Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black Coffee vs. Half-Calff, Peppermint Macchiato with Low-fat Whip Cream

I’m a man. Not a metro-sexual, hyper-sensitive, skinny-jean, manicured nails, poster boy. Don’t confuse me, I realize that we are all different, having unique personalities, gifts, tastes, and proclivities that create a cacophony of humanity. I also realize that I have a tendency to glamourize the true Renaissance man, the guy that can speak fluently using just the right words at the right time, play a musical instrument, be a crack-shot with a gun or bow and arrow, and have a physical demeanor that would make an enemy second-guess messing with him. You know, a well-rounded man, just the right amount of brute strength and cultural poise. The reason I am drawn to such is because they usually produce the greatest number of world-changing champions. However, these guys are not typically drawn to our current church environments. Why? Here is issue number 2.

The second characteristic that is has become mainstream in the current church model and that is oblivious to its leadership is the overemphasis on emotions. Although real men have emotions and know exactly how to use them and control them, they are NOT the lead! In most of our modern Worship Services emotions are the pinnacle of the Sunday experience. We strive for more and more emotive responses from start to finish! Let me explain my thesis.
The most important part of our Sunday Service is … what? Well, it’s NOT the reading of the Scriptures, the explanation of the text, the application of the message, or the giving of the tithe. We certainly don’t stand up and get excited about that part of the service! In my frequent travels I observe most congregants are very disconnected with the aforementioned elements of the typical service. See for yourself, the most important part of the Sunday morning experience is the song service. We all stand up for that part. Interestingly the only time the congregation of Israel ever stood up was during the reading of the Law (Nehemiah 8:5), not the song service! You see we are placing a higher value on music than God ever intended! We should be standing when God’s Word is read, displaying physical agreement to those precious holy words that are infallible, inerrant, and God-breathed. Today we worship music, which is why we now call music, “Worship!” The shift was subtle, but effective – men are less inclined to be involved in something that is mostly “emotive” and less substantive. Music is emotional. An emotional response only lasts a brief moment, and though it is important to include emotions in our service, it should NOT be the pinnacle, the apex, or the linchpin since it does not last. A changed heart, a changed mind will always outlast an emotional high. God’s Word is the tool that changes hearts and minds, not well performed, emotionally charged music.

Let me explain it another way. Instead of feelings-based activities, sound doctrine boldly proclaimed and connected to applicable, relevant opportunities should be the center of our Worship experience. Each worshipper should find as the highest part of the service the Word of God being connected directly to the daily applications in their lives giving them answers and mental pictures of how they can fulfill God’s will for their life. They should be given a vision, a calling, and a purpose for their special abilities, insights, and gifts. Men tend to find little opportunity for the exercise of their unique wiring. Few programs are offered that allows manly men to be given a challenge. For the modern Renaissance man, the disappointment is the watering down of the godly mandates of Scripture. We are so afraid to offend that we actually offend the very nature of the typical, practical-driven man. Real men want genuine facts, clearly and boldly proclaimed, and applications for their lives. In other words, these guys want their coffee black but we’re serving them some fancy party drink and wondering why they’re not happy.

More to follow.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Are You Running Off Potential Heroes?

