new, really?

I've been meandering my way through Brian McLaren's latest treatise in his emerging thought - A New Kind of Christianity. For many reasons McLaren creates quite a stir in evangelical circles, receiving both fanfare and harsh critique. Some readers encounter a breath of fresh air compared to what they see as a stale N.A. church culture. Or for some, they find McLaren's critique crosses the border into the land of heresy from which there is no return. These types of responses reveal how McLaren has become a polarizing figure (scapegoat?) in the evangelical Christian community when it comes to processing new or divergent ideas.

To illustrate, I've heard of this loaded question in interviews for pastoral positions: "What's your opinion on Brian McLaren and the Emergent Church?" Depending on the church, how you answer the question could cost you the job. If they're in love with McLaren (I think some churches/people really are!), then you'd better know all the latest Emergent lingo (e.g. conversation, post-almostanything, etc...). But know the question could also be a test of for right orthodoxy (well, their orthodoxy anyway) - a way of protecting the congregation from a new leader with rogue views of the emerging variety.

But back to A New Kind of Christianity. Personally, I agree with many of the theological considerations McLaren is making. I mean, it's pretty easy to see the influences of N.T. Wright throughout McLaren's work - "kingdom of God" is prominent. So if you like Wright (which I do), then McLaren proposal's are mostly worthwhile, although his constant jabs at general N.A. Christianity do get tiresome, even if much is true. But the purpose of this post isn't to critique McLaren's overall project (maybe I'll offer a more thorough critique when I finish the book). I have another thought for now.

Maybe McLaren keeps angering so many people because he sounds too Anabaptist. Yes, that's right. What if McLaren's appreciation for Anabaptist theology - expressed in Generous Orthodoxy - has become more than just a recognition of value? Maybe McLaren is Anabaptist? I say this because his book is full of talk about Christ-likeness in everyday life, the importance of peacemaking, and the church as a discipleship community ("forming people of Christlike love"). Like in the Reformation, these themes oftentimes contrast sharply with much of what the established church and society values. As I'm reading, I've stopped counting how many times I pause and think, "hmm, that's what Anabaptist's have been stating for centuries." Here's a sampling of what I mean:

"What would it mean if we were willing to sacrifice--or at least subordinate--everything else for this one goal of forming Christlike people, people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the kingdom of God, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit?" 170

"We cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through Bible...Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible's highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God." 115

"Repentance means more than being sorry--it means being different" 77

These quotes remind me of my own denomination's Confession of Faith in an article on salvation: "All who receive Christ are born again, have peace with God, and are called to love one another and live at peace with their neighbour. Those whom God is saving no longer live for themselves, for they have been set free from sin and called to newness of life."

So, perhaps I resonate with McLaren not because his message is new, but because it's so Anabaptist. Maybe he should write another book, "An Anabaptist Kind of Christianity."


peace is a choice (2)

I mentioned in my post, "peace is a choice" that I'd share more from MCC as they explore how we may "choose peace and live out new hope in the name of Christ." Here's this month's thoughts:

Listen with care...let your listening change you.

If you are in conflict with someone, one of the most important things you can do is listen - really listen - to the other person. Listening means putting aside your own agenda and trying to see the situation through the other person's eyes. It is like getting into the other person's shoes. Compassionate, active listening can calm someone who is very angry and potentially violent. It can break down barriers and build trust. It can provide a step toward healing and reconciliation. As you listen to someone else, that person will be changed. And so will you.

"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." (Desmond Tutu)

So often we think of Christian peacemaking as a topic related to violence on a large scale - e.g. war. This quote, however, highlights how violence - in many forms, not just physical - can be an everyday reality we face. Recognizing this everyday aspect to peacemaking can make the call to follow Jesus' way of peace relevant to our lives as opposed to simply remaining a theological approach to war.

So in the realm of following Jesus in everyday life, this quote raises several questions for me:

-How much of our day is spent listening to others?
-Do we live in such a competitive culture that this type of listening opposes the aggressiveness required to "get ahead" in life?
-Can the peace of Christ be a reality in the face of all the small conflicts we face day to day?
-Am I really willing to "put aside my agenda" to understand others?
-How to I seek peace without being a "doormat" to others?
-How does listening relate to our conflicts in local churches, denominations, or even the global Christian community?

being a pastor

I've been thinking a lot lately about being a pastor. Part of it relates to the fact that I'm almost one year into my first job as a pastor, and as with most anniversaries in life, reflection accompanies this time. Plus, this week my reading all of the sudden had all sorts of references to church and pastoring. Add to that my article on leadership I just had published, and it's not surprising my pastoral identity has been on my mind.

Now, perhaps more so than other professions, my experience this week reveals how being a pastor involves a considerable amount of self-reflection. When I was roofer, I don't remember much reflection on my career identity (maybe there should have been!). But for some reason the role of a pastor is always up for discussion. A roof is a roof. But the church, well, it's a little less predictable. At times this can be disconcerting, as I question in my article:

How will I handle success, particularly in a denomination that stresses covenant community and the priesthood of all believers? Can I let go of my ego long enough to realize leadership isn’t about me? Hearing stories of frustration and disappointment from experienced leaders, I wonder, when is it my turn? These are just a few questions that make embarking on the journey of church leadership a daunting prospect.

