Archives for category: ministry

Sigh.

Yesterday, to his Facebook and Twitter streams, Rick Warren posted this update:

Warren

Let me preface this by saying I have, from a distance, lots of respect for Rick Warren. By all accounts, he seems to be a humble, authentic pastor who is investing in the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Rick and his family to re-enter public ministry life after losing their son to suicide and, unimaginably, have some of his enemies even rejoice in that tragedy. I can understand being sensitive to criticism during a time like this.

While ignorance shouldn’t give anyone an automatic free pass, I can even understand how Rick would not understand why this Red Guard propaganda photo is so terrible. I think it’s hard for anyone to know world history for cultures different from themselves Dr. Sam Tsang educates all of us regarding the atrocities the Red Guard has committed [h/t: Kathy Khang].

If Rick took the time even to glance at Dr. Tsang’s article, he would realize the depth of this mistake. 40 million people died in the Great Leap Forward. Countless others were tortured and killed by the Red Guard in ways that I cannot even bring myself to type on this page.

I think what hurts — as a fellow pastor and brother in Christ — is Rick’s response to those who were offended by this post:

People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!

So now anyone who laughed at this joke is a true “disciple” and anyone who was hurt is a “self-righteous” Pharisee.

Wow.

This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:

  • Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
  • Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
  • Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”

For many Asian Americans, the daily experience of racism is akin to death by papercut. While many of us have experienced our fair share of blatant racism and discrimination, often it is the compilation of a lifetime of small racist incidents that causes the most damage.  Dr. Sang Hyun Lee explores this damage powerfully in From a Liminal Place.

Perhaps non-Asian American people would have a hard time understanding why “one little joke” could be so hurtful. Consider, for a moment, how many television shows and films rely on Asian stereotypes for cheap laughs (where, more often that not, the whole gag is “Look how funny and stupid that Asian person’s accent sounds!”). Off the top of my head:

  • Arrested Development (which is painful, because that show is filled with clever writers — why should they fall back on lazy stereotypes when they have so much material at their disposal?)
  • Turbo
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Saturday Night Live — particularly awful offenders, having their non-Asian actors practically get up in yellowface several times over the last couple of seasons.
  • Dads — which, apparently, built its entire pilot around the premise of racist (and misogynistic) Asian stereotypes
  • And on and on and on…

As a follower of Jesus, I want my life to count for what matters. I don’t want to get caught up in useless in-fighting, or sidetracked by nonsense. I am fully invested in the church community God to which God has called me — I want to unleash their God-given dreams in order to bless and serve San Diego and the world. We believe God has not given up on the world and that Jesus is calling us to cultivate better expressions of His love & grace to our neighbors.

However, although I am bone-weary over this kind of nonsense, this is a fight worth fighting.

Not for the sake of arguing someone else down, but to show the world that, yes, the church still makes bone-headed mistakes but our Redeeming King makes it possible for His people to see their mistakes, recognize how they’ve hurt others, and attempt to make things right. Jesus actually does change us.

I take Rick Warren at his word when he says he didn’t mean any offense. But that certainly does not excuse his defensiveness or outright dismissal of the many, many people who have been hurt through his actions.

We all have blind spots. I hope — and pray — that Rick sees what has happened and demonstrates true Christian humility. The world needs the better way of reconciliation and shalom that only Christ can provide.

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Sometimes, I love the Twitter machine (and not just for photos like these, although without cat photos, would the internet even really exist?).

This morning, as I was considering the call God has placed before our family and the challenges that are sure to come with it, I could hear how God was was speaking through these tweets:

Art matters

Although pastors and church leaders have much to learn from the world of corporations and business management, my guiding images for ministry and future look have more to do with gardens, shepherds, and art.

I have to remind myself, constantly, that ministry is about what matters, not what gets results. We want to unleash redemption, beauty, and a story bigger than ourselves through our work — in a culture so quick to tear down, to guide a church that builds up, redeems, and invites others into wonder, awe, and worship of our Redeeming King.

To that end, I am also in constant prayer for courage. Jesus tells us to pray that God will send out workers into the harvest field — and, perhaps, for us to become the answer to that prayer.

As Frederick Buechner says (and of which I was reminded again today, via Twitter):

Best prayers - shade

May you pray as if you were not afraid, may you follow Jesus wherever He leads (it might be closer than you think), and may you do what matters today.

Dallas Willard — author of seminal works such as The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart — died today.

Although I did not know Dr. Willard in a personal sense, the impact of his work changed the direction of my life and ministry in ways that continue to reverberate today. Clearly, based on the outpouring of love & sorrow I’ve seen via social media streams today, many feel the same way.

