Monday, February 28, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: The Closer

Between August 28th, 2002 and July 5th, 2004, Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers was chosen by his manager Jim Tracy to close 84 baseball games. [The technical definition of as save can be found here.] In 84 consecutive save opportunities, Eric Gagne recorded the save. The Los Angeles Dodgers had other players on the team, including Kevin Brown and Kaz Iishi, both all star pitchers in 2002, who Manager Tracy could have asked to pitch the last inning. However, every time the Dodgers were leading in the final inning, Tracy called on his specialist, Eric Gagne, to close the game.

Last week I asked my readers to imagine what would happen if a football coach told every player on his team to pass the ball or what would happen if a baseball manager made every player on his team defend the mound. Now, imagine today what would happen if Joe Torre and the New York Yankees didn’t have Mariano Rivera to pitch the final inning of so many games between 1996 and 2000 when the Yankees won four World Series Championships. Also, imagine how successful the 1985 Chicago Bears would have been without Jim McMahon at quarterback.

Mariano Rivera was so special as a closer, it is doubtful the Yankees would have won four championships without him closing the important games. The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, probably would have still won the Super Bowl with any number of other quarterbacks in the NFL, but at least they had a quarterback running the plays and making the passes. Coach Ditka didn’t throw the passes and neither did the Hall of Fame players Mike Singletary or Dan Hampton.

What happens in our Churches and in the lives of our families and friends when it comes time to make a decision for Christ? I’ve never visited a Church or even been in a Church where I was introduced to the Evangelist. I’ve never read a Sunday Bulletin where a staff member was identified as an Evangelist. Quite frankly, I’ve never even met an Evangelist. I know they exist, I just haven’t met one.

Shouldn’t we be praying for more Christians to receive the Spiritual gift of Evangelism? Shouldn’t our Churches be recruiting Christians who are gifted in evangelism? Shouldn’t we have a paid staff position of Evangelist in our Churches? Shouldn’t we start training, encouraging, supporting and helping those who have been given this special Spiritual gift?

If winning baseball games is important enough to have a closer on the team and if winning football games is important enough to have a quarterback on the team, isn’t winning souls important enough to have an Evangelist in our Church and on our team?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Gay Gradations

I have more posts planned regarding evangelism, but I have also been planning to write about homosexuality and as I was reading A Detente in the Culture War by Rob Asghar on Saturday, I decided to tagalong with some of my own thoughts now.

For some reason, I like to start with questions.

Is a Pastor who studies, practices, writes, and rewrites a sermon, but who has trouble delivering an effective sermon the same as a Pastor who is content with being an ineffective speaker, but continues to preach anyway? Is a Catholic who participates in "Right to Life" marches the same a vigilante who kills an abortion doctor? Is Pat Robertson the same as Tony Campolo?

Most believers nowadays are frustrated by the way we are portrayed and broad brushed by the mainstream media. Their portrayal does not match our experience. We hear a wide spectrum of ideas and beliefs about God within our circle of friends, an even wider spectrum on the internet, and an even wider spectrum from all of the sources within the entire community of believers. The spectrum is so wide that almost all believers designate certain other believers as non-believers, because we believe others are practicing heretical theology if we don't agree with them on the essentials. As insiders, we know more about the nuances, and we have a better understanding of the gradations regarding Christian beliefs, than the outsiders who try to tell our story.

When I hear most Christians talk about homosexuals and homosexuality, I hear the same narrow band of stereotyping and condemnation as I hear when I listen to the mainstream media describe Christianity and Jerry Falwell. Just because most of us believe that the cause of homosexuality is irrelevant when deciding if it should be labeled sinful, does not mean that we should respond to all of the nuances and gradations of homosexuality in exactly the same way.

Is the homosexual who makes an effort to remain celibate, but who occasionally gives in to the desire for sex, the same as the homosexual who has multiple partners and has no desire for a lifestyle change? Is a believer who after years of struggle has been unable to change their orientation the same as a proponent and advocate of gay marriage? Is the homosexual who serves the needy the same as the homosexual who lives at gay bath houses? Is the homosexual who is in a committed long term relationship the same as the homosexual who sleeps with as many partners of the same sex as is humanly possible?

Should we continue to judge from the outside or is it time to listen to more of the insiders, and make more of an effort to understand? Is it time to remove a few planks from the eyes of our Churches before ridding the world of splinters? Should we keep condemning and not showing any grace to those struggling with the difficult sin of homosexuality, while we give Pastors who spend 45 minutes to deliver a 15 minute sermon a pass?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: A team game

Imagine what would have happened in the 1986 Super Bowl if Mike Ditka, head coach of the Chicago Bears, grabbed William Perry by the face mask right in the middle of the game and said, “Fridge, I know you aren’t particularly gifted as a quarterback, but we have to win this game, so get in there and start throwing the ball”. Imagine also what would have happened if Coach Ditka then turned to Walter Peyton, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and the rest of the Bears and said, “I know none of you want to play quarterback, and most of you aren’t gifted enough to play quarterback, but we need to win this game, so I want all of you to start throwing the ball.”

How many World Series rings would the Yankees have won under Joe Torre if the skipper said to Derek Jeter before the start of the 1996 Series, “Derek, I know you aren’t really gifted as a pitcher, but we have to win the World Series, so I want you to go stand on the mound.” Imagine also, what would have happened, if Joe Torre then turned to Bernie Williams and the rest of the team and said, “Guys, I know most of your aren’t really very gifted at pitching, but we have to win this series, so I want all of you to go stand on the mound.”

Now, think about what DOES happen in Churches where the leaders tell the members, “It doesn’t really matter if you are gifted in evangelism, spreading the Gospel is so important, everyone has to be out sharing with their circle of friends.”

