Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave)

By John Pavlovitz
Many large churches have a door problem.
    The problem, is that they’re all about the front door; the curb appeal, the efficient parking attendants, the effervescent sidewalk greeting team, the beautifully manicured grounds, the warm and pristine lobbies, the willing and able Welcome Desk staff, and the overall ease and comfort of the Sunday morning “worship experience”.
    Add in a powerful, professional entertainment event, an attractive menu of amenities and age-specific ministry environments, along with a pleasing veneer of hospitality and general folksiness and it’s easy to see how these faith communities make a nearly irresistible first impression (which is a good thing, as tons of their financial and personnel resources are directed toward this end).
    In other words, the modern megachurch is a great first date. It can woo you like nobody’s business. It can have you at hello, close the deal, and make you fall in love with it at first sight.
Unfortunately, it often isn’t built for a real, long-term, meaningful relationship.
    Over time, many people in these communities become disenchanted and begin to feel invisible, and after languishing for a few months unable to find meaningful connections they finally leave with little of the fanfare, attention, and care that their initial arrival promised. When they do fall through the cracks, they soon realize that their absence is barely noticed or grieved, if at all. They are simply replaced the next Sunday at the front doors by fresh faces and new ready hearts to be won over.
    No one is watching the back doors of our churches and thousands of people are walking out every week hurting and defeated and anonymous, never to return—and this is a problem.
    You see, once they’re a part of these large communities, many people experience a distinct lack of substance and depth, and not merely in the Sunday stage/pulpit teaching, which often seems specifically designed to grab the first timer’s heart and manufacture the all important weekly conversion moment. This deficiency also shows up in the way they are cared for in crisis, connected in meaningful community, and nurtured in personal growth. They come to discover that all that initially glitters soon loses its luster.
    Such is the case when churches go all in with the front door and don’t care much about the back door; when they build themselves primarily for an hour on Sunday.
    Somewhere along the way, too many modern churches bought into the lie that their sole job is to “lead people to Jesus” and that he will take care of the rest; that once a person answers the altar call and is baptized, that they are no longer the church’s responsibility, but God’s. The new convert’s heads are barely dried and they’re already drafted into the urgent work of bringing others in through the front door.
    With little to no regard for how well they understand their new faith decision or for the swirling storm of emotions and questions they are dealing with, or the deeper needs they and their families may have, they are implored quickly to “get on mission for Jesus!” (whatever that is). They are expected to fend for themselves and find community, even if their personalities, emotional condition, life stage, or simply their level of intimidation provide a tremendously difficult barrier. Embedded into these subcultures, is a subtle yet real disregard for people the longer they are there.
That’s not how the Church was designed to work.
That’s not how pastors are called to pastor. 
That’s not how spiritual growth happens.
    Pastors and church staffs are responsible to their people, not merely to broker some magical, momentary spiritual transaction for them, but to ensure that they are fully integrated into communities where their physical and emotional needs are attended to along the way. The pastor’s role is to shepherd the people in their community; to know them or to make sure that someone knows them.
    Some advice to churches and pastors and church staff about their back door:
  If your church is too big to minister to people individually, your church is too big. 
  If you have no scalable system of pastoral care other than telling people to get into a small group, you have a lousy pastoral care system. 
  If people can come and go for months in your building (and ultimately leave) without you or anyone knowing it, you’re failing those in your care. 
  Pastor, if all you want to do is preach from the stage or the pulpit, stop calling yourself a pastor and admit that you’re a preacher or a religious celebrity. 
  Churches, if all you’re interested in doing is putting on weekly one hour crusades, stop calling yourself a church and just be religious event planners.
    The Church is a not a collection of fast food salvation franchises, it’s a group of local expressions of the care and compassion of Jesus, that know and understand how to create authentic, deep, sustainable community in the difficult, messy, time-consuming trenches of real lives.
    Local churches, your front door is important but if you don’t find better ways of providing everyone who walks through them a genuine experience of real, loving, intimate relationships, your back door will continue to be wide open—and generations of people will find it all too easy to walk out through it.
    Hello. Can you hear me?

