Category Archives: Blog Posts

Monasticism for Ministers: You Can Learn a lot from a Monk

30 Wesley Seminary students joined me recently for a course I designed called Spiritual Retreat for the Leader. The location for the course was a monastery in Kentucky. Shortly after my return I tweeted, “If I didn’t love my family, job, and ESPN so much, I would join a monastery and become a monk.” I think I actually meant it.

The monastic life is appealing to me. I have taken several 3-4 day retreats at the monastery over the past 8 years. I miss my family so much it hurts every time I retreat. There is, though, a small part of me that wants to stay behind at the monastery forever. But God has not called me to be a monk. I am compelled, instead, to incorporate into my everyday “normal” life those monastic practices that most cultivate the soil of my soul for God, the gardener, to grow me.

Here are some ways for ministers to infuse our lives with monastic practices without leaving our lives to do so.

-Monastic Practice #1- Silence: We preach sermons, teach lessons, lead meetings, counsel couples, make small talk and return phone calls. At some point, most of us run out of words. Those who don’t, should. The practice of silence allows us to peek more intently into the holy of holies. When we shut up, we can hear God speak up. Then, and only then, will we have something life-giving to say. Perhaps you can designate one day weekly or monthly to shut off the noise that goes into your ears or comes out of your mouth. No music. No words. No noise. Only silence. When we shut up, we can hear God when he speaks up. That’s when we are most ready to receive a “word from the Lord.”

-Monastic Practice #2- Solitude: The 21st Century pastor is hardly ever alone. Solitude is hard for us. It brings us face to face with our true self, since there is no one around to distract us. There is no hiding from God or ourselves when we are alone. We remember our failures and frailty, as well as our potential, when we are alone. Being silent and still in solitude strips us down to our core where we find our true naked self. This is often a painful but peace-filled balm for the minister’s soul. In solitude there is no one to please or impress. It’s just you and God. Solitude is not a license for isolation. No, learning to be alone actually prepares one to maximize life together in community.

-Monastic Practice #3- Supplication: Monks gather together to pray nine times daily, including 3:15 am and 5:45 am. They gather to sing the Psalms as prayers to God. In the span of just two weeks, they will prayerfully sing all 150 Psalms! Most of us can’t imagine praying the Psalms nine times each day, but how about three times? I read a Psalm when I awake, at noon, and just before I sleep. I prayerfully intercede for myself and others based upon the content of each Psalm. The Psalms have a way of voicing for me what I feel deep in my soul but can’t find words to articulate. The prayers we find in the Psalms encompass a full range of emotions. There are angry prayers, sorry prayers, “help me” prayers, grateful prayers and more. It’s harder to find time to sin when you’re praying the Psalms frequently.

-Monastic Practice #4- Submission: We’ve all heard the phrase, and most of us have said, “It’s not about me.” Monks actually live it. They have to. Although monks have space for silence and solitude, they are forced to live in a 24/7 community with people they would not choose if they had the choice. The monks work, worship, and eat together every single day. There is no escape from people who frustrate them. Intense interconnectedness is much harder, but more sanctifying, than isolation. When a person joins the monastic community, he must submit to the monastic community. He must also submit his life to the Abbot, the head of the community. We have lost a healthy view of submission and authority in the 21st century American Church. Our country was built on rugged individualism and anti-authoritarianism. That was necessary in tyrannical times. But there is something soul-sanctifying about submitting ourselves to a community we have chosen and to the leaders within that community.

-Monastic Practice #5- Simplicity: Monks don’t worry about “keeping up with the Joneses.” The one with the most toys might be the winner in pop culture but is the loser in the monastery. The monk leaves every possession behind when he joins the monastic community. While there, nothing he possesses is his own. He owns nothing, so that God can own him. The monk doesn’t have to worry about stuff, preserving and protecting it. The good life is the simple one, and the monk knows it. Possessing and being possessed by God’s love liberates us from wanting anything else. Imagine what would happen if the Church and her ministers were free from bondage to opulence and content with the basic necessities of life! We could focus less time, money and energy on things that don’t last and more on things that do.

