Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Church discipline: the how

My experience has been that a major case of church discipline comes up about once every 300 member-years. (You calculate "member-years" by multiplying the number of active members times years.)

A church with a hundred active members, in other words, generally deals with a major case of church discipline (i.e. adultery, fraud, child abuse) every three years or so, while a church with 30 active members generally deals with something like this about once a decade.

Okay, maybe my figures are off . . . but here's what I've learned from the situations I've been through:
  • Make sure the church secretary knows what to say over the phone before church members start calling to find out what's happening.
  • Call your elders personally and let them know what's happening before you meet as a group.
  • Decide at the Elders Meeting whether or not to take a "time out" at the Business Meeting so that you can discuss this without the person who's up for discipline being there.
  • Let church members know in advance what will be discussed at the Business Meeting without going into too details, i.e. "We will be discussing what to do about a problem that's come up with one of our members."
  • If the person involved asks to have their membership dropped, you must comply with their request -- and you should vote this without any discussion.
  • As always, keep a log of all phone calls and discussions -- and make sure your Conference officers know what's going on!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • Blue skies but cool, with daytime temperatures in the mid-50s; it's definitely autumn here on the Oregon Coast.
  • I don't know whether to be charmed or alarmed by this fact -- but here in the contiguous states of the USA, you are never more than 145-miles from a McDonald's. (h/t to Brainiac)
  • Am I being paranoid, or has the New King James Version become the unofficial authorized Bible of conservative Adventism? And if so, then why?
  • BioEd Online reports that conformity kills civilizations -- when conditions change, they have nowhere to go for new ideas. Be nice to the oddballs in your church, in other words; you may need them some day.
  • The New York Times says a lack of sleep may increase your chance of catching a cold -- and Reuters reports it may increase your odds of getting Alzheimer's. So when your church members complain that your sermons are boring, tell them the extra sleep they're getting is good for their health.
  • Traffic was up last week from all over. Most of my foreign visitors were from Finland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Hungary; most of my domestic visitors were from Oregon, Washington, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado.
  • And I'll close with this quote from Poul Anderson: "I have yet to see any problems, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This week's lesson: III John

Diotrephes, you know.

Every church has one (not to mention every workplace, every softball team, and almost every third-grade classroom). Bossy and opinionated, he's a back-stabbing control-freak who loves to cause trouble for anyone who gets in his way.

And no, you don't need to figure out just exactly what it was that angered the Diotrephes mentioned in III John. It could have been the kind of proto-gnostic heresy mentioned in I & II John . . . or it could have been something else entirely.

When you're dealing with a Diotrephes, after all, there's always something.

Or as one of my seminary professors put it, "Some of our church members are crazy!"

And some are.

But not all of them.

No, the Diotrepheses of this world we shall always have with us . . . but so too there will always be people like Gaius and Demetrius -- people who walk in God's truth and welcome God's people. To be sure, we don't always notice them the way we do a Diotrephes; they don't demand our attention in the same way as a Diotrephes.

But their friendship is as constant as their support -- and for that we should be glad.

So don't spend all your time worrying about the Diotrephes in your life -- and don't let him always be setting the church's agenda, either.

No, Diotrephes you know.

But when was the last time you noticed Gaius and Demetrius?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A simple, four-part exercise for pastors and other people in the helping professions

Step One: Carefully examine your hands, paying special attention to the palm-area.

Step Two: See any scars? Any nail-prints? Any signs of crucifixion?

Step Three: No?

Step Four: Then guess what? You are not the savior of the world.

Repeat as needed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • This is my favorite time of the year on the Oregon Coast -- blue skies, temperatures in the 70s, and no tourists.
  • Three statistics from the Oregon Conference Constituency Session stick in my mind: 70% of the delegates there were over the age of 50 . . . 50% don't have access to an Adventist TV station (i.e. 3ABN, Hope Channel, or Better Living) . . . but only 10% don't have access to the Internet. Myself, I'm thinking there's room here for some "new media" pioneers. (And yes, I know that 3ABN etc. are all available on the Web -- but it's not the same thing.)
  • Traffic was up a bit last week, mainly due to a lot of visitors from Portland, Oregon. And judging by the number of visitors from Washington, that state must be back on-line again.
  • And I'll close with this Yiddish proverb: "It is good to hope; it's the waiting that spoils it."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Technical difficulties

Spent the day fruitlessly trying to hack into the WiFi system at Portland Adventist Academy -- I was there for the Oregon Conference Constituency Session (and no, I was not elected to anything). Right now, I'm writing an article about it for the NPUC Gleaner . . . but I hope to resume regular posting on the blog tomorrow.

