Multisite and Bivocational Ministry

One of the topics we discussed when I met with some local pastors yesterday was the megachurch-and-branch-campus model used by churches like Saddleback and North Point. (This model is also important to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, as discerned by Christianity Today but — curiously — not the PC(USA) in its own reporting.)

None of the pastors I met with were very enthusiastic about this model. We can look at a John Ortberg or an Andy Stanley and recognize what great preachers they are, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about being a “campus pastor” with modest or minimal opportunities to preach. (This emphasis on sermonizing is reflected in the polity of the PC(USA), where pastors are “teaching elders” — and before that, “ministers of Word and sacrament.”)

But the pastors I met with were all full time ministers. There are reasons to believe we are not the wave of the future. Rather, the church seems to be moving toward a model of bivocational pastors, where pastors have a day job to pay the bills, in addition to their vocation as a pastor, as described last year in the Presbyterian Outlook. This week, the Atlantic wondered about this trend:

Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career.

What happens when you combine this trend with the multi-campus, multi-venue model with the trend toward part-time ministry?

(This article is cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Methodists and Same-Sex Unions

From an unlikely source comes a surprisingly good (fair) explanation of the situation in the United Methodist Church regarding same-sex unions:

(The source is non-sectarian public-policy think tank, and I think they should be congratulated for wading into a theological argument to try to help explain it. Their position seems to be pro-SSM but they are reasonably fair in explaining, or at least briefly summarizing, the anti-SSM position.)

(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Christians and Cake-Baking

Should there be a faith exemption from nondiscrimination laws? Should a wedding photographer be required to offer his services to gay couples the same as to straight couples? Should a baker be able to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on the grounds of her faith?

I won’t speak (here) to the legal issues except to quote Martin Luther King: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” I think it’s probably best to use the law to prohibit bad behavior rather than to require good behavior. But the law doesn’t concern me as much as the underlying faith issue.

Should Christians bake cakes for people whose lifestyle they disagree with? Kevin Deyoung asks that very question and suggests the answer is no, because to do so would be to compromise with a sinful culture.

Let me explain why I disagree.

What do you know about Joseph, the guy who wanted to divorce Mary quietly? Do you remember what his job was?

Joseph was a carpenter, according to Matthew, and, according to Mark, so was Jesus. The Greek word used in both places is tekton, which refers to craftsman who made things of wood. (Mark Driscoll says that Joseph and Jesus “worked construction,” which is a pretty good way to get the point across.)

What else, besides houses and cabinets, is made out of wood? Hint: Jesus died on one. They had three crosses on Golgotha that day.

Nothing in the Bible says so, but it’s not inconceivable that Joseph did the rough work necessary to fashion the beams used by the Romans to crucify people.

According to Matthew, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt during the reign of Herod the Great, and returned to Nazareth after he died. Not long after Herod died, someone named Judas the Galilean led a revolt that was centered around Sepphoris, the Roman capital of Galilee, about four miles from Nazareth. The Romans crushed the rebellion, burnt Sepphoris to the ground, and crucified 2000 participants. (See James Tabor’s summary or go look at Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 10, and The Jewish Wars, Book 2, Chapter 5.)

The Romans needed 2,000 crosses. Where did they get them? Probably not by shipping them from Rome! More likely, they bought (or simply commandeered them) them from the nearby villages. If the Holy Family was back in Nazareth by then, it’s not at all unlikely that Joseph worked on some of those crosses.

If Joseph did work on crosses — and remember, this is speculative — he probably found it repugnant. As a Jew, he wouldn’t have liked the Romans: not their culture, their religion, or their occupation of his country. And nobody approved of crucifixion — which was the point of using it.

As someone with reason to think a lot about God’s purposes in the world, Joseph’s theology would have informed his opinions. But if the Romans told him to make crosses for them, Joseph would have had to do so, unless he wanted to wind up on one himself. And if Joseph didn’t get caught up working on this project, others in his trade — siblings or cousins, perhaps — certainly would have been.

That wasn’t the last time the Romans crucified anyone in Galilee, either. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that Joseph (and possibly even Jesus) worked on crossbeams from time to time, long after that revolt was crushed.

Is this all too speculative? Then consider Colossians 3:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.

Why did the writer say that? (Ephesians 6 is essentially the same.) He wrote it because slaves don’t get to choose what they do and don’t do. Slaves have to obey their masters, and if they refuse, they’re punished. The only alternative available to a slave is passive-aggression: they can obey unctuously when their master’s paying attention, and then spit in the soup when he’s not looking. But that’s ruled out by the New Testament. Instead, slaves are told to do just as good a job even for a cruel master as they would do for Jesus himself.

What particular things do you suppose the writers of the New Testament letters were thinking about when they gave that instruction? There’s no telling. But it was probably something you wouldn’t want to do. It was probably something you’d find objectionable.

You don’t have to like this. Maybe you think the Bible ought to have told slaves to rise up in rebellion and throw off their chains. Fine. But it doesn’t. Other books say different, but the New Testament tells slaves to do what they’re told. (To be sure, masters are told their slaves have been freed and slaves are their brothers.)

Christians have always had to do things they didn’t approve of. So why should a Christian baker or photographer be exempt from the reality that applied to carpenters like Joseph, if not to Joseph himself? Why should Christians today be exempt from the reality that certainly applied to the slaves who may have been a majority in the early church?

