Thursday Theology: Radical Teachings of Jesus 1 & 2

4 Teachings of Jesus That His Followers (Almost) Never Take Seriously

Brandan Robertson is a progressive evangelical writer, activist, speaker, and spiritual entrepreneur who is committed to getting Jesus second hearing among the cynical, skeptical, burned, and spiritual but not religious people. He desires to build-bridges across cultural, theological, and political divides and to help others rethink, reform, and renew what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in our post-modern, post-Christian world.

It’s no secret that those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ consistently fall short of living up to the way of life of our Rabbi. Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey towards conforming ourselves to the image and way of life that Jesus taught. However, so often, followers of Jesus chose to blatantly ignore some of the clearest instruction of our Rabbi and obscure it with vague theology so that we can get off the hook. Other times, followers of Jesus are taught something explicitly contradictory to the plain words of Jesus and then spend their lives obeying the instruction they received instead of the commands of Jesus.

Below I have compiled a short list of 4 clear teachings of Jesus that most of us who exist within Evangelicalism have either never heard, refuse to acknowledge, or believe the exact opposite of. It’s my hope that by rereading these teachings of Christ, you will be inspired, like I have been, to return to the Gospels and begin to reshape your faith and life around the way and teachings of our Master, Jesus. Get ready and buckle up, because most of what Jesus says is pretty bold and potent. It’ll shake up your faith!

Graffiti with red heart

1. Jesus, not the Bible, is God’s living and active Word that brings life.

“You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You study the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.”– John 5:39-40 HCSB

The Christian life is one that is fundamentally rooted in the reality that Jesus Christ is living and active. He interacts with us on a day to day basis and desires that we cultivate an intimate relationship with him. The more we commune with the Spirit of Christ, the more life and truth we are exposed to and are able to comprehend. However, for many Evangelicals, we rely more on the Bible than we do on the living and active Spirit of God within us. We fear that following the Spirit could lead to confusion and subjectivity and so we root our faith in the Bible. The problem is that a faith that is rooted in the Scripture alone is not sustainable. It will dry up and wither on the vine.

While the Bible is an important and authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice, it isn’t the foundation or center of our faith- Jesus is. And if we truly believe that he is alive, we should also have faith that communing with him will produce spiritual life within us. He is the living Word that we can ask anything to and expect, in faith, to receive and answer. Sometimes he will speak through Scripture. Other times he will speak through our friends and family. Other times he will find unique and special ways to reveal himself to us. But in order to maintain a vibrant and living faith, we must not make the Bible our substitute for communion with the living Word of God. Studying scripture is valuable, but nowhere near as valuable as cultivating a day to day relationship with the God incarnate.

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Photo Courtesy of Attila Siha

2. The only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through DOING the will of God. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 ESV

“An expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?””What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?”He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.”– Luke 10: 25-28 HCSB

“We are saved by faith alone, apart from works!” This is a very popular Protestant catch phrase. The doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) was developed by the Reformers in response to the Roman Catholic Churches corrupted teachings that emerged in the 16th Century teaching that one could gain favor with God and shave off years in Hell and Purgatory by giving money to the church or doing acts of penance. The intention of the doctrine of faith alone was very good- to correct the error that our salvation could be earned or that God’s grace could be manipulated. But like most doctrines that are formulated in response to another group’s doctrine, it often goes too far.

One of the clearest teachings throughout all four Gospel accounts is that the way to enter the Kingdom of God is through living in obedience to the Law of Christ. Time and time again, Jesus makes very clear statements that condemn those who think that they will be saved because they believe the right things or do the right religious rituals. Jesus responds to people who believe they are religious and deserve heaven by saying that their outward religiosity is detestable to God and the only thing God desires is that they would exercise their faith by obeying the command of God- to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)

Jesus says if anyone claims to be right with God but doesn’t serve the poor, needy, oppressed, marginalized, sick, diseased, and sinful, then they do not have a relationship with God. No matter what they proclaim with their lips. No matter how religious they may appear. Jesus says those who don’t obey will have no part in his Kingdom. He makes very clear that the way to “inherit eternal life” is through loving God and loving our neighbor. Isn’t it astonishing, then, how many Christians today have been taught that salvation comes through right believing instead of right practice- a message that is fundamentally contrary to the words of Jesus. (And even more to his little brother James who says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2:24 ESV)

There and hundreds of teachings contained in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament, teachings that, if we obeyed, would absolutely flip our lives and world upside-down for the glory of God and the good of all people. What the Church as a whole and Evangelicals in particular desperately need in this age is a return to the plain teachings of Jesus. We need to be willing to set aside out theological debates and meanderings for a season and focus on simply reading, conforming, and obeying the will of Christ, both as revealed in Scripture and as we are led by his Spirit. The world is desperately longing to encounter Jesus through us and for far too long we have been giving them a cheap knock off that we have exported under his name. But it’s clear to everyone that what is passing for Christianity today is almost totally divorced from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that we would all turn our faces towards our risen Savior and seek to selflessly follow his commands. I am convinced that the Jesus’ way is the only way that will heal our broken world.

