Archive for the ‘Organization’ Category

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World Vision Revisited – Bad Decisions and hypocrisy

March 31, 2014

I have placed myself in a difficult spot with this essay.

Which is okay. I don’t write, preach and teach in order to address the easy issues or the pleasant situations. I write to bring about change and to prevent good things from being eroded.

But there are times I find an issue where I cannot determine a side I am completely comfortable with. World Vision has forced me into one of those corners and I may end up painting myself even further in.

A synopsis: World Vision announced last week they were going to allow people who were in gay marriages to be hired by their organization. They rationalized this decision based on geography and internal goals. First, geography: Since Washington State has declared gay marriage legal—and they are based in Washington—they felt they should comply with Washington law. This is not valid, since religious institutions aren’t required to hire anyone who cannot comply with their beliefs.

Second: Internal goals. They are attempting through this decision to be more inclusive of both their conservative and liberal Christian supporters. As hard as it is for most evangelicals to accept, at least half of Christianity is more liberal and many of these people accept gay marriage as a legitimate form of marital expression. Many of them also support World Vision.

Being more conservative on this issue, I do not agree. But I recognize that World Vision has supporters who are from both liberal and conservative camps. They want to be inclusive.

That was a big mistake. On polarizing issues like gay marriage, one cannot please all the people. The only way to do that is to be silent and let people assume which side you fall on. But more and more, Christian organizations are being asked by both sides of the gay marriage issue to pick a side. So World Vision thought they could craft a position statement that appealed to both groups. They stated:

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” he said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”

“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” he said. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

With this statement, World Vision wants both liberals and conservatives to support them. But since this is a reversal of their long-held policy against hiring gay Christians, there is no way for them to claim neutrality on this issue.

They should not have been surprised at the uproar this decision caused. Liberals, of course, were excited that this endorsed the position they already had. But conservatives viewed this as a slap in the face of their stand against gay marriage. It is understandable that conservative evangelicals were upset by this move. Since gay marriage is the most noticeable moral issue that most evangelicals agree upon, this has become the poster-child for the holiness movement. For a professing Evangelical organization to pull away from the “pack” like this, it feels like they have sold out their supporters.

Then, two days later, they reversed their decision. In a letter of apology, World Vision president, Richard Stearn stated:

The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

Wow! Let me count the mistakes they made.

  1. They erroneously thought they could engage the gay marriage issue by taking a middle ground stance. There is very little middle ground on a polarizing issue like this one, and they certainly didn’t find it.
  2. They put the lives of children at risk, callously ignoring a possibility that outraged supporters would withdraw support for children because of their decision. More about this in a moment.
  3. When people began to cancel their support for World Vision’s children, a number of people who support gay marriage offered to “adopt” those children. This number was smaller than the number who pulled away, so World Vision panicked.
  4. In their panic, they reversed their original decision. I suspect they did this to cut their already substantial financial losses.
  5. By reversing their decision, they have now alienated both sides of this issue, and both sides now feel they cannot trust World Vision.

As I reflect on it, I realize that at this point, no one should trust World Vision. They have shown little respect for their own children by putting them in harm’s way.

Suffice to say that I have never been a supporter of World Vision. I don’t like that they refused to participate in a study done to determine the effectiveness of feeding programs around the world. World Vision refused. So did Samaritan’s Purse. Only Compassion International was willing to put their reputation on the line to let their results become an open study. Therefore, that is the organization I support when I sponsor children and their food needs.

So, to sum up the first part of this essay, World Vision blew it big time. Someone ought to lose their job over this. I personally will not support the efforts of World Vision in the future. Are we clear on this point?

Now for the deeper issue. Is it morally defensible to cancel your avowed support of a child because you no longer support the organization? I do not think the Scriptures allow for such action, and I even go as far as to say this type of action is hypocritical.

I will say that not everyone who cancels their sponsorship is a hypocrite. Some people are just ignorant of what they’re doing. But if you read my rationale here and agree that it is not biblical to do so—and then do it anyway—that would be hypocritical behavior. So let me take three biblical principles and show how they apply directly to this situation.

