If you read Bell’s book as doctrine you are missing the point Rob Bell is making. In short, Bell is taking on the evangelical establishment. And while Bell asserts ultimately that Love Wins, it remains to be seen if Rob Bell will.
Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is already generating tons of controversy. Harper One is sending me a pre-publication copy to review. I also hope to snag an interview with Rob about the book. The book hits the stores on March 29 and I hope to have a review up before that. Until then, watch this promotional video and tell me what you think? Is Bell just teasing us, is he a heretic as some are saying, or is this just good PR for the book? Let me know what you think.
I deactivated my Twitter account today. I also deleted a couple of blogs, including my oldest, Amicus Dei, but it was time to pull the plug. I’ll be closing down NewChurchReport.com soon.
Here at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, I’ll be focusing on small church life and ministry exclusively. No more opinions about what Congress ought to do, or how to solve the problem of globalization. I realized that nobody cares what my opinions are on those issues, and I’m not an expert. Not that you have to be, but still I’m going to stick with what little I know, which is life and ministry here in my small town at our small church.
I’m simplifying my online life, which is an oxymoron in itself. I’m still here, and on Facebook. I’m on Facebook because I get to see my grandchildren, or I’d probably drop that, too. Has anybody else done something similar? Why, and did it help or not?
We often talk about spiritual decisions being either decisions of the heart or of the head, meaning those decisions are either based on feeling or thinking. But when it comes to the decision to follow Jesus, what we’re really talking about is a decision of the feet.
Matthew 4:18-22 is the account of Jesus calling the first disciples — Peter and Andrew, and James and John — two sets of brothers, two families of fishermen. Matthew records the action this way —
“As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” — Matthew 4:18-20 NRSV
The same scene repeats itself with James and John, the Sons of Thunder. “Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him.”
Decisions of the heart and head may be internal and individual. But decisions of the feet are public, obvious, and practical. When the Bible says, “They followed him” it literally means they not only felt and thought that Jesus was someone special, but their feet decided to go where Jesus went, and they followed him quickly, immediately, and irrevocably. Decisions of the feet might be what we need more of today.
Do you ever get bored with ministry? Doing the same stuff, making the same hospital visits, and preaching a sermon or two each week can blur into a kind of sleepwalking routine. But, have you ever thought of boredom as the shadowside of competence? By that I mean, if you get bored with what you’re doing occasionally, it could be you’re good at doing it.
Let me explain. We get bored with the routine, with things that come easy to us, with the lack of challenge or sense of accomplishment. The “impostor syndrome” is an extreme version of a self-consciousness about the things we’re good at. Boredom can be an indication that you’re competent, but no longer challenged by what you’re doing.
Of course, I’m not referring to the kind of boredom that results from lying on the couch watching TV when you should be writing your sermon. Or the kind of boredom that results from sloth, laziness, depression, or other factors. No, I’m just talking about the everyday kind of hum-drum of doing the same things over and over, on a kind of auto-pilot because you could do them in your sleep.
So, take hope. If you’re bored in ministry, that may not be a bad thing. But, you don’t want to stay bored either. If the routine has gotten too routine, challenge yourself. Take a course, write a book, rearrange your weekly schedule, meet some new people, and look at things differently. Pastoring is as much about faithfulness as it is about vision, achievement and goals. But, that doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.
Of course, boredom can lead to what psychologists call “acting out.” I remember a pastor in Nashville who was caught breaking into cars at the local health club. Or church leaders who act out sexually, or financially. Sometimes we try to cure boredom with an adrenaline rush just to help us feel we’re alive. If you want an adrenaline rush, take up sky diving, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid.
Can ministry be boring? Absolutely. But when you find yourself going through the motions like a religious robot, do a quick self-intervention and remember: If you’re bored, you’re probably good at what you do.
I’m giving this devotional for our DMin seminar on Thursday morning, March 4, 2010 at Fuller Seminary.
