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Weekly Wrap Up

It’s been a busy week here and apologies for a day between posts. My theological French is taking a bit more time than anticipated. Nevertheless, here are some links that might be interesting…

Here is some rare video footage of Jim Jones preaching from Matthew Paul Turner. It was a really compelling video to watch.

Over at the Good Book Blog, Dr Gary McIntosh breaks down six central factors that lead to growing churches. Since Dr McIntosh has been part of the church growth movement since its earliest days, his insights are certainly worth reading.

Here’s a Fact Checker from the Gospel Coalition. It asks whether young adults do lose their faith in college at the rate we always hear about. Having done plenty of research in this area and also working with young adults I’ve been dubious as to the stat, if we only use church attendance in our metric we are definitely using the wrong metric.

Near Emmaus has a good interview with Danny Zacharias on his book Surviving and Thriving in Seminary. This is a good book and worthwhile to read whether you’re thinking about seminary, in seminary, and even to help those considering.
Dan Barnes asks if “Blogging is Ministry?” over at SBC Voices. He gives a quick thought about three central practices for any blogger.
I was a pretty big fan of “The Office” on NBC (well, at least before the writers strike and way before Michael left) and always thought Jim Halpert was a great character. Think Christian asks if his role in the last two seasons offers some insight about what a devoted complementarian should look like. I don’t disagree, but check the article its worth your time.
Thanks to Jim West over at Zwingli Redivivus we got to hear about a new smartphone app. There is an app in development that will be able to use augmented reality on your smartphone at archeological sites in Israel to see what that site might have actually looked like in its heyday. That is a pretty great thing.
29
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Link Dump

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Ghost Writing: Modern Day Pseudepigrapha

One of the lingering challenges to a high view of Scripture is the criticism that some of the books of the Bible are written by people other than the named authors.

Most notably, the New Testament books of 1 & 2 Timothy are often considered to have been written by someone other than the Apostle Paul. Likewise, sections (if not the entirety) of the Pentateuch are thought to be written by someone(s) other than Moses. Of course for those of us familiar with the larger picture of biblical studies, this objection is neither new nor awfully pertinent.

However, it still get made and is a staple in the New Atheist salvo against Christianity.

The objection usually goes: well some of the books of the Bible clearly are not written by their purported authors, but were written much later than the authors’ lives by people knowingly deceiving the audiences who received these books. Therefore, the Bible is full of false information and even deceitful claims.

Thus, the Bible cannot be trusted.

This argument has been around for quite some time (in fact you can actually trace it back to an early articulation during the patristic period.) So, what about it? Well, for starters the contemporary claim rests on present day assumptions about truthfulness and accuracy in reporting. We live in a world where journalistic and authors regularly fact check their work and “always” sign their names on the pieces they’ve offered.

Until they don’t.

One of the counter-examples which is most easily articulated are the cases of ghost writers who collaborate with celebrities, politicians, thinkers, and others to produce works under the name of the other person. We see these works on the shelves of our bookstores and displayed on our favorite online retailer under the name of the celebrity, often without attribution to the ghost writer. When we buy them and read them, we have no expectation that the work isn’t from that personality. The words are just as efficacious in communicating to us what we believe to be authentic words from that personality.

Even if one admits to this kind of crafting of biblical texts (I actually affirm traditional authorship of the New Testament books) there isn’t an inherently deceitful practice going on. In fact, in this era ghost written (the technical term is pseudepigrapha) works proliferated within literature. There are plenty of examples of texts that clearly couldn’t be from an attributed author, but are largely accepted as authentic and credible. Some of these works include, The Book of Abraham, 1 & 2 Enoch, The Revelation of Moses, The Gospel of Judas, and others, or you can click here to see some actual texts.

If these biblical texts were authored by someone other than the purported author it would have always been by a close associate or pupil. Present day scholars would need demonstrate cases where it clearly wasn’t by someone closely related to this figure. Likewise, even if this claim is true for some of the books (clearly not all the New Testament books are considered suspicious) it does not diminish the reality of the inspiration for that author. No present day scholar can realistically challenge that statement.

