Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Normally, I would not touch this subject with a ten-foot pole, but since she brought it up . . .

From the Chicago Tribune comes news of PeaceBang -- a blog run by a Unitarian-Universalist pastor who offers fashion advice for women in the ministry.

And no, there is no way that you could get me to say anything on this subject . . . but when it comes to men in the ministry, I might offer three suggestions:
  1. Sweaters with reindeer on them do not look any better on us than they do on women.
  2. Ninety-percent of all men should not wear a goatee. What makes you think you're an exception?
  3. And if you've not yet read what Ellen White has to say about plaids, then please do so at once.
Click on the title of this post for the article.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A church that looks like America

The stereotypical "megachurch" may be white, suburban, and rock-ribbed Republican . . .

But that's changing fast. In fact, the Hartford Seminary reports that a third of America's 1,200 megachurches can now say that at least 20-percent of their membership is Asian, Hispanic, or African-American. The reason:
  • Megachurches offer the good preaching, good programs, and good music you'd expect from a big church.
  • But they also offer small groups -- and these can be the refuge that keep you from feeling as though you're drowning in a sea of white faces.
Before you jump on this particular bandwagon, however, keep in mind that:
  • tw0-thirds of all megachurches still don't attract all that many members of a minority group.
  • the leadership of these churches is still overwhelmingly white -- and no, whites are no more willing than they've ever been to work with Black leaders.
  • and finally, I suspect that even the most racially diverse megachurch is still overwhelmingly middle-class.
Still, it's a start. Click on the title of this post for the article.

What about unintentional interim pastors?

Article in the Los Angeles Times about pastors who've made it their life's work to deal with churches in crisis, i.e. they move in, fix what's wrong, and ride off into the sunset.

Myself, I don't doubt that such ministers are needed . . . but it's worth pointing out that these pastors deal with situations where:
  • the problem is known (i.e. somebody died, somebody lied, or somebody needs to get fried),
  • and you can solve the problem with a few, quick personnel changes.
Click on the title of this post for the article.

Here's looking at you, kid.

True story -- several years back, some members of our Youth Group nearly convinced one of our adult leaders that The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be a good choice for Saturday night entertainment. (And maybe it would in your church . . . but trust me, it wouldn't be a good idea in mine!)

So . . . how can you avoid similar situations? Some suggestions:
  • Know your people -- what they're watching, what they're not, and what's likely to be an issue (or not). And if you think something could be "problematic," then talk it over with them before you show the movie.
  • Know your movies -- I don't see more than a couple of movies a year (even on DVD), but I read the movie reviews in The Oregonian, The New Yorker, and The New York Times; if nothing else, it gives me an idea of what my church members are watching.
  • Know your movie reviewers -- the Movie Review Query Engine will give you just about everything that anyone has ever written on any recent movie; if you're looking for a quick guide to a lot of reviews about a recent flick, try Rotten Tomatoes. And if you're trying to determine just how suitable this movie might be for your particular audience, Kids in Mind will give you specific and detailed descriptions of everything that anyone might possibly find objectionable viz. sex, violence, profanity, or drug use.
  • Speaking of reviewers, two that I've found especially helpful are the Roman Catholic Bishop's web-page on movies, and the (ahem) Mutant Reviewers from Hell (MRFH). The first is probably the better of the two for "good" movies, the second for the movies that the members of my Youth group are actually watching. (Postscript: in response to this blog, I got a nice email from Justin -- the youth pastor in Michigan who runs MRFH. He wants you to know that MRFH offers a quick guide to family-friendly films. And judging by one of his posts, I'm guessing he is slightly embarrassed by the title of his website.)
  • With a little work, you can actually get your Youth group to enjoy "classic" movies like The Seven Samurai or Casablanca. (Don't laugh, I've done it!) If you're interested, try Ty Burr's book, The Best Old Movies for Families.
  • And by the way -- you know that stupid FBI warning at the beginning of movies -- the one that warns you not to yada, yada, yada? It applies to you. That's why you really need to get a video license from CCLI. (And yes, they can get you one for Canada too!)
  • Always schedule time afterwards to talk about a movie -- and don't be afraid to stop (and then restart) the movie if you feel there's something you need to talk about.
  • Finally, you should never, never, never show a movie to a Youth group that you haven't screened yourself -- and make sure you've watched it in the format you'll be showing to them. (Some DVDs include footage that wasn't in the movie version; this can turn a PG-13 movie into an R and an R into an NC-17.)

When pastors fall, who catches them?

Just ran across this month-old article in Leadership about restoring pastors who've been fired for adultery and/or addiction to pornography. As you might expect, the key here is accountability -- both in terms of prevention and restoration.

Which brings up a question: how do you maintain accountability in your ministry? And to whom could you go if you had a problem?

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Update: click here for an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on -- a ministry for pastors who are addicted to pornography.