Worshipping God, or Ourselves?; or, Why Tradition Keeps Us Faithful (Brannon Hancock)

For 7 years prior to joining the faculty of Wesley Seminary, I gave oversight to music and technology in a church whose worship “style” is decisively “contemporary.” Congregational singing is accompanied by a guitar-driven “praise band” (drums, bass, guitars, piano/keyboard) and augmented by a choir and praise team (3-4 vocalists on individual mics; 25-30 in the choir). At the front of the sanctuary hang two large screens onto which are projected lyrics, scripture readings, videos (for announcements and illustrations), images and graphics intended to reinforce the sermon theme or other elements of the service. The majority of the congregational songs have been published within the past decade, and we add new songs regularly (about one per month).

Although many in the congregation may not realize it, our services also incorporated many aspects of traditional or historic Christian worship. As a staff, we identified some “essential elements” of worship that we felt were important enough that they should be included in every service: call to worship, welcome (including a few key announcements) and invocation, passing the peace (“take a minute to greet one another”), congregational singing (the so-called “worship set”), the sermon (including scripture reading) leading into a time of response that includes prayer a communion (every week), the benediction and dismissal. We would “mix up” the order from time to time, purportedly to keep things from feeling “stale” or becoming too rote and “ritualistic” (a big “no-no” in contemporary churches, of course), but the basic elements outlined in Acts 2 were always present: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

I love this church. As their worship pastor, I felt very fulfilled nearly all of the time in the ministry to which God had called me for that time and place. It was a joy to lead my congregation and work with the musicians, technicians and other creative folks that were entrusted to my leadership. And yet if I’m honest, I would confess that I was often left with a nagging feeling that something was not quite right.

It’s not that the service wasn’t good enough – we usually hit pretty close to the mark we set for ourselves. To the contrary, it’s almost like, by putting on such a great show, by “performing” so well, perhaps we implied that maybe, when we were really “on,” we did get it right. Like we may well have worshiped our great God with every bit of the quality and passion and fervor He deserves (why thank you very much). Like…you know…God’s pretty awesome, and, well, frankly, we’re pretty awesome at worshiping Him. Like maybe the focus was more on ourselves – our skill, ingenuity, creativity – than on our Creator…

The responsibility to plan worship every week can be overwhelming – to choose every word that a congregation will corporately say or sing in the service. Of course many churches don’t create or write their service each week – they have a fairly scripted service or “liturgy.” While there are variations in hymns and readings and prayers, these churches are not required to create their worship from scratch every week. Their worship has been handed down through generations; it is a gift, not something they are entirely in charge of but something of which they are “stewards.”

Perhaps by the very use of liturgical texts in worship, the Church acknowledges her inability or even incompetence to worship God rightly if left to her own devices. In his monumental book Symbol and Sacrament, Catholic theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet writes:

The fact that there is a [liturgical] text signifies that at the outset we are not competent to carry out such an action. In sum, it is not natural for us to render thanks to God in a Christian manner. To carry out the Eucharist requires that the Church first gain this competence. It is precisely the text that allows the ecclesial subject to gain this competence. This text thus makes the assembly follow an itinerary which, by means of certain “transformations,” has for its goal the assembly’s conversion: it is not God but we ourselves who are changed by the Eucharistic prayer. (Symbol and Sacrament, p. 269)

It might take reading that quote a few times before its truth begins to detonate. It leaves me wondering: is it possible that we think we don’t need a liturgy because we have so much confidence in ourselves? Do we fall into the trap of thinking we are capable of worshiping God rightly on our own?

Now, before you write me off for pronouncing that all evangelicals need a prescribed liturgy, let me clarify. I am well aware that scripted liturgies seem foreign to many Protestant evangelical traditions today (my own Church of the Nazarene included). But worship “by the book” is certainly a part of the Protestant heritage of Luther, Calvin and Wesley. Perhaps this is part of our birthright that could be reclaimed and repurposed for the renewal of worship today. In fact, take a look at most old hymnals (before we started singing “off the wall” with projectors and screens) and often you will find creeds, prayers and responsive readings in addition to hymns. With the shift in technologies, from book to screen, perhaps something that was once considered valuable has been lost.

Perhaps, without thwarting our freedom of expression in worship, we could glimpse, not a “better” “style” of worship, but the witness of a people who looked beyond themselves for a test of what it means to worship God faithfully. A people who believed that forms and rituals they didn’t come up with on their own, and words that had stood the test of time, had a value worth preserving. I’m suggesting that looking beyond ourselves and the fleeting winds and whims of our culture may be one way to ensure that our worship is worthy of the awesome, timeless God we worship. Perhaps a little “tradition” may keep us not only faithful, but humble as well.

