Month: August 2017

Sheep Herders

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Sheep

I have seen a few things going around the inter-webs lately criticizing the way Church of Christ elders have abused and misused their positions as leaders. Rather than humbly becoming the servant of all, in the way of Christ, some have gotten on power trips and hurt a lot of people. They can cling to tradition and the past at the expense of the church. They micromanage and mistreat ministers. I affirm a lot of what I’m reading, and I have seen it happen in my short 33 years in church. However, I want to take a moment and defend our Shepherds as well. Certainly there are a lot of bad ones out there, but a lot of these folks are REALLY good-hearted people seeking to follow Jesus, and seeking to faithfully serve a church.

For every elder group that is unhealthy and hard to work with, there seems to also be a minister that is arrogant and bull-headed. And let’s face it, sometimes we ministers can be hard to work with, too. Sometimes rather than seeing our shepherds as our teammates in ministry, we have turned them into our opposition. And rather than listening to how the Spirit is speaking to them, we look down condescendingly at their understandings of Scripture and the Church, as if we have cornered the market on how to read the Bible with our theology degrees and training.

We ministers get to go to conferences that boost our faith, renew our love for ministry, grow in our understanding of Scripture, and train us more deeply in how to do our jobs well. We get to stand on the stage often and preach the sermons and receive the accolades (of course with criticisms). But often our shepherds JUST hear the criticisms (I say this as someone who has been on the “member” side of things giving the criticisms, unfortunately), pour themselves out for their flock, and then go work 50 hours a week to earn a living too. They rarely go to these conferences with us, they rarely get a break, they carry heavy burdens for people they love, they care deeply for their church families, and sacrifice much for the flock they serve. It is not a flashy “job”, it is a call to selfless leadership, and it ain’t for the faint of heart. As one of my preacher mentors once said when talking with me through a difficult situation our church was going through and giving advice to our leaders, “Do you ever ask yourself why anyone would be an elder?!” It’s a hard task!

Being a minister is a hard job too. It is hard to explain it if you haven’t walked in those shoes. They often get mistreated by churches and unhealthy elderships putting unrealistic burdens on them. I love my fellow ministers and feel honored to be a part of this brotherhood and sisterhood. I deeply respect these men and women who have also sacrificed much for this call. A lot of churches DO need to do a better job supporting and taking care of their ministers.

However, being a shepherd is no walk in the park either. Do we need to do a better job in Churches of Christ learning how ministers and elders work together? Absolutely. I think all denominations do. But I also don’t want to pin it all on the guys who often tirelessly serve a church and receive very little in return.

And with that, I want to publicly thank my elders and remind the Hunter Hills Church how blessed we are to be served by these men and their wives. Are they perfect? No way, no one is. But, I can’t think of many other people I’d want to be on my team, and that is one of the things I love about them most, is that I AM a part of their team and they have let me know they value and love me! I want to say this publicly because I don’t think you hear it enough.

To Keith and Angela, showing us how to faithfully suffer through hard times in life, thank you (and we keep praying for you!);

To Vernon and Lisa for showing us the same, for their kind hearts, and for their selflessness and generosity, thank you;

To Barry and Tracey showing us what a steady and unwavering faith looks like;

To Randy and Jendia, showing us how to follow Jesus while raising a teenager (and we know that’s not easy!) and making a living;

To Don and Marilyn, for giving so much of your life and time to this church family and community, for faithfully serving so many years, and mentoring those coming behind you;

To Ron & Alita, Lanar & Wilma, Daryl & Cindy, and Bob & Teresa who have paved the trail for the above with your faithful service and wonderful examples;

Thank you! Thank you for loving this church so well, and for loving my family and me so well. We’re honored to serve with you. And thank you for being an example to other churches of a group who strives to healthily lead a church and work with their ministers. I love and appreciate each of you.

And to ALL of you who serve in this often thankless role of Shepherds, I thank you for loving the Church and seeking to faithfully follow Jesus.

Are there some bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. But I’m confident there is a bright future of learning from our past mistakes, and seeking a better way forward.

 

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Faith Unshackled

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Shackled

I have once again joined up with other writers to participate in a summer blog tour (albeit, “Late Summer Blog Tour” for me). I am excited to be hosting a series of posts over the next several weeks by different bloggers and ministers. I hope that you will be blessed by this series called “Faith Unshackled”. And first up in the series, Pita Horne.

In 2017 my church has adopted the theme “Faith Unshackled”. Intentionally ambiguous, this theme could be interpreted and applied in different ways. Inherent to the concept is the possibility that our faith may be shackled, restricted or limited.

Before I can decide if my faith languishes below God’s intention for me, I must understand the possibilities.

The word faith simply means to trust someone else. When that someone else is God, then the things we trust him with can be big things. But sometimes the things God wants us to trust him with are bigger than we’re ready to risk.

Jesus understood the dynamic nature of our faith in God. Our faith grows over time. As we establish a track record with God, our capacity to trust him with bigger areas and issues in our lives grows. Because faith does not grow along a straight line, the fragility of our faith means that some days we gladly trust God with everything, and then at other days we wonder if we can trust him with anything.