I am convinced that the whole earth is groaning as it waits for men and women to take of their crosses and follow in the way of redemption. I am convinced that when those of us who call ourselves “Christian” re-orient ourselves in Jesus, the power of God will flow through us in an unprecedented and miraculous way that will bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Oh how I long for that day.

“Those who aren’t following Jesus aren’t his followers. It’s that simple. Followers follow, and those who don’t follow aren’t followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it.”― Scot McKnight 

Next Week on Sunday Everyday we will finish with the last two points.

3:  Condemnation isn’t Jesus style

4:  You’re supposed to sacrifice yourself and speak words of blessings for those you disagree with the most.

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Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance: The Call to Ministry

Pastoral Survival Guide:  by Rowland Croucher.

The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.

After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.

  • In past posts we have covered Jesus our Model, Spiritual Formation, and Images of Ministry (March 5 2015).
  • Spiritual Disciplines ( March 12 2015)
  • Last week we covered Saints and Pharisees (March 19 2015)

Today we will look at The Call to Ministry.

THE CALL TO MINISTRY

Here is some classical Christian wisdom on the subject of vocation:

‘Your motives are mixed. So are mine, for I shall not know this side of death why I became a preacher; and I have no right to assume that all that moved me in the choice was of angel brightness. Sometimes we see how incredibly ravelled are even our best desires.’

(George Buttrick, Sermons Preached in a University Church, Abingdon, 1959, p. 109).

# Traditionally, an ‘inner’ call was dominant when one entered monastic life; but the call to the presbyterate/pastorate needed an ‘inner’ call confirmed by the church. God always calls people to leadership in the community of Jesus Christ through the community. Calvin taught that there is a ‘two-fold’ call to pastoral ministry: God calls, but the church must also call. Wesley distinguished between an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ call.

Eugine  Peterson, the author of 20 books (all still in print), including The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary Language and a complete translation of the Bible by NavPress, says this of being a pastor:

“I’ve loved being a pastor, almost every minute of it. It’s a difficult life because it’s a demanding life. But the rewards are enormous — the rewards of being on the front line of seeing the gospel worked out in people’s lives.

I remain convinced that if you are called to it, being a pastor is the best life there is. But any life can be the best life if you’re called to it”.

# The call to ‘ministry’ is a subset of the call to be a child of the living God. The New Testament talks about the ‘high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14); it is a ‘holy calling’ (2 Timothy 1:9); and a ‘heavenly calling’ (Hebrews 3:1).

colored sunglasses, summer concept

# Sometimes people wear rose-coloured spectacles when considering a call to pastoral ministry / full-time evangelism / cross-cultural missionary work. Those people are considered fortunate, because they have lots of time to sit around and meditate, without being bothered by the hassles of ordinary living. A mother-of-nine told the evangelist Gypsy Smith that she believed God was calling her to be an evangelist like him. ‘Isn’t that wonderful!’ he responded. ‘God has not only called you; he’s already provided you with a congregation!’ Jesus said to Peter: ‘Follow me (leave your home)’. To the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39): ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’

# An old church paradigm suggests six ‘vocation indicators’ –

  • Faith (words and actions that indicate a deep-down commitment to Christ and his Church);
  • Idealism (often expressed through initiatives which promote peace, justice, and strive for a better world);
  • A Search for Greater Meaning (eg. an authentic questioning of current lifestyle);
  • A ‘People Person’ (either extroverted, or a quieter ‘one-to-one’ personality);
  • Leadership (ability to draw others to oneself, make decisions and take initiatives);
  • Strength of Character (integrity and a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions).

# God may have to call you more than once before he gets your attention. God had to call Samuel three times before he got the message.

Gazing

# Sometimes a ‘call’ will come when we are really discouraged in our work; sometimes when we are successful. Christian wisdom says that usually a ‘restlessness’ will precede a call to another ministry, but escaping, running away from a tough job to enter pastoral ministry does not augur well for a ministry-future.

(Have you heard of the black cotton-picker in the American South who was very tired one scorching day. He looked up to the heavens and said ‘O Lord, de sun am so hot, de work am so hard, de cotton am so grassy dat I believe you callin’ me to be a preacher!’).

by Rowland Croucher.

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Rowland Croucher (born 1937) is an Australian pastor, counsellor and author.

Brought up in the Open Brethren in Sydney,[1] following a five-year career as a high-school teacher, Croucher began training in 1964 for the Baptist ministry in New South Wales. He worked for the InterVarsity Fellowship (1968-1970), now the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES); then pastored churches in Australia: Narwee and Central Baptist Church – both in Sydney – and Blackburn Baptist Church in Melbourne, which became a “megachurch” in the late 1970s, with seven pastors, a salaried staff of 25 and 1,000 attending; plus several interim ministries. He was then, briefly, pastor at First Baptist Church, VancouverCanada. From 1983 to 1991 he worked for World Vision Australia.[2]

Since 1991, Croucher has been founding director of John Mark Ministries, serving pastors, ex-pastors, church leaders and their spouses throughout Australia and elsewhere. The John Mark Ministries website, with 20,000 articles, claims to be the most accessed non-denominational religious website in Australia.[3]

Croucher has authored 12 books, including Still Waters Deep Waters (with 35,000 copies in print) and has been a regular participant on Australian radio and TV programs. (Wikipedia)

Characteristics of Pastors who make the distance: Saints and Pharisees

Pastoral Survival Guide:  by Rowland Croucher.

