Thursday, February 21, 2013

Becoming a Shepherd

Schools produce scholars; pastures produce pastors. 

While an indispensable part of a pastor's job is in fact scholarship, and the merits of a formal theological education are unassailable, the best way to learn the art of shepherding people is by spending a great deal of time with them - listening to them, serving them, teaching them, learning from them, laughing and crying and ministering alongside them, loving them...

Some reliable studies show that something like 80% of people who graduate from Bible colleges and seminaries and enter into full-time pastoral ministry leave the ministry within 5 years. Of course there are many reasons for this, but what cannot be ignored is the model being used to prepare people for ministry. The Western model goes something like this: Undergrad > Seminary > Internship > local church. Internships are valuable, but they cannot replicate the effect of time and experience, no matter how well crafted.

I am coming to believe that this model is fundamentally flawed. A disciple is really an apprentice, and we need to see discipling people, particularly those who will serve as leaders, in terms more like apprenticeship. Apprenticeship involves both formal education and YEARS of working alongside a master at the trade, in order to learn intimately how to master the art.

While it's true that food can be produced in a lab, most people agree that food grown in a field is better. In the same way, becoming a pastor should be much more organic. Lots of time in the field with the sheep, under a gifted and skilled mentor, knowing and being known - being tested and proven in the laboratory of the real world. Our failure rate is so high because the model we use is fundamentally flawed. The sooner we recognize this and take steps to change the model, the better.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Whence Cometh Compassion?

Chicago’s long struggle with gang violence has now become a front-page crisis: “A City in Crisis Seeks Answers” is the recent Chicago Tribune headline (Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 Edition). But the reality is that the city has been in crisis for decades, and it was worse 10 or 15 years ago than it is now. Much worse. Ask anyone living in a poor neighborhood, or check Wikipedia.

While I’m glad that the media is finally noticing that there is a crisis among the city’s poor, I have to admit that I’m a little cynical and suspicious about why it’s suddenly on the front page and not in the back of Section 2, where with few exceptions such news historically has resided. My cynicism makes me wonder if this is news now because of white children getting shot in a small New England town and the momentum that can be built for stricter gun control. 

It has always bothered me that, as shocking as school shootings are, they get so much more attention than the hundreds of children getting shot in the ‘hood every single year, as if kids in the ‘hood getting shot over longer periods of time are somehow less valuable. I have to wonder if this is not simply a soft racism by the very people who champion the poor and downtrodden. I have to wonder if this isn't political pragmatism: Leverage a crisis to produce desirable legislative results, and if minority kids are good props, use them. 

Who’s to say racism isn't alive and well? 

Let me put it another way: If Newtown hadn't happened, would Chicago's struggle with gang violence make the front page? My guess is it wouldn't. 

So I'm glad this is getting attention, and I hope something can change this ongoing disaster, but I fear that compassion and care for minority kids in poor neighborhoods is not what is driving this new-found media emphasis. 

Update, March 19 2013
The Tribune's John Kass has some additional insight into the phenomenon I describe above:,0,5292295,full.column

Monday, February 11, 2013

Postmodern Sexual Ethics 101

Sexual Ethics

“Why does the supposedly omniscient and omnipotent creator of the universe worry so much about who has sex with who and how they have it?” – Amazon reviewer Carl Flygare, commenting on John MacArthur’s book, The Battle for the Beginning

Mr. Flygare's question is a fairly good representation of how many people think in postmodern, Western culture, and I suppose a lot could be said in response. If it was an honest question and not a sarcastic retort to another commenter, I would answer that it only makes sense that a creator of any kind would be concerned about a fundamental function of his creation. Since it clearly was not an honest question, I will attempt to probe the reviewer’s thinking as much as the limited context will allow me to.

My first concern is that Mr. Flygare seems to take it as a given that it is inappropriate to be anything more than a little concerned about who has sex with whom. Yet in the US and many other countries there are laws against things like common prostitution, human trafficking and the sex trade, any form of sexual activity with minors, sex with immediate family members and polygamy. In addition to these concerns, STI’s are a huge problem and no small number of campaigns are aimed at regulating, or at least influencing, how people engage in sexual activity.  Thus it appears that “who has sex with who” in many cases involves issues of public health or has other implications for society as a whole. So it’s pretty clear that if the sex in question is somehow harmful, or even if it’s out of the mainstream as in the case of polygamy, being concerned about it to the point of enacting legislation and punishing offenders seems pretty mainstream.

But another concern is Mr. Flygare’s apparent lack of perspective regarding his own views on the issue. While I get his point that who is having sex with who is widely considered to be in the realm of nobody’s business, I don’t believe he really practices what he preaches. In other words, he too is concerned about who has sex with whom. For example, I’d wager that if he is married and has children, he is quite concerned about who might be having sex with his wife and/or his kids. Even if he is not concerned about any of that for whatever reason, I would imagine he at least cares who has sex with him; he is willing to limit and even dictate the parameters of another person’s sexual desires if they involve unwanted advances on his own person. So at the end of the day, when it comes to who is having sex with whom, the only significant difference between him and the God he questions is the length of the list.