Risky Business (Part 2)
Pastors should be more focused on observing the culture than engaging it.

Read part 1.

So what is the solution to the captivity of ministry leaders to business models?

I've got a theory: to the extent that the church does not know its Bible, really know the Bible, the more it seeks distraction in terms of participating in other ministries and making junkets to ministry conferences.

We truly neglect the reading of God's Word today. We give it lip service, beginning with pastors. But I have heard too many pastors who obviously know more about Seth Godin's Purple Cow than know about historical-critical interpretation of the Bible.

And I've got a very simple suggestion. Pastors should preach through the book of Galatians and read the epistle in its entirety every day in the process. Encourage your congregation to do the same. Luther called Galatians the Magna Carta of Christianity. If we committed ourselves to that, we probably wouldn't need most of these ministry conferences. Let me add, no church should ever send any pastor to any conference if they have not first read Luther's commentary on Galatians.

How is ministry a different calling than leadership in other areas?

"Ministry" in the church should not be singled out as distinct from other vocations in terms of being ministry. I'll tell you who and what is very helpful here: Os Guinness and his book, The Call. We do a great disservice when we treat those who do not hold positions in the church as somehow not equally called to ministry. We set up a false sense of guilt. Worse, we end up with some of the most unqualified men in the pulpit.

I'm working on a book, in part, about vocation and how Christians should relate to the world. Who has influenced your thinking on that issue?

Again, I find Os Guinness so helpful here. As he puts it, calling means "Do what you are" not "You are what you do." And I've always held as a conviction what I heard James Boice preach during my college days at Penn: Labor where God has placed you. How should one relate to the world? Don't develop grandiose schemes for greatness, just labor where God has placed you. Don't do some rain dance; dig some ditches.

And how should pastors think differently about the culture?

Why, oh why, do they have this need to "engage the culture"? The culture ain't interested back. Now, I think pastors and elders, and deacons, and all church members should seek to understand culture. I teach a course in cultural hermeneutics at Westminster Seminary California. Here's what I tell my students: Invest the minimal amount of effort for the maximum amount of understanding so that you can know the cultural norms in which your congregants are situated.

March 14, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 14 comments

Karen

March 19, 2012  4:45pm

Jerry, EO would certainly agree with you that true knowledge of God and understanding of Scripture isn't a matter of academic credentials. In fact, unlike the West, the EO Church didn't have a Scholastic movement. In traditional EO teaching, "theology" is not a matter of academia, but rather is what you are doing when you are praying (not just mouthing words, but communing in a real way with the living God) and one who is praying (in truth) is doing theology. IOW, "theology" in Orthodoxy refers to one's true experiential knowledge of God (which is directly correlated with the depth of one's real repentance). On the other hand, I've seen immature and carnal people revel and boast in their lack of academic credentials and ignorance and refuse to acknowledge the thought of the great Christian thinkers of history or the work of other scholars in their own Bible study as if that is something that makes them, in and of itself, like the disciples and qualifies them for ministry! Of course, that's just ludicrous. One should not take pride in one's academic credentials, but neither should one take pride in one's real ignorance as if that can serve God in and of itself without true repentance, the development of true discernment/wisdom and humility. The real issue is neither one's academic or intellectual capacity of lack thereof–it is rather true Christian maturity, love, and humility.

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Karen

March 18, 2012  9:25pm

"only those whom G-d reveals himself too will understand what they read." Agreed.

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sheerahkahn

March 18, 2012  8:52pm

Thank you, Karen. I disagree with you about the issue of traditions of which I view as more of a slave chain rather than a sturdy boat, but you did provide a clearer explanation of the bracketed "whom" of which I will take that we are both in agreement that only those whom G-d reveals himself too will understand what they read.

