A Letter to American Pastors

Dear Leaders of the Church,

These are heady days, to be sure. I know, I’m in it with you. And like you, I’m considering what the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage means for the American church. I have spoken with many of you, understand the complexity of what you’re now having to consider, and have seen your thoughts splayed out on Facebook in a panicked plea to be clear on your position—or at least clear that some other blogger’s position is exactly what you were thinking.

From the looks of it, the collective Christian conscious is all over the map: There are those who do not agree that a same-sex couple should be allowed to wed, and others who do. There are some who are adamant that the Bible does not permit same-sex marriage and/or homosexuality, while others just don’t read it that way. Furthermore, there are those who are a combination of the aforementioned schools of thought or somewhere in between in the, “Well, ya know, I’m just not sure” category. Wherever you find yourself in this conversation, we can all agree on one thing - that we’re deep in it now.

Because unlike countless other conversations that the whole church could be passionately engaged in (racial reconciliation, human trafficking, poverty, etc.), you don’t have the option to engage in this conversation when it fits in a sermon series or communications calendar. No, the Supreme Court said you/we/the American church will talk about this now. So, during some random week in the summer of 2015, the compass of the American church oriented itself toward same-sex marriage, despite what the preaching calendar dictated. Which means you, dear pastor, are scrambling to figure out how to engage the church in this conversation.

But, and I really need you to listen to me on this, you’re having the wrong conversation.

The conversation that the Supreme Court bestowed on us isn’t about how we interpret the Bible and the institution of marriage — it’s about how we have a public discourse as Christians. How we, as believers, disagree on something, but still manage to bear love, patience, gentleness, and self-control.

The conversation is about the conversation.

I’m going to say it again, because it’s important and I’m feeling a little Rob Bell-ish right now…

The conversation is about the conversation.

Let’s zoom out and look at what’s really happening here. Not what’s all over the news and social media - what’s really happening.  We as a church are being pushed to consider a multi-faceted, complex issue, that is: How do we reconcile our Biblical interpretation of a topic with the movement of society? This is nothing new for the church.

We’ve argued over the proper placement of holidays on the calendar (that was a big deal 1600 years ago), we’ve had reformations that shattered long-held beliefs, we’ve crusaded under the sign of the cross, we’ve repented for slavery, we’ve recognized the wholeness of women (kind of), and the list continues. In short, we’ve had these conversations before, sometimes well, sometimes poorly, but in any case — we’ve made it through them.

And we’ll make it through this conversation as a church, we really will. But what we can’t do, what we simply must not allow, is for there to be an absolute massacre of people in the wake of our in-fighting.

What I am asking you to do this this: First, recognize that there are different opinions. You don’t have to agree with them, but you have to recognize that outside of the extreme voices that suck up all the air in a conversation, there are really good, kind and wise people who feel strongly that same-sex marriage is ok, isn’t ok, or somewhere in-between.

Furthermore, you need to recognize that many of those opinions aren’t just held by heterosexual Christians, they are also held by homosexual Christians. Oh yes, to pretend that every LGBTQ individual is unified in their belief is underestimating diversity of humanity. Everyone is unique, and everyone is figuring out how to best love Jesus.  We are all in this conversation together.

Second, recognize that outside of this conversation, there is almost nothing within the body of Christ, or more specifically, your church, that everyone is unified on. Truly, if you put everyone on a lie-detector and asked every member of your congregation if they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I bet you’d get some no’s, and certainly some lies. So, if some folks are still in the midst of that conversation, how can we expect our church to be fully unified on a conversation that is, conservatively, a few steps down the theological road? I’m not sure that, for those people at least, this needs to be the news of the day from your pulpit.

Third, please remember that being a good leader doesn’t mean having every answer. In fact, the best leaders are humble enough to admit they don’t know, brave enough to listen to the wisdom of others, and ego-less enough to not feel the need to be the moral mouthpiece of a church.  Your job is to point people toward Jesus. Jesus’ job is to point people toward truth. If you trust that, it makes your job significantly easier.

One more thing.

Pastors, you have a critical job to do this weekend. But, your job isn’t to put a flag in the sand and declare your version of absolute truth. Your job is to model how engaged, loving Christians can (maybe for the first time in history?) disagree and not destroy each other in the process.

Maybe, and I’m not trying to be patronizing here, you could say something like this:

“Hello, my name is ___________, and I have the privilege of being your pastor. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in America. That ruling has ignited a national conversation and prompted many of you to email me wanting a definitive answer on where I and this church stand on this issue. And to that, I’d like to say the following:

On behalf of the Church and this church, I’m sorry that so many people (some of you who are even in this room right now) have been hurt in the course of this conversation. We should’ve done a better job.

