Martin W. Bender
Justin and I have a standing disagreement as to which super hero ought to have our support in the Marvel Civil War. I have intelligently defended Captain America as being the obvious choice, while Justin, in his foolishness, has thrown in his hat toward Iron Man. Below you will find definitive photographic proof that every bearded man ought to choose Cap.
As you can see, Robert Downing Jr. is lacking a manly mane while Chis Evans has much beard. Discussion closed.
Martin W. Bender
Belonging is third in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He argues that all people require a sense of belonging in order to be healthy. This innate need often overshadows the need for safety or physical needs. Everyone desires a sense of belonging be it within a family, a group of friends, or the work place.
Religious groups also meet people’s need for belonging. When someone says, “that’s my church” they are making the point that not only do they worship at a particular location, but that they identify themselves with a specific worshiping community. This sense of belonging is almost tribal. Congregations develop unique cultures, languages, and worldviews they teach to their children and into which they submerge prospective members. Developing a strong sense of belonging in a congregation creates opportunity for improvements in fellowship, service, and evangelism.
Creating a sense of belonging cannot be done artificially. A new member class may be helpful in introducing a person to the beliefs of a congregation, but developing belonging is far more labor intensive. It takes time and shared experiences to create the feeling of belonging. Perhaps the best way to develop this feeling is by overcoming challenging situations.
The greatest sense of belonging I have ever felt was in the military. My experiences in the Army, particularly on deployments, created a sense of belonging that continues years after I have seen any of my old buddies. The sense of belonging was created by the following factors: a clear objective to accomplish, time spent together, shared experiences, and crises overcome. All of these can be applied to the congregational setting.
Can you think of ways to develop a sense of belonging within the church? What pitfalls can come from creating too strong a sense of belonging? How strong a sense of belonging do you have with your congregation and how has it developed through the years? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts.
Is the world ready for a female 007? Justin and Martin both think so. They discuss who made the best James Bond, argue about video games, and wonder if Jason Bourne could beat James Bond in a fight. This episode rambles a little as the fellers have difficulty staying on topic, frequently running down rabbit trails and forgetting what they were talking about. They also wonder when their ministries will become more like Jesse Custer's from Preacher and when his beard will become more like theirs, thick and full like the mane of a lion. It's an episode you don't want to miss.
Martin W. Bender
In a few previous posts I’ve written about triperspectival ministry. The idea is that ministry ought to be considered in terms of normative, situational, and existential categories in order to best understand an individual’s relationship to their congregation. Instead of using those big seminary words I’ll simplify by referring to belief, belonging, and practice.
Belief is doctrine. The ideas and values communicated by the teachers in the congregation. It takes form in sermons, lessons, and statements of faith. Belief is also defined by the practice of the congregation and is rooted in the congregation’s traditions and habits. The way the Bible is interpreted, explained, and understood all fall under the category of belief.
People define themselves by their beliefs. The statement, “I’m a Baptist” provides a lot of information. It greatly reduces the amount of effort in figuring out where a person likely stands on a number of issues. When a couple recently joined my congregation I was able to rightly assume much of their theology based on the type of church they left. At the same time, it’s important to be able to distinguish the differences people may have with their congregations.
Communicating the beliefs of the congregation is profoundly important. The deliberate, creative, repetitive articulation of a congregation’s core beliefs will create greater levels of agreement of those listening resulting in members becoming increasingly attached to the group. As agreement increases, so does cooperation and the level of investment the member is willing to put into the congregation.
For this reason, the elders and I spent an entire year developing a statement of faith that better articulates the informal beliefs of the congregation. This statement will be used in the creation of lessons and sermons delivered in order to deliberately increase the degree to which the congregation agrees on important theological and practical issues.
In my next blog post I’ll describe how an individual’s sense of belonging has an effect on their relationship to the congregation. Until then, think about your beliefs and those of your congregation. Do they line up? Are there significant differences? What can you do to be in line with your congregation’s most important beliefs?
