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The Church Is Not a Democracy

democracy democratic vote congregational church congregationalist congregationalism church covernanceIn this quote, Scottish theologian P.T. Forsyth warns against viewing the church as a democracy, which he sees as a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the church. His concern wasn’t with congregationalism or the idea of churches voting on major decision (Forsyth himself pastored a congregational church), but with the fact that understanding the church as a democracy makes us think of the church as being all about the people (democracy literally means “rule of the people”), whereas we must always remember that the church belongs to God and owes him, and him only, absolute obedience. Essentially, he fears that the democratic impulse stems from a desire to shirk that responsibility and be our own highest authority.

Although I have a hard time believing that congregational churches are the only ones who tend to forget that God is the one in control, having attended a congregational church all my life, I think this is a warning that we all need to hear. As much as I value congregational participation in church governance, it can, and often does, contribute to an atmosphere that is people-centered (everyone needs to have their say and we must keep everyone happy) rather than God-centered, a democracy rather than a church.

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Surviving The Imminent Death of Google Reader

The apocalypse is upon us. By “us” I mean those of us who use Google Reader. And the apocalypse, of course, is the fact that Google Reader is going away on Monday (July 1). If you’re a Google Reader user and you haven’t already made plans to move to another platform, you need to act fast if you want to continue getting feeds from your favorite blogs. So for you procrastinators, here are some of the better options for surviving the apocalypse.

Many of you don’t care about any of this because you don’t use Google Reader. If that’s because you already use another option, great. But, if you’re one of those who doesn’t really have a good way of organizing your online reading, you should check out these options as well. Randomly clicking around the internet can be fun at times (and rather disturbing), but all of these methods will be more useful for staying current with your favorite blogs. (And by “favorite,” I pretty much just mean mine.)

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Flotsam and jetsam (6/26)

Good Reads

  • The Sexual Devolution: The statistics tell us that 70 percent to 80 percent of college-age students are sexually active, but what they don’t say is how numbing and sad much of that sex actually is.
  • C. S. Lewis, Evangelical Rock Star: To this day Lewis, who published the first of his children’s books about “Narnia” in 1950, remains deeply compelling for many evangelicals, more so than for Catholics and mainline Protestants. Why?

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If You Can’t Explain Something Simply, Maybe It’s Not Simple

Simplicity is often the handmaid of clarity. I spend much of my time encouraging students toward greater clarity in writing. And that usually means shortening sentences, eliminating paragraphs, and sometimes slashing entire sections. In communication, less is usually more.

But sometimes I think we forget that in this relationship simplicity is the servant, not the master. When we make simplicity a goal in itself, it becomes the enemy of clarity.

Einstein’s Dictum

We’ve all experienced it: the belabored “explanation” that confuses more than it clarifies. I remember my high school chemistry teacher explaining a concept. It was something I’d actually learned about in a math class the year before, and thought I had a pretty good handle on it. But by the time he was done, I was thoroughly confused. That’s right, his explanation was so bad it actually caused me to un-learn something.

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Flotsam and jetsam (6/24)

Good Reads

  • Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy’: I hate a number of things. Some of them are rather silly: soap operas, egg mayonnaise, cats. Some of them are deadly serious: sex slavery, adultery, cancer, human trafficking, abortion, racism. In a handful of cases, I even hate words: “moist,” “ogle,” and “pamphlet” are among the most odious. But I don’t hate the word “inerrancy.” In fact, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
  • How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon? Most pastors have workweeks much longer than we realize because of the invisible nature of sermon preparation. As for me, the results of this poll have caused me to pray even more fervently for my pastor. His work is long. His work is never-ending. But the work he does is vitally important.
  • Five Dangers of Unaligned Small Groups: Over the years I have been surprised to find out how many church leaders have a laissez faire attitude about what is being taught in small groups and Sunday school classes. Allow me to share five dangers of this “anything goes” approach.

