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CAGE MATCH: Mark Driscoll, Your Pastor and You

I am going to venture a bet that, if you go to church, your pastor isn’t Mark Driscoll. I’ll bet that, not because Mars Hill attendees don’t read my blog but because America is a big place and the vast majority of Christians don’t go to Mars Hill. The vast majority of christians I know (virtually or otherwise) attend, volunteer for or work at churches that aren’t Mars Hill and have (or are) different pastors that are not Mark Driscoll.

I have never been to Pastor Mark’s church and I don’t know a lot of people who have. Most likely, if I lived near Seattle, I’d go to Eugene Cho’s church.

I’ve read a book of his and honestly I don’t know why he has the enormous popularity he does.

I don’t know if he purposefully creates hype around himself or how sincere he is about his public causes..

I do know that my twitter and facebook feeds light up like the Krispy Kreme “Hot Donuts” sign every time the guy says something out loud. Now, I don’t have a particular issue with that. Some of the things the guy says or does are pretty off in my eyes as well and doing/saying them in the public forum ought to be met by public critique.

But..

I also know that, in the continental US, somewhere around 1000 pastors are fired or quit every week. I know that the attrition rate among protestant pastors is very high because being a pastor is a heavy and taxing vocation, particularly if it’s done right.

And before you think this is an attempt on my part to defend strange, misguided or inflammatory things Mark Driscoll has said publicly, know that I have no intention of doing that – I don’t have the energy. I’m somewhere between ambivalent and fine with those who do critique Driscoll publicly and find some of what is written about his philosophy of ministry insightful, some of it is clever and a lot of it funny. But for my part, I generally don’t have the time to care too much about what most other pastors are saying or doing wrong… partly because I’m a pastor of a small church myself and, along with my role as an artist, the work I have in front of me is enough to concern myself with every day. Like I said, being a pastor a taxing vocation when it’s done right and I’m trying to do it right.

I recently spent four days in an intensive course required by the Evangelical Covenant Church to maintain my pastor’s license. As part of the course, I took a combination of tests; the Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram, an adaptive leadership evaluation, a crisis-personality test, some other personality test and a full-blown psych exam. I then sat with a counselor who walked me through all the integrated data and talked about my strengths and my potential pitfalls. It was both enlightening and exhausting. Toward the end of our conversation (right after she told me I wasn’t dangerously unstable and/or a threat to my congregation and neighbors), she said “I wish I could issue this same battery of tests to congregations. Now thatshe said “would be interesting stuff.”

Her point was that, while the ECC goes to great lengths to ensure the health of their ministers, health in life together is shared by all involved. The Denomination can do all within its power to keep the women and men they ordain healthy and focused and true… but that’s hardly going to be enough if you, beloved Family member, don’t also play your part. 

Here is what I’m getting at: If you’re healthy enough to know, from a distance, that celebrity pastor X is blowing it and causing cultural damage, then by all means, feel free to call him or her out on whatever stage he or she is using to do that damage.  But I beg you to also direct some of that wisdom and energy toward the care of the pastor in your own congregation; the one who belongs more uniquely and directly to you. Maybe even make it a 3:1 ratio; For every third time you publicly denounce the teachings or practices of a pastor who isn’t your pastor, write a private note of any length to the woman or man who is.

I’ll bet on two things happening if you do that:

  1. Pastor Celebrity Bloviation Esq. III will happily welcome your tweet or post or comment as one more persecution-like attack on his/her mission to civilize and make right a fallen, depraved world.
  2. Pastor Everyday Unremarkable will read your message more than once, show her husband what you wrote, thank God for it and for you and maybe even keep it somewhere she can easily access it when things get hard. I know that’s what I do. I have a binder of notes I’ve been handed or emailed by people who have said simple or elaborate things to me about the way they value the work I do and the pastor/person I am. It’s not a huge binder, even after 15 years of keeping them. But any time I need to (which is more often than you might think), I can crack that bad boy open and be reminded of the better part of my life and work.

Listen, I get it. I swear to you that I do. There are people creating lesser (and some terrible) forms of religious culture. I see it and I despise it and I think making public noise about it is often a good and necessary thing. But let me challenge/encourage you in this;

The single best and most effective cure for bad culture…
is better culture.

And you don’t have to be the principle architect of that better culture (I’m not asking everyone to plant a church), but you can be a faithful support and wise critic for those women and men who are. And that kind of work, I promise you, wins the day in the long run.