I can think of some blogs where this is true as well.

Thinking about getting a group together to brainstorm some new ideas?

Think again. From Live Science comes the news that people in groups don't come up with a variety of new ideas. Instead, they quickly focus on one idea -- and then spend the rest of the meeting convincing themselves that this was the right idea all along.

The solution? Do your brainstorming solo, then come together as a group to decide which idea is best.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Be afraid, YouTube. Be very afraid.

Looking for some advice here: I have about $500 to spend on a digital video camera. I plan to use it for with my Youth group and the two high school classes that I teach -- filming skits, parables, interviews, "welcome to church" videos, and that sort of thing.

So . . . what should I get? I need a camera that's durable and easy to use, but still gives me a product that looks good on a video projection screen. (I'd say "idiot proof," but anyone who knows me would say that's impossible.)

And yes, if you have any ideas on editing software, I'd be glad to hear them . . . just so long as you don't tell me to buy a Mac. (After years of observation, I've come to the conclusion that the Apple Computer Company is actually a religious cult. You buy a Mac, and the next thing you know, they have you out on a streetcorner selling carnations.)

The New Black Church?

Interesting profile in The Christian Science Monitor on A. R. Bernard. Pastor of a 28,000 member church in Brooklyn, he's a big fan of the "prosperity gospel" . . . and Malcolm X.

The Monitor suggests Bernard part of a larger movement in th Black church -- a movement that is pro-corporate, largely middle-class, and frankly not all that interested in the rhetoric of the civil rights movement.

So . . . how about it? Is A. R. Bernard the vanguard of a revolution in Black Christianity? A sign of its fragmentation? Or has the Black church always been a lot more complex than the mainstream media reported it to be?

Click on the title of this post for the artice.

And from this, we learn that God does not like to participate in double-blind studies

Can you prove that God answers prayer?

Back in 2001, it looked as though you could. That's when doctors at Columbia University published a study in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine -- a study that found prayer actually doubled the chances a woman would get pregnant using in-vitro fertilization.

As you can imagine, this kicked off a tremendous controversy -- and yes, it may turn out that the study's findings are true. But it hasn't helped that:
  • one "author" of the study has admitted that he did not actually contribute to it,
  • a second author has been nailed for fraud,
  • and now a third author has been accused of plagiarism.
(Speaking of plagiarism, this post is a rough paraphrase of an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education; if you'd like to read it, then click on the title of this post.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Twain loved to put sugar coatings on very bitter pills" -- Kurt Vonnegut.

Like its subject, Ron Powers' Mark Twain: A Life is funny, smart, and ultimately tragic. Twain's greatest ambition was to be a Baptist minister -- "I had everything required," he liked to say, "except faith." And yes, one of his closest friends was a pastor.

But losing a brother in a steamboat accident made him bitter -- and when people told him how "providential" it was that he'd escaped himself . . . well, it didn't help.

Then his wife died.

And two of his three daughters.

As a result, the man who wanted to be a minister ended up writing an extended apology for Satan

No, this is not a faith-building book --just the opposite. But it's honest. It's funny. And as pastors, maybe we can learn something from it.

Click on the title of this post to order this book from Powell's.

Or maybe I'll just wait for the movie

From The Times comes news of a book that tells you how to wax eloquent on books you've never actually read (and why those books need their eloquent waxed, I shall never know).

Anyway, the book itself is in French -- so while I've never read it myself, it should be all the easier to mention it in a conversation without fear of being contradicted.

(And yes, I was going to list Adventist authors whom I suspect of having put this book to good use . . . but as Mark Twain used to say, "Let it go -- let it pass.")

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Links

As you can tell, I've been doing some minor housekeeping on this site -- and one of the things I'm most tickled about is the increased number of links to newspaper religion pages. Try them, and tell me what you think. (And if I don't have a link to your favorite newspaper's religion page, then let me know and I'll see what I can do.)

One thing I've discovered is that newspapers vary widely in the way they handle religious news. Some have a section dedicated to it (often called "Faith and Values"); others lump it in with "Living." The New York Times scatters articles on this topic all through its paper . . .

And then there's The Salt Lake City Tribune -- and no, it doesn't have a religion page per se, but it does have a section dedicated to LDS news (click here) AND another one that deals solely with the topic of polygamy (click here).

It's tough to be flexible when you have so many scars

We're lonely, and we play it safe.

That's the finding of a survey done by the Barna Group. As reported in Leadership magazine:
  • 61% of the pastors surveyed reported difficulty in "creating and maintaining personal relationships."
  • What's more, a pastor's willingness to take risks drops markedly after 20 years in the ministry -- and this is especially true of pastors who've been in the same church for 20 years or more.
"Most people in most careers tend to train during the years when they're 20 to 30 years old, try to grab the entire world by the horns when they're 30 to 40, and then 'settle in' from 40 to 50, or after about 20 years. It's no different for pastors," says Dr. Neil Wiseman, a former professor of pastoral development at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs.
Wiseman gives four reasons for this "settling in": fatigue, boredom, lack of motivation, and fear of getting fired at an age when it's difficult to find another job.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Maybe he could tell me how they got the dinosaurs on Noah's ark!

