Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hypertext commentary on Amos

The Postmodern Bible Commentary site appears to be a unique and exciting endeavor. The project's goal is a commentary site covering the whole bible, done in hypertext format. The aim is to explain the Bible in a way that a printed book cannot. The current book available is Amos, launched March 10th of this year.

The site includes Bible text, commentary, Hebrew words, and multimedia resources such as sound for word pronunciation, for example "apophthegma". You can even choose to have the text read to you in Hebrew or English!

The general page layout is in four panes -- menu, Bible text, commentary, and Hebrew word explanations.

Friday, September 29, 2006

What's a Steering Committee do?

Some confusion exists about what a church Steering committee is and what it does. Below are some hopefully helpful explanations:
  • The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as, "A committee that sets agendas and schedules of business, as for a legislative body or other assemblage."
  • A business planning company describes a Steering Committee as, "A cross-functional executive group that sets overall parameters and provides high-level project guidance by interaction with the project leader, milestone status review and approval of resource requirements."
  • The Government Accounting Office defines an Executive Steering committee as, "The top management team responsible for developing and sustaining the process management approach in the organization, including selecting and evaluating reengineering projects."

These all seem to clearly indicate that a Steering Committee or Executive Steering Committee does not get "down in the weeds" in regard to the organization's activities. The members of a Steering Committee don't "mess with" the committees of a church, for example. Rather, like the rudder on a ship, a Steering Committee "steers" the organization in a direction that will be of most benefit to the organization.

Thus, a Steering committee should not be an excuse to bypass the normal Administrative organization and decision-making process of the organization. A Steering Committee should concern itself with long-range, broad-brush planning actions. Sometimes a Steering Committee may be formed when the group would be better organized as a Task Force or Project Team.

Some pastors dislike "emerging church"

What's "the emerging church?" The opensource theology blog defines it as "The church as it takes shape in a post-modern, post-Christendom, post-colonial, and post-evangelical environment".

A recent posting there, "What some pastors and theologians don't like about the emerging church ", lists 13 types of complaints of these pastors and theologians. The gist of the complaints seem to imply that they are what many would refer to as fundamentalists or very conservative Christians. What's the view from the rest of Christendom?

Some related links:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What is "liberal theology"?

Liberal theology sometimes gets confused with liberal social positions, says Joel at the connexions blog. The post addresses comments by Beth Quick about the accusation that liberal theology is contributing to the decline of mailing churches.

He points out that even growth in the Southern Baptist Convention is stagnating. He also warns that Christianity in general is in trouble in America. He further cautions that part of the decline may be caused by unrelenting attacks on the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations by organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy and the Confessing Movement.

Joel's posting attempts to clarify the differences among "liberalism", "liberal social positions", and "liberal theology." Some people with a conservative theology can and do support liberal social positions, for example.

Monday, September 25, 2006

IRS vs. All Saints Church

Rev. Ed Bacon, All Saints Church, agrees that churches should not endorse or oppose politicians, but they should not be neutral about political issues and moral courses of action.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state." It would be mighty hard to be the conscience of the country if clergy could not speak about the country's rights and wrongs.

The IRS is examining whether sermons at the church violated laws that pertain to non-profit religious organizations. This action follows in the shadow of a prior year's uproar about a Pastor and congregation that voted out members who didn't support President Bush. The Pastor later resigned.

Read what the current fuss is all about:

Related links in this blog:

Update (10/14/2006):
The "Faith in Public Life" blog picked up part of this posting and several others in a more in-depth posting. Faith in Public Life postings usually also include videos.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pope not infallible

There seems to be not just a hue and cry about the negative comments about Islam by Catholic Pope Benedict XVII. The FaithFul Progressive blog says that this is also the second lapse of judgement by the Pope and the second religion he has offended. The Pope also got it wrong in his Auschwitz address, the Faithful Progressive says.

Some call the "infallibility"of the Pope into question. But those who do so may misunderstand the meaning of papal infallibility. Every act of the Pope is not considered infallible, only his ex cathedra teachings. So Popes as well as Presidents can "blow it" and show lack of good judgement. "Is the Pope Infallible?" asks Daniel Enberger's article in Slate magazine. "Only when he says he is", the subhead reads.

Other comments to "Pope 'Deeply Sorry' for His Offensive Remarks" point out that the Pope's remarks, no matter how well intended, were poorly chosen and serve only to encourage the extreme religious right in their mistaken belief that Islam is more violent than Christianity.

Europe experienced religious wars, the Crusades were by Catholics, and millions have been killed in the Americas in the name of religion. The blog postings even point to morally bankrupt practices of early California missions.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Liberal theology not killing mainline churches

Elizabeth, at, is irritated at religious conservatives who claim that anyone who doesn't agree with them has "a low view of scripture." She also counters the claim that more "liberal" mainline churches are "wrong" and that an increase in relative membership by conservative Evangelical churches is somehow proof that they are "right".

