Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dancing our way to a name

As our new church begins to grapple with the issue of what our name will be, I am thinking of ways to help us frame that discussion.  I have a solid page of potential names, but none yet have made me say, “that’s it!”  Perhaps one of them will bring me to that conclusion one day, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I do, however, have a particular theology in mind that I want to influence our name.  I have a picture, a belief, an ideal, a narrative, and a feeling that I want to see reflected in our name.  And the best way that I can articulate what I’m thinking is to point you to a book I recently read: C. Baxter Kruger’s, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited.

Kruger, in a very C.S. Lewis-esque way, describes a wonderful Trinitarian picture of God, creation, the narrative we call life, and redemption in and through Jesus.  There is a great dance in which we are all invited to participate — a dance that has been going since the beginning and that will continue forever.  Everyone, in one way or another, knows the dance on some level.  We see it all around us in that which is good, just, and beautiful.  “The dance is ours — we are wired for it.”  The Church, though, is the people who have heard the music and begun to know it by name; they have entered the dance; they participate in it; and they can’t help but invite people to dance with them.

So whether or not you’re in the midst of naming a church or just looking for a good read, I recommend The Great Dance.  And I’ll keep you posted on our name.


What is my role? What is a pastor?

As a church planter I find myself answering a certain set of questions quite often: Where are you guys meeting?  What’s your service look like?  How many people are in your group?  What’s your church’s name?  and What’s your role?  Because of the frequency of these questions I’ve got most of my answers memorized and concise (some are easier to answer than others), but my answer to the “What’s your role?” question is a tricky one.  There are certainly some practical day-to-day aspects of my role that I could share quite easily, and that’s probably what most people want to hear, but that’s not how my brain works.  I want to answer theologically (1).  So to help with getting my answer concise and memorized, here we go…

What is my role?  What is a pastor?

Counselor?  Teacher?  Prophet?  Gate-keeper?  Deliverer of religious goods and services (e.g., we marry, bury, and once signed passports)?  Leader?  Consensus-builder?  Mediator?  Shepherd?  Encourager?  Evangelist?  Administrator?  Vision-caster?

First, I believe in the functional priesthood of all believers.  Meaning, I do not believe that there are certain things that an ordained clergy can do that a lay person cannot do.  Having said that, I think that training is important.  When I need electrical work done, I want a trained electrician.  Concerning pastors, I think ordination and schooling (or some equivalent processes) are incredibly beneficial and help to prepare, educate, and train pastors for their work.  However, I’m still quite willing to acknowledge that the Spirit can work in and through someone without these things in place.

I’m also very uncomfortable with the sacred-secular divide created by the word “calling” or its oft-used counterparts, “set apart.”  That we suggest that some people are “called” to, or “set apart” for, “ministry” and that others are not is, I think, un-Scriptural and therefore problematic (2).  When this sort of teaching is peddled, it’s no wonder, then, that we have churches struggling to be incarnational and missional.  Why would they be?  After all, it’s the pastor who is “called” to ministry.  Rather, being “set apart” is about being bound to the mission of Jesus Christ and not to a specific vocation (See 2 Cor 5:17).  All those who align themselves with Jesus are equally transformed into a new creation for the purpose of loving God, loving others, and living the mission of the Church.  Some of us are pastors; some of us are stay-at-home moms; some of us are accountants; some of us are students; some of us are out of work.  All Christians are called to the ministry of Jesus.

So if I think that all believers are priests and that all Christians are set apart for ministry, how then is a pastor different from anyone else in the church?  What is my specific role?  And what is it that theologically forms the foundation from which my contextual and specific duties are fulfilled and demonstrated?

I submit to you that a pastor functions as a public test-case.  That yes, a pastor’s role may include all or some of those things I previously listed, but ultimately — and theologically, speaking — a pastor is a test-case.  Pastor and laity are equal, but the pastor is distinct in that he/she functions as the most public demonstration of the redeeming work of Christ.

