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Posts from February 2011

"Singles Ministry" May Be a Thing of the Past

I have noticed this trend over the past few years. I remember hearing a twelve year old say "I'm single now." I immediately thought "Now? What is this 'Little House on the Prairie?' I didn't know there were many twelve year olds getting married."

Of course, the pre-teen wasn't referring to marriage at all. Apparently, the term "single" now refers to anyone who not only isn't married, but doesn't have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

I was talking to one of our singles ministry leaders yesterday and he was sharing how he has discovered the challenge to this term. An unmarried couple had visited our church one Sunday morning, so the small group leader gave them a call to invite them to give the group a try. The group leader introduced himself and shared that he was leading a small group for single adults. The guest said "Well, I'm not single."

Thinking he had misread the guest information card, he apologized and pursued the discussion. Apparently, it went something like this. . .

"Oh, I'm sorry. I see you and [the woman's name] came together."

"Yes, that's right."

"Oh, I just wanted to invite you to give our singles class a try. Come meet some new friends and study the Bible with us."

"That's great, but I'm not single."

"I noticed you have different last names."

"That's right."

"I'm sorry, I see here you have the same address."

"We do." (This is a topic for another day - the vast increase in co-habitation before marriage.)

"Uh, are you married?"

"No."

"Then, you're single."

Long pause on the phone.  Then, cordial goodbyes. 

Hmmm. Seems that our group leader just learned what I discovered a few years ago. The term "single" apparently has nothing to do with being unmarried in today's culture. 

Single This is a challenge for churches looking for a descriptive term for ministries focused on those who are not married. Even if couples are living together out of wedlock, a married couples class isn't a good fit. Why? Well, it should be obvious. . .because they're not married. 

A singles ministry should be the normal fit, but couples who are dating or engaged don't consider themselves single (just check their Facebook relationship statuses.)

So, what terms should we use?

Perhaps "Unmarried Adult Ministry" but that's a mouthful. Still, it's self-descriptive.

This is a real challenge and yet, a great opportunity. At least half of all adults who visit our church on a weekly basis are unmarried.  Some are young, never married adults. Some are professionals who are career minded and have not yet and may not ever be married. There are those who are "playing like their married" by living together. Others are people who have been married, but due to divorce, now find themselves in a new category of what we used to call "single again." 

Some aren't even thinking about marriage. Others are interested and searching for God's man or woman for their lives. Still others are working through the pain of a broken marriage.

Just know that the cultural lexicon is in flux and terms change meaning. I've noticed that when you Google the term "single adult" the vast majority of sites are related to church and religious groups and ministries. I guess this shows that the non-churched adults in our culture don't use this term. Is this possibly why the term "Singles Ministry" is so confusing to the non-churched crowd?

I pray for Brandon Phillips and our leaders in this "Unmarried Adult Ministry" as they seek to reach and minister to all. 


What Do Talking Vegetables & the Southern Baptist Convention Have In Common?

Talking tomatoes and cucumbers and Southern Baptists. On the surface, they may not seem similar. However, I think I may have discovered some similarities.

A few weeks ago I attended a pastors leadership group in Jacksonville. The comaradarie was nice and the discussions were challenging.  We weren't there to discuss church growth strategies or brag about new buildings, baptisms, finances, or any of the other things that often come up when pastors get together. (This was refreshing - a group of pastors who weren't gathering to brag on themselves or their churches.  Does that make me prideful in that I'm proud I was in a group that wasn't prideful.  Ah, the challenge of sanctification.) The purpose was to challenge and minister to each other as pastors, men and friends. We discussed our individual journeys of faith and calling and noticed some similarities. It seems that all of us have experienced a "wilderness" experience at some point early in ministry. Those times are terrible when experiencing them, but necessary as God refines us.

