Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Random Thought on Youth Ministry learned from unsuccess

I spent from 1995-2008 in some form of youth ministry, and in the last 8 years I have worked hard to at least keep a little bit involved in youth ministry.

Our church here, by all ways of measuring, is really struggling to establish a ministry to teens. We grew our group from about 5ish kids to between 15-25 (not bad for a small church), but now we are back to struggling again. There is a lot I could say to explain how all of this happened, but that would be a long, rambling post. But I have been thinking about something related to this  lately. Our desire to have safe and reputable ministries in churches have often hindered us in developing deep and abiding youth ministries.

In our church, we have safe sanctuary guidelines. As you might expect from a multi-denominational church, we pull a few resources from this insurance company and that denominational program, and put it together into one boundary training that we do at least once a year.

As one reads a lot of the literature on how churches should police relationships to keep kids safe from predators and churches safe from litigation, I am afraid that some of the caution we approach teens and relationships with has left us less able to offer what they really need.

The literature says to be cautious about spending time with one or two kids. I understand this. We don't want youth leaders grooming kids in order to abuse them and train them to be abusers. The challenge is that many teens are in need of deep relationships with adults that are not their parents.

The common standard for spending time with kids is a two-adult rule. This is a wise rule in youth programming. It allows a church's youth ministry to function with greater integrity. Yet, in my experience, some of my most profound experiences of being discipled by Christian leaders were when I was riding shotgun with the pastor on one of his speaking ventures asking questions I was afraid to ask my mom, or going fishing with a deacon of our church and his teenage son. And, more and more, even in same gender mentoring, this life on life ministry is becoming a thing of the past. Our desire for propriety and safety has created a wall between us and our youth that limits our effectiveness in reaching them.

Last summer I was at a pastor's meeting with my Methodist colleagues. They introduced guidelines for social networking that I believe they will probably adopt as policy in the near future. These rules include never chatting or private messaging young people, but always having another adult included in the online conversation. The same with text messaging.

Again, I understand the need for this kind of safety. Our world is a scary place. I just wonder if we have taken things a little too far.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Book Review of Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh

Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis
edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh
ISBN 978-0-8308-4091-5
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Much of the Reformation can be traced back to the rediscovery of the ancient writings, including the Scriptures, during the Renaissance. When the Reformers were able to get back to the original texts of Scripture, they quickly discovered that Catholic dogma did not always align with what they saw as the clear teaching of God's Word. And, so, in different ways and with different portions of Scripture Luther and Calvin began to develop a theology that was at odds with the establishment of the Roman Church.

Reformation Readings of Paul tells the story about how different Scriptures impacted the theology and faith practice of the Reformers and those they taught. In particular, contributors to this monograph focus on Luther and Galatians, Melanchthon and Romans, Bucer and Ephesians, Calvin and the Corinthian Correspondence, and the entire Pauline corpus in relation to Cramner.

This is a book that could be read step by step. There is a lot to learn from a lot of people in this fine book combining the disciplines of church history, theology, and biblical studies. Reformation Readings of Paul is a great book for any theological library.

Book Review of Wesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker

Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism
by Ryan Nicholas Danker
ISBN 978-0-8308-5122-5
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Since I have become a pastor of a federated church, I have tried to develop more knowledge about the function of denominations and their history. By far, my biggest learning curve has been trying to understand the "people called Methodist", even though I am told I was baptized as a Methodist as an infant, and my earliest memories of a church experience is Vacation Bible School at the First United Methodist Church in Roseburg, Oregon.

In particular, I have tried to understand John Wesley, Methodism's founder, from an impartial perspective. I am fascinated by Wesley's evangelistic fervor, and his ability to combine compassionate ministry with a deep heart for evangelism. On the other hand, Wesley's writings were so extensive that quoting him becomes a kind of spiritual Rorschach test, with people plucking a quote from Wesley here and there to validate and at times enforce their own point of view. Danker adds a lot to understanding Wesley in a more meaningful way, by understanding his ministry in the context of larger ministry movements taking place in England and the colonies at the time.

In Wesley and the Anglicans Dr. Ryan Danker attempts to prove that Wesleyan Methodism's incompatibilities with Anglican Evangelicalism had to do with political ideology as well as  theological differences. Wesley's Aldersgate experience puts him in the context of the revivalism of the evangelical moment of his time. His creating a separate structure of organizing believers from the Church of England makes him unique. He was more Anglican than separatists, but by creating a separate structure to disciple persons that worked outside of Anglican control, he was also seen as dangerous by both ecclesiastical and political powers. Throughout his book, Danker develops a new understanding of Wesley from the political currents of the times, and how they were related to religious concerns.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the church of England was the church of the established government, and that most uprisings against that government, either from the Scots with Presbyterianism, or the Cromwellian forces with Puritan Separatism melded political rebellion with religious reform. Danker chronicles the unique story of Wesley, who did not lead a political uprising, but who suffered the suspicion of many because they believed his movement had that potential. Following his conscience and his theology, his teachings and methods had far reaching consequences as it helped to form the Christian movement as we know it today around the world, and also the political sensibilities of the western world as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review on Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts

Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church
by Bob Roberts
ISBN 978-0-7814-1376-3
David C. Cook
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Bob Roberts is a fascinating Christian leader.  A country boy from East Texas, he seems at home in the environs of suburban Dallas, where he leads a megachurch of fellow Texans, At the same time, his missionary heart, his love for Jesus, and his passion for gospel ministry have led him to become a sophisticated global leader, engaging leaders from around the globe. Eager to bring his faith into the public sphere, he has formed friendships with pastors and politicians, most notably of late religious leaders in the Muslim world. Yet, as he has engaged churches and non-believers in many different cultural environments, he has not simply went to offer something to them, but rather has sought to learn and grow from what his friends around the world had to teach him. Some of these lessons are encapsulated in Lessons from the East.

At the risk of oversimplifying this very thoughtful and engaging work, I would say that Lessons from the East is part "The World Is Flat" for the church, and part Leslie Newbigin's missional theology, with some down-to-earth practical hooks that anyone can grab on to and apply to their church. Roberts book challenges its readers from the beginning to focus their efforts on taking the church into the world. He says, "The primary benefit we can offer our communities is creative, selfless, tenacious service....we build credibility in our communities by serving people outside our walls with no strings attached. (p. 14)." This book is focused on helping churches do that not just around the world, but also in their own back yards.  If the church takes Roberts' challenge seriously, it means radical changes in how churches function and the roles people take in local congregations. He delineates a number of transitions for churches to make, with practices for leaders in congregations as well as persons in the pew.

This is a great book. Now to figure out how to share it with others in a way that connects with them the way it connects with me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

Thoughts on Orlando

I have a confession to make. While many other pastors may wake up at 4:30am and shout, “This is the day that the Lord has made!”. I wake up and say “Is it morning already?” Sunday is the only day I set my alarm. Usually the kids wake me up at around 6am. Last Sunday, as I turned the alarm off on my cell phone I was greeted with a number of notifications on my cell phone that there was a shooting, and that there was 50 dead. As the day went on, I learned that the victims were people congregating at a night club that catered primarily to homosexual men, and that the killer was inspired by the evil vitriol from a group that calls themselves ISIS.
I know quite a few gay folks, and there are probably more LGBT folks that I know for whom I am unaware of their sexual orientation because not everyone puts who they are attracted to up on a billboard for everyone to read. I know fewer Muslim folks. I have spent the last several years in the Rockies and the Black Hills, where the Islamic faith has made few inroads.

My belief system leans toward the more conservative side of the Christian faith, at least for the denominations I represent. As I read Scripture, it says that the most biblical pattern for marriage is one man and one woman joining together for a lifetime of committed love. Having said that, I also believe that Scripture has a lot of things to say about God’s standards, and picking out one particular issue or group of people, labeling them, and then grouping them with a label such as “good people” or “bad people” is never helpful. My Bible says that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so I realize each person I know comes with challenges, quirks, sins, and strengths that are peculiar to them. If we are choosing to love our neighbor, and love our enemies, we should not lump them into categories. We should know them as people,

When I was a young assistant pastor, I had a man come to me for counseling. He had beat down the senior pastor’s door, and I think my boss was glad I could offer him some relief. I listened to him speak about his marriage and the problems in it. Many of the problems he labeled as demonically influenced, when to me it was clear he was using this as a way of not taking responsibility for his own actions. He described some scenes from a popular fiction book on the topic at the time. After trying to help him, rather unsuccessfully, I went to my supervisor. I labeled his theology by the book he read, saying I had a hard time with it. My supervisor corrected me forthrightly, “His beliefs (he named the person) are his beliefs. They are not beliefs of the title of the book.” I tried to protest, but he was right. I have not forgotten this lesson.

The shootings in Orlando continue to be used for all sorts of political and social agendas, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Some of this cannot be helped, because we are dealing with communities of people facing deadly violence. Maybe political action does need to be taken at some point in the future. 

Right now, though, it also helps to remember that each person involved is a person that God made and God loves. It helps to remember that acts of hate give us opportunity to be reminded to love one another as human beings.