In Mark 7, Jesus and the Pharisees are fighting it out over Jewish ceremonial law. At one point, Jesus begins a rant about their religious hypocrisy. In verses 8-13, he states:

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Jesus addresses the issue of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe traditions. In this case, the command of God is for children to honor their father and mother. This includes helping them financially. But the Jewish leaders taught that if they would rather give the money to the temple instead of parents, they could declare the gift as Corban. Corban was a designated temple gift that superseded other gifts. In verse 13, Jesus reminds them that this tradition of the Temple actually nullifies what God has commanded.

God saw the child/parent relationship as a covenant. This is also true of a husband/wife relationship. If someone in a covenant relationship promises to act a particular way, and then acts differently, they are violating that covenant. This is a serious sin. The enemy of our souls loves to defeat people who break covenants.

When you agree to sponsor a child, you are agreeing to do that as long as they are a child. This is similar to any agreement between a child and a foster parent. Adopted parents, foster parents, stand-in parents, sponsoring parents–all of these parenting types fit into the covenant role with a child. If you cancel that sponsorship, you are reneging on the agreement you have with that child. Therefore, your actions are little different from the person who took money intended for parents and gave it to the temple instead.

Actually, I can imagine why some people would opt for Corban instead of parents. What if dad is an alcoholic? What if mom uses drugs? What if they both are violent? Does this mean we no longer have to help them out? I don’t think the Bible allows for an “out” clause in the covenant for those circumstances.

I fully understand why people are angry at World Vision. However, your original covenant is not with the organization, but with the child. I would recommend people continue to support their children and then let World Vision know you will not be supporting any other children and certainly won’t be helping with World Vision’s other projects. That would keep intact both your desire to distance yourself from World Vision and your commitment to the child.

Remember, Jesus also told us never to cause a child to stumble. When you support a child in a developing country, your gift allows that child to eat instead of die due to starvation. It also helps that child’s family. In addition, when several children are sponsored in one village, the entire village receives some of the funds. So when you drop support for a child, you are harming the child, its family and the village.

If you break your promise to that child–especially when the child knows you are a Christian–you are doing damage to that child’s view of Christ and Christians.

Jesus had these harsh words in Matthew 18:6 for those who do such things:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Finally, I can see someone who is still unconvinced. They may rationalize “I don’t think my promise to a child is the same as a covenant.” They may also say “I don’t think the teaching on offending children applies in this situation.” Hopefully then, you are a better Bible scholar than I, for I think both principles apply perfectly.

However, if you still aren’t convinced, let me give the final biblical reason why you shouldn’t end your support of these children. If you do, you’re breaking your promise.

The Bible has a word for a promise we make to another person. It is called “a vow”.

Here’s a few things the Bible says about vows:

Numbers 30:2  When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Ecclesiastes 5:5:  It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

Matthew 5:33:  “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’

You do serious damage to your soul when you break a vow. If you make a vow, you are not let out of the vow because the person involved has problems or does things you don’t like. In this case, just because World Vision is not the organization you thought it was is not a reason to end your sponsorship of a child.

You have made a covenant with that child.

You are to set an example for that child.

And you have made a vow to that child.

If those reasons are not enough, then you should talk to the Holy Spirit about this.

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What Needs to Arise from the Ashes of the Emerging Church

March 4, 2014

RipIn 2006, I wrote six articles on why I was not a part of the Emerging Church. Here is the final one, and all you have to do is read backward to find the rest. At that time, I predicted that the Emerging Church movement would fall apart and cease to exist in the years to come. I didn’t say that out of animosity or a desire to curse them. Unfortunately, the Emerging church movement was decontructionist in nature, and thus subject to the same inertia of all deconstructionist movements: They fall down with their own tendency to self-criticize.

In other words, once you start throwing stones as a group, you inevitably start throwing stones at each other. Decontructionist movements always devolve into bickering.