CHANGE Myths & a Myth Busting Solution (Bob Whitesel)

One of my favorite management magazines, Fast Company, devoted the March 2005 issue to the topic “Change or Die” (Alan Deutschman http://www.fastcompany.com/52717/change-or-die).  It is an important topic for firms to address, as well as for churches (as I hope you have seen from my book “Inside the Organic Church”).  The article “busts some myths” about change.  Here are two and an implication for bringing about change in your leadership collage.

Myth 1:  Crisis is a powerful impetus for change:  Alan Deutschman, senior writer for Fast Company, found that “90 percent of the patients who’ve had coronary bypasses don’t sustain changes in the unhealthy lifestyles that worsen their severe heart disease and greatly threaten their lives” (p. 55).  The article points out that people just give up.  They say “what’s the use?” and prepare to give in.  So the import of this research is that a crisis will not “scare” 90% of a people into change.  And thus, if we as church leaders try to say “you must change or die” the vast majority of our congregations will probably will not heed our warning.  But, there is another myth that can help us deal with this conundrum.

Myth 2:  Change is motivated by fear.  As we saw above, an outgrowth of Myth 1 is that you can scare people into changing.  But as we’ve seen in the medical profession, such scare tactics don’t bring about change (usually only generate aggravation towards the message-bearer, i.e. you :-(  Deutschman points out that people often go into denial when fear becomes too much to bear, stating “when a fact doesn’t fit our conceptual ‘frames’ – the metaphors we use to make sense of the world – we reject it” (p. 55).

Myth-busting Good News:  There is good news!  Medical researchers have found that people are motivated to change by “compelling, positive visions of the future” which “are a much stronger inspiration for change” (p. 55).  That means that optimistic, persuasive, farsightedness that elicits our imagination can help us embrace change.

Retrieved from ChurchHealthWiki.com, a searchable database of over 700 articles on leadership, church growth, evangelism and ministry effectiveness.

Why the Name Change? (Luigi Peñaranda)

Two questions are typically asked when I introduce myself.

Question #1: Are you Italian?
The answer is: “No.”

Question #2: Do you have a brother named Mario?
The answer once again is: “No.”

These questions are, in a sense, inescapable since I go by the name of “Luigi.” Truth be told… my name is not Luigi. The story of how I became Luigi, and why I still go by that nickname, is linked to a series of cultural and linguistic exchanges that have taken place over the course of my life. I share bits and pieces of my story here as an invitation to consider how multiculturalism has shaped – and continues to shape – the world. Moreover, I believe that being aware of the complexities that come with multicultural and multilingual exchanges could be very beneficial when reading the New Testament.

My legal name is Luis Guillermo. I was born and raised in Colombia, South America, in the capital city, Bogotá. There, like in many places around the world, having two names is not uncommon. However, in contrast to what I have experienced in the United States, in Colombia it is quite common to keep both first and middle names as one’s official name. For that reason, I have hardly ever used the names “Luis” or “Guillermo” separate one from the other.

I inherited my first name from my father (Luis Carlos) and my second name from my grandfather (Carlos Guillermo). Here is one example of how collectivistic societies inculturate individuals to view the self as part of a collective group, in this case, the family (Hofstede, 2001). Bearing patrilineal names works very much like family names, creating a social context where an individual’s identity is deeply interwoven with the identity of a family group.

Growing up, one of my closest friends was a “costeño” (i.e., someone from a coastal region) named Julio. Julio was from “Cartagena de Indias,” a beautiful city on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. He had a profound impact in my life and, to this day, I consider him to be one of my best friends. Julio was a stupendous musician, a prodigy of sorts, endowed with a unique ability to perform music, combined with exceptional pedagogical skills. Despite of having the opportunity to pursue a promising professional career as a musician, Julio chose to enter the ministry. While in the ministry, he chose to use his gifts to serve “the least of these,” even though he was the type of person who could have easily risen to prominence in any large ministry. He taught me that what I do does not define who I am; that there is no greater distinction than to serve in secret.

Because of my friendship with Julio, I was exposed to many aspects of the Colombian-Caribbean culture. The most prominent characteristic that distinguishes a “costeño” from a “cachaco” (i.e., someone from Bogotá) is the phonetic pronunciation of certain Spanish words. According to Guitart (1997), “Caribbean Spanish is characterized by frequent manifestations of certain phonetic phenomena affecting consonants in coda position” (p. 516). For example, Costeños drop some consonants –like the letter “s”– when they are in the final position of a word. Because of that, a word like “más” [more] turns into “mā” and, as you probably already guessed, a name like Luis turns into “Lui.” Add to that my middle name, and you end up with “Lui Guillermo,” which soon turned into “Lui Gui” and, before long, contracted into “Luigi.”