In Matthew 14:13-21, we have the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This is an interesting story for several reasons, but I want us to focus on the disciples response to Jesus. And, I want us to think about how we do ministry in light of this story.
Of course, the story goes that Jesus had just heard that John the Baptist had been killed. He attempted to withdraw to a “solitary place” but the crowds followed him. The Bible says he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.
As the day wore on and was nearing sundown, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place and it’s already late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus response was first, “They don’t need to go away.”
And, secondly, he said, “You give them something to eat.” In other words, you feed them.
The disciples did a quick inventory, and said, “We have only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.” Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.”
You know the story from that point on: Jesus has the crowd seated, he blesses the bread, and then gives it to the disciples to hand out. They hand it out, everyone eats, and then they take up 12 basketfuls after everyone has eaten and is satisfied. One basketful for each disciple. Keep that in mind.
This is the meditation I am sharing tonight for our community Lenten service.
1 When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket.
Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.
5 Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.
8 So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;
10and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. 11 And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.
God brings us down.
Jewish life is full of storytelling. The Passover is the most well-known example, when the youngest child asks the question, “Why is this night different from all others?” Then, among other things, the story of the exodus from Egypt is told, very much like this telling we have just read. But our passage tonight covers a lot of territory.
First, “My father was a wandering Aramean” probably refers to Abraham to connect the storyteller with the ancestry of all Jews. Aram and Chaldea were closely connected, although we don’t have time to go into that here. But this is probably an attempt to Continue reading “Lenten meditation: Remembering the Journey”→
This article was first published in Neue Quarterly, Vol. 4, Summer 2009.
Remembering Why You Said Yes by Chuck Warnock
The phone rang at 3 A. M. one Saturday morning. “Pauline is dying,” her niece said, “Can you come?” I dressed quickly, told my wife I didn’t know when I would return, and headed out the door. I drove to the nursing home ten miles away where the oldest member of our congregation lay dying. At 105, Pauline had outlived her husband, her nearest relatives, her friends, and her neighbors. Now her time had come, too. I was Pauline’s pastor. It was my duty to be there with her as she crossed from this life into the next. But I knew it was more than just my job, it was my calling.
If you are a pastor, you probably have had a similar experience. In a time of crisis, you know why you go. You represent God’s presence, God’s comfort, and God’s grace to those passing through their own dark night of the soul. Sitting in a hospital with anxious parents whose child is in surgery; or, standing with a widow as she identifies the body of her husband, you know you make a difference. In those times it is not difficult to remember why we said “Yes” to God’s call to pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, there are other times in a pastor’s life when the clarity of our call fades, discouragement clouds our memory, and we wonder “why did I ever want to be a pastor?”
I experienced a period of doubt and discouragement in 1990, and I forgot why I had become a pastor. And when I forgot why I had become a pastor, the next question I asked myself was, “Why don’t you quit?” And I did. I resigned the church I started and left pastoral ministry. I thought I had nothing more to say. I thought my years of ministry hadn’t made a difference. I was tired emotionally and spiritually, and I quit because I couldn’t remember why I had begun. Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there. In 2003, I stood in the pulpit for the first time in thirteen years. I had remembered again why I said “Yes.”
The Myths of Ministry
Looking back on my own struggle with God’s call, I realized that three “myths of ministry” contributed to my difficulty. This is not an exhaustive list, but these myths played a key role in my experience:
We probably wouldn’t think of asking someone today, How is it with your soul?, but maybe that’s exactly what we should be doing. Of course, the question itself sounds outdated and very 19th century, certainly not the kind of question we would ask anyone in this postmodern, technological era. But our failure to ask that question may be a clue to why people are increasingly choosing to stay away from our churches. Let me explain.
