How Far to Mar's Hill?: Pastors and Culture

LifeWay recently released a body of research that reveals pastors are less informed than people in their churches about the culture in which they live. Researcher Ron Sellers gave the following analysis in The Baptist Record:

The data show ministers are, generally speaking, not all that informed about the culture in which they seek to minister. The people in the pews feel much more informed about the Internet, movies, videogames, and other expressions of popular culture than do their pastors.

It is clear that Chrisitian leaders are doing a very poor job of reading the culture. How can we reach a world we don't care to understand? Instead of building a massive sub-culture for evangelicals maybe we should revisit the missional passion of the apostles. I know the agrument, "We'll become worldly." I submit that there is another danger. Ed Stetzer notes, "Every missionary path has to find the way between these two dangers: irrelevance and syncretism."

I think we may have done the amazing work of embracing irrelevance AND syncretism. In an effort to be "Christian" in the world we have our own stuff. As we went shopping this past weekend I saw a board game based on a book by a popular television preacher. I saw Christian t-shirts that looked like the Starbuck's logo. I saw Christian breath mints. We have both embraced and rejected the culture and we look goofy doing it.

Maybe we should pay a visit to a real coffee house and eat a worldy mint afterward. Maybe we should read a novel, see a film. We could look for hints of spiritual hunger and the thin silence of God's grace speaking in art and culture. We could live the gospel in a world we are in but not of. What do you think?

Preaching Preview

Title: "Be Thankful. Don't be Complacent."
Text: Romans 1:17

Teaching Series: Romans
Text: Romans 6

Something to ponder -
In I Kings 18:1-4 the young King Hezekiah boldly destroys a sacred object to insure that God's people will grow "from faith to faith." The bronze snake that once brought healing was reduced, by Hezekiah, to Nehushtan (bronze thing). I'll bet he hacked a few good church folks off.

What good thing is keeping you from experiencing God's best? Is it easier for you to trust a method you can contol to the living God you can't? What is the danger of serving "the thing" and not God?

Well Said Quunndarious!

We are in Meridian, MS celebrating Thanksgiving with family. The Meridian Star is "all positive" today. They are running warm-hearted pieces written by local people. A sixth grader named Quunndarious Pettus wrote an "I'm thankful for" letter to the editor. I think the little guy nailed it -

I am thankful for the Lord waking me up every day. I am thankful for the great life I have and my loving family. I am thankful for the clothes that are on my body. I am thankful for my mom and dad because they brought me into this world.

I don't think I can improve on ole Quunndarious. He covers all the main things so all I'll do is add my genuine thanks.

Have a great thanksgiving!

Cormac McCarthy and the Bible

I was given my first Cormac McCarthy novel by my wife's writer dad. It was a gift for earning a graduate degree in divinity. I was hooked. I appreciate all of McCarthy's work but I was especially moved by his recent book The Road. I can honestly say that I experienced God as I read it.

Get the book and read it!

Here are some of my spiritual reflections on the novel:

The frailty of everyting revealed at last.
McCarthy's novel takes place in an ashen world. It is our world after we caught up with us. The glitter of the modern experience is made grey by human sin. The world is plastic and metal. In the midst of this the man and boy tote "essential things" and read old newpapers filled with "quaint concerns." Knowing the true frailty of things helps us all focus on the essential matters. When we fail to see clearly we spill blood over the trivial.

You have my whole heart.
The man and the boy illustrate the power of community. They plod along together. They are pilgrims together on the road. They are each other's world entire. Like Jonathan and his armor bearer and Ruth and Naomi we all need heart partners for the journey.

Sustained by a breath.
McCarthy makes use of the biblical image of the breath of life. The Hebrew Ruach brooded over the earth giving it life. It revived dry bones and filled the supplicants at Pentecost. Jesus breathed on his disciples and his breath continues to bring life out of death.

Are you carrying the fire?
The good men of McCarthy's world carry the fire. The fire was in Jeremiah's bones and in the upper room. The fire called Moses to free the slaves. The fire saved Pascal. The fire is the vitality of essential things. Do you carry it?