So my counsel would be to go ahead and take photos at the gay mens’ wedding. Bake a wedding cake for the lesbian couple. Or, rather, bake it for the Lord, like you do everything. Then, when the lesbians have their wedding, they’ll say, “I don’t agree with Christians, but all the best bakers are Christians. They have superior products and deliver superb value. I wonder why they do that?”

I’ll close with this clip of Jim Burgen talking about this same topic but widening it not just to commercial transactions but to every interaction:

(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s other blog. Update: fixed some grammar.)

A Case for (Traditional) Marriage

From Ireland, a brief argument in favor of leaving the societal definition of marriage alone, while offering protections to gays and people in other loving relationships.

I’m sympathetic, but dubious about the prospects for retaining a traditional definition of marriage in a society that has become unmoored from its foundations. Essentially, society has been deconstructing itself for the past couple of generations, questioning all its institutions. I’d be very surprised if marriage is where it says, “enough.”

(The Christian institution of marriage is a separate matter, of course, and cannot be defined or redefined according to what is or is not popular, be it in society generally, or within a denomination specifically. The church is a body, not a democracy, and Christ is its only head.)

(Link via Kevin DeYoung’s Gospel Coalition blog.)

The New Pope

As you might have heard, Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February, and a conclave of cardinals meeting in Rome just elected a new pope, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who will rule as Pope Francis I (it’s cool how there’s already a pretty detailed page about him on Wikipedia). He was previously the head of the Jesuits, and is the first Pope from that order. He’s also the first pope from outside Europe in a millennium and the first-ever pope from the southern hemisphere or the Americas.

I liked this:

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentina’s priests last year.

… Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women.

“These are today’s hypocrites; those who clericalize the church,” he told his priests. “Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Good for him.

A Great Time to Be a Pastor

You might be interested in this post by Pastor Luke, blogging at Mess of Pottage: A Great Time to Be a Pastor:

The Church is in crisis. People who don’t see it are kidding themselves, especially pastors. The lay leaders in a congregation ought to know, or certainly ought to suspect. The church as we know it is dying. But in a perverse way, that’s good news. As Samuel Johnson put it, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Americans to Become More Religious…

… but less Protestant, according to polling conducted by the Gallup organization. They say fewer people are “protestant” not because they’re becoming Catholic or Orthodox (or a non-Christian faith) as much as because they are identifying themselves as “unbranded” (which is to say, non-denominational Protestant). The reason for growth in religion is mostly demographic: people become more religious with age and the boomers aren’t getting any younger.

Some other highlights:

Religiousness increases with age, albeit not in a smooth path but rather in stages. Americans are least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80.

Upscale Americans are less religious than those with lower levels of education and income, but better-off Americans attend religious services just as often.

Pastor beaten to death

A story as remarkable as it is tragic:

Police in the Fort Worth suburb of Forest Hill said Kirk was killed Monday by a man who rammed a car into a wall at his Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church, then chased Kirk and fatally beat him with an electric guitar.

What a sad story. I kind of want it to have a prosaic reason: the pastor had offended the assailant, or the guy was off his meds, or something understandable. But we may never understand why this happened.

But it might have been something amazing. Pastor Kirk could be a genuine martyr. I hope so. There’s still another day left in Pastor Appreciation Month. Pray for pastors everywhere. Pray for me. And, especially, pray for the family of Pastor Danny Kirk.

The Morality of Coercive Welfare

A very good opinion piece appears in the Wall Street Journal. Groups ranging from the “religious left” to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have advocated for government programs meant to help the needy. There are two problems with that approach.

The secondary and minor problem is whether those programs are effective in producing the desired result. Too often, we get more, not less, of what we subsidize. Welfare programs become traps, where people who find work lose more in benefits than they obtain from employment. It’s debatable whether a particular program is effective, and if it’s not, what adjustments might make it better.

But the primary and greater problem is whether government intervention in the economy is morally right. The bishops and the religious left generally think it is. I disagree, and the authors make a good case for my position:

Wealth and poverty are catalysts for bringing the rich and the poor together in community, and community is the hallmark of the church’s mission on Earth. Government is not community. Government is one of community’s tools, a coercive one we use when it is necessary to force people to behave in ways they would not otherwise behave voluntarily.

The state is a powerful tool, and in a crisis, we may use it because there is no better tool at hand. But we should always do so reluctantly and temporarily. The clerics of the middle ages surely were as concerned about heresy as today’s bishops of are about poverty. And while the welfare state can’t be equated with the Inquisition, the difference is more one of degree than of kind.

Family Structure and Inequality

In the women’s Bible study today, several people observed how common it was for families today to have nontraditional parenting arrangements: single parenthood, blended families, complicated custody arrangements, etc. Many of those families are managing well enough, but some are struggling.

In the New York Times today, Jason Deparle points to one of the reasons families so often struggle today:

An interesting pattern over the last four decades is that inequality has grown much faster for households with children than it has for households over all — an indication that changes in family structure (as opposed to wages and employment alone) have increased inequality.

Later, Deparle cites a study in the Annual Review of Sociology that observes:

A large body of research indicates that living apart from a biological parent (typically the father) is associated with a host of negative outcomes that are expected to affect children’s future life chances or ability to move up the income ladder.

“Children who grow up apart from their biological fathers score lower on standardized tests, report poorer grades, and view themselves as having less academic potential than children who grow up with both biological parents. More importantly, they are also more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college, and less likely to graduate from college.

Divorce and the decreasing rate of marriages have given adults in our society more options, but for a lot of people, they haven’t made life easier. Instead, they appear to be adding to the troubles of both parents and their children.

Via TaxProf Blog.