A few years ago Dan Kimball–who wrote the book “The Emerging Church“– wrote an article where he admitted the movement had splintered and was no longer a viable entity. Others such as Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones (a.k.a The Tall Skinny Kiwi) also have lamented and written about the fragmentation of the movement.

But all three men have one thing in common: They still believe in the principles of the Emerging Church even if they no longer believe the movement is viable. The problem is, every one of them recognizes a significantly different set of principles that embody their view of the Emerging church. Perhaps this is another reason it has come to an end.

But since I was a bellringer for this movement’s demise, perhaps it is time to admit some of the things I learned from reading, meditating and participating with some of the leaders of this movement. This is not an homage to something I didn’t believe in–I’m not Cassius Brutus or his kin–but rather this springs from my desire to acknowledge the good things the Emerging church was trying to do.

1. The Evangelical Church Has Become Shallow: As with any retrospective, my analysis of all things related to churches will be painting with a broad brush. Not all evangelical churches are shallow. But there is a pattern which goes back over twenty years in prominent Evangelical churches of emphasizing style over content. Let me just give a few examples:

  • Dominance of bass boosters, fog machines, expensive lighting systems, electronic keypads etc. in large megachurches.
  • Pastors buying the sermon series of other preachers instead of digging into the Word on their own (thank you Rick Warren for that egregious error).
  • Christian bestsellers are all penned by superstar pastors since these pastors can guarantee that their congregations will buy the first 50,000 copies. Therefore, most Christian books are ghost-written and designed for marketing instead of teaching..
  • Worship services are designed to sound like concerts instead of providing a place for the congregation to have communion with the Holy Spirit.
  • Tendency to mirror conservative political buzz instead of being a prophetic voice.

The Emerging Church desired to have more intimate gatherings of people instead of the consumerist approach we buy into. In this, they are correct. As I wrote in this series on the Walmartization of the church, this trend will not stop as long as people desire little commitment to a local church. I am sorry the Emerging Church was not able to make more of an impact on these practices.

2. Social Justice: If you look back ten years to the messages preached from Evangelical pulpits, you didn’t hear much talk about climate change, recycling, feeding the poor, sex trafficking, backyard gardens, gender equity, GMO proliferation etc. The Emerging Church dedicated themselves to social justice and their voices convinced many in the Evangelical world that this was true and undefiled religion. Now you can hear them being preached everywhere. I am concerned that as the Emerging Church loses its soapbox, we may forget these critical emphases.

3. Narrative Theology has one great result: Narrative preaching seeks to understand where each book of the Bible can be found in the larger  story of God. That is to say, all Scripture was penned as a partnership between God, the writer and the culture to whom he was writing. Evangelical preachers have sought to understand what God was saying in each passage, keeping in mind the human elements of the writers while not really paying much credence to their personality. For instance, we recognize the difference between the Gospel written by Doctor Luke and the one that comes from the mouth of the peasant John. Their language is different as is their focus. But that’s as far as we go. We rarely, if ever, parse the cultures to whom books were written. This is a serious error and I thank the Emerging church and their emphasis on reading the original culture as well as reading the original language. It helps to know that culture’s views on poverty, slavery, sex, women, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, church leadership etc. before we finish up our study. Evangelicals are too inclined to only look what God might be saying and not enough to the ideas of the author and the contextual culture. I suspect that as the Emerging Church disappears, we may go back to only one side of the Scriptural partnership. Hopefully writers like Tom Wright and Roger Olson can help us stay on a good interpretive track.

4. People Are Leaving Church Because We Are too Institutional: This past year, well-known writers such as Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller have admitted they rarely go to church. CNN ran a series of articles three months ago suggesting that children who grew up in Evangelical churches are leaving those same churches when they hit their twenties. Everyone has proposed a different reason for this, but I think the Emerging Church identified the reason better than all the rest: The Millennial Generation doesn’t perceive real community in their home church and this is what they yearn for more than anything else.