Anyway, as we finished up our gathering, the leaders handed each of us a book to read.  We were to read it before our next gathering. I expected another Ed Stetzer or Reggie McNeal book or something else on missional growth (BTW - I like those books, so that's not a shot) but was surprised when we were handed a copy of Phil Vischer's 2006 story of the rise and fall of VeggieTales.  The book is titled Me, Myself and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. Honestly, I thought this would be about the worst book to read. Now, I like VeggieTales as much as the next guy. I am humming the theme song right now. I think of Larry every time I need a hairbrush, but seriously - this book for pastors?

Veggietales Well, being a good team member, I took the book home and after a week or so, cracked it open to see what it was about.  I was drawn in. I couldn't put it down.  I read it quickly and found myself relating to much of what Vischer was talking about.

Since finishing the book, I've quoted it online and in sermons.  

I even encouraged my associate pastors to read it. One of them called me today and said he started the book yesterday and had to finish it.  He was amazed. He brought my attention to the following portion on page 220.  It is the portion of the book regarding the lessons learned from the bankruptcy of Big Idea and the auction of all things Veggie to another company. I'll just print it here. . .

Then we attempted to launch our second series, 3-2-1 Penguins.  We hired additional artists to build a dedicated team, keeping pay scales in line with the VeggieTales team, of course. As a result, 3-2-1 Penguins inherited the cost structure of the "hit" series VeggieTales. And it never had a chance.

Two years later, a new executive team arrived to save the bloated, sagging company. What did they immediately realize? Big Idea's animation studio was just too expensive for our business model. We could crut our production costs by a third, they estimated, by outsourcing our animation to any of a number of competent studios in Canada. And so the ax fell, and all those great animators lost their jobs. Some of them remarked on their way out that they would gladly work for less money if they could keep working on the shows they loved with the team they loved. But it was too late. The damage had been done.

It's a pretty eye-opening and sobering story. The characters in the story are not just characters, they are real people. People who had bought into a dream, a vision, a plan, but lost focus and somewhere along the way entered crisis mode. Consequently, jobs were lost, changes were made, a new team of advisors and leaders came in to clean it all out, but as Vischer said "It was too late. The damage had been done."

My associate pastor asked if that was the case with the SBC? I didn't know where he was going at first, but he continued to explain that with all that is coming with the Great Commission Resurgence and the Florida version (Imagine If. . .Great Commission Resurgence) being implemented, does it not look like what is being described in this story about VeggieTales. 

Gcrweb6006234 We all know that numerous people have lost their jobs in an effort for agencies and conventions to cut costs. I do not think that these decisions have been easy. I feel for those who have had to make the hard decisions as well as those who are no longer employeed by either the denominational agency, Baptist convention or associaton. 

Hard questions are having to be answered. In some cases, there are things that God has called the church to accomplish and the church just has not stepped up to the task. I believe wholeheartedly in the Cooperative Program and networking, cooperative churches and ministries. However, I do fear that just as some believers give their offerings to the church with the mentality that "I've given my money. It's the pastor's job to do all the evangelism, discipleship and ministry," that some of our churches have shirked the responsibilities given by God with the false justification of "I've given to CP, so it's the convention or NAMB, or the IMB or our association's job to do the task." 

Don't hear what I'm not saying (thanks Reggie McNeal for that statement.)  I am not for trashing all our denominational offices, convention roles, agencies or associations. However, as I shared with some pastors earlier this week - like it or not, change is coming. We had better prepare for the "new normal."

I go back to Vischer relating to something he said about vision. We all like the verse in Proverbs 29:18 where it says that where there is no vision the people perish. Have you noticed that in most every modern, English translation, the word "vision" is replaced by "revelation." That's not an editorial change for the sake of change. It's that the word "vision" meant something different in King James' day than it does today. Today it relates to something you or I can create in our mind and then, by following all the leadership gurus of our day, proclaim our "vision" and lead to reach this task.

However, in King James' day, the word meant something different. It meant "revelation." Guess that's why the newer translations use that term. What's the difference between a vision and a revelation in our modern language? Vision comes from our own creative minds. Revelation is given to us from God. So, what Big Idea and VeggieTales learned the hard way was that apart from a revelation from God, people are unrestrained and perish.

