Monday, August 29, 2011

The Key to Success in Ministry?

Proposition: Everything you need to know to succeed in ministry—everything you need to be excellent at preaching the gospel, planting churches, pastoring churches, or whatever—is contained fully in the Bible. If you were to read no other book, you would be at no disadvantage in any ministry enterprise.


Friday, August 26, 2011

What Defines Drunkenness?

A person who grew up in this church recently attended another church in our metropolitan area. While he was there, one of the new friends that he made invited him to come to an event after church with several of the young singles there and serve as the designated driver.

I was just wondering why you need a designated driver to enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation?

It would seem to me that every Christian should be able to agree that any recreational use of a substance that would result in your being unfit to drive a car would be a sin. But I would love to hear from those who celebrate the recreational use of intoxicants among Christians: Would you mind telling me how I as a pastor can know when a member of my flock is guilty of drunkenness? Or is that none of the pastor's business?

Abstentionists are not invited to participate in the thread. Only those who support the recreational use of intoxicants may post comments.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Difference between Efficiency and Effectiveness

In his book, The Baptist Way, Stan Norman countered several objections to congregationalism. One of those objections—the idea that congregational decision-making is not efficient—Norman countered by asking his readers to consider whether the slower, more complicated process of congregational decision-making might be more effective in making disciples, albeit less efficient in making decisions. By prompting the members of the congregation to address and struggle with seeking out God's will for the congregation, aren't pastors of congregationalist churches leading their congregations to do something substantive, spiritual, and important. Couldn't the model of seeking God's will as a congregation become rehearsal for a skill that these congregation members could transfer to their careers, their families, and their personal lives?

I agree that many business meetings do not accomplish that goal, but the best ones do. I agree that this pragmatic hope, in and of itself, is no good rationale upon which to build a system of congregational church polity, since the polity of churches ought to be built upon the foundation of the New Testament. But I believe that congregationalism does have a New Testament foundation (as does Norman), and I see no reason why a completely pragmatic objection to congregationalism should not be answered, after a biblical rationale has first been supplied, with a pragmatic reply.

Greater efficiency simply does not always lead to greater effectiveness.

God did not take the shortest, most efficient route to get us to the gospel. There's the garden. There's the flood. There's the promise. There's the law. There are the prophets, and the kings, and the exiles, and the returning remnant. Centuries passed while God patiently prepared the world for the gospel.

Jesus did not take the shortest, most efficient route to get to the cross. He came as a baby. For thirty years He did nothing but live among the people. Upon having begun His ministry, He preached and worked miracles for three years before going to the cross. He deliberately delayed His confrontation in Jerusalem. He zigzagged across the Levant, disciples in tow, preparing them for the cross with patience and longsuffering.

Phillip's evangelistic tour was so haphazard that the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit was necessary to get him from point A to point B. Paul's missionary journeys were no model of efficiency. I can find no New Testament church praised for its efficiency. Efficiency simply doesn't rank highly as a New Testament virtue.

Of course, INefficiency is no New Testament virtue either. The Bible doesn't take a pro- or con- position on the question of efficiency; rather, it points us to something other than efficiency. We are to seek gospel effectiveness in people's lives, whether it is efficient or not to do so.

A Simple Example

I've been thinking about this as I've mulled over my schedule for the coming week. FBC Farmersville has become involved in an effort to plant a Southern Baptist church in Montana. A couple of months ago, as I was meeting with our Missions Committee and as we were deciding to give an initial monetary grant to this church, I mentioned that I would need to being to shop for airline tickets to travel to Montana and to meet with the church planter and with the supervising pastor. One of my committee members said, "You don't have to do that. I'll take you up there."

This church member is one of my deacons. He's among the more faithful soul-winners in my congregation. He loves missions and has been the leader of several of our mission trips in the past. He's also an entrepreneur with an earth-moving business and a trucking company. He proposed to bid for a load moving in the general direction of Montana on a week that I could go up there. He would take me to Montana in his eighteen-wheeler. I said, "Sure thing!"

I don't have a CB handle yet, so if any of you have any ideas…

The most efficient way to travel to Montana is to fly United (since I'm not packing any guitars), but I think that it is more effective for me to go by eighteen-wheeler. I will get to spend sixty hours this week with one of the key leaders in my church in a confined space. I will get first-hand exposure to the demands of his job and the life that he leads during the week. We will have time to pray together. We will study God's word together. We will have time to laugh and to enjoy one another's company. He will experience his pastor with a five-o'clock shadow and smelling a bit gamy after a couple of days in the truck.