If this is your first visit to this blog it might be best to read the short edition right below this one to get some perspective. The topic at hand is how we are unwittingly driving away or emasculating our true male heroes from the modern church. To start with I want to clearly point out that this is not an attack or even a hint of disrespect leveled at our “women folk.” They have historically been the ones to carry the weight of actual church ministry and have always outnumbered their bearded counterparts. They were the only ones to show up at the most important grave side gathering! We are indebted to them and this is not an attack on their contributions or their value to the church. The person of the Lord Jesus was unique in that He perfectly represented the natural strengths found in both sexes. My point here is that He demonstrated a complete picture, both necessary elements for a healthy church – (1) the caring, accepting, forgiving Nurturer, and (2) a confident, strong, disciplining, masculine Leader.
Today, we only have half of that combination in most of our churches. Church life has become very emotive, feeling, and nurturing with strong emphasis on deeds over creeds.  Yes, we all know Jesus was “meek and mild, gentle and kind,” but He also cleared the Temple, making a whip out of cords and driving out the money changers, overturning tables, and notice, no one stood up to Him! He called one of his best friends “the devil,” and don’t forget the 30 years of grueling carpentry work! He did NOT look like those Renaissance pictures of some girlie-man with long hair, frail and effeminate. That image is not the Son of God that was beaten and bloodied, whipped and crucified on a rugged tree, hanging for three long hours. When you compare those classic paintings with the description of Him in Revelation 19:11-16 you just have to scratch your head.
Have you noticed the current move in our society to render real men impotent? Owning guns is now considered a Neanderthal practice, hunting is viewed even worse, and contact sports is doing all it can to lower the aggressiveness so to eradicate any possible injury although the very nature of the activity is to crash wildly into each other in an effort to win. The word I’m looking for here is RISK! The most content men alive are those that have been given a larger-than-life challenge and the opportunity to achieve that impossibility (a definition of risk). However, when men are not challenged at home, at work, or at church they can easily slide into taking other “secret” risks. These can develop into aberrant behavior and suck the very “hero-style” life out of them leaving them disillusioned and in their wake destroyed sons, daughters, and families.
A key ingredient in the development of a hero is a nebulous “something”- it’s this larger than life quality that he is willing to die for as well as live for, and it requires a large dose of risk before it clicks. This, of course, is melded with godly fear.  Without it, men go back on the shelf, living out their “manliness” vicariously through some fictional TV character or worse, some professional sports icon. The bottom line is without this hero mentality they DO nothing. You may have unknowingly shelved heroes, not to mention overlooked the supermen that are in your community, men that will never darken the door of your church because they believe “stallions go to bars and geldings go to church,” and you give them no reason to think otherwise!

Here is my first observation that points the finger at how the church has contributed to the “emasculated men syndrome.” Some of you are NOT going to like this! Just try to critically observe the “worship” music that has become very popular in many of our contemporary settings. This is NOT a rant on contemporary music; however some of the lyrics are extremely feminine, speaking of love affairs with Jesus in words that no real man would ever consider using with another man. Just stop and read some of those lines. You need to realize that men visualize Christ as our Commander and Chief, our King, our Lord, and believe it or not ladies, this is a type of male intimacy. But when almost every song is touchy, touchy, feely, feely we are unable to sing those words with any self-respect. To us, those words come out as forced, disingenuous, and it’s like an affront to how He created us as men. There are plenty of contemporary songs that appeal to men (i.e., the “Promise Keepers” litany of albums) but they are rarely used, opting for the more “emotionally charged” songs. I’m just asking for some consideration, a balance, more songs on His character, nature, holiness and less on how we feel about Him.
This phenomena in music is completely unintentional, but with men making up less than 34 % of the average church membership, and even less of them actively involved, it’s time for us to start contemplating what is keeping away those “mighty men of David.” We desperately need strong, biblically-seasoned, male heroes. This is observation number one, and there are several more to follow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Where Are Our Heroes?

Heroes. The Bible is full of them! Some are globally popular, like David, the giant killer. But there are others, like Benaiah who killed a lion in the pit on a snowy day, who are basically unknown and stay in relative obscurity. The stories of burning passion mixed with super-human strength are actually quite common across the pages of God’s Word but they seem to lie unread, untapped, and thus left in oblivion. It seems that in every age there are these tough hombres that saw themselves as capable men, able to make a difference by defending Israel and the Kingdom and fighting against immeasurable odds. I read about them, study them, and then stop and ponder – where are these guys today? Is the only location for these “gladiator” style super-heroes on our sports channels? Oh, please, NO!

Let me whet your appetite by giving you some examples of such biblical heroes. There is a man called “Adino” that was challenged by 800 Philistines and he routed them all by himself (2 Samuel 23:8). Man, I want THAT guy on my team! There are the Gadites that crossed the Jordan during the monsoon season, when the river was overflowing its banks (1 Chronicles 12:15). Hey, it’s hard enough to cross the Jordon in normal conditions, and these guys did it when the flood warnings had been issued. I’d take any of them to be on my defensive line and pity any quarterback or fullback that gets the ball. These men are beasts! Or how about Eleazar that stood up and attacked the Philistines until his hand was so weary it literally stuck to his sword until the battle was over (2 Samuel 23:9). You talk about a committed warrior, a true man of principle, yet this guy’s name is virtually unknown.