Overall, however, I actually find the constant reflection on my profession to be a highlight of my job. The current trend towards creatively exploring what the church will look like and how it will function in our culture gives me space to experiment and not feel tied-down in a specific mode of being a pastor.

I thought I'd share a few quotes from my reading this week to illustrate what I mean:

God has chosen to shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ through the workings of the Spirit in ordinary communities of faith...The church, spoken of eloquently by St. Paul as 'the Body of Christ,' is none other than the living, grumbling, combed-over, rouged-up gaggle of sinner that we ling among. Saints have day jobs. And the church not hover eight feet off the ground. The 'People of God,' whose names are carved upon the heart of the heavenly high priest, spit on the sidewalk and disappoint one another and forgive each other for real and imagined wrongs. And it is through all of this life together that we are becoming who we already are in Christ...Pastoral ministry is most truly theological work when it is engaged in the ordinary pursuits of life (Michael Jinkins, "Ministry and Clouds of Witnesses," in From Midterms to Ministry).

And from a Donald Miller blog post, "Could Your Church Survive if There Were no Sermons?", we see the type of idea that gets me excited about the possibilities for church leadership - creatively engaging the church's identity and mission in the world:

You could send out a mass e-mail saying that the actual building of the church will be completely closed for one month, but that the church must go on, and let the church itself (not the staff) figure out how. The staff could be on call 24/7 to serve the church in any way it needed in order to keep going. At the end of a month, you could have a huge dinner and allow people to share their experiences and see what the church had collectively learned, and whether people felt lost or empowered.

Try that one!

All this to say, I look forward to continuing my reflection on pastoring. With the diversity of experiences I've already had in this first year, such an ongoing reflection and adaptability will no doubt be essential to my well-being (sanity!) as a pastor.

broadening my cyber-community

One of the things about being part of the blogosphere - this vast community personal websites - is the ongoing game of networking. So, following in the footsteps of many before, in this post I tip my hat to a few of my attempts at broadening my cyber-community.

1. High Calling Blogs: this is network of bloggers exploring the intersection of faith and everyday life. A big fear for me in studying theology and being a pastor is that my understanding of faith will become irrelevant or at least relegated to the margins of everyday life - that somehow my theology would become a lofty intellectualism as opposed to an everyday reality I live with. Well, High Calling Blogs is an attempt to connect people with a similar concern - a gathering of people "interested in thinking through the intersection of faith and work." I hope this network can help keep my theology - and this blog! - ground in the reality of everyday experience.

2. Booksneeze: I like free stuff! And well, Booksneeze "gives away free books in exchange for an honest review." So far I've only reviewed one book for them, but I've got another in the mail.

3. Facebook: Just kidding, because everyone's already on Facebook, right!?!

Happy Ascension Day!

Today is Ascension Day in the Christian calender, marking the event of Jesus' ascension from earth (Acts 1:6-11) I want to share this quote from N.T. Wright in recognition of this oft-forgotten piece of the biblical narrative:

Jesus is Lord – This, of course, is the great truth that Christians celebrate in the Ascension. Jesus is exalted as the Lord of the cosmos, supreme over all the powers. It is perhaps significant that this is virtually the only Christian festival that has no pagan analogue, and which has not been taken over by the pagan materialistic forces that wreak havoc with Christmas and Easter. The shops do not fill up with Ascension presents, nor can you buy cards saying ‘”Happy Ascension to my Dear Granny.” Perhaps (although it would be risky) Christians should begin to celebrate the Ascension more explicitly. Presents or cards might be exchanged, but preferably homemade and symbolic ones, not ones that merely reinforced the prevailing materialism. There is room for new family festivals to be created around this season, parallel with Christmas or Easter celebrations but taking care, again, to avoid collapsing back into paganism. Here is scope for imagination and experiment.
It is Jesus’ Ascension, in particular, that launches the church on its mission. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6), it is commonly assumed that Jesus’ answer meant ‘No.’ What he was saying, “It is not for you to know times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8), compare Mt. 28:16-20). In fact, I suggest that this answer was a redefined you. In sending his disciples out (they were careful, at once, to restore their number to the symbolic twelve), Jesus was restoring the kingdom to Israel: but it was Israel as redefined by his death and resurrection. The Ascension launches the church, not on a nationalist or triumphalist mission, but on the task of announcing and inaugurating the sovereign rule of Jesus in the whole world. (N.T. Wright, Bringing the Church to the World, 194-195)
"The Ascension" - Alexander Sadoyan

"love one another"

This Spring, our church as has been going through 1 John. This section of the Bible has been called by some commentators the most "love-filled" in the New Testament, with some even calling John, "The Apostle of Love." It's in 1 John that we find the famous theological phrase, "God is love" (4:8, 16). And John asserts that the most concrete picture of God's love comes in the person of Jesus - the "Word of life" who lived, died, and was resurrected to bring reconciliation to us and the whole world (2:2).

