Wanted: Pastor of Wisdom

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine. He was the lead pastor of a church we started together up in Chicago, however he left a couple of years ago just to take some time off and consider some possible new directions for himself in ministry.

Unfortunately, the economy dropped into the pooper, and church budgets are definitely hurting; finding potential jobs in ministry (or anywhere, for that matter) has been difficult. Not only that, but my buddy definitely doesn’t fit the mold of a “typical” evangelical pastor, personality-wise. Quite like me, he’s not really a “Type A” personality. He’s contemplative, quiet. He’s content to not dominate a room when he walks into it.

We were reflecting on the culture of pastoring nowadays: even though he’s successfully planted and sustained a church (which is more than a lot of pastors can claim), he’s readily passed over due to his relatively mild personality and also, his gift mix.

“You know,” he said, “when I took my spiritual gifts inventory years ago, I was told that I have the spiritual gift of wisdom, and I totally resonate with that, but you know what? Today’s church seems to not need wisdom.”

We laughed, but it’s a bit scary. The gifts that seems to be sought after by the church nowadays are definitely leadership, apostleship, and creativity (in the form of communicating or playing music). Combine any of these with a hard-charging personality and any obvious skill or ability in your chosen ministry field, and you can pretty much guarantee yourself a job on staff somewhere.

But my buddy and I also have been reading the Book of the Acts lately (that’s right, I said the “Book of The Acts”: it’s a more accurate title), and we were struck by Acts 6:

2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…

Wow. So the first criteria to run a “food pantry” for the early church was not a passion for the homeless and/or the gift of administration. It was that you be “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”

I repeatedly encounter church staff that are incredibly skilled individuals, but not as many that could be considered “wise.” Maybe it’s just me, but I connect “wisdom” with a depth of knowledge, and a quiet willingness to apply that knowledge to life in a gentle, practical way.

I wonder how different our churches would appear if the staff that they sought out were wise before they were skillful. If they were encouraged to develop the work of the Spirit in their lives rather than to merely “get things done.” If you are blessed to serve on a church staff already, are you leading out of a depth of wisdom, or merely dispensing your duties? Are you seeking to engage in discussions that develop the deep places of your life, or merely interested in “playing that guitar, monkey boy?!?”

The Disruptive Gospel

As the 20th century drew to a close, a German scientist named Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on a logarithm that would help reduce the size of certain types of computer files; specifically music files. Eventually, he landed on a formula that helped him shrink the size of a standard music composition by about a factor of 10.

Because the file format was designed for a group of scientists known as the Moving Picture Experts Group, it took on an abbreviated version of their name, “mp3.” Aided by the explosion of Napster and websites like mp3.com, the phenomenon of music-as-digital-files exploded.

Music would never be the same.

“Disruptive technology” is technology that enters a given market and, because of its price and or innovation, not only competes in that market, it actually redefines the market entirely. To be concise, it renders “competition” irrelevant, and redefines consumer behavior – it becomes the new standard, the new paradigm.

Whether you officially consider mp3 file compression disruptive technology or not, it’s difficult to argue that the innovation significantly changed the entire paradigm of music consumption. It changed forever our thinking about music (music should be portable, free, and easily shared), as well as our behavior (we either download our music illegally, or pay .99 for a single through iTunes, rather than buying a physical disc or tape from a store).

Mp3 technology had a major part in rendering irrelevant everything else in the “market” of music – CDs, cassette tapes, etc. – and eventually contributed to the entire dismantling of the record industry as we know it.

Now here’s the deal: The Gospel is disruptive technology.

Allow the Gospel to enter into your life, and it has the potential — if we let it — to  realign and redefine our values, thoughts, and behaviors. It renders our old ways of behaving — of our need to control, dominate, and/or manipulate — irrelevant. Hang around long enough, submit to it, and it becomes the new standard of our life, not just something that is an “add on” or a part.

No One Stands Alone

“No One Stands Alone”

The church where my faith initially took root and began to grow legs had a motto, “No One Stands Alone.” I wasn’t a part of its development; I don’t know who came up with it, or what debates may have surrounded its selection. What I do know, however, is that it spoke to a deep need of me and my friends: to know and to be known. That slogan has remained with me as sort of a DNA-like implant on my soul: a church should be a place where no one stands alone, whether at a party or in the darkest hour of need.

