Idling in Intellectual Neutral

Came across this quote in a class I’m taking:

Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (William Lane Craig)

At the same time, I suspect there is another number of Christians who are idling in emotional neutral. Their hearts are beginning to harden. They rarely feel; they always reason. Pangs of sadness for the hurting are absent, only a dim satisfaction with the current status quo.

If only our hearts and minds were in gear!

The Fruit of Repentance?

In reading Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving, I stumbled on this little realization. In Luke 3:10-14, John the Baptist is describing works that show the fruit of repentance. In this text, he interacts with soldiers, tax collectors, and all men. The advice given to each is from the same category. See if you identify it.

He commanded the tax collectors not to over—reach and collect more  than they ought.

He commanded the soldiers to be content with their wages and resist the temptation to extort the poor.

He commanded all men to share their possessions with those in need.

All people were instructed to show evidence of their penitent hearts based on their stewardship. Stewardship reveals values. Values reveal hearts. Where your treasure is, Jesus said, there your heart will be also.

Would John the Baptist see fruit of repentance in my check register? How about yours?

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!

2008 Books and Reviews

Hey everyone…with school and church work, I end up reading a pretty decent bit. I wanted to share with you most of the books that I remember reading in 2008, along with a bit of commentary, summary, and my rating.

I hope this is beneficial!

Christian Counseling by Gary Collins (4/5)
This work covers the gamut of counseling-related issues that we face in ministry. It writes on topics ranging from alcoholism to aging and it engages the topics from a biblical perspective and brings along great psychological insights to help as well. All considered, this book was a great resource for ministry.

Personality Type and Religious Leadership by Oswald and Kroeger (4/5)
Oswald and Kroeger used the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator as a basis for examining inter-personal interactions in ministry. I enjoyed looking at how our personalities interact and how that interaction affects our perception of others. I’d recommend this book as an interesting starting place in studies on conflict management.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey (5/5)
I imagine almost everyone has heard of the 7 habits books. I assumed they were over-hyped, but after reading I saw that Covey did his homework. Reading over “success” literature from across American history, he revealed truths that are easily confirmed by scripture. His treatment of priorities in time management (moving from the urgent to the important) and his emphasis on listening to understand seem especially useful for ministry.

Missing the Mark by Mark Biddle (3.5/5)
How cut and dry is your doctrine of sin? How would you define it? Traditionally sin has been equated with law-breaking. Biddle argues that this legal/judicial understanding is biblical, but too narrow. Sin isn’t always just arrogant rebellion; it is mistrust, imbalance, harm, and hurt. Biddle asks some difficult questions, but does well to broadedn our thoughts on sin. Sometimes the “legal” issue of sin is the least of our concerns!

Yet I Loved Jacob by Joel Kaminsky (2/5)
Election is a difficult theological concept. Does God play favorites? It sure looks like it! Kaminsky overviews doctrines of the elect, non-elect, and the anti-elect. While Kaminsky assumes more direct and individual fore-ordination than I, his work is still a good thought excercize in understanding the Old Testament election texts.

Biblical Theology by James Mead (2/5)
This book should probably be rated higher, but I just couldn’t do it. Mead did a good job overviewing the issues, themes, and people in the discipline of Biblical Theology. To me, that’s sort of like saying the dentist did a good job on your root canal. You’re thankful that it wasn’t bad, but it still wasn’t the most enjoyable experience in the world… Mead’s work is good for setting a foundation for Biblical Theology and introducing you to the important people. Just not quite my cup of tea.

The Shack by William Young (4/5)
This is a polarizing book–you will really enjoy it or be really annoyed by it. I expected to hate it, seeing it as a novel founded on impossibility with a disrespectful chumminess with God. I was very pleasantly surprised. The Shack is a great conversation starter. It’s theology isn’t perfect at all, but it challenges the reader and lets you wrestle with your unstated assumptions about God. I highly recommend it for a good group study. As an aside, this was the first audio book that I have tried from Christian Audio. It was a great experience.

Pastoral Ministry According to Paul (3/5) by James Thompson
Thompson attempts to look at all of Paul’s writings to build a cohesive theology of ministry. Instead of considering any of the popular emphases in ministry, Thompson basically provides a miniature high-level commentary of all of Paul’s works in order to paint the big picture of Paul’s thoughts on ministry.

Elements of Style by Strunk and White (4/5)
A good reminder of the rules of writing.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser (5/5)
A positive example of how to actually write well once you’ve got a handle on the rules of writing.

Theological Introduction to the Old Testament by Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, and Petersen (3/5)
Interesting theological view of the Old Testament. Tedious, but thought-provoking.

God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence Fretheim (3/5)
As Fretheim was an contributor for Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, there is a lot of shared ground. Expect to see Fretheim’s views about relationship as the primary aspect of God presented further in this work.

Sabbath and Jubilee (Understanding Biblical Themes) By R. H. Lowery (2/5)
Lowery advertises himself as a scholar-pastor who wants to reclaim Sabbath and Jubilee as themes that apply today. Very little of the book pursued this goal; he spent more time tracing the historical development of these holy days. Writing style was slow at best.

Things Unseen: Churches of Christ in (and After) The Modern Age by C. Leonard Allen (4/5)
I had grown so accustomed to hearing the dangers of post modernism that reading this book was in many ways a wakeup call. Modernity is just a different worldview; no better, no worse. It has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, and Allen does a great job of showing some of our dependence on modernity to this day. It’s controversial; you will think.

