28 February 2008

The Minister as Evangelist?

The idea of 'the minister as evangelist' seems to have been floating around cyberspace for awhile. Specifically, the idea that a church (a congregation, a fellowship) is 'successful' when it is winning new converts and 'unsuccessful' when it is not and that the minister's main task - what we employ her/him for - is evangelism.

I have some thoughts on this but I want first to stress that I'm not responding to a real life situation; I'm not being told that I'm a good or bad minister on the basis of my conversion statistics, so no need to email me and give me pastoral care.

First of all, making converts isn't the job of the minister, it's the job of the congregation. Theologies about 'the priesthood of all believers' aside, research shows that people join churches primarily because the congregation strikes them as a place where they can make friends.

When I first started going back to church in my early 30s, this was the big hurdle I had to overcome. How did I overcome it? By the grace of God, I told myself 'Well Pam, you'll probably have to go to church for about two years before people treat you in a friendly way and stop shutting you out.' And that was pretty much my experience. For the first two years, people were wary of getting too close or being too friendly.

I wonder how many people new to church - or coming back to church - would stick it out for two years feeling that people in the congregation didn't particularly care if they were there or not? Not many people, I reckon. Maybe this was a particularly bad experience and maybe I only stuck it out because I expected to do so. But I think it's something to learn.

Also, research shows that one of the biggest reasons people leave congregations is feeling shut out by cliques. That's basically the opposite of staying because they make friends.

Additionally, I do believe that there is a huge cultural barrier to church with many young people not even wanting to go into a church building these days. Try herding the baptismal party into church; I've learnt to start 10 minutes before the service because people unused to church really don't want to enter the building. I don't think most church people appreciate this phobia.

The purveyors of what I call 'The Spiritual Prosperity Gospel' repeat the mantra 'If you preach the Real Gospel (tm), people will flock to your church. ' It doesn't work like that. If the church is short of ministers and it wants more people to serve as ministers, making a realistic job description is a good way forward. Don't expect every minister to be Billy Graham and Mother Teresa rolled into one. Don't expect them to single-handedly defy cultural trends. And don't expect them to singlehandedly 'do' discipleship for the entire congregation.

23 February 2008

Jesus Loves Me?

This video over at Bible Versus would be funny if it weren't so sad.

What I find 'amusing' (if that's the right word) about this video is that I've always paraphrased the 'Gospel' (Good News?) that I learned as a child as being: 'The Father has to send you to heaven because Jesus died for your sins, but the Father is really angry about that because he hates your guts.' Obviously, I'm not the only person who got that message!

We Christians really do seem to be terribly afraid that God will love people we don't approve of. Grace is great when God loves me. Not so great when he loves people who I don't like.

21 February 2008

Too Compassionate?

Many people get the message, one way or another, that God is both angry and vindictive and that one of the things he gets angry at is wishy-washy Christians who don't lay down the law and demand that others are scrupulous in their obedience to God.

I found this post by Rev J extremely helpful. (Hat tip to John at Come to the Waters)
Another thing my mentor said that will stick with me forever is that he has seen nothing in the Bible about people getting into trouble for having too much compassion. He said, “When I die and I meet Jesus I can see him upset that I judged too much but I cannot envision him telling me he is angry because I had too much compassion.”

10 February 2008

Too Intelligent to Lead?

Around cyberspace these last few days, there seems to be a lot of blaming of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the content of his lecture entitled: Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective.

The most reasonable criticism to my mind is one that says he ought to get more media-savvy and to feed the press his message in language the reporters and people can understand. Fair enough, that's probably a pragmatic statement.

Extending from this view, however, there seem to be a lot of people blaming the Archbishop and saying that it was 'his fault' that the media falsely reported his message. It's his fault, people are saying, because newspaper reporters don't understand theology and Rowan Williams is too intelligent for the common person to understand him. I have to confess that I find this astounding.