Recently, our church decided we need to buy a building so our current ministries don’t die off. We are meeting in 7 different locations around the city doing the work we are called to do. As I met with various members of the church to discuss a move, I asked them one question: What do you value about our church? The answer was consistent and overwhelming: People join our church because of its sense of genuine community. We actually know each other. We are involved in each other’s lives. The biggest fear that people expressed about owning a building is that we would get too big and lose that sense of belonging to one another. This response has made our leadership team sit up and ask tough questions. Primarily, we want to know if we can do this and stay close to each other. If at any point we decide that is not possible, we will give up trying to have a building.

Today’s Evangelical church  must come to grips with the movement of young people away from the “Show” and the “Celebrity Pastor”. If we are not intimate, genuine, relational and humble, our churches will die just as surely as the Emerging church.

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Adultery and Patriarchy

November 12, 2013

Here’s what this article is not about. It is not slamming the Christian Patriarchy movement per se – or Complementarianism. Both belief systems teach that males in a family are in charge, and in order for females (wives) to find their true place in God, they must submit to their husbands in all things. According to a few Patriarchy teachers, this can even include  violence, lying, harsh words and adultery. If the husband is doing any of those things, then it is ultimately the wife’s fault or she has to somehow take responsibility to fix their relationship. This extreme position is taught by many teachers, but Michael and Debi Pearl  are the best known advocates of this instruction. In their teaching, if a husband has an affair, at some level the wife was not doing her duty properly.

But I am not primarily writing about the wrongness of those movements. I don’t agree with them, but let’s just leave it at that.

Nor is this article about the dangers of adultery. A lot of people commit adultery and that does not necessarily negate their belief system. We all fail and many of us fail spectacularly. Anyone who claims they do not fail is faking it, and those who do not fail spectacularly are either lying or hiding their problems really well. Adultery is a problem because we all want to feel good, and when marriages have problems, an affair can seem to soothe the hurts for awhile. Or the boredom. Or the resentment.

But this article is not about that. Adultery causes many problems and let’s just leave it at that.

Doug Phillips has admitted this past week to having a long-term affair. If you don’t know him, he’s one of the prime teachers and leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement, President of Vision Forum, which along with Gospel Coalition seems to represent the most conservative wing of the conservative marriage movement.

He has many extreme teachings including that President Obama is allied with the Antichrist (because of the emergence and legality of homosexual marriage), that every family should keep having kids until the woman’s uterus is worn-out and won’t work any more, that godly parents will ONLY homeschool their kids, that a wife must never disagree with her husband, must submit to all his commands and whims, must teach their daughters how to serve a future husband and this same wife must provide a safe and sacred place where all sexual needs of her husband are fulfilled – even if her needs are not.

It is an extreme position. Doug Phillips also puts himself forward as the example of what a Christian husband should be.

Now he has had an affair. Let me try and help  you understand some of the implications of this. First, I consider Doug Phillips to be something of an outlier, in that the majority of Evangelical Christians do not hold to his extreme views. Second, just because he has had an affair does not mean his views are wrong. I believe the Bible shows that his views are wrong. But there are Egalitarians (i.e. those who believe husbands and wives are equal partners) who have had affairs, cheated on their taxes and watch soap operas. I am not bringing up Phillips’ affair because it disqualifies him.

I am introducing this subject because it points out an endemic problem with this approach to marriage and sexual sin.

The view that says the husband is the Patriarch of the family arises out of ancient agrarian societies where this approach was necessary and practical. In ancient times, any woman not attached to a family unit led by a powerful and protective man was in danger. Women who did not marry a man who could protect her often were beaten, raped and would ultimately starve. Women had no education, no opportunities, and faced constant dangers during an epoch when the strongest dominated the weakest. This is why polygamy was allowed. It gave protection to many women at the same time.

In those days, a man had very little contact with anyone outside of his family. He was accountable to very few people except his immediate family and a few friends. He met very few single women, and the ones he did meet were often brought in as third or fourth wives.

