Why I Am Thankful I Did Not Give Up Facebook for Lent

Each year when I approach the season of Lent, those 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, I find myself stumbling and tumbling to figure out what to give up or to take on.  I found some great ideas this year at a couple of blogs (like this one).  It got down to the last minute (in other words, Wednesday morning of Ash Wednesday) before deciding to take something on.  Ever since reading “TheWay of the Pilgrim,” I have been drawn to the practicing “praying without ceasing” so for this Lent I am being very intentional about using Orthodox prayer bracelet, praying through the Jesus prayer three times around (roughly 30 times), at morning, noon and night.

                This practice constantly brings up my state: I am a sinner.  By the time I’ve prayed it about 20 times, this really becomes the focus.  Now I do not “beat myself up” over this but it is a reminder how much I am in need of God’s mercy. 

                I had thought I might give up Facebook…until today when an important piece of my journey opened up.  You see, I am in a denomination that creates tension believing there is a middle way.  As my friends post differing opinions and thoughts, I get a laugh, I get mad, I get tempted to unfriend (I’ve only done that once), but what I have been really working hard to do is listen.  I'm trying to listen to voices expressing their own journey of faith in Jesus Christ that is at times, very different from mine. 

                And today I read these words, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”  Spoken by Abba Pambo in the fourth century, these words were like a wall to stop me cold.  We have made it so easy to cut off differing opinions, even those we term sinners, and we do it without even considering or giving second thought to the heart inside them, a heart that Jesus loves.  A heart, like mine, like your’s that is crying out to Jesus in the tenor and voice unique to that one person, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.”

                So I am glad I did not give up Facebook and all you sinners like me with hearts in need of a savior.  And thanks for not giving up on my heart as we journey toward Easter.

Do We Need More Effective Leaders or More Spiritual Leaders?

The call for more effective leaders in our churches is something
I’ve been hearing for the past two decades. It goes back to my time at Asbury Theological Seminary and throughout my time in full-time ministry. We’ve been clamoring for more training, better systems, and effective pastors.  Look at the multitude of offerings out in the church marketplace - we've been getting it!

Where has it gotten us?

That was the question I found myself asking as I skimmed through the most recent issue of “Circuit Rider” magazine. While I delved more deeply into it, I was struck by one of the choices of a quote to be used. It was in Bob Farr’s article, “Stuck: Now What?” The words highlighted read, “The church is in desperate need of entrepreneurial leadership. It’s no secret that we’ve trained (and that the congregation expects) most pastors to be shepherds and caregivers. (pg 15).”

I think Bob makes some excellent points and offers some much better insights in his article than what is reflected in this quote. This is Bob’s fourth point under the heading of “building a system of transformation,” and I think he makes a stronger case for the issues of “transforming grace” and “lay and clergy collaboration.” His point on leadership is one overdone (entrepreneurial leadership) and one I’m not sure is close to accurate (we’ve trained…shepherds and caregivers).

Starting with the last point, I cannot help at look at my bookshelf where I have all my class notes. I look at the classes I took and I see courses in Bible Study, Greek, history, polity, preaching, worship, theology, etc. I did have one course in “caregiving.” When I talk with peers, it seems to me, our seminaries are far more focused on training up seminary professors than pastoral caregivers.

As for the first point, I really struggle here not only because of my own experiences (both success and failures) but because I see the weight and pressure this seems to put upon clergy. While the Book of Discipline says an Elder has the responsibility to “order the life of the church,” we tend to supplant the role of Jesus who “… is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:18, NRSV).” And no, I don’t think this is playing semantics, I think we are seeing the effects of ignoring Jesus’ position under the same premise that had the Jews calling for a king like the other nations rather than keeping God as their Sovereign. 
We’re looking for CEOs and the next Steve Jobs to take the pulpit. No wonder so many pastors sit on the edge of their seats ready to buy the newest iPhone when the one they have is more than sufficient. 

Urban T. Holmes noted in his research, “The ordained person is expected to be a person of prayer that the person in the street cannot be. People speak in various ways of wanting their pastor to be spiritually deep. (pg 34, Spirituality for Ministry).” The Upper Room employed The Doble Research Associates to study the impact of The Academy of Spiritual Formation on the lives of participants. The change in the personal lives of clergy was dramatic but of interest to us ought to be the changes in the practices of ministry. The majority of clergy began to take more risks with ministry, they were more open and vulnerable in preaching and it changed their approach to committee meetings.

I think the choice of quotes to highlight from Bob Farr’s article was not the best. It seems to me it fit with what is a dominate approach to thinking about the clergy role. If clergy were trained to be better leaders, we’ll have better churches. It is a paradigm that may work some of the time in some places but it is far from a Biblical model and it isn’t even the model of John Wesley, who wrote numerous letters counseling clergy, not on leadership skills but on accountability to the Biblical record and witness of the Spirit.

I think Bob makes a much better point just a few paragraphs later when he writes, “…trust the Holy Spirit to lead you to a new place and to truly welcome you to whatever the new place is. Learn not to judge what the outcome will be. As it turns out, it really isn’t in your control. (pg 16).” I am all for better equipped leaders but the focus on the equipping ought to be less on seeking new leadership skills and instead focused on listening to the Spirit of God and the leading of the Spirit of God.

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