When I get to Montana, I won't be meeting there by myself. I will have a key leader in my congregation who will have experienced this opportunity and the people involved for himself. An opportunity is there for this Christian to feel God placing a burden upon his own heart for the lost people of Montana, and from past experience, I know that if God places such a burden on his heart, this believer will act upon it. I think that's worth four days worth of driving.

Indeed, I think it is worth more than that. In anticipation of the trip, I went to the Texas DPS and sat for the exams for my own Commercial Driver's License. Although I'm woefully inexperienced and expect him to perform the vast preponderance of the driving, I'm now able to help out just a little bit on my own. Like tent-making Paul, I can do a little bit myself to contribute to the journey.

As a wonderful bonus, the load that we've located is going to help people. We're moving an oversized excavator from one disaster-relief location (Joplin, MO) to another disaster-relief location (Minot, ND). Our noble labor will help people in need.

I'm finding it hard to imagine a LESS efficient way to go to Montana (although I suppose I might have hitchhiked). It's an inefficient route, an inefficient process for me (getting the CDL), an inefficient speed of travel, and perhaps an inefficient voyage to begin with (we might have web-conferenced). But I believe that this is the most effective way that I can travel this week and interact with people for the sake of the gospel. I want to be the kind of pastor who takes off his green eyeshade from time to time and who stays on his knees. I want to follow God's leadership and take God-given opportunities even when they may not make perfect sense to me.

Because ultimately, effectiveness in ministry comes more from following than it does from leading.


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Beginning of the End of Multi-Site?

Praise the Lord for Mark Driscoll and the folks at Mars Hill.

Pause while you check to see whether you're at the right blog.

Praise the Lord for Mark Driscoll and the folks at Mars Hill!

In a blog post today, the folks up at Seattle have announced that there will be "No More Mars Hill 'Campuses'." Instead, citing the Bible and what it teaches about ecclesiology, Mars Hill has announced that every erstwhile "campus" will now be known as a "church."

And with that we witness the beginning of the end of the multi-site fad.

Perhaps some of you will say, "Bart, it's only a change in terminology. These "churches" are no different in nature than they were yesterday when they were called "campuses." Ah, but terminology matters, and what matters more is the fact that the folks at Mars Hill have been searching their souls over whether their multi-site ecclesiology is biblical. Having weighed it in the balances, they obviously found it wanting. Now they are making correction. I think this is the first of many steps.

The fact that they are doing so speaks ENORMOUS VOLUMES about the character of the people involved in this church and the Acts 29 denomination with which they are affiliated. I've been a critic at times in the past, but I laud them today for their decision. This is good news. May the Mars Hill decision percolate throughout the Acts 29 denomination, and may this influential church be a trendsetter in this regard.

I think that books like Franchising McChurch, the work of people like Mark Dever…

Multiple Sites: Yea or Nay? Dever, Driscoll, and MacDonald Vote from Ben Peays on Vimeo.

…and questions from people like Micah Fries (see article here) represent the direction of the future away from multi-site and in the direction of biblical church planting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Blossoming Flower of Conservative Scholarship

God called me to be a pastor when I was eleven years old. In the thirty subsequent years, only one thought has given me pause about that calling. I have passed through seasons of my life when, although I knew that my calling was to pastoral ministry, I have felt some obligation to serve as a professor in a seminary or in the religion department of a Baptist university. As the Conservative Resurgence progressed and as SBC seminaries began to return to the denomination's conservative roots, I heard others wonder aloud where Southern Baptists would ever find enough conservative, Bible-believing, qualified professors to be able to staff six seminaries.

I fretted over the question as much as anyone else. Having gone to Baylor, I naturally assumed that the ratio of liberal professors of religion to conservative ones must approach 10 million : 1. Having heard the story of C. H. Toy repeated ad nauseum and having spent many sessions subjected to the patronizing musings of professors who were absolutely certain that, as I matured, I would certainly come to see things their way, I wasn't even optimistic that the one professor in ten million wouldn't be a Schleiermachian before all was said and done. Believing that I was capable of becoming qualified as a conservative scholar and professor, at times I succumbed to fear and worried over the thought, "If not you, Bart, then who?"

As it turns out, this concern is not unique to Southern Baptist conservatives post-1979. In a recent article by John Tierney in the New York Times entitled "The Left-Leaning Tower," the Gray Lady considers the plight of the conservative academic and actually dares to contemplate the possibility that the stock liberal explanation of the phenomenon ("that conservatives are just too close-minded and dimwitted") might not be a self-evident truth.

I no longer worry. As it turns out, it is not difficult at all to find or to make good conservative scholars. As a trustee and member of the Academic Affairs subcommittee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I meet a new crop of conservative scholars twice a year when we consider new faculty. They have terminal degrees from institutions like Princeton. They write about things like the appropriate classification and understanding of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q174. As it turns out, if you create a place where conservative scholars will not be vilified and ostracized, conservative scholars will come to you.