Of course we also should mention the use of secretaries in the authorship of most of the New Testament books. But I’ll do that elsewhere. In the meantime, check out this link.

So, when someone attempts to discredit the Bible based on the argument of false authorship, they have no ground to stand on as a claim against Christianity.

26
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Apologetics, Theology

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The Challenge of Seminary: an initial post

Over at the Gospel Coalition, there is a great short reflection about the challenges of seminary written by Donny Friederichsen pointing out that seminarians often forget that their time in school should be developing them both theologically by pastorally.

One of the paragraphs that seemed to stand out is this:

I also would have spent more time with real people in my neighborhood and at my church instead of gravitating toward people who liked to read dead Dutch guys and use phrases like “hypostasis,” “hapax legomenon,” and “the chthonic thralldom of sin.” I need those people too, but in seminary it’s entirely too easy to get lost in the academic world and lose contact with why you are there. (emphasis mine)

This is a good point and worth exploring. Seminary, in its current form, is presenting substantial challenges to ministry and ministers. As a quick observation, many of my peers in growing, dynamic churches are becoming increasingly wary of hiring seminary graduates who are both 1) recent graduates and 2) don’t have a lot of outside experience under their belts. For many of us, we find that seminary does a good job of preparing a student theologically but there is a massive shortfall in actual pastoral training and ministry execution.

Having graduated from seminary 8 years ago, I saw this challenge worked out. Thankfully a gracious professor of mine put several key texts into my hands while I was in my earliest days of seminary that reconfigured my outlook and steps for preparation. For what its worth, I thoroughly enjoyed seminary. It was a kind of intellectual and spiritual renaissance for me. Though there were some institutional pressures and challenges which cloud a bit of last days at my seminary, I am the minister I am because of my time in seminary.

Now, back to Friederichsen’s point. Too often our seminaries are a kind of “Sunday School 2.0” that fail to maneuver their students to interact critically and practically with pastoral ministry situations. We are seeing a substantial rise in post-seminary ministry failure rates in new graduates over the past decade, and its not because of moral failure. It is often due to burnout, firings, underperformance, expectation issues, among other factors. While not every seminary graduate is going to end up in pastoral ministry (a fairly new concept by the way), for those who do go into pastoral ministry one of the first tasks that must be accomplished is to sort through what was helpful and what was not helpful for application in the local church ministry.

The very real issues at Friederichsen brings up in his post are matters which, as I recall, were rarely addressed in seminary classrooms. They were talked about in my undergraduate instruction. For too many seminarians there is a need to balance this intellectual maturation with practical equipping tools. At this point too many of our seminaries are ill-equipped and ensconced in “church of last century” ministry models to provide a substantive change to the ministry training culture. Another challenge in the seminary model is professors who have never served a day in a church, yet are given opportunities to train and equip future pastors for ministry. While there are certainly individuals and fields where we can make margin for the academic only scholar, I wonder if we are pressing the mark too hard in continuing to elevate and place individuals with no local church experience in the midst of the training and equipping institute for future pastors.

Final thought: In Houston we have radio ad for a local law school that promotes itself by producing “practice ready attorneys.” Perhaps if we can start to get our arms around the realities of ministry and begin developing seminaries that produce “ministry ready pastors” we can see some things begin to change. Seminary is a vital part of training men and women for a lifetime of ministry. I’m looking forward to seeing how this important conversation continues.

25
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

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Does VBS Still Work?

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How many of us, while growing up, attended a Vacation Bible School? Probably a great many of us.

The practice of doing VBS in the summers between school years has been going on for as long as any of us can remember. In fact, the earliest VBS in the modern era was likely started in 1894 by a public school teacher, D.T. Miles, who created a 4-week summer program in Hopedale, Illinois to train and engage with children in the summer. Though much of the arrangements and execution of a VBS look different today than back in 1894, the concept is essentially similar.