The Neglect of the Soul
The concept of soul has fallen on hard times in our uber-scientific age. We no longer entertain the quaint notion that we need to attend to, or care for, our souls. As a matter of fact, the whole business of the human soul is up for grabs. I just finished reading Whatever Happened to the Soul? In it the authors discuss the various theories of the human soul, including the theory that the soul doesn’t really exist, that humans are no more than their component physical parts. The book rejects that notion, and opts for a holistic view of human beings as a unity of body and soul.
Thomas Moore, in his bestselling book, Care of the Soul, writes from a monastic background, but expands the idea of soul to include more than a person’s eternal destiny. Moore contends that we need to care for our souls, the essence of who we are as living beings, and pay more attention to the “soul” of all things both living and inanimate.
Of all places, we should be talking about and attending to the idea of soul in our churches. And, that is the way things used to be. John J. McNeill’s classic book, A History of the Cure of Souls, traces the importance of the soul in pre-Christian and Christian cultures. In short, the church used to pay great attention to the idea of soul and the condition of the souls of its congregants.
Before the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Descartes’ famous, “I think therefore I am”, man’s existence revolved around the idea of his soul. Granted, there was a lot of Platonic dualism, separating the idea of physical body from immaterial soul, but even with that duality, soul was more than just that part that went to heaven. Soul was the essence of humanity, the part of mankind that responded to God, and souls needed “curing” — which meant both caring for and gathering into the Christian community.
But with the Enlightenment, science and the scientific method pushed faith and God out of the public realm. One could talk about things that were provable, but of course, faith and the soul were not among those things. Hence, the loss of the soul began.
The Christian Message Becomes Centered in the Intellect
In the 20th century, the shift continued as the Christian message was intellectualized. The appeal was to what the individual had or had not done: Have you accepted Christ as your savior? Have you been born again? Do you believe the Bible?
And, mid-20th century evangelicals asserted a fundamental faith in the Bible, and several denominations engaged in what Harold Lindsell in 1978 called, The Battle for the Bible. Again, an appeal to a system of beliefs, not the state of one’s soul. Of course, belief is important and the history of the church confirms this with the ancient creedal statements of the faith that addressed doctrinal matters from an intellectual standpoint. But what was lost in the 20th century was an emphasis on the condition of one’s soul, because that was displaced by the condition of one’s mind — what do you believe?
The Church Is Uniquely a Soul Place
But if we return to asking the question, How is it with your soul?, we would accomplish several things.
First, the human soul would again become the location of our spiritual lives. Some might call this a heart-vs-head battle, but that doesn’t really express it. To be a human soul is not to choose warm affection over clear-headed intellect. Being a human soul encompasses both. But if we must choose a focus, that focus should be on our souls, not our brains.
Secondly, focus on the condition of our souls would remind us that the soul needs constant care. The loss of concern about the condition of our souls has come about because we think that all we have to do for our souls is to “trust Jesus as our personal savior.” That certainly is a critical part of both caring for, and “curing” our souls. But to assume that the totality of soul care is a one-time decision is equivalent to believing that we only need to eat one meal in our lifetimes to care for our bodies. We attend to our bodies each day with food, drink, and care, and our souls are no different and no less important.
Finally, to ask, How is it with your soul?, is to invite another to search their own soul for the answer. The question can be asked of believer and non-believer alike, and can lead to further conversation about the care of souls through prayer, spiritual practice, and of course, surrender to God through Christ.
Churches should be communities in which the real issues of our humanity are presented. Instead of answering questions about the soul, however, much of our effort focuses on popular problems and their solutions. While it’s fine to have a series on “how to have a great marriage” or “what the Bible says about finances” the problems of 21st century life are soul problems, not just technical problems followed by self-help answers. We must not become cultural technicians, when what the world needs are doctors of the soul.
So, how is it with your soul today? Not, did you attend church last week?, or do you have a quiet time each day?, but how is your soul doing? And how are the souls of your church members today? Are they strong souls, grieving souls, healthy souls, or lost souls? We may need a new way to ask that old question, How is it with your soul?, but if we fail to ask it we are failing to attend to the most basic need of human beings.