But in today’s culture, men and women contact each other daily. And strong men can no longer marry all the women they meet. If his wife is not strong, aggressive and able to hold her husband accountable for his actions, adultery is much easier to do. Unless the husband agrees to never talk to another woman (and how is that even possible in our day and age), the only two things which will hold his sinful tendencies in check are an equally strong wife and an even stronger relationship with the Holy Spirit.

But the Complementarian movement does not teach that women should be strong and equal partners. It teaches that women should be subservient and never disagree or ask their husbands to account for their actions. It does not surprise me that Doug Phillips had a long-term affair before he admitted his problem. Since he had no one at home to call him on his crap, he was able to hide his problems over a long period of time. His wife was ordered never to question him or disagree with his actions.

What bothers me even more is that Phillips’ wife will ultimately be called upon to take responsibility for fixing their marriage. All Phillips has to do, according to his teaching, is admit the affair, apologize and move on. His wife now has to try harder to please him, hoping to fend off future affairs.

If you believe that the marriage culture of the Old Testament is God’s plan for your marriage, consider that it no longer fits well with our urban modern society. Even though affairs happen in Egalitarian families, they are treated much differently afterward. This failure by Doug Phillips should serve as a warning that Christian Patriarchy is not as ideal or biblical as it purports to be.

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Solving Procrastination Today (Not Tomorrow)

May 5, 2013

ProcrastinationI am distractible, impulsive, mildly lazy, and…..something else (I had it in my mind, but I thought about something I wanted to say later and then forgot it). Did I say distractible?

These qualities/handicaps are a perfect storm when it comes to procrastination. Not only do I secretly want to postpone everything until after I finish playing Scrabble online, I also can’t remember what it was I felt so passionate about five minutes before. In addition, in the middle of doing one thing, I get ideas about a half dozen  delicious activities while trying to avoid putting off something that is less delectable.

Do you see my problem? Do you relate to my problem? Of course you do. David Glenn, writing about surveys among post-graduate students (yes, those guys and gals who have actually proven they know how to work without watching re-runs of Lost as the hours tick closer to deadlines), says that 60% of these good students practice regular procrastination. In addition, the majority experience some level of self-loathing because of it.

This has got to stop. In my meanderings through 40 years of being in the work-force, I have actually learned to stay on task and complete necessary assignments. Years ago, I wallowed in self-loathing a lot, but now I rarely ever do it. I actually have learned how not to procrastinate – even with my personal proclivities in that direction.

Here’s how I do it. You may find better ways to handle yours, but at least you can start with mine. With procrastinators, a starting place is always a helpful place.

Six Ways to Avoid Procrastination

1. Do things as soon as you think about them. This one idea changed everything for me. I have so many things whiz through my mind like Space Invaders. I used to get annoyed at how whimsy my brain was – until I learned some of the ‘shooting star’ thoughts were actually things I had been avoiding. For instance: I was typing this article and realized (for the fiftieth time) that my screen is getting pretty gross with dust and fingerprints. I took that moment of personal disgust to propel myself out of the chair to find the cleaner and clean it off. Then, since I had the cleaner, I did the same thing to my tablet and smart phone. I had been putting off cleaning all three. This is what can happen if you leverage your distractedness and use it to approach a task you’ve been avoiding.

Yesterday in the grocery store, I saw some place-mats that looked perfect for the dining room table. In examining their price, I saw the word “Mat” and thought of a friend named Matt. I was supposed to call him and set up a lunch. So on the spot in the grocery store, I called. If I had left it until I was finished shopping, 3200 ideas would have already traveled through my mind, rubbing Matt off the face of this earth.

2. Understand why we don’t want to do certain things. Anything you have been consistently putting off is usually something you don’t want to do in the first place. The next time you put it off, ask yourself why you don’t want to do this. Then imagine what is the worst thing that could happen if you finish the task. Usually, it is our vague sense of impending problems that get in the way of doing work; and this procrastination actually cause more problems.

I normally don’t like talking on the phone. I like to see a person’s face and read their body language so I can catch the bigger picture. So I often procrastinate making phone calls. Recently, I asked myself what would be the worst thing that could happen if I did mis-read what they were saying. When that didn’t feel too onerous, I found it was easier to make the call.

