Archive for November, 2006

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The Walmart-ization of the Church – Part 2

November 30, 2006

2. The Cost is Really Hidden: As I mentioned in the comments on the last posting, WM does pass on low prices to consumers. But what it gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. In the case of wages, WM barely pays minimum wage in many places to its employees. The benefits they had a decade ago are almost all gone now. According to a number of studies, 40% of their employees must supplement their WM wages with social assistance programs. Compare that to K-Mart with 20% and Target with 8% of their employees. What happens in smaller towns is that Walmart ends up pushing the other retailers out of business and thus the average income in that town goes down. This is not true in a place like Sacramento because our work force is more diverse. But it shouldn’t surprise us that many medium-sized communities in America are banning WM from entering their towns unless they clean up their wage discrepancies.

And it isn’t just WM. It is also the other companies assigned to them. Sam’s Club is the major competitor with Costco. Yet Costco pays their employees up to 50% more than Sam’s Club (when you include benefits) and is mostly able to keep their prices competitive. They give their employees shares in the company, something WM used to do but does not any more.

Therefore, the lower price is actually not that much lower, it is just spread out. This applies in the same way to the Megachurch.

Over the last ten years, my colleagues in medium-sized churches and myself see a curious trend. We are getting more and more Christians from Megachurches coming to us for counseling, ministry and care. Yet, when we ask them if they would be willing to attend our churches, considering the ministry we are offering, they just laugh. They know what will be expected of them in a smaller church. But they love the benefits they get from personal care. One guy I talked to said that he had never talked to a single pastor on a staff of 45 in the three years he had been there. I asked why he still attended. He liked the singles fishing trips, the Starbucks coffee in the lounge, the worship band that produces new albums every year and the right to take off for a month without having the membership committee breathing down his neck.

But notice where he went when his life was falling apart. To the smaller church. What will he do when the smaller church no longer exists?

Here is the hidden cost. The Megachurch likes to boast that they can do things more cheaply than the costs of a hundred smaller churches. But is that true? Let’s do the math. Let’s take a church of 10,000 members and 100 churches of 100 members. Which entity will have more salary? Actually, it is the Megachurch. The megachurch will have (for 10,000 people) somewhere between 10-25 janitorial/building maintenance people. No small city church of 100 members will have any. The Megachurch will have full-time paid professional counselors. All the smaller churches will rely on pastors or volunteers. The Megachurch will have somewhere near100 people being paid part-time or full-time for Administrative services. The smaller churches combined might have 50. The Megachurch pastoral staff will have annual salaries exceeding the combined salaries of the 100 smaller churches… by my estimate, about double the amount. What about their buildings? Surely that is where the Megachurch saves money. In American cities, a church requires 300-400 attenders to build a church building for its members (this figure is based upon what buildings cost in a city and what the average person gives to a church). Therefore, few if any of the churches of 100 or less will have their own building. They will be paying rent, but it will go to schools, community centers, landlords. The average church of 10,000 or more members is carrying tens of millions of dollars in building debt. The average church of 100 is carrying no building debt. The amount of interest on a 30 million dollar debt annually is approximately 2.4 million dollars! That is 2.4 million that the churches of 100 members will never spend.

Adding this all up, it is obvious that the church of 10,000 people spends much more money than100 churches of 100. But actually I just mislead you. If current trends hold true, the church of 100 will not exist for much longer outside of small towns. No cities in America will have churches of 100 in the near future. 20 years ago, the average size of a church was 75 members. Now it is between 350-375 (I get that figure from dividing the amount of churches in America with the amount of people who attend church regularly). If you consider that we have one-third less people attending church than 20 years ago in our country, and the amount of churches in America is 25% less, there is only one conclusion. We are going to have less churches that are much larger in size. Hence, the emergence of the Megachurch.

Who will do pastoral care for those churches? The answer is the same if we asked who would fix the bicycles from WM that break down, the toasters from WM that break down, the shoes from WM that last for a month and the golf clubs from WM that break on their second usage: No one will be left to fix them. Who will do pastoral care? If by pastoral care, we mean personal, one-on-one discipleship, then the answer is No one.

Do people need pastoral care? That’s like asking if consumers need help with the products they buy. I recently had a problem with a piece of audio equipment that I bought at a specialty store here in town. When I went in to ask them about my problem, the store clerk knew exactly the problem I was talking about, knew the solution and spent another ten minutes telling me about a product that was coming on sale in just a few weeks that would really enhance my objectives with this equipment.

Just this week, I read they are going out of business.

