Ministry and Marriage

Several weeks ago, the professors of my "Leading the Church in Effective Ministry" class brought in a panel of pastors to discuss leadership development and staff relationships with our class. In my four years at DTS this is the first class to focus solely on practical issues in ministry. I've been saturated with theology, history, Bible, and languages. I could diagram the Gospel of John in Greek, but couldn't perform a wedding, would drown the first person I tried to baptize, and would probably wear a baseball cap to the first funeral I performed. Okay, maybe that's a stretch.

Suffice it to say that this class has been a fresh air - the light at the end of the tunnel for me. We hear from pastors and ministry leaders on a regular basis who attempt to tie the theoretical with the practical so the pastors we send out on the field aren't simply educated fools.

One of the pastors on the panel on leadership development in this particular class was Gary Brandenburg, the new Senior Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church Dallas. I was so impressed with the things he had to say I offered to buy him lunch.

I bribe pastors and professors like this from time to time. They get a free lunch, and I get to pepper them with questions. It's a win-win situation.

Gary is a tremendous conversationalist, and one of those people who has tremendous insight on almost any topic you bring up. But the best came when I asked him about ministry transitions. My exact question went like this: "Gary, you've just made a transition into a church where the former Senior Pastor still attends, who built this church around his philosophy and vision for ministry. As the new senior pastor trying to build your own philosophy and vision into the ministry, how do you find the right balance between moving too slow and not moving at all."

He didn't miss a beat. "Chris, learn how to love your wife."


I guess I must have betrayed my ignorance, because he went on to explain something that I thought was pretty profound. You see, there isn't an exhaustive checklist for how to love your wife. If someone tells you they can give you ten steps for how to love your wife, they're lying. They could give you ten steps toward better communication, but you can communicate until you're blue in the face and still not love your wife. It takes communication, but it also takes intuition, wisdom, foresight, experience, and a host of other things.

As a young husband learning to love my wife, I'm using a majority of the skills I'll need to learn to love a church. There aren't ten steps to being an effective young pastor (or an effective old pastor for that matter). You can't run down a checklist, or check a gauge, or read a book. Those things may be helpful in an area, but they're certainly not exhaustive.

I thought about his words a lot last night. They make a lot of sense. And I think the parallel goes even further. The skills I'm learning in marriage won't just help me in the first years of ministry - they'll help me throughout ministry. Maybe that's why Paul made it essential for Christian leaders to be those who "manage their households well" (1 Tim. 3:4).

Sometimes I've felt like I'm spinning my wheels in ministry, like my hands are tied. I can't be leading a staff right now. I can't preach on Sunday mornings. So many of the things I need to know to be effective are learned by experience, but I haven't felt like I'm in a place where I can get that.

But I am.

Learn how to love your wife. I can do that.


Here's a question that has puzzled me for a while: What one tangible thing sets me apart from an unbeliever? We're called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), but what exactly is it that the world would see in us that they won't see in someone else who doesn't believe? We're supposed to "behave properly toward outsiders" (1 Thess 4:12), but what does that look like? It has to be more than just good works, because good works in and of themselves don't set Christians apart.

The Pharisees had good works. The false prophets had good works. Unbelievers do good works all the time. The Mormon church is one of the most benevolent organizations in the world, and they're a cult that denies the Christ of the Bible. For years secular organizations have run circles around Christians when it comes to doing good works in the world. So the Christian has to have more than good works when it comes to showing the validity of Christianity to a fallen world. The world often behaves better than us.

From the world's perspective, they don't need the virtues of Christianity because they often live more virtuous lives than us. We have good works, so does the world. We have community, so does the world. We have religiosity, so does the world. We have happiness, so does the world. In a large part, for everything the Christian has, the world has developed a counterfeit.

But three things remain: faith, hope, and love.

The world doesn't have faith because faith is based on hope, and hope is absent from the fallen world system. When we really get down to it, there's not even hope for tomorrow in the fallen world.

Just today, I talked to a guy (during my daily visit to Taco Bell) who just gave up giving up smoking. The way he figures it, medicine and technology will catch up with his bad habit before his bad habit catches up with him. He's only been smoking for five years - surely by the time lung cancer comes to him science will be able to clone him a new lung. After all, when he was a kid the idea of a heart transplant was science fiction; now we do them all the time.