The goal in football is not to “pass the ball”. The goal in football is to score more points than the opponent. Passing the football well usually helps to achieve the goal, but it is not THE goal. Effective passing requires an effective plan, effective blocking, effective pass routes, and effective receivers; not just an effective quarterback. Winning the game usually requires a solid defense as well. The 1986 Super Bowl champions, and most other Super Bowl winners, have had at least 40 players with very specialized roles. Walter Peyton probably could have played quarterback, but if he did, we would have missed out on some of his spectacular runs, and the Bears would still be without a Super Bowl win. It was much more fun watching Mike Singletary chase down quarterbacks than it would have been for him to be quarterback.

The goal in baseball is not to stand on the mound and pitch the baseball. The goal in baseball is to score the most runs. Good pitching helps to win games, but I doubt even the New York Yankees could win a single game with Derek Jeter standing on the mound. Teams that win World Series rings have players that are specialists at playing their assigned position.

The goal of Christianity is to spread Christianity. Preaching the Gospel is not the goal of Christianity. Preaching the Gospel is a method used to achieve the goal of Christianity. Effective evangelism is an essential part of spreading Christianity and it is a big part of achieving our goal. However, “Evangelist” is not the only important position on our team and we do not need a whole team of Evangelists to accomplish our goal. Evangelism and Evangelists need a supporting infrastructure of other gifted Christians filling many different roles in order to spread Christianity.

As Christians, we should try to be everything God created us to be, we should model the same behavior Jesus modeled for us, and we should strive to become everything the Holy Spirit is preparing us to become; but we don’t all need to be quarterbacks or pitchers, nor should we be.

More to come next week on football, baseball, and evangelism…

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Start with what's clear

Clearly, an important aspect of Christianity is for Christians to spread Christianity throughout the world. Jesus taught God’s principles and modeled Christian behavior for his disciples. Before ascending into heaven, he told them to do likewise. Even if Jesus hadn’t been specific about spreading his message, we could not just sit on our knowledge of eternity anymore than we could watch a child drown; our changed hearts compel us to serve others. A part of that service is the offering or sharing of all that we have with others including a clear understanding of the Gospel message.

Individually, we need to let our light shine. If we believe we are a new person as a result of a belief in our Savior, we won’t sit under a basket and keep it to ourselves. Even on our worst days we will have something to offer towards the kingdom of God.

It’s also quite clear from the Bible that individually we do not all have the same role. Jesus used a farm worker illustration when he said, “one for sowing and one for reaping.” Paul used an illustration of the Church as the body of Christ where different body parts are incapable of achieving their intended purpose without every other part contributing to the purpose and without all of the parts working together. Paul also said we are gifted by the Spirit for different roles; evangelism being one of the listed and specific spiritual gifts.

In future posts, I will examine the Churches methods, effects, and results of evangelism as well as suggestions for improvement.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Media bias

Those of us who lean a little to the right have no problem recognizing institutional bias in the MSM (Mainstream Media). I wonder how many of us also recognize the bias in "Christians tackle the eternal question through study series" which makes this claim:

"It now seems that "The Purpose Driven Life" will be a church guidepost for the 21st Century. "

Contrarian View From the Pew: A few questions

What percentage of Christian leaders believe that sharing the Gospel is an individual responsibility?

What percentage of Christian followers believe that sharing the Gospel is an individual responsibility?

What percentage of Christian leaders actually make it a part of their ministry to be out in the world making new friends who are not believers and then sharing the Gospel with them?

What percentage of Christian followers actually make it a part of their life to be out in the world making new friends who are not believers and then sharing the Gospel with them?

How effective are individuals at sharing the Gospel?

Is sharing the Gospel a numbers game like product marketing?

What are the obstacles that need to be overcome in order for a non-believer to accept the Gospel message?

Is there a downside or risk to sharing the Gospel with a non-believer?

Where do the ideas and beliefs about evangelism come from?

What does the Bible have to say about evangelism?

What does the Bible have to say about individual evangelism?

Is evangelism in America different from evangelism in less developed countries?

Do Evangelicals need a paradigm shift regarding evangelism?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

VFTP: My promise to be more clear

My mind is racing today with all of the responses I need to make to the comments I have received regarding my “Bring a Friend to Church” posts. I will try to address some of these issues in future posts as I comment on Church trends, assumptions, behaviors, methods; and far too often, misguided actions and activities.

When I started blogging, blurb-blogging seemed like my best style. I wanted my posts to be short, to the point, and clear. After my first month, it has become quite obvious, I need to be as precise about what I am not saying as I am about what I am saying. Hopefully, everyone who is a regular reader will see an improvement in the way I frame my opinions in future posts. Please keep your comments and criticisms coming.

When I wrote the “Bring a Friend to Church” series, I should have been more careful to differentiate between the “Bring a Friend to Church Special Sundays” and just plain old inviting a friend to come worship at your Church on any Sunday or weekday service. I do believe that the Church is the body of Christ. I also believe that participating in Church worship and other activities is the best way for anyone to experience the body of Christ. If any of us has friends who are not a member of a Church, we should invite them to our Church. However, when inviting friends to Church becomes a Church program, and members are pressured to find and invite someone who may not even be a friend, and nothing really special is done for visitors besides sell the Church, or give an alter call, then the efforts are counterproductive.

I also should have been more careful to differentiate between the “Bring a Friend to Church” programs that do not work at all and the “Pack a Pew” programs that do work to increase attendance, but do nothing to edify the body of Christ. For the most part, it is better for people to be a Church regular than not be a Church regular. However, I am very concerned that non-believers and marginal believers are getting the wrong impression about Christ because of the way we do Church.

I am planning several posts in the future where I will address the topic of personal evangelism. I have a sacred cow to roast. I’m cleaning the grill right now. Stay tuned…

Monday, February 21, 2005

VFTP: Stained-Glass Preacher

I have a variety of methods I use to evaluate the character of the people I associate with. I like to observe how people treat strangers. I figure that if someone is honest, respectful, and kind, to someone they have never met or someone they don‘t need, then I can trust them to be the same with my family and others. I also listen [or read] to see if someone is critical of themselves and the organization they identify with the most. I know that people who criticize their own are trustworthy.