When I came to the United States, it only took a few conversations for me to realize that the majority of people would have a hard time pronouncing my full name correctly. To this day, some individuals graciously make the effort to vocalize my name, only to realize that they have completely butchered it in the attempt (No hard feelings… I butcher other people’s names too). Needless to say, I have kept the name Luigi.

From the perspective of cross-cultural psychology, name changes or name adaptations are important phenomena that point towards an underlying process of acculturation. Acculturation refers to the process of cultural negotiation that an individual faces when his or her individual and social identity is confronted by a another predominant culture. This cultural negotiation can often result in the full adoption, partial integration, or partial rejection of the new culture (Romero, 2004).

This is not only relevant to minority cultures. Christianity was born in the midst of multicultural and multilingual clashes, which were instrumental in the shaping of a new community, the community of the Messiah. The conflicts and challenges that quickly emerged among the believers derived from multicultural interactions (e.g., Acts 6, 10, 15, Galatians 2). The idea found in Galatians 3 that being in Christ meant that there were no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, was a cultural stretch that needed to be worked out, not only theologically but practically.

One of my favorite Scriptures is found in Acts 13:9 where it says: “Saul, also known as Paul.” This change of name, from Saul to Paul, has drawn a lot of attention. An exegetical exposition of the passage as a whole is beyond the purpose of this blog. However, it must be noted that from this passage on, within the book of Acts, Saul of Tarsus will only be addressed as Paul (which is also the only name used within the Pauline Epistles). Some have argued that this change is due to Paul’s conversion, but this is unlikely given that the text continues to use the name “Saul” even after his conversion. That is not to say that Paul’s conversion was not transformative or that, in his mind, the adoption of the name did not mean a change of vocation. Nonetheless, it is hard to argue from a textual point of view that the name change was purely spiritual. Many theories have been advanced  about the apostle’s adoption of a new name. The common denominator seems to be that the modification is due to a variation in the focal point of Paul’s mission (see Acts 13:46). The new missional priority required new cultural considerations, and with that came the need for the adoption of a new name.

Reading the New Testament with an awareness to the multicultural and multilingual challenges of the time enriches our understanding of the text. We are, thus, better positioned to consider the complex transitions the early church went through in order to take the gospel to the end of the world. The church today faces similar challenges due to globalization. Meeting those challenges will require a shift in our missional focus, an understanding of multiple cultures, and in many cases, a new name.

To conclude, let me introduce myself:

My name is Luis Guillermo [Luigi] Peñaranda. I am the new Assistant Professor of Latino/Latina Christian Ministry at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.

References

Romero, E. J. (2004). Hispanic identity and acculturation: Implications for management. Cross Cultural Management, 11(1), 62-71.

Guitart, J. M. (1997). Variability, multilectalism, and the organization of phonology in Caribbean Spanish dialects. In F. Martinez-Gil & A. Morales-Front (Eds.), Issues in the phonology and morphology of major Iberian languages. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Hofstede G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations (Kindle ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Sabías tú …Did you know? (Joanne Solis-Walker)

There is something about this time of the year that automatically places me into a forward thinking mode. Perhaps it’s because once September hits, time tends to move at the speed of lightning. I start to think about where I’ve been and what the next year will bring. Can you believe we are a few months away from 2015? Did you know in 5 years we will enter into a new decade?  

There is plenty of hype about 20/20 vision and I am not talking about eyesight! Many ministries have set goals and refined the vision. This past Sunday, I joined my husband Dan (Exec. Dir, Love INC Brevard) at a local church in Viera, FL and the pastor asked the congregation to consider the next 5 years and what type of changes they desire to implement in order to be the people God intends for them to be in their community.

I was inspired to think about our Spanish Master of Divinity; where we’ve been and some about where we are headed. It didn’t take much since as you know it’s that time of the year for me! So I will share some random thoughts that bring great joy to my heart when I reflect on God’s work.

Sabías tú…
…There are approximately 235 Master of Divinity programs accredited by Association of Theological Schools (ATS) but only 3 seminaries offer a Master of Divinity in Spanish. Wesley Seminary is One of Three. (Please praise Him with me!)

