Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Preaching That Grows Churches

After hours of painstaking research, listening to and watching hours and hours of podcasts, live feeds and archived messages, I can tell you the kind of preaching that apparently grows churches in the United States in 2015.

1. Angry Preaching.  This style of preaching seems to be exclusively successful with male preaching pastors.  This approach involves both tone and volume.  The pastor who utilizes this approach will season their messages with angry outbursts, will reference MMA and will occasionally threaten bodily harm to individuals who aren’t getting it.  They are typically very aggressive in their criticism of men and very generous in their encouragement towards women.  Often those who choose this approach wear flannel.  This group of preachers tends to elevate their own church (or multi-site campus) and what they’re doing, subtly but clearly, over and against the other churches in their area.  People most drawn to this style seem to be young men dealing with feelings of inadequacy and their own deep seated sense of anger at their little world.

2. Surrealist Preaching.  This style of preaching doesn’t seem to be gender specific and it typically involves a willingness or even a commitment to saying whatever crazy thing comes to mind.  It uses the biblical text as a springboard into whatever pops into their minds, including endless non sequiturs.  Careful listening will reveal that the pastor choosing this method will often be asserting exactly the opposite of what the text itself is saying.  Commonly, followers of this style will comment on how “deep” the messages are.  People most drawn to this style seem to be individuals who find personal satisfaction in feeling just a little bit deeper and more spiritual than others. (Followers of this approach often would testify to seeing the emperor’s new clothes.)

3. Self-Realization Preaching.  This style typically takes every biblical text to be written with the primary intent of helping you realize a more successful life.  This group will often preach from Old Testament stories to create models of uncovering those things that are keeping you from being all that God created you to be so you can find success in marriage, business and dating.  A favorite text and biblical character: David.  David faced Goliath so we’d all know how to overcome our problems.  David was overlooked by everyone but God just like we are, but God made him a king.  Preaching is often filled with many Barnum statements to make each message feel personal and yet universally appealing at the same time.  It’s possible this approach would even produce a coloring book for their children’s ministry that featured Jesus and their pastor.  People most drawn to this style of preaching seem to want an authority figure who will provide them with assurances or promises as well as affirmations that can empower them to have their best life now.

It seems that in any larger center in the United States, any one of these three will find an audience and will be effective in adding numbers to Sunday attendance.  While there are many other styles or approaches to preaching, some of which can be found at very large churches, these seem to be the most duplicated styles, most commonly occurring – according to my research – in growing churches in the U.S.

What kind of preaching do you like best?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Words With Friends

Like you, I read.  And like you, I also write.  And like you, I read blog posts.  Maybe too much.

Something that has occurred to me lately is that we Anglophones talk the same talk but it seems to me, we often mean very different things though we use exactly the same words.  Voltaire is to have said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.”  There’s nothing like a vigorous debate that ends when one or both of the people engaged realizes they aren’t talking about the same thing, nor have they been.

For the sake of future research and as a reminder to me to define my terms and ask others to clarify their own meaning and usage in future conversations that may take on a feisty tone, I offer these words by which I think people in my circles often mean very different things from one another in their use.


Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

What words would you add to this list? What words are you confident always mean the same thing to everyone who uses them?

"Perhaps nothing speaks more eloquently of the variability of spelling in the age than the fact that a dictionary published in 1604, A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Words, spelled “words” two ways on the title page.”  ― Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The World as Stage

Monday, June 29, 2015

Me and Dr. Piper

Making the Facebook status update “share list” is a post by Dr. John Piper or someone who works in his office.  I’d like to consider, for just a few minutes, what John has put out there for us to consider.

1. He starts by breaking the world into two kinds of sinners: heterosexual and homosexual.  Have you ever seen that particularly binary choice in the Bible before?  The language John (the gospel writer) uses, and I prefer, is that God gave his son for the whole world, not two groups of sinners identified by their sexual orientation.  The trouble, among other things, with this binary breakdown is that these are not our only choices for human sexuality and so it begs the question – what about everyone else?  Did Jesus not die for them?  I’ll confess, that’s me being nitpicky, I’ll try to do better on these other points.
2. Before we get to the Text, let’s note that the writer of this post, John Piper, also believes that the clear teaching of Scripture is that women should not preach or teach in the presence of men or practice the ministry as a pastor or otherwise be engaged in church government in a leadership role.  While we still have to deal with John’s argument, it is, I think, important to note what “clear teaching of Scripture” means to Dr. Piper.