Yesterday, I listened to a young Pastor give a very good sermon. He started the sermon by using his earlier life as a Christian as an illustration of how not to behave. Then he went on to criticize the behavior of some of the Churches and members of his own denomination. As he spoke, the Southern California storm broke, the sun came shining through the stain glass windows, and even more importantly, the Son came shining through his words. It was an important reminder for me, and I think others who have been around the block a few times, to get out of the way by minimizing our accomplishments and maximizing our Lords accomplishment.

Friday, February 18, 2005

PGA Maid

Just one more thing for me to like about John Daly.

I'll take him on with a vacuum - no handicap.

In Charitable Daly more mild thing than wild thing - Golf:

"He is also a clean freak. Sherrie, his fourth wife - of 3 years - said: 'He cleans everything. He does the laundry, he's a chronic vacuumer; it's hilarious.'"

VFTP: Judging Preachers

I often hear preachers misuse the words “Judge” and “Criticize” as synonyms. Different Bible translations and commentaries even interchange the two words. These words are not synonyms in the English language. Both words have many different meanings depending on the context. A person can and should judge before criticizing, and a person should be careful to judge ideas, concepts, and behaviors, not people; especially not people who are trying to do the will of God. However, the meanings of the two words are not the same.

“Judge”, “judged”, “judging”, and “judges”, are words that are used many times in all translations. “Criticize” is only referenced twice in the NIV. "Judge" appears multiple times just in the book of James which is a critique (criticism) of the behavior of the early Christians. Nowhere in the Bible are we told never to criticize. If we were, the Bible would be contradicting itself since much of what is written in the Bible, from Moses, to the Prophets, to Jesus, to the Apostles, is criticism.

When Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, was he not criticizing them? When he called the generation of his time lazy and adulterous, was he not being critical? When he referred to his followers as hard hearted, was that not a criticism? Why then would preachers say that criticism doesn’t belong in the Church?

When a five-year-old criticizes her father, are her words sinful? I don’t think so. Criticism from my five-year-old is some of the sweetest words I ever hear. I never have to guess at what she is telling me. When she criticizes me, I know exactly what I need to change in my behavior, or I know exactly what I need to change in the way she views my behavior. I only wish the adults in my life were as willing to criticize me as my five-year-old.

I keep asking myself; as iron sharpens iron, how can one man sharpen another, without honest criticism and how can sin in our Churches be identified and corrected without criticism? In Proverbs chapter 27, along with the iron sharpens iron verse, there are some other interesting verses. Verse 5 says "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" and verse 6 says "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses". Both of these verses are references to the importance of honest and loving criticism. Verse 21 is also very interesting, "The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives". Together, these three verses indicate that "Praise" and "Kisses" are the true danger in the church. If I were a preacher, I would make the Biblical case that we need to be suspicious of "Praise" and we need to embrace and encourage "Criticism" and critical thinking.

It is a mystery to me why so many good Pastors and good men believe such a bad and wrong concept. The belief that people should not criticize is a concept from Communism, not a concept from the Bible or orthodox Christianity. It is the totalitarian and insecure leaders who want to avoid and not allow criticism. Great leaders surround themselves with others who are constantly challenging their beliefs and actions. It is the poor leaders who surround themselves with "yes men" who are not allowed to criticize.

It doesn’t seem to me like very many Churches are prepared for the challenges of the 21 century. I don’t see how these Churches will ever be prepared for the future until everyone has the freedom to criticize and correct what is wrong.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

No easy answer

I wish there wasn’t such a thing as recreational drugs. I’ve never known anyone who used street drugs without having a decrease in their joy, attitude, and aptitude. I would hate to live in any society where the use of recreational drugs was considered acceptable. However, I place a very high value on personal liberty and I can see where drug laws are also having a very negative effect on our society.

It's an old debate that doesn't seem to ever change, but today Tony Plank at The Disenfranchised Curmudgeon presents a thoughtful, moral, and pragmatic argument for the legalization of drugs in homeland offense.

VFTP: Multi-Level Marketing?

Millions of people over the years have been influenced to find a church by Billy Graham and other gifted evangelists. Churches were packed with new seekers after the 2001 terrorist attacks only to find that church had nothing to offer them. Most likely, they attended a Sunday where they were told to “Bring a Friend to Church.”

Christianity is not a multi-level marketing scheme. Businesses can use schemes like multi-level marketing because they don’t need to be concerned about all of the people who say “no”. If a business gets enough “yeses” it will be successful. For way too long, Christian leaders have also been satisfied with getting a few “yeses” without being concerned about the negative impression they are making on all of those potential believers who look at their pesky neighbor and think to themselves, “I would never be a part of a group like that.”

After all of these years of bugging friends and neighbors, it has become more difficult for those gifted in evangelism to spread the Gospel because the ungifted have already hardened the resolve of non-believers. It has also become more difficult for those who want to belong to a church with thoughtful leadership to sit and listen to leaders continue to make the same mistakes. Isn’t it about time Christian leaders came up with a better idea than “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Time to Go?

Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has some advice for Jerry Falwell in "Time for Falwell to Say Farewell".

I think Greg's advice is appropriate for anyone who believes it is possible to represent Christ and be persuasive without being Christ-like.

VFTP: Hurting Evangelism

Yesterday I presented what I think is the first main reason “Bring a Friend to Church” events usually fail to achieve the intended purpose for the event. Today, I am going to present what I think is the second main reason for the ineffectiveness of these special Sundays.

The other main reason “Bring a Friend to Church” events don’t work as intended is because most church members are not gifted in evangelism. Not only are most church members not gifted in evangelism, most church members are not even particularly outgoing. Many of the people who attend church regularly come to church to make friends and see friends; not bring friends. It is much more difficult for the typical believer to make friends and form meaningful relationships outside of church.

