...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Mission statements & strategic planning

My church is currently going through a strategic planning initiative, wherein our senior pastor has laid down the big picture vision for the next 5 years, drafted a preliminary mission statement and laid down specific objectives, strategies & action plans for achieving them. The plan is ambitious, and includes producing a new church plant every 2 years, starting with one we've already got in the works scheduled for March '05. Since I only came on board a few months ago, I'm not really in much of a position to know if we've actually got the momentum & drive to do this kind of thing. From what they've told me, the growth at our current site hasn't been astronomical, so I'm honestly a bit dubious about 3 new church plants that are set to replicate the model we've got going here. There will be some variations, to be sure, but as of right now, it sounds like this current one is going to be very similar. Anyways, each pastor has been charged with coming up with a similar strategic plan for our specific ministries. After we've done ours, we'll go through another round of planning with the volunteer ministry leaders.

The draft mission statement we have is "Helping people find their way to God." This may be adjusted some in the future, but the basic gist of it will not change since we are a "seeker-sensitive" church. I came from a volunteer position in a similar church, so I am not surprised by this kind of focus. But I've come to realize something; I wasn't doing seeker ministry in my previous church. I was doing "believers" ministry, with only a few exceptions. The college Bible study I lead was entirely focused on believers, though there were non-believers who came and eventually came to Christ. The small group I lead was made up of non-believers, but it wasn't seeker-sensitive in the least. I tried to challenge those kids on a regular basis with faith, not with stuff I thought might make church more palatable to them. And within the youth group as a whole, the relationships I had were mostly with those kids who were already Christian. The fact of the matter is this; I am not cut out for seeker-sensitive ministry. I think the mission of the church ought to be the church! I don't think we should water down our faith, our worship, our community in order to make things more palatable. As has been often noted, the inside of our church is starting look too much like the outside of our church. Where is the reverence? Where is the experience of the transcendent God who created the universe? Where is the opportunity to take the focus off of ourselves?

I realize liturgical worship may not be for everyone, and we certainly can't deny the fact that the seeker-sensitive model has been very successful in reaching certain segments of the population, but at what price? My church does not employ a regular communion schedule. Our preaching series usually run 4-6 weeks and communion is put in wherever it fits, so we tend to take communion every 5-6 weeks. We just wrapped up a 6 week leadership series based on Nehemiah. The music at the beginning of the service was fine, the preaching adequate, but all of a sudden at the end, we take a sharp turn into communion. There was no set-up or connection to the preached material; we went from asking "what is your wall? what is the thing that God has tasked you with?" to "communion is about remembering Christ. When you're ready, the tables are off to the sides." And that was it. The band played a nice slow song to "set the mood" and everyone dutifully got in line to rip off a little piece of bread & picked up a little plastic cup of grape juice before returning to our seats. I fumed. I was shocked at how casually we were celebrating the Lord's Supper. No real mention of Christ's suffering & death, no reading from the Gospels; just a quick nod to Protestant ideals about it being merely a sybmolic memorial and we were off to the races.

So what does this have to do with mission statements? As I said, the mission of the church ought to be the church. We may change that mission with the good intentions of reaching a specific demographic or doing church differently to make things more comfortable for those who have been hurt in the past, but with each step away from our true mission we further reduce the impact we actually have on the world. This kind of thing is only possible in the Protestant church, with its overly granular view of salvation. Getting a person to accept Christ is not as important as actually making disciples. Right now, Protestantism feels like trying to run uphill on a sand dune. With each step we make less & less progress forward, and instead contribute to our demise of being buried in an avalanche of sand that is a culture that has been inoculated against Christ by shallow, comfortable Christianity.



Romans 15:5-6 "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

I've been thinking a lot about unity lately, partially in the context of the clarity of scripture, but in a wider sense as well. While the link may not be immediately obvious, the question of the clarity of scripture and the unity of Protestant sects & denominations is very strong. The myriad of Protestant denoms, doctrines & sincerely held beliefs must lead us to questions we are unwilling or incapable of answering.

The first question is, of course, who is right? With each group being fully convinced in their own mind what the Bible teaches, answering this question is no mean feat, especially from within these various bodies. Each believes they have grasped the truth under the guidance of the Spirit, which is impossible to either prove or disprove. As long as each group has a hermeneutic that is logically consistent there is no way to prove that some particular group is incorrect. It thus becomes a stale-mate. I believe this, you believe that, he believes something else entirely; lets just retire to our separate corners and continue to mind our own business.