The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.

After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.

  • In past posts we have covered Jesus our Model, Spiritual Formation, and Images of Ministry (March 5 2015).
  • Last week we looked at Spiritual Disciplines ( 12th March 2015)

Today we will look at the difference between the Saint and the Pharisee.

THE SAINT AND THE PHARISEE

In general there are two religious mind-sets – those of the ‘saint’ and the Pharisee. We all have something of each in us, and the potential to be either. Both may be ‘orthodox’ theologically, even ‘evangelical’. Both pursue ‘goodness’ but by different means, for different ends. (Pharisees were ‘good’ people in the worst sense of the word!). Saints (like Jesus) emphasise love and grace, Pharisees law and (their interpretation of) ‘truth’. Saints are comfortable with ‘doctrine’, but for the Pharisee doctrine becomes dogma, law becomes legalism, ritual (the celebration of belonging) becomes ritualism.

The saint lives easily with questions, paradox, antinomy, mystery;

Pharisees try to be ‘wiser than God’ and resolve all mysteries into neat formulas: they want answers, now. The saint listens, in solitude and silence; the Pharisee fills the void with sound.

With Jesus, acceptance preceded repentance, with the Pharisees it was the other way around.

The saint, like Jesus, says first ‘I do not condemn you’. Pharisees find that difficult: they’d prefer ‘go and sin no more’.

Jesus welcomes sinners; sinners get the impression they’re not loved by Pharisees. For the Pharisee, sins of the flesh and ‘heresy’ are worst, and they are experts on the sins of others. For the saint, sins of the spirit – one’s own spirit – are worst. Saints are ‘Creation-centred’; Pharisees ‘Fall-centred’. The saint’s good news begins with ‘You are loved’; the Pharisees begin with ‘You are a sinner’.

For the Pharisee ‘my people’ = ‘people like me’; for the saint ‘my people’ = all God’s people. Pharisees are insecure (needing ‘God-plus’ other things); the saints are secure (needing ‘God only’). The Pharisees’ audience is other people: their kudos provides a measure of security (psychologists call it ‘impression management’; Jesus calls it hypocrisy). The saints’ only audience is God: their inner and outer persons are congruent.

Praying at the Wailing Wall

Pharisees hate prophets (‘noisy saints’) and their call to social justice; saints love justice. (Saints aren’t into writing creeds very much, which is why the two things most important for Jesus – love and justice – don’t appear in them).

So saints remind you of Jesus; the Pharisees of the devil (demons are ‘orthodox’). Saints see Jesus in every person: they haven’t any problem believing we’re all made in the image of God (= Jesus) although they’re realistic about that image being marred by sin. Saints are spread through all the churches: the closer they are to Jesus, the more accepting they are of others. ‘Ambition’ for them means ‘union with Christ’: they call nothing else ‘success’. In their prayer they mostly ‘listen’, ‘wait on the Lord’; the Pharisee needs words, words, words.

Pharisees have a tendency to complain about many things; for the saints life is ‘serendipitous’: they have a well-developed theology of gratitude. Pharisees are static, unteachable, believing they have monopoly on the truth; saints are committed to growing. (Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum; the Spirit abhors fullness – particularly of oneself). Jesus was full of grace and truth; Peter says grow in grace and knowledge: Pharisees aren’t strong on grace, but for saints ‘grace is everywhere’.

la prière de l'ange aux fleurs d'accacias

The religion of the saints is salugenic, growth-and health-producing; that of the Pharisee is pathogenic.

Only one thing is important: to be a saint.

Pastors who have not been cured of their Pharisaism will not last the distance.

Saints appreciate these sentiments (in Rory Noland’s song):

Holy Spirit, take control.

Take my body, mind, and soul.

Put a finger on anything

that doesn’t please you,

Anything that grieves you.

Holy Spirit, take control.

Shalom, Rowland

Rowland Croucher (born 1937) is an Australian pastor, counsellor and author.