3. Do things that have to be done a little at a time. At least half of the jobs I put off until later are huge. I get easily daunted by things that are going to take several hours to complete. This includes many household chores, some writing assignments and most errands that involve driving downtown.

But in particular, getting ready for major meetings often takes at least two hours. Unfortunately, setting aside strategy thinking causes me to miss some prime preparation thoughts; ideas that would have aided me if I had done them sooner. To prevent my lazy mind from taking over, I break the large tasks down into stages. Then I complete as much of the task as I can in a short period of time. The accomplishment of part of the goal makes it easier at a later point to come back to it.

This winter, I was building a retaining wall in the back yard for a new garden. It was so big in my mind that I literally put it off for a year. To overcome this, I considered the steps I would have to take to get it done. There were several dozen. But once I started to check off the completed items, I realized I was more than half done in so much less time than I feared.

4. Do unpleasant tasks at the same time every day. If there are items that have to be done regularly, get into a habit of doing them: a) early in the day b) at the same time every day. This is a type of behavioral conditioning and it works. Anything we do at the same time every day gets put into a mental place that brings a sense of satisfaction. There is even a payoff reward our brain gives us when we complete something that is done every day.

5. Do a bunch of tasks you’ve been putting off one right after another. The idea here is to get on a roll and when you get that sense of accomplishment, jump immediately into another one of your tasks that has lurked like a mocking sailor. For me, it has to do with phone calls again. Once I break the cell phone barrier and make the call, I ask myself what other calls need to be made. Since I always make lists of people I have to contact, one glance tells me who to call. When I have already called one person, the next person gets easier. At some point, our brain says “resistance is futile” and stops giving such a hard time.

6. Know how to keep lists. The best way to keep a list is to have it close to you at all times. I prefer an online list-maker called Wunderlist. It is free, available for every device and is the easiest program to use. And I look at it on average about a dozen times a day. It is always open on my computer, phone and tablet. And, when great ideas go through my head, I just pop it onto one of my lists and forget about it…until I read that list.

So what item is hanging over your head? Stop wallowing and put some of this into practice.

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Are Relevant Churches Really Relevant?

March 17, 2013

This is the fourth most popular post of the past ten years. It is part of our series where we reprint the top ten blog entries. Enjoy.

be-relevantSome friends have suggested I spend too much time on the Internet. It depends on what you mean by “too much time”. I have a counter on my computer that keeps track of every minute I’m online; it rarely goes over one hour a day. But I get a lot done with that hour. I have a newsreader that collects all my favorite blogs, newspapers and magazines and trims them down to headlines. Therefore, I sometimes read things very quickly without deep reflection. Occasionally, it takes days until I react and respond to what I’ve read. What I’m going to talk about next is a result of one of those situations. I cannot even find the original article this idea came from. (I am sure one of my readers will find it and help me out, so I’m not worried about plagiarism).

I want to talk about the word “Relevant”. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (of the Princess Bride): “I do not think that word means what you think it means”. And it is the collective brain trust of contemporary church leaders who may have misunderstood the meaning and direction of this word. This sometimes happens with words; normally it’s not that big a deal. For instance, people often get the words “irrespective” and “regardless” mixed up. People sometimes jumble their definitions and thereby combine them wrongly to make “irregardless”. Irrespective means to know something and then to have no respect for it. Regardless means that you choose not to regard an issue. They are close in meaning, but not exactly the same. For example, I certainly understand what goes into the mind of a man who commits adultery. But I have no respect for his actions. Irrespective of his actions, I take my own actions. But I cannot disregard his actions, especially if they happen to someone close to me. In the case of adultery, I cannot act “regardless”, even though I can act “irrespective”. You see, they don’t mean the same thing.