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When “F” Is A Passing Grade

On a wall near me hangs a smallish piece of art my wife made in college. I am particularly proud of this piece, not because it is her finest work (she’s an excellent artist, by the way) but because she she earned an “F” with it. And because she got that “F” for all the right reasons.

There are moments when a format, a structure or a game-plan becomes restrictive of the best its participants can offer. And in those moments, failing the system the format is rooted in can be the best thing for everyone.

It was the fifth time she (along with the rest of her class) had been assigned to work form the same subject matter (a cup, a bowl and a spoon, from a high vantage point), each time using different materials:

-She’d made paintings of a cup, a bowl and a spoon, from a high vantage point.
-She’d made woodcuts featuring a cup, a bowl and a spoon, from a high vantage point.
-She’d used charcoal to draw a cup, a bowl and a spoon, from a high vantage point.
and on and on…

Amy isn’t one to rock boats for the sake of rocking boats. She is someone, though, who cares deeply about the things she does and will make waves when she’s convicted something isn’t working. And in this case, she was convinced that the professor’s format had ceased to be helpful. So, in a form of creative protest, made a dry-point etching of a man reaching for a cup, a bowl and a spoon on a high shelf.

It was clever.
It was funny.
It didn’t go over with the professor.

A number of years ago, the leadership team at Shelter Covenant Church (where I am a pastor) started taking seriously the ways we saw the traditional “format” of our evangelical, protestant culture ceasing to be as helpful as it once was. In particular, we were seeing far too many intelligent, more-than-qualified women and men struggle to find a place in the “format.” We felt that, in order for what we were doing to be called “Church,” it had to be about people. This meant building something around the people we were instead of finding or asking or training people to fit into the thing we had built.

While I won’t go into all the details (maybe another time) I will say that one of our decisions was to de-emphasize the significance of our Sunday gatherings. This is not to say we stopped gathering on Sundays, or that we considered that time altogether insignificant. What we found was that the “Sunday Services” had cast too dark a shadow over our other 6 days and 22 1/2 hours between them. A large percentage of our time, energy and resources were going in to making Sundays happen; energy we wanted to redirect toward listening to, coaching, discipling and leading the lives of the people whose butts were filling seats at those gatherings.

That choice, along with a few others concerning “program items,” came with a string of what could be considered failures and disappointments.

Not everyone was happy.
We earned some “F” grades.
And it was tough to receive those grades.
But what made it easier is that we were failing tests we didn’t want to pass anymore.
We needed and wanted a new set of tests.

Over time, our gatherings have become more meaningful and more vital expressions of who we are as a community. It has been (and continues to be) an experimental road upon which we’ve earned a few lower marks, even in the fields we are more happily applying ourselves in. Those marks continue to improve. But I’d much rather be getting B’s and C’s while learning to do something true to my gifts strengths (as well as those of my people) than earn A’s doing what I ought to do simply because it is what has been done before or because it’s the assignment handed to me.

He Poops Because He Wants To

My son is using the toilet now. He’s also wearing underwear. And he does so because he wants to. My wife and I had started the potty-training process previously but he wasn’t into it, so it mostly looked like this:

US: Underwear?
HIM: intrigued! 

US: Batman underwear?
HIM: Even more intrigued!! 

US: Toilet?
HIM: Fascinating!!!

US: Want to wear Batman underwear and poop in the toilet?!
HIM: Nope.

But over the past few weeks he’s excited to use the toilet, wear underwear etc… He’s doing it because he wants to. And the difference between coaching/teaching/leading someone who wants to do something and trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is enormous. It’s an enormous difference for the coach and the person being coached. I think it’s the difference between discipleship and coercion.

Discipleship begins with trusting that God is already up to something in someone’s life.  Coercion begins with thinking I know what God is up to. Discipleship takes time because it means listening (often to someone who has often been told that what they dream about doesn’t matter). Coercion seems more direct because I don’t have to listen, just dictate. Discipleship is a form of relationship. Coercion is about accomplishment.

I don’t want to coerce people. I want to disciple.

I’ve certainly spent time trying to get people to do things I thought they should do. I thought that was what leaders did. But in recent years, I’m learning to listen first for what is in the hearts of those I get to disciple. I’m learning to discern what matters most to them. And I can lead them to act on those things, primarily by encouraging and challenging them to believe the things they want and dream about matter.