Here’s Paul in 1 Corinthians 4…

I suppose that God has shown that we apostles are at the end of the line. We are like prisoners sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle in the world, both to angels and to humans. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are wise through Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, but we are dishonored! 11 Up to this very moment we are hungry, thirsty, wearing rags, abused, and homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are insulted, we respond with a blessing; when we are harassed, we put up with it; 13 when our reputation is attacked, we are encouraging. We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything, up to the present time. (1 Cor 4:9-13, CEB)


When’s the last time you heard this text read at an ordination or induction service?

As Paul describes himself he suggests that in his role as pastor, he has been made a spectacle (or theatre) to demonstrate the backwards way of the kingdom.   With his famous sarcasm he lambastes the Corinthians for misunderstanding the way to life.  The way is not through the means you’d think: glory, honour, strength, etc.  Rather, the way to life is through death and utter dependency on Jesus.  Paul has accepted the role of being the most public demonstration of weakness and death-to-self so that those around him may not see him, but the glory of the Saviour.  In essence, Paul was living the reality of Jesus’ life: that through weakness and death, life is found and demonstrated.

The Corinthians didn’t like it much that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross.  Saviours don’t die that kind of dishonourable death.  And the Corinthians didn’t think much of Paul as a guy who worked “with his hands.”  High-profile honourable leaders don’t work with their hands.  But this is just it, the Corinthians didn’t get it.  Pastors ought to be a demonstration of the failure of the human project.  Pastors ought to demonstrate that we don’t trade our life for Jesus’ life when we are saved.  No, we exchange our life for Jesus’ death, and it is through that process that we find life.  We become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything, so that we might decrease and Jesus might increase.  And no one does this more publicly in the church than the pastor.  Our congregations ought to see us constantly processing our death.  We are a test-case for the impossibility of the human project; we prove that we cannot fix ourselves; we prove that Christ in me is the only hope of glory.  This is my role.  I am the most public demonstration in my church of someone who cannot live apart from Jesus, and everything I do in life works from that foundation.  Now, everything that every Christian does ought to work from that foundation, but not every Christian gets to have the whole church watch while it’s happening.

It’s worth noting that throughout Paul’s ministry, whenever he talks about his pastoral vocation, he doesn’t usually talk about himself as a transmitter of God’s mercy and hope, but instead a recipient of God’s mercy and hope.  There’s something profound there.

So there it is, the pastor is a public test-case.  Agree?  Disagree?  Would you slant this a different direction?  Would you add something?

Oh, and yes, I know.  This isn’t nearly concise enough to make a good on-the-spot answer.  But I do think it’s memorized.

For more on this line of thinking I recommend checking out Thomas Oden’s book, Pastoral Theology, Andrew Purves’ books, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ and Resurrection of Ministry: Serving In The Hope of Risen Lord, and Michael Knowles’ book, We Preach Not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation.

(1) I must credit my good friend, Dr. Michael Knowles, for helping me land here.
(2) For example, I would argue that the “setting apart” that Paul refers to in Rom 1:1 does not refer to his office.  The “‘setting apart’ probably refers to the time when God called him on the Damascus Road to come into relationship with Christ and to proclaim him to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:1–19, esp. vv. 15–16; note the use of this same verb in 13:2). The ‘gospel’ is the central, unifying motif in Romans (Moo, Romans, NIVAC, 36).”

Why we need more Gungor and less Tomlin

This past week I had the pleasure of being led in worship by Gungor at a conference in Atlanta, GA.  I admit that I’m late to the Gungor party.  How this band has escaped my ears for so long, I have no idea.  But now that I’ve discovered them I have come to love them.  Gungor is fresh air in the midst of the cluttered worship atmosphere, and I’d like to suggest to you three reasons for why I believe this to be true.

Before we get to my three reasons, I want to explain why I’m picking on Chris Tomlin. First, I am not anti-Tomlin.  I do, however, think that Tomlin’s music and lyrics represent the vast majority of what is found in today’s churches.  This is no doubt due in part to the fact that Tomlin’s songs top the CCLI charts year after year.  The dude sells.  And I imagine that if I asked a typical evangelical to sing for me their five favourite songs from Sunday morning, that at least two or three of them would be one of Tomlin’s.  So why do I pick on him (and those similar to him)?  Well, let’s go to my three reasons.