I want this to be a church where truth is pursued, people are loved, and Jesus reigns supreme.  And while I do have thoughts on this topic, I’m not using this moment to declare that (though I’d love to buy you coffee and have that conversation). Right now, from this pulpit, I’m apologizing and praying that we move forward — together — as the church God’s called us  to be."

Then, walk off stage and let the poor worship leaders absorb all the awkwardness in the room.  That’s kinda their job.

Love always wins,
Eddie

Why Do We Take the Christmas Lights Down?

Eve, my oldest daughter, is firmly entrenched in the “why stage”.  Which, should you be unfamiliar with this season, is a time where a kid starts asking why -  three to four thousand times a day. Literally, every statement is in the form of a Jeopardy-like question, and every reply you give is met with a follow-up inquiry. Moreover, because Eve is quite smart, I usually only get one or two questions deep before I’m stumped.  Example:

“Dad, why does the dog have a black nose?”
(I already don’t know this answer, but I shuck and jive with the best of ‘em.) “Well Eve, because God created some animals to have black noses. Just like some people have blue eyes and others have brown, God just makes everyone special.”
“Why?”
“Why does God make everyone special?”
“Yes, why?”
“Huh. Why does God make everyone special? I have no earthly idea why, good question buddy.”

Point. Eve.

Now in this phase of constant inquiry, I must admit that I've been less-than-graceful in a few less-than-proud moments. And yes, I've had to apologize. But usually, answering her questions gives a fascinating window into the unfettered curiosity of a child.

To that end, as all of us adults are taking down the decorations and getting back to normal after the Christmas rush, Eve posed a question:

“Dad, can we walk around and see Christmas lights tonight?”
“No sweetheart, we can’t. The lights are down until next year.”
“Why?”
“Well, because the birthday party for Jesus is over.”
“Why?”
“Eve, I really don’t know.”

I think I need a better answer.  

I mean I have a practical adult reply which is: “Well sweetie...we take the lights and decorations down because Christmas is actually pretty exhausting for adults and most of us just want to get back to some measure of normalcy until we’re thrust into this glorious season again in ten months.” But that’s a terrible answer. And it comes from heart that is, if I’m being totally honest, relieved that the never ending rager for Jesus is over.

A photo posted by Eddie (@edwardoreddie) on

Here’s another observation, and this one has a picture!  

This morning I sat down in church and noticed something on the altar - wax. Blue and pink wax that had spilled from advent candles being lit and burned for multiple weeks over multiple services. My first thought was that it should be cleaned up, bah humbug! But then I remembered that I go to an intentional (not to mention clean) church that didn't miss the gobs of mess in a prominent location.  

So why was there wax on the altar?  

To force me to remember. To remember that what was accomplished through Jesus wasn't a thing that happened in December, thousands of years ago (though it probably didn't even happen in December, but who really cares about that?). Jesus’s Birthday is happening now. And moving in obedience towards a deeper understanding of Christ isn't something that’s over - it’s a lifelong commitment and opportunity. The advent season may have passed, but the celebration echos in all eternity, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So Eve, why do we take the lights down?  Well honey, because it kills our power bill and makes our home look like a tacky Vegas hotel. But why do we stop celebrating the birthday of Jesus? You know what, let’s not!  Let’s keep the wax on the altar, let’s talk about how important Jesus is, and let’s not stop following the star that led the Magi and orients our hearts towards home.

Tim Keller on Writing and Ministry

Holy smokes. My friend Pete just sent me this article, and I feel compelled to pass it along to you. In it you will find Tim Keller being interviewed by Josh Blount on the subject of if and when pastors should publish. I'd say Dr. Keller has convicted me a little bit...

Exhibit A

I think younger ministers should earn their credibility through building up some fruitful and effective ministries. That takes literally all one's time for a long time. They should not divert valuable time for ministry to writing. I know that if a young minister sees his church grow rapidly he will be bombarded with offers to write books, but even if his church grows to thousands of people by the time he is in his early 30s, he is still not really time-tested, nor does he yet have the insights and knowledge of the Bible he will have later.

Exhibit B

I don't think ministers should produce much in the way of book-length writing in the first half or even two-thirds of their ministry. Why?

Because they are still growing in their wisdom and understanding of the Word, and they are likely to change their mind on some things...

 

Read the entire article here.