In the Present Tense

November 2, 2010

Political parties. . .and Churches?

I’m departing from the series on First Principles– well, sorta– because I want to talk about something that’s timely.

As I write this, it looks like a political tide of historic proportions is about to sweep the U.S. This is not a partisan post. I’m not going to comment on whether I’m in favor or opposed to either the current direction of policy, or the predicted wave of opposition to it.

Numerous commentators on both sides of the issue have pointed out that it’s not generally a good idea to tell voters that they are too stupid, or angry, or inattentive– whatever– to know what’s good for you. In my years, I’ve seen this from all sides of the political spectrum at different times. In politics, it’s self-defeating.

What concerns me is that I have often heard this same thing from evangelists, preachers, and other church officials. For example, “If they don’t respond to our evangelism, it’s because they are hardened in sin,” one might say.

“Yes, I know, it’s terrible how blinded people have become by the corruption in society,” another might reply.

I’ve actually heard serious people saying this things. Repeatedly. For many years.

Imagine a business saying “Our customers are just not bright enough to buy our product.” Or buying ad advertisement telling customers, “If you actually knew what you were doing, you would beg us to sell you our services.” A business that says that sort of thing would soon be out of business.

But churches and political parties often become so certain of how correct they are, that anyone who doesn’t come on board is stupid, foolish, or not paying attention.

Well, the Bible makes it pretty clear that people–including ourselves– are in fact stupid, foolish, and not paying attention. That simply gives us a better idea of what our task is. It is precisely sinful, corrupted, hardened, foolish, and inattentive people it is our duty to reach.

Put another way, both political parties and churches that bemoan the condition of their audience should instead recognize that it is their message, their marketing, their communication that is lacking.

Next time you hear someone talking about how difficult it is to reach the audience, be aware that they’re really saying: We don’t know how to do our job. Because a prerequisite to learning is admitting our ignorance.


September 3, 2010

The Challenge

Filed under: Bible study, Evangelism, Law and Legalism, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 9:40 am

I’ve been reluctant to take the next step, but to be true to my readers and my calling, I feel compelled to continue.

The Adventist Church, and virtually every other denomination or even independent congregation of which I am aware, is geared toward producing hollow III churches and leaders. That’s because evaluations are made on the basis of “success.” on numbers. Whether it ‘s the membership, attendance, or tithe, we assess and promote on the basis of success.

Numerous consequences follow. First of all, no institution is fond of “dark nights of the soul.’  Pastors and leaders who enter the dark night actually question success.This literally appears to be heretical to those above and below them in the organization. So institutional forces discourage and often punish the inward journey.

Necessarily, then, we end up with many in positions of leadership who are “hollow III’s,” individuals who have not found their personal identity and purpose.

These leaders will also discourage others from entering the dark night, and thus stunt the spiritual growth of any who listen. It also results in a church largely made up of those below level III, that is of those in the Romance and Discipleship stages.

In fact, in most congregations of which I have been a part, being in the Romance and Discipleship stages is the path to church office and leadership.  As someone has said, people generally rise no higher than their leadership. This alone insures that most of our congregations will be stuck at levels I and II.

This explains why so many have such a negative view of Christians in the advanced world. The main examples they see are “successful” preachers. And so people ask, as the song did, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?”

More likely they encounter Discipleship members, intent on learning, and often enforcing, all the “rules” as they understand them. This “gnat straining and camel swallowing” religion turns them off.

And those in the Romance phase seem simply delusional. If we want to have spiritually growing congregations, then we are going to have to change what we look at and what we measure. As Baptist Bob Logan warned us, “We need to change the role, the function, and the compensation of our pastors.”

Right now, we’re looking at the wrong things, and rewarding the wrong behaviors, from top to bottom. The problem is not only that we need to change, but that change will threaten Success, and perplex Disciple level believers. Indeed, if our model is correct, then leaders who attempt these changes will likely have made it to level V, the Outward Journey. And again, if our model is correct, as soon as the vast majority of Level II believers become aware of the leader’s true Level V status, they will kill him.