Who will help me with this kind of equipment in the future if all we have left is WM? Their employees don’t even know what brands they carry, let alone anything about the product. I don’t blame them; the products fly off the shelf and land at the check-out. In the same vein, who will visit someone in the hospital when they are dying? A Megachurch pastor? Who will provide counseling for a child who had nightmares? A Megachurch children’s activities director? I doubt they even know that child exists. My wife can tell you the birthdays of all the children we have had in every church we have pastored. And we pastored a large church in that mix as well.

In my final segment on the Walmartization of the Church, I want to prophesy what I think is going to happen…and what we can do about it in the meantime.

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The Walmart-ization of the Church – Part 1

November 28, 2006

In the spirit of the shopping season of our lives, I dedicate this blog entry to Wal-Mart, that great Marketeer and destroyer of certain types of culture. I say “certain types” because of course as long as there are people there is culture. But Wal-Mart has almost unilaterally contributed to the downfall of several cutural faceplates: mom-and-pop stores, small hardware stores, toy stores, and in some places, shoe stores.

You understand, of course, that this applies more to smaller and medium-sized towns than it does to large cities. Almost any economic venture can make it in a city, provided they have a good location and knowledge of their niche market. But as the size of a center’s population gets smaller, the impact of Wal-Mart’s presence increases. I don’t have hard data to back that up, but I’m sure that Wal-Mart Watch does somewhere. But these conclusions feel intuitively correct and unless we go against “the gut” on this one, let’s just assume this is true.

I begin by stating I have a philosophical and moral abhorrence of what Wal-Mart is and does. That said, I see parallels with what is happening with today’s Megachurches. Except in this case, the impact that the Megachurch has may be more dramatic in the larger cities than in the smaller towns. I see many parallels between today’s Wal-Mart and today’s megachurch. I only want to comment on three of them. These do not apply to the Wal-Marts of Sam Walton’s day and the Megachurch of the past. These comments also do not apply to megachurches outside of North America, because these are primarily cell-based churches and do not display the features of America’s megachurch.

Without further background then, let me present my parallels between Wal-Mart and the American brand of Megachurch.

1. Lower Cost is the Key Draw: WM’s bouncing happy face tells the whole story: Wal-Mart is all about lowering prices. On the surface of things, I really don’t have an argument against lower prices. I am a grandfather and see my children struggling to stretch their spending dollar further and further. I don’t envy them having to pay the monthly bills now and a year from now. WM seems to be the answer to their limited income. But is the price really the only thing we need to be concerned about? First, lower price often (though not always, I admit) means a lower quality of product. A friend of mine bought a bicycle at WM a few years ago. It broke down about 10 times in the subsequent year. It had to be replaced, fixed, replaced, fixed, fixed and fixed again. By the time he was done with this debacle, the bicycle cost him more than he would have paid for a wonderful bike at a sporting goods store. In addition, WM’s strategy for obtaining those lower prices is heinous and cost other people in the long run (see Wal-Mart Watchh for more information). They approach a supplier with a short-term deal to produce a product. After taking over their operation, they then announce if the company wants to keep Wal-Mart’s business, they must lower their prices next year…and the year after. This results in lay-offs, lower quality and a lower standard of living for the community affected by this “deal”.The cost of these lower prices is too much for society to pay. The same thing happens with the Megachurch of today. Though there are several ‘draws’ that bring people to a Megachurch, the one that stands out above the rest is the small amount of responsibility expected of the average attender. I don’t say “member” because membership is not emphasized in Megachurches. People attend a Megachurch because they don’t want to go to five meetings a week, be on four committees, and have to listen to critical appeals for finances which doom the church’s demise. They want to go in quickly, have a church service, see the live Camels at the Christmas production (notice there are no “pageants” in megachurches…those are too pedestrian), hear a good worship band and go home to a frantic life. The Megachurch offers a small price to be part of a large happening. It shouldn’t surprise us that a generation that liked its music with 20,000 other people would want the same thing for church.

But, someone will remark, what is wrong with all of this? Our lives are already too frantic. We don’t have time for five church events a week. We don’t want to join an organization, we just want some religious flavor to our lives. We don’t want all the politics of a small or medium-sized church. We want to be left alone. Granted, we are busy. And granted, there are weaknesses in the smaller sized church. But, what the smaller church offers is community and commitment, two words that have been outsourced by the Wal-Mart philosophy. The Megachurch of yesteryear grew gradually, and thus maintained community at smaller levels. The small groups in the average Megachurch encompass less than 10% of their church population. I visited several Megachurches here in California this summer and added up the number of small groups they offered and divided it by the number of members. Unless there are 150 people in each small group, somewhere around 10% of the Megachurch population is involved in anything but Sunday morning show.

Low cost, low commitment.