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Karen

March 18, 2012  5:20pm

Sheer, you are the only one that put it in that way explicitly perhaps in these threads, but you are by no means unique in that thinking. My background is mainstream Protestant and Protestant Evangelicalism, and I'm aware of the philosophical movements in thinking that took place during the Reformation and the quote from Luther, etc. about the plough boy being able to read the Scriptures. I have a great respect for Tyndale and what he did. I think it is a wonderful thing that we have the Scriptures available to read in the vernacular, but I believe it is a mistake to believe someone can come to the Scriptures "tabula rasa" and understand them just as Christians have understood them down through the centuries without the context of having first been introduced to Christ by the Holy Spirit in His Church and receiving instruction from more mature and experienced believers (historically these have not needed to be clergy, either, just very holy and experienced Christians–for example, typically monks and nuns are mostly lay persons, but they have often and still do play a role as spiritual directors to others). "Tradition" tends to be a dirty word for a lot of Protestants (I know it was for me when I was Protestant, so I confess I'm my own point of reference here), but I have since realized the fact is we are ALL relying on SOME tradition of interpretation when we come to the Scriptures to help us make sense of them. Protestants tend to be reading with the background understanding of some admixture of the interpretations of the various Reformed and Radical Reformed traditions and more modern movements within Protestantism (e.g. Campbellite-Restorationist tradition, Pentecostal traditions, etc.). It is amazing to me (and a bit disturbing to be honest) the number of new churches at odds with one another in various details of how to do church and understand the Scriptures that have been spawned in the wake of the Reformation among those who all sincerely insist they are properly modeling themselves on the NT Church and the Scriptures. Many Protestants believe that they are relying on the "Scriptures alone," to form their beliefs, but the fact is we ALL without exception come to the Scriptures with the filters of our prior training and experience (even negative experience of what we are rejecting), and how we understand the Scriptures is ALWAYS affected by the presuppositions we bring with us to our reading. I just wanted to point that out and try to make this a more explicit understanding for all. I'm saying that to the degree that modern Christians are genuinely orthodox in their Christian beliefs, they have absorbed and accepted the true Apostolic tradition of interpretation (as expressed, for example in the Nicene Creed), but because of many modern Christians' understanding of "Sola Scriptura," they often make the kind of statement you made, and that makes me suspicious that they don't realize how in the debt of those who have gone before them and properly lived and expounded the Scriptures they are for their understanding. In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the need to read Scripture in the true "Apostolic tradition" to make correct sense of it and making use of the lives of the Saints as models of what holiness/Christian maturity looks like, is an explicit understanding (although EO and RC understandings and definitions of the "Tradition" are a bit different).

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sheerahkahn

March 18, 2012  11:07am

"So when some Christians try to insist that the Scriptures are "clear and understandable" on their face value (to unaided human intellect), I would tend to disagree with that–even based on what Scripture says about itself." Karen, I take it you're referring to me since I am the only one I know of who has said such a thing in Out of Ur. What I see you saying is that no man, great or small can possibly understand the scriptures without [?]...and here is where you are quite unclear...so, please fill in that part of "without [what or whom]" please because that little bracket begs a lot of questions.

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Jerry

March 18, 2012  7:13am

Karen: I mostly agree with what you are saying here. All scripture is "God-Breathed" - equally accessible to the plow boy and the pope. The Word makes entrance into the heart that embraces and allows that entrance. "Behold I stand at the door and knock, if ANYONE hears my voice and opens the door...". The Word is an Equal Opportunity Employer - no discrimination at all between plow boy and pope. No preference at all between highly learned or hardly educated. Christ didn't pick the scholars of his day to be his disciples - but mostly fishermen. Then oddly enough - after their epiphany - He didn't send them on to the high priest for further education. The high priest had the scriptures - these (the scriptures) weren't all that accessible to just anyone. Many scholars worship their own intellect instead of worshiping Christ. Many build a statue of their ideas and precepts and label that as "God" - instead of forsaking all (their own stuff) to know the One True God. "I count everything as but dung compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus..." So who do you follow? The one with the title and recognition - preaching on the "Purple Cow" - or the one who has a clear relationship with and allowed the Word to transform him/her into something they never were before? My friends don't have titles and recognition - but they do have Jesus. While these two things (titles/recognition and Jesus) are not necessarily mutually exclusive - my experience has been where one is in abundance - the other is usually lacking or nonexistant.

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steve w

March 18, 2012  6:49am

"...know the cultural norms in which your congregants are situated. Some simple suggestions: Read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and your local newspaper daily; these are wonderful filters for what is happening of significance. Channel surf TV once a week on different nights of the week, with your spouse, so you know what others are watching. Read movie reviews more than you actually watch movies. Movies, while the dominant medium of our time, are an enormous waste of time. Visit the magazine rack once a month; take note of the headline topics, and look especially for premier issues of new publications. Walk the mall. Watch what people wear, and notice what they do..." Are you kidding? Maybe I should watch Oprah and keep up with all the Hollywood stars and Lady Gaga? Like, who cares? That's not 'culture', that's just programming. Diversion. The best thing a Pastor could do is to steer your parishioners away from that poo. Introduce them to the likes of Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, show them Pasolini's 'Gospel According to St. Matthew', preach against the so-called 'culture' of today.