For The New York Times to scratch its head and wonder why the dearth of conservatives in academia is a bit like Captain Ahab trying to figure out what became of all the sperm whales. Before 1979, a conservative scholar couldn't get a job in the SBC system. Today, a conservative Ph.D. graduate of an SBC seminary still will be blackballed from the vast preponderance of the universities that Southern Baptists have founded. Like the desert flower erupting into color at the least bit of rain, with just the slightest encouragement conservative scholarship blossoms and flourishes. It's just that so few environments will, even grudgingly, allow those precious few needed raindrops to fall.

But the rain is falling in our SBC seminaries, and the resplendent flora reveal the glory of God. That so many of these scholars are now so young and so capable is reason to be hopeful about what is yet to come. May God give me the years to see it for myself.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hoarders and Homosexuals: Thoughts about Choice

Paul Hamman of Semmes, Alabama, has a yard full of junk. I don't mean that Hamman has a lone rusty automobile sitting on cinder blocks in his back yard; Hamman has amassed hundreds of tons of junk in his two-acre yard in Semmes. His collection has earned for him the concern of his family, the consternation of his neighbors, trouble with the law, and a spot in the first season of the A&E reality show "Hoarders" (Season 1, Episode 7).

Most of Hamman's junk is scrap metal—old appliances and the like—and worth some amount of money to a recycler of scrap metal. Hamman could just sell his scrap metal. Indeed, Hamman plans to do just that, and yet the right time and the right price for selling the metal and cleaning out his yard never seem to arrive. Finally, facing jail time, Hamman called in Matt Paxton of Clutter Cleaners and the good folks at A&E to help him to try to escape the clutches of the law by cleaning his yard and selling off his scrap metal.

Unfortunately, the offered price didn't match Hamman's valuation of his junk, and the Alabama grandfather descended into one of the most difficult-to-watch scenes of the episode. With his family gathered around him, Hamman declared that he would rather go to jail than to sell his junk at that price—would rather take his own life than to "just give my stuff away."

I don't believe in a "hoarding gene," although, of course in this day and time, somebody out there does. But a successful reparative therapy for hoarders has not yet been found (as A&E discovered themselves and as professionals in the field acknowledge), and it is clear just from watching the television show (and from interacting with a person or two like this) that the choice to stop hoarding is by no means easy to make and then live by.

And in these ways compulsive hoarding is just like homosexuality. Yet hoarding is illegal while homosexuality is legal and is increasingly being applauded by the government as good and praiseworthy. Perhaps it would be helpful to delineate more specifically some of the points of correspondence between hoarding and homosexuality:

  1. No biological explanation has been found for either disorder. Although in both cases some scientists have brought forth theories that there might be a biological cause (and indeed, some scientists believe that all of human behavior can ultimately be described as genetic), no scientific proof has demonstrated a set of biological predictors by which they can say who will and who will not behave homosexually.
  2. Both behaviors are generally practiced by consenting adults.
  3. Both behaviors can be described as sinful. Hoarding is, at its heart, materialism. Watch the TV series for very long and you'll hear people say explicitly that their collections of Happy Meal toys and potential wedding gifts and empty shampoo bottles are more important to them than their spouses and children are. Homosexuality, of course, is described in the Bible as an abomination before God.
  4. Both behaviors have been treated as mental illnesses, although political pressure has changed the status of homosexuality in recent decades.
  5. Both behaviors do damage to the individuals who suffer from their poor behavioral choices. High incidences of alienation from family members, risky behavior, depression, and even suicide, are common in these populations.
  6. Both behaviors have detrimental effects on public-health. Hoarders create environments in their homes that facilitate the spread of disease. Homosexuals practice behaviors with their bodies that facilitate the spread of disease.
  7. Both behaviors do damage to society in ways that are difficult to pinpoint and quantify but that are nonetheless obvious.
  8. Facets of upbringing and socialization appear to play a role in both disorders.
  9. Once a person has chosen to engage in either of these behaviors, the choice to step away from these behaviors is obviously a very difficult one. The fact that a choice is difficult makes it no less a choice.
  10. People in either plight are worthy of pity.

Why the different treatment of these two disorders? Because homosexuality is sexual, and sex is the god of our culture.

Both hoarders and homosexuals are deserving of our compassion. Christ died for hoarders, homosexuals, harlots, and all manner of other hell-bound sinners. Our hope lies not only in the truth that we can be forgiven but also in the truth that we can be transformed and changed into something else. When God's people drop the gospel of change, then we are preaching another gospel that offers no real hope at all.