Speaking of Presbyterianism...
"You remind me of a Presbyterian Jim Carey."
-Tara Beechy, commenting on this somewhat characteristic picture.
I've come across two good articles dealing with Presbyterian polity in the last couple of days. They are excellent resources for understanding the Biblical underpinnings of a connectional church and the offices of minister & elder.
Why You Should Be Presbyterian: This article is appreciated because it emphasizes how the church should be connectional in nature. The author has as one of his goals the realization that churches that are independent and congregational lack proper accountabilty and fail to utilize the counsel of the broader church.
Do Minister & Elder Hold the Same Office: This article was written by one of my former seminary professors. Dr. Strange explains well the history surrounding the debate, as well as getting into many of the texts involved. One will note that this view is deeply embedded in the roots of the OT. The hermenutic we use in all of our interpretation as Reformed and Covenantal types does not neglect the continuity of Scripture.
It should be noted that I currently serve in a church that is more two office in its polity (I am three office). It should be understood then that I do respect this long tradition and enjoy working beside my fellow elders very much.
I recently came across a good article on "Why the Missional Movement Will Fail." It is good in that it focuses the real intent of the church's mission. The church was commissioned to "make disciples" and the missional movement, while very zealous & full of "missional" hullabaloo fails without real cultivation of Bible study.
I admit that I am rather adverse from calling myself "Misisonal" and refrain from using the word missional at all. Part of that is my personality (I don't jump on bandwagons very easily and am something of a fad curmudgeon).
Another reason is because I think the word is rather postmodern. It was coined not too many years ago and many people seem to make it mean whatever they want. Some are just using it because it sounds so cool ("I'm missional" sounds so much better than "I like to do evangelism.") But some seem to use it in almost completely contradictory ways! For instance, you have your die hard evangelical using it as well as your flaked out emergent church guys throwing around the term.
But part of the reason I don't use it is because I fail to see a lot of those who call themselves missional doing any really having to do with the mission of the church. It often appears to be just a nice title for a guy who is planting a church or writing a blog somewhere.
[If that is the case, I guess I am missional! (Although, playing Twitter seems to be a real missional thing too. Us fuddy duddies seem to prefer Facebook.)]
What I mean is this: I don't see a lot of the old school forms of evangelism being promoted or implemented by missional guys. It doesn't seem to be hip to pass out tracts or preach in the open air. I do not want to presume to say that this does not happen at all. But it seems that sitting in a coffee shop or having a home group is the focus of most missional guys.
For instance, the article that I mentioned at the very beginning of this post offered a free ebook on practical ways to be missional. Here are a few of the practical suggestions they gave for getting the gospel out:
Um, okay. I get it. You are trying to be available and friendly. But this is not as practical as, "Pass out tracts at a fair booth. Make CD's of your pastor's best evangelistic sermon and distribute them after a college football game."
Not downplaying walking the dog, by any means. But my wife and I have been walking the dog for 15 years now, and there hasn't been any missional activity occur (or, maybe I was being missional and didn't know it because I really don't know what it means to be missional--see discussion above). The only godly thing that happened as a result of the 2-5 miles a day we put in is that we've gotten one happy dog and kept that snickers bar from catching up with us.
I understand that we want to develop relationships and seek to facilitate gospel conversations in our communities. I also have the goal of getting people into my home for dinner and discipleship. But it seems that the old school means of accomplishing the church's mission (dare I use an outdated word like "evangelism"?) have fallen by the wayside.
If this is the case, then I am happy to say that I am not missional. I'm just a guy who believes in preaching, old school evangelism, and doing some old fashioned Bible study.
I've got a number of code names for churches in Ashland. They give the real identity to the institutions. For instance, there is the Reprobation Army. They are leading men and women away from Christ, and have no right to the title Salvation. There is also Five (Dumb as) Stones. Why they would name themselves 5 Stones in the first place is beyond me. But adding the parenthetical statement provides that extra accuracy that is needed.
Case in point for the later of these: 5DaStones is hosting "Freebay," a time when the underprivileged in Ashland can come and get Christmas presents for free. Sounds good on the surface, but let's think about it.
This charade is trying to promote an form of godliness. But in reality, it is denying the power thereof and lacking any sort of Biblical underpinning.
The way you help underprivileged is not by giving them electronics and jewelry (real items that they are offering). Those who are truly underprivileged need bread, milk, and peanut butter.
What's more, they need to work. The Bible doesn't believe in freebies unless it is an absolute necessity. If a person is on the brink of starvation, you supply their needs. Destitution requires immediate attention. People who are underprivileged are not at that level that they need freebies. They need to work.
