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No one sets out to be a horrible pastor, it just sort of happens. My guess is you aren’t reading this article to learn how to be more horrible as a pastor, but to make sure that you aren’t on the list. Sometimes horrible pastors are bad from the very beginning, but often they don’t start out that way. Their slide into horribleness is a gradual process. Being a horrible pastor is easy; you just need to love the wrong things.
Love your theology more than the church
A pastor with a theological hobby horse can do significant damage to a church. We’ve all seen the guy who comes in with a super dogmatic view of eschatology or election or church governance or whatever. Every sermon is his opportunity to convince you that his theological view is right. Every time he teaches he points out all the flaws in the other views. Everyone who doesn’t believe what he believes is just a heretic and should leave.
As a pastor we are called to be theologians. I love studying and teaching about God! But theology is never to be used as a club to beat people into my own image. As we teach and preach and lead it must be done with a lot of grace and patience and love. Not everyone will be at the same point in their understanding. It takes more time and effort, but we need to lovingly guide people along, not shame them into believing what we tell them to believe.
I want people to know and love the truth, but I recognize that there are some genuine gray areas. There is room for healthy disagreement. We should not be surprised or threatened when people have slightly different views than us.
A horrible pastor will insecurely defend his theology instead of lovingly shepherd the people of God.
Love church growth more than the church
For the past few decades we’ve been bombarded with books and seminars and articles on church growth. It has become its own industry. With so much attention given to church growth strategies it would be very easy for a pastor to start to think that numerical growth is the goal of the church.
A pastor who sees the church as a means of growing his little kingdom here on earth is a horrible pastor. They look right over the needs of the people in the pews in an attempt to attract new people. It is easy to mask selfish ambition for worldly success behind a call for greater evangelism.
There are things that a pastor can do to attract more people to the church building that have little to do with the gospel. Instead of merely striving to offer a better experience let’s work on feeding the sheep, discipling believers, and equipping the saints to go out and do the work of ministry.
A horrible pastor will love the imaginary people who don’t go to his church more than the real people who are already there.
Love the idea of church more than the church
With the explosive growth of the multi-site church it seems like some pastors have more of a heart for franchise expansion than they do for the local church. New sites are not planted in order to meet the needs of a community or to fill a void, but to spread a particular brand. There is an arrogance that assumes their way of doing church is the right way.
I think the idea of multi-site churches is awesome. My own church has used this method of growth. My problem is not with the method, but with the motives. Church expansion that is done with a genuine love for a community or a group of people is a great thing. But church expansion that is nothing more than empire building is ugly.
A pastor who loves the idea of church more than the actual church will be overly focused on the methods, mechanics, and image of the church. So much attention is given to following a list of tried and true methods that there is little time left for connecting with people. The result is a church service that feels more like a performance than a time of worship. People begin to feel used – like they are extras in a play rather than servants of God.
A horrible pastor will be enraptured with the idea of more churches without really loving the body of Christ.
Making the Theological Turn in Youth Ministry Using Bonhoeffer’s Eight Theses on Youth Work
In my six years as a youth minister to date, there have been moments—moments that have lasted days, weeks, and maybe even years, if I’m being honest—that have made me feel as though much of my work is utterly arbitrary and misguided. Those moments have generally emerged during meetings and conversations with people concerned who see young people as “the future of the church”, and involve themselves with the more immediate concerns of the church, like building use policies. I have often found myself reluctantly creating programs and planning events that, at best, satisfy the expectations of recreating the past for influential members of the congregation. At worst, these initiatives have been distracting from that which actually matters in the faith development of children.
In short, I, along with many others called into ministry, have long…
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Perhaps the perfect word for our media-saturated, insta-everything expression age in which we live.
“Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can be over come only by the Spirit of grace; nevertheless, isolated thoughts of judgment can be curbed and smothered by never allowing them to be uttered, …”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together,
(Harper Collins, 1954), 91f.
The Old Wild West in the New Middle East
IM Review of “American Sniper”
The title of this review reflects a line from American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s reverent biopic of Chris Kyle, a sniper during the Iraq War credited with 160 kills, the most in American military history. It also reflects iconic films from Eastwood’s career. He, of course, is famous for his roles in westerns, portraying lone dispensers of justice in a world beset by evil. “In the universe of his films,” writes N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott, “— a universe where the existence of evil is a given — violence is a moral necessity, albeit one that often exacts a cost from those who must wield it in the service of good.”
The narrative goes like this:
- People are besieged by pure evil in the form of villains with no conscience who will stop at nothing to destroy what is good.
- Most of the good people are impotent to stop the evil ones.
- One man rises up (or rides into town) with extraordinary gravitas and courage to take a stand. He will not be persuaded to do otherwise.
- Evil does its best to compromise or destroy him.
- However, the good man is better and more skilled at dispensing violence, and thus evil is conquered.
- He is also able to come to terms with himself and the impact evil has made on him.
American Sniper is, at its heart, a cowboy movie. It’s a great one too, a well-acted, gripping old-fashioned shoot-em-up that will have you cheering when the good guys win and the bad guys bite the dust. Its morality reflects pure black and white. It’s a hero pic with hordes of faceless enemies and one grand villain (though he is not characterized beyond a few mentions of his backstory). The dusty streets and rooftops could pass for the wild west, Kyle has a “posse” of faithful sidekicks, and his woman waits nervously at home, wondering if he will ever make it back to her.