To someone willing to think critically, even when it comes to dearly loved doctrines, the next question immediately should be "is the Bible actually clear?" Questioning some of our sincerest assumptions is never easy, so many never ask this question for very pious reasons, but honesty demands we evaluate this. If the Bible is clear, how can so many groups believe different things? Some will argue that they are correct because only the saved can understand scripture under the guidance of the Spirit. The implication is clear; those who disagree are 1) not saved, 2) not lead by the Spirit and/or 3) are somehow deceived. But once again, we can't objectively prove any of these things and it is normally considered quite beyond the pale in Protestant circles to question someone else's salvation, at least to their face. However, if you and I watch a movie and come out with radically different ideas about the plot, characters, cinematography, etc, one might question whether or not we had seen the same movie. If we did see the same movie, there are only 2 other solutions; the movie is horribly unclear or we have our own preconceived ideas that are influencing our assessments. In the question of the clarity of scripture, I tend to think it is a mixture of these 2 issues. The Bible may not be as clear as most Protestants believe but our own ideas & biases tend to fudge our perception of what clarity there is, thus leading to very different interpretations.

So what does this have to do with unity? Everything! Jesus' prayer for unity in John, and the exhortations for unity we find elsewhere in the New Testament, really do not allow each of us to separate and mind our own business. We cannot have a merely intellectual assent that some other group is Christian and yet not be in true communion & fellowship with them. This is not unity, it is a farce. We are not allowed to separate ourselves to avoid difficult resolutions. True unity is not easy since it requires a great deal of death-to-self, and the subjugation of our desires to the greater good. Unity is not, of course, the sole aim of Jesus, but it is one of the main identifiers of His body, so the question really becomes; do our doctrines lead to unity? If they don't, it appears to me there must be something wrong with them.



I for one am glad to hear the Pope is not the anti-Christ. Rome is such a pretty city, I'd hate for it to become the center of evil & global domination.


Sola Scriptura & Tradition

I am currently engaged in a debate on the Crosswalk Forums about Sola Scriptura vs Tradition. The more I have read and thought, and the more I have debated with die-hard sola scriptura-ists on that board, the more I am having a problem with the doctrine. At least as it is normally presented in a Protestant setting.

Sola scriptura normally presumes that the early church became corrupt very early on and only went downhill from there until it was rescued by Luther. After the last of the Apostles died, there seems to be an assumption that the vast majority of Christians after the 1st century were Christian in name only and so deceived that there was nary a chance of anyone getting into heaven. Aside from the utter implausibility of God allowing His church to degenerate so quickly in light of the scriptural promises to the contrary, I am frequently struck by the utter stupidity of this position as it relates to the development of the canon. How could a corrupt, morally and spiritually bankrupt body be trusted to verify the details of God's word? In the debate, some have acted as if the canon dropped from heaven and did not involve the church at all, while others have tried to claim that the church only recognized what had been in use from the earliest times and was of apostolic origin. I have no real problem with the latter, but it in this discussion, the sola scriptura-ist has all but denied the work of the Holy Spirit in determining the canon and does not have the historical background to know that there were other works, such as the epistles of Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas, that were also widely used and considered authoritative. In short, the canon was not "recognized" very early on and only formally determined later on - the Spirit worked through the church to help her identify those works the Spirit had previously inspired. Such a position also fails to account for how a corrupt church could be trusted to identify the inspired writings at any point, much less a few centuries later.


The Perils of Ministry

I received a phone call yesterday from a parent of 3 girls (1 high school, 2 junior high) who are in my youth group. The family has 7 kids and the 3 I have are heavily involved in sports, including club teams over the summer so they miss Sunday meetings pretty frequently. I don't like it - they are very sweet girls and have some good leadership potential which I could probably leverage if they were here more often - but I accept it. That is how that family is and I am not going to be able to change it.

Anyways, I get a call from this mother who is upset because I made a joke when one of her daughters came into class late. I get it both barrells right off the bat, barely even a hello before she's on the attack. "Do you think this is the right way to run a youth group? Do you think kids respond to it?" Etc, etc. Not expecting an attack, she caught me off guard and I got defensive. I wasn't rude or angry, but at the same time, I wasn't very contrite. In all honesty, the joke I made was about the girl coming in late, not missing some Sundays as the mother assumed. And the mother was upset because I asked her daughter to read something - not knowing the girl has a learning disability and gets very embarassed about reading in public. I was never made aware of this, and when I pointed this out to the mother it made little difference. So I fumed for a while.

Then I got thinking about it. I joke around a lot, which is almost a requirement in youth ministry, but maybe there are times when my jokes cross the line of being funny & light-hearted and could be perceived as being hurtful. I don't ever intend, but I can admit that it happens. Now, that's not so bad - anyone could and should be able to admit to that. What really, REALLY wounds my fragile pride is that this woman was right in what she said, if not in the way she said it. I have never wanted to admit error in the face of that kind of barrage, but I know I need to. Not just because my joke hurt this kid, but because it is what God expects of me. I was reading St Isaac the Syrian's teachings on the ascetic life and he says always blame yourself first; take responsibility for the actions of others. He's right - that is the path to holiness and he wasn't lying when he said it ain't easy.


Lord have mercy

A woman who attends my church just walked into my office. Her 31 year old son died of a heart attack Sunday night. He did not regularly attend any church, and she was upset that there would be no one to pray at his funeral. We assured her that one of the staff members would come and speak and prayed with her. Pray for Joan and her son Scott, and her other 3 children.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.