Brought up in the Open Brethren in Sydney,[1] following a five-year career as a high-school teacher, Croucher began training in 1964 for the Baptist ministry in New South Wales. He worked for the InterVarsity Fellowship (1968-1970), now the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES); then pastored churches in Australia: Narwee and Central Baptist Church – both in Sydney – and Blackburn Baptist Church in Melbourne, which became a “megachurch” in the late 1970s, with seven pastors, a salaried staff of 25 and 1,000 attending; plus several interim ministries. He was then, briefly, pastor at First Baptist Church, VancouverCanada. From 1983 to 1991 he worked for World Vision Australia.[2]

Since 1991, Croucher has been founding director of John Mark Ministries, serving pastors, ex-pastors, church leaders and their spouses throughout Australia and elsewhere. The John Mark Ministries website, with 20,000 articles, claims to be the most accessed non-denominational religious website in Australia.[3]

Croucher has authored 12 books, including Still Waters Deep Waters (with 35,000 copies in print) and has been a regular participant on Australian radio and TV programs. (Wikipedia)

Pastoral Survival Guide: Characteristics of Pastors who make the distance

Pastoral Survival Guide:  by Rowland Croucher.

The Characteristics of Pastors who make the Distance.

After listening to hundreds of their stories, I believe that there are the ten characteristics of pastors – women and men – who ‘make the distance’.  Here are three of them.

1.. RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

1-1 JESUS OUR MODEL

Christian ministry – of any kind – is simply doing in our world what Jesus did in his. Jesus is our pattern for ministry – to God and for the world. Close communion with the Father was at the heart of all he was and did. As his disciples saw this reality they wanted to be part of it (why don’t more people ask us to teach them to pray?). His prayer-life was disciplined and ordered, although he too, was busy. It began with a contemplation of God – ‘Our Father’ – before moving to human need.

He prayed hard before important decisions, like choosing the twelve. His meditation on Scripture gave strength in times of testing, particularly when the devil wanted him to do ministry another way. Time was found for prayer – 40 days, a whole night, very early in the morning. Hurry is the death of prayer. (When did you last take a retreat?) Nowhere did Jesus pray ‘to feel good’: for him, and for us, the key imperative is obedience.

1-2 SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process whereby the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God so that she or he becomes more and more like the Son of God. It’s ‘growing firm in power with regard to your inner self’ (Ephesians 3:16). It’s the maturing of the Christian towards union with Christ.

Assumptions of spirituality include

* God is doing something before I know it

* Love and prayer are gifts

* The aim of spiritual formation is not happiness, but love, joy, peace – and courage and hope

* Prayer is friendship with God, a response to his love

* Prayer is subversive: it’s an act of defiance against the ultimacy of anything other than God

* We are always beginners in the life of prayer: pray as you can, not as you can’t (‘to seek to pray is to pray’).

1-3 IMAGES OF MINISTRY

The minister – whether pastor or other – serves by introducing persons to Jesus, our only antidote for alienation. Alienation (sin) is the severing of self from self, self from others, self from God; and all these are connected (if I’m alienated from self I won’t be OK with others). The opposite of alienation is belonging: the process is called metanoia (‘turning’ from blaming to owning one’s alienation and being ‘converted’). Truly ‘converted’ people are eucharistic, thankful, grateful.

# Wounded Healer: The minister of Christ expects trouble (as Jesus promised) in a world tempting us with clean sorrow and clean joy. The Lord is closer when we are vulnerable, when we stop pretending to be powerful, and admit how wounded we are. Personal spiritual renewal comes only through brokenness, dying (Psalm 51:10-12,17, John 12:20-28). The Christian life begins and continues as a via crucis.

We recognise Judas and Peter in ourselves – we’re both wicked and weak. And yet, in our despair, when resurrection seems unlikely we hear him in the garden or on the sea-shore, alive, calling us by name. Because we are identified with a dying/risen Christ, our ministry is a ‘living reminder’ of this oneness. So we will avoid crucifixion-only spiritual masochism or resurrection-only triumphalism. And our pastoral task is to prevent others suffering for the wrong reasons.

Collage with sacred images

# Servant Leader: Ministry is the translation of the Good News into human relationships. It’s having authority to empower others to live in the Kingdom.

‘Authority’ = a firm basis for knowing and acting; ‘authorities’ maintain their position after knowing/acting have finished, and ‘lord’ it over others (which is why people who climb institutions often have difficulty maintaining a spiritual life).

Jesus, in contrast to the authorities, was a servant, identifying with us in our ordinariness (the Suffering Servant wasn’t good-looking, Isaiah 52:13). So ministry has to do with ‘the quiet homely joys of humdrum days’ (Sangster), the sheer Mondayness of things. Such servanthood is indiscriminate (if I cannot embrace someone, it is because he or she reminds me of some fear in myself). But let us remember: if we live to please people, we become slaves of those people. Instead of one master (Jesus, whose yoke is easy), we end up with numerous Pharaohs who are never satisfied with our performance no matter how much we do.

Our servant role is well expressed in Colossians 1:24-29 and Acts 20:28 (‘Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.’). As we are called to be servants of the church, we also affirm that the church is not our master – Christ is.

Opened old book in warm tint

During the installation of a pastor, the congregation is asked two questions phrased something like this: ‘And you, people of God, will you receive this messenger of Jesus Christ, sent by God to serve God’s people with the Gospel of hope and salvation? Will you regard him/her as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God?’