Did you know…
…Seminario Wesley was the first and remains the only Spanish M.Div. program accredited by ATS that is offered primarily online. The only one! (We don’t take this for granted!)

Sabías tú …
…Our students have gleaned from renowned Hispanic scholars such as Dr. Justo Gonzalez (History), Dr. Samuel Pagan (Bible), Dr. Hugo Magallanes (Ethics), Dra. Zaida Maldonado Perez (Theology), Dr. Pablo Jimenez (Preaching), Dra. Rebeca Radillo (Counseling) and many others that taught and teach in our program. These are some of the most respected Hispanic theologians! (I stand in awe of this list! Solo Dios!)

Did you know…
…In just three years we’ve gone international with cohorts in Bogota, Colombia and various other IberoAmerican countries on the horizon!! (Pretty good for a startup!)

Sabías tú …
…We graduated on April 26, 2014 our very first, pilot cohort (It was sweet!). On December 13, 2014, students from the second, pilot cohort will graduate! From this point on Hispanic students will graduate in larger numbers with their Spanish MDiv. every year! (This really excites me!)

Perhaps this is what you need to know so this makes better sense of why I am inspired. According to ATS, about 3.2% of its entire student body is Hispanic…VERY LOW! Amongst the approximately 250 seminaries accredited by ATS, we praise God for the seventeen theological schools that are primarily African American and seven that are Asian and pray for their continual growth. There are no primarily Hispanic seminaries in the United States accredited by ATS…ZERO!! As the Hispanic/Latino population of the U.S. continues to grow the need for equipped Hispanic ecclesial leaders becomes a matter of urgency. This means established seminaries have the opportunity to respond to the clarion call!

Did you know…
…I wake up every morning and thank God for Wesley Seminary and Indiana Wesleyan University. “He has done great things. Bless His Holy Name!” (Andrae Crouch, way too long ago!) And I do! I praise and worship HIM because I get to be a part of an institution with an entrepreneurial spirit and a global vision that not only reaches the Hispanic population but also our African-American brothers and sisters and many others in different nations!

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Identifying the Obstacles to Church Growth (Charles Arn)

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God supernaturally breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ—the local church—is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why?”  If we understand the reason for a church’s lack of growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose the cause and to prescribe the cure.  Here are the five most common “growth-restricting obstacles”…

Growth-restricting obstacle #1: The Pastor.

There are three different causes if the pastor is inhibiting the growth of a church:

1. The pastor does not have a PRIORITY. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn’t, the church won’t. (See Luke 19:10)

2. The pastor does not have a VISION. Growing churches have pastors who believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate them into the Body. No vision for outreach is as much a barrier as no priority.  (See Acts 16:9)

3. The pastor does not have the KNOWLEDGE. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in most seminaries or Bible schools about how to invest the limited resources of a church for the greatest return.  (See Mt. 25:14-30)

Growth-restricting obstacle #2: The church members.

There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is not in the pulpit, it’s in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when:

Members have no priority for reaching the lost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” some say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled.”  (see II Pe. 3:9)

Members have a self-serving attitude about church. When members believe the priority of the pastor and the church should be to “feed the sheep” who are already in the flock, the message that newcomers hear is: “We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!”  (see Mt. 9:37)

Members fear that new people will destroy their fellowship. When “community” is the number one priority in a church, active membership will not grow beyond 100 people.  Beyond that point, members won’t know everyone…and, in their minds, that price of growth becomes greater than the benefit.  (II Cor. 4:5)

Growth-restricting obstacle #3: Perceived irrelevance.

Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the gospel to those points of need. Stagnant churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message.  (see Acts 2:6)

Growth-restricting obstacle #4: Using the wrong methods.

Any farmer knows you can’t harvest ripe wheat with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the gospel. A bullhorn on a downtown street corner, English tracts in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, youth outreach in a senior adult community…none of these methods are wrong. But they are inappropriate for the harvest field.  (see Mt. 7:9)

Growth-restricting obstacle #5: No plan for assimilation.

Over 80 percent of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.  (see Eph. 2:19)

There are many reasons why churches don’t grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out what’s keeping it from growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

NOTE: For more on how to identify and smash obstacles to your church’s growth, see the new book WHAT EVERY PASTOR SHOULD KNOW—101 Rules for Effective Leadership and Ministry for Your Church  (Baker Publishing.)  And, watch for the new “Church Revitalization Certificate” available through Wesley Seminary in early 2015!