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Karen

March 17, 2012  8:48pm

Jerry, maybe my comments will be retrieved, maybe not, but I would agree with you that with the literacy levels of today, there is the possibility for most Christians to learn the Scriptures well. There is plenty of guidance available as well. My point was that modern Christians–no matter what their affiliation–tend to have had plenty of access to guidance in their reading of the Scriptures, including the basic frameworks–such as the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds–in which to understand their teaching and to have absorbed this information when they come to the reading of the Scriptures. So when some Christians try to insist that the Scriptures are "clear and understandable" on their face value (to unaided human intellect), I would tend to disagree with that–even based on what Scripture says about itself. I observe that even those who teach this way are implicitly accepting traditions of interpretation they have absorbed from other Christians and which have been passed down from previous generations. The Apostle Peter mentions in one of his epistles, for example, that the Scriptures are distorted by the "untaught" and "unstable." The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit's inspiration is also needed for proper understanding of their message (which is Christ in all His fullness). I would also point out that literacy is by no means the only issue involved in bringing true understanding of the Scripture. Heart attitude and readiness (receptivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit) is critical I think you would agree. IOW, the Holy Spirit reveals the meaning of Scripture to the degree we are committed and desire to put into practice what we understand. This is why the full meaning of the gospel is "foolishness" to the worldly-minded, and must be "spiritually discerned" as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2. I mentioned also that the "historical-critical" method is a relatively modern approach to the interpretation of the Scripture, and has also led to Liberalism. It does so in those who do not accept the presuppositions of what I will call the true Apostolic Christian tradition of interpretation which has been passed down through the generations to the present (and of which the universal Creeds are an expression).

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Jerry

March 17, 2012  9:05am

I believe that every believer upon maturity would function in one of the Eph 4:11 references: "Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher". Even this is not an "elite class" of clergy - it's a believer who has reached maturity and cares for others more than they have selfish ambition. (which may be the definition of 'maturity') Very few believers reach maturity. A true "pastor" is not the CEO of a 501C3 - but someone who looks out for and cares for those whom God has placed around them. It's what Tim describes as "clericalism" that turns this simple truth/function into some daunting initiative to build buildings and drive sheep. Even a teenager knows the difference between a shepherd or a butcher, a green pasture or a slaughterhouse.

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Tim

March 16, 2012  2:42pm

"We truly neglect the reading of God's Word today. We give it lip service, beginning with pastors." I agree with you here, but there are 100,000 pastors who spend 30+ hours a week in the word and would find this highly offensive. They would not think they do it lip service. I would suggest that their problem is they read the Word through the lens of clericalism - the accepted yet corrupt notion that church leadership should be a job for an trained expert to dominate the thinking, talking, visioning, deciding, etc. This is corporation / business thinking eisegeted into scripture. It is throwing Paul and his very clear, highly passionate instruction on refusing the right to be paid under the bus. Just as Tyndale and other recognized that the reading of God's word should be for every man and woman, Paul stated that leadership, oversight, eldering, shepherding is for every man who aspires to it and qualifies for it. It is not limited to gifting as in Eph. 4 where "God gave some to be…" It is not limited to those who get expert training on original languages. Hired expertise will not protect any local church from false teaching any more than it did Harvard, Yale, and many whole denominations. "But I have heard too many pastors who obviously know more about Seth Godin's Purple Cow than know about historical-critical interpretation of the Bible." I know too many pastors who know the clericalized version of the "historical-critical interpretation…" "And I've got a very simple suggestion. Pastors should preach through the book of Galatians and read the epistle in its entirety every day in the process." This will not fix it or even help it. They all read Galations through the lens of clericalism and chain of command oriented leadership which is the gateway corruption/drug into business driven church. Clericalism forces the church into business. You must make budget and increase the budget to expand the great commission. "And how should pastors think differently about the culture?" Clericalism separates church leadership out of culture by making it a separate job outside the marketplace. If their only source of culture exposure is media, their understanding will be warped because the media is warped and a sensationalized version of it. Church leadership will only be reconnected with culture when church leaders are all working in the marketplace. This will also force true partnership in church leadership rather than the lip service version of it in clericalism. I know too well the lip service and posturing of ministry partnership in clericalism church.

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