They certainly don't need gadgets that will provide them with hours of entertainment. Their time needs to be redeemed and spent being productive. They don't need jewelry either. Jewelry is for those who are successful and have achieved a level of economic prosperity.
Paul said, "If you don't work, you don't eat." To put it another way, "If you don't work, you don't get an iPod." Or, this little tidbit is good to live by, "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need."
"But isn't that what 5Stones is doing?" You've got the wrong definition of need. (see difference of destitution and underprivileged above).
My guess is that those who will come to Freebay are those who are on some sort of government program. Here's a tip: Instead of giving them a new TV, make them start washing cars or help them start up a business. If they are willing to work, you can give them assistance in getting it off the ground so that they are not continuing to leach off the system (and churches who are dumb enough to give out fee jewelry).
Of if it is a widow and orphan, then make a pact with them that you will provide for them so that this mother can home school her child and raise him/her in the fear of God. You will supply their needs, so long as they commit to serious discipleship (attending church, meeting with the elders for discipleship, and hey, let's be crazy and make them do some work--clean the church, set up chairs and sound system on Sunday morning, etc.)
Let's admit it, buying some "poor" people another stuffed toy isn't going to solve anything. It is silliness that is brought on by a failure to think through the issues of our day seriously.
Technology has not only changed the way we communicate, it has changed the way we think.
Case in point: that first sentence you just read. I intend to share this post on Facebook. I know that the only the first line will be shown when FB puts it in someone's newsfeed. In order to get someone to click on it, it really has to grab their attention. I am assuming a better way to have started would have simply been to say "Technology has changed the way we think."
In other words, our thinking has been Facebook-ized. Social media throws so much information at us, that we have been trained to react to 15 words or less. If enough stimulus is not provided in those 5-15 words, truth is lost.
I recognize too that even among those who have clicked on this article, most have already bailed and clicked on to something else.
The advent of social media has changed the way we relate to one another. That's because it has changed the way we think. Thus, it is important to consider the propriety of our social media interactions--especially when it comes to relational problems.
What's more, social media gives you the ability to stay one step removed. You have some ability to hide and not face a person. That's why a boy might send a girl a break-up notice via a text message on their phones. He doesn't have to face her. He can communicate without having to deal with the intimacy of a real confrontation & the messy implications of relationship.
You might think that a text break up obviously lacks class. But there are other issues that are similar. For instance, I once received a 20 page email from a congregation member. The content of which was a disagreement over a message I had given. Being as it was over what I percieved to be a minute detail, I didn't give it much concern. I simply figured this person would want to express their view and we could carry on with life as usual.
Little did I know, that family ended up leaving the church. On top of that, they stirred up dissension and ended up causing other families to leave! Our church was already quite small, and the loss of these families ended up being a detrimental blow to its survival. The church continued to limp along for a little while, but it ended up closing some time after.
They say that hindsight has 20/20 vision. And yes, in hindsight, I understand that I should have taken the email a little more seriously. But we cannot escape the fact that an email does not communicate the same way as a face to face conversation does. I had no idea that the beef this family had was of such incredible severity to them (keep in mind I thought--and continue to think--that it was downright trivial).
If this family would have approached me personally, I do not doubt that it would have been handled differently. We could have talked the issue through, and I could have gauged their concern in a much more clear way (body language, tone of voice, vigor of argumentation, etc.). More steps could have been taken to help deal with the situation.
Instead, about a week later I got another email from them telling me they were leaving the church. (yes, they broke up with me via a digital message)
You might say that it was all for the better. It isn't healthy having grunts who are argumentative about trivial matters hanging around anyway. After all, Paul warned Timothy to not have anything to do with such people. But if we are honest, we'll understand that alternative measures could have been taken to provide for each party's sanctification. At the very least, a church's livelihood might not have been sacrificed.
All this is to say, we need to think seriously about the effectiveness of social media when dealing with our interpersonal problems.
For this reason, I am something of a literalist when it comes to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault." (emphasis mine). You will notice that Jesus didn't just say "tell him his fault." He said we are to go to them and then tell them his fault.
I interpret this to mean actually getting off your rump and meeting with that person face to face. Give them a call, set up a time to grab a coffee together, and sit down with them to express your concern.
Admittedly, there may be occasions where a bonna fide head to head might not be possible. Those exceptions should not negate the rule though.
The point is that relationships require work. They require real relational interaction. When there is tension in a relationship, digital media is not the most appropriate avenue to address them.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.