Chris Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper, who does a stellar job portraying Kyle as a gentle giant with a job to do to preserve the American way of life. His character was formed by a daddy who raised him well, teaching him to shoot and take care of his gun, and giving him a simple, compelling moral view of the world. He tells him there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Most people are sheep, they need protecting from the wolves that threaten them. The boy better not think of being anything but a sheepdog — strong, protective, using whatever means necessary to guarantee the safety of his own.
And that about sums up the depth of insight we gain into Kyle’s character. He has no demons of his own, only those inflicted upon him by his contacts with evil. Honorable from youth, he bides his time riding rodeo until the events of 9/11 move him to join the military. He serves four tours in Iraq. Some of his kills involve women and children and we see the pain this causes him. On his trips home between deployments, Kyle’s wife struggles with how distant he has become. The aftereffects from combat leave him increasingly estranged, and on occasion he shows a few signs of PTSD. But these are wounds inflicted from without, by his engagement with evil. He is not like some of Eastwood’s other characters, dark, mysterious men who have secrets in their hearts and past. Chris Kyle is a pure hero.
One of the weaknesses of American Sniper is that it doesn’t develop any other characters. Even Kyle’s wife, played by Sienna Miller, who gets the most screen time, is given the limited role of worrying about her man, keeping the home fires burning, and expressing hope that one day he will come all the way back and devote himself to the family again. Kyle’s buddies trade banter with him, there’s a lot of talk about “team,” and you know he’s there for them but it doesn’t get much beyond that. Eastwood’s Chris Kyle is truly the lone “Legend” in this film — set apart from everybody else.
The movie has been a huge box office success, and has generated a fair amount of political controversy. However, American Sniper ignores politics altogether to focus on this one man doing his duty. I, for one, am glad of that, because soldiers like Chris Kyle and his mates should not be caught in the middle of political wrangling. If you want to argue politics, let’s talk about the people who sent them to Iraq and the policies they enacted which made it necessary for young men and women to go into harm’s way.
No, American Sniper is not political, it’s something else. It’s mythical. That is why audiences are filling theaters to see it. Here, in the conservative heartland where I live, the movie house was packed and it was hard to find a seat. People hunger to see something with moral clarity and heroes, a story which validates their underlying beliefs. It doesn’t matter to them if it is 100% accurate or reflects all the complexities of war or the human psyche. Literalists will never understand this, but people are more shaped by their mythos and ethos than they are by analysis and reasoning based on facts. Chris Kyle represents a deeply ingrained American myth, one upon which director Clint Eastwood has built his entire career:
Doing his job.
Standing for justice.
Protecting others from evil.
Resorting to violence when necessary.
Coming to terms with himself.
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Are you sure you want to proceed with this day? Are you positive that you really want to pray that prayer or commit to following Christ? Do you honestly believe you have the where with all to go where He decides to go? Can you go the distance… every mile, every last inch of the way?
There is a cost to following Christ. And eventually we will find ourselves at the toll both. The question we eventually will have to answer will be… are we willing to pay that cost.
It leads to death, you know. And while I’m pretty certain He makes no bones about that fact, the truth is… Most of us never hear that. We are so emotionally wrapped up in all He will do for us that we don’t really…
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‘Bonhoeffer the Assassin’ explored at Young Center
ELIZABETHTOWN, PA (01/17/2015)(readMedia)– How does the significance of a person’s life and work change when new information challenges long-held views about the person? Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often remembered for his association with a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, due to the account of his biographer and friend, Eberhard Bethge.
Mark Thiessen Nation, professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, will challenge that account in his lecture, “Eberhard Bethge and the Myth of Bonhoeffer the Assassin: Recovering a Consistent Christ-Centered Ethic in a World Full of Nazis,” at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 29, at the Bucher Meetinghouse, of Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Nation will argue that from 1932 to 1945 Bonhoeffer lived and worked consistently with his belief in the love of neighbors and enemies as articulated in his famous book, Discipleship. He also will explore the possibility that Bonhoeffer was executed for saving the lives of Jews and being a conscientious objector, rather than for being a co-conspirator in an assassination plot, as Bethge maintained.
Nation earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in peace studies from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a master’s in divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary.
He is coauthor of Bonhoeffer the Assassin?: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking and author of John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions. Nation also writes a blog, Anabaptist Nation, and has published essays in The Mennonite, Constantine Revisited, Perspectives in Religious Ethics, The Conrad Grebel Review, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Mennonitischen Lexikons, The Mennonite Quarterly Review and Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology.
This spring I’m working through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the company of John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in their works, Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount (Wesley, available here) and the middle section of The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer, available here). I’ll be posting short reflections and collections of insights and quotations here as I go.
Wesley and Bonhoeffer come from different eras. Wesley, the son of priest in the church of England, lived in eighteenth century England. Bonhoeffer, from a line of prominent intellectuals, lived in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet there are connections. Both men ministered at odds with the state church. Bonhoeffer led an underground church and seminary that was opposed a morally and spiritually compromised church in Nazi Germany, while Wesley led a revival movement in a spiritually dead church. And both men…
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