Some church leaders have asked good questions about the use of VBS in their specific cultures over the past several years. In these conversations there have been good questions asked about the role of VBS in churches of all models. One of my favorite questions to ask in these discussions is: how many of you attended VBS as a kid? Usually almost every hand goes up.

So, does VBS work in our churches?

Over the past week, the church where I serve hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. We had about 2500 involved in our VBS which last from Monday through Thursday. Our VBS runs in the morning, from 9:00-12:30. If we were to look at the programming side, the children involved have all the traditional bells and whistles of a VBS: crafts, music, Bible lessons, activities, and dramas that play out over the week. This is a model shared by many churches across the US.

I can honestly say that I think VBS is one of the best things churches can do to reach their communities and members and it leverages multiple cultural access points to allow a local church to do ministry beyond what it normally might provide during the rest of the year.

Does VBS work? Absolutely.

The next statement is: if it is validated and led appropriately. I’ve been involved in VBS weeks in small churches to mega-churches and many sizes in between. Each one has several shared keys to success that aid in producing an effective VBS.

A chief key to success is the appropriate validation and support for a VBS. This means high visibility in the church calendar, multiple mentions from the platform, the key church leader(s) encouraging people to attend, and appropriate budgeting support. For many churches, regardless of size, a great VBS begins with how well the leadership of the church plans for VBS and provides the means to accomplish a goal for producing a successful one. One of the great things that many churches do in bringing together a wonderful VBS experience is have an “all hands on deck” mentality for their staff. This provides an infrastructure of support from our key ministry leaders and helps distribute the burden of ministry across all levels.

Second, the leadership of VBS is crucial. Whether it is lay people or paid staff, the leaders of VBS are critical to raising up great volunteers, setting the mark for excellence, working behind the scenes to produce great environments, and leading the training of volunteers for the VBS. Everything rises and falls on leadership, says John Maxwell, and when it comes to VBS he is certainly on point. A great VBS can carry the energy and focus of changing lives in these young hearts like no one else.

Another key is outstanding environments. From the first moment a child walks in to the last day when they walk out, outstanding environments will have a lasting impact. As you can see from the photos above, the environment created in the worship center, sanctuary, or meeting room is key for getting kids involved and wanting to come back. Lazy efforts or high barriers to changing rooms and venues will have a resounding impact on your VBS experience. Children today are being brought up in a heavy media saturated time, and while we don’t play to that, we can leverage it to have fun.

Finally, VBS needs to be fun, fun, fun. This is the street front window for so many of our churches with those people on the fringes and margins of Christianity in our different towns and cities. One of the rules I’ve seen for the last 15 year in ministry is when you get the kids excited the parents will bring them back. Some of the best VBS experiences (from small church to big churches) have been when the kids are engaged with great teaching, fun worship, and terrific activities to bring everything together. We love getting kids on their feet, moving, and singing. Its amazing to watch a worship center full of kids singing, moving, and enjoying their time. In the drama you have a moment to speak to them in tremendous ways while also allowing them to hear the Gospel at an important age.

VBS works as well as we allow it to work. If it occupies a central part of your overall strategy there need to be intentional next steps in following up, providing other programmatic and connecting event strategies, and seeing that every new family is seen as a valued connection. Then, celebrate the win. Talk about it and praise the leaders. A properly praised VBS can be a great change agent for a church that desires to connect the Gospel with families and people in their community. It still works.

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A Grace-filled Church in a Grace-Less Age

Over the last several days we have seen plenty of examples of the challenge of living in a secular society that increasingly is fascinated with its own demise…or at least the demise of others. A media feeding frenzy often is begun by the chumming of waters around a celebrity figure. The hounds of tabloid press, 24-hour news channels, and a voracious news cycle that constantly feeds but is never full seems to all add to a dangerous cultural spiral downward where we forsake being a nation of a compelling people and just become added voices alongside the rabble of the world.

No longer are athletes able to enjoy the championships they earn, but they are immediately challenged and questioned as to whether their greatness will be repeated and are given endless comparisons to players from another era.

Our whole world, it seems, is simply one long litany of unmerited critics who rejoice in the failures of others and seek out ways to demean and dethrone those who make us feel inferior.