You would think an appropriate response would be to, well, love God back. You know, spend time in prayer and adoration of our Creator. Or gather together with others to worship this God of love. These responses to God's love - these spiritual experiences of connection with the divine - you'd think, would be appropriate displays of gratitude towards God. And they are. I mean even Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your mind" (Mt. 22:37) We can rightly use this text to justify all sorts of spiritual disciplines. But in 1 John, it doesn't directly say "love God back."

Instead, John says this over and over and over: "Love one another" (3:11,23, 4:7,11,12,21).

Hmm, church services, prayer, meditation, spiritual disciplines, etc... All these things aren't enough? Well, no, they aren't. In fact, I would venture to say our cultural tendency towards practicing "spirituality" can actually be an excuse to avoid loving others, especially people we don't like or disagree with. John has a label for Christians who don't love one another - "liars" (4:20). Failing to love one another, yet claiming to love God is inconsistent with the very nature of the God whom we serve.

So I ask: have you ever considered "loving one another" as a spiritual discipline? I mean, if we remember the rest of Jesus' words, the importance is pretty clear: "And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt:22:39). Loving others is not optional or secondary to following Jesus and loving God. Loving others is how we love God.

"Those who love God must also love one another" (4:21).

"We can love (at all) only because God loved us first. But the vital, practical test of our love for God is to be found in our love for others" (Stephen Smalley).

Oh, and I couldn't get this song out of my head after reading and studying 1 John:

"All You Need is Love"

"What’s it like being a young(er) pastor?”

As a young(er) pastor, I'm confronted with this question a fair bit, both verbally or implicit to comments/reactions people have when they find out my role in church. The topic of leadership in the church gets lots of attention. There's a whole industry dedicated to church leadership, pumping out book after book full of principles and strategies related to Christian leadership. Do I sound a bit cynical? Ok, maybe a bit, but this month I've decided to join the fray of writing on the topic, so know the topic does interest me. I've written an article for my denominational magazine, the MB Herald, titled, "Lone rangers need not apply: reflections on leadership from the next generation."

I'll admit, I'm not a huge fan of the Christian leadership industry, but I believe leadership is as relevant as ever for the future of the church. How we do leadership, however, will be critical to this future. Here's a few quotes from my article:

What happens if I and many other new leaders don’t fit the stereotype? Is there really a church leadership crisis? Or is church leadership simply changing?

I believe leadership has and will remain a vital part of God’s people living faithfully in the world, but in a diversity of forms and individuals.

A friend recently reflected on her church experience and these words from Paul, and described the community of faith as simply “living life together.” The phrase implies a need for church leadership to focus on collaboration – a return to our Anabaptist roots as a covenant community.

Leadership is an exciting and daunting journey. But as I experience the collaborative faithfulness of the people of God, I have hope for the church and the future of Christian leadership.

don't forget about Haiti

Remember January 12, 2010? You remember, the earthquake in Haiti and subsequent weeks of news reporting and relief fund raising? Well, like most major catastrophes in our world, each week since that day has seen less and less attention given to post-earthquake life in Haiti. Yet somehow last week I kept being confronted with Haiti. I realized that places like Haiti still need help. So I want to direct you to where Haiti hasn't been forgotten. Haiti's story still needs to be told - a story still struck with tragedy and pain, but one which offers glimpses of restoration and new life arising out of ruins.

My first reminder of Haiti came with arrival of MCC's magazine, "a Common Place" in my mailbox. In this issue, photographer Ben Depp shares his experience on the ground in Haiti in the weeks following the earthquake. He comments, “What I’ve seen in Haiti since the earthquake is concern for and solidarity with neighbors, sharing of food and resources and resilience in the face of disaster.” My hope is this resilience will extend beyond the immediate relief efforts, hopefully with the ongoing support of us in the rest of the world. To donate to MCC's ongoing work in Haiti, go here.

Subsequently, I was reminded of an orphanage in Haiti called Heart to Heart and wondered how things are, nearly 4 months after the devastation. When my wife was in high school she went on a missions trip to this orphanage in Port-au-Prince. And like most buildings, the orphanage suffered major damage on January 12. But there is hope! Individuals, churches, and communities moved by Heart to Heart's story have been working hard to raise money and gather supplies to rebuild the orphanage. I like how one person describes the work being done on the ground: "This team is packed with 'construction professionals' but I love the way they've included the locals (even the kids!!) in their work... they're teaching skills and building relationships that will last a lifetime."

And then this morning I got my alumni update from Regent College and read about The ApParent Project. These folks call their project the "un-orphanage" in which they give children shelter in the process of getting back to their family. "We target women and men who might otherwise have to relinquish their child to poverty." Reading their stories I realize how little I know of poverty in Haiti. In a time of physical rebuilding, you realize just how important social restoration is along with that.

And finally, I heard the following song on the radio - Young Artists for Haiti - a artistic collaboration that offers hope and inspiration for the restoration of Haiti. Enjoy!