. of view

Earl Marshall

Month: January 2008

An Encouragement for Child Sponsorship

Read Darryl’s blog on his recent trip with Compassion.  Our church is involved with IN Uganda and at present we are sponsoring approximately 130 children.  Darryl’s story is a great reminder of the difference we are making in the lives of children around the world.

Where has the gift of teaching gone?

Many years ago now (once upon a time) I remember musing with Seminary colleagues and students about a day when there would be little need for communicating pastors because the Christian celebrity talking heads would be beamed in to a congregation near you.  It seems that there is a growing trend toward this style of multi-site teaching.  If this truly catches on I wonder what kind of impact this will have on the development of the teaching gift in local church contexts.

I believe the roots of this are found in the mega church movement and the proliferation of professional teaching aids that have been developed by these organizations.  Was it not Rick Warren who said of small group leaders "you don’t have to know how to teach all you need to do is plug in and press play".  And that is exactly what we have been and are doing.  Whether it is in our ministry to children, youth, adults, in small group settings, Sunday school instruction we are using canned teaching presentations or leaving it to the professionals.  We love what we see and I wonder if it is to our own peril.  In a world where excellence in presentation is such a valued commodity it is hard to compete with the packaged material.   

Ultimately the question is whether or not God wants us to develop our own "voice".  Do we believe the exercise of those who have the gifts of teaching in the church is vital to the maturity of the body of Christ?  I say lets stop being lazy and putting up with the subtle nuanced changes to our theology and ministry philosophy that watching the screen inevitably produces and let God use all of us for the kingdoms sake.

Recent Reviews of “The Shack”

A number of months ago I mentioned a book that had a profound impact on me called, "The Shack".  It seems that many others have been reading it and invariably now is the season of the critique.  Thanks to my friend Darryl for passing on a couple of reviews/critiques that may be helpful from Tim Challies and Michael Spencer.

The beauty for me in the book was the description of a relational longing with God that is so much part of my life. 

A Woody Allen Worldview

Macleans recently interviewed Woody Allen talking to him about film making and other things (most you may or may not interest you that’s why I call them "things").  For being a non-intellectual (Allen calls himself that) I found his expression of his view on life and its "meaning" lucid yet hopeless at the same time.  Perhaps you will find this interesting.

When asked about the seeming paradox in making films about the meaninglessness of existence.  Allen answered,

"I have no real answers or knowledge of these things, I only have my feelings about them, and I’m ready to explore all the possibilities. My own personal conclusion concurs with what seems to be the everyday finding of our physicists, that it was an accident, that it will end, and it was just an odd little phenomenon that has no meaning, that [it] wasn’t created by any super-being or with any design, it’s just a chance phenomenon and a micro-speck in an overwhelming, violent universe, and it will end, and everything that Shakespeare did and Beethoven did, all of that will be gone, and every planet will be gone, every star will be gone–down the line–but that’s where we’re headed, out of nothing to nothing. And yet the trick, to me, seems to be to find, not meaning, but to be able to live with that and to enjoy life. By enjoy it I don’t mean sybaritically, I mean to be able to find some kind of MO where you can enjoy your life, even if it’s abstemious and you spend your life in a monastery and you enjoy culturing flowers and pea pods every morning or something, but if that will get you through it in some decent way, that’s the best you can hope for. To live with the awful truth, we’re endowed with this denial mechanism. Some people have less of a denial mechanism than others, but without it, if you faced the real truth all the time, it’s very, very unpleasant."

I love that word . . . sybartically . . . but what a drag to live life without meaning and only hanging on with the hope of some sense of enjoyment.  I find it intriguing that a life that has no meaning could lead Allen to somehow know the real truth. 

My thoughts. 

The Unbusy Pastor

Peterson calls busy "a symptom not of commitment but of betrayal".  Used in conjunction with pastor "it is an outrageous scandal" (page 17).  For the most part I agree with his assessment.

I confess that the pastoral busyness (amount of activity and a state of hurriedness) in my schedule is my own problem.  I admit to a sense of vanity, yes I even think the song is about me sometimes.  Who doesn’t want to feel important and what better way to be important than to let people think you are busy?  It is at times the merit badge that I wear.  Seems to be the same for some of my colleagues but I should let them speak for themselves.  I am not as sure about being busy because I am lazy.  I believe, as I noted in my previous posting, my problem is more confusion than laziness.  I don’t sense in my church context that I have the problem of having others define for me what I should be doing as much as me wondering what I should be doing.

Peterson suggests three significant things that a pastor should do.  Praying that is cultivated from the "deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day" (page 20).  Preaching, "speak the Word of God that is Scripture in the language and rhythms of the people I live with" (page 20), that comes from hours of reflection, immersion, and drenching in Scripture . . . much more than what comes from preparing a sermon.  Listening to others, that comes from an unhurried leisure, a quality of spirit (page 21).

And all of this sounds so amazing.  Throw in a tall lemonade, sunshine, and a beach chair and I am in!

Is Peterson’s suggestion reasonable?  While different church cultures and contexts, and a person’s giftedness/personality/etc. will impact the expansion of the BIG THREE (like leadership related functions) I am growing in my conviction that Peterson is more right than delusional.  Some may not feel they have the freedom to fill their hours with the BIG THREE but we do a greater service for the Kingdom if we dialogue with those we must for this freedom.  I am fortunate that I belong to a church leadership team that is trying to understand along with me what kind of pastor-leader God wants.  I confess that in my few moments of clarity I find that I may be the one who is slowest to embrace what needs to be done. 

I love Peterson’s practical solution of scheduling unbusyness . . . what a fantastic oxymoron.  Now if I can just do that while letting everyone else think I am still busy . . . just kidding, sort of.   


The Naked Noun

Outside of scripture Peterson and Nouwen have been the most significant authorial influences in my understanding of pastoral ministry.  In my seventh year of ministry at OBC I amm experiencing a need to revisit a my personal understanding of what it means to be a pastor.  Life changes, churches change, we change and this I suppose is all good even if it does create some level of discomfort.

So in an attempt to grapple with this I am re-reading "The Contemplative Pastor" by Eugene Peterson.   

Peterson notes that the term "pastor" has become "naked" redefined by our culture.  "In general usage, the noun is weak, defined by parody and diluted by opportunism" (page 15).  He notes that he refuses to accept the cultures definition because if he does he is rendered harmless (page 16).

While I affirm his feelings of being perceived as harmless the bigger issue for me is that the "nakedness" leads to what seems like a never ending list of adjectives to describe this "shape-shifting" noun.  Some of these adjectives are created by assumed expectations in the culture and congregation but equally so from my own mind.  Actually I am finding that the problem is not as much cultural redefinition of the word but my own inability to define the word (which for my postmodern friends may be one and the same – right? maybe?)

Is the issue "what is a pastor?" or "what isn’t a pastor?"  In other words, "how long is the list?".  Then there is the inevitable "I want to compare my list to your list" and then "is it OK if I don’t feel guilty about not doing something that is on your list?" 

You know something, I love this calling on my life.  But some days I don’t know whether I am coming or going.   


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