Monthly Archives: September 2006

Biblical or Chauvinistic?

A hotly debated issue in many churches these days is the role of women in leadership. You can find a number of different camps on the issue. Some churches move toward reform where women can have any role that a man has. Other fellowships give women the freedom to minister in most roles except for the top leadership spots, such as an elder or pastor. Still, other churches opt for a more traditional view where women are not allowed to publicly teach men or in any way have authority over men.

Women’s role in churches can become a very emotionally charged issue for all sides. It can be easy for things to get out of hand. Before you know it, one group sees the other with a very jaded perspective. One group might classify the other as out of touch with society or a proper contextual understanding of certain Scripture passages. I have even see factions develop where one group thinks of another as chauvinistic.

The opposite sentiment can develop where one group sees itself as the traditional defenders of God-mandated order or specific guidelines established by Scripture. Just as political disagreements can quickly turn into a war of rhetoric, the same thing does happen in church squabbles from time to time.

I believe there tend to be even more foundational concerns that are below the surface of the contemporary discussion on the role of women. These include: disagreements over what is contextual and what still applies today when it comes to Scripture, setting aside personal rights for the good of the church, recapturing what it means to submit and honor authorities, dealing with emotional hurts caused by poor leaders, restoring Biblical servant leadership in churches, and motivating men to take more active roles in leading churches and their families.

One of the most important things is to have a discussion not a violent debate. Preserving a sense of mutual respect and oneness in Christ must be a high goal. Sometimes more than the conclusion reached by a particular church, what people do along the way can either help or hurt the kingdom of God.

Churches should seek to understand why people seek change and then carefully consider all sides through petitions before God, listening prayer, studying Scripture and honest discussion. Ultimately, what a fellowship does is up to its view of Scripture and context.

Christians should be slow to call each other names and draw up battle lines. How we handle our disagreements is a clear sign to the world how much we truly love God and each other. While we do have to reach decisions and everyone might not like it, deep division does not have to be the outcome. 

Figuring Out Who’s the Devil

If you ask Hugo Chavez, he will tell you that U.S. President George W. Bush is the devil. If you ask Dr. Jerry Falwell the same question, he might say Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. While I happen to disagree with all of the aforementioned people in one way or the other, I am pretty sure that none of them are Satan. Chavez’s comments were petty grandstanding. Falwell’s comments were not quite as directly offensive, yet they were inappropriate coming from a man of his spiritual position and maturity. Name calling is for grade school kids not religious leaders or heads of state.

In all fairness, Dr. Falwell was using an expression of speech he did not call Senator Clinton the devil. His point was that the religious right would strongly oppose her if she ran for President. I think that he is right because we all know that her move to the “center” is more a political parlor trick than a real change of heart. Of course, many conservatives do the same thing when it comes election time too. They just happen to be moving from a different fringe of the political spectrum.

Chavez directly called President Bush the devil. He made a joke about still smelling the smoke because the President has spoken at the same spot where Chavez gave his address to the U.N.

In the end, both of the comments were inappropriate. Dr. Falwell should have known better. He should have expected the media to blow his comment out of proportion. I don’t expect much from Chavez although his offer of low cost heating oil for poor people in the Northeast is a very nice gesture.

What makes me upset about the whole thing is how much emphasis people put on words and not actions. I guess that I am just as guilty as the next guy because I am blogging about it. The media talks about these things because we like the street fight more than the real substance of the issues. It makes for more entertaining TV.

Mars Hill: A Tale of Two Cities

There are two noteworthy, progressive churches in the country with the name “Mars Hill.” One is located in Seattle, which happens to be among the least churched cities in the country. The other is in Grand Rapids, Mich., a city steeped with religious tradition. Both of these fellowships started out as merely small groups and have become recent “success” stories.

Each fellowship is guided by a young, eloquent communicator who puts a different spin on church as usual. In Michigan, Rob Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church (MHBC) as a different type of Jesus community. The fellowship which began in 1999 has become one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Bell has become a well known communicator thanks in part to the Nooma video series that he pioneered. 

Using some very unconventional tactics, Bell refused to use marketing to build the church. He didn’t even want a sign outside the building when the gatherings first started. He simply wanted word-of-mouth to help build the weekly meetings called “gatherings.” Just to weed out any people who were looking for McChurch, Bell preached on the book of Leviticus during the early stages of the church plant. MHBC grew by developing new ways of looking at church. Bell preached through tough subjects like the religious rituals and laws outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures. He then took those concepts and translated them to modern day to see what people can learn from them. Looking for new insights to familiar passages, Bell uses history to enlighten listeners.

Bell comes across as very smart and funny – the kind of guy you would like to grab a cup of coffee with and simply chat about life.