1. We need to re-embrace the “us” and stop only singing about “me.”

I recently preached through a series that was about the church: who she is, where she came from, what she’s supposed to be doing, and where she’s going.  Among one of the central themes of the series was that in Jesus we are saved into a relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit, but also into a relationship with each other.  We are saved into relationships; we, together as sisters and brothers in Christ, are saved into the corporate body of Jesus — the church.  The “us” is just as important as the “me” (For just a few examples, see all of Ephesians, 1 Peter 2:9-10, St. Cyprian, & Henri DeLubac).  And yet, trying to find any songs that sing of this reality is a taxing exercise.  Our churches are filled with songs about Jesus and me/I.  Tomlin and other popular song writers lean heavily towards a myopic faith and personal-only salvation.  It’s no wonder, then, that a theology of the “us” is lost on most evangelicals.

Gungor, on the other hand, writes lyrics that lean heavily on the “us.”  It’s far more likely to hear “we” and “us” in their songs that it is to hear “I” and “me.”  Gungor’s lyrics reflect the truth of the church in action, the centrality of the family of God, the necessity of the corporate journey of salvation, and the beauty of the “we” who travel the faith together.  And the challenges and declarations that are written into the songs are directed at and declared by the people of God.  What emerges in each album (there are three with a fourth on the way) is a “this is about God and us” and the subsequent challenge of “what are we going to do together to embrace redemption and be the church?”

2. We need to sing of the whole story and not only substitutionary atonement.

The Bible begins in the garden and ends with the re-creation of creation.  The Bible does not begin with sin and end at Jesus’ death.  The story of redemption is so much bigger than just justification, and yet you would think by the songs we sing that the only thing that matters in the Christian faith is that we are sinners but Jesus died for us and took our place.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that substitutionary atonement is a part of the story of redemption.  But it’s a part, not the whole story.

Gungor’s album Ghosts Upon the Earth is a wonderful demonstration of the whole story: songs of the garden, the beauty of creation, the fall, the story of redemption, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the re-creation of the universe, and the journey of the redeemed people of God.  The album Beautiful Things touches on many of the same topics, while Gungor’s first album, Ancient Skies, even gets politically creedal (White Man) and powerfully ecclesiological (Song For My Family).  The Christian story may hinge on the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that’s not the only chapter.

3. We need music that reflects the creativity of our God.  We don’t always need music that could be played in a four-minute slot on the local pop-Christian radio station.

We are in relationship with the God who breathes all good and beautiful things to life.  And yet our music in church is typically from one genre and played in the same way with the same instruments week after week.  Those walking into our churches might think we serve the god of top-40 radio hits rather than the God who inspires musical styles and instruments as vast as creation itself.

Gungor’s music may not be for everyone, but they strive to be thoughtful, creative, and innovative.  They write in narrative.  Their music (i.e., the instruments, melody, vibe, etc) plays in narrative.  They use a variety of instruments.  They experiment with different genres.  Creativity and innovation pull us out of the ordinary and take us somewhere new.  Gungor forces me to think because of their creativity and inspires me because of their innovation.  It’s no coincidence that the same thing happens when I find myself in the presence of God.

In conclusion

It’s obvious that I like Gungor.  But I’m not trying to convince anyone to become fans of Gungor.  Give it a listen, and then if you like them, great.  If not, so be it.  But what I am hoping to gain by this discussion is at least an awareness of the songs we sing in church.  Do they reflect a theology of the “us,” or are they all focused on “me?”  Do they speak to the whole story of redemption?  Simply put, do they speak to Genesis 1 through Revelation 22, or are they primarily atonement focused?  And do they reflect a God who is creative or are they single-genre only with never a hint of experiment, innovation, or creative thoughtfulness?

Opportunity to discuss:
Am I out to lunch?
Do you know of any artists who write music for the church that address what I’ve mentioned above?  I have found a few, but they usually only have a song here or there that does so.