She says that some people are simply attracted to what is new, flashy, easy, convenient, and socially fulfilling. "Some churches," she says, "both mainline and other, can grow for [the] wrong reasons."

Worship style mismatch?

The General Board of Discipleship's Worship area on the web has the text of an excellent speech by Hoyt Hickman, "Making the Eucharist speak middle American".

In his speech, Rev. Hickman reminds us that John and Charles Wesley were Anglican priests to the end of their lives. At that time, Anglicans were considered the opposite of Catholics in terms of liturgical formality. Today, Anglicans are considered one of the more traditional Protestant denominations.

Rev. Hickman also mentions liturgical subcultures within the United Methodist Church, including:

  • Semi-Anglican
  • Free church
  • African-American
  • Other ethnic groups
  • International cultures

He also says that contemporary worship challenges liturgical traditions. This can be a serious obstacle for a church striving to draw new members from the surrounding community. If a church leans toward traditional but the community around them prefers a more contemporary worship experience, the going will be tough.

Often, though saying they want new members, church members may resist any change to "their" church. To complicate matters, most pastors have a preferred style of worship. They may be between a rock and a hard place if their preference doesn't match that of the community they want to serve. One way to research the demographics and preferences of people in your church area is to sign up for the free membership at Link2Lead. Then check out the Percept studies' data for ZIP codes in your church's vicinity.

In the late 60's, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren saw a crisis in worship. Official hymnals and books of worship, which had recently been changed, were already seen as out of date. There was a widespread call for more contemporary worship, focusing on contemporary music, a less formal style, and more openness to creativity.

Are we not faced with these same challenges today? Is your church and pastor prepared for change? Accepting of change? Welcoming of and not intimidated by change?

Related links:

Multitasking impedes efficiency

An October 2001 study in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" reports that the brain takes extra time "switching gears" when we switch tasks. So Samuel Smiles was right:

"The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once."

People who believe they accomplish more by multitasking may just be tricking themselves by getting the false impression of efficiency from the fact that they completed several tasks. But they probably could have completed all the tasks in a shorter period of time if they had concentrated on one at a time.

Microsoft suggests several multitasking problems. Among them:

  • Interruptions plague longer-term tasks. They hamper concentration and task progress. Users often can't determine which interruptions to handle immediately. This makes it difficult for users to maintain current task flow.
  • People often set aside tasks while waiting for something like an email to arrive or even a phone call.
  • People have trouble getting back on task after shifting their attention away.

Multitasking problems have even crept into churches. For example, one pastor had a habit of shouting over the last hymn as we closed the worship service. But paying attention to his words meant paying less attention to the words of the hymn. If a hymn is important enough to sing, it is important enough to concentrate on. We should pay more attention to the words (text message) of hymns, not less.

Even church staff members need to focus on one task at a time as much as possible. Acting against that goal are an always-open email program or email notifier, an open instant messenger (IM), Constant visitors, phone calls, etc. So help your church staff focus. Help lessen interruptions to their tasks and they'll get more done in the same amount of time.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Empower, equip, encourage

"Discipleship Journal's" article, "The power of encouragement", deals with encouraging people to come to Christ. But that article also started me thinking about empowering a congregation to carry out God's work.

A wise and well-liked pastor at a prior Methodist church told me that Methodist pastors should not be dictators in the churches to which they are assigned. Rather, they should empower, equip, and encourage the saints of the church to do God's work. Pastors who adopt that philosophy strive to leave churches with lay leadership that is better and stronger than when they arrived. That isn't likely to happen if the local "leadership" is spoon-fed tasks, seldom sees suggestions adopted, or is seldom allowed to act on their own ideas.

When pastors change at churches, congregation members and the church's leadership need to be flexible enough to allow for some changes. But Pastors also need to make allowances for a congregation that is not exactly like the one they left. A pastor in another state relates that a Candler School of Theology faculty member once said,
"There are only two things that Pastors should change the first six months they are they are at a new church -- their address and their underwear."

While that was obviously intended to be humorous, it contains wisdom. It is very helpful if pastors get to know church members, traditions, and the reasons behind practices at the new church to which they are assigned before they start suggesting changes, especially major ones.

Sometimes it seems as though Methodist pastors forget that they are only temporarily assigned to a church. The members continue; pastors change. So pastors, go easy about making dramatic changes that may prove harmful to relations with the congregation or ultimately to the Body of Christ at that church.

Working with the church's leadership will prove more beneficial to all concerned than butting heads. A church where authoritarian clergy -- no matter how good the clergy members' ideas and skills -- allow little or no participation in decisions just sets up the church for future failure when that clergy member moves to a new assignment. Church leadership needs the opportunity to actually lead, not just follow.

"Progress however, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step." — Samuel Smiles

How well is your church doing at preparing your leaders to continue leading after current clergy members move on? How well is your church doing at empowering, equipping, and encouraging the saints?