Yet, still, this is much more easily said then done. We naturally gravitate towards folks we know, folks who have common passions, interests, and hobbies. In isolation, there’s really nothing wrong with this. But the people of God should somehow be different; there should be a constant “intentionality”, or focus, to practically everything we do. Whenever we gather, the radical expression of hospitality should be right there with us as a subtext. There is always an opportunity to be the voice of welcome, the face of hospitality: all you have to do is too look for those who are standing—or sitting—alone. Welcome them into your conversations; find out what their story is, and tell your own.

I am a self-confessed introvert; one of my favorite off-handed comments is basically, “Yeah, but everyone knows that I don’t like people.” This is obviously meant to be humorous, but I know that this is brokenness and sin in my life — I intensely guard “my time”, and am reluctant to engage “the stranger” in hospitality. At the same time, I burn with indignation and conviction when I see people standing alone, staring at the backs of groups of strangers who are engaging in the well-practiced art of exclusion. The church has become much to adept at this, and we need to stop.

In the same spirit of John’s 1st letter (“We love because he first loved us”), we should welcome others because we were first welcomed by God. We have come from being radical outsiders to the very people of God, and now it’s our turn to look with the eyes of the welcoming Savior to find those who are waiting to know us, and to be also known. What if the next time you attended a worship gathering or event at “church”, you took a moment to pray to God, asking him to give you eyes that would recognize the outsider, the lonely? What if you invited those who were sitting by themselves to join your friends? Your family? I think it would start a quiet, radical revolution of love and invitation in our communities.

Billy

This morning I stumbled across Billy Corgan’s “faith” blog (Twitter is a wonderful thing).

Being an artistic “child” of the 90s, I have a certain soft spot for Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins. They’re responsible for some amazing musical/emotional moments, some of which will always be hardwired into my soul.

It’s also been refreshing to watch, from a distance, Billy Corgan’s journey through faith and spirituality, which really seemed to break through with his brief project of 2002 – 2003, “Zwan“. Billy is just one of those interesting guys in rock and roll, equal parts pretense and honesty, brashness and vulnerability (not to mention he was a neighborhood “homey” from Wrigleyville). For all his faults, he wasn’t afraid to put his search out there for people to see, and that means a lot to me as a fellow “pilgrim” and musician.

So I was glad to find his blog. I make no claims to know exactly where Billy is, faith-wise. There certainly seems to be an acknowledge of the “One God” (and I assume Billy agrees his name is Yahweh), and occasionally Jesus gets thrown in for some extra good measure, but there’s also a lot of “everything else” in there as well: Native American/First People spirituality, some pan-Eastern approaches. It’s definitely a bit “Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink”.

At one point he says this: “Jesus Christ never said to build a church, so enough said about the God system. The real God machine is you. God made you to know to understand, to feel, to grow, to enjoy, to remember. He did not make you to grovel at the feet of another human… Man is lost.”

I had two immediate reactions. First, from a Christian worldview, Billy, you are so close! Yes, God made us to know and understand and feel and grow and enjoy and remember. A thousand times yes! I believe that God’s message to us (through Christ) is one of deep affirmation and love of who we are at our most basic level. It is an affirmation of our humanity (as part of redeemed creation).

But I have to push back (Billy, are you listening? Ha.) on his second point, specifically that Jesus Christ never said to build a church. Yes, in a sense Christ never said to  build a church, and if you read the gospels from an ahistorical, non-contextualized point of view, you can throw all kinds of things into Jesus’ mouth (a lot Christians are experts at this, by the way). Because, even though Jesus never said to build a church, the assumption throughout the entire bible–and the context that Jesus was speaking in–was that God would always have a people for himself to help bring about the redemption of the creation. Jesus never said to build a “church” (how about the definition of church as “Called-Out-Ones”) because, um, he was speaking to the original “church” (called the nation of Israel!).

Simply put, rejecting “church” is like rejecting Jesus. You can’t divorce one from the other. Now, the expression of “church” is another topic altogether, and much more fluid and creative. But unfortunately, Christianity can never, ever be reduced to a hyper-individualized, atomized faith experience. It’s simply another consumer product of the west, masked in a bunch of new age Eastern pop mysticism. You have to have others. You have to participate in the body. You have to be part of the “Called-Out-Ones.”

The Basics, Pt. 1

Was thinking this afternoon: what are the basics of Christianity, of discipleship, of apprenticeship to Jesus?