Having said this, is it therefore impossible to make such changes? No. We’ll explore how in future posts.

June 10, 2010

Growing in Faith III — Success.

Filed under: Evangelism, Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 1:01 am

The third stage in growth is Success. Everything works here.  Everyone loves you. You no lonfer nee a mentor. In fact, some may choose you as mentor

The problem here is the temptation to stay here. This produces a “hollow three.” Sadly, many do choose to stay here.

You’ve seen the ones who stay here. Many an evangelist remains here, comfortable with shallow answers as long as they produce results. The fact that  people who contribute to the evangelist’s success don’t stay long in the church, nor do they grow, is considered the fault of the local church or pastor. “I got them here, now it’s up to you to keep them,” is a recognizable attitude.

Success also tempts the local pastor of a large church with impressive buildings and multiple ministries to avoid “rocking the boat.” But I always remember Sister Theresa’s reminder that “Our goal is not success. Our goal is faithfulness.”

Success feels good, but it is not our goal. It is not the goal of spiritual growth. It is one step along the way, but it is not our destination. You may have heard that “the good is the enemy of the best.” So it is with the success stage of spiritual growth. It is good, but it is not the best. And, being so good, we are tempted to rest in the hammock of success, and let the world go by.

Jesus had success in his ministry, and indeed the devil tempted him to accept success. But the path to salvation, the path to spiritual growth, lies in a different direction.

We have three more steps to go. And more than one bump in the road.

October 29, 2009

Telling or Asking?

Filed under: Bible study, Evangelism, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 7:02 pm

Over at Adventist Today, I got into a discussion concerning my article there, “Turn Out the Lights.” In the comment section, I made this suggestion concerning retaining more young adults:

One step we might take is to start listening, and asking questions ourselves, instead of assuming we already know what others want, what they mean, or what they are saying.

Which elicited this interesting response:

In evangelism, Ed, we don’t wait for people to “ask the right question” because sinful man often does not know what question to ask.

Anyone interested in the rest of the discussion can read it there.

The reason I bring this up is not that I disagree with what my respondent wrote– quite the contrary. It is precisely my experience that in evangelism we rarely, if ever, ask any questions of those we seek to reach. And, surely, sinful people do not necessarily know the questions they “need” to ask. But I’m not certain that other sinful human beings — or are evangelists sinless?!! I don’t think so — are so all wise as to know precisely what someone else should be asking. That idea makes me more than a little uneasy.

My first impulse is always to go back to basics–back to the beginning, to the Bible, to the record of how God does things. And when I do that, do I find more telling— God, after all, does know what people need–or more asking?

The Bible shows that God does both. But what fascinates me is how often God begins with asking. God, who knows everything.

In Genesis 3, for example, when Adam and Eve have sinned, and hidden from God (now there’s a sign of sin degrading our reasoning process, imagine hiding from God), God surely knows what has happened, and where they are. Does He start by telling them their terrible mistake? No. Gen 3:9 indicates God asks, “Where are you?”

And when Adam replies that they are hiding because they are naked, God does not say, “Oh, ho! You’ve been a bad boy!” Instead, God asks another question “Who told you you were naked?”

And then, when Adam explains that he ate the fruit his wife gave him, God asks yet another question. “What is this that you have done?” Only then does God tell them the consequences.

And this pattern is repeated throughout the Bible. When Cain kills Able, God asks, “Where is your brother?”

Jesus, God with us, demonstrates the same behavior. A pastor friend of mine from another denomination wrote his dissertation on the questions of Jesus. And there are so, so many.

Jesus at 12 in the temple: Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?

Jesus in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: Why are you so afraid?

Jesus to the man at the pool: Do you want to be healed?

Jesus to Peter: Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?

Jesus to Judas in the Garden: Do you betray me with a kiss?

When I see how often God, Who knows all, asks rather than tells, it persuades me that perhaps I, who know so little, should get in that same habit.

What do you think?

P.S. Please forgive me for taking this opportunity to wish a Happy Birthday, today, to my delightful daughter Elise!

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