He stayed three days and then he walked out to the road and looked down the road and he looked back the way they had come. Someone was coming.
The novel ends with a type of Easter hope. Three days of deep darkness and then light. Someone was coming. Someone is coming. The fire, wind, rock, and water is coming. He is coming to reveal the frailty that is and the life that will be.

This wonderful novel is filled with many more powerful images. These are just a few that called me to some life giving passages in scripture. Read the novel. Read the bible. Leave the quaint concerns and travel the road. Give your heart to another.

Happy reading!

Preaching Preview

Title - "The Cup of Thanksgiving"
Text - I Corinthians 10:16-22; 11:17-33

The Table of the Lord commands four things essential for spiritual formation. We are called to give thanks, discern the Body of Christ, turn from sin, and announce the good news. Prepare your heart for the celebration of the Supper in the morning service. We will also collect an offering for community service.

Series - Romans
Text - Romans 5

Off the Record: Commentary on the Journal of the Mississsippi Baptist Convention

Here are a couple of pieces that I found interesting in this week's Record:

Cooperative Program: Simply the Best
William Perkins' editorial was a promotion piece for the Cooperative Program. He gave a very clear and well thought out argument for the CP. His effort is appreciated.

I believe that the CP is ONE tool for funding missions and not the ONLY one. A famous Memphis preacher, of a former generation, warned us about making the CP a sacred cow. He made the argument during the heat of the resurgence/takeover. I think there was some wisdom in his words. It is the responsibility of the local church to decide how to steward the treasure God gives us. The CP is a good tool but there are others.

Art Toalston of Baptist Press wrote a guest opinion regarding the Ted Haggard story. It was a good article about biblical holiness, grace, and forgiveness. I wrote a number of posts last week about leadership that speak to these issues. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday's Word


We are participating in the Community Thanksgiving Service @ Sweet Rest Holiness Church. I hope to see you there.

Off the Record: Commentary on the Journal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention AND Preaching Preview

We have been in New York all week so I will practice a little word economics by posting the sermon previews and "Off the Record" together.

Off the Record: Commentary on the Journal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention

The Baptist Record did a good job of boiling down the 2006 convention. I commend William Perkins for his editorial work. Three items will have a real impact on all Mississippi Baptists.
1. A record budget was passed. The budget committee made up for last year's freeze in a big way. There was no static over the request.
2. R.I.P G.B.A. Gulf Shore Baptist Assembly will be closed for good and a new conference center will be built in another location. I understand this move but am sad to see GBA go. Meredith and I have many wonderful memories of GBA. I think we share these memories with almost all Mississippi Baptists.
3. Dr. Cooper was re-elected as President. Dr. Cooper has an infectious passion. I think he is doing a great job as Convention President.

Preaching Preview

Morning Series: "Thanks Be To God"
Morning Text: Psalm 100

Evening Teaching Series: Romans
Text: Romans 4

The Rhino Gets the Last Word

This is my last post on leadership for the time being. This blog has helped me think through some leadership issues that are important to me. I appreciate the emails from friends and the few, but fruitful, comments on Broken Steeple. They have helped me sharpen my own thoughts on defeating the leadership monsters Luther described so vividly. I had an experience today that summed up this season of thinking about leadership.

Meredith and I went into New York today. We have been meeting and working with Bob Griner of the South Mountain Community Church in Millburn, NJ. Today we had an afternoon to hang out as a couple. It was great.

We went by F.A.O Schwarz to buy Molly Katherine a gift. While we were there, Meredith bought a little wooden rhino and gave it to me as a gift. I collect rhinos. I have a ceramic one and a stuffed one named Rusty. He talks when you squeez his belly. The rhinos in my office remind me of some advice a wise old pastor once gave me. He said, "If you are going to do anything as a pastor you've got to become a rhino. You've got to have a thick skin and a big heart."

Rhino pastors are not lazy wimps or control freaks. They are tough and tender. They are snakes and doves. Pray for me because I want to be a rhino.