I’m sure everyone has their lists, so here’s mine:

  1. Allegiance to the risen Christ. Christ is king, to the exclusion of all other pretenders. The pretenders in the 1st and 2nd centuries were Herod and the Roman emperor(s). Christ’s lordship was revolutionary (though not political or militant) and subversive. As I’ve written before, today’s pretenders are our middle-class, consumer culture, and nationalism. Christ claims allegiance over all, and demands that we submit our decisions to his criteria or constitution.
  2. Service to the least of these. Best example would probably come from Matthew 25. Christ paints a pretty stark (maybe even bleak?) picture of who has served him, who has “seen him”. You can’t read the gospels (or the Psalms, or Isaiah, or the prophets) without understanding God’s and Christ’s pretty serious orientation towards the poor, the marginalized.
  3. Communal orientation. As one of my former pastors used to like to say, “If you are looking for a lone ranger religion, don’t look at Christianity. Community is not an option.” I was reading through Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, and over and over again he seems to be saying, “I am free to do just about anything, but if my freedom messes with a brother or sister’s conscience in any way, then I will stop it. I will look at others first, rather than assuming the primacy of my own opinions and desires.” Individualism is the currency of the west. Sometimes I’m not sure if we can even begin to understand what it means to be “the people of God.”
  4. One story of salvation. This is where I’d probably cause a bit of a stir, but I’m beginning to believe more and more that the “one plan of salvation” through Abraham accurately captures God’s plan of salvation. For now, I guess the implications are (1) Israel matters. You can’t read the Old Testament and just read it as a “preamble” to the New Testament. God’s plan was always to work salvation through Israel for the rest of the world, and Christ carried it to its fulfillment through his death on the cross. (btw, this isn’t new theology, just new to evangelicals) (2) Relatedly, I guess you have to take what God wants from his people, as revealed in the whole of scripture (check the prophets, especially). That’s what it means to be the people of God.
  5. Growth is a part of the power of the Spirit. Being a Christian means being a disciple, which means living under discipline. Which means engaging the timeless practices of God’s people. Check here and here for some ideas. It’s not negotiable.

What’s missing? A lot of “doctrine”, I suppose. Was wondering this morning (obviously, I lot of wondering today): How much doctrine is in the bible? I think for a long time people assumed that Paul (and even the gospel writers) were writing church doctrine out. I’m not so sure anymore. I think Paul was trying to keep his little “flocks” from drifting into either extreme errancy and immorality or drifting back into an exclusionary, ethnic-based “Jew-only” faith. I think he was improvising according to the needs that confronted him (based on his knowledge of God-through-Torah, his experience of Christ, and his awareness of the Spirit).

I’m assuming a lot of love. I’m assuming the sacraments. I’m assuming living under the authority of the bible, being a people of the book.

So there. More later.

The Liturgical Revolution

This is from a church here in Tallahassee; some friends of mine go here.

St. Peter’s is (in my opinion) doing a great job of reaching folks in their 20s and 30s. As an evangelical, I daresay it’s even shocking. My evangelical “programming” has told me for virtually ten years that folks want loud music and entertaining gatherings full of contemporary markers (U2 songs and “Lost” references, anybody?).

Anglicanism says otherwise. It says that a lot of (at least white) people my age and younger want gatherings that are marked by:

  • a sense of history
  • mystery
  • peace
  • discipline
  • structure

What a mind-blowing thought! My only questions circle around the way that humble traditions and “outfits” have grown up over the years to become more and more ornate and (I daresay) expensive. Why the exaltation of Roman culture? For all the pull that Anglicanism, history and tradition has on me, I feel challenged by the apparent “freezing” of church culture in a particular time period.

What would a historical, yet traditional, church look like? How could you infuse tradition with appropriate current cultural items? How could you transform the “everyday” items in our lives into meaningful symbols of the shared values of our faith?

Beyond “Authenticity”

Recently, I was reading a favorite author/theologian of mine (I’m very sorry I can’t remember who it was, but if it comes to mind I’ll post it). He was discussing “sermon preparation”, and he wrote something to the effect of, “I’ll struggle through the texts and commentaries so that my congregation won’t have to.”

That really set things into perspective for me, and I was thinking about it again this morning.

A lot of the time, we enjoy the image of the Pastor as the-same-as-you person. An approachable man or woman that you can talk to and share your life with. And that’s valid; completely.

But sometimes, I wonder if we neglect the other, deeper parts of our calling, if we over-emphasize “buddy pastor” (in the same way like to hang out with “buddy Christ?).

Perhaps it’s our job to wrestle with the “deep things” — actually, if we believe it, the “deepest things” — and to find some understanding and method to this world, to our God. Authenticity is important, but I need more than authenticity when I go to a doctor. I want someone who can understand my body and give me an explanation for what’s wrong and develop a plan for me on how to get better. I want more than a friend…

… Therefore, I don’t feel ashamed about including the words theopany, justification, and sanctification in my coffee shop conversation this morning.