Politics in the Pulpit

One of the concerns that has been consistently expressed about the rise of LGBT rights is that this will suppress religious rights. “Nonsense,” detractors have said, “that will never happen.”

This week’s events in Houston rather prove that, in fact, the LGBT agenda will have chilling effects on free exercise of religion. The city of Houston subpoenaed the sermons of churches in response to the church’s opposition to opposition of an ordinance designed to allow access to either male or female restrooms depending on personal preference.

From the Houston Chronicle:

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

From my perspective, all restrictions on pulpit ministry should be dropped. It is a restriction on free speech. I realize that this is not the law of the land, but it should be.

Why should we tell pastors they cannot organize politically? Pastors were involved in organizing the American Revolution. They led the way in the fight against slavery. They were (and are) advocates of civil rights (ever heard of the Baptist Martin Luther King?). Through all of these events the pulpit was a powerful political force. The past few years have shown a full retreat on the mix of politics and pastoral influence. I am not sure that’s an altogether healthy thing. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back the other way.

Highly Visible Projects

If you haven’t yet read this article about Mars Hill’s “Global” Fund I encourage you to do so.

Wow - it’s all I can say. That this happens in large, aggressive churches is not surprising to me. The surprise is that these leaders were so bent on raising money off the backs of global ministry that they actually put down on paper that there approach should not be “communicated to the public.”

Another phrase that really jumps out to me is this one:

“highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors and missionaries in the third world”

What this communicates is something I hear at churches and conferences: senior leaders are desperate to find “sexy” projects that engage the pew sitter. I fully understand and embrace this desire to get the average Christian engaged globally. Unfortunately, doing this is not always the best thing for the Great Commission.

If you are pastoring a (large) church you have a platform to make a positive change in reaching the world for Christ. I would argue that the best approaches are often not the enticing projects that can be used to raise a lot of money. Take a hard look at the motivations for mission in your church and don’t waste that opportunity on short-term solutions. There are ways to focus your resources and leverage them to both build vision in your congregation while simultaneously doing “real” missionary work.

Cool Infographic

50 Years of Mission: An EMQ Retrospective
Of all the geopolitical forces dominating people’s attention in the 1960?s, the launching of EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly ? www.emqonline.com) was not one of them. We were making major tech advances such as the introduction of color television and the world was caught up in a Cold War between the superpowers of the day, but in a small corner of the US, several key thinkers set out to create a space for dialogue about global mission. EMQ was the result and it has served a very important function. Take a moment to learn about the progression of issues discussed and the changing landscape that EMQ’s 50 years represents in global mission.

The “Man” in CPM

In the circles I run in (which is a pretty small circle, I know) we talk about “the man” approach to church planting. In the US, “the man” approach is the most exercised of church planting strategies. It goes like this: To plant a church, you have to find the right “man.” They have to be vetted, have an obedient and submissive wife/family, the proper training and mentoring. You find the man: you plant the church.

If you don’t believe me please attend _____ conference on church planting.

Well… in cross-cultural church planting we work hard not to have “the man.” We want the indigenous people to be ones who lead the church. If you have a hankering to preach on Sundays then you should stay here in the USA. It’s just not what makes movement of churches planting churches happen.

In CPM (church planting movement) strategies, the big idea is to see indigenous disciples reproduce themselves. The church springs into existence because you have disciples (which is backwards from our North American model: we tend to think that churches make disciples but it’s actually the other way around).

I do wonder, though, if we are creating a new “man” model within CPM. I keep hearing about the same 4-5 individuals as the gurus of CPM. They call themselves “catalyzers” and emphasize all things Kingdom. They often use phrases like “in the movements we see…” and everybody leans in on their every word.

There are many ways to do movement-focused ministry. Let’s not let a small cabal of insiders take over as the experts because they emphasize a particular methodology. I would prefer people understood the broader concepts behind movements and let the specifics of how it plays out in a local context be handled locally.

We don’t need another “the man” approach to church planting.

