Small Talk & Sinners

I'm almost finished reading The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I've intentionally taken my time reading this one. The chapters were hitting me hard enough that I needed to let them ruminate in my mind for a while between readings.

As I was reading tonight, two things stood out to me. First, was his chapter entitled "The Ministry of Small Talk". Peterson writes about how important it is for a pastor to develop the art of small talk. This one hurt me. I've always been honest with people about how I hate and suck at small talk. I love talking about spiritual things or even political things. I can go on for hours about these things. I even enjoy sharing my own spiritual failures and victories. But small talk is difficult for me. When guys get together and start talking about the weather, the price of gas, traffic patterns, NASCAR, auto mechanics, home repair, etc... it's hard for me. It's not always that it's boring to me, but more that I have a hard time starting and maintaining those conversations. The closest thing I do to good small talk is discussing entertainment - movies, music, TV, etc... I can go on and on about that stuff. Peterson states, "I do not want to be misunderstood: pastoral conversation should not abound along on mindless cliches like gutter water. What I intend is that we simply be present and attentive to what is there conversationally, as respectful of the ordinary as we are of the critical." He even states that in some instances pastors can be snobbish in their conversation - not wanting to come down and communicate on the level of the masses. That is certainly never my intention. I've just always viewed "small talk" as a personal weakness. I admire guys who are good at it. However, I am (and rightly so, I think) critical of Christians who have known each other for years and never moved beyond small talk. What a waste of time and fellowship! But I definitely need to develop the art of small talk more in my life.

In the next chapter, Peterson discusses the importance of never ceasing to view yourself and your parishioners as SINNERS. He states that the reason most pastors become so frustrated or even bitter with their congregations, is that they lose sight of the fact that they are only sinners. If we constantly accept them as sinners, then we will spend more time celebrating even the smallest victory and be more understanding of the weaknesses. He used a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer - "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men."


Father, forgive me.


Proud Week for Dad

My kids have made me quite proud this week. Mollie and Isaiah both came home with straight A's on their report cards and Isla had her 4-month check-up. The doc said she was "advanced" (his words, not mine). This week we conquer Lebanon, MO - tomorrow, the world!!! (insert evil genius laugh here)


Sickness and Suffering`

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. I've been laid up sick since Sunday. I still feel like crap, but that's actually a step up from feeling like death. Hopefully tomorrow I'll just feel awful.

I've listened to several sermons while I've been recovering. The whole podcast thing is one of my favorite pieces of new technology in a long time. It's really awesome that I can listen to sermons from pulpits all over the world every week (totally free). Used to, a pastor did all the feeding and was never able to be fed himself. This has totally changed. I'm listening to 5-10 sermons every week from some of the best preachers in the nation. It's like I have several online mentors, or pastors, that keep me fed, refreshed, motivated, and challenged. My favorites are Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Seattle, Mark Batterson at National Community Church, Rob Bell at Mars Hill Michigan, Francis Chan at Cornerstone Community Church, David Fasold at Bay Hills Community Church, Matt Chandler at the Village Church, and Andy Stanley at North Point Church. Just download iTunes and search for them in the iTunes store.

Several sermons I listened to this week were about suffering. How we can know that when we're going through suffering, God works all things together for our good. Even in the worst times, God is shaping us and making us into the image of Himself. There was much more, but it's all been very encouraging (in a dark sort of way). It's not a matter of "if" we go through suffering, but "when", and when we do, how we will respond.

I'm always a little worried when several sermons or messages of other types come together in my life with the same message. Usually God is preparing me for something. Then again maybe He's explaining situations I've been through all ready.


Sweeney Todd

Probably my all-time favorite broadway show is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It's dark and comedic and beautiful all at the same time. I had heard that Tim Burton was making the story into a film starring Johnny Depp, but I just saw the trailer and found that it's not just the story, but the musical, too. Comes out this Christmas! Can't wait.


The Unbusy Pastor

Last night I started reading The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson. Peterson's books on pastoral ministry are so powerful and convicting (I posted about one of them before here). They are not best-sellers because you will not find any grand ideas on how to grow your church from 50 to 5,000. There's not much marketable about them in this era of the 21st century church. But everytime I read one, there is something in my soul that cries out to be the kind of pastor he writes about. There's no mention of modern marketing or leadership trends. No mention of being _______-driven or ________-sensitive (fill in your own blank). Just this simple plea to be the kind of spirit-filled pastor we find in the New Testament. (And if you read "spirit-filled" and think of anything soft, ineffective, or irrelevant, then you don't really understand the Holy Spirit.)

One chapter I read last night was called The Unbusy Pastor. This statement rocked my world: "The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous afront."

He goes on to say that generally a pastor is busy for one of two reason: vanity or laziness. Our vanity causes business that makes us feel important. Or sometimes to try to somehow justify our salaries. When people notice our business, they acknowledge our significance, and our vanity is fed. Our laziness causes us to be busy because we don't take the time to train up lay-leaders or delegate work to others.

Peterson then says the proper work of a pastor is threefold: praying, preaching, and listening. By listening he's referring to taking the time to hear the hurts, needs, and even victories of our congregation. And also listening for God's direction.

I found this reinforced in my Bible-reading today. I'm studying Acts and I come across Acts 6:2-4. "And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'"

There is so much good and valuable pastoral advice out there in the way of books and conferences. I think it goes back to balance, though. We do need to be good leaders and we do need to make sure the church is reaching out to the lost. But most pastors expect too much of themselves. We need to spend more time training people to BE the church so that we can spend more time equipping them to BE the church.