That also applies to the sermon. I spent a greater part of the last two years listening to sermons preached by the pastors of Megachurches. With the exception of men like Francis Frangipane and Jack Hayford, whose Megachurches grew to those size over a long period of time, the rest of the Megachurch pastors preach the spiritual version of cotton candy: Tasty and full of nothing. Prosperity this, and feel better about that, and read your culture this way and enjoy your MTV that way. There is no prophetic nature to their ministries. There is hardly a pastoral element. It reads like Dr. Phil channeling Mary Tyler Moore. I can see you reading this and wondering if all I am saying is hyperbole. I am not going to back up my statements with statistics. This rant is all mine and it is meant to be prophetic. I will let others study this phenomenon after it produces its fruit. Then come back and read this and see if it isn’t true.

When you produce low-cost Christians, you can expect low-cost living. People going to churches based upon cost will not tolerate high cost from any part of their spiritual life. Prayer will become a nuisance, as will reading the Bible, worshiping and giving to the poor. I visited a church with about 10,000 members this summer. I was in the foyer area, enjoying the huge waterfall and the brilliant colors and textures of the building. I really did enjoy them. I wandered about the foyer looking at the approximately 2,000 people waiting for their chance to grab a good seat for the next showing. I attempted to start conversations with several people. One person just looked away from me, and talked to someone else. Another guy told me that he had to go pick up someone. Another guy told me that he didn’t like to talk to people. I tried with seven people and finally stopped. I talked to an usher about this and he said, “No one in this service likes to talk to people they don’t know. That’s what we have our home care groups for.” Well, for 10% of them anyways. I went over to the Internet Cafe on the second floor and noticed that people were watching the service on their laptops. I looked for several minutes and no one talked to each other. A pastor came out and greeted people and most of them did not look him in the eye. I stopped to chat and the entire time he was looking over his shoulder at someone else. I got 30 seconds.

I remember that happening to me last time I went to Wal-Mart.

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My Advice to the Emerging Church

November 21, 2006

Twice in the past month, close friends of mine have been excited when they heard I was posting articles on the Emerging Church. They also looked sad when I told them I was not a huge fan of the Emerging Church. They thought I would surely be a part of this movement, knowing of my deep desire to see the Church of Jesus continue its Growth into His Image. They also assumed that this is the cutting edge of where God’s Holy Spirit is working and that I would want to be there.

I have always believed that God is up to something new. I know that Church History tells us that God is forever launching new ministries and empowering new teachers to revive forgotten doctrines, to encourage forgotten practices and to introduce never-before-seen aspects of God’s heart for his broken world. But Church History also tells us that during those seasons when change is inevitable for the church, there have also been frustrated, deconstructionist minded people who almost get it right, but therefore get it awfully wrong.

I hate to say it, but the Emerging Church I observe at the moment is really getting it wrong, even though I admire their intentions. One of the two friends I mentioned above asked me if this new movement is doomed. Of course not. Even if this movement fails (and in its present form, I believe it will certainly fade away quickly), it still will launch a group of people who see what God is trying to do through the Emerging Church and will create the better form of this movement: If you will, an Emerging Church 2.0.

So, with that in mind, I do have some advice to the Emerging Church. I know a number of them read this blog, so if you see any credibility to my advice, would you spread it far and wide. If you feel I am far off the mark, that is also possible…so please ignore. With that codicil to this manifesto of change, I suggest the following list of modifications that could make the Emerging Church into something fantastic.

1. Get Over Your Freedom in Christ: The Emerging Church loves to make hay with the idea that God doesn’t reject them for using salty language or having a beer or staying up all night or not attending a church service or smoking or doing drugs or sleeping around. Yes, the Kingdom of God is full of people doing many of those things. Frankly my friends, so what? That hardly is news and only reveals that all you know about evangelicalism is the Legalistic flavor. I haven’t heard a decent sermon in 20 years on the dangers of draft beer, so what kind of Straw Men are you erecting these days? I don’t use scatological references when I speak and teach because there are more eloquent ways of saying things. I lived in Canada for the first 30 years of my life and I never said “eh” more than a couple of times because it sounds moronic. Does that mean I am a language snob? Hardly. When you say “f” this and “f” that, I doubt that you achieve anything more than proving you have a potty mouth. A movement founded in the Holy Spirit is going to be radical. I can get all the “f” references I want on Comedy Central. I actually hear Lewis Black not using salty language on Network specials and it sounds funnier when he doesn’t use them. Just because you can do something in Christ, doesn’t mean you ought to.