Martin W. Bender
Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is an ancient minister’s manual that reflects much of what continues to be taught to those seeking pastoral positions in local congregations. Augustine essentially takes the basics of pastoral ministry and communicates to his readers methods for interpreting scripture, composing sermons, and delivering messages. He extols the use of the original languages whenever possible and emphasizes the importance of effective communication while preaching the gospel.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Augustine’s work is its similarity to modern ministerial training. He explains the great importance of rightly interpreting the text, bringing out the technique of allowing the simpler passages of scripture to explain the more difficult. This, of course, remains one the primary building blocks of biblical exegesis.
In the construction of sermons or lessons, Augustine argues in favor of the use of logical argumentation. He posits that logic is essentially an observable characteristic of God’s nature and as such should be embraced and fully utilized in the presentation of the gospel. For those familiar with Augustine’s other writings this should come as no surprise as he builds clear arguments in his sermons following a logical progression of thought.
Despite this reliance on the use of logic in developing messages, Augustine also recognizes the necessity to vary the style of delivery based on the audience, the message, and the text from which the message is derived. He sees that there is a place for different types of sermons as well as the use of another’s sermon in order to best communicate the gospel to a particular audience. In this area he takes on a very pragmatic attitude encouraging his readers to use the method that is most likely to produce the desired results. Funny how a man writing in the fifth century can be so very contemporary.
This book was difficult to get through. For all those who lament the difficulties of John Owen I’d suggest reading a little Augustine and getting over it. I’d happily read On the Mortification of Sin again before On Christian Doctrine. That being said, Augustine’s Confessions ought to be read by every Christian and will probably make it onto my reading shelf this year, but OCD was somehow brutal to me and made me hate reading for three months. I’d avoid this one unless you’re planning on going into vocational ministry. Read some of his sermons instead and you’ll be much better served.
Having read a little of “Mr. Orthodox” (that’s what one of my seminary professors called Augustine) I’m moving now to the charred remains of the emergent movement to see if there is anything left to salvage in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.
Martin W. Bender
Nothing is as it seems in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the previous books there was a clear sense of whimsy pervading the story, but entering into Harry’s fourth year there are far darker forces at play than we have seen thus far in the wizarding world. This is probably a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the happy antics of Harry and his friends in the first three novels, but coming into the Goblet of Fire I was definitely hoping for higher stakes. I didn’t really care if Gryffindor won at quidditch and I’m not concerned if Harry and Malfoy have another brouhaha over some nonsense. In this book, though, there is a much more malevolent force working behind the scenes.
My biggest gripe about the first half of the series is the lack of peril. With an enemy so terrible people refrain from even speaking his name one would think there’d be greater danger than oversized snakes and bad versions of He-Man villains. Finally, in the fourth book, we see Voldemort as his intimidating, murderous self. It’s the slow burn reveal of Harry’s enemies that make the series work for me.
This may be why J. K. Rowling’s books have been so appealing. Harry’s innocence is slowly stripped away as he becomes increasingly aware of the world around him. As children, we believe the world to be safe provided there’s enough light in the room and our parents are around. As we grow older and experience more and more of the evil in the world we recognize there are far worse things on earth than the monsters we image lurk under our beds. This is precisely what happens to Harry as he is rushed into the wizarding world with all its wonders, but then is shown the dangers that so often come along with greater power. It reminds me of Vision’s assessment of the inevitable increase in supervillains with the rise superheroes in Captain America: Civil War.
I’m a little nervous about book five. My daughter Anna has been very clear that The Order of the Phoenix is the worst of all the books, but that it is a necessary step in understanding The Deathly Hallows (her favorite). I’m trying to keep her opinion from affecting me, but it took me months to get through book four which is supposed to be one of the very best. Hopefully I’ll get through book five fast and get back into the habit of reading regularly.
Martin W. Bender
How should a Christian congregation respond to trends within the religious world? As the preacher of a congregation in transition, I carefully look at church trends to help guide the ministry process where I serve. In doing so, I have noticed three stereotypical responses to church trends: ignoring them, bucking them, or following them.
Ignoring trends in the church is perhaps best illustrated by the Mennonites. These are people who hold to a very specific manner of both congregational life and interaction with secular society. As such, they have had very little influence on the societies in which they live and, with the possible exception of pacifism, have added little to modern expressions of Christianity (of course this is part of their point).
