Say No to Ministry Porn

The title of this post is going to bring all kinds of strange traffic from the search engines.

One of the things I appreciated about last week's Global Church Advancement conference is that there were no big names, except of course for Ed Stetzer, who warned us against chasing after big names.

Steve Childers, founder and president of GCA, explained why they don't bring in the big names. He wants to avoid what he calls ministry porn. His definition of porn goes something like this (I wish I could remember the exact wording):

porn - an unrealistic depiction of something that doesn't exist that robs you of what you already have that's good and beautiful

I love it. It's a good definition of porn in general, and it certainly applies to the ministry as well.

It reminds me of what Eugene Peterson writes about ecclesiastical pornography:

Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography — taking photographs (skillfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years. These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships. The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for uninvolved and impersonal spirituality.

So alluring. So empty. God save us all from ministry porn.

You're Weak Enough

A note to pastors and others in ministry:

You and I will never be gifted enough. The job will always be more than what we can handle. We will never have what it takes, and God help us if we ever think otherwise.

We can, however, be honest about our weakness. I read these words from Steve Childers last week: "Don't hold your weakness in disdain. That is God's plan so that through your weakness he might manifest his strength."

You will never be strong enough. You're already weak enough, though, and so am I.

Bill Kinnon posted this tweet last night:

Praise God for preachers like this. It's the kind of man I aspire to be.

Saturday Links

The Music and the Dance

The first man hears the music and all his actions are in response to and expressive of the music that he hears. The deaf man is only imitating the outward actions. As a result he doesn’t enjoy it much, he might not keep it up very long and he will never really do it as well as the one who hears the music.

The point of the analogy is to illustrate an important truth about the Christian life.

Pastoral Ministry is War

Perhaps we’ve forgotten that pastoral ministry is war and that you’ll never live successfully in the pastorate if you live with a peacetime mentality … It’s fought on the ground of the pastor's heart. It’s a war of values, allegiances, and motivations.

Why plant new churches?

Any way you slice it the idea of church planting is often either misunderstood or, literally, unheard of … The following are seven guiding principles that drive church planting, in general, and are driving us, in particular, to plant a new church in the heart of the city of Seattle.

The kind of men we need

“[My hope and prayer] is that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more bring into being His special certain young men whom He may use in his glorious employ. And what manner of men will they be?…"

I remember when

We were uncool. We really did need some refreshing in our music and communication, and so forth. But there was also something real and solid and powerful there. We must never lose it.

The Precarious Promise of Pragmatism

Don’t fall into the trap of making numerical growth the goal, but don’t fall into the other ditch of being satisfied with little to no fruit. Instead, examine what the Scripture teaches about fruitfulness. Then, think like a missionary. Find the best ways to share the gospel in your context. Ask tough questions. Trust God to work.

My pastoral confidentiality policy

Confidentiality is important but it is not absolute. It is neither wise nor helpful to allow anyone to bind one’s conscience unconditionally. I assume that you are seeking my counsel because you trust my judgment. My practice of confidentiality is governed by that same judgment.

Explaining My Wedding Ceremony Contract

A germ of an idea came to mind: What if one were to put into place a simple financial contract alongside the marriage contract? You couldn't force people to stay married, but you could at least add some incentive perhaps to make them work a little harder at avoiding a divorce.

When we lost every dollar we owned

We began again. But this time with a more vivid personal awareness that God is able.

Why You Should Attend #GCA2014

I've spent the week in Orlando. Yes, that itself is nice since I am from Toronto, which has dipped well below the freezing mark this week. The highlight of the week has not been the weather, though. It has been the very helpful, practical teaching of the Global Church Advancement Conference, a training event for church planters.

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If you haven't heard of Global Church Advancement, you're not alone. It's not as well known as some of the bigger conferences out there. I wish I had received this training earlier, but I've received it now, and I'm grateful. They run an annual training event that gives you the nuts and bolts of what needs to take place in planting or revitalizing a church.