In the midst of all of this we have neglected the realization that the Church remains the one place where we can extend the grace of Jesus to all who seek it, and desperately need it. Our churches become those places where we can find refuge from the sickened world of self-pursuit as we lay down our motives and egos to worship God and serve each other. We can embrace the ethos of grace filled living where our titles and accomplishments or our failures and defeats have no bearing on our salvation or our continued growth in holiness.

As our society careens towards mindless self-destruction our churches have an opportune moment to provide avenues of grace to those in need. We can champion the truths of Isaiah 40:31 while recognizing that John 1:16 applies to us all. Perhaps our churches can be those safe harbors of care and grace in the midst of a stormy culture that seeks to beat us relentlessly against the rocks of hypocritical analysis. 

The pattern for the Church given to us by Jesus is that we become his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) extending the mercies of God’s Kingdom to the beleaguered souls where we live, work, and play. Our churches become sanctuaries of grace that provide a place for all people to heal and be restored without need for performance and often in light of our failures (Acts 10:34.) Because we are all failures who have an opportunity to be redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice (Ephesians 2:1-10.) We become the people of the second chance, and third, and fourth, and fifth…and seventy times seven chance if necessary (Matthew 18:22.)

Since the earliest days in the pagan culture of Roman excess, the Church has existed to extend sweet mercies in this world to carry us through to the next. Our operating plan is not in technology or successful strategic execution, but it is in the Holy Spirit ordained extension of God’s grace to those who need it the most. May we find our new voice in being the grace-filled people of the seventy-times-seven chance in the grace-less age.

In a culture choked by performance and self-image may the Church be the place of authentic grace, forgiveness, and welcoming embrace for all those who have fallen short, who have left something in their past, who have skeletons in their closets, and need a place of rest.

22
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Church

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Follow Up: A Key to Growth

Well this week is our annual VBS at Sugar Creek. It is a highly validated event that brings in over 2,000 children into our ministry space, many of whom are from families whoa are not connecting regularly with our ministry. So by the end of our time we’ll potentially have several hundred new families for follow up.

In business one of the primary goals is to turn new customers into repeat customers. Repeat customers spend about 33% more than the same number of new customers.

For churches our bottom line is different. We shouldn’t be measuring things by how much someone “spends” or “gives” monetarily, but we should be measuring successes in terms of connection and involvement. The metrics are different but the goal is the same: assimilation.

Churches of all kinds see visitors and guests throughout the year. If you haven’t seen any for a while something is clearly wrong. No ministry is sustainable over the long term if there aren’t new guests and visitors, and it is even less sustainable if there is a lack of new people period. When we do see guests and visitors our primary obligation to them in the following week is to follow up and at least extend a welcoming greeting to let them know that our church is unique and might be a good place for them to return and check out.

From week to week one of the key activities a church staff should be involved in is the appropriate follow up with new guests and visitors.

There are some outstanding books and talks out there. Two that I recommend are: Fusion, by Nelson Searcy and Beyond the First Visit by Gary McIntosh. While there are others out there, including some great thoughts on first impressions ministry, these are a helpful way to get started. Some things that I’ve found work well with guests and visitors:

  • A handwritten thank you card with a $5 gas card. 
  • Having a person from a life stage appropriate group contact them and invite them to a group time.
  • Sending them a short 5 question, anonymous survey about their experience.
  • Snail Mailing a letter and short info guide about your church.
  • Phone call (even if voicemail) thanking them and letting them know we’re here to minister to them.

 

For many guests and visitors our facility is new and confusing. Clear signage and helpful welcoming people are going to be key in directing them to a comfortable place of worship. Being careful not to be too forceful while also caring enough to guide them is a great balance for ministry.

Summer is a great time to follow up with new guests and families. We should leverage this time wisely and find a treasure trove of new guests and visitors who can, through a couple easy moves, become engaged members.

How are you doing follow up? What are some successes you’ve had? Where do we all miss connecting with guests and visitors?

19
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Church

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