While Bell appears to be the more soft spoken, Indy rock version of the discussion, Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle takes a more in-your-face, Sam Kinison approach. Known for being quite animated at times, Driscoll preaches through entire books of the Bible with the wit of a stand up comedian and the theology of RC Sproul or JI Packer.

Unlike Bell who will use more experiential techniques to communicate with church members, Driscoll simply preaches the cover off a Bible. He typically speaks for 45 minutes to an hour although his storytelling ability and humor make it seem a lot shorter.

Driscoll started out trying to build a Generation X church in Seattle, but he discovered that a church plant based on one age group was not the best idea in the long run. As the membership began to grow and change, he increasingly saw the need for intergenerational ministry.

Both Bell and Driscoll are bold enough to tackle tough subjects. And they are honest enough to pull off the mask and expose the issues that many pastors would not address out of fear that church members would revolt. Their willingness to challenge conventional thought is part of what attracts people to their messages.

Oddly, Bell appears more liberal in his theology than Driscoll. Both appear to be reacting to the prevalent ideas under girding the spiritual environments where they live. 

Grand Rapids has strong reformed theology, odd-school religion ties. Seattle is one of the most liberal cities in the country with very little religious heritage. Bell challenges the traditional mindset by attacking what many hold to be sacred cows. Driscoll does the same thing. The big difference is where he ministers has a whole different set of sacred cows.

But I do want to be careful trying to make these leaders appear too different because they converge in many areas. Both encourage deep study of the history behind the Bible. Their messages focus on Jesus and engaging the community with the reality of His life. They both appear open to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, including miracles and spiritual gifts. And they appear to share concern about the abuse of these too. Neither Bell nor Driscoll seem caught up with issues like hairstyles, tattoos, drinking, etc.

Having visit both of these fellowships in person and listened to a lot of the teaching and ministry philosophy coming from these churches, I have noticed a number of things. First, they both have seemingly effective small group initiatives broken up geographically to reach different areas of the community. These groups serve as smaller churches within a mega church.

Mars Hill in Seattle has taken this a step further to have satellite services in a number of locations throughout the city. The church has done this out of necessity because it can’t build one mega facility capable of housing its growing numbers. Some of the services do not have a live preacher. In those cases, the message is broadcast from one of the live events while the music and other aspects happen live.     

MHBC in Michigan does not operate satellite facilities although it does conduct regional “Celebrations” throughout the city. These are kind of like large small groups and church potlucks.

If I had to boil down the core themes that seem to be coming from each fellowship, here is what I would say:

Mars Hill Church -Seattle: Ministering to young men, seeking to recover Biblical disciplines and raise up young leaders. Engages community with a liberal attitude when it comes to practices and approaches but  closed mind on core Christian theology and doctrine.  

Mars Hill Bible Church – Michigan: Reclaiming what it means to be a Christian by healing the soul and seeking to solve social ills in the community. Brings an open approach to theology where people are free to discuss doubts and question everything. Yet, the church still holds to core doctrine as springs for the individual spiritual journey.

One area where you can see the differences in worldview emerge is the issue of women in leadership. Both fellowships recognize the value of women and their equality with men before God. Both allow women to take prominent roles in the church. However, Mars Hill in Seattle does not allow men to be elders or pastors whereas MHBC does. This issue will be discussed in more detail in a future post.

MHBC seeks a very minimalist approach when it comes to marketing and decor. The main gathering room is called the “Shed.” Services are conducted in the round, and the dominant colors are white and green. Everything has a very fresh and maternal feel to it.

By contrast, Mars Hill in Seattle publishes a regular news magazine and heavily markets through Podcasts and other forms of electronic communications. The dominant colors in Mars Hill -Seattle are dark colors, such as black, grey, red, etc. It has one of the best church Web sites that I have ever seen. Maybe this is to be expected because many of the people who attend the church work at Microsoft.

Seattle is known as a very technology oriented city. The Web site even has a password protected area for members only.

Both Bell and Driscoll have been willing to share power with others in the churches. Bell has stepped down as the top pastor and has assumed the role of teaching pastor. Another man was chosen from outside the fellowship to become the day-to-day operations/senior pastor.

In contrast, Driscoll works closely with Leif Moe, who helped him found the church. Both serve on a board of pastors where each pastor only has one vote. As Driscoll has said, he easily can be out voted and some times is. Leaders are chosen from within the fellowship as people demonstrate ability, passion and calling.

Mars Hill in Seattle places a strong emphasis on raising up new pastors and church plants. Through its Acts 29 Network, Mars Hill has helped plant nearly 100 churches. Strategic leadership development is a key focus for Mars Hill –
Seattle.