Marcus Ross has a Ph.D. in geoscience from the University of Rhode Island; his doctoral thesis was on mosasaurs -- marine reptiles that disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

He is also a Creationist who believes God created the earth in seven literal days less than 10,000 years ago . . . "and when they hear about this," says one of his professors, "people go somewhat bananas."

Click on the title for the article in the New York Times.

Update: And if you'd like to read the discussion on this article in, then click here.

Yes, Ecclesiastes 5:2 does come to mind.

Anyone out there have some ideas about "the sermon as worship"?

I'm supposed to write a 500-word article for our Union paper on that very topic . . . and frankly, I could use some help!

The deadline: Wednesday, February 14.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I predict this means there will soon be three ministerial associations in my town.

You probably haven't heard of the group, Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) . . . but you will.

Five years in the making, CCT includes 36 separate denominations with over 100 million members in each of the five major "families" of American Christianity:
  • Catholic,
  • Evangelical,
  • Pentecostal,
  • Mainline Protestant,
  • and Orthodox.
And yes, this group has been working hard to include "ethnic" churches in each of these groups.

The goal? Finding a way to combine the "liberal" emphasis on social justice with a "conservative" emphasis on personal morality.

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

Legislature mulls damages cap on church lawsuits

Nice piece by Randy Stapilus on Oregon House Resolutions 16 & 17 -- two bills that would cap non-economic damages in lawsuits against churches at $1 million.

A bit of background may be helpful here. If someone gets hurt in your church, they can sue for two kinds of damage: economic and non-economic.
  • Economic damage covers out-of-pocket expenses like medical bills and lost-wages.
  • Non-economic (or "qualitify of life") damage is for "pain and suffering" -- and yes, this can run to millions and millions of dollars.
In Oregon, for instance, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland has been sued by at least 196 people who say they were molested by priests. Claims for economic damages have been negligible . . .

But the Archdiocese has already settled $53 million in claims for non-economic damage, and faces claims for another $160 million. In response to all this, the Archdiocese has filed for bankrupcy.

And now you know why Oregon House Republicans want to "cap" non-economic damages in lawsuits against churches -- "otherwise," they say, "we're looking at a real crimp in the practice of religion in this state."

But should churches be exempt from the rules that govern other groups?

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anyone have any ideas as to how I can spend $750?

Here's the deal: this year, the Oregon Conference will give me $750 for Continuing Education.

That's money to attend seminars, workshops, conferences -- whatever! -- just so long as it involves some real live face-to-face time with people in my field. (Unfortunately, this means distance-learning via computer, DVDs, or CDs is out.)

In the past, I'd audited the MA/DMin. extension courses that Andrews offers here in the Pacific Northwest. I can't do that this year, however, because I'm teaching the religion classes in our local Adventist high school.

And yes, I know that Blake urged us "to see the Universe in a grain of sand" . . . but there's no way the Conference is going to fund a trip to Maui, so don't suggest it.

Finally, that $750 needs to cover books, fees, per diem, and airfare or milage from the Oregon Coast; this is not the year, in other words, to sign up for one of those European tours that would take me "In the Footsteps of the Reformation."

So . . . anyone out there have any ideas?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I wonder if they've thought of doing satellite TV broadcasts?

Chances are good you know someone who's been ordained by the Universal Life Church -- yeah, they're the group that will ordain anyone at no charge; just send in your name and address and you too can sign your name as "Reverend." Roughly 10,000 people do this every month . . . and if you'd like to know more, then click on the title of this post for the article in The Los Angeles Times.

Did I mention that DVDs of my sermons are now available in a boxed set?

Between pastors' meetings, vacations, and school Christmas programs . . . well, something had to give, and this blog was it. But now that this blog has been mentioned in Ministry magazine, I guess it's time to climb back on and start riding again.

So . . . let's start things with a link to an article in the Washington Post about a 13,000-member megachurch that's planting "satellite" churches in the DC area. The music will be local, but the sermons will be digital TV broadcasts from the mother church.

Three questions:

1. A legitimate extension of one church's ministry . . . or megachurch megalomania?

2. Why broadcast sermons from a church? Why not use a TV studio? And why produce sermons, when you could do dramatic series, historical epics, or even sit-coms?

3. How long before SDA Conferences realize that it's easier (and cheaper) to let churches download 3ABN for Sabbath mornings than it is to pay a pastor's salary?

Click on the title of this post for the article.