This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Pastor as Theologian

In Nazarene polity, tradition, and current practice, the local church pastor has many roles. One of the most important is “theologian-in-residence.” The pastor is called to frame the conversation of his or her parish, to clearly communicate how the community of faith thinks about God, the world, the Church, and persons, making sure the congregation’s lived-out practice fits with our theology.

This task not only involves what is said in sermons, but also in such details of congregational life as the choice of VBS curriculum, compassionate ministry, age-group programming, evangelism, and participation with other congregations. Our lived-out theology provides guidance in how we treat one another, how we deal with conflict and broken relationships, and how we lead others to Christ.

This pastoral task requires intensive training, and is the reason education for ordination includes significant coursework in biblical studies and theology. Our Wesleyan perspective calls us to a unique place in today’s faith conversations—we are neither fundamentalist nor liberal, and the tension inherent in this via media requires pastors who know and can clearly communicate what we believe as Nazarenes.

One of the most important ways the pastor serves as theologian-in-residence is through purposeful conversations. In our local church, my friends have heard me say certain phrases so many times, that they repeat them as measures of whether a ministry or program fits with our theology.

“We believe God is working in everyone’s life, all the time.”

“We are here to make evident the kingdom of God in our community.”

“Creating an environment where God’s love can be experienced.”

“Showing people they belong before we can teach them what to believe or how to behave.”

“Holiness is demonstrated through loving relationships.”

“God does not waste a consecrated life.”

“We demonstrate Kingdom priorities in the way we treat people.”

“How we live Monday through Saturday is just as important as how we worship on Sunday.”

None of these are earth shattering in their creativity. They are just simple statements that help our congregation think and reflect theologically as we do life together as a community of faith.

Sometimes there is a temptation to do things simply because other churches are doing them, or because we have always done them, or because they elicit an emotional response, or because they seem to work.

While none of those reasons are necessarily wrong, they should not be the primary rationale for beginning or continuing a ministry. We should not organize our youth group solely to draw the most kids to our events, nor should we plan programs just to fill up a calendar. Our goal is Christlikeness, and busier people are not necessarily holier people (another one of our favorite phrases).

The pastor’s role as theologian is essential as the congregation reflects on the reasons why we do what we do and works together in creating an environment where what we believe and how we live as a community of faith are in harmony.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Not Really Embracing the Cross

As we come down to the last few days before Resurrection Sunday, I come to my annual struggle with the violence of the cross. 

I embrace what Christ did for all of us. 

I embrace the empty tomb.
I embrace the victory over sin and death.

I struggle with the cross.

I know the cross really happened. I know that it mattered. 

I still struggle with the cross.

To me, the cross represents all that sin does. Sin dehumanizes. Sin injures. Sin kills. Sin destroys. Sin silences. And I do not celebrate that. I cry out in agony over that. 

I struggle with the cross.

Throughout human history, people have treated one another exactly the same way people treated Jesus on the cross. People who claim to be followers of Jesus do that - in the name of God. In the name of Jesus.

I truly believe the cross was never meant to be celebrated. It was meant to be a reminder - this is how bad we can treat one another when we forget the love of God. A horrible reminder.

On Palm/Passion Sunday, in our little church, we will take a wooden cross and place it front and center in the sanctuary. In front of the pulpit. It will be the center of attention. It will be a reminder of how bad sin can be, and how much we need Jesus. Because if we don't allow the holiness of God to transform us into people of love and grace, we will treat one another exactly the same way Jesus was treated on the cross.

These words from Bo Sanders help me to think about all this:

"When Jesus takes the bread and cup and forever changes their meaning he is saying 'what they will do to me – don’t you, as my followers, do to anyone else'. When Jesus says 'forgive them, they know not what they do', he is saying that they think they know what (and why) they are doing, but they are wrong. When Jesus says 'it is finished', he is proclaiming the end of this type of scapegoating and violence by those who think they are doing it on God’s behalf."

I recognize that my words here might make you a bit uncomfortable. I'm sorry about that. I just know that the cross is supposed to do just that - make us very, very uncomfortable.

(This is a reprint of a blog I posted in 2014.)