Relevant is close to another word “relative” and the similar adjective “relational”. Relevant means to stick to the issue at handRelative means to relate to something or someone else. Relevant has to do with issues, controversies, position statements, movements and ideas. Relative has to do with people, choices, culture, tastes and situations. A person who is arguing in a political debate and is asked about their position on war will be relevant if their answer has to do with war. If it has to do with political parties, economics or sports, they are probably not relevant to the issue at hand. A great synonym for “relevant” is “pertinent”. The question a person needs to ask when trying to decide if they’re being relevant is this one: Does my approach pertain to the issue at hand?

If someone wants to be relative or relate to others, they should adopt similar styles, dress, language, approach and attitudes. They must agree with those positions to be relative to the issues at hand. Here then, is the big difference between being Relevant and being Relational: A relevant approach addresses the key issues exactly, irrespective of whether they agree with the position of others. A Relational or Relative person seeks to identify as closely with the position and approach of others. So with these definitions in mind, let’s ask ourselves this question: Those churches who claim to be “relevant” to today’s culture, are they indeed that way or are they more “relative” to the dominant memes of our day?

I will be over-generalizing, but this is the only way to make this essay shorter than an entire book. I hear of churches constantly using the word relevant to refer to their public services. What do they usually mean by that? This video mocks the trend, but it is not really all that misguided. Here then are some ways that churches represent themselves as “relevant”:

  • Casual, weekend style clothing.
  • Modern styles of music, usually reflecting latest trends in style similar to what is played in Christian concerts.
  • Use of video, movies, television shows, commercials and trends to show commonality with audience
  • Expensive lighting, sound systems and printed material, often eclipsing other public non-profit organizations
  • Use of latest software and hardware for multimedia presentations
  • Sermon topics relate to the everyday life of listeners, especially in areas of raising children, marriage, finances and use of leisure time
  • Advertising material, including websites, brochures and radio/television ads are high quality and often produced by professional advertising agencies.

This, then is what most churches mean by Relevant. I contend that this is the absolute wrong use of the word and has reduced the concept to something much more shallow than it was intended to represent. I will share two reasons why I think we are using this word at the end of this article, but let’s see what this approach really is: Relational.

When church leaders model their dress after the manner people usually wear on the weekend, they are trying to help the average person feel more comfortable. There is no “issue” or “agenda” with this. There is no pertinent value a church seeks to communicate other than this: We are like you. We relate to you. You relate to us. We don’t think we’re better than you. (I do have a minor problem with this: We wouldn’t disdain a bank teller for wearing a tie, or a waiter, or people going out on the town…we allow for all of those to dress for the occasion. What we are saying to people in church is ‘this is not really a special occasion’). Sermon topics that relate to where people live every day are relational. They may also be relevant (ie. when they deal with particular issues that spring from daily life), but generally the approach is to have people know the preacher is aware of what issues accrue when his hearers live their daily life. The style of music is designed to relate to what people are listening to. Many churches now actually use songs written by secular music artists and then give the songs contemporary Christian meaning. This is rarely done to address particular issues, but more to show people that the church is not out of touch with what they listen to. The same can be said of the use of video, television and pop cultural references. All of it is packaged to tell this culture: “We’re one of You”.

That is not being Relevant: That is being Relational. And in the words of Jerry Seinfeld “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.  (You see, I can be relational as well).

I have occasionally joked that I have the secret formula for getting 10,000 people in church next Sunday: Just contract with Justin Bieber to be the special musical guest. It’s the church equivalent of “sweeps week” for the television networks. The idea behind these gimmicks is that if people keep coming, they will eventually fold into the congregation and learn more about God. I hesitated even writing this paragraph because someone is now looking up the phone number for Bieber’s agent.

Now let me tell you what “Relevant” looks like. If you always look and sound the same as everyone else, you are entirely unnecessary. That isn’t being relevant, it is being a parrot. Relevant means we look at the issue everyone is speaking of and realize what isn’t being said and then say it. When Martin Luther pounded his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door, he was addressing one of the most irritating issues of his day: That some priests were selling indulgences as a way to raise money, promising people a quick doorway into heaven if they purchased a large number of them. No one was standing in the way of this false teaching, except Luther. Everyone was copying what they heard from friends because it was safer that way and others liked them. I have to ask today if churches aren’t stuck in that same emotional rut. Like everyone else, we do want people to like us. We want them to hit “like” on Facebook. We want them to keep coming back to services week after week, even if all we’re doing is repackaging what 1000 others have said, perhaps better than us.

