have any opinions about the programs offered by different seminaries (viz. Andrews, Fuller, or wherever), I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Months of Sundays (and Sabbath too)

So what happens when you take thirty reporters (all of whom are extremely snarky), tell them to attend church, and report on the results?

That's what the Seattle Stranger decided to find out. As an alternative weekly with a readership that's somewhere to the left of Michael Moore, you'd expect its reporters to be funny, savage, and profane -- and they were! But there were a couple of surprises:
  • Christian contemporary music? As Tony Soprano would say, "Fuggedaboudit."
  • Megachurches? Mega-turnoff.
  • Traditional services, traditional music, and traditional architecture? If you combine these things with a decent sermon, a strong sense of community, and an appropriate friendliness that includes without being pushy . . . then yes, you might have a chance of reaching even those urban hipsters who write for the Stranger.
One of the churches surveyed, by the way was the SDA Church in Volunteer Park. Blessings on the pastor there; it sounds as though he is trying hard . . . but at least one reporter wasn't buying it.

If you'd like to read the article in the Seattle Stranger, then click on the title of this post -- but be prepared: its language is definitely R-rated.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why is it that even the PC think it's okay to make fun of "trailer trash"?

I once had a church member ask me to bring in "people who would benefit the church," instead of the "trailer trash" who were currently getting baptized.

What makes this all the more ironic is that this particular church member was themself only two-generations removed from poverty.

And right there you have one of the greatest barriers to mission in the Adventist Church -- it's our own success. No, we take the working poor, make them give up their beer and smokes, tell them to keep their kids in school, and teach them how to keep track of their money so they can pay tithe.

The result?

Janitor's kids end up teaching school or pastoring a church -- and their children become doctors or lawyers or CPAs.

As Russell Staples used to tell us at the Seminary, "Sociologically, the Adventist Church is a fountain that draws in lower-class Baptists and Pentecostals . . . and in just three generations, it produces upper-middle class Episcopalians."

But in the process, we lose the ability to deal with a large chunk of society, i.e. the poor.

That's why Ruby Nance put together a book called What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty. An elementary-school teacher, Nance found that impoverished children did not respond well to the strategies that had worked so well with her middle-class students. Finding out what did work led her to develop a series of books and seminars -- and to make sure that churches could also benefit, she put together this book.

Another book in this area is Tex Sample's Hard Living People and Mainstream Christians. As a Methodist pastor and sociologist of religion, Sample had his seminary students conduct a series of interviews with the down-and-out. The book draws on these interviews to suggest some general strategies for pastors who want (or need) to minister to people who may not fit in to the typical church.

Don't have time to read those books? The New York Times recently did an in-depth profile of Ruby Nance; click on the title of this post for a link to the article.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

When they turn 21, you can stop worrying. (You can, but you won't.)

The good news for all your youth pastors out there: if you can get the members of your Youth Group to the age of 21 without smoking, drinking, or doing drugs . . . then as one public-health professional said, "You're home free."

The bad news: binge-drinking (i.e. drinking five or more servings of alcohol in one setting) is more popular than ever, with roughly half of all college students doing it on a regular basis.

The New York Sun recently ran a four-part series on teen drinking; it's pretty basic, but it makes a good introduction to the subject. If you 'd like to read it, then click on the title of this post.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Don't Bend Walla Walla

Twenty years ago, there were 18,000 people living in the city of Bend, Oregon -- and a quarter of the potential workforce there was unemployed.

By the year 2000, the population was up to 52,000 . . . and then it really started to grow. Today, there are roughly 75,000 people living in Bend, with bedroom communities popping up in places like Redmond, Prineville, and La Pine.

This is an example of what Donald Snow calls rurbia -- the sudden transformation of a resource-based town into The Next Big Thing. Past examples of rurbia include Durango, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana. And if Don Snow is right, both Walla Walla and Pendleton are poised to take off in the same way.

Don Snow? He's a Professor of Environmental Humanities at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

And as for Walla Walla -- that sleepy little town where I went to school in the late '70s?