Florida Renezvous

This week I am on vacation!  I will meet-up with other Compac boat owners for a get together off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

You can follow the progress of my journey (from trailer to the water and back home again) over the next few days. You can click here for the map: FindMeSpot

FYI, my boat is a 19 foot trailer sailer called the Mermaid. Any pictures you see of her in the next week will reveal her new color scheme: I replaced the rust red with navy blue. This type of trip really shows off why trailerable sailboat are so awesome: I can hit either Florida coast with just a short drive!

The Mermaid

The Mermaid

China Becoming Most Christian Nation

This is no news to readers of this blog or really any missiological information, but the Drudge Report has been running a link to this Telegraph article about China becoming the “Most Christian Nation:”

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

Full article here…

I think there are significant dangers to the continued growth of the Chinese church. Two primary issues give me pause: Materialism will grow there as the economy grows and the institutional church is being exported from the US to China.

However, now is the time that we might see a significant shift in missionary sending from China to the world. Below is a link to a field trip I took last year, documenting the need for established missionary agencies to provide support to the Chinese church at this critical point in their development:

Multiply: Pakistan from Jacob Lewis on Vimeo.

Great Article on Hobby Lobby & Personal Liberty

Does Hobby Lobby have the right to say “no” to Obamacare mandates? I just read this article and couldn’t agree more with the thoughtful evaluation.

Americans of all stripes, most of them at least, consider religious liberty to be one of the signal achievements of the era of the American revolution. Why, then, are “Progressives” so hostile to the religious pluralism that inevitably results from religious liberty?

The Road to Progressive Dhimmitude by Richard Samuelson

Well worth reading the whole thing…

By the way, I note that he writes that Puritans saw marriage as a “government only” sort of thing: a civil contract. Never heard that line before. Personally, I would like to see us go in the opposite direction. Marriage should be a completely void of government acknowledgement or benefit. It’s the only way forward in a pluralistic society.

Don’t Just Shift from One Sponsorship Program to Another

In the wake of World Vision’s announcement that they will now hire married homosexual staff members many Christians are looking for alternatives for their giving. Already I have read a number of comments on websites on the options that are out there and I feel one more should be mentioned.

Rather than shifting from one child sponsorship program to another, I suggest you consider giving to church planting efforts where there are few Christians and few churches.

Do I dislike child sponsorship? No, not specifically. But I would argue that the starting of new churches where there are none is much closer to the definition and intent of New Testament teaching on missionary work. Charitable efforts, whether they are feeding the poor, drilling water wells or child sponsorship are best delivered by Christians when they are done in parallel with the starting of new churches.

Within the pages of the New Testament we find that Paul and his band of missionaries were foremost concerned about preaching the Gospel and forming communities of believers. Nowhere do we see him advocate for charitable efforts apart from church planting or for the support of Christian among whom missionaries had already labored.

So, Christian, if you are re-evaluating your giving, I hope you will consider giving to the cause most in line with the New Testament’s emphasis in mission: church planting among unreached peoples.

Contact me if you want specific opportunities to consider.

The Racist Support Raising System

I was alerted to a post over at the website Minister Different on the support raising system. The charge is that the system keeps parachurch agencies white. I am not going to reproduce the main points here so if this interests you, go read the article and then come back to read why I think the author is only half right.

As a missions agency exec at Pioneers I can attest to the difficulty in mobilizing African Americans. While the article lumps hispanics and African Americans in the same group, I think this is an oversimplification. We have had some success with recruiting and deploying latinos and we expect that to multiply in the years ahead as latinos move more into the mainstream of missions in general and our organization (Asian Americans are represented at a much higher rate than either African Americans or latinos in our organization). It is certainly true: we have had very limited success in mobilizing from the African American community. I agree that support raising as a means to funding ministry is a big reason why this is the case. We have had numerous African American missions leaders tell us that unless we fund them they won’t join Pioneers.

The system appears rigged, as the author suggests. But… that system is not just a “parachurch system” as the author implies. The issue is much more deeply embedded in the giving culture of the Evangelical church as a whole.