Hope in technology? That's not hope. My hope is based on a certainty that has been proven time after time. His hope is built on wishful thinking.

The world also doesn't have a counterfeit for love. The world talks about love a lot, but in the context of "making love," "falling in and out of love," and "finding love." Love that can be made, fallen into and out of, or found is not love. Love is something that must be done. And the only true demonstration of love is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
The world talks about love because it doesn't understand it. The Christian has the ultimate example from which to live by.

But here's the problem: the Church does a lousy job of believing, hoping, and loving, and we're not doing anything to get better. Most churches do a pretty good job of getting their people to do good works but when those good works are done for the sake of doing good works, and apart from the overt presence of faith, hope, and love as a motivating factor, the works are useless. They fall into the same mental file with unbelievers as what the United Way or some other secular organization does. Consequently, the Church isn't a "city on a hill," but a streetlight in an already well-lit city.

Instead of thinking about how we can do more good stuff, maybe it's time for us to consider how the good stuff that we do can better reflect the things we have that nobody else does.

Let's "Converse"

If you've read my blog very long, or know me very well, you know that I completely detest being put in a box. I have a hard time identifying whole-heartedly with a particular system, fad, movement, or trend - mostly because I feel like when I jump in one of those boxes I'm going to have to identify with all the baggage that goes with it. Then, when it comes time for a discussion, I find myself having to spend all my time cleaning up all the messes someone else has created rather than explaining what I believe to be true. That's no fun.

But I still read a lot about the various ideas out there. I just finished a biography of Jonathan Edwards that had some real ministry gems in it. I followed it up with a book by Len Sweet, a newer writer who has almost nothing in common with Edwards, but had a few really great insights. I'm intrigued by a lot of the newer movements within Christianity, although I've noticed something in recent years that bothers me about some of the newer "boxes" within Christianity and the terminology they use: they all want to be called "conversations." The last four or five books I've read about newer movements in the church all refer to the ongoing "conversation" in that particular circle.

The emphasis on "conversation" is born out of necessity. The Christian culture has shifted along with the American culture in the past couple of decades. We used to be a Mars Hill type culture, where ideas were taught and received. Now, we're a discussion-oriented culture, where ideas are thrown out and hopefully discussed on their merits. You see the shift in educational philosophies, in the political arena, and even in the boom of the blogosphere. Culture has become oriented around conversation.

The problem with Christianity, is that we tend to adopt lingo before we adopt practice, and sometimes before we even know what the lingo means. The trendy "conversations" today aren't conversations at all; they're lectures with friendly titles attached to them. "If you don't buy in to our new philosophy of Christianity wholesale, you're wrong and behind the times." That's the sentiment of the "conversation" right now, which is no conversation at all.

If we really want to have a conversation about the future of the Church in America, I think that's a really good thing. But that's not what is happening. Right now we're having an old-fashioned argument with a new title, and that's goofy.

Worship In the Dr.'s Office

My aunt, wife of the pyromaniac, recently posted about the latest drama she experienced in the waiting room of a doctor's office. I don't know why drama always tends to find this family, but my wife made me add to our wedding vows that I would never vacation with them - an activity that ranks on the risk scale just under skiing slopes only reachable by helicopter. If you haven't already, read Darlene's post about her visit to the doctor's office, and search for the prequel. Then sit back and be amazed, because these are not isolated experiences for them. Wherever they are, weird people seem to show up on their most outlandish behavior.

I've had my own share of doctor appointments recently. The doctors have finally diagnosed me with what's called "Ramsay Hunt Syndrome." To put it shortly, in a very few lucky people who had chickenpox as a kid, the virus hangs around and reappears in the form of shingles later in life. For a very few of those lucky people, those shingles decide to attack the inner ear rather than the outside of the body, and eventually attack one of the major nerves in your face. The result is a paralyzed half of your face accompanied by a really fun ear ache. There's really not a treatment; the doctors just hope it will go away. And it certainly will... sometime in the eternal scheme of things. But fortunately, it's not life threatening and isn't really painful - just annoying. So life is good.