Desiring God by John Piper (5/5)
Piper’s thesis is that the chief end of man is to glorify God *by* enjoying him forever. He presents some great thoughts about finding joy and meaning in service, worship, and Christianity.

Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe (4/5)
Behe has great material about the extreme difficulty of ascribing the origin of man to macroevolution on the biochemical level. He addresses the common misconceptions of evolution (conceptual evolution rather than developmental evolution) and presents great information on irreducible complexity. One of this book’s best features is its honesty with being technical. Behe by necessity is writing a technical work, but he brackets the paragraphs that are extremely technical and gives a summary before and after to make this book more accessible to people who hated chemistry as much as I did.

Participating in God’s Life by C. Leonard Allen (3/5)
Allen presents the view that a restoration of the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for revival and revitalization in the church. Very interesting read.

In Search of Wonder: A call to worship renewal by Lynn Anderson (4/5)
This was a vacation book. There’s some theology that’s a bit shaky. When you read the list of contributors, you’ll understand where your disagreements may fall, but regardless of that, these men do an excellent job helping us to recapture the wonder of worship, redeeming it from the routine.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankyl (3/5)
This was a vacation book; that was a bad idea. Something about concentration camps mixed with psychoanalytical techniques just seems wrong on the beach. Even though I read it at the wrong time, the book was very interesting. Man certainly does search for meaning, and that meaning is sustaining and necessary. I rate it 3 stars because the last half of the book was overly engrossed in psychology that I didn’t follow. Maybe you will.

The Cruciform Church by C. Leonard Allen (4/5)
The church needs to be cross-shaped. seems like a pretty good premise, doesn’t it?

In His Steps by Charles Sheldon (5/5)
This is a classic Christian work. If you’ve worn a WWJD bracelet, you’re leaning back on this work. Sheldon’s fiction is based on the question, “What would our lives look like if we really surrendered everything to Christ?” It’s fascinating and inspiring. I would love to read a 21st Century edition of this book to translate his conclusions into modern life.

For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn (4/5)
This is not generally my favorite genre, but as far as relationship books go, this was pretty decent. It discussed many of our common weaknesses as men and how we can learn to be better husbands and fathers.

Experiential Storytelling: (Re) Discovering Narrative to Communicate God’s Message by Mark Miller (1/5)
I had high hopes for this book. It turned out to be ramblings of a youth minister who couldn’t quite figure out who he was or what he wanted to do. He had some good emphases on the power of story, though.

Then Sings My Soul (1 and 2) by Robert J. Morgan (5/5)
These books are short and simple, with each hymn receiving a page. This would be a great devotional book. You get a little bit of hymn story, a little bit of Bible teaching, and a little bit of devotional all in one. Very well done.

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck (3/5)
Osbeck should have read Morgan’s books. The writing style is not as clean and the stories aren’t as clear. Osbeck spends more time preaching and though he gives you devotional suggestions, they just aren’t quite as good as Morgan’s.

A Song is Born by R. J. Taylor (4/5)
Taylor is not the writer that Morgan is; nor is he that Osbeck is. It is remarkable that I give a book so full of typos this high of a rating, but he has some stories about southern hymns, both new and old, that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. I give him much credit for that. After all, he spent his vacations researching the stories of hymns–there’s a neat personal tone to the book. Just try to turn off the red underlines in your brain as you read.

The Daily Bible arranged by F. LaGard Smith (5/5)
The NIV is not my favorite translation, nor is LaGard Smith my favorite author, but they come together in this Bible for a winning combination. Lagard arranges scripture chronologically and adds just enough commentary and helps to really help Bible study. We used this at Burns for a year as a Wednesday-night curriculum. I’ll do it again soon. If you’ve never succesfully completed reading through the Bible, give this one a start.

Sing With Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology by Harry Eskew and Hugh Mcelrath (3/5)
Expect this to be a textbook; that was its intention. I picked up the 1980s edition used at a bookstore and really enjoyed it. It is heavily technical in music in some places. It richly traces different styles and genre of hymns and music and gives you a good insight into the history and development of hymns in the church.

Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians by D A Carson (5/5)
Short and sweet. Carson makes excellent application of Philippians. A quick read when you’re working through the epistle.

Hearts on Fire: A Strategy for Dynamic Evangelism by Don Humphrey (4/5)
Everyone knows that the church has an evangelism crisis–that is, we’re not doing it. Humphrey attacks our weakness and gives us some tools to do better. Would make a good class study.

Secrets of Staying Power (Leadership Library, No 14) by Kevin Miller (4/5)
This was an encouraging book read at the right time. I recommend it to my co-workers in ministry, especially those who are relatively new. Miller will tell you not to quit and what to expect when you want to! :-)

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (4/5)
I wish this book were wrong, but it is not. I know that the world is not our compass–the Word is. This book serves as a mirror to show us how we’re perceived. You don’t want to ask this mirror on the wall if we are the fairest of them all…

I’ll do a catch-up post soon to give you the start of 2009 as well…

Works in progress…

Most of you know that I work as an IT consultant in addition to my ministry work. Yes, I know this qualifies me as the dorkiest man in existence…but I’ve come to grips with that fact, and so should you. :)

I’ve added a section at the top of the site "Church Technology." I’m working on putting together some of the more useful tips, tricks, and websites that I’ve come across that have something to do with ministry.

I get asked on a pretty regular basis for software recommendations to keep home PCs safe. I’ve put together a list of a semi-comprehensive package of tools you can use to protect your computer on a subpage of my Church Technology Section. I hope you’ll check it out! :)