Cultural Anthropology: It’s Time to Dig In (Kwasi Kena)

One of the joys of traveling is discovering the prevailing cultural idioms used by people. In the United States we often use the term “dig in”. Like many cultural idioms, context determines meaning. Dig in could mean “to start eating food with enthusiasm”, or “pressing hard into something else”. In combat, it could refer to soldiers “digging in, as in digging trenches awaiting attack”, or it could mean “preparing yourself for a difficult situation”.

In the cultural contexts of ministry class I teach, we learn to become Christian cultural anthropologists; trained observers who learn to discover important things about culture. Before we begin to look at others, however, we must look at ourselves. We liken the practice of cultural self-examination to going on an “anthropological dig”.

My Lens: One of Many

Cultural anthropologists learn to look for cues that provide insights into what a people group deems as a virtue or taboo. Cues may include cultural idioms. Such idioms reveal core values that manifest as behaviors, attitudes, and practices. If you listened to conversations in your church context, what cultural idioms would you discover? One recurring term I hear is “truth”, more specifically, the notion of “The Truth” mentioned with regard to preaching the word of God.

The old illustration of the four blind men and the elephant reminds us that while your truth may feel like a rope (the elephant’s tail), another person’s truth may feel like a tree trunk (the elephant’s leg). Our perspective, social location, experience, etc. become the lens through which we see and order the world. This lens colors the truth to which we subscribe.

In Christianity and Culture, Christian anthropologist, Charles Kraft (2005) speaks of “truth discernment” in terms of reality. There is a capitalized “R” and lowercase “r” symbolizing reality. The capital “R” represents reality (or Truth) that only God knows. The lowercase “r” represents our finite understanding of reality (or truth). The task of the Christian anthropologist is to first recognize that his or her notion of truth and reality is limited. The next task is recognizing that others may have ideas of truth and reality that are just as valid and believable as you believe yours is…you touched the elephant’s tail, they touched the elephants tusk.

Examine Your Internal Judge

Jesus reminds us to do a similar thing in the context of judging others. Matthew’s gospel records Jesus saying, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 ESV). This verse reminds us that there is some “pre-work” we need to do before embarking on cross-cultural ministry.

Sue and Sue (1990) in their book Counseling the Culturally Different: Theory & Practice Second Edition, provide some tips for counselors that may be helpful for our consideration as Christian leaders faced with the challenges of how best to conduct multi-ethnic ministry in the twenty-first century.

Here are a few tips to help guide the pre-work necessary for the would-be leader of a multi-cultural ministry:

1. Move from being culturally unaware to being aware and sensitive to [your] own cultural heritage and to valuing and respecting differences.

2. [Be] aware of [your] own values and biases, and how they may affect [ethnically different persons].

3. [Be] comfortable with differences that exist between [yourself] and [others] in terms of race and beliefs.

4. [Be] sensitive to circumstances (personal biases, stage of ethnic identity, sociopolitical influences, etc.) that may dictate [when multi-ethnic ministry is beyond your skillset].

5. Acknowledge and [be] aware of [your] own racist attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. [Racism is commonly defined as "prejudice plus power". If a person of any race uses his or her position of power to deny or offer lesser resources or services to another person based on color prejudice; that is a racist act. This could also involve not giving someone the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of innocence due to a prejudiced mindset devoid of reference to specific facts.]

6. Possess specific knowledge and information about the particular group you are working with.

7. Have a good understanding of the sociopolitical system’s operation in the United States with respect to its treatment of [ethnic] minorities.

8. Have a clear and explicit knowledge and understanding of the generic characteristics of multi-ethnic and cross-cultural ministry.

9. [Be] aware of institutional barriers [church and societal] that prevent or discourage minorities from access to resources.

10. [Be] aware of your helping style, recognize the limitations you possess and anticipate the impact you have on the culturally different person (p 169-171).

This is the type of pre-work that prepares a person for cross cultural ministry. Is God calling you to cross cultural ministry? Then dig in…

Hybrid Class Experiment

This Fall, the faculty of Wesley Seminary are exploring ways in which we can enhance and publicize the advantages of coming onsite to do your MDiv. One experiment this semester is to have some of our online students join those in the onsite class real time. Thanks to those new students who were willing on a moment’s notice to try this experiment with us!  The first week, I thought, was a great success.

cyber-synchronous classAdobe Hybrid class (Missional)

Stay tuned for possible changes even as soon as January that might entice students in the area to come on campus instead of online or to entice any of you who might be just out of college who might consider moving to this area for the onsite program.