2. Get Over Your Addiction to Online Community: A lot of what happens in the Emerging Church happens in blogs and online chat circles. This is not community. It is a forum, to be certain, but it does not contain any of the elements needed for dramatic, life-changing community. Life-changing community requires deep accountability, sacrifice, speaking the Truth in love, full communication (remember, most communication is non-verbal..with the online community you don’t even get tones of voice), acts of service, devotion and exhortation. The idea of devotion for instance, is improbable online. The online entity is an ever-shifting, ever-evolving idea. No one stays connected on the Internet for long. But while they are together, it is a rush, it is a complete intensity. Community like that can seem so real and so valuable because it is so intense. But it never lasts. And for that reason, the Emerging Church with its reliance on that sort of community will have intense reactions and relationships that burn out quickly. This is not what God intended for us when He created and continues to build his church. I would even go as far to say that the Internet, along with television and most forms of entertainment, is a hindrance to true community. True community takes time and it take living in the flesh.

3. Get Over the Weaknesses in the Structure of the Church: When God changed the church in times past, it was always through ideas and action. The structure always changed much later. But, in deconstructionist movements, the focus is always on the structure changing. That always makes the erroneous assumption that people understand why there needs to be a change. If you change your values and ideas, your structures have to change to match it. Allow me to give an example. In the late 1800s, Albert Simpson was a famous preacher of a mainline denomination. He began to see something the church had forgotten for so long: That God is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever, and that if He healed long ago, he can heal bodies today. He began to teach that. But he did not seek to change his church. He agreed with the basic structure of his church. He brought healing meetings into that existing structure. At first, people were overawed that this was happening in their church. But it was also a church that rented pews. You had your place to sit in church because you paid for it. The emphasis on healing brought immigrants from all over to the church (he ministered in New York city during a time of massive immigration through that port). Soon, people in his church could not find a place to sit in the pew they had rented. The structure had to change to match the ideas they had. Many saw the change and the beginnings of the “Tabernacle” style of church was born. It was a structure that fit the idea. Those in the Emerging Church don’t want any structure. This is a mistake. God always has his new movements focus on ideas and allow the structure to form later. Don’t fight structures, introduce ideas.

4. Get Over Liberal Views of the Bible: Throughout history, people have tried to improve on the Bible. They usually do this because the people they like to hang out with see them as idiots or simpletons for believing such an old book. Yet, no matter how many times the Bible has been maligned and supposedly proven to be full of errors, years later it is shown that those errors were actually not there at all. You don’t need to improve the Bible, improve your hermeneutics. You think you are the first generation to discover “narrative” approaches to interpreting the Bible? This has been done since the first century. And every movement that has tried it has died away into obscurity. The basic view of the Bible that lasts is this: It is inerrant, infallible, God-breathed and helpful for teaching and training people to live for God. Work more on applying the Scriptures and less on figuring out a better system of interpretation. The old historical-grammatical system works fine. You’ll find that very few of the legalists actually look at the deeper meanings of the text. They find their favorite hobby-horse and they ride it until it croaks on them.

5. Do More and Talk Less: Most movements that have “legs” to them just go out and live Christianity in a radical way and by this show others that God is up to something. Most movements that die out are based in written treatises and posted theories that are argued to death and oblivion. Even though Martin Luther wrote much, what impressed people in the towns he pastored was the way he lived. The same with Samuel Rutherford, Crysostom, Wilberforce, Wesley, and others. They lived the radical life as well as teaching it. I read books by the Emerging Church people and get the impression that their lives are just as messed up and just as much missing God as people in legalistic churches. That doesn’t make me want to sign up for their programs.

6. Listen to God: So little is said in Emerging Church circles about God’s leading and God’s provision and God’s voice and God’s power. But without those things, this movement is going to fall flatter and harder than the World Trade Center. God has to be at the center of a movement, or it is doomed. I don’t see God at the center. It all sounds like humanity discovering the Path again. How is that different from what Herman Hesse was looking for? Read Siddhartha and you will be just as confused about your journey toward God as when you started. God must help us, God must provide for us, God must be the source and the end goal. I hardly ever hear that in the Emerging Church, and until these principles become the underlying focus, this is never going to fly.

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Why I am not Part of the Emerging Church – part 5

November 16, 2006

The readers of this blog are a curious mix of those who love theological discussions and those who want to improve their ability to deliver good therapeutic help to others. Therefore I give this warning to half of you reading this: This blog entry is chalked full of theological grist for the mill. You may want to have a dictionary handy.

For me, one of the clearest and distinct separations between my view of Truth and what the Emerging Church believes is found in 1 John 4:10. It reads

10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

That phrase “atoning sacrifice” is one greek word, Hilasmos. The NIV translators actually sought to skirt a long-standing theological discussion of the 20th century by putting in the words “atoning sacrifice”. The word is most commonly translated “propitiation”. Bruce Waltke, in writing on why they chose “atoning sacrifice” for the NIV instead of “propitiation” says, “Propitiation is a word never used by anyone but theologs any longer and would be confusing to the average reader of Scripture”. He may be correct, but atoning sacrifice is not the meaning of the word hilasmos. Not by a long shot.

