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Showing posts from September, 2018

Putting on Our Christian Clothes

When one of our grandchildren was in Kindergarten, he attended a private Christian school.He loved the school and even enjoyed wearing the uniform required of all students.We would pick him up sometimes, and his mother always provided clothes for him to change into so that he could keep his school clothes clean. One day, we did not have a change of clothes and he said, “I really need to change out of my Christian clothes.”

I admired his desire to keep his uniform clean, but this caused me to think about the way that many of us experience Christian discipleship.  We tend to think of discipleship has only impacting certain parts of our lives, so we can put on and take on Christian living at will.  
I have been in conversations with adults, even church leaders, who have a very limited view of discipleship.  When they use the term “discipleship,” they are thinking of Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and evangelism.  They concentrate on this practices that are clearly “Christian” …

My Involvement in Theological Education: An Unexpected Journey

Thanks to the reminder from LinkedIn, friends started sending me congratulations on my work anniversary last week.  I had to think for a few minutes but realized that these messages were in connection with my tenure at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 2004, I was serving as the coordinator of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  Mike Smith, my pastor at First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, and I began talking about the challenges of theological education for those who were called to ministry but had families, jobs, and were already serving churches. They couldn’t easily pull up roots and go elsewhere. He mentioned specifically Beth Duke, someone I knew but he was more aware of her desire for a theological degree. She certainly fit the profile. She was a nurse at Southern Hills in Nashville, living in Smithville, Tennessee, where her husband had an established practice as a dentist, and had two grown kids living nearby.  She was called to ministry, but her options were …

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Our lives are controlled by habits.  They are the default settings that guide our behavior.  Unfortunately, it seems easier to learn bad habits that good habits.  The length of time to form a new habit has been a topic for much debate.  In a studyconducted at University College London, Dr. Philippa Lally determined that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic--66 days to be exact. However, the length of time varies for individuals and can be anywhere from 18 days to 254 days!
In the text from Nehemiah 9:16-31, we learn that the people of Israel tended to fall into bad habits rather easily.  Although God continued to walk with them, they persisted in going their own way.  One way to look at the history of the Israelites is to see it as a struggle between God and God’s people.
Nehemiah 9:28a (NIV) observes, “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your [God’s] sight.” They were trapped in a cycle of bad habits and needed to break tha…

Back to the Future: What Bivocational Ministers Need from the Seminaries

With bivocational ministry emerging as a necessity for many churches and denominations, most theological institutions still focus on preparation for full-time congregational ministry and tend to ignore any other ministry model.
Sharon Miller, director of research at the Center for the Study of Theological Education atAuburn Seminary, was questioned about the role that seminaries play in preparing students to assume bivocational or biprofessional ministry roles. “The bivocational [model] by necessity is rarely, or never, talked about even as more and more graduates find themselves in this situation,” she says. “This is the arena where I think schools and students really need educating.”
What are some ways that seminaries can address this opportunity?
First, seminaries should acknowledge biprofessional ministry as a valid calling. Ministry has been done in many ways over the history of the church including tentmaker, worker priest, farmer pastor, and circuit rider models.  The common denom…

Back to the Future: How Bivocational Ministers and Churches can Thrive

In 2017, 68 percent of the 156 congregations affiliated with the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ had no full-time clergy.Darren Morgan, the associate conference minister said, “They recognize their reality that they can’t afford a full-time pastor, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have a ministry. . ..The leadership within those churches is strong. They say, ‘We’re not going to be a weak church. We’ll be a strong, small church.’”
Whether a church has always had a biprofessional minister or is shifting from full-time to part-time, members should consider some guidelines for helping to make their pastor successful so that the church can thrive under his or her leadership.
First, there should be a clear understanding about time commitment.  The church and the pastor should clearly state boundaries including when the pastor is available for calls, how much time the pastor will be “on the field,” and time off for holidays and vacations.  This is especially important…

Back to the Future: Bivocational Ministry

In a recent article, United Methodist Bishop Ken Carter shared three New Testament models of stewardship: the beggar, the patron, and the tentmaker.  He asked, “Can we re-imagine these roles for a new age?”
The one that caught my attention is the “tentmaker,” also known as the bivocational or biprofessional approach.  Carter points out that about one-third of UMC churches have 35 or less on Sunday mornings.  Some are served by ministers with two or three charges, but many are also served by ministers whose primary income is from another source.
In my work with Baptist churches affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board),  I found that out of 3000 churches almost two-thirds had bivocational pastors.  One observer wrote, “About 10,000 bivocational ministers were working in the Southern Baptist churches in 1998. By 2004, that number had doubled, to 20,000.”  This is almost half of the churches affiliated with the SBC. This trend seems to be tr…

Making the SHIFT from Member to Disciple

InA New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren writes, “It is worth noting in this regard that the word ‘Christian’ occurs in the New Testament exactly three times and the word ‘Christianity’ exactly zero. The word ‘disciple,’ however, is found 263 times.”It is also interesting that “member” is only found 45 times in the New Testament and 9 times in the Gospels. Of the 263 references to “disciple” in the New Testament, 235 are in the Gospels. This seems to have been Jesus’ preferred term for His followers.

Being a church member is not necessarily the same thing as being a Christian disciple. The SHIFT process takes this emphasis into account by challenging the 21stcentury church to move from the idea of church membership to Christian discipleship.  We don’t need more members, we need more disciples who are responding to the call of God into the world.
How do churches go about addressing this and encouraging the movement of individuals from membership to discipleship?  Let me suggest some…