Across The Country To Do Some Listening

I’ll be in Washington DC for the next 3 days attending the Q conference. You can watch the first few sessions live. The Q Conference is a gathering of leaders and thinkers from key areas of culture to “consider how to advance the common good in a pluralistic society.”  I’ll be using Facebook and Twitter while I’m there to highlight moments I am moved or challenged by.  I’ll also be writing and hope to post something here at the blog…

..BUT..

Mostly, I know that this is a time to listen. I often talk too much and too soon. Among the women and men who are leading the discussion at Q are several whose wisdom is rooted in years of focused discipline, failure, trial and success. I will want to add to their conversation… but I will need to listen.

I don’t always have to add something. In fact, If I really do want to add something of substance, I need to be a man of substance and most of that comes by way of listening, watching and imitating women and men whose wisdom exceeds mine.  A lot of that type of person is at QDC this week.  So, I’m going to go listen.

Here are some of the folks I’m looking forward to listening to:

Andy Crouch
Gideon Strauss
Catherine Rohr
Janelle Paris
Miroslav Volf 

If you use Twitter, follow the hashtag #QDC for updates.

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CMY(K): People Are Not Their Problems

In writing the letters that make up part of the CMY(K) project, I wanted to model an approach to pastoral practice that emphasized the Person rather than the Problem.  Eugene Peterson makes a compelling argument in his most recent memoirThe Pastor that far too much ministry focuses on relieving people of their problems; constantly calling attention to some issue or another.  I’m certainly guilty of this, myself.

But I am not defined by my problems and bristle at the thought of being primarily seen in the dark light of what is wrong with me.

The proper focus of Christian discipleship is the growth and shaping of a whole person who is loved by God as they are.  Discipleship is not the resolution or eradication of an individual’s set of issues so that they can become acceptable to God and His people.

In other words; in answer to questions I’ve been asked such as..

“Do you deal with homosexuality in your church?”
“Do you deal with doubt among your congregates?”

I would have to answer “No.” Not because sexual identity is unimportant or difficult to address or because everyone in my congregation is unshakably confident in the things they believe. But because I don’t want to “deal with” issues. I want to “deal with” people. I want to do my best, according to what wisdom I’ve been granted, to help them hear, interpret and then act on what they are hearing from God; trusting that He, in His wisdom, will speak to them about what specific things He is working on, shaping, changing or removing.

You can pick up all three CMY(K) ep’s at iTunes
You can find more about the CMY(K) project at http://cmykproject.info/
 You can dance if you want to. You can leave your friends behind here.

 

You were part of this community when I first showed up. I left for a few years but when I came back you were still here. A lot else had changed and a lot of folks weren’t around anymore but you were. That made me feel like I had come back to the same place; to the same church. Like I had actually come home to something I could count on.

Several months ago, we bid farewell to a long-standing member our our church community. His departure was strictly geographical in nature; no ‘weird church drama’ involved.  A small group of us (7 men or so) with whom this brother was particularly connected gathered to formally send him on the next part of his journey.  Each of us shared some word of wisdom or encouragement (along with some legendary jabs) over the course of about 3 hours. Among them all, one comment stuck with me as most prominent.

While the wording might not be exact, the sentiment ran something like this:

You were part of this community when I first showed up. I left for a few years but when I came back you were still here. A lot else had changed and a lot of folks weren’t around anymore but you were.  That made me feel like I had come back to the same place; to the same church. Like I had actually come home to something I could count on.

I can honestly say that our church community has been held together not so much by the most talented or even wisest among us but by those who have faithfully weathered the years and chosen to remain.

Perhaps this goes without saying but this is not just about church culture..

-It’s about being the teacher who, even after years the political and cultural devaluing of your job, simply won’t quit on kids or their education.

-It’s about being the politician who, despite the force of currents moving against you, continues to act with sincerity and integrity.

-Its about being the divorced husband or wife who, despite all the awkwardness and frustration, continues to make time with their children the highest priority.

-It’s about being the friend who is there for your friends 5, 7, 10, 20 years later.

There is simply no replacement for faithful presence; it is perhaps the greatest gift a person can offer another person.