The word means “to dispense with the wrath of another person”. To propitiate an angry person is to do whatever is necessary to completely remove their wrath. To meet whatever punishment they require in order to get rid of their anger and vengeance. When we put this in context of 1 John 4:10, we get “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as a propitiation for our sins”. Throughout the modern age, theological liberals have quaffed at this idea of God’s wrath. From their humanist viewpoint, they could not conceive of a being in their universe that can be absolutely loving and yet wrathful toward the sinner. Therefore, in the translation of the Bible known as the Revised Standard Version, these theological liberals finally achieved their goal: Instead of the word “propitiation”, they translated Hilasmos as “expiation”.

What does expiation mean? The word means to compensate. It could be used in this sense. If a young man shoplifts an article from a department store, his father may go down and in order to keep his son out of trouble with the Law, offers to pay for the article and pay extra to expiate his son’s sin. In translating hilasmos this way, the RSV sought to eliminate the need for God’s wrath in the Salvation story. They would say that God does not need to have his wrath removed, he simply needs to be bought off.

The Emerging Church takes this concept to another level. They reject the idea that we have any real need even to have our sins expiated. A well-known Emergent writer Steve Chalke writes this in his book “The Lost Message of Jesus”:

“While we have spent centuries arguing over the doctrine of original sin, pouring over the Bible and huge theological tomes to prove the inherent sinfulness of all humankind, we have missed a startling point: Jesus believed in original goodness! God declared that all his creation, including humankind was very good. That’s not to suggest that Jesus is denying that our relationship with God is in need of reconciliation, but that he is rejecting any idea that we are, somehow, beyond the pale.”

I wonder what Chalke would do with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:11 “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, etc.”. Actually, you can probably imagine how Chalke would deal with that. He would give it the old Narrative touch. He would say something of this magnitude: “Jesus is speaking to Jews who were of the mistaken belief that God was angry at them all the time and that this was because they were innately evil. His point in this passage was not to correct their misunderstanding about their nature but to show the good gifts the Father has for them.” Notice in the quotation above that what we really need is not propitiation or expiation but reconciliation. In essence, what God and Man have had is a misunderstanding. Can’t God and man just get along?

This doctrine underscores so much of the Emerging Church teaching, though it is often not spelled out as clearly as Chalke does. But the theme colors almost all teaching in this area. In an introductory course explaining Christianity for teenagers called “The Story We Find Ourselves In – An Approach to Narrative Living” Brian McLaren has posted the outline on his web page. In explaining how mankind has come into Crisis stage (note: He never uses the word sin, just crisis and Fall), he lays this out as his outline;

In the modern telling of the story, the fall – a cataclysmic event that leads from the ideal & perfect world into the material imperfect world. (use of the word ‘perfect’ comes from Grk idea of ideal & unchanging, complete whereas text uses word ‘good’).

However, if there is only one world, then ‘the fall’ doesn’t mean the loss of one ideal world & move into a different chaotic world of change & conflict. Rather the goodness of the world remains but the goodness is put at risk. (p52)

b) Story of Emergence:

Return to our story as one of emergence – a world that goes on creating itself (as in evolution)

Process of creation or development:

Humans, living as hunter-gatherers – develop language – leads to other innovations & an avalanche of crises “ a disintegration of the primal harmony and innocence of creation” & link is in intellectual & technological development goes beyond moral development

Thus:

Adam & Eve – go beyond limits – want to be like God; experience evil & result is loss of TRUST – in one another – feel shame & fear.

Human trust is based on respect for limits – boundaries –respect for differentness & uniqueness (sexual trust is gone so cover up differentness) Cain & Abel shows loss of trust between brothers

Disagreement over land & ownership – Abel a herder of sheep/cattle – nomadic, dependent on land. Cain as agriculturalist farmer, growing crops – land ownership key & settling in one place –lead to conflict over use of land with herders. (p55)

Notice some of the key buzzwords in this outline. Adam and Eve don’t sin, they “go beyond limits”. They aren’t kicked out of God’s presence they “experience evil”. They are not evil, they simply experience it. In the description of the Fall, McLaren clarifies it this way, “‘the fall’ doesn’t mean the loss of one ideal world & move into a different chaotic world of change & conflict. Rather the goodness of the world remains but the goodness is put at risk”.

Here is another of my huge problems with the Emerging Church. Their narrative approach to Hermeneutics has eliminated a basic biblical premise that mankind is fallen, sinful and subject to wrath.

I used to think the Emerging church was just a new label for 60s liberalism. I now see them as much more insidious: They are a repackaged, reworked version of 1800s liberalism sold and marketed to Evangelicals who grew up in church and are generally dissatisfied with legalism and traditionalism. Most of them are not cognizant on the implications of Emergent theology to know the dangers of the package they are buying. Next time, I want to conclude this series by giving some practical suggestions to the Emergent church how they can pull out of these errors before it is too late. I hope someone will listen.