# The Scholar Teacher (Latin schola = free time): Henri Nouwen (Creative Ministry) contrasts violent and redemptive teaching models. ‘Violent’ teaching is competitive (knowledge is property to be defended rather than a gift to be shared), unilateral (the teacher is strong/competent, the pupil weak/ ignorant), and alienating (students and teachers belong to different worlds). ‘Redemptive’ teaching is evocative (drawing out potentials), bilateral (teachers are free to learn from students), actualising (offering alternative life-styles in a violent world).

Coaching Concept

# Coach/Empowerer. The Protestant Reformation put the Bible into the hands of ordinary people, and just about everybody agrees we now need a new Reformation to put ministry into the hands of the laos – but many/most clergy will resist it. (Why do we persist in using the word ‘minister’ in the singular?) The clergy are part of the laity, equipping us all towards spiritual growth and maturity (Colossians 1, Ephesians 4).

 

Pastors are the churches’ resident spiritual directors (see Eugene Peterson’s excellent writings on that subject), theologians (see Elton Trueblood), and prophets (Walter Brueggemann).

Shalom!

Rowland Croucher

Featured Images by Attila Shia: 

You can view his work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/

Pastoral Survival Guide: Pastoral Challenges Today

Pastoral Survival Guide: Part 1  by Rowland Croucher

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Introduction: Pastoral Challenges Today

1. Relationship with God

2. Family-of-Origin

3. Mentors and Networks

4. Leadership and Interpersonal Skills

5. Home and Marriage

6. Stress Management

7. Problem-Solving

8. The ‘Vision Thing’

9. Professional Growth

10. Institutions and Creativity

REVEREND JOE’S STORY

Reverend Joe was a boilermaker in a factory, but he had a gift with words. One of his elders said he should be a preacher, so he went to Bible College, and served a term as a cross-cultural missionary with an interdenominational organisation. His ministry in Papua New Guinea was ‘ordinary’ according to the mission-people, and his wife developed some health problems. The doctors suggested that a tropical climate would not be good for her, so the Mission Society asked him to do some ‘deputation’ – which he did very well. He had only three talks to offer, but that’s all he needed as he journeyed around Australia, preaching in evangelical churches every Sunday. The General Superintendent of one of the Baptist Unions heard him speak, and was impressed.

When Joe intimated that he was thinking about entering pastoral ministry, the G.S. said ‘I think we can find a place for you’ and Joe began the process of theological training with a view to ordination. He struggled to pass his exams, but eventually made it. He then served two rural churches, but both pastorates ended badly. In the first, he ‘fronted’ a couple of the powerful people, and they virtually drove him out. A second pastorate finished abruptly after a couple of years when he had a breakdown. There was no farewell from either church. When he felt a little better, he asked to be put on the Baptist Union ‘list’ for another pastorate. The meetings of the ‘settlement committee’ came and went and Joe’s name would come up each time. But there wasn’t a ‘suitable’ church. (One of the members of that committee said to me, ‘We have to be efficient, because there’s always a lot of business each month. But these names. they’re people! This is their vocation, their livelihood, we’re talking about. We don’t pray for them, or even meet some of them. They’re mostly just names. I feel very uneasy about the whole process.’)

I met Joe when I preached at the Baptist church he attended. We made a time to talk – at the local McDonald’s. He got there early and was waiting for me, with a cup of coffee. (I learned later he found a used styrofoam cup, and asked for a ‘refill’, as he couldn’t admit to me that he was penniless). His wife was supporting them both with some ‘agency nursing’, but her health was still not good, and she could only do about two shifts a week. After mortgage payments, and other bills, they had about $50 a week for food. He couldn’t find a job – and his old trade wasn’t a possibility any more.

He told me, in an hour-and-a-half, the ‘headlines’ of his story. He had a brutal, alcoholic father, and a mother who suffered ‘nervous breakdowns’ regularly. His childhood was unhappy, and he was a lonely kid. School was always a bad experience, and he left at 15 to work in a factory. A Christian work-mate befriended him, took him to an evangelistic meeting, ‘and I was gloriously saved’. His life from then on was focussed on serving God and winning others to Christ.

After a while, I asked him to give me a rough assessment of his missionary and ministry careers. He did some things well, he said, but he couldn’t cope with people who ‘crossed’ him – either by making comments about his beliefs/ preaching, or by challenging his leadership. ‘I got into trouble regularly because I would stand up to people. That’s the only way I survived as a kid. They’re not going to squash me. But I think I made a lot of enemies each place I served.’

We then talked about ‘where to from here’. I summarised John Mark Ministries ‘ research into ex-pastors like him – and me. There are about 41 responses to the question ‘Why did you leave parish/ pastoral ministry?’ Most leave in a context of conflict – with the powerful people in the church or denomination. But underneath all this there’s always a story of ‘unfinished family-of-origin’ business. His story was not unusual – indeed he’s a classic!

He told me he felt ‘the Union’ had washed its hands of him. He was in the ‘dead wood’ category that institutional people talk about. ‘The G.S. who encouraged me to enter ministry has gone, and no one there now knows me.’ The Baptist Union had recently developed a system to encourage the personal and professional growth of its pastors, who now are required to renew their accreditation regularly. Joe felt threatened by all this. ‘I’m not a reader, ‘ he said. ‘But I still think I could be useful somewhere in the church.’