Looking at these two unique expressions of Christ, I find myself wishing that I belonged to a mixture of the two. I see good and bad in both although I tend to favor Driscoll’s approach. On the surface, these churches simply reflect two unique calls and two very different cities. In the end, the goal is not to find the best model. It is simply just to be who God called us to be and to learn what we can from other groups along the way.

Mars Hill Bible Church: www.mhbcmi.org         

Mars Hill Church: www.marshillchurch.org

The Coming Economic Reality

I have written in the past about my doomsday thoughts on the global economy. As more things get connected, the easier it will be for world events to cause ripple effects that lead to a global economic meltdown. I believe the world will face major economic problems during my lifetime. Unfortunately, many that have grown up over the last 40 years in the USA will not be ready for it.

Think I am crazy. Just consider the following story that I recently wrote about the U.S. logistical infrastructure. When we go to buy something at the store, we don’t usually think about how it got there. But the moving of goods is tied to the success of our economy. And the bad news is that our logistical/transportation network is facing dire situations. It’s not a question of if but when it collapses.

Maybe we can do something if we act soon. I welcome your thoughts to chaille@ organicfaith.com.


 Excerpt from “Logistics Infrastructure Poses Problems“, which ran in the September of the Recycle Record.

            The things we neglect today tend to become tomorrow’s problems. That certainly appears to the case when it comes to the country’s logistical infrastructure.

            The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) recently released its annual State of

Logistics Report. The results indicate that the nation is facing some major transportation challenges that are only likely to get worse in the future. Overall, business logistics costs were $1,183 billion during 2005, which is an all-time high. Dramatic fuel price increases, truck driver shortages, new security requirements, and continued capacity pressures have helped drive rising logistics costs.

            Written by Rosalyn Wilson, the report predicts a “looming crisis” in transportation system capacity due to deteriorating critical infrastructure.

           

Wilson wrote, “The physical transport network, the roads, rail lines, ports, airports, freight yards, etc. is the backbone of our nation’s freight system and economy. Its continued health or lack thereof will determine our position in the global economy – and we are losing ground.” 

            The country faces capacity constraints throughout the system. Many experts believe it is not a question of ‘if’ we will reach a crisis point, but ‘when.’

            Truck driver shortage remains a big problem. And the hours-of-service rules have only made things worse by reducing the capacity of an individual driver. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has estimated that the driver shortage will grow to 111,000 by 2014. Shortages have led to more drivers jumping from company to company in search of the best compensation. This makes it harder to reduce driver turnover.

             Rail doesn’t offer much relief because it has been working near capacity. Average train speeds keep ping which translates into higher costs and more congestion. Railroads move about 50% of all international cargo in the country, and it is expected to double its current level by 2025.

             Many of the traffic jams start at ports that are facing severe traffic jams. The country needs to add capacity equal to the

Port of
New York and
New Jersey every year just to keep up with the expected volume increase over the never several decades. Adding extra capacity isn’t an easy thing to do.

            One major concern is that many

U.S. ports have shallow harbors and narrow navigation channels that do not permit access by deep draft vessels. As global trade blossoms, cargo vessels are getting larger.
America’s trading partners have built ports capable of servicing these extra large vessels. In some cases, it takes decades to develop deeper channels. The
U.S. cargo industry doesn’t have that kind of time. The CSCMP’s report suggested urgent action on port development.

            The logistical crisis is so big that there is no one single solution. Recruiting more drivers, adding port capacity and building more roads is part of the plan. A number of ports have extended cargo terminal hours on nights and Saturdays. Many of these facilities have instituted peak hour fees on cargo loading and unloading. Soon the east coast will experience many of the port capacity and congestion problems that have become all too common on the west coast.

            CSCMP’s reports calls for major investments to create high speed rail freight corridors with grade separated rail crossings to alleviate highway congestion and improve efficiency and safety. Government and the rail industry needs to work toward alleviating choke points in congested urban areas and replace grade crossings that impede average rail speed.

            Safety and security must become a core business function for transportation companies. This requires better control of shipment data as well as improved screening procedures. Any action that can improve shipment visibility will likely be championed in the future.

            CSCMP’s report told the story about one cargo container that was found in 2001 at an Italian port. A 43-year old Egyptians was found to be living in the container. The man’s container had a small kitchen, a bed, food, water, batteries and a cell phone. This story illustrates just how vulnerable the cargo system can be to terrorism or smuggling.

Soylent Green Is Made Out of People!

Covering environmental issues as a journalist, I get used to hearing about the latest doomsday prediction. According to New Scientist magazine, Europe could lose half of its plant species within the next 80 years. The culprit? You guess it – global warming. Every problem in the world seems to trace back to logging, global warming, rich people or technology.