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Mentored by The Creator

November 13, 2006

Life is good to me. I am sitting on an airplane, flying to a conference where I am teaching on how to worship as a lifestyle. Before leaving, I downloaded about 25 vocal jazz songs and now my noise-canceling headphones are drowning out the music of a screaming baby two rows ahead. Bless the soul and creativity of Panasonic. On my Zen Micro MP3 player I am imbibing the unique duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. Honestly, I could set the music on replay a dozen times and not tire of them singing this song together. If you have not heard this Gershwin tune for awhile, this is the moment to track it down online and, if you don’t already have Itunes or Rhapsody, pay for it. It is worth whatever they will charge for it.

During the song, you can hear vintage Satchmo as he croons in that wavery, watery voice that no one could match even if they had finished two bottles of Pinot Noir and spent the last hour in the hot tub. But here is the question of the hour: How is it that his voice ever became famous? His is not the smooth silk of Ella and not the Velvet Fogginess of Torme. Most people would say he was able to get away with his quirky crooning because his trumpet ruled. But I don’t think I can accept that. If the music world only humored him, would Barbara Streisand really have invited him to sing the title cut from “Hello Dolly” with her? Would his vocal albums have outsold his big band offerings if people only endured his singing instead of outright enjoying it?

I think there is a deeper reason, for what it’s worth. Granted, he barely has enough ear for melody to keep up with the simplest of soloists. And his tremolo is shaky and long, longer perhaps than any other singer. But it is the unmatchable nature of his singing artform that inspires our admiration. No one can imitate his art.

Earlier today, I was reading an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s latest book of essays and rants. During one of his rare softer moments, he reveals what he thinks is the key to living a full and adventurous life: Practice art as often as you can. Even if you don’t think you have any talent or acceptable ability. He then advises that as his readers take in that paragraph, they immediately stop and write a six-line poem. He also insists that they rhyme in this exercise. (His theory is that when we rhyme, we say things we might not ever say quite the same way. I’m sure I don’t agree. My rhyming always sounds like Dr. Seuss). He then advises when we are done with the poem, to rip it into dozens of tiny pieces and distribute them in garbage cans all over the house. In this way, we ensure that we will keep creating and not obsess about the art we have created in the past.

Wow.

(That last paragraph is my homage to Vonnegut, the master of the one-word paragraph. Microsoft Word tells me I should reconsider that paragraph. I tell MS Word that it can cut itself into a dozen small pieces and distribute itself in many places on the hard drive).

What is your art? What have you created today? I remember the day in my 8th year when my dad brought home a four foot high bag of mill ends. These are pieces of dimensional lumber throwaways that are trimmed off at mills to get down to the size that the builders require for uniformity. He gave my brother and I that bag of gold. We were allowed to make anything we wanted with it, no questions asked. I don’t remember my dad ever examining my work and criticizing its value. I built the world’s greatest inventions, most ingenious furniture, most sublime shape sculptures and most useful bedroom paperweights known to man…well, known to me. I can’t remember any other gift he gave me that was more appreciated than that one.

To invent is to mimic the creator.

I read that and leave it there in order to correct it. To invent, to art, is to be a creator in the image of the Creator.

What is your art today? What have you created that cannot be found anywhere else? What Louis Armstrong awaits your shower walls? What Andy Warhol Campbell Soup can catches your imagination and glints off it with an inner light? Want to discover it again?

So do I.

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Why I am Not Part of the Emerging Church – Part 4

November 10, 2006

At a family retreat with my wife’s relatives, we came to the Sunday morning time when we had planned a Christian celebration. Among the family members, we had nine ordained pastors, two missionaries, three more who were involved in urban relief work and countless committed Christians. We represented 11 different denominations and countless approaches to worship, studying the Bible and prayer. Yet we shared the family link, that close blood tie to one another and the spiritual tie through Jesus. Blest be the ties that bind.

During the service, they played an interview made with Kathy’s “Oma” (95-year old grandmother). It was an interview done with her son recounting the events surrounding her wedding day . I can’t even begin to describe the soul’s delight at hearing this account. The ceremony contained elements we never see any more and traditions long-since discarded by a Modern society. But I will never forget what happened after they became man and wife.

Gunshots rang out in the courtyard of the house. Much like a similar scene in “Fiddler on the Roof” the Russian soldiers marched onto this farm in the Ukraine and demanded to have the highest courtesy shown to them. The young bride and groom hid in the barn, knowing they would be killed if found. Overnight, all their money was worthless, their land taken. Russian soldiers slept in their wedding bed with their boots on. They feared for their lives as finally the army burned the barn they were hiding in to the ground. Yet, through it all, God saved and preserved their lives.