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Update from India: Gifts and Gift Givers

I am in India with Compassion International, visiting church partners who are serving their communities. Compassion’s philosophy inspires me partially because of how much sense it makes. Bob and Carol Lenz are on the same trip. Below is a short account of a gift they brought to the kids at one of Compassion’s church partners.
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Bob and Carol Lenz had brought along a bag full of small gifts to give to the kids, each gift identical to the others.  There were nearly 300 kids packed into the small room.  The gift required a small bit of explanation for use and so Bob began to walk through the steps, aided by a translator.  But the more Bob explained the details, the more the kids and the translator looked puzzled.

“We do not understand.” explained the Compassion staffer.  “These words are difficult to translate.”  You see, not only does English not smoothly translate into Hindi (India’s legally-established, national language), not all Indian’s speak Hindi. In fact, only Indian’s from the Northern regions speak Hindi.  Indian’s in the Southern regions mostly refuse to accept Hindi as the national language on political grounds and won’t even attempt to learn it.  More often than not, Indians in rural areas use regional, tribal dialects to communicate.

So, in order to rightly offer the gift Bob and Carol brought, we were each going to have to show each child how to unwrap, assemble and use the gift individually. This posed another obstacle: The room was so densely crowded that there was no foot-space between children. Should we try to access the kids in the middle, we would trample other kids on our way.

One of the Compassion staff took a gift from Bob, knelt on the ground in front of one child and showed her how to unwrap it, assemble it and use it. He then handed her another gift, still in the wrapping and gestured her to teach the boy behind her what to do.  We followed suit, showing the kids we had access to, the ones directly in front of us, how to unwrap, assemble and use the gift in such a way that they could then turn around and to the same for the child behind them and so on and so on.

There are 1.4 Billion people living in India. That’s one sixth of the world’s population in an area roughly one third the size of the U.S.  A large percentage of Indians live in desperate conditions which generally include a lack of education, lack of access to job opportunities and the utter absence of basic medical care.  Not only are the particular issues plaguing Indian’s overwhelming, the obstacles for Westerners wanting to help are equally overwhelming.

This is why I am so thankful for the way Compassion International works; partnering with already established local churches to assist their particular work among the particular people in a particular place.  Because Compassion works the way it does, our role (yours and mine) does not include wrapping our minds around all the intricacies and complexities of the “Problem” and trying to “Fix It.”  Instead, we get the blessed privilege and honor of caring for a particular child and doing so with the hopeful knowledge that kids who learn to read teach their families to read; kids who learn how to avoid water-borne illness teach their families to do the same; kids who discover the love of God in Christ pass that discovery on to their families and friends. 

The gift you and I get to offer has deep impact on the lives of kids because of the wonderful benefits child sponsorship affords (education, medical care, community, etc..).  But the deeper and more powerful impact is that, in Compassion partner churches, these kids are taught to see themselves as far more than people in need who receive the gifts of generous people.  They are taught that they are agents of healing, health, ingenuity and love themselves. They become gift-givers in their own neighborhoods for whom language and access are not obstacles at all. 

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Sunday Reflection: Tim Tebow & Christian Tribalism

I don’t root for Tim Tebow**.  It has been suggested that I ought to since he is an ‘outspoken Christian’ playing quarterback in the NFL.  But I believe that rooting for an athlete simply because he or she is a christian is as odd as supporting politicians for the same reason; as if a common faith trumps job performance and competency.  I would suggest that faithfulness to and excellence in one’s job is at least as Christian an endeavor as wearing Bible verses on ones’ face or doing charitable work apart one’s primary vocation.

As a Christian, I don’t feel a need to root for members of my tribe simply because they are members of my tribe. I want to support athletes, artists, writers, politicians etc.. who are good at what they do. 

That said (and speaking of tribes), I am a fan of the Oakland Raiders because they’re local and because citizenship in the Raider Nation is McRoberts family tradition. Beyond that, my support of an athlete in the NFL (or in any sport for that matter) generally has more to do with the way that athlete contributes to their sport; I believe excellence in a person’s work, regardless of his or her faith, brings glory to God.

Supporting Christians in any industry simply because they are Christians strikes me as a kind of tribalism that pits “our” tribe against “theirs” and that makes me uncomfortable.  It grates against the Biblical image of being salt in the world; salt enhances the flavor of whatever it is added to rather than serving to enhance its own. Christian hope for the world ought not to be a Christian conquering of it but it’s completion, redemption and fullness; that is a vision much larger than Christians doing well in the world.  Tribalism detracts from the larger hope.