As Snow points out in a speech he did in Pendleton, Walla Walla has the four things it takes to "go Bend," i.e.
  • proximity to lots and lots of public land,
  • lots and lots of local color,
  • lots of "buzz" in the national press (think "Walla Walla Wines"),
  • and a funny name.
If you'd like to read a copy of his speech, then click on the title of this post.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I especially enjoyed the suggestion that involved high-powered rifles.

Gordon MacDonald wrote in Restoring Your Spiritual Passion that pastors need three things in order to avoid the "blahs":
  • Safe times.
  • Safe spaces.
  • Save people.
Now Leadership magazine adds to that list with 13 ways to avoid burn-out -- click on the title of this post for a link to the article.

Friday, June 01, 2007

And don't get me started about candles!

Interesting post in Theolog about the influence of Catholic architecture on Protestant worship -- among other things, the author notes that Protestants once rejected flowers in church as "too Romish."

(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

So you think you're an Oregonian?

Sometime this week, I'm going to post a list of resources for people who are new to the state -- but first, a quiz for all you long-time residents out there. The answers are given in the "Comments" section of this post.

1. Name the man who donated these drinking fountains to the City of Portland. (See the photo just above.)

2. Name three movies that were filmed in Astoria.

3. What is Peacock Spit?

4. No sooner did the Portland Trailblazers win the NBA Championship in 1977 than CBS immediately cut away from covering the celebration so that we could watch what event?

5. Crater Lake marks the site of what used to be the tallest mountain in Oregon – name it.

6. Identify the following:
a. Packy.
b. Ramona Quimby
c. Oswald West
d. Ramblin’ Rod
e. Abigail Scott Duniway
f. The Great Pumpkin
g. Pre

7. Where was the Pixie Kitchen?

8. What are the words for the jingle that was always sung at the end of Franz Bread TV commercials? (Bonus point if you can sing it!)

9. What is the name of the shipwreck on the beach at Ft. Stevens State Park?

10. What made the Junior Building so popular with young boys at the Oregon Campmeeting?

Bonus Point: Have you ever spent a day picking strawberries?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's more, the I-5 Corridor will be re-named "the City of Seagene."

Here's the deal: right now, the Portland metro area has two million people.

By 2040 -- that's just 23 years away -- it will be home to somewhere between three and four million people.

That's the prediction of The Oregonian's Randy Gragg . . . and if you want to put that in perspective, just imagine a new town the size of Corvallis popping into existence every year for the next twenty years. That's a million people.

Want to make it two million? Make it a new town the size of Springfield. Every year. For the next twenty years.

So what is this going to mean for us? Right off the bat, not much; we're "only" talking about an annual growth-rate of 3% or so -- not enough to notice a dramatic increase in any given year. But maintain that rate of growth for twenty years, and you will see:
  • More congestion: this won't hurt church services -- who else is on the road Saturday mornings? -- but I suspect it's going to make life tough for PAA. (Try to imagine rush hour on I-205 with twice as many people.)
  • More sprawl: expect the present-day boom in places like Forest Grove, Woodburn, and Camas to go supernova.
  • A higher cost of living: if Los Angeles is any guide, this will make it even more difficult to recruit pastors and teachers into the area.
Finally, we'll need to do some serious thinking about where we're going to put all these people if we want them to attend an Adventist church.

Right now, the Oregon Conference has roughly one active member for every 250 Oregonians. (I know, I know -- we have one member for every 117 Oregonians, but I'm guessing that just over half of those "members" are inactive.)

Anyway, that means that doing nothing more than just maintaining the current ratio of Adventists to Oregonians means we'll need to attract and accomodate another 4,000 church members in the metro area. -- minimum.

That's if the metro area "only" adds a million people. Add two million and . . . well, you do the math.

To put that in perspective: 4,000 new members is the equivalent of planting a hundred-member church every six months for the next twenty years.

Of course, we could try to squeeze most of these people into existing congregations -- but you don't manage that kind of growth without seriously rethinking the way you do church. (Don't believe me? Talk to pastors in Idaho about what happened when Pacific Press moved there from California.)

In short, the key text for the next two decades is going to be Luke 10:2.