My friend Steve sums this up beautifully:

Spirit Farmer

Dr. Willard opened my eyes to the ways in which we so easily distort the beautiful, wild, incredible life of loving & following Jesus Christ to become a gospel of sin managementIf I just avoid drinking/dancing/etc., then I will have fulfilled my Christian duty.

From The Great Omission:

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.

Willard’s call to live today in Christ, becoming an apprentice of His way, transformed how I viewed my everyday life. Grace is not a static theological trophy gathering dust on the shelf or a paperweight with which we can club others over the head.

Grace compels us to live.

Today, we are not only saved by grace, we are paralyzed by it. We will preach to you for an hour that you can do nothing to be saved, and then sing to you for forty-five minutes trying to get you to do something to be saved. That is confusing, to say the least.

Grace calls us to  a life infused with Christ’s resurrection life — His joy, peace, purpose, and strength:

Spiritual formation does not aim at controlling action. It is a matter of reworking all aspects of the self. It is a process that involves the transformation of the whole person, and that the whole person must be active with Christ in the work of spiritual formation.

This vision of life in Christ renewed my understanding of spiritual disciplines. We don’t pray or read our Bibles or fast to prove how “spiritual” or “mature” we are; we don’t fast as some kind of divine punishment. Rather, we are retraining our souls for a new way of life:

Spiritual disciplines are activities in our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

A couple of years back, I had the chance to hear Dr. Willard speak live. It would have been easy for his words about discipleship, sin, and transformation to be heavy or burdensome. Instead, because of his winsome approach, I found his words to be freeing and pointing toward joy. One thing he said, in particular, has stayed with me (and I hear it echo in my mind today as I think of Dr. Willard fully entering into the presence of our beloved Savior):

Followers of Christ are people who live and live and keep on living such that, when we die, we won’t even realize it. Rather, we will continue living our lives in Christ.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ save us in every way, and bring you the fullness of God’s shalom peace today.

.   .   .   .   .

All of the above quotes (except for the final one) are from The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teaching on Discipleship. I would highly recommend this book for those who are interested in engaging Willard’s writing. I found The Divine Conspiracy to be kind of intimidating (and heavy) at first — The Great Omission is very approachable and is overflowing with wisdom.

I’m looking forward to reading Center Church, by Timothy Keller. As a pastor, I deeply appreciate the humility and grace with which he pastors and speaks.

In this age of multi-site, video venue, and celebrity church leaders, Keller’s wisdom cuts through the noise like a friend shouting your name in a crowd:

A pastor should be marked by humility, love, joy, and wisdom that is visible and that attracts people to trust and learn from them.

As a pastor, you may not be the best preacher, but if you are filled with God’s love, joy, and wisdom, you won’t be boring!

You may not be the most skillful organizer or charismatic leader, but if your holiness is evident, people will follow you.

This means, at the very least, that a dynamic, disciplined, and rich prayer life is not only important in the abstract and personal sense; it may be the most practical thing you can do for your ministry.

I met Dan King (perhaps better known as @bibledude) through the Idea Camp, a unique tribe of idea-makers who collaborate for good in their neighborhoods, and around the world. Dan’s love for his family and for the church to rise up and become the force for good that God intends stood out to me as we shared a meal together.

The title, The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter, captures the essence of what Dan seeks to do with this book — to move people from lukewarm church attending to passionately following Jesus to serve those He loves. For a more in-depth conversation on why Dan wrote this book and what he hopes to accomplish through it, read this interview I conducted with him for ChurchLeaders.com.

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This is the second of a two-part series, reflecting on the news of a handful of well-known pastors leaving their churches.

As a pastor of a local church community, I have often been asked, “So, what, exactly, do you do during the week?” This lack of clarity about the pastorate as a vocation extends not only to curious congregants, but ministers seeking to be faithful to God’s call as well.

As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes,

Our vocation is facing something of a crisis. Many pastors aren’t sure how to describe their calling or explain why it matters to the rest of the world.

My wife and I have served together in vocational ministry as pastors for the last eleven years, but neither of us would claim to have even begun figuring this thing out. Far from being a systematic treatment, here are a couple of my thoughts on pastoral ministry:

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News of author and pastor Rob Bell leaving the church he founded, Mars Hill in Michigan, has set off another round of tweets and updates in the Christian blogosphere and Twitterverse. While this particular flare-up doesn’t seem to carry the particularly nasty tone of the whole Love Wins controversy, a few prominent church leaders have already taken to their keyboards with harsh words (which I won’t be quoting here).

While the cynic in me wants to wipe the dust of this latest Christian dust-up off my feet, particularly in light of some of the important national and geopolitical happenings this week, this news raises some significant issues for the Church and how we’re called to be the people of God together Read the rest of this entry »