Churches, like Tim Keller’s (he is heavily quoted in the article), are also a part of the problem. Let me explain.

The article states that the individualized, support raising model depends on social networks to raise funds. True enough, but the local church, at least in our environment, is at the core of this funding model. For a ministry like ours (we may be different from Intervarsity and Cru in this way) the support raising model starts and ends with local church giving. I’ve run the numbers on our donor base: very close to fifty percent of the funding comes from local churches. The largest donors to support raised staff are churches. If it weren’t for generous churches our agency would struggle.

One might argue, “So what? That’s the same problem.” But it’s not. If we wanted to pay salaries to African American staff we would need donors willing to give to that. And they simply aren’t willing to give to “buckets” that aren’t attached to faces. This is particularly true with church giving.

In my entire time at Pioneers USA I can count less than about 4-5 churches which have donated to Pioneers USA’s general fund. They donate to “their missionary.” I am pretty sure that if you checked out Tim Keller’s church budget you would find precious little given to the operations of organizations like Pioneers. It’s not because we aren’t asking. It’s because churches do not see organizational donations as a valid gift type. If our goal was to pay salaries we would need to find that money and that money would not be tied to particular workers. Giving is tied to people. This is at the core of the “individualized support-raised model.”

“Well,” one might counter, “what about the example of Cru? They have this fund, you see…” Yes, a couple of other organizations have raised some funds toward this end. That’s a laudable thing. However, I would question the sustainability of that approach as well as the scope. Very few people, relative to the size of these organizations, will benefit from these funds. It’s simply doesn’t do enough or fix the root causes.

When agencies raise funds through missionaries it comes out of the “service fee” or what I call the “missionary tax.” Trust me when I tell you that churches and other donors do not want us increasing the missionary tax so that we can pay the salaries of a racially selected group of missionaries. We get a lot of pressure to lower these fees. Organizations that rate non-profits look at these sort of fees as “inefficient fund-raising” or “money not spent on programs.” In other words, raising money for salaries like this is a band-aid and not a sustainable, systemic change to the system.

Why doesn’t the author of the article suggest ideas for changing the culture of giving within the African American Church? Surely, this is just as much part of the equation as the organizations doing missionary work. I have heard many excuses as to why the African American Church is not able to give toward global mission and send their own. Until there is a change of heart from within the African American Church I am afraid the solutions will look a lot like failed government programs: unsustainable subsidies that treat the symptoms of injustice and, in the long run, perpetuating injustice.

There is an insipid implication in the article: white organizations are systematically racist because of the support raised model. The support raised model is not an ordained, Biblical model. There are many ways to get involved in mission. Simply because there is the opportunity for some through the support raised model does not mean that others are being forbidden or suppressed from fulfilling the Great Commission. Declaring that African American Churches must adopt the model of the white Evangelical church when it comes to missionary support is also racist. What solutions can come from within the African American Church that better fits their model of ministry and culture?

When missionaries work in other countries to assist them in the mobilization process they should be very careful about introducing the support raised model to the national church. It won’t work in many other cultures and we shouldn’t assume it must for justice to reign among African American Churches.

I recently had a wonderful few days with the founders of Movein.to. Here is a missions mobilization model that sits completely outside of the support-raising paradigm. They have mobilized 250+ people in just a few years. Perhaps this is a better avenue for the African American Church to consider. There are other options out there as well and more that a clever entrepreneur could dream up.

So… yes, there is a problem and yes, it’s systemic. Yes, organizations like Pioneers should be working to overcome this issue. But no, it doesn’t lie completely within the system of support raising nor should we force support raising onto those who have clearly rejected it. This is not an issue of justice. It’s an issue of cultural sensitivity and awareness of differences within the body.

Is Preaching Biblical?

Whoa, now that’s a headline. What I am really asking is this:

Is the vaunted, specialized place of preaching within the Evangelical tradition something recommended by the Bible,

OR

is it simply a vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition?

Many of my heroes, both from history and in the contemporary church, hold a very “high view” of preaching. I am about to suggest that this “high view” is something developed historically in Evangelicalism and not something that we see much of in the Bible. So, please put on your heresy armor and let’s tackle this.

Today, and for the past few hundred years, we hold a view of preaching that borders on the mystical. Seminaries teach special courses and have institutes on preaching, our theological luminaries tell us that preaching is an ordained art form, and we have magazines on preaching. Our preaching heroes are Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitfield, Moody, Wesley and Calvin. In some traditions, the “pulpit” is raised above the heads of the congregation to show the preeminence of the preached Word of God.

It’s not only good enough to be a preacher: real preachers are expositors. They take a chunk of the text and expertly filet it for all to digest. If one ventures off the expository reservation they are subject to all sorts of polemical wrath. It’s important not just to preach, but to preach in the “right way.”

Last year I read Scot McKnights book The King Jesus Gospel. He notes that most of the preaching in the New Testament is directed at those who don’t follow Christ. It is rarely expository in nature. You will note that I left Billy Graham off of my list, above. Surely his method of speaking topically to those outside of the faith is more in line with the Biblical models we have of preaching.

This last week I came across this list of “sermons” in Outcome Magazine:

  1. Street preaching by Jonah (Jonah 1:2, 3:1-5)
  2. John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness (Matt 3:1-3)
  3. Jesus preaching on a mountainside, and from a boat (Matt 5:1-3, and 13:2)
  4. Jesus’ ministry to demoniac in a graveyard in the Decapolis (Mark 5:1-5)
  5. The gospel of the kingdom being preached in the whole world (Matt 24:14)
  6. The disciples preaching everywhere (Mark 16:20)
  7. Phillip, Peter, and John in Samaria (Acts 8)
  8. Paul preaching in numerous Gentile cities (Acts 13 and 14)
  9. Paul preaching in Athens, to philosophers at the Aeropagus (Acts 17)
  10. Paul preaching the gospel in his prison in Rome (Philippians 1:18)
  11. Proclaim it .. send it out to the ends of the earth.. (Psalm 9:11, Isaiah 48:20, Matt 28:18-20)
  12. Proclaiming peace to the nations and to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:10)
  13. It seems that God goes to almost any length to save the lost, even abandoning the ninety and nine to pursue the one last sheep (Luke 15:1-7), and sending out his workers into the highways and byways to compel people to attend the king’s feast (Luke 14:15-23)

The writer makes the point that there was no “pulpit” involved in any of the above. I would build on this to note other differences between the “high view of preaching” and what we see going on in most Bible preaching:

  1. The audience is overwhelmingly not found in a church. There are few examples of “church preaching.”
  2. The audience is overwhelmingly not following Christ and outreach is a goal of the preaching.
  3. The preaching is overwhelmingly topical and not expository.
  4. There is little instruction about the specifics of the preaching form.

I note that Jesus went about teaching, preaching, and healing (Matt 4:23). The original languages use different terms for teaching and preaching. Preaching (krygma) seems to have more of a public and proclamational flair whereas teaching (didach) has more of an instructional aspect. Romans 10:14 says, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The context of that verse is again aimed at missionary work, not church preaching.

Preaching is clearly Biblical.

What I quibble with here is this concept of preaching as an art form, an elevated spiritual practice, or a well defined form and format within the Bible. It’s fine that it is seen in its historical perspective but let us not equate that tradition with the preaching of the New Testament.

One very important point made in the book of Acts was that the Apostles (until Paul joined the team and ruined an otherwise perfect record) were ordinary, uneducated men (Acts 4:13). They were decidedly not seminary taught professional clergy who could preach with incredible oratorical skill. Instead, they were marked as having been with Jesus.

In my humble opinion preaching, as we have come to know it, is more of vaunted, specialized Evangelical tradition. Nothing wrong with traditions as long as they don’t become accepted dogma. I am fearful that within some strands of the Evangelical church this “high view” of preaching is dogma.