And our job will be figuring out how to make that verse come true.

I just hope they had an intelligent designer

Answers in Genesis believes God created the world in six literal days roughly 6,000 years ago -- and to promote this belief, they've opened a $27 million Creation Museum in Kentucky.

A reporter from the New York Times recently toured this museum; if you want to know what he thought of it, then click on the title of this post. And if you'd like to read The Christian Science Monitor's article (which includes lots of quotes by historian-of-science Ron Numbers), then click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The church is a family -- and you know what some families are like!

Just in time for this year's Nominating Committee report (not to mention all those calls that are undoubtedly coming your way), Leadership magazine offers "Church Politics" 101 -- five tips on how to survive life as a pastor with your honor intact.

One thing that's missing from this article: while it offers good advice on dealing with the politics of church members, it says nothing about dealing with the Conference office or other pastors. (Any suggestions, people?)

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Handbook for Revolution

As John Carpenter writes in this month's Books & Culture:

A recently rediscovered religious text is making huge waves in the world today. With stunning power, it is driving the largest religious change in human history. This book is subversive, revolutionary, and transformative in its approach to good and evil; spirituality; politics; wealth and poverty; race, ethnicity, and social status; gender and sexuality; and health and healing. It also reveals long-hidden truths about Jesus of Nazareth. What is this book? Is it the Gospel of Thomas? No. How about The Da Vinci Code? Hardly.

It's the Bible.
With that, Carpenter goes on to review Philip Jenkin's new book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.

In his earlier book, The Next Christiandom: the Coming of Global Christianity, Jenkins had pointed out that the majority of Christians today live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- and in both theology and mores, they much more "orthodox" and "conservative" than the churches of North America and Europe.

Notice, however, the quotation marks around "orthodox" and "conservative." Far from being a copy of our own Fundamentalists, these Christians have been extremely creative in contextualizing the Gospel -- and its just this contextualization that Jenkins goes on to explore in The New Faces of Christianity.

As Jenkins points out, believers in Africa and Asia live in a world where the Bible makes sense -- and what's more, the Bible helps them make sense of their world. Poverty, idolatry, injustice, and spiritual warfare are not exotic concepts that must somehow be "translated" into modern life; they are the day-to-day reality of these believers.

Jenkin's The New Faces of Christianity is probably one of the ten most important books I've read in my ministry -- and I know for a fact that all the Conference presidents in the North Pacific Union Conference got together to read it and discuss it. But if Carpenter's review is any guide, this book is even better.

(Click on the title of this post for the link to the article.)

At least it still rains

When I was growing up, two of the things that defined Oregon were salmon and strawberries.

The salmon? Well, you know what's happening to them.

As for the strawberries, an article in The Portland Business Journal tells me they're disappearing too.

(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The new face of the Christian Right.

Good article in the New York Times on the "new breed" of Evangelical Christian leaders that are taking over from the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson. They are:
  • more likely to be pastors than media evangelists -- and as such, they are more reluctant to do anything that might annoy large groups of people.
  • more interested in social issues such as climate change, Darfur, and AIDS.
  • but just as conservative as the "old guard" when it comes to abortion and gay rights.
(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hope I die 'fore I get old.

Seeker-friendly. Purpose-driven. Emergent -- and now "post-emergent."

What do all these trends have in common?

According to a recent post in Out of Ur -- the Christianity Today blog for pastors -- they're all rooted in the youth ministries revolution that took place in the 1960s.

And reading through that post, you realize that, by and large, youth ministries in the Adventist Church pretty much missed out on that revolution, i.e. we still see youth ministries as a "stepping stone" to real ministry.

Click on the title of this post for the link.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This wouldn't be a problem if we could just make sure we had respectable sinners in our church

Okay, so the President of the United States is a member of your church. You've reason to believe that his views on torture are not in line with those of your denomination (i.e. United Methodist) -- and so the question comes up of church discipline.

To put it bluntly: should you disfellowship the President of the United States?

That's the question they're kicking around at Theolog -- a blog for mainline Protestant pastors. As you might guess, it's quickly become a debate about the nature and purpose of the church, i.e. is it a hospital for sinners (viz. Augustine) or a school for saints (viz. the Anabaptists)?