I spoke of David and his famous battle, but did you know that he fought 4 other giants later in his reign as King? Check out 2 Samuel 21:15-22 and see how he obviously needed all of those “5 smooth stones!” I mentioned a man named Benaiah that fought the worst of enemies (a lion), in the worst of places (a pit), in the worst of conditions (on a snowy day). He also fought two lion-like heroes of Moab and a spectacular Egyptian to become one of the mighty men of David. He is briefly mentioned in Scripture but what a great role model. He was brave (willing to fight the most deadly of enemies), creative (he wrested the spear from the Egyptian and used it against him), and showed initiative (he went after the lion, not waiting on the lion to come to him). What father would not want to model and teach these attributes to his sons! But I must ask the question again - Where are these guys today? Where are the Davids, Adinos, and Eleazars?

I believe these guys are here today! I believe in the hearts of many of our young men (and matured men) is a longing to be more. To be the lion killers, the nation-savers, the ones that will answer the call to fight against all odds. I believe our culture has been slowly and meticulously emasculating our men removing all the tools and environments that create these heroes. Unfortunately, I also believe our churches have unwittingly done the same thing. In the weeks to come I will address some of the current trends that I believe are rendering impotent the seeds of heroism in our men. These are dreadfully desperate days and we need heroes, fully devoted risk-takers to stand in the gap, face the impossible odds, and allow their hands to grow weary while slinging the Sword, never giving up. Unless there are some significant changes in our “training fields” this battle will never even begin. Bear with me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shift from Professional Ministers to Lay Leadership

This installment is another possible development that I have recently detected but I must remind you that I am not a prognosticator. There are oversized rats that can beat me every year on February 2nd! The almost 3 years in this position as Area Missionary for the North Central region has allowed me to see trends that were not noticeable to me before. This blog is written to describe the patterns I currently see developing and give a heads-up.

Seminaries continue to pump out young, energetic ministers by the thousands while scores of servants in the pew feel a supernatural calling to be in “full-time ministry.” The way leadership will be chosen in the coming years will see a significant change as I see a …

Shift from Professional-Experienced Ministers to Trusted-Layperson Leadership

I don’t expect this idea will find much excitement in ministerial circles, nor do I particularly find this appealing myself since it affects my livelihood and daily occupation. Once the trained, educated, Christian “professional” could simply point to a place on the map, go there, and find a suitable position or outlet for his giftedness and calling. Those days are gone – long gone! Even highly gifted, talented, well-educated leaders are finding ministerial moves exceedingly challenging to say the least. This is an area that I have recent insight and expertise. Rarely does a month go by that I do not speak with an exceptional minister that is struggling to find a place of service. When you consider that I represent over 137 churches, spanning 5 counties in the Metro area, representing 4 Associations, as well as having close relationships with several other Associational Missionaries, placement should be a snap. However, the reverse is the case.

I received in my “inbox” about a month ago a follow up letter from a man outstandingly qualified, desperate for ministry, who has all the “tools” necessary for a successful undertaking, yet he is reminding me that he has not heard from anyone, anywhere for over 8 months. I know he is doing the leg work, sending out resumes, meeting Associational Missionaries, visiting available churches, and getting his name out there. The Bible Belt should be a goldmine, yet all he is getting is the shaft! At the same time, 4 of my larger churches have recruited new staff members, not from stacks of resumes, but from within – from current members that have proven their character, integrity, and have shown giftedness for the needed role, though they have NO FORMAL TRAINING. This is not a surprising trend, as the current economy has accelerated this process. Whenever a church hires a new minister and he proves to be just “good on paper,” this also makes the church leadership feel they can “do better themselves!”

The future “job market” for ministry is going to transition in a way that is unfamiliar to current church-staff models as the trained professional minister is more frequently replaced by the committed layperson member. There are unforeseen variables that could pitch the ship one direction or the other, but the one constant that we must recognize and agree on regardless of how this is played out is this – the church today is not healthy, she is not in any condition to weather out a storm much less proceed in favorable weather. We need Spiritual Renewal, desperately, immediately, and genuinely. Whether she is led by professional, experienced ministers or faithful laypersons from within, her leadership must return to the true Commander-in-Chief, the Anchor of our Faith, the One Who is THE Truth – the Lord Jesus Christ! HE, the Good Shepherd, will fit His under-shepherds suitable for His bride regardless of their education and skill.