Friday, December 09, 2016

The Apostles' Creed by Alister McGrath (Lifeguide Bible Study)

Image result for apostles' creed ivp connect

The Apostles' Creed 
by Alister McGrath
IVP Connect
ISBN 978-0-8308-1095-6
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Even though I do not belong to a creedal denomination, I have often turned to the creeds and confessions for teaching and guidance in understanding and articulating the Christian faith. This gives a good cursory overview of some of the Apostle's Creed, but there seems to be some content missing. This study should have been eight chapters, not six. Thus, it is with some measure of disappointment, then, that I don't have more encouragement to offer in regard to the offering from IVP Connect regarding the Apostles' Creed.

There are a few things to commend about this small bible study guide. First, McGrath does a great job at transitioning the truth of the Scripture that is found in the creed to clear application in his readers life. Nobody will do this Bible study and walk away saying that they simply went through an intellectual exercise.

My concern about this is McGrath fails to engage two central concerns of the Creed thoroughly enough. First of all, sufficient attention is not given to the Holy Spirit, in my opinion. Secondly, little attention is given to the statement I find most difficult to justify in Scripture--namely the descent of Christ into hell.

Book Review of Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel
by Ray Ortlund
ISBN 978-1-4335-4687-7
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a sweet, smart, hard-hitting book that surveys both the metaphor and the practice of marriage in the times of Scripture, and what it means for us as married Christians today. In the process of this book, Ortlund shows just how much is at stake in healthy, faithful marriages, and how God can use the healthy, faithful marriage to teach about the Biblical picture of who God is, as well as an awesome witness to the world. Brief and well-referenced, I recommend this book highly.

Book Review of Modern Orthodox Thinkers

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Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present
by Andrew Louth
IVP Academic
ISBN 978-0-8308-5121-8
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Every couple of years I go down to Kansas for a ministry/spiritual formation conference. At this conference, I also visit the Eighth Day Bookstore. It is run by an ecumenically minded orthodox fellow. This year I picked up some art work while I was there as well. More and more, as technology makes our world smaller, we are encountering people of other religious traditions. This is not only true among those in interfaith circles, it is is true as different strains of the Christian family encounter one another and interact more frequently.

In Modern Orthodox Thinkers Andrew Louth seeks to help those unfamiliar with the Orthodox tradition understand contemporary practices of Orthodox Christians worldwide. This book is heady stuff. It will require slow, deliberate, thoughtful reading. However, the goal of Louth seems to not only make us aware of modern Orthodox thought, but the thinkers of the last century or two in that tradition. Thus, each chapter tackles the contribution of a different person, and many of those chapters have pictures or illustrations of the theologian mentioned. I like this approach.

More and more, Christian teachers and ministers, and especially those interested in spiritual formation, are going to need to become more familiar with Orthodox practices and theology. This book would be a good start for thinking Christians to make a good start in that direction of ecumenical understanding.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Roller Coaster Ride of Leaving a Church

One day last week Jennifer and I finished participating in a church activity. It was very rewarding. We felt connected with the people that attended the church event, saw growth in our church's ministry, and enjoyed our time with our congregation's people. We got in the car, looked at each other, and Jennifer said, "Kinda makes you want to stay here, doesn't it?" I got mad at her. She is not supposed to say things like that. Especially when it strikes a chord in our hearts.

A few days later, things were a little different. A church bully was making things difficult. Some programs were poorly attended. A staff member talked about submitting their resignation. Other people were acting up and sharing their drama with everyone around them. I wondered if I had ever gotten anywhere here, or ever had the potential to do so. I thought, am I going to be able to make it here for another two months?

Everything is magnified as you leave a church. All of your successes and bonds are there for you to see. All of things that bothered you in your tenure seem to be amplified. Much like what I believe happens at the end of life happens in the church. You work though all of the issues of your tenure in the last bit of time you are there, slowly having to confront unresolved anger, and to savor hard fought for friendships and victories as well.

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Romans 9-16--New Testament Volume VIII

Romans 9-16: Reformation Commentary on Scripture [RCS]  -     By: Philip D.W. Krey, Peter D.S. Krey

Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Romans 9-16
New Testament Volume VIII
ed. by Phillip D.W. Krey and Peter D. S. Krey
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

One of my favorite things that IVP has done with commentaries is when they bring together anthologies of original sources from certain eras to show how people interpreted different sections of Scripture. Intervarsity started with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and has continued with the Reformation Commentary on Scripture from which this volume comes.

Perhaps with Galatians, no portion of New Testament literature is so central to the Reformation than Romans. For this reason I am overjoyed to get this commentary on the second half of Paul's letter to the Roman church.