And yes, even if the President of the United States is not a member of your church, you are guaranteed to have a discussion about church discipline at some point in your ministry -- so click on the title of this post for the link, and maybe we can learn something?

If Christopher Hitchens did not exist, would we have to invent him?

There's been a remarkable spate of books lately about atheism -- and all of them say pretty much the same thing.
  • We don't need religion.
  • Religious people behave badly.
  • And the world would be a much better place if people gve up their belief in God (or gods) and took up golf instead.
In all honesty, those first two points have proved remarkably popular; according to The New Yorker, atheism is now the fourth-largest "religion" in the world.

It's that third point -- the quest to come up with an alternative for religion -- that has been more problematic. Dawkins and Hawker have suggested that Science (with a capital "S") will someday come up with an answer; Hitchens seems to suggest that it's all just a matter of enjoying life, facing our fears, and invading Iraq.

For a remarkable fair-minded discussion in The New Yorker of recent books on this subject, click on the title of this post.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The lack of money is the root of all evil."

For all of you Oregon pastors who are figuring out your monthly worker's report this week -- you can be reimbursed for the trip to see Robert Folkenberg Jr. at a rate of 38-cents per mile, PLUS you can charge per diem. (It's $17 if you're charging for one meal, and $34 if it was two or more meals for the day).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Actually, much of what we do in church doesn't make sense to us, either.

I live in Oregon -- the least-churched state in America.

That's why I was especially interested in The Christian Science Monitor's profile of Hemant Mehta -- a young atheist who was paid by a pastor to attend church and then report back on what he thought of it all.

The result?

Let's just say that "seeker sensitive services" seems to be more promise than reality in most of the churches Mehta attended. His most common response, as a matter of fact, was sheer confusion.

(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Time for foreign policy experts to "wake up and smell the incense."

John DiIulio has a new book out on the role of religion in foreign policy -- and for those of us who aren't up to reading all of his Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-based Future, he's been kind enough to boil it down into an essay for The Weekly Standard, i.e. the magazine of record for all you neo-conservatives out there.

So what does he say?
  1. The world is not becoming more secular.
  2. Foreign policy mavens would do well to learn more about religion.
  3. The USA would do well to start throwing more money at religious organizations.
As obvious as that first point may appear, it runs directly counter to the received wisdom of just a few years ago. I can remember a famous missiologist telling a group of us theology majors, for isntance, that there were three things about the future of which we could be absolutely certain:
  • society would grow ever more secular,
  • socialism would grow ever more popular,
  • and the world would grow increasingly urban.
Okay, so one out of three ain't bad.

His second point may seem obvious as well; unfortunately, many of the people who direct American foreign policy are shockingly ignorant of even the most basic issues in religion. Jeff Stein, for instance, is the national security editor at the Congressional Quarterly; over the past few months, he's been asking high-ranking members of Congress if they could tell him the difference betweeen Sunni and Shiite Moslems.

The bad news? Most could not.

The really bad news? Neither could the brand-new director of the FBI's national security branch.

So give DiIulio two out of three: religion is important, and even the most secular of foreign policy experts should learn more about it.

It's DiIulio's third point that makes me queasy -- the idea that all this means our government should start funding faith-based social programs, both domestic and overseas.

Number one, I don't see how this follows from his first two points.

Number two, I don't think it's going to be all that helpful to American foreign policy.

And number three, I don't think it's going to be all that good for the churches.

To be sure, DiIulio's article may be nothing more than wishful thinking. The debacle in Iraq has cost neo-conservatives a lot of the influence they once had in Bush's White House; I doubt if too many people are going to be taking them seriously in the near future.

Then again, neo-conservatives are a resilient bunch. They re-cast their movement after the fall of the Soviety Union; they may yet do so again. And DiIulio's article may be the first, tentative steps towards a new agenda for this country . . .

As well as the church.