As I raptly listened to this account, someone near me said, “They knew how to have weddings back then.” We all laughed at that. Obviously none of us would have traded their wedding for our own. Yet, we couldn’t deny the results. Their marriage lasted longer than 98% of our marriages today. All their children follow the Lord. Most of their grandchildren committed their lives to the Lord. Yet, would any of us want to pattern our weddings after theirs? I doubt it.

Believe it or not, this is the basis of my largest criticism of the Emerging Church Movement. They have a totally different view of the Bible than the traditional evangelical approach. They prefer to exalt the Narrative view toward interpretation and exegesis. The Narrative approach is a mindset similar to that we adopted listening to the recounting of the marriage ceremony. We were saying to ourselves “what a fascinating story and how meaningful to those who endured its scope. But what does that have to do with us today?”

McLaren, the Ooze and other websites and blogs create straw men of us evangelicals. They say that when we read the Bible we yearn for the Golden Oldie days of yesteryear, primarily those beliefs and practices of the first century Palestine. Though they would say the Bible has something to tell us, it is the narrative that is important, not the details. In the same way that none of us would have wanted to endure the ignominy of the Russian invasion, so too none of us need to live through the ethos of First century traditions and prejudices. I will give a few examples of this in a second.

The Emerging church says it has a great respect for the Bible. But their view on it is that it is the grandest of all narratives. Its pages are descriptive of God’s working with mankind and not prescriptive of how we should live and what we should believe. If you read even a few of their blogs, you are met by the approach to the interpretation of Scripture that ignores any real current application for the beliefs expressed by the Biblical writers. For example. According to both the Ooze and the OpenSource Theology websites, the passage in Romans 1 that speaks of homosexuality is helpful and revelatory only as far as its narrative value. What does that mean? It tells us that the first century church was populated with homophobes, few if any of which had any respect for the right to live out one’s sexuality. But it also shows that God worked with them and moved among these homophobes, helping them to see some of the difficulties a homosexual will have in a predominantly heterosexual world.

When Jesus talked about Hell in the Bible (or was it his Garbage Pit he was talking about), they would say the narrative account is simply reflecting the viewpoint of his day…that they saw the afterlife as a stark dualism of heaven vs. hell. What we need to glean from this is that the first century believer had a grand view of the afterlife and took it much more seriously than we do today. The narrative hermeneutics would lead the preacher to conclude that we need to be much more focused on the spiritual realm than Modernism was.

In essence, the Narrative approach to interpretation robs any strength from the Bible and eliminates all of its prescriptive elements. It becomes no more instructive to us than the Baghavad Gita, the Uppanishads or the writings of Hammurabi that are studied to understand the underlying culture of the writers. The Emerging Church might still claim that God had something to do with the writing of Scripture, but it would be difficult for them to conclude that it is anything more than an historical reference point in the continual working of God. Most Emerging Church leaders also subscribe to the Open Canon Theory. This theory postulates that the Bible was never truly finished and that many other writings are just as important.

So let’s all turn to the Book of Ted Turner. Within those hallowed pages, we find not the Ten Commandments but (in the words of Saint Ted) the “Ten Strategic Initiatives.

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Observation on Ted Haggard’s Problems

November 6, 2006

I took most of the weekend to listen carefully both to what the Mainstream Media and what Ted Haggard and his church were saying about his scandal. If you haven’t heard what happened, you can read about it here, or just accept my summary.

Ted is a pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Last week, a self-admitted male prostitute claimed that Ted paid him for three years for sex and drugs. Ted denied even knowing the man, but later changed his story twice. First, to admit that he had contacted the man to get Meth (which he said he never used). Second, to admit he spoke to the man about sexual things over the phone and eventually received a massage from him.

The church where Ted pastors, one of the ten largest churches in America, accepted Ted’s resignation and barred him from serving in the church forthwith. The NAE also accepted Ted’s resignation. Both organizations have cited Ted’s “Immoral behavior” as the reason for his dismissal. This is in concert with all evangelical church bylaws that I am aware of, so there is no surprise.

But I do want to make a number of observations that all Evangelicals should be very aware of before this controversy gets forgotten by the press after election day. Before making my comments, I will admit that Ted Haggard has been an acquaintance of mine and I have quoted him regularly in teachings, sermons and articles I have written. I did have lunch with him on two occasions and enjoyed his forthrightness and down-to-earth approach at those occasions. Though I would not refer to him as a friend, I do admit to believing many of the things he believes and valuing much of what he values. That will give you a necessary perspective to what I will say next.