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Flotsam and jetsam (6/21)

Good Reads

  • The Fitness-Driven Church: Across the country, congregations are whipping members into shape with highly marketed, faith-based health programs. What’s right—and troubling—about the trend.
  • Think Inside the Box: Forget brainstorming: People are at their most innovative when they work within the constraints of what they already know.
  • Yes Church, We Still Need Seminaries: But the popular notion of seminaries as a place for training pastors and church leaders needs to be reexamined. Theological schools need to ask “How can we better serve the whole church?” Not just pastors, but people of all occupations who need deeper training in the faith?
  • How Reading Makes Us More Human: A debate has erupted over whether reading fiction makes human beings more moral. But what if its real value consists in something even more fundamental?

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The Pernicious Heresy of an Unconcerned God

There are few heresies so pernicious as that of a God who faces nothingness (sin) more or less unaffected and unconcerned, and the parallel doctrine of man as one who must engage in independent conflict against it. We know well enough what it means to be alien and adverse to grace and therefore without it. A graceless God would be a null and evil God, and a self-sufficient, self-reliant creaturely subject a null and evil creature. If a doctrine of nothingness (sin) is not unyielding on this point, nothingness (sin) itself will triumph.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/3, p. 360

Flotsam and jetsam (6/19)

battlesheep (creative Google ad)

Good Reads

  • Why It’s Often Better to Say Less: It’s not that I don’t have thoughts about things. I have plenty of them. But these days as I edge toward my sixth decade, many of those thoughts simply do not need to be expressed. Most of my black and white firm opinions of my youth have faded to gray, and with the fading has come a quiet grace that doesn’t need to force its way out front.
  • Multisite Evolution: Obviously, not everyone does multisite the same way….I want to suggest one way I’d like to see become more common– regional multisites that are leadership development engines, sending out planter pastors and campus pastors (depending on the gifting and call of the pastor) to start churches or sites that reach lost people and develop more such leaders.
  • The Difference Between ‘Volunteering’ and Volunteering: the brute-force “volunteerism” I see from corporations and universities is about getting good publicity and the cheap high of telling yourself you did good, without putting yourself to much trouble. Granted, there is an element of self-congratulation in many volunteer experiences. But there’s also an element of self-sacrifice. Experiences that lack that element ought not to be called “service” or “volunteering.”

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Flotsam and jetsam (6/17)

Good Reads

  • Do You Need a PhD to Understand the Bible? When I say you need a PhD, I don’t necessarily mean that you yourself need to earn a PhD, much less several. But you will need multiple people with PhDs involved in the process.
  • Why Reconciliation Needs Justice: Therein lies the problem: so many of us want a reconciliation that looks like a happy-go-lucky Kinkade painting. We want a reconciliation that is tidy, cheery, uncomplicated and unrealistically bright. We want oppressed people to forgive us for a history of wrongs but we don’t want to pay for that forgiveness….In short, many of us want reconciliation without justice, much like we want the resurrection without the crucifixion.
  • Why Emailing Gives You A (False) Sense of Progress: Why do we fritter away our days responding to email, and then kick ourselves for not working on our most important creative projects? It turns out that there are actually some pretty good reasons. Number one among them is that responding to email gives us a sense of progress.

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3 Mistakes We Make When Talking about the Sovereignty of God

The following is a conversation that recently took place in my daughter’s middle school group. And I think it does a good job highlighting three mistakes that we often make when we talk about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to sin and suffering in the world.

suffering pain sovereignty of God depression

Youth pastor: God is sovereign. That means he controls everything that happens.

Middle-schooler: So God was in control when my dog died? Why would God kill my dog?

Youth pastor: That’s a tough one. But sometimes God lets us go through hard times so that we’re prepared for even more difficult things in the future. I remember how hard it was when my dog died. But going through that helped me deal with an even more difficult time later when my grandma died. Does that make sense?

Middle-schooler: (Long pause.) So God killed my dog to prepare me for when he’s going to kill my grandma?

Youth pastor: (Silence.)

Ah, youth ministry. There’s nothing like a question from a 12-year old to make you realize that what you just said doesn’t make as much sense as you thought it did when you said it.

Like I said, if you look closely at this quick exchange, I think you’ll see three mistakes that people commonly make when talking about the sovereignty of God and how it relates to the bad things that happen in the world.

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