There is much to commend about this volume. All of my favorite and renown reformers share their insights side by side. John Calvin, Erasmus, Luther, Simons, and Melanchthon are all given room to speak. So are lesser known theologians, including some Catholic thinkers at the time of the Reformation. And, since this is a commentary on the second half of Romans, we have commentary that speaks not only to theology, but speaks to the issues that the Apostle Paul speaks to about life in the church from chapters 12-16 of the Epistle to the Romans.

For me, this commentary is a must have on every pastor's shelf that wants to preach and teach with a perspective that is grounded in the historic Christian faith, especially as one understands that from a Protestant perspective.

Book Review of Saving Calvinism by Oliver D. Crisp

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Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition
by Oliver D. Crisp
ISBN 978-0-8308-5175-1
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Calvinism, like many other "isms" has become co-opted by many of its proponents for many things that were never intended (especially by Calvin), and disparaged by its despisers for everything they dislike about Christians with Biblical conviction.

Crisp, in a very readable and engaging style, seeks to communicate about the Reformed tradition in way that gives people room for multiple viewpoints within the tradition, while at the same time having enough clarity about Reformed identity to have that term actually mean something.

Crisp argues that Calvinism, and indeed the Reformed tradition, is broader than what many people think. While explaining the TULIP acronym, he argues that theology done in the tradition of Calvin and his like minded Reformers in broader than this. He argues that congregational churches that co-opted the term Calvinism to embrace something akin to the TULIP theology of salvation, but that all of true Reformed theology needs to be embedded in 1/ a theology based upon the creeds and confessions AND 2/ an ecclesiology that is either episcopal or presbyterian in nature.

Crisp engages a number of hot button issues in Calvinist theology, some that are brought to the forefront from more liberal proponents of the Reformed tradition (universalism), and others that are brought up more forcefully in more traditional circles (free will v. predestination). In all of these matters, Crisp is engaging and thoughtful.

I don't agree with everything about Crisp's analysis, or his theological proposals, but I do think this book deserves a careful read by many, especially those who find themselves in Reformed traditions or who might label themselves in some way "Calvinist".

Monday, December 05, 2016

What the last three presidential elections have in common

In 2008, President Obama's election was touted as a triumph of liberal ideas and policies, as well as progressive institutions and the progressive movement. In 2016, the election of Donald Trump was touted as coming about through Donald Trump's ability to connect with the white working class that was disaffected with the status quo, and a victory for conservatives institutions and the conservative movement. I have come to the conclusion that neither model is truthful.

Instead, what the last three presidential elections have demonstrated is that people are repudiating the institutional powers that be and their methods altogether, and embracing something that feels different in the hope that what is different will be better than the brokenness that we are experiencing now.

Perhaps elections are less logical than we think.

First Sunday of Advent: A Letter to Zecheriah as he asks "How Will I Know?"

Over the years, I have transitioned from preaching from a manuscript to an outline. This Advent, though, I have transitioned back to a manuscript due to the nature of the sermon (writing letters to someone requires a bit more written out). As always, my manuscript is without the editorial shortcuts I made as I was delivering the message, and thus is a little rough. But I thought some of you might want to read this.


Advent in the Christian year is a season of anticipation. A season of waiting. A season of longing if you will.

We tend to forget Advent and run straight to Christmas. Christmas songs. Christmas bells. Christmas feasts for the whole month of December. Which is sad, because I have come to believe that the waiting and anticipation makes the season of twelve days that we call Christmas all the sweeter. Advent acknowledges our doubts, our questions, our need for a Savior. Christmas brings that Savior into our presence.

This year as I was preparing for this month’s series of messages, I encountered two resources that influenced this Advent’s messages. The first resource, as you will see on the cover of your bulletin is this book “The Five Questions of Advent”. I have always been intrigued, as you have heard before, by the questions in the songs of Advent and Christmas. “Mary did you Know?”, “What Child Is This?” among others. And then there is the beautiful and haunting, “I Wonder As I Wander”. I am intrigued because these hymns and songs call us into the mystery of the Advent season.

This theme draws us into the mystery of Advent from the questions of the people around the Advent stories that are recorded in Scripture.

          Zecheriah asks, “How will I know?”

          Mary asks, “How can this be?”

          Elizabeth asks “Why has this happened to me?”

          The crowd asks of John the Baptist, “What will this child become?”

          The Magi ask “Where is the Child?”

 The second half of the inspiration comes from Gregg Hemmen, the pastor of First Baptist at Rapid City. While we were at a meeting together, he had the devotion, and he shared that one of the things that his seminary professor told him is that he could do a lot worse than writing a letter back to a character in Scripture if he could not think of anything else to do.

So, I began to think, what would it look like to write a letter to the people in Advent story, a letter that shares my response to the questions they had. And so, here we go….this is my plan for today, and in fact for all of Advent.