INTRODUCTION: PASTORAL CHALLENGES TODAY

Now, what should happen to Joe if he’s to realise his potential and make it back into pastoral ministry again? Is he a hopeless case? I personally don’t think so, but it will certainly be uphill. Non-tertiary-educated/ Bible college trained ex-missionaries have generally had problems adjusting again. The society they left has moved dramatically in their absence. They often lack the vocational skills to compete on their return and the sending mission societies have often failed to provide for their retraining and economic wellbeing after ‘years of sacrificial service’. Even pastors that never went overseas, but were trained in the 1950s/ 1960s, are often similarly disadvantaged.

I meet quite a few pastors still leading churches because they can’t think of any alternatives. They’re burned out, struggling on, and their churches are suffering.

Then, too, there’s another category: pastors who feel they’re ‘mediocre’ in terms of effective leadership, but who do a faithful job. until some powerful people in the church insist on their ‘getting their act together better’. Then there’s trouble.

Another group is committed to ‘church growth’, but their people often feel they’re pawns in a triumphalistic chess-game. ‘Our pastor doesn’t listen: he suffers from an edifice complex. We’re OK if we bring friends to church, but not if we struggle.’

Some older pastors feel they’ve passed their ‘use by’ date. One told me: ‘I don’t understand all this post-modern stuff. I seem to be preaching about things the educated young people aren’t interested in. A university student said to me: “You preach at us. Our teachers encourage us to come to our own conclusions.”‘

Today it’s both easier and harder to be a pastor. Easier, because we have more resources to help us – like the World Wide Web for sermon-material (ever used the search-engine Google as a concordance?), more support-groups to encourage and pray for us, better access to the world’s practical theology experts, and a higher standard of living, on average, than pastors have ever enjoyed.

But it’s also harder. Many of us can identify with the apostle Paul who said, ‘Who is equal to such a task?’, about his own call to pastoral ministry. These days the expectations of our people are higher – and more likely to be expressed vigorously. Up-front leaders and speakers compete with dynamic personalities on television. There are more ‘religious’ people not attending churches (in the West) than ever before in history. Our people are likely to be better-educated – and differently-educated than we are. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work any more: people are more mobile, and brand-loyalty doesn’t work for Generation X’ers (those born since 1965) – or even Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).

The role of the clergy is by not as clear as it was. Nor is there clear public affirmation of their role in many instances. Most people see no need for religious professionals. And there’s a lack of confidence in institutions. Why waste precious time propping up ineffective institutions? Indeed, the very way in which people are approaching spirituality is that community involvement may be helpful at some points in time, but is certainly secondary to the individual spiritual journey.

In the past 40 years I’ve preached in about 700 churches in Australia, and they’re becoming more varied each decade. The single most common question in our ‘Marks of a Healthy Church’ seminars: how can we cater for old and young with their different tastes in one worship service, particularly in smaller churches? This centres particularly on the issue of modern vs. older music. But then, we’ve argued about music before: some churches in 17th century England and Scotland forbade all singing, others said we should only sing Psalms. When new hymn-books are produced, there are mixed reactions. (In 1691 when the first Baptist hymn book appeared, many Baptists refused to use it!).

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Back to TV: most church-attenders have watched almost 20 hours of television the previous week. Not only is the medium the message, but if communication in church isn’t dynamic/interesting (and cognisant of an assumed 45-second attention span), the music excellent, and the themes life-related, people will go elsewhere – even back to the TV. (See Tony Campolo, 1995, chapter 4 ‘The Television Challenge’ for one of the few writers-about-churches to underline the significance of television for churches).

Baby Boomers and GenX’ers have grown up with television – that’s why they’re less-than-committed to a particular church/denomination. They’re part of a consumer culture in which choices/freedoms dominate their lifestyle.

They want ‘value for money/time’ and won’t hang around a church that’s boring, irrelevant to their questions, or stuck where it was. (Tradition is a good servant, but a very bad master).

Baby Boomers still have a disproportionate influence over our entire society, consuming (in the U.S.) 51% of all the goods and services and comprising 81% of journalists. Again, they don’t share at all the ‘brand loyalty’ of their parents: indeed they scoff at it – hence the decline of denominations that have ‘expected loyalty but neglected needs’. Baby Boomers and GenX’ers see the church they’re in as a ‘way-station’ for their ongoing spiritual journey rather than the final destination. (This is partly because they’re open to upward job mobility, which may require changing location). They’re more likely to be loyal to a pastor than to a church or denomination. They’re also more tolerant of change, and more comfortable with diversity and ambiguity.

