Friday, July 07, 2006
How long should a minister stay at one church? This is a question that I bat around as I mark 20 years at Park Street. It's said that the average tenure of a pastor in any one church is 3-5 years max. By that time, the call of the career ladder, the emergence of conflict or boredom take hold. On the one hand, a new minister brings new hope and new possibilities. We all love the promise that comes with a new relationship. However, as experience also shows, it's not long before old personality traits and habits surface. Soon we're back where we were before; looking for greener grass (and a greener minister). On the other hand, a long term pastorate forces the erosion of masking layers. Idealizations dissolve and pedestals crumble. The hard personalities of both congregation and minister that remain present real opportunities for Christian love. The minister who moves from place to place can hide his sinful side. The minister who stays has to serve with his or her sinful side exposed relying not on his or her ability, but solely on God's grace. I'll admit that there are days when leaving feels like the solution to disappointment, conflict or the lure of novelty. But in the end I've found that only through staying is my own soul hewn into more obedient shape. When a congregation and a minister can work together and for each other as one body of Christ, the outcomes are real spiritual growth, genuine Christian love and authentic Christian witness.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
“Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.” (Proverbs 10:10; NRSV rather than the NIV) Solomon is not denouncing winking per se, but winking at as in “pretending not to see.” There was this Midwest mega-church which right after completing their “phase-one-58-million-dollar-building-project” had their Senior Pastor publicly acknowledge an illicit affair he’d been having with the church secretary. “Ah, what else is new?” you skeptically think. Yet what makes this particular story more disturbing and sad is how church elders knew about the senior minister’s sin but “winked at it” rather than jeopardize the building project’s completion. The neighboring community responded by shaking its collective head, chalking up the whole scandal as yet one more reason to stay home and watch football on Sundays. Granted, it would have been awkwardly unpleasant for somebody to have gotten into this minister’s face; but if anybody had really cared about the man or about the church, they should have done it. Maybe the problem was that nobody really cared. Or maybe nobody wanted to be the heavy. It is much easier to just let things slide. That way at least you get to relish the gossip (and we do love gossip). Besides, who am I to correct you? Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job? Yes. But since when do Christians listen to the Holy Spirit? And who’s to say that you can’t be the hand the Holy Spirit uses to smack somebody upside their head? Such confrontation does take courage. Which is why Solomon used the adverb “boldly” alongside rebuke. However Solomon is not granting permission to get all judgmental and legalistic. This proverb is about peacemaking; peacemaking which goes beyond glib notions of personal anxiety relief to the hard reality of confronting another’s sin for the sake of the shalom of God. A bold rebuke should be like sunlight. It unambiguously exposes the wrong yet also provides the warmth required for repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation to occur. If you care about somebody you don’t wink at their sin, you muster enough courage to smack them upside their head. But you then take that same hand and guide them back onto the right road—a road you’re more than willing to travel alongside them. Does this happen in our own communities?
The opening verses of Genesis are among the most powerful of all Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” They provide the core of our faith and hope. Of course Genesis doesn’t spell out specifically how God created, at least not in any scientific fashion, which has led to ongoing debates over evolution, creationism and intelligent design. Regrettably, as Fuller Seminary’s Nancey Murphy observes, “Vast numbers of young people are taught that evolution and Christianity can’t both be true. They get a good science education in college, recognize the truth of the evolutionary picture, and then believe that they have to reject their faith.” I spent the Christmas holiday reading Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, a persuasive tome on the interrelatedness of faith and evolution by a Christian and cell biologist from Brown University. He makes the case that quantum indeterminacy and the anthropic principle provide plain scientific space for the plausibility of God and that evolution itself should be viewed as evidence of God’s own competent creative power. “If God exists,” Miller writes, “He acts in the world today in concert with natural laws and works his will in the present through contingent events of human and natural history. All that evolution does is point out that the workings of natural processes are sufficient to explain the contingent events of natural history in the past, including the origin and extinction of species. There is neither logical nor theological basis for excluding God’s use of natural processes to originate species, ourselves included. There is therefore no reason for believers to draw a line in the sand between God and Darwin.” As to miracles, they are just that: miracles. If all truth ultimately resides with God who was “in the beginning,” then theology need not be pitted against science nor accommodated to science. “If we can see the hand of God in the unpredictable events of history and we can see meaning and purpose in the challenges and trials of our daily lives,” Miller argues, “then we can certainly see God’s will in the grand and improbable tree of life.” What do you think?