Projection or Presence: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Video Venue Preaching

Video venues are flying off the ecclesial griddle like hot cakes. Everyone seems to be doing it. Some with great success, if success is primarily determined by increased attendance at the multi-site video venue church. Many growing churches are getting behind this trend. Who knows if the trend is here to stay or merely a flash in the pan? Regardless, I am convinced that churches must carefully and prayerfully consider not only the short-term but long-term practical and theological implications of launching a site where the preacher is not present but projected. Here are some of the major pros and cons of video venue preaching. The question that must be asked and answered is, do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa?

Pros of Projection

-The most effective preacher gets projected. Let’s face it, there are relatively few preachers who hit the sermonic ball out of the park on a regular basis. And, there are many who are mediocre at best. Why shouldn’t the church put her best foot forward in order to impact more lives through preaching? So much is at stake. Seekers who visit churches do not typically return a second time to hear irrelevant sermons that seem disconnected from real life. An effective projected preacher seems better than an ineffective present preacher.

-Video venue preaching is efficient. It doesn’t take too much time or money to launch a video venue. The main expense is renting a facility with seating capacity and projection capability. While most video venues have a campus pastor/host who is present, you don’t need a high quality and expensive communicator. That person is projected. So, if you can rent a facility with projection and recruit a campus host, you can launch a video venue site rather quickly. If you’re looking for efficiency, “getting the most bang for your buck,” the video venue is for you.

-Current culture is enamored with the screen. Many North Americans spend countless hours each week looking at a computer screen, TV screen, and big screen at the local movie theatre. People are used to the screen. A case could be made, however, that people are sick of looking at screens and find a live performance refreshing. But, apparently, many nominally churched and unchurched people feel as though a projected preacher is safer than a present preacher.

Cons of Projection

-A projected preacher proclaiming a God who became physically present feels like a contradiction. The incarnation of God in Christ is the central event of Christianity. God came onto our turf as one of us to save us because he loves us. He came to 1st century Jews as a 1st century Jew. He was physically neck deep in the culture he was trying to reach. He preached profoundly to people because he put himself in their sandals and walked where they walked. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). God didn’t show up as a projection but as real presence. How can a Christian preacher do anything less?

-A projected preacher cannot preach a truly contextual sermon. Every congregational context is different. The sermon developed for the mother church is not designed specifically for the multi-site video venue, especially if those contexts are radically different. The live “in the flesh” sermon I preach at a Caucasian church in an affluent suburb of Dallas will not contextually connect via video with an African American congregation in an impoverished urban area. Plus, the projected preacher on video cannot adjust “on the fly” to congregational cues during the preaching event. Can pastoral preaching really be done from a distance?

-Projecting one preacher prevents others preachers from being developed. If we are concerned about utilizing our best preacher, then video venue is the way to go. But, if we are focused on developing the next generation of preachers, the video venue should be avoided. The way to develop more and better preachers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to preach. If the resident preaching pro is the only one preaching, the growth of potential preachers on the team will be stifled. In the short run, projecting the best communicator seems wise, but it is disastrous in the long run. When the elite projected preachers are gone who will replace them? Under-developed preachers?

More pros and cons of video venue preaching could be listed, so I welcome your response. Do you think the pros outweigh the cons or that the cons outweigh the pros? Is video venue preaching driven by pragmatism or theology? As I wrestle with these questions, I am genuinely interested in your perspective. In fact, I need it.

Lenny Luchetti

Getting To Know Brannon Hancock (by Brannon Hancock)

Nothing like asking the new guy to write a blog post when he hasn’t even figured out how to retrieve his voicemail yet!

If you would have told this dude (the lead singer is the cooler, thinner guy I used to be) that 15 years later he’d be a seminary professor, unbridled laughter may have been the response. At that point in 1999, I had dropped out of college deferred my undergraduate studies at Trevecca Nazarene University and was living the rock-and-roll dream. (Actually, to quote Matt Foley, it was more like “living in a van down by the river.”)

But let me back up. I am a PK (that’s “pastor’s kid,” to the uninitiated). My dad was a PK too! And his brothers are all pastors. (You think it might run in the family…?) Growing up, my dad pastored churches in Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. It was at a Nazarene campmeeting in Dickson, Tennessee that I said an unqualified “yes” to God and felt a call into some kind of ministry. But I had have enough of a teenage rebellious streak that I hoped that calling didn’t require me to follow in my dad’s footsteps of pastoral ministry in the local church. I didn’t want to just go work for “the family business,” so to speak. (Maybe it wasn’t as “unqualified” a “yes” as I thought.)