First, what Ted did is not hypocritical. As a staff member commented on this weekend, if Ted had asked the male prostitute to marry him, that would have been hypocritical. Hypocrisy means to claim to be one thing when you know you are something else. Ted is against Gay marriage. He has never claimed to be against gay people. He does not believe in promiscuity, but does believe that anyone is capable of it. At a pastor’s seminar he lead that I attended, he did a complete session on “Purity of the Mind and Body”. In that seminar, he tells about the policy that he and others on his church staff hold to: They fast for the first three days of every month in order to take charge of their bodies. Ted taught (and I teach regularly) that if you can say no to the desire for a pizza, you can say no to the desire for a romantic affair. I see the partial fallacy in this however, and perhaps this was Ted’s downfall. There is no emotional tie to a pizza whereas there can be in intimate encounters. Just saying no to your body is not the same as saying no to the soul’s deeper needs. Also, though there are lie-based ideas connected with eating food, there are many more connected to relationships. Fasting will rarely prevent the lies that plague us in relational follies. But here is my point. At that same seminar, Ted warned us not to think too arrogantly about Christian leaders who sin. He said “each of us is capable of the same sins they have committed. If we are hard on them, where will grace be for each of us?” I trust that those of us who have heard Ted teach this will apply grace to his situation.

The next thing I want to look at is Ted’s approach to the Truth. He began this confrontation by denying he even knew the prostitute. Then he admitted to buying drugs from him. Then we hear of the phone calls, the massage and this morning we are introduced to a vague “immoral behavior” which he has reportedly admitted to Larry Stockstill and his overseer board. Unfortunately, in my many years of counseling pastors and church leaders who have engaged in sexual sin and been confronted, this is a typical pattern. I call it Emotional Damage Control. It is the desire of anyone who has addictive behavior to admit only the sin that others can see in order to maintain some of the dignity and station of life to which they have grown accustomed. In the end, all it really creates is a sense of betrayal in all of those who want to rally behind you with love and forgiveness. My advice has always been the same in these situations: Tell the whole truth at the beginning and don’t bury a single fact. It is much easier for loved ones to take the whole truth in one shot then if it is divvied out in smaller packages. If Ted is forced to admit more details reluctantly to his wife and friends, it may alienate them forever. But his behavior is all too common for most people who are public figures and are caught in sexual sin. Remember President Clinton’s approach? He wanted to quibble about the definition of sex.

But what may have lead up to these events? I admit freely to having a strong dislike for the mega-church movement. When this happened to Ted, I immediately wondered if his position as the leader of such a large church didn’t contribute to the sense of isolation and non-accountability necessary for this type of sexual sin to take place. We in the North American church have falsely equated church growth with church size. Rather, as others in Asia are finding, the church grows best when the congregation size does not exceed 300-400 people. Most significant ministries are done by churches of that size. As a church gets larger than 400, the majority of the people become spectators and cheerleaders of the leadership team. Though the pastors and staff may become quite famous, write best-selling books, speak at all the best conferences and develop all the right curriculum, they rarely touch the communities they are part of. But the worst part is that the men at the top…the Senior Pastors…often find that their lives consist of pressure to perform, constant analysis by friend and foe, time management difficulties, isolation in marriage and children and even health issues related to the stress. The pressure to medicate these stresses with sexual release are almost unbearable. History tells us that very few heads of state have been able to resist sexual temptation. The history of American Presidents certainly bears this out. The same can also be said of those who head up very large churches. They have almost no way out of the constant battle against stress and temptation. It is more a wonder that these men remain pure than it is that they fall. The real key is to take the pressure off yourself by splitting the church into many parts. Dr. Yonggi Cho of Seoul, Korea did this and it saved his life (literally). He broke his church of many thousands into smaller units, which basically functioned as separate churches. He had almost died of a heart attack before that. In North America, men like Doug Murren have also taken large churches and split them into smaller congregations and thereby saved their marriages and multiplied the effectiveness of the church.

Finally, let’s look at the politics of this situation. I have taught for years that Christians take a big risk by getting involved in political issues. Politics has a set of rules all its own, and those who endeavor to enter the field must be willing to face the consequences that politics dishes out. First, in politics, everyone is out to get you. If you can’t handle that, don’t get involved. Second, any mistake you make will be magnified out of proportion. Do not ever doubt that is true. Ted Haggard, by spearheading the drive against Gay Marriage made sure that his life became a fishbowl. Third, when you are a political figure, people will set you up for scandal, even if there is no scandal to be found. Now, in this case, Ted gave them more than enough rope to hang him with. But even if he hadn’t, accusations are made against politicians all the time. However, accusations do not hurt political parties forever. The same cannot be said for the Church. Scandals can absolutely alienate the very people we want to reach. My conclusion is the same as it has always been. Christians should stay out of politics if they are also leaders in God’s church.

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