Here's why I think this is such an important event:

It's theological. I love that this is more than a pragmatic, inspirational conference. I've had my fill of those. This is a group that clearly gets the gospel and how it applies to life and ministry. Everything is grounded in Scripture, and it's also soaked in the beauty and the power of the gospel.

It's practical. I don't think I've ever attended a more practical conference. I'm walking away with a very good understanding of what needs to take place next in order to plant a church. They don't just impose a model; they help you understand the key decisions and steps that need to take place to plant a church faithfully in your context.

It's visionary. I love the quote that appears at the beginning of every module:

Do not pray only for your own spiritual renewal. Pray for a springtime of the Spirit which will enrich the church and the world, an awakening for which all earlier renewal movements have been only rehearsals. (Richard Lovelace)

That's a much bigger endgame than just planting a church.

Steve Childers says that he wants to save us from having puny goals, like merely having a large church. He's much more concerned with a vision for God's glory, expressed through church planting but extending that visibly expresses the Kingdom. The mission is not to have a great church, he says, but to have a great community as the world is changed by the transforming power of the gospel.

I'm grateful that someone (Adam Sinnett) told me about this conference. I'm going home with a much clearer picture of what has to happen next as we plant Liberty Grace Church.

If you are a church planter, or you are investigating church planting, or if you are interested in helping to revitalize a church, then I strongly urge you to consider attending next year's conference (January 28-31). It's one of the most helpful conferences I can imagine for anyone who is involved in church planting or revitalization. Check out the blog by Steve Childers, follow him on Twitter, or read more about GCA at their website.

Sabbatical Reflections Three Years Later

Three years ago I was counting down to a sabbatical. Richview, the church I pastored for almost twelve years at the time, was kind enough to offer me three months for study, reflection, prayer, and renewal.

I have previously reflected on the sabbatical and what it meant to me. Now that some time has passed, I think I’ve learned some things about my sabbatical. Here’s what I can say now, some of which I wouldn’t have realized then.

Don’t wait until you’re at a crisis point for a sabbatical.

In some ways, my sabbatical was reactive. I had reached a point of emotional exhaustion. I wasn’t at the breaking point, but I was close enough. The three months were very helpful in recovering some emotional energy and in gaining perspective on next steps, and I’m very grateful.

But there’s the flip side: I waited too long. I’ve seen other pastors make this mistake too. By the time they take a sabbatical, it’s too late. I’d much rather see pastors take sabbaticals when they can devote them to growth and recovery rather than recovery only. A mentor told me that pastors in burnout are looking at two years or more of recovery. Don’t wait until you get close to that point and think that a three-month sabbatical will do the trick.

Don’t expect the sabbatical to address every underlying issue.

I bought new boots a few weeks ago, and they gave me a blister. I stopped wearing them for a couple of weeks, and the blister went away. I put them back on this week, and guess what they started to do again? Sabbaticals are like that. What bothered you before you went on sabbatical will bother you when you return. You will have had time to recover, but the same irritations and conflicts will be there.

Sabbaticals can change you and your capacity to react, but there will still be all the issues, idols, tensions, and joys that were there were before it started. I’m convinced this is why so many pastors make a transition after a sabbatical. They have some time to recover, but until the underlying issues are addressed, it’s not always possible to go on in that ministry.

Don’t think that a long sabbatical is your only option.

A three-month sabbatical seemed awkward to me. It wasn’t long enough to feel like more than an extended vacation, but any longer and re-entry into the life of the church would be difficult. It’s a good option, but it’s not the only one.

It seems that more pastors are looking at an annual sabbatical. I first heard Leith Anderson talk about this. Our church planting directory recently recommended that we take a one- or two-week sabbatical every year for study and refreshment. I’ve never done this, but I wonder if there’s some wisdom in this advice.

I’m so grateful for my sabbatical. I don’t think I could have gone on without it. But I also learned not to wait so long, not to expect my sabbatical to solve the underlying issues, and not to look at a three-month sabbatical as my only option.