I guess the world must have been a perfect place before saws, tail pipes, money or computers.Whenever I see a “news” report about mass extinction, I wonder who tabulates those kind of numbers and how do they know what is going to happen. Just this past week, I learned that there are 20,000 species of known beetles in the world. And there could be a lot more then that. I frequently believe that “scientists” use these figures for shock value, and most journalists are happy to comply without truly challenging their findings. Is global warming as evil as Hitler, Stalin, and the Grinch who stole Christmas combined? I just don’t know. Neither do scientists. Most of their predictions are based on computer models that are highly inaccurate. Should we try to reduce pollution? Absolutely. Should we panic? Probably not.

On a somewhat related note, I saw a decent, B-grade apocalyptic thriller this week when I watched Soylent Green. It is a futuristic movie about a time where overcrowding and environmental pollution has led to the deterioration of the world’s food supply. People riot for food. There are still the rich and the poor. But the world is running out of food. The public doesn’t know how bad the ecosystem has gotten.

A big corporation has developed a revolutionary food source, green wafers called Soylent Green. Charlton Heston plays Robert Thorn, a detective who investigates the murder of a business executive. The murdered man turns out to be a director of the corporation who knew the horrible secret behind Soylent Green.

The big secret turns out to be that Soylent Green is made out of people. Thorn closes out the movie by revealing the secret.

While watching the film, I thought, ‘How ridiculous!’ But then I stopped to consider the premise for a minute. The thought of one being feeding off of the misfortune and misery of another reflects in many ways things that happen in history. It especially parallels the reality of the demonic realm. The New Testament portrays the devil as similar to a roaring lion who roams about seeking whom he may devour. The devil and his demons live to destroy and feed off human misery. They are seeking the souls of men and women every day.

What first seemed outrageous appeared to make sense as I look at the plot from a spiritual perspective. We can either be God’s agents to bring His kingdom down to earth or else we are compost fodder for hell. The choice is up to us.

Remember, “Soylent Green is made out of people!”

Personality Driven Ministry

How dependent are today’s churches on a dynamic personality to lead the organization from the pulpit? Talking with a number of people recently about looking for good leadership. I have noticed how important someone’s sermon skills seem to be in today’s church world. When churches look for new pastors, they always want to see them preach more than anything. But I wonder if preaching is even in the top five, maybe top ten criteria for an effective pastor.

I believe the sermon has become a central part of many churches because these organizations have become personality driven more than Spirit led. The sermon is where people hear the heart of the leader. It is truly the bully pulpit. And if stuff is going to get done, it usually happens because people believe in the vision cast by the leader and the confidence he exudes in convincing others that he is right.

There are a lot of churches that have grown massively thanks to charismatic leaders. Thank God for these people. But I wonder if sometimes the growth is a bit hollow and superficial. Good leaders are great. But we have the best leader in Jesus Christ. There is no greater source of inspiration then Him. And there is no more powerful source of strength than the Holy Spirit.

Are we looking to man too much and not God? Of course, a good teacher can help point us to God. But this may not always be the case. Some churches grow because of the seemingly sheer will power of its few key leaders. If the masses are following a man and not God, what happens if the leader falls or decides he doesn’t want to be a “super” pastor any more?

By following men, are we setting ourselves up for disappointment?

I don’t think we set out to follow a person. But it just seems to happen because just like the people of
Israel, we want an earthly king.

When will we ever learn?

A Thinking Man of Faith

Why does reason and science have to be at odds with faith? Partially this is by design. Faith is believing what we cannot see. Science is about what we can measure, observe and explain. I believe that most science relies on a bit of faith even though most scientists would strongly object to my assertion.

Science seeks to explain many things that are virtually beyond our known experience. Much of science is based on theories that cannot be proven. Many scientific discovers raise more questions than provide answers.

I have recently been thinking about the similarities and differences between faith and science after watching a PBS documentary on the existence of God. The film contrasts the views of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. Both men were atheists at least for some portion of their lives. Lewis became a reluctant convert. Eventually, he wrote some of the greatest apologetic writings in modern times.

Freud tried to unlock the unconscious thoughts and dreams. He linked many things in life with desires that developed at a young age. He tried to explain everything within the realm of the mind and natural processes. Yet, as I listened to what Freud believed, I noticed it filled with faith. His faith just didn’t happen to be in God. He placed his faith in reason and hypothesis based on his own experiences and dreams.

I like what one of the panelists had to say about developing our own view of God. J. Douglas Holladay said, “We are all betting on something. We have incomplete information to place that bet. In light of what we think is the most reasonable bet, we are putting our life down on it…That is as much certainty as we are going to get. Everything is a bet, and the bet gets validated over time.”

I agree with his comment except for the fact that life is not about the end only. It is also about the journey to get there. This is especially true for the Christian. How we live our life here and now impacts our reality in eternity.