God loves people in the LGBT community. So do I. I have former students in my youth group, friends, children of friends, and people I am related to who either experience same sex attraction, are in sexual relationships with persons of the same gender or both. And many of them are good people that I would trust to watch my kids or teach in our schools. I don’t think of them first as “gay”, I think of them first as Jenny or Jake or Gina. I think if shooters knew people’s names and stories they might be less likely to go on killing sprees, shooting nameless faces that fit a label. And, as I process through what happened, I think about specific people that if they lived in Orlando could have been in that club, and it breaks my heart that someone would want to hurt them because they disagree with one part of their life.

God also loves terrorists and Muslims. I don’t know a terrorist per se, but I do know kids and adults, some with profound mental health concerns, that I fear may hurt groups of people in violent outbursts. They don’t have the label “nut-job” or “potential shooter” to me. They have personal names as well. I seek to love them. I pray for them, their families, safety, I hope for them to get well.

I do know people with different religious beliefs and different national and ethnic backgrounds than myself. And I believe it is important to know those people for who they are, appreciate their gifts, and love them.

Get involved politically with issues brought up by the Orlando shooting if you must. But also, begin to respond to this terrible tragedy by also seeking to know a stranger, getting to know a neighbor, and loving those who are like you and are completely different than you as well. Perhaps if we knew each other more, and love each other more devotedly, it would be harder for these mass shootings to keep happening.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review of A Commentary on the Psalms: Volune 3 (90-150

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (90-150)
by Allen P. Ross
ISBN 978-0-8254-2666-7
Kregel Academic
Review by Clint Walker

I have just recently concluded a sermon series on the Book of the Psalms. It was rather surface level, but helpful for our congregation. Focusing on praying our emotions, we brought together the Psalms, emotional health, and the movie Inside Out. People enjoyed it quite a bit. I wished now that I had this commentary to further round out the depth of my knowledge of specific Psalms. Ross's commentary on the Psalms is nothing if not deep.

A Commentary on the Psalms begins each Psalm with a translation of the Psalm. The translation is rife with footnotes, often point out insights that are brought forward as the author compares the textual variants between the Hebrew translation (which are in the original language, but have later extant manuscripts), and the Greek translation of the Psalms (for which we have translations that are centuries closer to the time the text was written, but not in its original language). Ross's work here is thorough and well-done.

The next section in the study of each Psalm is explaining the literary, social, and historical context of each Psalm. There are times when this section can be especially enlightening.

After this, the Dr. Ross gathers an exegetical summary with an outline of how the specific Psalm is structured. This helps the reader get the big picture of the Psalm they are studying

Then, A Commentary on the Psalms moves forward with a traditional exposition of the text, taking each word seriously. This moves verse by verse, and sentence by sentence. Here Dr. Ross carefully teases out the essential details to know about what has been written.

Finally. the author includes some helpful hints for ministers and teachers seeking to both instruct about the Psalm, and teach people how to live the truth that each Psalm presents.

I recommend this book strongly for every pastor's library. It is really well done!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Preaching as Book Report

My mom and I occasionally talk about her experiences of churches. She has bounced around a lot in finding a church home since she became an empty nest parent. These days she is living in Phoenix, and attending a nationally known non-denominational mega church. It seems to work well for her and her boyfriend, who recently made a commitment to Christ followed by being baptized in this church.

Mom and Hal go to church on Saturday nights most of the time. Then they go out and socialize after church. I giggle when they say they show up late on purpose so they don't have to listen to the "rock concert" style of musical worship.

They really enjoy the messages of this nationally renowned preacher and leader. When they first began attending this church, the church was working through "The Story", which is a large-scale campaign based out of what used to be Max Lucado's church in Texas and a mainstream publisher. My mom's boyfriend especially enjoyed becoming grounded in the basics of the Bible's narrative arc.

A couple of months ago, mom told me about another sermon series that they were concluding. They were excited because the author of the book that the pastor was preaching on was attending their worship service. I asked, "Mom, does this guy basically preach book reports?" She laughed.

"I suppose," she said, "well, not always," she went on, "I really enjoy the way he speaks and what he has to say, I think you would too."

I have mixed feelings about book report sermons. I have done sermons, generally one or two short series' a year, based upon the content of a book. This is most common with our stewardship campaign. This year I also borrowed from a book for Advent. However, mostly when I do this, I just borrow a few chapter titles, and maybe one or two good stories from the book in a two week span.

