Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pastoral Tension #5 - Discernment

I felt like I was approaching heresy when I suggested another movie was better than Facing the Giants. The comparison was between it and Braveheart. Perhaps it was an unfair comparison, a battle of David versus Goliath, so to speak. Can Evangelicalism compete with Hollywood? Can the Creation Museum outmaneuver Jurassic Park?

When I raised such questions, my wise Sunday school class (who had allegedly spent the week dieting on Proverbs as part of our Bible-reading challenge for the year) said the question was "relative." No: Uncle Jeremy is relative. The quality of a movie is art and science.

Who wins a battle of Fireproof versus P.S., I Love You was not the real issue. The larger topic revolved around discernment. What value system, worldview, and biblical evaluation does one bring to watching a movie, picking a novel, or selecting a grocery store? How aware are we of our process of discernment? Do we swallow every pill that says Gospel on it? Do we reject every product made in Muslim Indonesia?

I will not answer these questions, but to say that motive and consistency is critical to the discernment process. But consistency does not mean unchanging, for consistency in discernment must include evaluation and re-application.

As a pastor I am ever facing the tension of discernment. How much to lead with questions? How much to tell it as it is? How much to confess? How much to conceal? Fortunately, I take comfort in pure motives (with a hint of vinegar and pride) and consistency (with notes of cherry and evaluation). But I take further comfort in the fact that God grants wisdom to those who ask.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pastoral Tension #4 - The Show

The parents don't dance at our church, but the little kids do. They thrash around on chairs during the music. They thrash around during announcements, too. Their energy is both endearing and distracting. The cell phone that rang during my sermon yesterday was simply distracting. What we do as a church on Sunday morning is the Show. One local pastor refers to it as the organizational aspect of the church. There is also an organic element. That is the part where the church members drive home in their hybrids and troll about in their gardens. Then they watch TV until their eyes bleed and fall asleep in recliner chairs. This is the church scattered, in the words of Hugh Halter, et al. We need to learn to do a better job of assessing health and growth in terms of its scattered and organic nature. A regular tension I face as a pastor is how much time to put into the Show (sermons, songs, and ministry spotlights) and how much time to put into the mess of life off-stage. The Christian life is not all that well represented in the Show. The Show is clean, polished, and schedule-driven; life off-stage is unpredictable, unrehearsed, and ambiguous. So we let our kids loose. We invite them to sing with us. Sometimes they storm the stage. Sometimes they snore. So do the adults. Distractions are as immanent as the Lord's return. And if any pastor thinks he can control the environment, he is a fool. But so is the pastor who invites chaos to reign. The Show calls for some order (1 Cor. 14:40): stay awake, silence your phones, and speak in turn. But, please, let the children dance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pastor Tension #2 - Overcoming Evil

Someone drew a phallic symbol on our sidewalk. I felt violated. They used my daughters' chalk. I assume it was a cohort of elementary-aged boys. One found the chalk. Another dared his peers to vandalize the concrete. Another took the dare and the chalk. The rest snickered. I don't miss those days.

I noticed the drawing when I took my dog for a walk. I paused to inspect it. The picture was artistically lacking and anatomically inaccurate. But it was no doubt phallic. Discarded in the grass lay the responsible stick of chalk. I knelt down, like Jesus in the sand, and added a few lines.

From a crude phallic sketch, I produced a common delivery truck. In a few swift strokes, I took back both my daughters' chalk and the sanctity of my sidewalk. Call this conversion. Call this redemption. Call this a victory over juvenile temper and the forces of evil.

As a pastor, I regularly commend fighting against immoral behavior. The categorical word for bad behavior is sin. It includes both a practice (drawing penises up and down Main Street) and bad posture (defying God and victimizing neighbor). This call to fight sin (and live morally blameless) in a sin-saturated world creates a pastoral tension. The demand is impossible, but necessary.
  • I will not overcome evil... but I should fight it.
  • I will not achieve perfection... but I should strive.
  • I will not redeem the world... but I should clean up my sidewalk.
The good news is that Jesus began the work of redemption, perfection, and overthrowing evil. He did it on the Cross. He proved it in the Resurrection. He shared it in the Ascension. He will consummate it in His return.

Until His return, God's people are called to be symbol of conversion, redemption, and evil overthrown. A good starting place for our calling is the sidewalk lining our streets.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pastoral Tension #2 - Transparency

My wife received a wine rack for Christmas. Actually, two. Both her father and I shared the idea. As an additional gift, he stocked it with bottles. When we hosted our extended family Christmas, there was enough wine to go around for holiday cheer on all sides. Call it a celebration. Call it Communion.

Of course, when our church celebrated Christmas, we hid the wine glasses and broke out the plastic tumblers. We filled them with Seven Up and grape juice. We called it a celebration. We called it Communion.

There is a certain wisdom, call it Pastoral Survival 101, in separating personal convictions from public practice. One of my mentors will not drink a beer with me in his home town, but will happily raise a glass in my neighborhood. And if I follow the same policy, we have to meet at a neutral location. (Chicago, Lance's Bar and Grille, 9:00?)

When it comes to teaching, preaching, and everyday conversation, there are certain personal convictions or sin struggles that are not helpful for full disclosure. This is a pastoral tension. I've known pastors who confessed sin and lost jobs. I've know pastors who hid sin and it found them out. Transparency is a risky business.

The sermon should not be treated as a confessional booth. Nor should it serve as an impersonal discourse on doctrine. Pastors make moral decisions. Pastors make ethical judgments. Pastors distinguish between family practice and public ministry. And pastors lead others to due the same.

I'm not unaware of the "stronger/weaker" brother arguments in Romans 14. Christian liberty is an important issue. Moreover, personal liberties further expose the pastoral tension of transparency. The two reasons below illustrate:
  • I cannot make decisions for any other person; each one is responsible for their choices
  • I influence other people's decisions; teachers/leaders face a fiercer judgment
In the end, pastoral transparency is lawful and most profitable when it serves as a paradigm for decision-making to others. I expose my choices--moral, ethical, sinful--to teach people discernment and how to strengthen their walk with Jesus. If pastoral transparency serves merely to justify my choices or shock some listeners, then I should leave it on the wine rack in my kitchen.