3. John’s primary point is that what makes the Supreme Court ruling so unique is that it represents, “massive institutionalization of sin.”  Let’s see, has that ever happened in the U.S. before?  Has there ever been such a massive institutionalization of sin?  Well, there was this little era of American history whereby we enslaved a race of people and built our cities, universities and White House on their backs.  And we might reflect and recall the mass extermination, led by the institution of the government to displace and ultimately wipe out the indigenous people of the U.S. that we mistakenly called, “Indians.”  Watergate.  Iran/Contra.  We might even get contemporary and take a closer look at the institutionalization of greed in the recent financial collapse in the loan/housing/banking world that could not have happened without several institutions being involved.  And the list could go on and on.  John’s out of touch with reality if he thinks anything happening now is something new in regard to institutionalizing sin.
4. Dr. Piper is using Romans 1 as most Reformed pastors and teachers would like it to be used and those in his generation were taught to use it.  Most scholars, even Reformed scholars today, will acknowledge that the use of this passage to condemn the practice of homosexuality is a gross misreading of the passage and contextually should never be considered without including the point Paul is making with Romans 1 which is found in Romans 2:1, “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”  Context is king – right after Jesus.

5. John then delivers this line, which I believe he believes but I find it, well, ironic: “The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them.”  Hmmm.  Most of us not in the Reformed camp would say that the news over the last couple years has been exactly the opposite of this.  Two words: Mark Driscoll.  Paul Tripp wrote, “This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry I’ve ever been involved with.”  But Dr. Piper said, “First, no regret. John Piper has no regret for befriending Mark Driscoll, going to Mark Driscoll’s church and speaking at his events, or having him come to the Desiring God conference. I do not regret that. My regret is that I was not a more effective friend. Mark knew he had flaws. He knows he has flaws. And I knew he had flaws. He knew that I knew he had flaws. There were flaws of leadership attitude, flaws of unsavory language that I think is just wrong for Christians to use, flaws of exegetical errors, say, in regard to the Song of Solomon. I wrote a long critique of his use of the Song of Solomon. I wrote him personally about these. But I always hoped that in those cases the relationship with me and with others would be redemptive and helpful. He certainly gave me more time and counsel than I deserved. I remember him sitting in my dining room, spending a long time with me and Noel, giving us good counsel about the last chapter of our ministry, and then going home and producing a long paper for me and to give guidance to me and the elders. He didn’t have to do that. I didn’t even ask him to do it. So there was a mutuality about this and I felt loved by Mark and I wanted to love him in return. I still do hope for the best in Mark’s life and ministry. So, no, I don’t regret it.”  ( Some institutionalized sin is o.k., it just depends on who is in charge, eh?  He doesn’t strike me as coming across and terribly weepy here.  As a Church, even a casual reader of Church history will conclude that we have, in fact, institutionalized our sin.  So did Israel.  This is a human problem from which we all need saved (see Romans 2:1).
6. If I understand Dr. Piper’s theology, and I will confess I am almost positive I do not, he would argue that the SCOTUS did only what God has pre-ordained for them to do.  Even those who are living as enemies of God have already been pre-destined for this role and they are bound to act it out with no chance of acting otherwise.  Even if I’ve missed some subtle nuance of his Calvinism, surely we can agree that it is somewhat disingenuous for a Christian pastor with a Dr. in front of his name to be surprised that people outside of the Church have behaved in decidedly non-Christian ways.  That’s sort of, well, normal I think. 

This isn’t me weighing in on the topic in general that Piper has weighed in on.  This is me, writing about that bad thinking that smart people try to get away with on the road to telling us what we ought to believe.  It is me, writing about the hubris that seems to be pervading the rhetoric of my Christian brothers and sisters rather than the humility that seems more characteristic of Jesus than we seem to be reflecting at the moment.  As followers of Jesus, we have gotten this so wrong so often that you would think we would be a little less judgmental and a little stronger on the kindness and mindfulness.