GenX’ers got the best of everything: they’ve never had to wait for the good things of life, so don’t understand ‘deferred gratification’. They listen to music privately, and grew up in the first generation that devalued children as having less social and economic value. They finish their education later, marry later, have kids later and enter the job market later (hence the term ‘the postponed generation’). They’ve been even more influenced by television than have the Baby Boomers: but their concern for global issues often tends to be unfocussed, even shallow. They face an almost overwhelming array of options, and tend to be indecisive. Said one: ‘We search for a goal, and once it’s attained, we realise it has moved farther away’.

So an important question at this point is: should we surrender to the ‘I/me/myself’ selfishness of the consumer culture? Two excellent books on this are Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? and Eugene Peterson’s The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends. The point these two books make: ‘church is essentially in rebellion against selfishness and is committed to diversity’.

Another contemporary issue: most Christians believe that a society which loses its commitment to certain core moral values, where most ‘do what is right in their own eyes’ is ‘on the skids’. Post-modernism rejects absolute ways of speaking of truth. Post-modernism, as the clich puts it, is essentially a rejection of ‘meta-narratives’. So religion is pushed out of the public arena into the private domain and such relativism can have disastrous consequences. Christians believe that to claim a morality which is purely self-referential is to claim a freedom which ends up as being no freedom at all. If there is no point of reference beyond ourselves, then reason, justice and law become exploitable by the powerful and the influential, and the weak have nothing left to appeal to. If we have no word for sin we shall soon find we have no words left to describe responsibility. As the ancient Roman adage puts it: ‘What are laws without morals?’

An Indian pastor was excited he was about his up-coming marriage. A Western missionary asked a few questions about the bride-to-be and it soon became evident that the young fellow had not yet even met the woman to whom he was betrothed. It was an arranged marriage. With as much cultural sensitivity as possible, the missionary asked how did they know if they loved each other? The Indian pastor’s response: ‘We will learn to love each other.’

The Church, whether we like it or not, is like an arranged marriage! We don’t determine who is or is not part of the Church, God does. We won’t get on with everyone. In one sense, when we give our lives to Jesus, we actually don’t have any choice in the matter, for we are called to learn to love even those we don’t get on with.

Back to pastors: please note that we are not here judging the effectiveness of a pastor’s work simply in terms of cleverness or measurable success. I know some faithful ‘Jeremiahs’ whose congregations have dwindled; there were often factors at work beyond their control. Generally, however, well-led and healthy churches grow, spiritually and numerically. There’s a climate of love and expectancy and competence and relevance in them which encourages people to come back again!

Over the next weeks we will look at the characteristics of pastors, women and men, who ‘make the distance’.

Rowland Croucher

October 2010

Featured Images by Attila Shia, you can view his amazing work on: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/

Love Makes a Way: With Jarrod McKenna

Asylum Seekers: “Pastor, Shouldn’t We Celebrate Stopping the Boats?”

So far this year 38 Christian leaders have been arrested in a call for the release of these children in detention. And there are no signs of us pesky pastors letting up, with over a hundred Christian leaders on their way, willing to be carried off in paddy wagons. Evidently, this Love Makes A Way movement is just getting started.

Some of us have been trained by the civil rights leaders hand-picked by Martin Luther King to lead his movement. People like Dr. Vincent Harding, who told me, “Your work [with Love Makes A Way] is not only influenced by, but a continuation of, Martin [Luther] King’s Freedom Movement.”

And in the words of the Freedom Movement Song, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.”

Columnists – please do your homework. We are not the “loony left” (in fact, some of us are to the right). The rights of children and the rights of refugees we are convinced of are not about “right and left,” but rather “right and wrong.”

We are Pentecostal pastors in mega-churches and Catholic nuns.

We are Reformed Presbyterians and Anabaptist charismatics.

We are local Church of Christ worship leaders and national moderators of the Uniting Church.

We are tongue-talking, Vineyard ministers and contemplative Baptist reverends.

We are Perth Anglo-Catholic priests and Sydney Anglican evangelicals.

In short, it’s a miracle we agree on anything. But by the grace of God, we are all clear on this: As Christians, a “solution” that comes at the cost of the most vulnerable is no solution at all.

Children must be released from detention.

“But Pastor,” many say to us, “This is politics. Your talk of love is fine for the pulpit, but keep it out of the public square. Besides, shouldn’t we celebrate stopping the boats?”

Celebrating stopping the boats is like celebrating people not jumping from burning buildings because we’ve boarded up the windows.

I’ll let my good friends Akram Azimi and Mick Sheldrick extend my metaphor:

Imagine that you live in a building with 100 individual apartments – each housing a family. Suddenly, a fire engulfs the whole building, blocking the exit. You open your windows and call for help. The fire fighters come, but they only have one truck with only one ladder. This means that only one family can descend safely through their window via the lifesaving ladder. This leaves the other 99 families in an unenviable dilemma. Do they stay and wait for the fire to consume them or do they – knowing they have nothing to lose – risk it all by jumping out the window? What would you do?

This is the situation facing seeking asylum. Currently less than one per cent of all refugees are resettled through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). With no real choice at all for the remaining 99 percent, many jump and risk it all, not for a better life but for a chance at life.