I know Jesus understands this phenomena because he witnessed it in his closest disciples.

In Matthew 17 a group of disciples attempted to cast out a demon… and failed. They approach Jesus seeking insight into why their efforts failed. Jesus responds with a well-known statement that I’m not sure encourages his disciples that they only need a little faith, or scolds them for not having even the smallest amount of faith.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”   Matthew 17:20

In the chapter prior, Jesus had given his disciples a big, enormous, radical faith challenge:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Both of these challenges from Jesus describe faith leading to radical outcomes. Yet so often we limit our faith to praying that Sister Jones’ kidney stone will pass quickly. In this process we reduce faith that was intended to be bold, radical and world-changing, and we domesticate it. We reduce faith to something manageable. Rather than inspiring courage, innovation and adventures for God, we transform it into a safety net in case of emergencies and kidney stones. Of course God cares about kidney stones and the suffering of his children, but the possibilities of faith extend much further.

In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus sends his disciples to the ends of the earth. He reminds them of his supreme power and promises his presence wherever they go. Then he watches to see their faith in action.

Today, I write about this moment that took place 2000 years ago on the shores of Galilee, from a time and country never imagined all those years ago. My existence and love for Christ demonstrate the power of those disciples’ faith.

As my church explores what it means for us to live with Unshackled Faith, I have encouraged us not to leave our faith chained to the pew. We must demonstrate our faith in God to those around us.

This may mean involving oneself in church ministries such as our community garden, or apartment cookouts. Unshackled Faith could also mean hosting a cookout and inviting church members we’ve never eaten with before, just because we’re committed to following Christ together. Or maybe we’re finding ways to bring unchurched and churched friends together in non-threatening social settings. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is prompting us to launch a new ministry or add our energy to an existing one.

We all have our comfort zones. The thing is, comfort zones don’t require faith.

 

 

Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.

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Book, Chapter, Verse

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Bible

So I realize this post could sound controversial, but I really don’t intend for that to be the case. I just want to state something that I think is obvious, but we often overlook. I include myself in the category that often overlooks this, so I’m not pointing fingers.

Okay, so here’s my main point. “Book, chapter, verse” doesn’t work with the Bible. Or maybe a better way to say it is, that is not how the Bible works. For every verse, there is a story and a context that must be dealt with and understood. In fact, I contend that Scripture is primarily narrative, and is best understood in that light. If we are picking it apart simply for nuggets of wisdom, moral codes, rules for worship, etc., we miss the story being told and our invitation to join.

Still don’t believe me? Try this out, then. I often have people throw out a book, chapter, verse at me and say something like, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that’s it.” Yes, the Bible says it, but in what context, what story? For example, for every “women are to remain silent in the church” I could offer a “sell your possessions and give to the poor”. Now, you might say, “Ryan, you are taking that out of context. Read the whole passage, the whole story.” And I agree! And I say the same for the other text. (As a side note, those who quote that particular text about women remaining silent in the church still allow women to speak in churches on Sundays, just not lead. So technically they are not being as literal with the Bible as they might hope.)

By the way, I am not making a claim about either of the above quoted texts or my interpretation of them, but just stating that it is easy to throw out a book, chapter, and a verse and act like that is the end, but it is really just the beginning to deeper reading, listening, and study.

So here is what I am driving at: the “book, chapter, verse” approach doesn’t work in Scripture, because that is not how Scripture works. It is not a legal code in which we can look up the rule. It is not a dead text. It is living, breathing, and active. It requires to be read, re-read, listened to, understood in its original context and story, and then read again. It requires deep listening.

Or, as I have heard said, let it read us. Let it get inside of us, push us, shape us, and call us deeper into God’s mission in the world. I like the way Eugene Peterson says it.

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” – Eat this Book

For further reading on Scripture, of course I recommend N.T. Wright Scripture and the Authority of God. However, that is a heavy read.

If you want something that is really informative and great for everyone, please read this series of blog posts from my friend Mike Cope. I have come back to these over, and over, and over again in my own preaching, teaching, and personal reading of Scripture.

Children at the Lord’s Table

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So I get a lot of questions about kids at the communion table. What do we do? Do they have to be baptized? Are they a part of the church when they are born into faith and grow up in the faith, much like a Jewish child in the Old Testament? I certainly don’t have the answers, and I won’t offer my own. But, I will give you here links to three really great discussions from Dr. John Mark Hicks (see below the picture) and his thoughts on children and the table. This have helped me a lot with my own children. You certainly don’t have to agree with me (or should I say with Dr. Hicks), nor change your practice. However, this is the conclusion I’ve come to. Hope you find these articles helpful.

And, when we disagree, I love the imagery of the Table because that is where we remember we are all a part of one Body, regardless of our disagreements.

And how about a throwback picture to last Easter of my kids? Seems appropriate for the discussion.

Kids

“Children at the Table” by Dr. John Mark Hicks

“Children, Church, and Baptism” by Dr. John Mark Hicks

And one on what it means to eat in an unworthy manner.