Peterson closed the chapter with this: "Years ago I noticed, as all pastors must, that when a pastor left a neighboring congregation, the congregational life carried on very well, thank you. A guest preacher was assigned to conduct Sunday worship, and nearby pastors took care of the funerals, weddings, and crisis counseling. A congregation would go for months, sometimes as long as a year or two, without a regular pastor. And I thought, All these things I am so busy doing - they aren't being done in that pastorless congregation, and nobody seems to mind. I asked myself, What if I, without leaving, quit doing them right now? Would anybody mind? I did, and they don't."


Today's Great Quotes

I love coming across great quotes. They're like little nuggets of spiritual manna that God just drops in your mouth. It's awesome to savor them for a while. I heard two great ones today.

Mark Batterson, Pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC
Mark was preaching on sex. His sermon was titled "The Sexy Elephant" (Great title! I'll let you check out his sermon series to discover why he gave it that title.) His blog is www.evotional.com and church website is www.theaterchurch.com. The quote was something to the effect of:
"Before you're married, Satan spends a huge amount of time trying to get you to have sex with your girlfriend. After you're married, he spends a huge amount of time trying to keep you from having sex with your wife."

Dan Kimball, Pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA
Dan's sermon title was "Don't Close Your Mind - Be a Theologian". His blog is www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/ and his church site is www.vintagechurch.org.
"Give a man (or woman) a sermon and you feed them for a day. Teach a man (or woman) to study Scripture on their own and you feed them for a lifetime."

Amen! (Two times)



Check out http://www.junkycarclub.com/. This is a new thing from the guys that brought us xxxchurch.com. They are challenging the masses to give up their sweet rides with big car payments and settle for a paid-off ride that might be junky. Why? They want us to live with less so we can give more. Sacrifice some bells and whistles and sponsor a child instead - that sort of thing. Great stuff.

I knew there was a really spiritual reason that I drive around the piece of crap that is the Jeffmobile ('95 Chevy Corsica - 180k miles - paid off).


Kid Nation - Religion

If you haven't been watching the new CBS reality show, Kid Nation, you really should be. It's a great one to watch with the kids, too. It has sparked some interesting discussions with our family. If you don't know, the premise of the show is 40 kids (age 8-15) for 40 days in a ghost town with no adults. Basically the experiment is let's see what kind a civilization they build for themselves and how they handle life without supervision.

This week's episode seriously should be shown to every church or at least the leadership of every church. The whole episode was basically what to do with the question of religion. The kids come from diverse backgrounds - mostly Christian, a handful of Jews, a handful of atheists, 1 Hindu, and a handful of "other".

Four kids serve as the town council and each week are given a suggestion from a fake journal supposedly left behind by the town's former old west inhabitants. This week's suggestion was to consider providing a religious service (or services) for the town. The council decided to schedule a religious service where everyone could come and share about their own religion and then spend time in prayer/meditation together. When this was announced, it was flatly rejected by the entire town and nobody showed up to service that was organized by the council. However, later that night, a grass roots sort of thing happened and a big number of the kids decided to meet together for prayer. It was mostly Christian, but a Jewish kid said a Jewish prayer and the Christian kids were really moved by it.

Every week there's a team challenge and if all teams finish the challenge in an allotted time, the town gets a reward. This week the town could choose either to have a miniature golf course in the town or a library of "holy books" (the Bible, Torah, Koran, and others). The town was not happy with the council's decision the previous week, so the council let the town choose this week. To my surprise (and the council's) the kids overwhelmingly chose the holy books. Many of them spent time reading them later. They saw them as an important way to better themselves.

The reason this episode is so important is because it shows us as a church that the "coming storm" of postmodernism is here - NOW! These kids that represent a cross-section of American adults 10 years from now flatly rejected "organized religion", but enthusiastically embraced "faith". If the church is going to influence the culture, it must undergo a serious facelift. Organized religion needs to be left behind and the church needs to become more of a grass roots type of movement. We are going to have to stop going to church, and start being the church. The hand-writing is definitely on the wall and we need to respond.

I hope you'll be able to see more of this episode on YouTube in the future, but until then, here's the promo clip for it. (Thanks to D. Scott Miller who pointed out that the entire episode can be viewed at CBS.com.)


Catalyst and Foreskin's Lament

To follow up on my last email, Catalyst was truly an epic experience for me. I heard more great speakers on the final day, had the greatest worship experience of my life, and really had God speak to me. I've never been to a conference where every single speaker just hit it out of the park and cut right to my heart. I just felt emotionally exhausted and spiritually alive and refreshed at the same time.

By far my favorite speaker was Francis Chan from Simi Valley, CA. He is a truly gifted preacher. Check out his church's website here: Cornerstone Church. You can watch and/or listen to his sermons online.

Chris Seay played this video at the beginning of his message and it just cracked me up. It's a promotional video for a book called "Foreskin's Lament". It's a memoir of a young orthodox Jew and his personal struggles with his spiritual upbringing. Funny stuff. It's just a great reminder that we don't all have the same spiritual upbringing. Somewhere beyond our white, Christian, heterosexual, suburban life, there are always people who see God from a different perspective (and we rarely consider them).


Catalyst 2007

I'm in Atlanta right now attending the Catalyst Leadership Conference. So far it's been incredible! My favorite speakers so far have been Mark Batterson, Chris Seay, Matt Chandler, Leonard Sweet, Andy Stanley, Frances Chan, and this really cool hippie from East Tennessee, Shane Claiborne. All these guys are really inspiring, God-touched speakers. Everybody should google them and see if you can find some of their messages online. I would highly recommend this conference to anyone who is interested in being apart of the future of church.