(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Creation and Evolution

The Economist ran a great article about the Catholic church's view on evolution and creation; it also offers a quick synopsis of the recent setback for Intelligent Design in the USA, as well as the growing creationist movement in Turkey, Russia, and Brazil.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

House churches

According to the Barna Group, nine-percent of American adults are involved in some kind of "house church," i.e. a religious group that meets in someone's home.

Nine-percent -- that's up from one-percent just a few years ago!

Now I suspect that most of those people are also part of a large, traditional church; it's not a case of "either/or" in other words, but "both/and." I'd also suspect that many of those "house churches" are really an extension of those larger churches and their ministries. (Think "Bible study group" or even "prayer meeting.")

Still, if Barna is right, we're witnessing an explosion of interest in small groups . . . and if this continues, we may need to rethink our role as pastors.

I mean, here we have something that costs nothing to set up (and if you've looked at the cost of building a new church on the West Coast, then you know that house churches have a major selling point right there!) Then too, house churches are big on authenticity and relationships -- two factors that have "post-modern" written all over them.

But you don't need a $75,000/year professional to run a house church (or even a whole bunch of house churches). So do we wish them well (and stay out of their way) -- or is there something constructive we can do here?

(And while I'm at it -- I've yet to hear a convincing explanation of just how children fit into the house church movement. Any first-hand testimonies out there, people?)

Click on the title of this post for the article in The Seattle Times.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Patron Saints

From The Way of the Fathers comes a quick and easy quiz to help you determine which of the Church Fathers is your kindred spirit. (And those who know me best will not be surprised to learn that I bear an astonishing resemblance to St. Melito of Sardis!)

Click on the title of this post for the link.

How to survive and thrive in graduate school

In The Blogging Parson, Michael Jensen offers 12 great suggestions for pastors who are taking graduate studies in theology. (And since he's working on a D.Phil. at Oxford, I'd say he knows what he's talking about!)

Click on the title of this post for the link.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely" -- Edward Tufte.

This coming month, let's all try preaching without PowerPoint.

That's right: turn off the computer. Turn off the video projector. And see what we can do with just a Bible (and maybe some notes).

Why would I suggest something like that?

1. The jolly thing doesn't work!
As Debra Murphy noted in The Christian Century, it's a rare presentation in Powerpoint that doesn't jam, freeze, crash, or just sit there blinking at us. As a result, our church members either:
a) get to watch us reboot our computer in the middle of our sermon.
b) spend the entire sermon tensed-up and waiting for something to go wrong.
Neither option is really what I'd call "worship."

2. We don't know anything about graphics.
I'm sorry, but somebody has to say it: there is an incredible amount of religious art out there that is really dreadful -- and most of it seems to find its way into PowerPoint sermons. And even when we skip the pictures and slap a bunch of words onto the screen, the result are rarely attractive (and sometimes just plain illegible).

3. We don't have time to get it right.
It takes me roughly ten hours to write a sermon -- and I have to squeeze every minute of that out of a schedule that is already way too busy. Now add the time needed to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and instead of a pretty-good sermon (and no PowerPoint), I will have:
a) a weaker sermon,
b) and a PowerPoint presentation that is riddled with mistakes.
Excuse me, but I don't think that's progress.

4. A good sermon doesn't need it.
What makes a good sermon?
a) an introduction that captures the attention of our audience,
b) a message that is based on Scripture,
c) an application that speaks to our needs,
d) and a conclusion that calls for committment.
Add some interesting illustrations, and the result is a sermon that might be even better with PowerPoint -- but it will still be pretty good without it. Then again, if a sermon lacks any one of these elements, then no amount of computer graphics will be able to save it.

So there you have it -- four reasons why I think every pastor should give up PowerPoint for the month of May. And no, I'm not asking us to give it up for the rest of our lives.

But if pastors were able to preach the Word of God for nearly 2,000-years without PowerPoint . . .

Then maybe we could try giving it up for a month?

(And if you'd like to read Edward Tufte's views on PowerPoint, then click on the title of this post.)

PS For some reason, the "comments" section has been turned off for this particular post -- and I can't figure out how to turn it back on! If you'd like to leave a comment, go ahead and do so on the post just above this one (i.e. the one about advice for pastors in graduate school).