For congregations that choose to ignore societal trends and changes in culture one has to wonder if their particular expression of the Christian faith is worth maintaining. Today, we look at the lifestyle of the Mennonite and find it ever so quaint, but generally choose to lead lives that embrace the wonders of our age. Congregations ignoring contemporary religious trends do so at the risk of becoming like the Mennonites: faithful to their particular theological paradigm, but little more than a footnote in history.
Bucking trends within the religious world is equally dangerous. The Westboro Baptist Church has made a name for themselves by actively bucking just about every popular trend in American Evangelicalism. As they have done this, they have become a caricature of the church in the US bringing shame not only upon themselves, but on all Christians. This congregation is an extreme example, but there are numerous fellowships bucking any new trend with the discernment of a teenager, never even considering how a new approach might further the gospel.
Some trends need to be bucked. There is a trend among Christians to redefine marriage, ignore biblical gender roles, and deny the existence of Hell. All of these are clearly counter to scripture and need to be rejected on individual and congregational levels, but cultural questions like the use of information technology, various musical styles (remember that nonsense?), and communication techniques are not inherently counter to revelation and should be carefully considered prior to rejection.
Trend followers are those that follow the methodologies of other congregation perceived to be successful. Conferences, books, blogs, and programs are created to market to trend following organizations. After the success of Saddleback Church congregations copying their methods were everywhere attempting to achieve the same results. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does present some challenges in maintaining a congregation’s distinct identity.
Each congregation is different. This is a simple truth, but is often overlooked. Not all of the strategies that are successful with one group will work in another. It would be unreasonable to assume a program that worked well in California would be equally successful in rural Georgia. So when following trends, a congregation must be very intentional in applying ideas that are culturally appropriate to have the best opportunity for success.
There is of course one last option for congregations: establish trends. The establishment of trends is predicated on success. As a congregation is successful in developing an area of ministry they can then share how they achieved that success.
A local example of this is Savannah Christian Church. SCC has been very successful in both growing their congregation and in developing a very specific culture. They share how they are accomplishing this through a conference as well as being intentional in mentoring leaders of other congregations. In doing this, they have been able to have greater influence than would have been possible otherwise.
The likelihood of a small rural congregation establishing a large scale trend in congregational ministry is low, but there has never been a time in history where it was more feasible. As communications technologies continue to improve and become less expensive the possibilities for small congregations has never been greater. Those who are able to leverage the tools of the age to communicate the gospel will be the next generation’s trend setters. It could come from anywhere, why not here?
There's a slippery slope with everything. From butlers to public nudity, there's no telling how one decision will impact the future. This fact is no more evident than in the latest episode of Two Bearded Preachers. These furry mammals talk about their favorite WWE celebrities, the problems with Batman V Superman, and stroll down memory lane with a troubling tale from Greek class. Is Justin cursed? Will Martin ever get a massage? What happens when Superman farts? Find out by listening to the 33rd installment of the Two Bearded Preachers super show!
When one considers the current cultural landscape the issues of bathrooms, presidential candidates, and superheroes will inevitably arise. Can someone make sense of a world where Starbuck's customers are forced to wait on a member of the opposite sex to finish using the restroom? Justin and Martin discuss all this and the pastoral implications in this episode of the Two Bearded Preachers. We have no doubt the listener will be delighted and challenged by the facially blessed dynamic duo of the podcasting universe. You're my boy, Blue.
Martin W. Bender
One of the challenges of congregational leadership is maintaining and developing a sense of connectedness among the membership. At a recent workshop I was giving as a part of our congregational development plan I was asked how we can ensure new attendees are integrated into the life of the congregation. It’s a great question all church leaders have to answer. This is the beginning of my answer.
Congregational Connectedness is the degree to which an individual is aligned with a congregation in terms of belief, belonging, and practice. My previous post begins the process of explaining these criteria and can be read here, but the short version is that belief equates to doctrine, belonging equates to self-identification, and practice equates to participation in congregational activities. Too easy, right?
In the diagram below we see the intersection of three circles. The orange circle represents belief, the pink circle belonging, and the blue circle practice. As people begin to be affiliated with a congregation they often will be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. Greater congregational connectedness occurs when an individual moves from the outer edge toward the ABC area where the categories of belief, belonging, and practice intersect. This is where we as leaders endeavor to move all of our congregants.
