Review: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum, The: A Story from the New Testament World is a historical fiction designed to allow the modern reader a glimpse of life in the early church. It is formatted as a collection of letters primarily between Luke (the physician and gospel-writer) and Antipas, a benefactor of Rome who eventually is persuaded by Luke’s narrative.

Most folks never read books on first century culture and customs–because frankly, they tend to be boring catalogs of information that don’t seem relevant. Longenecker teaches the history, politics, and culture of the first century by using them as the story surrounding the relationship of two men from different worlds.

This book would be well-suited for a Christian book group styled class. There are plenty of scripture references that help you apply the cultural concepts to your understanding of scripture, and as it tells the story of the conversion of Antipas, it has a great deal to say about the evangelistic process. The letters also reveal some great information about the different groups of Jesus’ day (Essenes, Pharisees, Samaritans, etc…) and some of the early heresies within the church.

All in all, this book was a great read. It kept my attention for one sitting…which is a rare, but good sign!

Don’t Be Dumb: Ten Stupid Mistakes (Part 1)

I haven’t yet read this book, so this doesn’t count as a review, but I wanted to explore its major thoughts before reading it. The book is Geoff Surrat’s Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing: How Leaders Can Overcome Costly Mistakes.

Here are their ten stupid mistakes:

  • Leaders do it all
  • Establishing Wrong role for the pastor’s family
  • Second rate worship experiences
  • Low quality children’s ministry
  • Promoting talent over integrity
  • Clinging to bad location
  • Copying another Successful Church
  • Favor discipline over Reconciliation
  • Mixing ministry and Business
  • Letting committees steer the ship

Just at first blush, it seems like most of these are common sense biblical directives, aren’t they?

Here’s my take on the first five on the list: it’s pretty well done.

Biblical ministry is equipping the entire church to minister. It is helping, leading, training, teaching, and of course, ministering with the goal of producing more folks who are truly serving God and neighbor. It doesn’t fit the Bible or life to have a leader-do-all mentality.

Churches do tend to elevate “lead ministers” to an unrealistic standard. Rather than serving as an example for members to emulate, the projected ideal becomes an unattainable standard. Distinguishing a special place for leaders is probably unavoidable because of perception, but it is certainly not the right way to do things.

I’m not entirely sure what “second-rate worship experiences” means in practicality. Second rate to whom? The preacher? The Lord? The visitor? The member? Paul seemed to think that the outsider should be able to discern that something special and wonderful happens in worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) — both intellectually and emotionally. Biblical worship is the harmony of many tensions: approaching the unapproachable God; reverence and wonder; the humility of a servant and the pride of the heir. As a moment of training, evangelism, and recharging–worship can’t be second-rate to anything!

Low quality children’s ministry. In a lot of ways, this has been one of our strengths. Deuteronomy 6 taught that training our children in practical, applied faith is a (the?) key goal of God’s community.

The Bible is also clear–integrity comes first. There is no room for performers as leaders in Christ’s church. One preacher said, “You can’t both present yourself as clever and Christ as the ultimate treasure at the same time.” Remember Simon who wanted to buy his way into Holy Spirit giftedness? It wasn’t received very well…

The next five next time!

A Church Work Observation

We’re in the process of planning for a campaign at Burns, and it’s provided several opportunities to remind me of one particular lesson: the least important things in life always take precedence.

I may call this Matthew’s Paper Theorem, hereafter MPT. (Maybe Matthew’s Procrastination Theorem…or Matthew’s Prioritization Theorem…)

For example: in college, how many times did the room get thoroughly cleaned, my music get cataloged, dinner get cooked, and workouts get worked when there was a paper on the brink of being overdue? Shucks–I even finished my taxes before my last major paper!

For example: how much homework have I been able to get done in the past few nights avoiding painting the guest bedroom before we have more guests than rooms?

For example: how many hours have we spent planning, training, discussing, ordering, re-ordering, re-planning, arguing, and debating about the kitchen for the campaign? Don’t get me wrong…food is important, but my conservative estimate is that our food committee and those involved readying the building have spent nearly 250 man-hours in preparation across at least three meetings, plus individual consultations, etc… I don’t think we’ve hit 50 man-hours on the second place priority. We’ve got probably 25+ folks who are helping to feed the campaigners, but only 5 folks signed up to campaign from our congregation.

Interesting!

Review: The Systems Bible

Because I’ve enrolled in Harding University’s Master of Ministry program, I’m doing way more reading than I ever have before. My goal is to write up a little bit on each book I read (for school, work, or pleasure) here for your viewing pleasure… So here, I present to you, a Christian nerd’s book review!

The Systems Bible by John Gall is a tongue-in-cheek analysis and critique of the capital-S Systems that we all know and love. It is written with an eye towards those of us with a “technical persuasion” but it accessible to almost everyone.

The book is written around a series of principles and axioms about Systems — always set apart by capital letters. For everyone who has been frustrated by a System (of any type) gone awry, this book is like the Office — it hits a little close to home, but it’s funny anyway!

For example — a small town has a problem: people need to do something with their trash. They have a garbage problem. The town council in their sub-infinite wisdom, implement a garbage collection system. Instead of one problem (garbage) — the problem has multiplied further: the town must deal with problems with garbage trucks, routes, collecting fees, dealing with employees, maintaining contracts with dumps, etc. etc. The System that was designed to solve one problem brings with it dozens more–and it is rare that many (if any) of the new problems are forseen by the System’s designers. (That, by the way, is the Fundamental Theorem of Systems: NEW SYSTEMS CREATE NEW PROBLEMS!)

Gall works through somewhere near one hundred such theorems. A few of my favorites:

  • Le Chatelier’s Principle: THE SYSTEM ALWAYS KICKS BACK, or alternatively, SYSTEMS TEND TO OPPOSE THEIR OWN PROPER FUNCTIONS.
  • The Fundamental Law of Administrative Workings (FLAW): THINGS ARE WHAT THEY ARE REPORTED TO BE or IF IT ISN’T OFFICIAL, IT HASN’T HAPPENED; IF IT DIDN’T HAPPEN ON CAMERA, IT DIDN’T HAPPEN, and IF THE SYSTEM SAYS IT HAPPENED, IT HAPPENED.
  • The Principle of Unexpected Interactions: IN SETTING UP A NEW SYSTEM, TREAD SOFTLY; YOU MAY BE DISTRUBING ANOTHER SYSTEM THAT IS ACTUALLY WORKING!
  • LARGE AMOUNTS OF POOR DATA TEND TO PRE-EMPT ANY AMOUNT OF GOOD DATA

There are many more — but these give you a flavor of the book’s tone.

As a software developer this book was a fun read (despite the sheer horror that came with learning about just how broken almost every system is!) — but as a minister, it was even more striking.

As churches have become more institutional than organic, there has been a strong emphasis on the program (and as I call it, the Kiwanis Church — nothing but a bunch of programs good for the community!) Programs aren’t evil — just like Systems aren’t evil — or at least, they don’t start that way.

How many times have we started church programs, ministries, or events without thinking through the entire system — its inputs and outputs? Certainly we are bound by and to Scripture, but we can’t assume that we have it down perfectly. Have we thought about what problems we create and encounter. Before long, we spend more time maintaining broken congregations, dysfunctional elderships, and sick programs than actually doing what it is that those bodies are [divinely?]designed to do!

Gall suggests one particular irony: students who want to become leaders in business are forced to follow instructions for the first thirty years of their lives being told what leadership looks like–rather than ever actually leading. Ironic, huh?

There are plenty of applications for you, your job, and your ministry. Definitely worth a read!