Try to be brave.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This week's lesson: II John

You never know who you're going to find in an Adventist church.

In my church, for instance, you'll find young and old, Republicans and Democrats, high-school dropouts and one, genuine rocket-scientist . . .

Not to mention church members who quote Bishop Spong, and others who pass out copies of Jan Marcussen's National Sunday Law.

In short, Sabbath mornings here in Lincoln City tend to bring together people who don't have much in common -- people who don't share the same politics, income, race, education, taste in music . . . or even the same views on Harry Potter!

No, just about the only thing we have in common is the fact that we all see ourselves as "Adventists" -- but so far, that's been enough to keep us together.

Sometimes, to be sure, it's been just barely enough . . .

But if we're clear on the things that unite us, then we're usually willing to let our differences slide.

That's why one of the best ways to ensure diversity in a church is to focus on the things we share -- to to focus on those things, in other words, where we don't allow diversity.

Otherwise, we'll end up with a church where everybody votes for the same candidates, listens to the same music, and earns just about the same amount of money . . .

And all because we have nothing else in common -- nothing else to draw in people who are different.

No, you never know who you're going to find in an Adventist church.

That's because we're all Adventists.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

If I'd known then what I know now . . .

"We are too soon old and too late smart" -- but if I could go back to the 1980s and begin my ministry all over again, here are seven things I'd do different (and seven I'd do the same):

Seven things I wish I'd done:
  1. Prayed more.
  2. Worried less.
  3. Kept up on my Greek and Hebrew.
  4. Learned Spanish.
  5. Gotten more exercise.
  6. Started saving $$$ on a regular basis.
  7. Taken all my vacation time (and all my days off).
Seven things I'm glad I did:
  1. Went camping with my family as often as I did.
  2. Read at least one book per week.
  3. Kept a journal.
  4. Taught high school Bible classes.
  5. Audited the seminary's continuing education classes.
  6. Took three year's leave-of-absence to work on a doctorate in history (even if I didn't finish it.)
  7. Learned how to preach the Bible's stories (and not just its doctrines).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • After considerable experimentation, we have finally achieved the perfect weather for a weekend on the Oregon Coast: nice weather on Friday (to bring the tourists here), rain on Sabbath morning (so they skip the beach and come to church), and a sunny Sabbath afternoon (so the kids can go outside).
  • I've always felt slightly guilty about the fact that I'm not one of those people who rise at 4 AM with a song in my heart and the desire to spend the next three hours in Bible study and prayer. But now it turns out those "morning people" generally crash and burn early on . . . while us "night owls" just keep churning out the work. (h/t to Lifehacker)
  • Do you know CPR? No, I didn't think I needed to know it either -- not until a woman collapsed after church. (Fortunately, she was just dehydrated . . . but she was almost trampled to death by the rush of people who came to her assistance!)
  • Interesting statistic from the Oregon Conference's statistical report: last year it spent $9 million on "pastoral resources" -- and over $12 million on "teacher resources." (Now I know why one administrator told me the only thing that kept him awake at night was the cost of Adventist schools!)
  • Traffic would have been down this week, but this site got an incredible number of hits on Friday from Brazil. Aside from that, the top spots for foreign visitors were the United Kingdom, Finland, and Russia (not to mention my first-ever visitor from Serbia). And the top spots for North American visitors were the usual suspects: British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Colorado. (So what's happened to my visitors from Washington -- have you people lost Internet service, or what?)
  • I'll close with this quote from Will Rogers: "If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This week's lesson: I John

Some of John's church members were not very happy with him.

I can relate.

In addition to pastoring a two-church district, I also teach two Bible classes at our local SDA high school. This means I get to talk about fun stuff (like love and grace and the seven last plagues); it also means I spend a lot of time hassling my students about not-so-fun stuff (like footnotes, missing class, and why it is not acceptable to write papers in glittery-pink ink).

And no, I don't fuss about this kind of stuff because I'm an obsessive-compulsive control-freak who loves to make my students miserable . . .

Though that may be part of it.

But I want my students to become the adults God wants them to be -- and letting them do whatever seems like a good idea at the time isn't always a good way to do this.

To paraphrase Monsters, Inc. -- "if I glare, it's because I care."