People fleeing persecution get on boats for the same reason that people jump from burning buildings – if they stay, they will die. There is no other way. The Government’s “no way” campaign tells desperate people not to jump from burning buildings without providing safety from the flames.

That’s not humane, it’s horrific.

“Stopping the Boats” doesn’t save lives. Stopping the boats saves us from seeing the suffering of those running for their lives. Just because we can see people drowning here doesn’t mean they aren’t dying elsewhere. Shouldn’t we stop people from drowning? Of course! But saving lives is much harder than usstopping boats. It will mean us going to help. We must ask ourselves, as a nation, are we looking for a response that relieves our guilt or responds to the suffering of others?

“But Pastor,” many continue, “Are you saying we should open the borders? What is your solution?”

Of course this isn’t about “open borders.” This is about real leadership and safe, efficient processing. Before I suggest some possible responses, I want to name what I mean by “real leadership.”

Hillsong’s Senior Pastor Brian Houston earlier this week and at their annual Megaprayer Night, showed the real leadership that is lacking.

What we want to pray for is real human beings, real people who are in desperate straits, and are hurting, and are [in] so much pain, children in detention. All sorts of things, that I don’t even pretend to have the answers for or understand. But I tell you though; we have the power of prayer.

–Pastor Brian Houston

Why is this the real leadership that’s needed?

In the first instance, Pastor Brian Houston humanised those who are suffering without qualifiers. Daring not to refer to these desperate people as “queue jumpers” or “boat people” has become a radical thing. Pastor Brian asked us to open our heart without qualifications. He didn’t ask Hillsong to pray just for Christian refugees, or African refugees, or for heterosexual refugees but for all people – regardless of religion, race or orientation – because God loves them. While God’s love won’t be the reason for recognising the humanity of others shared by all, all real leadership insists that we fight to recover the humanity of vulnerable people in public debate and policy response.

Secondly, Pastor Brian also called us in prayer to stand with those who suffer. I realise many reading this might regard prayer as quaint, at best, (and completely daft, at worst,) but Pastor Brian asked us to emotionally and imaginatively empathise with those who are suffering to an extent that we could articulate their longings for freedom with them. If our atheist friends have practices that imitate this process, real leadership calls for us to practice them too, so we might respond to these people with the dignity we all deserve.

And finally, Pastor Brian humbly said he didn’t have the answers. This is what no politician has been willing to say – that there are no simple solutions to human suffering. The search for the simple solution (such as “stop the boats” as ex-One Nation’s Pauline Hanson first suggested and that has since been taken up by both major parties due to its popularity) has become part of the problem. As is the problem of fundamentalism of any form, a simple solution forces easy answers over the complexity of reality. In this case, the reality is that persecution and war are not going away any time soon, which means neither are the refugees running from those realities. Whilst Australia might be thoroughly secular, popular public opinion has fallen for a form of policy fundamentalism that wants quick fixes over complex long-term responses. But three-word phrases can’t deliver what has been asked of us. One hundred and forty characters can’t contain what our response needs to be. What’s been asked of us is a response to real and complex human suffering. Real leadership, the kind shown by Pastor Brian, has the humility to admit that we don’t have all the answers, but that our response must be one that connects to the suffering of others.

“So Pastor, you are saying you don’t have any answers?”

No. I am saying that I don’t have any easy answers. But I’m trying to “live” into some important questions.

For over two years my family of three have been living with 17 recently arrived refugees at First Home Project. Out of the daily reality of responding to recently arrived people, here are my questions – some of which we asked former-PM Kevin Rudd:

  1. Why couldn’t this government, like Fraser’s Liberal government in the 70s, lead a regional response that upholds international law written to say “never again” after the Holocaust? This would mean Australia becoming a regional leader in putting up more ladders out of the burning building.
  2. Why couldn’t Australia’s navy, like Italy’s, help asylum seekers find safe passage here and to other regional centres to be processed efficiently?
  3. Why couldn’t this government do what John Howard’s Liberal government did in 2005 and release all children and their families from detention to be processed in the community?
  4. Why couldn’t this government establish a more humane solution of community processing (that would also save $4.5 billion dollars a year) and boost regional economies by processing refugees in regional centres?
  5. Why couldn’t this government do more to address the flames of the building? We have just cut foreign aid, development and relief by $7.6 billion, whilst increasing the cost of imprisoning asylum seekers to $8.3 billion in the last budget. Increasing aid, increasing spending in peace building initiatives, rather than war machines, is what’s needed.

These are the questions I’m seeking to live. I find it unacceptable that the rhetoric of politicians reflects such a low opinion of the Australian public that it has lacked the creativity to live into these questions and respond to these vulnerable people with the dignity they deserve.

Australia could become a leader in a regional response by providing safe ladders out of these “burning buildings.”

Photo by Attila Siha

Instead of saying “no way,” we must provide “safe ways” for people to seek asylum without risking their lives or being imprisoned for trying.

I believe love makes a way.  Jarrod McKenna

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Featured Images by Attila Shia: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/sets/

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