You should know that I hate doctors. I'm deathly afraid of needles - deathly afraid of needles. So I dread doctors just because I know they might recommend a shot or blood work, and I wouldn't have any choice to submit to the humiliation of asking some 20 year old nurse to let me lay down on the cot while she tries to locate a vein, and then passing out two or three times throughout the process. Nurses earn their money with me.

But this whole experience has been fascinating to me. It turns out, according to the ENT, that all my problems are due to the swelling and degeneration of the 7th cranial nerve - a teeny tiny nerve that runs along my jawbone, and governs all the muscle movement in the right side of my face including eye blinks, smiles, chewing, frowning, and everything else you can think of. That one teeny tiny nerve malfunctions, and the whole face goes limp. Pretty cool huh?

One of the neurosurgeons who looked at me attached some electrodes to my face and plugged me into a wall outlet to see what would happen to my face (If nothing else, the experience served as a deterrent for my ever committing a crime that would lead me to the electric chair). By sending an electrical shock through my face, the doctor was able to gauge the exact percent my nerve was functioning. Amazing.

If the swelling of one tiny nerve can cause me to look like a wax museum statue that got placed too close to the furnace, imagine the number of things that work perfectly in harmony every single day. Our body is perfectly designed by God, fearfully and wonderfully made. How can you reach any other conclusion? The intricasies of the body combined with its delicate balance is truly an amazing thing. We can't even begin to understand it to the point that we can fix it, but God had the infinite wisdom and skill to design it, create it, and to continue to sustain it as long as I live on the earth.

Last week, I went to the doctor. I passed out twice, but I worshipped there too.

How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.
(Psalm 139:17-18)

Out Sick...

No, I haven't totally given up on blogging. And no, I haven't been consumed by the TeamPyro megablog, which has turned out to be the bloggosphere's equivalent of a black hole threatening to suck the life out of measley blogs everywhere. I've been pretty under the weather for the past three weeks, and struggling to stay above water in Hebrew took precedence over blowing off steam on my blog. I'm still not out of the woods with the illness, or with the Hebrew, so I don't know how much I'll add over here until I get back on my feet, but I'll be back.

One of the highlights of my seminary day is my trek to a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell combination store for lunch. I've been going with some regularity for the past 3 years, and have been trying to build a bridge to Christianity with a couple of the employees there who have become my friends.

John is the guy at the counter, and he's my favorite. For 3 years we've made casual conversation in passing - usually about sports, but occasionally about politics or some other current event. I don't know why I'm surprised by his intelligence - maybe it's because he's thirty-something and still working full-time as a cashier at Taco Bell. But he's bright, articulate, and as far as I can tell, as far away from Christ as he can be. But we've never broached the topic of Christianity, until today.

He knows I'm a seminary student... I'm usually flipping through Hebrew or Greek flashcards, or reading a conspicuously Christian book as I eat. It's not tough to tell what I'm up to. But I've never pushed the issue with him... just waited for him to bring it up. Today he did.

"Hey Chris. What do you think about dispensationalism?"

Uhhhh.... Not exactly what I expected from a guy who works at Taco Bell, teaches me new curse words from time to time, and who has never touched the topic of Christianity.

Turns out, he read an article in the Dallas Observer, a fairly liberal newspaper-type publication about Dallas Seminary and some controversies about dispensationalism at DTS that are actually old news although the article came out last week. I hadn't read it, so I looked it up when I got back to school.

If you're interested in dispensationalism, or some of the current discussions within dispensationalism right now, you might be interested in reading the article here. It's a really long article, but does a fairly good job in a lot of respects. It minimizes some of the distinctions between traditional and progressive dispensationalism that I wish it had brought out more, but I was overall fairly surprised at the thorough treatment given in such a liberal publication that isn't at all committed to explaining biblical truth. Dispensationalism has some black eyes, and the article brings them out, but does a pretty good job at painting dispensationalism overall in a fairly good light.

If nothing else, the article gave me a really bizzarre starting point to lead into sharing the Gospel with a guy at Taco Bell.