Dear Zechariah,

I read about you in my Bible the other day. And I have to admit, when I read the story of you in the Holy of Holies, my first thought it relief. Does that sound selfish? I thought so. It is what it is.

You see, you are a priest and I am a preacher. Our roles are similar and different. One of the ways that we are similar is that you and I we are put in a place by virtue of our position in the church and the community where we are expected to have things a little bit together, ya know? We are not supposed to have doubts and struggles. Yet we do. We are people on a journey, just like the people God has called us to lead.

What I read from the Bible is this. That you were a priest. That your wife had never had kids. That she had entered menopause. That you had given up hope of having children at that point. You had committed yourself to the ministry, and then you were selected to go into the holy of holies, the sacred place in the middle of the temple that only certain people were allowed to go at certain times. And as you offered prayer and incense, an angel named Gabriel appeared to you. He told you that you were going to have a kid in your old age.

That must have hit you like a ton of bricks. You see, I think at some point you had stopped trying to make any sort of pregnancy happen and just moved to a place of acceptance—you were never going to have kids. You got to a point where you gave up on praying for children, gave up on hoping for children, and then you got older and it just seemed impossible. It may have been the one thing you wanted the world, but you were not going to allow yourself to get yourself hopeful about ever having a kid.

And when this angel says you are going to have a son, well, I think it opened up this big wound you have been running from for quite a while.

Did you have the strength to dare believe again? Did you have the courage to take what the angel said at face value?

The Scripture says you said, “How will I know?”

“How will I know?”

Well, the angel did not take that very well. He was still faithful to God’s promise, allowing you to become a father, but he stuck you without the ability to speak until after your son John was born.

Gabriel was mad. He said you did not believe he was able to do such a thing.

I think maybe your “How will I know?” sounded like “Hey Gabriel, prove it!” to him.

I mean, really, its not every day that you go to church, offer prayers for the people, and then have an angel appear to you, telling you that your menopausal wife is going to be pregnant when she had be barren, and that your child is going to pave the way for the Messiah that is coming.

If I were you, I might have expressed some doubt too. That is what it sounds like Gabriel took away from your question. “How can I know that I can trust you, messenger of God?” He heard doubt.

It is hard to trust. To trust blindly. To not want more and then more confirmation that God is really leading you, that you should really trust this “hunch of faith” that you have been given. But….I have not had an angel come to speak to me in the middle of work like you did.

I mean, it might be easy to have faith in some sense—depending what you mean by faith. To believe in a certain sense of truths. To practice a certain set of spiritual disciplines. But it is hard to trust. To base our life upon what you believe God has told you, and to allow your whole life to take a different course.

Hebrews 11 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see”. Easier said than done.

And so God thrust you into a position where you had to trust in him and depend on him more. You were not able to speak. Not able to speak for almost a year. As a religious worker. I am a pastor. I don’t know what I would do if I was in your shoes.

As I read the Scripture, I am so thankful for your doubts. I am thankful because I have doubts at times too. I mean, it is one thing to accept the gifts we have been given when they are right in front of us. It is another thing to be asked to trust in something that is in the future, that you cannot really manage or control. To trust about a situation that you thought you had given up on years ago.

I get it.

Zechariah, I struggle to trust at times too. I am impatient. I want God to give me a sign. And then another. And then another. There are times where I think I am trusting God and listening to God, and then I wonder if I am really hearing right, you know?

But perhaps the hardest part about living by faith—trusting—is what we are supposed to practice in the season called Advent. The same season we often read your story in the Christian community. It is hard to live by trusting when we are  in the waiting stage. You waited late in life for your child. Then, after your wife became pregnant, I bet those 10 months went by so slow.

And your nation, waiting for centuries for a new word from the Lord. Waiting for a deliverer. Waiting for a Messiah. I know when you went into the Holy of Holies, you were praying for a deliverer for your people. Little did you know that the angel would bring you into the center of the story of what God was doing.

We wait in faith today too. And we struggle to understand. We want more clarity and more answers.

We pray for those we love. We pray that they will come to faith or return to faith. We pray and we pray, and we trust.

We long for and work for justice in our world and compassion for those in need. We work for justice for the unborn. We strive for more inclusiveness and acceptance for those on the fringes of society. We seek to feed the hungry and help the needy. And we pray that the help we offer will make a difference. That we will see that it somehow matters. And we wait and we trust. We pray “thy kingdom come”

We work hard just to get by. We pray we get a break, and yet it seems like it is one step forward and two steps back. And we wait and trust. We pray to be sustained. We pray for our daily bread, as Jesus, the Messiah taught us to.

We seek to do the right thing. But the right thing sometimes in the short term seems to get the wrong results. We remain faithful. We wait and trust. We pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We struggle with our personal battles. We ask God to help us to overcome our sinful habits. Too lead us away from paths that will destroy our churches, our families, our lives. We pray for God to lead us out of temptation and deliver us from evil

Do we come to God with our doubts and concerns and questions. Yes. But we also have faith that God can do the impossible, make a way out of no way, grow the seed into a plant into a tree that bears fruit. But we must wait in trust, and we must trust with our minds, our actions, and all of our hearts. Knowing that some promises are slow to come, but that God is always faithful. And he at work bringing all things together for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Second Sunday of Advent: A Letter to Mary about her question, "How can this be?"

For Advent, I am preaching from a manuscript. As is often the case with manuscripts, the finished product is different than delivery than on paper. For me, that means that it was shortened up, a few repetitive things were removed, and a few paragraphs were repositioned. One or two were not spoken. This manuscript is rough, but it works. Happy reading.


Advent in the Christian year is a season of anticipation. A season of waiting. A season of longing if you will.

We tend to forget Advent and run straight to Christmas. Christmas songs. Christmas bells. Christmas feasts for the whole month of December. Which is sad, because I have come to believe that the waiting and anticipation makes the season of twelve days that we call Christmas all the sweeter. Advent acknowledges our doubts, our questions, our need for a Savior. Christmas brings that Savior into our presence.

This year as I was preparing for this month’s series of messages, I encountered two resources that influenced this Advent’s messages. The first resource, as you will see on the cover of your bulletin is this book “The Five Questions of Advent”. I have always been intrigued, as you have heard before, by the questions in the songs of Advent and Christmas. The blues note, if you will, of Advent season, comes out with the questions. How does one deal with understanding God’s will when his deliverance seems slow in coming, or when it doesn’t come to us neatly wrapped, easily accepted, and quickly opened, like a gift under the tree.

This theme draws us into the mystery of Advent from the questions of the people around the Advent stories that are recorded in Scripture.

          Zecheriah asks, “How will I know?”

          Mary asks, “How can this be?”

          Elizabeth asks “Why has this happened to me?”

          The crowd asks of John the Baptist, “What will this child become?”

          The Magi ask “Where is the Child?”

 The second half of the inspiration comes from Gregg Hemmen, the pastor of First Baptist at Rapid City. While we were at a meeting together, he had the devotion, and he shared that one of the things that his seminary professor told him is that he could do a lot worse than writing a letter back to a character in Scripture if he could not think of anything else to do.

So, today I write a letter to Mary. About when she had an angelic visitor like Zecherariah last week. A visitor she had questions for as well.

Dear Mary,

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in your position. I am a man from a wealthy country that in many ways has fairly loose moral standards. You are a young lady in a nation with strict rules about behavior and sexuality. Rules that you lived by. Trying to be a good girl. Trying to do the right thing.

Scripture doesn’t record your age, but we are pretty sure you are a teenager. A young woman who has just proven herself capable of having children, and who is therefore engaged to the hard-working construction man Joseph.

The Bible says You lived in Nazareth, and Scripture does not record that you have any desire of getting out of your small little town that had a population about the size of Edgemont as best, nestled in a valley that would be about the length of the freedom trail here in Hot Springs.

Somehow you got some time by yourself, and as you did, the Bible says that you had an angel visit you. He told you not to fear. Then he told you that you were “favored”. The Scripture says that you were “troubled” with this greeting. For a while I wondered, why would you be anxious about someone saying you were “favored”. Then I remembered how people talk to me when they want me to do something.

“Hey there! I have an opportunity for you!”

“Good morning Rev. Walker. Do I have some good news for you!” (actually anytime someone calls me “reverend” I get a little uncomfortable).

Yeah, that kind of thing makes me troubled and wondering what kind of greeting it is too.

Then the angel says that you are going to be pregnant. And, because you are going to be pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God, the one whose kingdom is never going to end.

The Scripture says you kind of got stuck on the first part of the message. And I do not blame you.

You were like, “How can this be, because I am a virgin?”

Yeah, I am sure you heard all the other stuff, but it sounds like you were like. Hey there! Hold on a second. Go back to the beginning of that little speech you made Gabe. I know kids don’t come to the house from the stork delivering them. I know you don’t get pregnant by kissing. I know you have to have sex to have children. And, I have never had sex. How can I have a kid?

This statement, “How can this be?” is intriguing to me.

I mean, I know you, it is a statement seeking to understand something that defies the laws of nature in relationship to human reproduction. I get that.

But there is something else that is going on here. It is like, “How can this be?” in a sense of “How the heck can this happen and how am I going to deal with all of this?”

I can hear it now. I can hear a teenage girl saying something like?

I am going to be pregnant? How in the heck am I going to tell my parents. I mean, I might be able to wear a extra loose robe for a couple of months, but sooner or later they are going to find out. How can this be that I am pregnant?

I am going to be pregnant? How can this be? I am going to be married to a fellow named Joseph here pretty soon. He is going to figure out that the kid is not his, ya know? How can this be?

None of my friends are going to believe that I am pregnant and still a virgin. They are going to be “yeah, right!”

Mary, I know if my girls came home 10 years from now and says “I’m pregnant! It’s a miracle! Just like Mary, God did it again!” I would not believe them.

I think you rightly understood that this virginal conception was going to change your life.

Your life would never be the same.

You would go to your relative Elizabeth’s home. God would speak to Joseph, and you would head to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. You would go to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill Jesus. You would return to Nazareth years later to raise Jesus. You would endure a lifetime of whispers and gasps.

You would have this divine redeemer growing inside you. You would have shepherds and wise men from far away countries seek your young child out. Prophets and prophetesses would say that seeing your son Jesus would make your life complete, and tell you they could die having seen the Lord’s deliverer.

You asked, “How can this be?”

The angel described the method from which you would become pregnant. In vitro from the Holy Spirit so to speak. A miraculous conception from God, not from the normal joining of male and female.

He described the destiny of this little miracle. He was the Messiah. Son of God. God in the flesh.

Your response was perfect. “I am your servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”

And so God’s plan of salvation was placed in the hands, or actually the womb, of a teenage girl.

“How can this be?,” you asked.

God’s plans are not our plans. That is for sure.

Even though today we have television shows about Teen Moms, in your time an unmarried teenage woman was simply a tragedy to most. It would shame you and your family. It would cost you a marriage. It could ruin your life.

But you allowed God to work through a situation just like this to bring what others might think was tragedy and turn it into triumph. You were willing to go the hard road in order to be faithful. You were willing to wait and suffer in order that the whole world might experience the joy of knowing the Savior of the world.

You teach us to trust you through what we don’t understand and can’t explain. Your example teaches us that if we are willing to tenaciously trust through the most vulnerable of circumstances, and to be willing to give our hopes, dreams and expectations to you through obedience and faithfulness, then we may not experience an easy life, but we will have a life of beauty and grace blessed and used by God to do amazing things.

You were willing to give up your whole life’s plan in order to be enfolded in God’s Work of bringing deliverance to earth in the person of Jesus. I need to be willing to give up my dreams, hopes, and plans to be faithful to him too.

Then I like you, may begin by saying “How can it be?” Wondering how God can work through such difficult circumstances. And in the end I will again cry “How can it be?”, in awe of how God weaved me into his plans not only to bless me, but to bless my family, community, nation and world through what you have done in me.


Friday, December 02, 2016

Pastoral Transition: The New House

Some of my friends have asked what the home is like that we will be moving to.

We are moving into another parsonage. Parsonages always have their ups and downs. This one has been recently updated, so as you will see it looks pretty classy. It is a brick ranch and sits on the other side of the parking lot from the church. Having not done any significant updates in several years, the people of the church decided to update several of the features of their 50s era parsonage. Here are a few images.

The front of the parsonage:

The front living room

The kitchen

The back sitting room

The hallway

Three bedrooms all look similar--hardwood and about 10x12

The main bathroom

The house also has a two car garage, another 3/4 bath, and a fenced back yard.

So, there you have it. The home we are moving into in a couple of months.

On Being a Good Break-Up or a Bad Break-Up Pastor

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Some more thoughts on pastoral transition away from a congregation. There will also be others about moving to a church as well....don't worry!

There is a danger in comparing the pastor/parish relationship to a romantic relationship. There are in fact, many disturbing ways that a pastoral relationship can go off the rails with this metaphor. However, at times, this metaphor can be helpful in describing how people behave in churches and as pastors. Two of those times are during pastoral recruitment (courting, proposing, the honeymoon period as you begin a church) and during pastoral departure (dissolving of relationship). Today I want to talk about the dissolution of pastoral relationships, and how persons and churches can be "good break-up" churches and "bad break-up" churches, "good break-up" pastors and bad break-up" pastors.

I think we all know people who are good folks, but bad break-up people. You know how it is. They get into a relationship with a significant other. The relationship goes well. But then, it is time to end the relationship. And, when it is the time to end the relationship, they cannot help but going nuclear. They can't just leave the person, they must destroy them in the process. They can't come to the point after three weeks of dating where they decide they are not right for each other, they also have to get angry or rude in the process.

I have friends who are good pastors, but they are bad break-up pastors. They love people. They grow churches. They make a difference. Then they decide to leave. When they leave, they decide to let everything hang out. Those conversations where they might have held back before, they now just let loose in. They make a point to make the church feel bad for their part in the dissolution of the relationship. They tell people they have tolerated during their tenure how they "really feel". Their departure causes divisions. This is often true when the dissolution is exclusively the pastor's decision, because many pastors, one way or another, believe that they were pushed into making a transition due to circumstances in the present congregation which made it difficult to live in, or be effective in ministry.

Another type of bad break-up pastor is the one that is not willing to walk through the transition phase with the church in a way that equips them for what is ahead. They focus on the relationships, but they don't do the necessary behind the scenes work or challenge the church to ask the necessary questions to effectively face the change that is ahead. They want to leave popular and happy, and they do not want to equip the congregation for life without them. They leave, and they take stuff with them. The church sputters in their absence because of this bad break-up.

Then there is the type of bad break-up where the pastor who leaves, but never really lets go. They don't want to pastor the church anymore, but they want all the attention and accolades that come from being a beloved pastor. These pastors want to do funerals of prominent members, but not board meetings. They run to beat their successor to the hospital for hospital visits. They talk freely with former members about how things were when they attended, and how they did things, and they question the policies and preaching of their successor. They want to be seen as the current pastor without doing any of the pastoral work.

This is very hard for the pastors that follow. I remember a pastor that constantly had to fend off a pastor from funerals and hospital visits within her congregation. He had connections with the hospital and the funeral home. For the first 3-4 years, he was always the first to know anything, and the former pastor used his history with the church as a bludgeon to punish my friend with for being pastor instead of him.

This kind of bad break-up pastor is like the boyfriend that breaks up with a gal, but then keeps stalking her and harassing anyone she dates next. They don't want to be committed as pastor, but they can't handle seeing anyone else in their place either.

I don't want to be a bad break-up pastor, but there are moments where it is a temptation. And, nobody is perfect in this regard. This is because both a pastor and a congregation are grieving during a pastoral transition, and it is easy as hurt people to lash out and hurt people.

I think most of my career I have done a good job during pastoral transition as being a good break-up pastor. This is how I do it, and am striving to continue to do so:
  •  I share stories and encourage others to share stories that celebrate what we have accomplished together--trying to articulate a beginning, middle, and healthy end to the ministry narrative. I seek to not use the attention I get during the transition to grind axes about things that I was not listened to about while I was committed to being the church's pastor. I try to not wear my hurt on my sleeve--and even in the best transitions in the best pastor/parish relationships, there is hurt.
  • I try to establish healthy boundaries for the future in my relationship with the church that will allow for healthy positive regard and a few meaningful friendships, while severing professional and pastoral ties. I don't always do that right, but overall I think the churches I serve and I have done things well.
  • I use my transitional time to equip the congregation for change. I help them know who to contact, how to find stuff. I give them permission to take leadership. I advise them on some of the challenges they are going to face. I help them to find people to fill important roles after my transition. This was particularly effective leaving Montana, where I was able to continue to equip my youth ministry team to carry on in my absence.
What kinds of things have you noticed about this process. What do you find most and least helpful?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Everyone has their reasons...

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I just resigned from the congregation I serve, in view of a call to another congregation. People's attitudes and responses about our announcement, as you may gather, have run the gamut. Many are sad, but understanding of our sense of call to another church. Some are hurt, while trying to be happy for us.  Others are rather ambivalent. A few are quietly looking forward to having a new pastor that will "fit" them better. Most, however, are just in the process of "processing". They are trying to figure everything out.

Out of all the churches I have served, I think this church is probably the most surprised that we are leaving. Part of this has to do with their pattern of pastoral leadership. United Churches has had a history of long pastorates (although the Baptist pastors have had shorter run here generally). My pastoral tenure was more average in length. This "surprise factor" has left people more active in their conversations with me trying to make sense of our departure from their perspective.

I have had several conversations where people have asked me pointed questions, some to confirm their theories, and others to simply to get a deeper understanding. Some of our old folks are concerned that other church have been attacking us, and quietly running us out of the church.  Others say that the church's willingness to not move forward and grow is what is causing us to leave. Some believe that we just want to go "home" to our own denomination, and feel the sense of connection and family that we have in denominational life that we might not experience in a federated church. Some people assume we are simply "leveling-up" to a church with better pay, prestige, and influence. I generally have vague responses about sensing God's leading, and needing to follow that sense as the reason we went. This satisfies some, but many continue to probe and question. This makes sense. People are grieving.