Relevant, on the other hand,  is when Jesus noticed that people were being cheated right in the middle of a prayer room and then, in a prophetic act, he upended the tables of the money-changers. Relevant is Jackie Pullinger pulling drug addicts off the streets of Hong Kong and getting them clean when the dominant society ignores them. Relevant is Erin Gruwell addressing drug wars and the deaths of her students with a radical plan to change their learning style. Relevant is Peggy Drake who worked to comfort AIDS sufferers in West Africa while most Christians were saying it was God’s judgment against homosexuals. Relevant is a preacher resigning from his wealthy church because they would not adopt a lifestyle of caring for the poor. Relevant is almost always counter-cultural, it addresses today’s news with timeless truths, it lives the way it believes and garners respect because it doesn’t try to bribe people into following its viewpoints.

How Relevant is your church?

Without a doubt, by fleshing out these definitions, you will realize that churches will fall into four categories:

  1. Not Relevant, not relational
  2. Relevant, but not relational
  3. Relational, but not relevant
  4. Both Relational and Relevant

Why then would churches choose to be relational and not particularly relevant? I think there are two reasons for this. First, being relational is much easier and does not cost us much. We all learned in elementary school that it went better for us if we adopted the latest trends and fashions and were friends with the most popular kids. Differing even a fraction from the dominant elementary school culture put us in the outcast group and we hated being relegated there. We still do. Pastors and church members don’t want to think their approach to living is all that much different than their neighbors. They want others to know they don’t indulge in the more extreme activities of secularism (like drug use and listening to Insane Clown Posse), but they are proud to be able to make a comment on the American Idol Final 8 or to express a preference for their favorite cocktail. It is easier to blend in.

Second, most of us don’t think counter-cultural living is valid. We wrongly look with suspicion on anyone who swims upstream on issues –  especially Christian issues. Note how decidely Rob Bell was excommunicated by people for his book on Hell even though most people had not read it. I remember when Tony Campolo’s wife came forward to talk about the issues related to her pro-choice stance. Not only was she summarily rejected by evangelicals, so was her husband. Though I disagreed with her on some points, she needed to bring the issue to the forefront. It was a pertinent voice in a sea of “sound-alike” Christian voices.

There are churches today that are both Relevant and Relational. They are seldom large churches, but I suspect fifty years from now they will be the ones we think back on fondly as having the biggest impact on our culture both secular and Christian. So, the question is this: Do you really want to be Relevant or just call yourself that while simpering away in Relational?

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Why Men Should Not be Ordained

November 21, 2012

Asbury Professor, Ben Witherington nails this truth in a recent blog entry on why men should not be ordained.

This is how we often approach the logic behind excluding women from certain ministry positions. Well written.

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.
8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.
7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.
5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.
1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

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Easy Tether Comes Through

January 4, 2012

I often have to work on the run somewhere. Many times, that requires Internet access. But I have several limitations to that requirement:

  1. I don’t like to use my phone when doing a lot of typing.
  2. I can’t always find a Wifi hot spot
  3. I am too cheap to buy a WiMax subscription
  4. I don’t want to pay for my phone to create a hot spot for my computer (up to $40/month)
  5. I don’t want to break the law by rooting or jailbreaking my phone.

I found the legal and affordable solution. The program “Easy Tether” does not root the phone and allows your phone to give Internet access to your computer. In fact, I did this entire article while in a cafe that does not have Internet access. Right now, it costs only $4.99 through Amazon’s App store.

I did have some problems with setup. My LG phone needed a software update to get it all to work. But after it did, I have had no problems at all. For many people, this article is gobbldygook. But for Technogeeks who want to use their phone to get internet for their computers, this is a reasonable solution.

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