First of all, I think that reporters reporting on theology and religion have a responsibility to know something about the subject on which they are reporting. No newspaper would tolerate a business reporter who didn't understand basic economics and although I've seen a lot of bad reporting of financial news, I've yet to hear anyone baying for the resignation of the Governor of the Bank of England on the grounds that the 'person on the street' doesn't understand monetary policy.

Secondly, it really beggers belief that a society is baying that a national leader knows his subject too well and that he is too much of a careful thinker to be a good leader. People seem to be essentially saying that we don't want intellectually brilliant leaders who engage in complex thought but we want leaders who divide the world into simple categories of black and white and go after the 'bad guys'. Girardian theory at it's finest!

09 February 2008

The Archbishop and Sharia Law

Let's get the facts lined up first:

First the Archbishop was invited to give the foundation lecture at The Royal Courts of Justice.

Second A Press Release dated 7 February 2008 (before the event) indicated that: his lecture was going to:look at 'what space can be allowed alongside the secular law of the land for the legal provisions of faith groups.' In other words, this was the subject on which the Archbishop was asked to speak.


The Archbishop denies that he is calling for the institution of Sharia law:
The Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview, and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.

Instead, in the interview, rather than proposing a parallel system of law, he observed that "as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law" . When the question was put to him that: "the application of sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion - seems unavoidable?", he indicated his assent.
The Archbishop of Canturbury did not issue a statement 'out of the blue' promoting the institution of Sharia Law in the UK. He is not promoting the implentation of sharia law by the UK government. Those tabloid rags that are claiming that he did are engaging in irresponsible journalism. As Christians, we are guided by the commandment not to bear false witness; it's not rocket science to understand that twisting someone's words is wrong by Christian standards. The Sun should be especially ashamed for it's 'Bash the Bishop' campaign (I'm not providing a link as they don't deserve one).

06 February 2008

Euro Fun

The following opens an animation with sound that lasts several minutes.

An Italian friend sent this to me. Hope you enjoy this clip on Italians and Europeans.

Children and Communion

For a number of years now it has been mandated in the Methodist Church that we offer communion to any child who wants to partake and whose parents or guardians agree.

The following is a very simple observation, not a reasoned argument.

The churches in our circuit are doing a review of congregational and circuit life. As part of this review process, we focussed last Sunday on the Beatitudes and we asked people to get into groups and answer two questions: 1) How does God bless me in this congregation and 2) How can this congregation bless others? ('Bless' was changed to 'make happy' for the children.)

The first item on the children's list was: 1) When we have bread and wine - to feel strength and God's spirit; 2) God wants everyone to come and bread and wine to help them.

These children are between the ages of 7 and 9. This is as great an 'argument' for children's communion as I can think of - along with 'Let the little children come to me' of course. And I have to say that I was blessed by reading these contributions!

02 February 2008

How not to read the bible

I came across and interesting post and I think that the following text is worth considering.

Netiquette demands a citation, otherwise I would be plagiarising. I do want to state the following: that I don't like the language of the first paragraph of the post and that I think it engages in a 'them and us' dualism that is unhelpful.

So why am I quoting the text? Because I do actually think that the 'it's all about me' approach to reading the bible is a huge problem.

The author suggests that many of us have learned to approach the bible in the following way (I know that I have):
1. It is about me. Whatever the book, be it Pentateuch, prophets, psalms, gospel or epistle—it is talking about me.

2. It tells me what to do or what not to do. An action is required on my part. My ability to do or not to do what the bible tells me is equal to my goodness or wickedness.

3. It condemns those that are different from me. People who are non-Christian (those who freely admit their lack of faith or worse profess a false faith) or unchristian (people who say they are Christian but demonstrate their lack of salvation by their actions, whether it be thinking premarital sex is not bad or going to an Episcopal church).

4. It implies the opposite. Every pronouncement of grace points to my own condemnation if I fail. Every promise is a threat. Everything that God does, reveals what I must do.