What intrigues me is that each person dealing with this issue has to come to their own rationalization about why this is happening. Some ask for more answers. But many, and I don't mean this harshly, choose to put the words in our mouth whether we accept them or not. They, in their processing, have to make their own meaning out of the pastoral transition. They have a hard time just accepting the change. Or grieving the change with sadness or anger. They have to begin by rationalizing why I have resigned. Everyone has their reasons. A lot of times, one persons rationalization is a lot different from another person's ideas.

I think part of the rationalization phase of dealing with pastoral transition is necessary. When something changes, people want to make sense of that change.

I think the Baptist transition structure forces this kind of thinking more as well. In a Methodist system, a congregation and a pastor (ideally) begin to communicate about when they think a transition is appropriate, and nobody is taken by surprise. In Baptist life, because of the tenuousness of a pastoral call being extended or accepted, conversations are rarely had with leadership within the church.

And, part of the challenge of with our sense of call in moving somewhere else is that I don't really have all the answers that I can put into words for people either. For me, it is sensing where God is leading me, where the kingdom can use my gifts and abilities best, and what is good for my family. And while many of the "rationales" that people come up contain some truth, there are also other issues that are involved, and some reasons for leaving have nothing to do with a failing here or a asset there but other ways in which we have sensed God speaking to us.

So then, readers and friends, what are your experiences in pastoral transitions? How have you made sense of a person leaving to a new ministry? How have you navigated this transition as a pastor or leader yourself. I would love to hear your comments.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review of Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures by John Goldingay

Front Cover

Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures
by John Goldingay
ISBN 978-0-8308-515-9
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

As a pastor who strives to be, at some level, an armchair pastor-theologian, I love this book. Biblical Theology has both scholarly rigor and accessibility to thinking Christian persons who are not necessarily theologically trained.

With many books that I read, I skip over the introduction. With this book, reading the introduction is a must. It carefully explains the author's intent and goals with the whole book, and in doing so is essential in understanding why Goldingay does what he does. He is not seeking to do a systematic theology, through which we draw out specific Scriptures to fit theological categories. Instead, he is seeking to draw out the main themes about God and humanity from the Scriptures themselves, allowing different strands with different emphasis to stand next to one another instead of conflating them into a systematic belief system. Thoroughly grounded in Scripture as story, Goldingay shows how different strands of thought weave together to describe God's story in relationship to us.

As you read through the chapters in this theology, you will see that the focus is on the personhood and action of God. This is not a theological anthropology. It is a book designed to paint a lengthy, thoughtful, and beautiful word picture of the God of the Scripture, a God that Goldingay clearly knows and loves himself.

I recommend this book for folks that like to think, to read deeply, and to know God more intimately. It may be challenging reading for some, but it will be rewarding reading for all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

From the The Manhood of the Master by Henry Emerson Fosdick

Our own experience suggests that power is always accompanied by the power to misuse it, and that the greater the power, the more self-restraint it requires to use it aright. Great temptations keep company with great powers. The little man fighting his little battles fighting little battles wishes he were the great man so that the more easily he might overcome them.....

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Kids and breakfast

The other day when I was in Martin, SD for a memorial, a small group of old man had gathered around the graveside. While the rest of the family was elsewhere, the old locals were gathered under the tent beside the body. They were locals. They talked about many things. They speculated on who was going to die next. They spoke about which nursing homes in Western South Dakota was the best. And then they got in an intense conversation about cereal. 

Apparently the cereal industry is struggling. People have been told by cereal companies not to grow cereal related products. Why? Because less and less kids are fed cereal for breakfast. Then I thought, you know that makes sense. We never do cereal for breakfast. I'm sure a it if people still do cereal, but I bet there are also lots of folks like us that go for other breakfast foods. We almost always do sausage. Then some sort of bread and grain.

What about you? How do you do breakfast for your kids? Does it include breakfast cereal?

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What should a Baptist preacher wear on Sundays.....(even one in a ecumenical church)

So, every once in a while I give some thought to what is appropriate for a pastor to wear on Sunday mornings for worship. Each choice has their drawbacks, and each choice has something to offer. I have used most of these wardrobe options at one point or another. Let us examine the options:

The suit/tie (and for females perhaps the pantsuit or classy dress)--
Wearing a suit and a tie shows that you, as a pastor, are a serious professional. It is the wardrobe of commerce, business, and politics. The wearing of a suit communicates that you, the pastor, care about your appearance, and thus care about enough about your congregation and the Lord to come to worship looking like you could sell stocks, or at least be a good car salesman.

The tie and no suit (for females the skirt/blouse combo)--
This is for the person who wants to dress like they are going to a semi-formal dance in high school instead of going to a job interview. This is also the choice for you if you want to look classy, but perhaps think the shiny suits should be left for televangelists. With this wardrobe you look at best like a school teacher, or at worst a new employee at Enterprise car rental. Variations on this look include the khaki/white shirt/tie combo, the sweatervest/slacks/tie combo, or the dress shirt/sportcoat/jeans combo.

The robe
I spent my first several years in ministry without owning a robe. Then I moved to a high rent downtown congregation who generously bought a robe for me the first week. For the leadership of the congregation, it was a way of placing a giant curtain over the gargantuan human that was behind the robe. The thought went, "Our associate pastor is fat, but if we just throw a big robe on him people wont see his fat nearly as much when he is in the pulpit."

 And, it was a less expensive alternative than buying a suit that costs a months wages than more upwardly mobile persons in the congregation insisted I wear on Sundays (I now regret not spending the church's money on those high rent suits they insisted I have in order to effectively minister to our community).

Depending on the robe, a robe either communicates academic accomplishment, ascetic discipline, or legal authority (judges wear black robes). I have a reformation robe, which probably communicates the latter.

There are several advantages of wearing a robe. It does have a certain "leveling" effect, at least in less high rent circles, for the pastor. It allows a certain ease in wardrobe. There is a certain uniformity to it. That is until one decides to "level up" with fancier stoles and such.

I like that the robe communicates a more ministerial uniform--that it is not just borrowing from contemporary professional standards. But, I do think that if you put a pastor on a platform, behind a pulpit, with a robe you erect a number of barriers between the pastor and the congregation that can make intimate, meaningful connection more difficult.

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The "collar" (can be accessorized with a large cross)
At first the black shirt with the white collar poking through in the middle, share and stiff like a Hitler mustache around one's neck, I thought was primarily for Episcopalians, Catholics, and a few Lutherans. More and more though, I see this outfit worn by folks of all stripes.

The advantages for you in wearing such a shirt are numerous. The first advantage is that you don't have to think about it or plan your wardrobe too much. It can also easily identify you by your role, much like a doctor wearing a white coat. Black can be a slimming color. The history of the outfit is also inspiring, as the collar was supposed to represent your belonging to Christ as his slave or bondservant.

I have never tried this outfit, though I have to say it is primarily for practical reasons. I don't tuck in my shirts unless I am wearing a suit. I don't like any collar too close to my neck, even turtleneck sweatshirts.

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The hipster

This outfit has variations across generations, cultures, and settings. For instance, for the more youthful crowd, this may include skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. For Rick Warren, it meant wearing Hawaiian shirts for years (I have done this one). Often it is purposefully dressed down, but it dressed down with a purpose; namely to identify with a certain group of people.

When you dress as the "hipster", you are communicating that you want to identify with a generation or crowd you are trying to reach (other young hipsters, or other people who would rather be at the beach). You are often, by "dressing down", trying to connect with folks.

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So, those are the primary options I see among pastors I know. I am sure there is more, but they are not coming to mind immediately. So, my question to you is, what do you think is most appropriate for a pastor on worship days, and why?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Review of The Earliest Christologies by James L. Papandrea

The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age

The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of God in the Postapostolic Age
James L. Papandrea
ISBN 978-0-8308-5127-0
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

The Earliest Christologies is a fascinating little book about the way different people at different times viewed Jesus in the early church. Four of the five Christologies came to be understood, for one reason or another, as heretical. What Papandrea calls "Logos Christianity" is what survived as the standard for Biblically-grounded, faithful Christian teaching.

What is unique about this book is that instead of simply explaining what gnostics and adoptionists believed, and why they went wrong, Papandrea uses the imagery in the language and life of the early church to paint a picture of who each group believed Christ to be, why the image may be attractive, and where heretical language and imagery for God falls short.

This is a book from IVPs academic line, and it would certainly be helpful in a church history class. Many of our more well-read lay people in the church may enjoy an in-depth theological discussion on this snippet of historical theology as well though. I certainly did.

Book Review of Slow Church Study Guide by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison

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Slow Church Study Guide: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
ISBN 978-0-8308-4130-1
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I recently reviewed Slow Church. The book is a tour de force on how the pace of our culture and the consumer-orientation of American society have been uncritically adopted by the church, and how churches can free themselves from that cultural captivity. Slow Church Study Guide is a helpful guide for small groups to go deeper into the message that C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison call for in their book.

I love the way this study guide is organized. The author's spend the introduction explaining the purpose of each section, and the designed pace of the study of the book. Then each chapter has a reading or poem to introduce the topic. This is followed by a meditation on Scripture, designed to be read through the practice of "Lectio Divina", then there are several conversation starters, which are questions and quotes designed to provoke Christ-centered dialogue. Each section ends with a closing thought. For an extra, as well as a leader prep, video references are included.

Grab this study guide and its accompanying book if you want to grow in your understanding of what church is, and how you can be faithful in Christian community.


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