Monday, December 29, 2008

Manly Christianity

I had a conversation with my middle daughter's boyfriend, Alex, today. It started with Alex's comment about having to watch the movie Mamma Mia last night. I told him that as a father of three daughters, he has entered into an estrogen-loaded household. He comes from a family of three boys. Think: testosterone.

I've never been much for stereotyping gender roles. I've taken my daughters fishing, camping, to ball games, on high ropes courses and shooting guns. Like me, all three of them earned a black belt in Taekwondo. They are not sissies. But they are girls. One is an actress, one sings opera and the other dances ballet. All three liked Mamma Mia. They liked Anne of Green Gables. They liked The Notebook.

So I felt it my duty to prepare Alex. "They will do a lot of guy stuff, but they are girls. Just know that."

Like it or not, guys think about things differently, including church. For many guys, church is too feminine for them. We pastors talk about having a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Guys on construction sites or in business offices, hospitals or professional teams don't talk like that. We don't typically want to talk about being in relationships (even though that is exactly what God wants). We like the bold statements of Jesus like, "Follow me!," over relational statements.

Church values communal decision-making. This used to drive one the elders in my first church crazy. "Does everything have to be discussed?," he asked. "I'm a entrepreneur. I'm used to making decisions alone!" Guys like to be lone decision-makers.

Also, much is made of the compassionate side of Jesus, which everyone loves, but guys especially connect to the strong side of Jesus, like taking on the Pharisees or turning over the money tables in the Temple.

Without reducing women's power or going over the top with themes of virility, heroism or militant Christianity, the church needs to think about the way men hear the message of Christ.

At the church I serve, we are just beginning a men's ministry. God has raised up a leader for this ministry who is already talking about building things, outdoorsy activities, and mentoring boys. It is a welcome addition to ministry. It keeps this church and our ministries from becoming too girly.

Fear not, women. Our danger is not heavy-handed male domineering. A strong men's ministry can never be about that. The problem for us and many churches is that men are not being discipled. Men are not being shown how to walk in the way of Jesus as a man. Jesus showed great strength under control and Jesus showed emotions. He was the total man. He was the complete man. He was the model of manhood for Christians.

Men who follow Jesus can show great strength under control. When physical danger threatens people I love, I will act with as much strength as I have. When lies are being told, I will speak the truth with strength under control. When people ignore honorable and faithful living, I will challenge people to live the better life God has for them. The problem with strength is not strength itself. The problem is the abuse of strength. Jesus showed great strength under control. In fact, that is the biblical sense of the word meekness.

Men who follow Jesus can also have and show emotions. For me, the thought of my daughters getting married makes me cry with happy and sad tears all at once. All of the prayers and energy and love and hope of my life has been poured into these three amazing girls. Weddings are a rite of passage and a goodbye of sorts. So show me a scene of a movie with a parent and child at a wedding and I'm a goner. Predictable as Mamma Mia was, I still got all locked up when the mother was helping her daughter get ready for her wedding.

Churches need to man up. At least enough so the average male in our country can learn to follow Jesus in ways that allow men to be, like Jesus, complete men.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas from Church Staff Perspective

As I got ready to walk up the aisle for Easter Sunday one year, an elder said to me, "Biggest crowd of the year, pastor. Its your Super Bowl game. Don't screw up." I took it well. I knew his sense of humor. He was right. It was a big crowd. Just like at Christmas.

Christmas and Easter are the two high water marks for church attendance. With good cause. They are huge days as we remember God becoming flesh and then, at Easter, rising from the dead. There is also enough cultural memory of these days as somehow spiritually significant to draw otherwise reluctant crowds to churches. Most churches go all out for these high holy days which puts extra burdens on church staffs, especially at Christmas.

For youth staff, Christmas is the season when the students are out of school and all attention shifts to spending time with them. For worship arts staff, like choir directors or worship leaders, Christmas usually means some big event that requires hours of extra effort. Our church recently presented a choir cantata with a 15 piece orchestra and 45 member choir complete with narration, solos, light shows and congregational singing. It was a work that took several months of preparation. For pastoral staff and for me as lead pastor, this is the time of year where everything that family is all about--the good, the bad and the ugly--all rises to the surface. For healthy families, this is a time of great joy. For the rest, Christmas brings with it feelings of depression, irritation, sorrow, anxiety or bitterness. Add to that the cultural predisposition to spend too much money and the anxiety that brings and it makes for a wild ride for pastoral care.

It gets to the point sometimes that many on church staff are eager for the season to end. Not that we don't love Jesus or Bethlehem's manger or Christmas in America. It's just that we are sometimes so busy telling the story or working with people on vacation, that we are worn out. One year, the staff and I decided to have a murder mystery theme for the staff Christmas party. It was completely non-Christmasy and we had a blast.

The real challenge for church staffs walking with Jesus is to not get so caught up in all of the production around Christmas that we lose sight of a baby wraps in cloths lying in a feeding trough who just happened to be the Alpha and Omega and the Ancient of Days. The challenge is to make sure that our knees are also bent in homage before this Christ child. The challenge is not to be professional Christians, but fellow journeyers who are in awe and childlike wonder of it all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

10 Reasons I Don't Like Most Christians

I just read a post by Tony Morgan and I want to include it here. I so agree with Tony, especially on points 1, 2, 5 and 10 (#10 is killing the church). You can see the link on Here it is... enjoy.

After going back and forth on this for a couple of weeks, I’ve decided to just do it. I mentioned recently that I’m not sure I like Christians. With the help of some of my friends, here are the top…

10 Reasons I Don’t Like Most Christians

  1. They consistently seem angry and bitter and worried. I thought Christians were supposed to reflect joy and kindness and peace.
  2. They don’t dream big dreams. That seems odd given the fact that we’re supposedly worshiping a God who is “able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare ask or hope.”
  3. They seem to worship their theology more than Jesus. For whatever reason, this appears to be especially true for folks that come from a reformed theology.
  4. They don’t like it when other people or ministries experience success. Think about it. There are Christians who would be overwhelmed with joy if NewSpring experienced fewer salvations, fewer baptisms and our attendance dropped.
  5. They use prayer as an excuse for inaction. They’re waiting for God to do his thing, but they aren’t willing to step out in faith and obedience.
  6. They’re more concerned with the BMW next door than the lost person who drives it. Christians hate people with money. They’re willing to sacrifice time and money for those without it, but they’re satisfied to let “rich” people go to Hell.
  7. They would rather people live life without Jesus than give up their personal preferences. What happens when your preferred teacher doesn’t teach? What happens when your preferred worship leader doesn’t lead? What happens when you don’t like the music?
  8. They are fake. They dress up a certain way on Sunday and they live as completely different people the rest of the week.
  9. They think they’re better than other people. That’s why they create rules to follow. It helps differentiate why they are holy while others are not.
  10. They’re comfortable with mediocrity. Doesn’t matter where. Think Christian music and movies. Think how we invest our time and money. You don’t seriously think God deserves our best do you?

The reality is that I’ve sinned in just about every one of these areas. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. If people hear the Gospel and reject Jesus, that’s one thing. If I’m the barrier to people accepting Christ because of me and my sin, that’s a completely different deal. Fortunately, God’s much bigger than my stupidity.

When does your humanness get in the way of people knowing the hope, forgiveness and love of Jesus? Does your life make people curious about the claims of Jesus or does it make them flee? What would you add to the list?