Why Ministers Seem Phony

The spiritual director and writer Basil Pennington writes of two different ways of experiencing personal identity, a distinction that has special application to ministry and churches. The false self results from thinking our identity consists of what we have; what we do; and what others think of us. What we have is particularly noticeable in how ministers and their churches regard each other. When I as a minister of a local church believe my church is something I possess then I’m building a false self. It drives me nuts to hear ministers speak about their churches in the first person. “I needed a new building so I raised two million […]

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The Challenge of Raising Teens

Pam and I have been leading a class for the last few weeks for the parents of teen-agers.  Called “The Age of Opportunity,” we’re reading through Paul Tripp’s book by the same title and learning together a little more about being better parents. Our latest topic was how we help our teens respond to the surrounding culture. “Culture” is simply the sum total of the stuff around us: school, friends, career choices, social media, movies, internet, styles, thought patterns, behaviors and all the rest of the ways we rub up against the world outside ourselves and our homes. While evangelical Christians (at least) focus on the unbiblical values and lifestyle […]

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Stumbling into Prayer

Pam and I visited her parents in the upstate Sunday night, and on the way back home yesterday made a detour through Abbeville. I had read of the opening of a new religious-type establishment and wanted to check it out for myself. The establishment, if you want to call it that, was actually a monastery and somehow had been built over the last couple of years in the backwoods of South Carolina, in as much a blue-collar agricultural district as you can find anywhere. You just drive down these country roads, with pastures and cows and soybean fields stretching out in the distance and then, there it is, the Paracletos […]

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The Redemptive Power of Subversion

I once was the guest speaker at a church with a fairly large congregation. It had an expansive cemetery next door, where generations of church members were buried. The pastor was a nice enough guy, but I thought him a little odd. Tall, thin, soft-spoken, he walked with a peculiar, hunched-over posture that made me think of an undertaker. I kept expecting him to rub his hands together and ask which funeral package I thought would best serve my family. Following the worship service, my host led me through the main hallway of the church toward the room where lunch was to be served. Halfway down, on the most prominent […]

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Subversion: Finding Life in a Culture of Death

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.   -1 John 2:27 Subversion is the last thing in the world most ministers want to think about. Subversives are Molotov-cocktail throwing young people wearing scarves over their faces. Or terrorists scheming to overthrow the government. Ministers, on the other hand, are the paragons of respectability and conformity. We dress in suits and urge people to abstain from all the behavior that makes life interesting […]

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Raising Christian Kids

Pam and I have two children, Katie and Will, and like all Christian parents, our prayer always has been that they would grow up and embrace Jesus as we have done.  Praise God, they have, but it’s more a tribute to divine grace than parental skills. The two of them are grown now, in their twenties, and out on their own. I once had a guy on staff with me, an older guy, who would proudly introduce himself by saying, “I have two self-supporting daughters.” That’s not a bad claim to fame—particularly in today’s economic climate—and my wife and I are fortunate in being able to say the same thing. […]

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Leadership through Preaching

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness (Colossians 1:24-25) Reggie McNeal, a church analyst and futurist who’s built a lucrative career throwing firebombs at evangelical churches, says the act of preaching is irrelevant and outmoded. What modern churches need instead is testimony, individual believers sharing with one another how they’ve figured out the Christian lifestyle. According to McNeal, the didactic […]

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Authentic Worship

 Worship is the primary action of the church—the first and highest pursuit of every local congregation. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light,” 1 Peter 2:9 says and establishes the relative value of the many activities modern churches think necessary in order to be successful. Before all our Bible study classes, benevolence outreaches, leadership seminars, fund-raisers, age-graded programming, mission trips, golf retreats, class meetings, committee meetings, scrap-booking and coupon-clipping groups, Republican party meet-the-candidate luncheons, senior adult trips, testimonies, men’s breakfasts, women’s brunches, […]

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Harry Potter

With the release of the last film in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” Americans have once again focused on the extraordinary impact of author JK Rowling on modern culture. Like its cousins “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the Harry Potter series describes a fantasy world where good and evil contest each other in the form of characters and forces outside the experience of anything in our own world. But the resemblance between the three most notable children’s authors of the last century is only superficial. The reality is that a world of difference exists between them. The Oxford […]

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Church Identity

I wrote earlier in the week about the need for ministers to discover their own identities. The same principle holds true for churches. In fact, both ministers and their churches walk down the path of self-discovery together. In the opening chapters of Revelation, the exalted Jesus speaks to individual congregations in a way that resonates with the preacher’s journey toward his personal identity. He does so in a series of letters dictated through the Apostle John to seven distinct congregations. While the seven are obviously connected through their common relationship with the Lord, it’s their differences that so clearly emerge through the course of the correspondence. Each one is unique […]

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