Good reading informs preaching, but should not be the foundation of it. That is my opinion anyway. What is yours?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sympathy for the Pharisees

I lead two bible studies on Wednesday afternoon. The first place I lead Bible Study is at the Brookside Apartments. They are a part of the Hot Springs Housing Authority, and that organization receives funding to rent to tenants on a sliding scale based upon their income. The second place I teach at is at Pine Hills Retirement Community, which is a little less than two miles away, up on top of the hill overlooking the town. Pine Hills is privately owned, and provides independent living and assisted living apartments for seniors, as well as housing an Alzheimer's unit. They are both fun groups, although the Pine Hills group has been more exciting for me the last few months. Both groups are now in different stages of studying the gospel of John.

One of the unique characteristics I have noticed among my Pine Hills group is that as we have studied the gospel of John, they have developed a sympathy for the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day. They were at one time, leaders of the church and political leaders of the Ancient Israelites, who were at the time occupied by the Roman army. They were the Moral Majority leaders of their days, calling the people to a renewal of holiness in the private and public spheres.

This sympathy began to develop in John 6, where after feeding the 5000, when Jesus begins to engage in a series of confrontations with the Pharisees regarding Jesus' moral authority. Jesus says things like "I am the Bread from Heaven" (John 6:52) and later goes on to say, "before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). The ladies assure me that their faith is not in doubt, but also assert that if they had heard what the Pharisees had heard from some fellow claiming to be the Messiah, they would have had their reservations about believing in his claims as well.

This Wednesday we discussed John 9. In John 9, a man born blind is healed. The Pharisees are still threatened by Jesus, this time by his healing on the Sabbath, They are also concerned in making sense of what Jesus is doing. What are the implications of a healing of a man born blind? Does this demand our opposition of him, or our support of his ministry? It is a fascinating chapter in Scripture.

We discussed for a while why the Pharisees might be concerned about this fellow that was healed. I explained that the Pharisees had put a lot of time and effort in organizing and controlling the behavior of the Israelites, and that Jesus, both by his teaching and his miracles, was beginning to unravel that sense of forward direction and control of religious practices and authority.

Then it was time for me to confess my sympathy for the Pharisees.

I told them this story. "It is like this in a way, " I said, "there was this gentleman that visited our church on Easter...."

William was the name of our visitor. He had first visited our Bible Study that meets before church. Then, he made his way into the sanctuary. I was setting up on the platform before the service. William called to me. We spoke. It was about 20 minutes before the service started. He engaged me in an empassioned, franetic, and difficult to track conversation for about 10 minutes. He used to live here in town nearly 20 years ago he told me. He was up at the VA Hospital in Sturgis, and after running several tests on him, they sought to admit him to the psych ward. He refused to go. "I am just full of the Holy Spirit," he said jumping up and down, shaking, a bandage over his head, and wires attached to monitors on his body. "I am pastor of the Universal Church of (something), I am a shepherd of about 2 million souls."

I smiled and visited and attempted to disengage from the conversation several time. Eventually I got him comfortably seated, and then went to the back of the sanctuary. "Jerry, we have an adventure for you today," I said to our usher for the day, "there is a rather interesting fellow sitting up front that appears to mentally ill. I may need your help with him."

"What do you want me to do?," Jerry asked.

"I don't know. You guys will know how to handle the situation right if it comes to needing to ministering with him in other ways. Just wanted to give you a heads up."


My anxiety level was pretty high by the time the service started. We began with singing. No problem. We had a responsive call to worship. He began to shout out the "leader" portion after the leader, instead of reading the response in the responsive reading. All the while, I am at one time trying to lead with enthusiasm, but also saying to myself, "How am I going to manage this problem?"

I like to love people as unique people made by God, and brought into my life for a reason. This man was beginning to be a "problem to be managed." I don't like that attitude. But I wanted to have at least a few people return after their annual Easter visit. I had sympathy for the Pharisees.

Somehow, as he began to shout out his need for an apartment during announcements, I had to move along to the next song, and then sit down behind him, and tell him that I could introduce him to people in the rental business after the service. "Thank you. And ok, preacher, I will try and be quieter." I felt bad. But I was doing what I had to do.

Later in the service he threw bread at my object lesson with the children, among other things. I tried to be understand and tried to be open to how the Spirit was working among us with this curveball that had been sent our way. But I was not about to let go of control of the service. I had an event to manage, constituents to serve, a sermon to preach. Instead of leaving the 99 sheep for the one lost sheep, I had sympathy for the Pharisees. I did my religious duty, I managed the problem.

But that does not mean I don't wonder whether I did the wrong thing or the right one.....

New Beginnings: A little devotional YouTube I do for our church