Pig Pen's Cloud

I have had some wonderful emails about the leadership posts. Most of them have been from members of our congregation. These friends form part of the Christian community that makes me want to be a godly leader. I believe that our actions and attitudes touch the lives of others in profound ways - both positive and negative. This is why Paul wrote, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about US."

Missing the mark as a leader causes real problems for others. I found a good metaphor that spoke to this in this morning's USA Today. By quoting it I'm in no way making a political comment. I simply love the image. Former Republican national chairman Frank Fahrenkopf was asked about the Iraq war's impact on the elections. He said, "It was like the old Charlie Brown cartoon, with Pig Pen shadowed by a cloud of dust. Every Republican had that cloud over him regardless of what they did. It was pretty tough to get out from under that."

The televangelist scandals of the eighties, the priest scandals and the Ted Haggard story illustrate the power of the cloud of dust. We must strive for good leadership. The Christian US depends on it.

South Mountain Community Church

Meredith and I are in suburban New York meeting and working with Bob Griner of the South Mountain Community Church. Bob is a great guy and we look forward to a few days with him. Our church (Truitt Memorial Baptist Church) has adopted a church planting partnership model. We will be a cluster partner with South Mountain. It will be our third partnership.

Keep us in your prayers.

Snakes and Doves

I am still thinking about Martin Luther's challenge to kill the leadership monsters knowns as frivolity and severity. I have known these monsters as "lazy wimp" and "control freak." Both are major threats to fruitful pastoral ministry.

I have been encouraged to look at the book of Titus for guidance in dealing with these enemies of the soul. Paul instructed Titus -

"For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." Titus 2:7-9 ESV

Wow! Lazy Wimp and Control Freak are not fitting handles for the scriptural overseer. Paul said so. Jesus did as well. His word -

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16 ESV

Anymore ideas on doing this?

Luther on Leadership

Meredith and I have been talking about how easy it is to fail as a Christian leader. You can fall off the horse on both sides. You can be a lazy wimp or a control freak. Very few get it right. I was amazed to discover that Martin Luther dealt with this in one of his early lectures to students.

"Calling these two vices by name we might describe them as frivolity and severity. Of the first Zechariah says (Zech. 11:17): 'Woe to the idle shepherd that leaveth the flock!' Of the second Ezekiel writes (Ezek. 34:4): 'With force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.' These are the two chief sins from which all other pastoral offenses flow. They are the roots of all evil. It is therefore very dangerous for anyone to receive the office, before these two monsters have been slain. The more power they exercise, the greater is the harm they do." Martin Luther

How do you guys battle these beasts? I would appreciate your insights.

Preaching Preview

Morning Series: "Thanks Be To God"
Background Text: I Corinthians 15

Evening Series: Romans
Focal Text: Romans 3

A quote to ponder - "It [Romans] can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes." Martin Luther

Off the Record: Commentary on the Journal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention

The Baptist Record will deal with the convention next week. This week was a little thin but they did include a great BP piece that reminded me why I am so glad Thom Rainer is the head of LifeWay. The analysis into their recent study into the thoughts of the formerly churched was great. According to the study two-thirds of those who have left the church are open to coming back. Researcher Scott McConnell said, "Clearly we can encourage Christians to pray that the unchurched would sense God calling them back, but God works through His people. The survey showed that many would respond to an invitation from a friend." Indeed. I encourage you to read the entire piece. It is very important. Note: If you feel like you are reading hebrew it is because I can not get the paragraph function to work on blogger. Sorry.

Wednesday's Word

...but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee. Deuteronomy 23:5 KJV

God has a way of turning curses into blessings. How does He do it? Scripture reveals at least five different ways. We will explore them in detail tonight.

God turns a curse into blessings by -

1. giving us new opportunities for ministry. Genesis 45:5-8
2. giving us eternal rewards. Matthew 5:43-47
3. forming our character. Matthew 5:48; James1:2-3
4. reminding us of his love. Deuteronomy 23:5
5. giving us a spirit of glory. I Peter 4:12-19

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Romans 12:14 ESV
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