Likewise, it's clear from John's epistle that he had a long list of Things He Would Not Tolerate.

And every time he warned them against the world, the flesh, and the devil, I'm sure his church members would fidget and complain and mutter to each other that John just wasn't being very nice.

Okay, so maybe he wasn't -- maybe John wasn't always a fun guy to be around.

But looking back, nobody could doubt that John loved them.

Can they say the same about us?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Beating age discrimination

Interesting article in The Oregonian about age discrimination -- when it comes to getting hired, it turns out that 50-somethings have a real disadvantage, i.e. we're seen as too old, too fat, too set in our ways, and utterly lacking in tech-savvy.


And no, this shouldn't be a problem in the ministry -- two-thirds of the pastors in my conference are over the age of 50, after all. Then too, the laws banning age discrimination do apply to pastors; this is one of the few areas where we are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Still, not everybody knows this. (I can think of two churches, for instance, that openly advertised they were "looking for a pastor in his mid-30s.") And age discrimination is both extremely common and incredibly difficult to prove.

So here are a few suggestions for "pastors of a certain age":
  • Scrub your resume. The Oregonian recommends you remove both graduation dates and time-in-service at any jobs you've had -- in short, get rid of anything that will let them guess your age.
  • Update your look. If you're like me, you're still have the same haircut you did in 1986. (That's also when I decided Dockers would be the only kind of slacks I ever buy.) Guess what? As The Oregonian points out, your "look" is now older than some of the people who will be hiring you.
  • Lose weight. It's wrong. It's illegal, But as one employer admitted to The Oregonian, nothing says "medical bills" like a few extra pounds.
  • Keep up on technology. Even a few nods in this direction can make a difference -- one of my students, for instance, was absolutely amazed I had an iPod! So learn how to text. Learn how to Twitter. And yes, it may have jumped the shark, but you still need to learn how to do whatever it is they do on Facebook.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Odds & Ends

  • Friday, it rained. Sabbath, it cleared off and we had beautiful weather for a baptism down at the lake. Today, it's raining again. I love coincidences like that.
  • Something I learned this week: if somebody rents our church's building for a wedding, I need to jot down their check's number and date on the rental agreement; this makes it easier for the treasurer to go back later and verify the fee was paid.
  • Speaking of vehicle safety: if it's a weekend and you're out on the road between 10 PM and 3 AM, an average of one out of every six cars you pass is driven by someone who's been drinking. And no, they're not all drunk -- but they do account for nearly four out of five fatal accidents. (h/t to Brainac.)
  • Over the last week, this site got about as much traffic as it usually does . . . but the source of that traffic has changed, i.e. Washington has dropped off the map, Colorado is becoming a hot spot, and I'm getting a lot of hits from Portland -- not to mention my first visitor from Montana!
  • And I'll close with this quote from Carlos Fuentes: "Don't let yourself be dazzled by a single idea. It is [your] obligation, in the name of the simple people of the world, to be complicated."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

This week's lesson: I John 5:13-21

Marriage is like glass.

Nothing endures like glass, after all -- and few things withstand pressure any better than it does. Likewise, anyone who's ever observed a good marriage can only stand in awe at the things it will survive: mental illness, the loss of a job, or even the death of a child.

Yet strong as it is, even a good marriage can shatter in an instant. One poor choice, one careless word, one act of violence or infidelity . . . yes, any one of these things can suddenly end a relationship -- a relationship that might otherwise have endured for a long, long time.

In short, a marriage should inspire confidence -- but not carelessness.

You can trust it -- but you should not take it for granted.

That's because a marriage is both incredibly strong and incredibly fragile . . .

Just like glass.

And just like salvation.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Binge-drinking: it's not just for frat-boys anymore

The way things are going, retirement centers will soon resemble Animal House.

Okay, maybe it won't be that bad -- but there's no question baby-boomers are drinking more than the generation before them. And in an article in The Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy reports the following statistics on binge-drinking (i.e. consuming five or more servings of alcohol at one sitting.
  • College students who binge-drink: 41.7%
  • Men between the ages of 50 and 64 who binge-drink: 23%
  • Women between the ages of 50 and 64 who binge-drink: 9%
  • Men age 65 and older who binge-drink: 14%
  • Women age 65 and older who binge-drink: 3%
  • Baby-boomers whose drinking "exceeds moderation": 67%
One last statistic -- this one from today's Oregonian: 10% of all binge-drinkers report driving after their last bout of drinking.