Since evangelism is a spiritual gift that most believers don’t receive, and since most people would rather make new friends at church, it is very misguided for church leaders to continue to send believers out attempting to make new friends and then invite them to church. The typical person who is not a church leader knows how manipulative and uncomfortable it feels to invite anyone other than a close friend or family member to their own church. Therefore, church leaders are actually discouraging members and hurting true evangelism by pressuring the members to bring someone new to church with them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

VFTP: Not Coming Back

There are two main reasons these “Bring a Friend to Church” events almost always fail to achieve their intended purpose.

The first main reason is because most churches are only attractive to their own members. [Sometimes, the members even know their Church is not attractive.] Since attractiveness is perceived differently by believers and non-believers; this one reason has two completely different perspectives.

The majority of people who end up attending a church on these special Sundays are already believers. Believers have very strong opinions about the type of Sunday service they like to attend. They are looking for a certain type of church. They want a church that appears a certain way, and a pastor who acts a certain way, and music that sounds a certain way, and members that are friendly in a certain way. If the church doesn’t meet a believer’s expectations for what a church should be that very first Sunday they attend, it is unlikely they will give the church a second chance.

Non-believers evaluate a church differently. They are not looking for a certain type of church. Most non-believers think all churches are alike. Non-believers have many of their own personal reasons for not wanting to go to church. Regardless of the exact reason, most non-believers don’t go to church because there is something at church they expect to happen they want to avoid. They want to avoid people who are too friendly, or they want to avoid a long and boring sermon, or they want to avoid feeling guilty, or they want to avoid an alter call, or they want to avoid giving any personal information, or they want to avoid the offering plate. The very thing non-believers want to avoid the most, almost always happens on these “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays; especially people being so friendly, they seem needy. Therefore, non-believers also rarely give any church a second chance.

"Bring a Friend to Church" Sundays will never work until the Church Leaders start designing the service and activities specifically for the type of guests they want to attend the Sunday morning event.

Tomorrow, I will give a second reason “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays almost never work.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A kinder, gentler evangelism

Bonnie at Off the top makes a great point about Anthony Flew's conversion change of heart in A kinder, gentler evangelism.

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Bring a Friend to Church

It is rare to visit a small church that is not having a “Bring a Friend to Church” event in the near future. The pastor will usually include a section in his sermon on personal evangelism and then finish his message by reminding the church about the upcoming event. He will also let everyone in attendance know how important it is for each of them to be out inviting people they know to come to church. Even though past events have had poor results, almost everyone in leadership acts like this is the one event that will actually start to grow their church.

Unfortunately, very few members of any church, often including the pastor, actually believe these upcoming events will change anything. They have all participated in enough “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays to know that these events rarely have any long-lasting effect on church attendance. Quite frankly, these events may be the very reason the church is not growing. Rather than evaluate the success of their attitudes and methods concerning church growth, church leaders continue to place the blame on everything except their own wrong assumptions.

Later this week, I will be writing about why these events don't work.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

VIEW FORM THE PEW: Purpose Driven Tragedy

My wife and I were members at Saddleback Church for almost a year. In many ways, Saddleback is my kind of Church. Every detail is considered and managed; practically nothing is left to chance. Rick Warren seems to me to be a true man of God, a good Pastor, and a genuine leader. I believe God has blessed Saddleback.

Now, having said that, I also believe the “Purpose Driven” movement, is a real tragedy for the Church. I don’t mean the "Purpose Driven” concepts; with only a few exceptions, the concepts are solid. I can’t tell if the movement is a symptom of the lack of leaders in our Churches, or if the movement is causing leaders to be insecure about their own programs, or if leaders are becoming lazy; choosing to copy instead of innovate.

Almost everyone, believers and non-believers alike, are looking for innovative leaders with compassionate hearts. Encouraging people to sit in front of a TV and watch a video of a leader from another Church is not my idea of leadership or compassion. Preachers don’t need to be leaders, evangelists don’t need to be leaders, servant disciples don’t need to be leaders. However, Pastors do need to be leaders and Churches need to be distinctive. Pastors who can’t do any better than sell video tapes, need to reconsider their chosen profession.

That’s one person’s view from the pew.

The Pie

Anyone who is a regular reader of my site without first reading Dime Store Guru is picking at the crust and missing the pie.

Rob Asghar is insightful, humorous, and humble. He takes his blogging serious without taking himself too serious. He is everything as a writer that I hope to be someday.

What are you waiting for; get on over there.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Valentines Day

All week long I've wanted to write something meaningful about Valentines Day. The words to describe how I feel about Valentines Day are turning out to be just as elusive as my feelings and my sense of inadequacy to properly honor my wife. I've always hoped that it would get easier as I got older. It hasn't.

However, Phil at Another Man's Meat gives me a new sense of hope with the way he honored his wife in Oops!

"As I sit here now I’m again seeing how right Paul was. I’m not married to an illusion; I’m married to Nancy Catron, a real living person who has ups and downs, hopes, dreams, moods, faith, doubt, anger, joy, sadness. She’s a complete person. And Nancy sees the same in me. Living life as an illusion would never have sustained us. That’s not the stuff love is made of. If it was all an illusion it would have broken long ago. But, thankfully, God put us together to shatter illusions and in so doing He strengthened the love between us.

Ah, yes…..Ain’t love grand! Beyond anything else, the flowers and the gifts, it’s the one thing that sustains us. I used to hear when I was young that love is for fools and that love doesn’t pay the bills. I sit here and realize how wrong those who said those things were. Love is indeed grand!"

Thanks Phil!

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Raising the Bar

Mike Russell at Eternal Perspectives wrote a thoughtful comment to my criticism of his The Vast Godblog Wasteland post and he elaborated even more with a new post on his blog called The Confessions of an Accused, Tried and Convicted Elitist.

I actually agree with most of what Mike wrote in both of his posts. It seems that his maim point was his effort to raise the bar regarding how the word of God is preached in the blogsphere, without limiting who does the preaching, as long as they establish a certain level of credibility. I applaud his efforts since I am also trying to raise the bar of understanding between those who lead churches and those who want to be active members of healthy Christian communities.