(ABC – members, A – nominals, AB – Lapsed, B – Acquaintances, BC – friends, C – Traditionalists, AC – mystics)
Once individuals associated with the congregation are categorized within this system they can then be ministered to in their greatest area of need in order to move them toward membership where they have the greatest degree of congregational connectedness. This, of course, does not answer the question of how a congregation goes about moving people toward membership, but it does provide a framework from which ministries can be developed. Ministries that are explicitly created for the purpose of increasing congregational connectedness, thus improving the overall health of the congregation.
In my quest to develop a thorough theology of ministry this is where I currently am. Am I way off base or does this make sense? Hit me up in the comments with questions and criticisms.
Why do we learn how to read? Honestly I have never thought to ask that question. I have always loved reading. It has always been a major part of my life. I think that’s the reason I’ve never thought to ask that, because it’s is so essential to life.
Why do we learn how to read? Where do I begin? Lets just say it, reading is fundamental to function in today’s society. Reading develops the mind. Reading develops the imagination. Reading is the key to education. It is difficult to grow intellectually, psychologically, and spiritual without reading. It is the gateway skill that opens doors in life. It is the key to success in life.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that God has chosen the written word to communicate to us. By reading the Bible we can receive instructions to life. By reading the Bible we learn how to obey. By reading the Bible we get encouragement. By reading the Bible we can hear our Lord and Savior speak to us.
In ancient Israel, kings were instructed to copy down his own scroll of the law and to keep it with him to “read it all the days of his life so he may learn to revere the Lord his God.” This helped the kings stay humble, prevented them from turning from God, and ensured their reign for many generations. The kings who did this faithfully were proven to have ruled well. (King David and eight other kings of Judah) In other words, they had some measure of success.
Success doesn’t happen sitting in front of a TV. Maybe give your brain a little exercise tonight and pick up a book.
Martin W. Bender
I was reading an article by a Mennonite about participation in government (insert nerd joke here). The article explained voting as a means of conflict resolution. If you are at all familiar with the Mennonites, you likely know the article concluded that voting is inappropriate for Christians as the government inevitably uses violence as its primary tool. Pretty much extreme pacifism.
I am by no means a pacifist, but I did like how the article brought to mind how Christians should interact with the state. The challenge American Christians face is the morality of voting for individuals who hold views counter to Christian teaching. As Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders vie for the presidency, the thoughtful Christian must ask, “Which of these candidates best reflects Christ’s thought, action, and character?”
Perhaps I’m being a bit too idealistic, or maybe I’m a little irritated that after having switched favorites twice in the primaries I now have even fewer options, but there simply doesn’t seem to be a candidate even remotely tolerable in terms of applying biblical morality to the most powerful office on earth. I don’t suppose I have much cause for complaining though, as elected officials generally try to reflect the positions of the people in order to maintain power. I find myself leaning closer to the position of the Mennonites and early Baptists regarding the separation of church and state as a result.
The question I am left with is whether voting remains a valid form of conflict resolution for me in terms of national politics. The article listed negotiation, voting, and violence as the typical means of conflict resolution, but at the end suggests all of these result in the compromising of Christian thought and that the best means of changing society is not through political action, but through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The church would be better served by focusing its attention on the Gospel rather than attempting to change the world through worldly means. At the same time, Christians bear a civic responsibility to use the power they have to promote the Christian message. This means there needs to be an element of Christian participation in government, but that participation ought not replace the continual declaration of Jesus Christ and his work.
I've not yet decided how I'm going to participate in this year's presidential election. I do have a sense of peace, however, knowing God is sovereign over all that happens and it is through him any come to political power.
Have you been called to vocational pastoral ministry? If so, the Two Bearded Preachers have some advice for you: do something else. Justin and Martin question the reality of divine calling to the pastorate, but ultimately decide they are both ideally suited for the task. They don't get into whether or not the draw to the pulpit is ordained by God, but they do joke around about why anyone would even want to get involved in church work. It's a fun little conversation that may or may not encourage you to seek out ordination. In all honesty it probably isn't any help at all.
If you are a fan of satire and fads in Christianity head over to The Bald Prophet and read some of Shawn Smith’s articles. He deftly mixes pop culture, contemporary Christianity, and theology into delightfully funny articles. I’m pretty sure it’s all in good fun, but you can never be too sure. Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica.