Monday, December 28, 2015

My Top 10 Reads for 2015 (+ a few bonus titles)

My Top Reads for 2015 (in no particular order):

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
By John M Frame

Knowing Christ
by Mark Jones

Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion
by Richard Lints

We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship
by Mathew B. Sims and Joshua Torrey

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Theologians on the Christian Life)
by Carl Trueman

Rejoicing in Christ
by Michael Reeves

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love
by Edward T Welch

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice 
especially contributions by: Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, Christina Fox, Gloria Furman, David Mathis, Trillia Newbell, and Courtney Reissig,

The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God's Good Design
by Courtney Reissig

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change
by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Booklets to Recommend:

Why Must We Forgive?  - Cultivating Biblical Godliness Series
by Stanley D. Gale

How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship? - Cultivating Biblical Godliness Series
by Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin

Finally, honorable mention goes to this "helpful, but read with caution" title (contains some helpful ideas on practice and application for the church; however, due to a less than Biblical conception of sexuality, I wouldn't give it a blanket recommendation.):

The Plausibility Problem
by Ed Shaw

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Forgotten Generation and Late Night Programming

My generation, Generation X, is often considered the most forgotten and overlooked demographic in the country. Google the Millennials and the Baby Boomers and the material available from marketers and trend trackers will keep you up all night. Generation X, on the other hand, is rarely discussed, reported on, or considered by the big time planners, marketers, or decision makers.

This wasn't always the case, though. In the 1990s, Generation X was all the rage, making the covers of Time Magazine and Newsweek Magazine fairly regularly. We invented the internet as you know it. We developed the first websites and pioneered some of the most foundational digital and online companies still around. We were hanging out in Starbucks, looking for locally grown produce, and volunteering to help the most poor all over the world long before the likes of Portlandia or Humans of New York were ever conceived.

Who are these Generation X people? Different research groups vary quite a bit in how they define the age ranges, but I place Generation X between 35 and 55 years old, with Baby Boomers in the 55 and older age range. Many researchers see the Baby Boomers starting at about 50, and I tend to think that may be true for some. But if we're talking about tech savvy people, who've been using social media professionally since their college years, we really need to broaden the scale up to 55 years old, in my opinion. The Millennials, or Generation Y as they used to be called, would then include the 21-34 year olds.

It can seem a little bit perplexing that our society essentially jumped over Generation X. We have lived through and experienced the transition of a culture once dominated by the Baby Boomer generation to one where Millennials are now seen as the most dominant group. As the "in-between" generation, we should be uniquely situated at this point in time to correct course for some of our nation's most pressing issues.

However, we, as the people of the in-between generation, have lost our voices. As Jason Hayes of For The Church commented, the one defining characteristic among Generation Xers is they are tired. Tired of what? Hayes thinks that they are just tired of the journey of life. Or perhaps, they are tired of the treadmill of accomplishments. I think many Xers may be tired because they feel they have been sold a bill of goods in works righteousness. I've blogged about the problem before here (This is 'What's Going On').

The illusive "American Dream" that says if you work hard, you'll be successful and reach your goals. In the church, it's the issue of the prosperity gospel and name-it-claim-it ideology. Boomers and Traditionalists may have lived in a reality where the American Dream was still alive and well, but now Xers perceive that dream as having been delayed or stolen from them.

The stock market crash of 2008 immediately comes to mind. We lost as much as 40% of our 401k retirement plans, while the banks and corporate titans remained relatively immune to these losses. Dwindling Social Security and Medicaid accounts that are misused and misallocated give Xers little reassurance, despite the fact that most Xers have already paid into those accounts for 30 years or so.

Another interesting and relevant metaphor comes from a particular example of succession planning in the late night television programming industry.

Years ago, NBC brought Conan O'Brien into their late night line up, following Jay Leno on the schedule. Conan was the intelligent, avant-guard comedic talent that was selected from a lengthy study to be the heir of the Late Night franchise when Leno retired. After a long tenure, waiting in the wings and being groomed in the process, the day finally came when Leno announced his retirement from late night television. Leno would move to primetime endeavor and hand the reigns over to Conan, and bring Jimmy Fallon on board to take Conan's old spot. But this only lasted for a few weeks, when Leno decided that his retirement plans weren't quite working out for him, so instead of bumping Conan back into his later slot, the network decided to part ways with Conan.

The fans and audiences of late night programming collectively watched and voiced disapproval of how the network and Leno handled the transition and their interactions with Conan. Just like we all have passively participated and watched as society has passed over of GenX, only those who have been marginalized can change course. Lately, it seems Conan has found his voice in a different context, on his cable program. Similarly, I feel that we, have a unique opportunity to find our voices, make a comeback -- and more importantly -- make a difference.

Since none of this discussion of retirement or American Dream-crushing really explains or represents the issue or real heart of the matter, we should think hard about what might be holding us back that we can influence.

If we in the middle generation are tired, God cares and His Word speaks to that. If we are disappointed and discouraged, God cares and His Word speaks to that as well. If our hopes and plans and dreams didn't turn out as we had hope they had, God cares and His Word speaks to that.

In fact, in this season of Advent, we should look to Christ, in whom we shall find true peace. No matter what we think we need or want, Christ knows perfectly what we truly need, if we will trust in Him and His righteousness.

If we repent of the worldliness and self-sufficiency that clings to us like a body of death and makes us so very tired in this life, we will find new life in Christ. We repent not only by admitting sin and wrong priorities, but we must turn our gaze from distractions and falsehood, so that we can intently put our focus and trust on the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

Now for some Late Night Re-Programming (Praying this hymn by Phillip Brooks):

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.  
 For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth! 
 How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.  
Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.  
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thinking about Women's Ministry in an Old-New Way

Perhaps if you visited a church recently and wondered whether they had a women's ministry, someone said something like this to you: "Well, we do have a women's Bible study, but we don't believe that the church is called to create a bunch of programs broken out into different demographic segments."

Certainly, if a church is creating segmented programs that are disconnected from the overall life and unity of the church, then this would be a counterproductive ministry. If women's ministry is limited to a thing that happens in an isolated place, like an event, a meeting, or an activity, without any integration into the overall body, then it's likely that the women involved are missing out.

So, what is a healthy women's ministry supposed to be like?

Well, I could tell you to read "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, and end the post here. Because that really is the definitive resource, in my opinion. Rather, I'd prefer to share what I've shared with other women on the topic.

Until recently, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) committee on discipleship ministries called the women's ministry arm of its work "Women in the Church", or WIC. The name was changed to Women's Ministry, because of the confusion and misunderstanding of using the acronym, especially among newer people in the local churches.

I fear something important may have been lost when the name was changed. When we spoke of Women in the Church, it actually meant every woman member in the church was automatically considered part of Women in the Church. It wasn't a program to sign up for or a club to join, but rather it simply meant that you became part of the Titus 2 model of mentoring, where older women would come alongside the younger women. It didn't matter whether you believed in women's ministry or not, if you were a member of the church, you were a member of WIC.

Sometimes, when we speak of women's ministry with newbies, there is pushback about whether women should even be "in ministry" at all and whether the idea is even Biblical. Usually, when the model of ministry is explained, their concerns are easily answered. Yet there are times when the question still lurks about whether women are exercising authority in the church by having a ministry with committee members/officers who plan and teach.

At this point, we gladly bring up the practice of active submission. In a thriving church environment, women's ministry leaders are encouraged and reminded to actively submit their budgets, plans, books for study, and teachers or speaker to the session for approval.

In a thriving women's ministry, the leaders actively submit by coordinating teaching material with their pastors, to ensure that it complements the preaching schedule and that it complements the pastor's vision and direction for the church as a whole. A thriving women's ministry will develop the schedule and plan any events or activities in tandem with with the life of the church, so that the content and context all fit together and integrate people into the larger body of Christ as much as possible.

Another example of active submission is a recent initiative in our local church. Women's Bible study and small group leaders are now required to read and study the Westminster standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms), then sign an agreement, listing any exceptions they hold. All of our women who teach other women or children have gladly submitted to that request.

When others see and experience a thriving women's ministry that is working in coordination and cooperation with the pastors, the session, and rest of the church, they are often both surprised and encouraged. It requires the veteran "older women" to set the tone by going to great lengths to create synergy and collaborate efforts with the nursery, missionaries, campus ministry, hospitality, outreach efforts, and many others.

When properly conceived, women's ministry can create and promote a fruitful environment where women are more fully integrated into the life of the church (rather than the opposite).

What to avoid
What are some of things for leaders to avoid, in order not to conceive of women's ministry as just another program?

1) Don't get sidetracked by worldly leadership models that say the church can only do one thing well (focus on a single core competency). People need more than one-dimensional ministry to thrive and flourish, especially in this hostile age.

2) Don't think of women's ministry strictly in terms of events and meeting needs. Our effectiveness to minister to one another is founded on how well women are able to think and live Biblically by studying and applying God's Word, and in prayer. Word-based ministry is the key.

3) Don't imagine that women discipling women through women's ministry somehow stifles mission effectiveness. Sure, if women spend day after day in church activities and events, then it will negatively affect their ability to be salt and light, but that is the opposite of the model of women's ministry that is needed. We do need women to spend time with other women, investing in their lives, in discipleship relationships. Women need to be able to confess their sin, repent, pray, hold one another accountable, pray, and apply God's Word to their lives. That can't happen if they don't spend some intentional time together in a gender-distinctive setting.

4) Don't limit the mission of the church to one (or two) hours on Sunday morning. Because even though preaching, the worship service, and the sacraments are the necessary components for a church to even exist, and for the believer to have a fruitful life, they are not the only things that people need to grow and mature in Christ. Especially in the case of newer believers and those who are immature in the faith, accountability and gender-specific discipleship can be crucial.

I never thought I would say some of these things, because I have very little trust for women. But thankfully, I'm at a place now where I can see that one of the biggest ways for me to continue to grow and mature in my faith is through developing more nurturing relationships with women in the church, who teach me by their example.

All of this is to say that women's ministry can be and should be so much more than a "program". Women's Ministry can be life-giving, God honoring, and complementary to the overall mission of the local church.

Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬
1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?