I still have an unanswered question and a few challenges for Mike and those others who supported his original post. I will try to word it a little differently this time:

At what point does someone become qualified to spread the Gospel? I’ve been in Churches for years where I have been told it is the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel. Not once have I been given a test to determine if I was qualified. I’ve known many believers who I personally don’t consider qualified, but I’ve never heard a pastor teach that believers should wait until they are qualified before they start spreading the Gospel. In fact, it seems like most Pastors try to get new believers to go after all of their friends and family even before the new believer is baptized.

Is evangelism a unique Spiritual gift or is evangelism the responsibility of every believer or both?

If Mike wants to raise the bar in the blogsphere, maybe the place to start is in the local Churches. The blogsphere is more of a reflection of what is taught and believed in the local Churches than it is a place of original thought. For years I have been visiting Churches in order to compare the differences between Churches. It is appalling to me how much politics and personal opinion gets mixed in with the word of God in the typical Sunday sermon.

Mike is right that the bar needs to be raised. However, the bar needs to be raised everywhere, not just in the blogsphere.

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Where We Are At (Part 2) and What to do Now

Almost all Christian churches today either follow contemporary culture at a considerable distance or they staunchly oppose contemporary culture. It is difficult to lead and influence society by playing catch up or by opposing contemporary trends. It is impossible to lead and influence society when the church has fallen 50 years behind.

In order for the Christian church to return to the influence it had in 1950, it must abandon the methods it used in 1950 and develop new methods that are appropriate for the present time. Even better, churches should start developing methods that would be appropriate for ten years from now. In order for the Christian church to start to lead and influence again it must have a vision for where it is headed and a plan to get there. The willingness to change, and the determination to succeed, will determine how much influence the church has in the twenty-first century.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

VIEW FROM THE PEW Breaking News: A blogsphere for the elite?

Over at Eternal Perspectives, Mike Russell makes a case for self policing the Christian blogsphere in “The Vast Godblog Wasteland”. You’re probably not a card carrying protestant if you don’t agree with Mike about the lack of biblical understanding in the blogsphere, since we all claim we have a better understanding of Scripture than anyone else.

For the most part, those men and women who have dedicated their life to the study of Scripture do have a better understanding of hermeneutics and biblical principles than those of us who have to get up and go to work everyday and only study the bible as a hobby. However, maybe those of us who get up and go to work everyday have a better understanding of the application of Scripture than those who only study under other scholars.

Mike may not have intended to sound like an elitist, but he does. Could a Christian Leader sound any more elitist than this?

“Lest you think I'm playing favorites, I don't agree doctrinally on many issues with any of these bloggers. But I do respect them: they have either paid their dues and sharpened their skills through seminary, intense personal study, or both. (Actually, seminary without intense personal study isn't worth much; indeed, it can be worse than no seminary at all.)”

And this:

“Or maybe we need another "exclusive" blogroll, one populated only by those who adhere to some yet-to-be-determined evangelical litmus test. A kind of doctrinal Shibboleth not unlike those required of professors by Christian colleges and seminaries. Nothing that would exclude solely on the basis of denominations, but one that would include only those in agreement with some foundational beliefs shared by most denominations.”

What about those who have paid their dues by actually living a life of submission; shouldn’t they also have a voice in illustrating biblical application?

Mike then goes on to say:

“But for every one blogger who is genuinely endeavoring to rightly divide the word of truth, there seems to be ten who are either careless in their study, with their words, or both. Fortunately, most of the above enjoy a wide audience; sadly, so do some of the less-than diligent bloggers.”

I haven’t been in a church in 15 years where the pastor didn’t claim that all Christians have a responsibility to spread the Gospel. I wonder if Mike could clarify because now I am confused; Is it our responsibility to spread the Gospel, or is the Gospel to complicated for us common folk?

Mike finishes his post with more elitism by declaring that he doesn’t want to have anything to do the common folk:

“Personally, I'd just like to have a good place to go to read good scholarship. No politics or other hobby horses allowed. Sort of like a theological reading room. A place for an irenic exchange of ideas. A place of mutual respect and grace. A place where it's OK to be wrong, but a willingness to re-think a position or statement is present. A safe place.

And, most of all, a place of love. No name calling, cheap shots, or hit-and-run comments. A marketplace of theological ideas.

Maybe - just maybe - I'm looking for a L'Abri blog. A shelter for serious people wanting to talk about serious things. I wish I knew how to make it happen.”

Of course the blogsphere is certainly big enough for Mike to have exactly what he wants without ever being bothered by the rest of us. However, the blogspere is also big enough for everyone else who believes ideas, and concepts, and beliefs, should be challenged and can be defended.

Domino Theory

Thomas Friedman has been a harsh critic of the way the Bush Administration has conducted the war in Iraq. In todays New Yok Times, he makes the case that winning in Iraq will make a big difference on the whole Middle East, especially Iran.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Calling All Democrats: "If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham 'Islamic democracy,' only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient."

Prevent a Massive Tax Increase

This is a good explanation of the Social Security Reality. I know NRO is considered by many to be on the far right. However, I don't see this as an opinion piece. It is just laying out the facts. If anyone has sources for different facts, please let me know.

Bruce Bartlett on Social Security Reform and Income Taxes on NRO Financial: "But the real reason to reform the program is to prevent a massive income-tax increase, not because anyone's benefits are threatened by inaction."

View From the Pew Challenge

Pete Porter made a comment that applied to all of my “VIEW FROM THE PEW” series of posts. He made such a good challenge that I should address his comment with a complete post instead of just a response to the the comment.

pete porter said...
David,In looking through your posts (which I enjoyed) I see a recuring theme, the making of observers out of the people of God. They are not to be pew warmers. The gifts of pastor, evangelist, teacher, prophet, and apostle, are for the maturing of the church for works of service to God. In other words, when they do there job, they do themselves out of a job. That I think is God's plan, and opens new fields of service to those ministrys. Ever expanding, to the whole world.

I believe Pete is absolutely right that each of us have been gifted by God to do the work of God through our local Church within our local Church and out in the world. “View from the pew” is not my way of saying that I am not getting what I want. “View from the pew” is my way of communicating to Church leaders about the ways their actions, methods, and programs are being viewed by at least one [me], and probably more, congregants who want to be a part of a healthy body of Christ.

It is my hypothesis that many, if not most, Church leaders spend much more time communicating with each other than they do communicating with non-leader believers and non-believers. I only question the heart of a very few Church leaders that I have known. I have no doubt that most Church leaders love the Lord and are doing their very best to serve him. However, it seems to me that many of these leaders, with good hearts, are stuck doing what they think others want them to do, without actually having a plan for what they really should be doing.

I do not advocate that anyone should sit in the pew and just observe without getting involved. I do advocate that Church leaders take a fresh look at all of their methods, assumptions, and programs; but mostly start listening to non-leaders.


Today, churches have changed very little from 50 years ago, while life for most people is completely different. Most people work in offices or shopping centers interacting with other people all day long. They are also spending more time at social events during the middle of the week.

By the time Sunday rolls around, many people would rather spend time at home watching television with their own family and a few friends than at church with many other families that are more often acquaintances than true friends. Some people would rather be participating in a sporting event than sitting in a church listening to a sermon they have heard many times before. Others would rather attend a sporting event or an amusement park.

Television shows are scripted, directed, edited, and produced to appeal to a specific target audience. The Sunday morning service in most of the churches today consists primarily of live music and one pastor who talks for thirty to forty five minutes and who is rarely able to keep the attention of an audience that has become accustomed to targeted bullet point presentations.

There are books, and tapes, and movies, and television programs, and radio shows that effectively teach the word of God. Only the most gifted of pastors are able to craft a sermon anywhere near as interesting or as informative as these other mediums. Many of the people sitting in the church seats are as knowledgeable about most Bible topics as the pastor.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Super Bull Sunday

It turns out that the claim of increased domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday is a myth.

Snopes has the details.

"The upshot? It turned out that Super Bowl Sunday was not a significantly different day for those who monitor domestic abuse hotlines and staff battered women's shelters:"

Ash Wednesday

Mark D. Roberts and Tod Bolsinger have both written about Ash Wednesday today.

Pastor Roberts: "It’s a day to remember the bad news of who we are apart from Christ so that we can begin to prepare for the great news of Good Friday and Easter."

Pastor Bolsinger: "You are not a mere soul or disembodied spirit. You are human, you are mortal, you are deeply dependent on the God who formed your body from the humus of the earth and breathed life into you with his kiss. God has come to you, in Jesus, O Creature, and called you to have life eternal with him."


Seventy-five years ago most people worked on farms or in factories. These people had very little interaction with their community during the week. Church, on Sunday, was a place to spend time with friends. Fifty years ago, television was mostly live entertainment broadcast in black and white. Church was also live, but without the box, and in full color. There were no video or audio tapes. There were few religious books other than the Bible. Radio was interesting and entertaining, but filled with static.

The typical person attending church depended on the pastor for all of his or her religious instruction. Churches did not have to compete for the hearts and minds of people who had a need to visit friends and hear the word of God as preached by a Pastor who had a personal relationship with most of the people attending his church. Fifty years ago, the music and the sermon at most churches sounded as good or better than anything else anyone heard all week long. The Christian church led contemporary culture in most parts of the developed world during this period in the middle of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Example Driven Discipleship

I have always believed that the best leaders lead by example. As a night crew manager at KFC, a Marine Corp Sergeant, an Operations Manager, and a Project Leader, I have always looked for opportunities to lead by example. Sometime leading by example is as simple as taking out someone else’s trash when they are busy with something else. Most of the time though, leading by example means working harder, working longer, and working smarter than anyone in your organizational sphere.

I don’t see very many leaders leading by example anymore. Managers seem to want to plan and direct, but not get their hands dirty. Politicians pass laws that exempt legislators. Pastors like preaching more than doing.

Brad Hightower, at 21st Century Reformation, has a few recent posts on what I would consider “Example Driven Discipleship.” I can’t link to a specific post since they have moved to archives, but look in his January Archives for ‘Come and Follow Me - Discipleship in the Footsteps of Jesus‘ and ‘Hospitality and Our Understanding of Church’.

The Heart of a U.S. Marine

I need to wipe a few tears. Here is the "message to all hands" that then-Major General Mattis issued to his troops as they prepared to enter Iraq in March 2003:

Mackubin Thomas Owens on James Mattis on National Review Online: "For decades, Saddam Hussein has tortured, imprisoned, raped and murdered the Iraqi people; invaded neighboring countries without provocation; and threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. The time has come to end his reign of terror. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.

When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression. Chemical attacks, treachery, and the use of the innocent as human shields can be expected, as can unethical tactics. Take it all in stride. Be the hunter, not the hunted: never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down. Use good judgment and act in the best interest of our Nation. 'You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith with your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.

For the mission's sake, our country's sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division's colors in past battles - who fought for life and never lost their nerve - carry out you mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world that there is 'No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy' than a U.S. Marine.

J.N. Mattis

Major General, US Marines


VIEW FROM THE PEW: The Cost of Staying the Same

Where are we at? Where are we going? How are we going to get there?

Almost all organizations, families, and individuals, have at one time asked themselves these three questions. Success in any endeavor requires an honest evaluation of present realities, a vision for what the future should be, and a plan for getting from the present to the future where goals are reached and dreams are realized. However, asking and answering these questions does not ensure success. Rethinking past assumptions, crafting a plan, diligently working the plan, and revising the plan when necessary, is what leads to success.

Churches, just like all organizations, should also be asking and answering these questions on an on-going basis if they want to successfully reach their goal of sharing the gospel with an unbelieving world. By asking these questions, and being honest with their answers, churches would have a vision for where they are headed and how they are going to get there.

Sadly, most churches today would have to answer the first question by saying they are basically at the same place they were at ten to fifty years ago. The strategy for most of these churches is to continue to do what they have always done. Ten more years of doing the same thing is not going to produce better results. Most likely, it will produce many more empty seats. The seats that are not empty will be filled with lots of gray hair and bald scalps.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Learning Curve

I must have hit thousands of plastic golf balls as a youngster when I was growing up before I ever stepped foot on a real golf course. Actually, where I grew up, a real golf course was not a REAL golf course, but the pasture my friends and I ended up playing in did have tee boxes and green areas with holes and flags so it was kind of like a real golf course. The greens were a Bermuda, crab grass, & dandelion combination; not exactly Scott’s premium blend. I loved golf then and I love golf now. However, I never really learned how to play golf until I started playing with golfers who took the game serious. My love for golf wasn’t enough for me to learn the game, I needed to compete and play by all of the rules before I began to understand the swing mechanics and emotional control required to improve my score.

Blogging is my attempt to learn the game of inspiration and persuasion through written communication. For way too long I’ve had ideas swimming in my head that have not seen the light of day in order to be challenged and then improved. It’s not enough for me to love the blogsphere; I need to get beat around some in order to learn the word mechanics and emotional maturity required to improve my writing. All criticism offered to me on any of my posts is very much appreciated.

Reminder Notice [Social Security Trust Fund]

David Frum's Diary on National Review Online: "If Fred writes an IOU for $10 to Jim, Jim has an asset. But if Fred writes an IOU to Fred for $10, he has not created an asset for himself - he's created a reminder notice. "

The One Doing the Walking

Everyone receiving Social Security retirement benefits has had at least 40 years to prepare for the day when they decide to no longer work. They have had 40 years of decisions regarding their own personal finances. They have had 40 years of opportunities to decide whether to save and invest or whether to spend and enjoy. Those who mostly spend and enjoy end up with less savings at retirement than those who mostly save and invest. Arguments can be made as to which path is the best to follow, but I believe the path followed should be determined by the one doing the walking; not anyone else.

Where is the morality in requiring a 19-year-old, who is working the second shift in order to pay college expenses, to make payments to the retired millionaire? Where is the morality in requiring a single mother, who is working a second job in order to support her family, to make payments to the retiree who spent their working life spending and enjoying?

Parental Responsibility

My wife and I have two daughters who are eight and five years old. Our instincts, tendencies, and ideas towards the way we raise our children sometimes creates tension and conflict between the two of us.

My wife is a teacher. I think she has done an exceptional job of preparing our girls to be successful in school activities. Still, her basic instinct is to always want to protect our girls, while my basic instinct is to always want to prepare them for the skills and wisdom they will need as adults.

It occurs to me that if all we do as parents is prepare our children, our children will not receive the protection they need. However, if all we do as parents is protect our children, our children will not receive the preparation they also need.

All of us, as parents, should feel the tension between the protection and preparation of our children. I'm glad my wife and I have each other to create the balance for our children.

Boys who are over-protected do not receive the preparation they need to function in society as adults. This may be another reason why so many fatherless boys end up in prison.

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Managing Change

As society evolves, churches must also evolve in order to meet the needs of new generations. A basic problem for all churches is to manage the rate of change. A church can become irrelevant if it changes too slowly or if it refuses to change at all. A church can become ineffective if it changes too rapidly.

Actively soliciting feedback, especially criticism, from members and non-members will help the church leadership better understand the problems it must solve in order to meet the needs of a changing society.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Our Real Sacred Obligation

I wrote earlier in this post that I don’t believe we have a sacred obligation as a society to pay all of the Social Security benefits that the retired and soon to retire expect.

Social Security may have been designed as a trust fund, but it has functioned as a revenue stream for other government programs. All future payments, every penny, has to come from future taxes, either to directly pay the retirees or to pay the government IOUs to the Social Security fund. There is no money in the trust fund; it is empty.

After giving some more thought to the morality of Social Security, I now feel even stronger that the fairest way to fix the future problem with Social Security is to start reducing benefits now. As a society founded on the principle of “no taxation without representation”, we do have a sacred obligation to pay our own way. It is unholy, and I believe un-American, to require anyone who is not of voting age to pay for our retirement.

Workers in my age bracket will be hurt the most by reducing benefits because we will have paid the most in to the system by the time we reach retirement age. Too bad, we need step up to the plate and set an example to do what is fair and right for everyone now and in the future.

Nuthin on But the Radio and Computer (KZLA and Bloggin)

20 years ago, I started listening to talk radio, instead of music radio. 15 years ago, I started listening to political talk radio, instead of regular talk radio. 10 years ago, I started browsing the internet for even more news and information. Sometimes, I feel like an information shark; I need fresh information flowing over my gills. I have a constant desire that never gets satiated for information. The price for succumbing to my information addiction has been fewer and shallower relationships.

Lately, I’ve been listening to 93.9 KZLA in Los Angeles more and more and I find myself smiling more and more. KZLA claims to be the worlds most listened to Country/Western radio station. After growing up in Arkansas, I’m a little sensitive to being labeled a hick, but I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. The breadth and depth of the lyrics really surprises me and the songs are quite a joy to hear. References to faith, and family, and goodness are quite common in many of the songs. There is also a seedy side to some of the songs, but even the naughty ones make me smile and seem to improve my attitude.

Lately, I’ve also had a little more time to roam the blogshere and post a comment or two. I’ve found that there are a few, and probably many more, like me. My roaming and country/western smiling has given me a new desire to worship God and honor God by being a less informed, but a better, husband, father, and friend.

God bless Nashville and God bless all of you who are participating in our electronic community. I pray that your family and friends are also rewarded.


The natural reaction to criticism for people in positions of authority is to defend their own actions. It is extremely difficult for anyone to understand a complaint or suggestion when they are reacting defensively. Church leaders need to be able to suppress their own natural reaction and then be able to empathize with complainers if they are ever going to handle complaints and suggestions effectively.

Listening to an entire complaint and then probing to get more details from the complainer helps the leader to clarify the complaint before they decide to defend their actions or suggest a solution. Just as importantly, it lets the complainer know that the leader cares about them and their opinion. Expressing care and concern towards the person making the complaint is almost as important to the complainer as actually resolving the complaint.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My graphic artist is still in training, but since she only charges a few chicken nuggets every now and then, I think I'll keep her! Posted by Hello

Exorcising Demons

Fairways & Greens - Golf, Travel & Lifestyle News has A nice article on John Daly.

He's made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he keeps bouncing back. He also seems to have learned from all of his travails


I love contrarians. Contrarians are people who ask: “What if…?”, and “Why?”, and “Why not…?” Contrarians swim upstream. The last thing a contrarian desires is to be like everyone else. (Although, most contrarians do wish everyone else was more like them.) Contrarians know that when they agree with the majority, they need to rethink an idea.

Contrary to popular belief, contrarians don’t tear things down; contrarians actually hold things together. Contrarians are the tendons that stretch and allow the muscles to do their work while providing resistance to prevent the muscle from going too far and becoming destructive.

Spokespeople for minority organizations are not contrarians. They may lead a minority organization, but they are still expressing the majority view within their organization. The true contrarian expresses views that are different from the majority view within the organization they are a member.

Organizations without contrarians become radical organizations. The National Organization for Women, Focus on the Family, and the NAACP, among others, have wandered from their original purposes into radicalism because they lack the tendons to pull back the muscles.

My hope is that the Republican and Democrat parties both embrace good people and good ideas in the coming decades. However, I fear that they are both flexing their muscle and loosing their tendons.

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Encouraging Feedback

Everyone has an opinion. Some people never miss an opportunity to let everyone know what they think. However, most people don’t have the confidence to express an opinion that may be different or unpopular. This type of person would rather get along with the group than stand out from the group. Therefore, churches, just like most organizations, are dominated by the type of people who are most outspoken.

This is an area where churches should be different from other organizations. Churches should be organization’s where everyone’s opinion carries equal weight. Churches should also be organization’s where the opinions of people on the outside are as important as the opinion of those on the inside. Church leaders could encourage more feedback by making it a habit to ask the participants in their ministry about what they think of the ministry.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Is Social Security Sacred?

Most commentators and politicians have been keeping their powder dry regarding changes to Social Security. It seems to me that there are a lot of wet fingers being stuck in the air over the heads of some of the usual suspects. However, whenever someone does speak about changes to Social Security, they are quick to say we have a sacred contract with those Americans who are retired or about to retire and that we shouldn’t make any changes to the terms of their benefits. So I have to ask; why?

If voters have the right to elect politicians who legislate payments that come from those too young to vote, and go to those who elected the politicians; then voters also have the right, when they become old enough to vote, to elect politicians who change the legislation in a way that would reduce or eliminate those payments. There is no sacred contract to protect voters who have given themselves income that is derived from the hard work of a younger generation. Maybe the word sacred just doesn’t mean what I think it means.

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Opportunities to Improve

If a church wants to attract more non-believers and also wants to properly disciple its current members, church leaders need to know what the people attending their church think of their programs and methods. Since most feedback comes in the form of praise from others who are also involved in leadership, the true opinions of the majority may not actually be known. In order to measure the true effect of a program or method and then make the necessary adjustments, the people attending church need to be encouraged by the leadership to voice their opinion, no mater how critical or supportive it may be, and every opinion needs to be valued.

Complaints need to be viewed as opportunities to improve. It may seem radical, but by encouraging more people to express their opinions and complaints, more attendees will want to become members and more members will want to stay and contribute because they will know that the leaders care about them as individuals. Complainers can become some of the best contributors when their complaints and suggestions are handled effectively.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Attitude Principle When Discussing Truth

Pastor Mark D. Roberts in his "A Rolling Stone Gathers No . . . Bible?" series makes a great point in this post about how important it is for Christians to remain humble about our own understanding of "the truth" when discussing "Gods truth."

"Should Christians stop talking this way in order to stop putting people off? I don’t think so. As you may know, I wrote a whole book on the need for truthfulness: Dare to Be True. So I’m rather heavily invested in truth-telling. But, as I explain at length in the book, we Christians often shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to this conversation. We think that because there is absolute truth, we must ourselves have full grasp of this truth, and nobody else has any of it. Both of these claims are indefensible from Scripture. Moreover, sometimes we Christians back up our claim to have absolute truth with a fine display arrogance. In fact, as I explain in Dare to Be True, a strong belief in absolute truth actually calls forth just the opposite. It demands humility, not haughtiness."

I might add that it is just as important to remember this principle when discussing truths other than "Gods Truth"; like, maybe, politics!

It Takes A Christian Community

Tod Bolsinger, the Pastor at San Clemente Presbyterian Church in Southern California, has been blogging an excellent series on the Christian Church as a community first.

Back when I was an outspoken agnostic, I never was impressed with any Christian I met. In fact, I loved to ridicule them. Then I came across a community of believers who were unlike any group of people I had ever met. This group of believers really did care about each other and it was apparent in everything they did. I never did notice Christ in any one believer, but our Lord was present and evident in the group when they were together.

Check out Tod and his series here: It Takes A Church...: Christian Community

VIEW FROM THE PEW: Go Ahead and Criticize

Church leaders correctly see their role as changing hearts and changing lives. Perhaps their methods sometimes get in the way of achieving the desired results. Perhaps, formats, activities, and attitudes need to change. But how would the church leaders know?

While no church could possibly be all things to all people, most churches could be more things to more people if there were less members sitting on the sidelines and fewer people searching for a better church. In business, it is generally believed, for every customer who complains, seven customers will never complain and just quit doing business with a company that has not met their expectations. People attending church are very similar to customers. Even though complainers are perceived as a thorn in the side of church leaders, most dissatisfied people will just quit attending a church without ever complaining, and never give the leaders a chance to address their dissatisfaction.