It's been made clear through numerous reports that our model is dated and some changes are needed. Messengers to the SBC and to the state convention have affirmed that changes must come. The question that all involved are asking is "Is it too late?"

I, for one, do not believe it's too late?  Why, because the SBC is not just another company or organization. However, there is danger of acting like just another business. 

As changes come, join with me in praying for the health of our denomination, but also, maybe more importantly, for the men and women impacted by changes. 

Phil Vischer shares that he asks a lot of "What if?" questions. We don't want to find ourselves asking "What if we listened more closely to God's voice?"

We need revelation from God and total focus on Him as we seek to not just implement the changes recommended by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, but to live fully as men, women and churches of God.


The Egg & Other Terribly Flawed Illustrations of the Trinity

We have touched on this a few times over the past few weeks during our Wednesday evening "Foundations" study.  The entire concept of the triune God, the Trinity is essential to our doctrinal belief and yet it remains a mystery.  We serve one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) not three, yet He is "God in three persons" as the hymn states . . . Father, Son and Spirit.

I'm sure you have heard pastors and teachers use illustrations to try to explain the reality of Trinity.  The problem with illustrations is that eventually they fall apart.  The danger with illustrations regarding the Trinity is that they give incomplete and fatally flawed images of God.

THE EGG ILLUSTRATION

Look at an egg.  It's one item, but made up of three distinct sections:  shell, white and yolk.  On the surface, this seems to work, but in reality, it's a very poor illustration.  Why?  Because if you were divide the egg into the three sections, you no longer have an egg.  All you have are egg shells, egg white and egg yolk.  This leads to a theological teaching called "modalism"  Modalism is perhaps the most common theological error concerning the nature of God.  It is a denial of the Trinity, rather than an affirmation.  It teaches that God manifested Himself throughout history in three modes, first as Father, then as Son and finally as Holy Spirit. The fallacy with this teaching is the premise that never was God all three at one time. In this belief system, He could not be.  Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons of the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.  

Some present day groups that hold to this teaching are the United Pentecostal and United Apostolic Churches.  They deny the Trinity, teach that the name of God is Jesus and require baptism for salvation. These modalist churches and others often accuse Trinitarians of teaching the worship three gods.  This is not what the Trinity is.  The correct teaching of the Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Photo credit: pj_vanf via Visual hunt / CC BY

THE FATHER-SON-HUSBAND ILLUSTRATION

This illustration takes on a number of characteristics.  It's often shared with good intent, but again it's flawed.  I'll use myself as an example.  If I were to use this illustration, I would say that just as God is one manifested in three persons, I am one man, but to my son, I'm a father, to my parents, I'm a son and to my wife, I'm a husband. . .yet still one man.  By now, you can probably see the mistakes in this illustration.  It, too, falls into a modalist view.  In this case, while I have always been a son, I have not always been a husband or father.  Only after I married my wife did I gain the name "husband."  Only after our first child was born did I gain the title "father."  

In the case of God, he has eternally been Father, Son and Spirit.  He did not shift sequentially into different modes. Therefore, this illustration is fatally flawed and incomplete.

THE H2O ILLUSTRATION

This one is somewhat better than the previous two, but still flawed. This illustration describes H2O as present in three forms - liquid, solid, and gas. The problem with this illustration is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not "forms" of God. Each is God and yet also part of the triune nature of God.

The bottom line is that no human illustration will suffice when describing the Trinity.  An infinite God cannot be fully described by a finite illustration.

While the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, the teachings surrounding Trinity are throughout.  This doctrine has been a divisive issue throughout the history of the Christian church.  Though the core aspects of the Trinity are clearly presented in God's Word, some of the side issues are not as explicitly clear.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  However, there is only one God. That's the doctrine.

You may be saying "I don't get it."  That's right.  Rather than trying to define the Trinity with our finite understanding, we would be better served by focusing on the fact of God's greatness and nature. (Romans 11:33-34)