Clergy and study leave

As pastors, most of us get two weeks off for study leave (or continuing education, i.e., C.E.) per year so I’m taking advantage of this.  Some pastors don’t use their study leave even though it’s available to them. Do you think pastors should be taking study leave every year? Do you think it’ll help the ministry of the local church, or is it stealing time away from church ministry?  Does your pastor take advantage of study leave?

I’ve been really busy with ministry, plus preparing for my upcoming two weeks of intensive courses (biblical studies, then theology, with a ton of readings, reflection papers, etc.). This will give me a good break away from ministry, but it’ll still be work nevertheless because it’s the learning type of work (full days too).  Study leave is not a break but it’s a chance for me to keep learning new things.  I’m really looking forward to these 2 weeks coming up for C.E. as part of my D.Min. program.

The Mushy Middle series: on ministry

a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in church life, culture, and theology, that are being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in practical ministry.  It used to be that young Christian men and women would only consider attending the seminary of their own  denomination.  Today, this has all changed.  Generations of young Christians entering the ministry today want to pursue entry into whichever seminary/bible college will teach them to innovatively and effectively participate in God’s mission.  They are not satisfied in merely maintaining the status quo, as much as, they are desiring to deepen the faith of their people, to be the salt and light to others in a culture of darkness, and to evangelize greater society. The status quo in most of our mainline church-run seminaries are not working because we have lost our missional focus (or have never had one)–and as I said before–our churches are languishing or dying.  This sense of not having a focus, passion, and purpose for mission and evangelism does not sit well with the mushy middle.

Prior to starting my Continuing Education (C.E.), I struggled over whether I should do my C.E. in a Lutheran setting, for which I have been grateful for in my M.Div.  After prayer and consultation with people I trusted, I decided to do my C.E. in practical ministry at an evangelical seminary due to the expertise and knowledge of its instructors, its history, and its reputation for innovative ministry and leadership training.  ( There’s my plug for Acadia; and if you’re interested in knowing how I am experiencing the D.Min. program at Acadia Divinity College (located in Wolfville, Nova Scotia) feel free to contact me via email ).

My point in this post is this.  The mushy middle in practical ministry also seems to be in the process of being pushed out.  Seminaries stuck in yesterday’s world of ministry, and that maintains the status quo is ‘on the out’. Today’s generation of young Christian men and women called into ministry seek cutting-edge education where they teach bold and innovative ways of discipleship and evangelism that will work effectively in today’s post-modern context.  Wishy-washiness should no longer be tolerated.  It’s time to say “bye bye” to the mushy middle attitude.

The Mushy Middle series: on theology and discipleship

… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics, church life, and culture, that are being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in theology.  It used to be that generations of Christians stuck with the church/denomination of their parents.  However, this is also the way of the mushy middle.  Today, Christian young people are moving around from one church to another (church hopping) because they have a spiritual need that is not filled.  They want a theology that is stable, rock solid, and not one that’s wishy-washy and changes with the times.  Pastors and denominational leaders in established mainline churches hate it when we lose the few devoted sheep whom we are desperately trying to hold onto.  We end up accusing other churches (e.g., charismatic/evangelical that tend to be missional) of sheep stealing.

The fact is that it was never a matter of “sheep stealing” in the first place; rather, it was a matter of not adequately feeding our own sheep. Hungry sheep are always looking for green pastures to feed on.  Many parishioners, especially in our post-modern age, who really do care about their own spiritual growth do not care so much about which church they are attending, as long as, they are growing in faith and deepening their spirituality. I know this because I am a product of this myself.  We, who are ministry leaders and clergy, need to be actively engaging and providing our sheep with substantial “spiritual food” to deepen the faith of our own flock. Otherwise, we will lose hungry sheep to “greener pastures”.

In most cases, “sheep stealing” might not an appropriate description of what is happening.  Even the very churches that are experiencing growth are also experiencing big fluctuations within their attendees; however, it doesn’t bother them because they accept what is happening, and they are adapting quickly enough to improve their methods of ministry and discipleship.  Today, it is no longer “the big eat the small”; it is “the fast eat the slow”, as Pastor Mark Driscoll says.

My point in this post is this.  The mushy middle in theology and discipleship also seems to be in the process of being pushed out.  Today’s generations of young Christians in this post-modern culture are willing and able to join Christian communities where they can deepen their Christian faith and spirituality.  Wishy-washiness is no longer tolerated.  It’s time to say “bye bye” to the mushy middle attitute.

The Mushy Middle series: on culture

… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics and church life that are being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in culture.  Our culture in the western world was satisfied with the way they receive news in the form of newspaper and television media.  They took in whatever the television news media dished out as unbiased news. Young people of post-moderns do not buy this today.  All news are biased.  Younger generations want their news personalized to suit their taste and interests.  With the news media of iPods, smart phones and Internet, they are able to receive exactly the type of news they want. They can filter out news they are not interested in watching or reading.  When I read news today, I rarely read from a physical newspaper.  I either get my news from the Internet or have it sent to me via email.  I go directly to the category of news I want to read or watch, e.g., world, technology, health, etc.

When young people shop, they rarely go to big department stores to buy all their items. Department stores tried to cater to everyone’s needs. This was wishy-washy and is the mushy middle.  It is not sexy, and is no longer the way to shop.  Department stores are increasingly in danger of shutting down.  Young people prefer to shop at specialized stores that only offer blue jeans, cell phones, women’s or baby clothing, sporting equipment, running shoes (not everything). Big department stores are even attempting to divide their floor space into specialized sections so that they look similar to small specialty stores.  My point in this post is this.  The mushy middle in culture also seems to be in the process of being pushed out.  Today’s youth and post-modern culture want to receive whatever they consume in specialized formats.

The Mushy Middle series: on church life

… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics that is being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in church life.  Take a look at the life of the established (or rather, de-establishing) mainline churches.  The United Church and Anglican Church have been the fastest dying churches in Canada for years. The Lutheran Church is also headed in a similar direction today.  The United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA), amongst others, are also quickly emptying out in America (see 2011 Yearbook).  Today, there is a feeling of desperation—a desperation to find a last gasp of air before easing into oblivion [maybe this is an exaggeration, but it’s only to make a point].

Soren Kierkegard, a Lutheran religious philosopher, railed on the wishy-washiness of the spiritual state of cultural Christians and state-run Lutheran church in the 18th century (Attack upon Christendom).  Today’s state of Christendom in the northern hemisphere is in a similar state—a state of death and dying.  The numbers of young people attending historic mainline, and some mainline evangelical churches, are decreasing each year (Hat Tip: Rev. Tim Keller).  The mushy middle within church life today is too comfortable.  There is no need to have a clear conviction in one’s personal religious beliefs or any need to live as devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. Many pastors are no longer preaching Law and Gospel. Their faith does not really mean very much to them, and lacks any sense of urgency or intent.  If you’ll allow me, I wonder what would happen if our churches were to burn down?  Would it upset many Christians who are in the mushy middle?  I suspect that it might not affect many in “Christendom”  This explains today’s closures of our mainline congregations.

As a result, generations of children of unchurched families rarely ever darken church doors (except for the occasional wedding, funeral, confirmation, and infant baptism).  Spirituality in their eyes is privatized and is not lived out in fellowship/communion with other Christian believers.  Today, as a result of generations living the mushy middle life of “church-ianity”, people have either become atheists/agnostic, or living like as if they were one.  This is why there is an increasing number of people who are declaring themselves as ‘non-religious’, ‘agnostic’, or ‘atheist’.  The alternative, which is increasingly more popular today, is that they are rejecting the wishy-washy ways of their parent’s past life, and are seeking to live a more devoted Christian life, and are attending church more often and regularly. This explains the growth of evangelical churches.

Here’s my point.  The mushy middle in church life seems to be in the process of being weeded out.  People who do want a new way of living in spiritual/faith community will find it.  They want to be a part of a spiritual Christian community in which they are challenged to live as devoted disciples, othewise, they may choose to have no part of the church at all. Wishy-washiness should no longer be tolerated.  It’s time to say bye bye to the mushy middle attitude.

The Mushy Middle series: on politics

I am starting a new series I’ll call The Mushy Middle: (a term I borrowed and used to kick-off this series from [HatTip] Pastor Tim Keller)… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that the mushy middle on the political landscape is being pushed out.  When the Tea Party Express rolled into many states in this last election, a large number of conservatives, mainly Republicans, were suddenly elected into Congress, which may have been unexpected.  People understood the clear intent and purpose of the Tea Party Express and where it wanted to take the country.  Clear intent tends to foster a trust and a common goal; whereas, mushiness tends to foster vagueness and lack of direction.

As I stated in my previous posts on our recent federal elections in Canada, the wishy-washy Liberals were unkindly ushered out the door, and Quebec’s Bloc were completely obliterated off the political landscape.  The two parties that faired best in this last election were the Conservative Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Conservatives and its leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are mostly clear on where they stand on the political right-of-center.  The NDP and its leader, Jack Layton, are also clear on where they stand on the political left.  Perhaps, as a result of their stand, the people chose to give the Conservatives  majority government status this time.  Likewise, as a result of the NDPs clear stand on the left, the people (especially in Quebec) also chose to empower the NDP, moving them from an insignificant political party of the left into the status of Official Opposition. The most seats they ever had was just over 40; but this time they surprised Canadians by winning 102 seats!

My point in this post is this.  The mushy middle seems to be in the process of being pushed out.  The public wants a new politics where they know where their elected leaders stand.  They don’t want a wishy-washy attitude.

Can an evangelical be an inclusivist but not a heretic?

Evangelicals are more likely to be labeled ‘exclusivist’ rather than ‘inclusivist’.  One controversial evangelical theologian, Dr. Clark Pinnock (now deceased), was well-known for his inclusivist views on salvation, which got him in trouble with exclusivists. Pinnock states:

“Inclusivism believes that, because God is present in the whole world, God’s grace is also at work in some way among all people, possibly even in the sphere of religious life.  It entertains the possibility that religion may play a role in the salvation of the human race, a role preparatory to the gospel of Christ, in whom alone fullness of salvation is found.” (Four views on salvation in a pluralistic world, p. 98)

He believed that the Spirit was not limited from operating within the sphere of human religions, and that God’s grace could work redemptively in the religious dimension of human culture.

For more of today’s evangelicals (like Rob Bell, author of Love Wins), this would not be difficult to accept, especially when put into the perspective that God is working redemptively to prepare people for the gospel of Christ.  I’ve just finished reading Pinnock’s book, A Wideness in God’s Mercy (1992), and was somewhat surprised that I could agree with the main crux in his theology.

If a conservative evangelical adopted this position, could such a person be considered an inclusivist without being a heretic?

Fine books on preaching/leadership

Preaching courses are absolute essential courses in seminary but seem to be given lower priority today in place of leadership. Here are a few of my favorite books on practical ministry that I think are absolutely excellent.

On preaching:

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

Donald R. Sunukjian, Invitation to Biblical Preaching: Proclaiming Truth with Clarity and Relevance (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994, 2005.

On Christian leadership:

George Barna, A Fish Out of Water: 9 Strategies to Maximize your God-given Leadership Potential (Integrity Publishers, 2002).

  • this last one might not be used much in seminary but I think is chocked-full of valuable information to know.

How much of what you learn is truly useful on-the-job or for ministry?

How much of what you’ve learn throughout university or college was actually useful on the job?  Throughout seminary, not everything I’ve read has shaped the way I actually carry out ministry.  Throughout your own life, you may find that  though you may agree with 75% or more of the books you’ve read, they aren’t necessarily books you can actually say: “Amen. Yeah, that’s right on! And I’m going to do that because it makes complete sense to me to do it.”  You might end up throwing away more than 80% or more of what you’ve read and put to use only 2-5% of what you’ve learn into real-life ministry.

If you’ve been to university, bible college or seminary, what percentage of what you’ve learned do you think you actually make use of?

Does your pastor lead with, or without, the book?

Rich, over at Believe, Teach, and Confess (formerly Exegete Reflections) has a couple of posts (here and here) in which he reflects upon the Creed.

It reminded me of what happened to me a few days ago.   I was leading a service at the seniors’ home, in which I messed up a few lines of the Apostles’ Creed, which in turn, messed everybody else up… and boy did I feel embarrassed!   When leading a liturgical service, I usually have my worship book turned to the page where I need to be, but this time, I didn’t. Nervousness got the best of me and I forgot some words.  Usually, no one notices small mistakes but this time everybody noticed.  I always give the words of institution in Holy Communion, and the lead the people in The Lord’s Prayer without following and looking at the words on the page.   Now, I’m considering whether I should learn to lead the entire service (i.e., Creed, prayers, Communion and all) by heart in the future.

When leading a worship service, do you prefer to have all the words of liturgy in front of you, or do you to prefer to recite it by memory without the worship book in front of you as backup?  As a pastor, what is your usual practice?  If not a pastor, what does your pastor do?