So, since I had a little music thing going already, I thought, well, my Christian band is a way of fulfilling this call to ministry…Great! I don’t have to be a pastor! I wrote songs and made a couple albums and travelled the country, and it was fun. But at a certain point, the allure of the road lost out to the allure of “real jobs” and marriage for my bandmates and me, and our merry band disbanded. So, what next?

Back to school I went. The first time around it was for music, but since I’d “been there, done that” in a “career” that didn’t really care if I even had a degree, this time it was to study English literature. Some of my most significant influences were my Christian university professors, and so I thought, well, being a professor at a Christian college is a way of fulfilling this call to ministry…Great! I don’t have to be a pastor!

While at Trevecca, I met, fell in love with and married Gloria, who grew up mostly in the parsonages of Wesleyan churches. Gloria is an amazing singer, worship leader, mentor, mother, wife and friend, and I suspect the church we are now leaving to come to Wesley Seminary put up with me for nearly 7 years just because they liked Gloria so much. When we said “til death do us part,” we really had no idea what we were signing up for. But do we ever, really, when we say “yes” to our spouse, or to God?

After considering several seminaries and graduate programs, we decided that the Center for Literature, Theology and the Arts at the University of Glasgow in Scotland sounded like a good option and a fun place to live for a year. But a one-year master of theology led to a highly competitive Overseas Research Student scholarship to fund my proposed doctoral research on sacraments, postmodern theology and contemporary literature, so that one year became four!

Fast-forward to the summer of 2007: we moved back to the USA with a 3-month-old son (Andrew Scott, named for the patron saint of Scotland), a half-finished PhD thesis, and no job. I went through a round of academic job applications, but couldn’t deny the “pull” toward full time ministry. My graduate studies had brought clarity that my driving concerns were theological and ecclesiological, and not merely academic. So I said another “yes” to God: Fine. If you want me to be a pastor, I’ll be a pastor. In short order, I received and accepted a call to serve as worship pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in Xenia, Ohio – a congregation where I have deep roots on my mom’s side of the family.

It has been an immense privilege for these past 7 years to be part of the story God is writing through this congregation’s life and ministry. They supported me as I finished my PhD in 2010 and gave generously to send us to Scotland for graduation when we couldn’t afford it. They encouraged my pursuit of ordination and celebrated with us when that journey was brought to completion in 2011. They’ve cared for and loved our family as a second  (Joseph, b. 2009) and then a third (Cecilia, b. 2011) child entered our household.

They’ve taught us the value of ministry to the elderly and those with mental and physical challenges. They’ve shown us grace as we’ve tried and failed in ministry, and as we’ve tried and succeeded. They are a people who respond to Christ’s invitation to gather at His table every Sunday, and who take up the basin and towel to wash one another’s feet on Maundy Thursday, as Christ did. They have blessed us with their funerals and baptisms and weddings and baby dedications. They have been the perfect “school” not only to teach me to be a pastor, but also to prepare me (insofar as one is ever really “prepared”) to now serve a wider array of local congregations as a seminary professor, helping equip pastors for ministry.

When I came to interview for the job at Wesley Seminary, I was very ambivalent. We often misuse that word as a synonym for indifferent, but it really means to have simultaneously conflicting feelings. I got my PhD so I could become a professor someday, but I was also loving being a pastor and a worship leader. In fact, for several years, I’d been telling people I had my “dream job”: I get to play music and lead worship, be a pastor, teach classes, write, publish, go to conferences…what else could I ask for?

But the pivotal moment was when I expressed this to the faculty – how much I love my church and love being a pastor – and they told me, “See, this is why we like you. We want professors who are pastors first, and who love pastors and love the local church.” I was sold. I’ve met far too many pastors over the years who bemoan just how little seminary actually prepared them for parish ministry. Often, their professors were great scholars but lousy churchmen. I am committed to living within the tension between the academy and the local church. If that’s the kind of seminary Wesley at IWU intends to be, then it’s the kind of place I want to be.

I am grateful for the opportunity to join an amazing faculty (it’s like being asked to join The Avengers or something!) and to serve the students of Wesley Seminary. Thanks for reading and getting to know me a bit, and I look forward to getting to know you, face-to-face and online!