 

**This is especially true today when the Denver Broncos play my beloved Raiders in Oakland.

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A Girl In The War: Further Reflections On Being Right

This is a followup to a blog I posted Sunday regarding “rightness” being framed by relationship.
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I was in High School during the first Gulf War.  My friends and I held some very strong opinions about the war and even blocked traffic on the main road through town, holding anti-war signs.  A decade later, I was afforded the opportunity to play songs for, speak to and spend time with soldiers in the US military in Western Europe along with their families.  I received emails of thanks from teenagers whose parents had been serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some of these kids’ parents had lost limbs. Some had lost their lives. Each of these kids was deeply proud of their parents and their service.

Later, I found myself standing with a guitar in front of the Army’s 120th Division in South Carolina, most of whom were about nineteen years old.  Many of them were headed to serve on battlefields somewhere in the world. Not all of them would come back.

I still hold strong opinions about US foreign policy. But those opinions have taken on a much more human shape since “war” became a much more human affair for me.  This doesn’t mean a compromise in my principles, per se.  It does mean that my opinions have undergone a process of refinement, mainly because I more regularly find myself in the soup with people holding other and contrary opinions, many of whom I have deep respect for.  I can be (and am) a staunch supporter of the U.S. Armed services. I am also a responsible critic of much American Foreign Policy.  Holding my opinions is not as simple as it used to be nor is it as fulfilling to simply revel in those opinions.

My opinions about human affairs (and they are all human affairs), if they carry any weight, change the way I live. What I think about war or economics or sexual identity means I live differently in those areas, which means I will either enrich or impoverish my world depending on the accuracy and “rightness” of my opinion and the strength of my social network.

In Josh Ritter’s “Girl In The War” he writes a fictional dialogue between the Apostles Paul and Peter, reading in part…

“Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote
Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go
But now talking to God is Laurel begging Hardy for a gun
got a girl in the war man I wonder what it is we done”

Paul said to Peter “You got to rock yourself a little harder
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire.”
“But I got a girl in the war Paul the only thing I know to do
Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”

I love this. Paul stresses the deep in importance of “the game” (dragons and fire) while Peter likens it to “a war” involving someone he loves.  Setting rules to a game is one thing; playing that game is means people are actually involved, which often comes at the cost of rules being bent or even broken.  But the stuff of life is generally too important (and far too complicated) to be subject to dumbed down.  If I allow my opinions to subject to reductionism, the life I live will reflect that reductionism… and I don’t want a small, safe life.

My friends and I used to hike and run around Mt. Diablo with my High School History teacher, John Millar.  He loved the mountain and knew it intricately; the seasons for certain flowers, insects or animals, the natural pattern of streams and creeks. He even knew where, should we venture off the marked trail, we could continue to make steady progress up the mountain.  Hiking and jogging with him, we came to know the mountain as he knew it, which meant we came to know it by the names he used.

About eight hundred meters up the Mitchell Canyon was a small hill Millar had named after one of his other hiking and jogging mates.  Just over a mile up that same canyon was another trail Millar would call “White’s Canyon.” Another mile past “White’s Canyon” we would normally stop to stretch at what he called “the ball-diamond.” Of course, none of these names appear on the maps issued by the State of California. These were Millar’s names. And by these names we came to know the mountain for ourselves.

The Mountain itself was, and always will be “Mt. Diablo”; it was too special a place for us to rename it wholesale. And, of course, the terrain itself never changed because of what we called it. But by renaming its landscape we came to know and love it as more intimately ours.

I chose (and still choose) to know the terrain of life as it is named by those who have lived it and loved it before me. “The official map,” as it were, can provide a way of initially seeing where I am but when it comes to something like the birth of a child, the death of a close friend, a first major vocational success or a cancer diagnosis, the official names and descriptions can fall dramatically short. It’s all well and good to know “this is the birth of your son,” but navigating the emotional and spiritual space of such a thing has always required a more personal and nuanced naming. More than that, the many times I’ve found myself “off trail” and in places that have no official names,  I’ve benefited greatly from having the experiences of other off-trail hikers passed on to me.

Part of why I do what I do as an artist and teacher is to help re-draw maps whose names are either insufficient, worn out or missing altogether; the kind of thing John Millar and other wise men did for me.