Explore a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity

Religious studies programs are often faith-based, but there are also secular academic programs for religious studies. When regarded as a social science, religion is studied for its philosophical, social, and psychological influences. Theological programs also explore the social influences of religion, with the key difference being that the religion is being studied in a faith-based context, preparing the student for a professional career as a clergy member or similar path.

Online divinity degrees are designed to teach students how to property interpret the Bible and to equip students with a thorough understanding of theology. Divinity is a field most appropriate for students who want to enter Christian ministry or leadership, or prepare for future graduate study in Christian education. Even so, many students who are interested in their own spiritual formation and growth pursue a degree in divinity, and move into non-ministry careers in business, communications, writing, and more. College and universities that offer divinity degrees may allow an opportunity to major in various areas, such as ministry, religious studies, or biblical studies.

Online bachelor’s degree programs in divinity are not as common as Master of Divinity programs. However, the few that are offered can usually be completed in four years, provided the program follows a standard semester format. However, program length differs from school to school and students may take longer to complete the program if they attend part-time. Program length may be shortened if a student has transferable credits from work completed at other schools to bring into the divinity program.

Class Curriculum
The curriculum in an online divinity degree program is designed to give students a comprehensive understanding of the Bible and the theological works of major Christian thinkers, often as part of a larger liberal arts education. Students commonly take courses in the languages of the Bible — Greek and Hebrew. Courses in Christian history, apologetics (defenses of Christianity), hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible), and homiletics (preaching from the Bible) are also common. Students may also take the following courses:
  • Old Testament Survey. In this course, students are introduced to the major themes and people discussed in the 39 books included in the first half of the Bible, called the Old Testament. Students will learn how the Old Testament is broken down into areas of religious law, history, poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets, as well as some of the most significant people discussed in the texts, such as Abraham, Moses, and King David.
  • New Testament Survey. This course introduces students to the major themes and people discussed in the 27 books included in the second half of the Bible, called the New Testament. Students will learn how the New Testament is broken down into the Gospels, history, epistles, and prophecy. The life of Jesus Christ is often emphasized, as well as significant writers like Paul, Peter, and John.
  • Systematic Theology. In this course, students learn how to consider what the whole of biblical scripture has to say on any particular theological topic, such as the nature of God, sin and grace, and salvation. Students study various church doctrines and creeds, their roots in scripture, and how doctrinal differences have led to a great deal of diversity of belief in the Christian tradition.
Students should expect to complete writing- and research-heavy assignments in an online divinity degree program. Written assignments might include exegetical papers in which students must critically examine a section of biblical text. Language courses in Greek and Hebrew entail a great deal of work in translation as students learn to read, write, and pronounce these ancient languages and commit to memory some of the most common Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible.

Building a Career

People with degrees in divinity often go on to enter careers as pastors, ministers, chaplains, missionaries, evangelists, or religious writers, authors, and speakers, although some find work with faith-based nonprofit organizations. Many pastors enter their church career as youth pastors, leaders of women’s or men’s ministry teams, pastoral care staff, or as assistant or associate pastors. With time and experience, they may be brought on by a board of directors or by church elders as a senior or executive pastor. Some ministry positions will require a Master of Divinity or similar graduate degree from a seminary.

The median yearly salary for clergy, which includes pastors and similar titles, was estimated at $44,140 as of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Median salaries for religious workers were $26,150 annually, the BLS noted. Salaries vary depending on where you live, the size of your church or employer, your roles and responsibilities, and your church or organization’s budget.

Are you a local Christian Leader who desires high-quality Bible based ministry training right where you live? Do you want your knowledge of the Bible to deepen? Do you want your walk with God strengthened? Do you want to learn ministry insights taught at seminaries, Bible schools, and Bible colleges?

Whether you are just beginning or continuing your Bible school education, CLI brings free online ministry training to you.

Daily Readings for January 28, 2016

Genesis 16:15-17:14
Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God." God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Hebrews 10:1-10
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)." When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

John 5:30-47
"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"

Psalm 50 Deus deorum
1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people.
5 Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak: "O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me.
9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls, nor he-goats out of your pens;
10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills.
11 I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.
13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High.
15 Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor me."
16 But to the wicked God says: "Why do you recite my statutes, and take my covenant upon your lips;
17 Since you refuse discipline, and toss my words behind your back?
18 When you see a thief, you make him your friend, and you cast in your lot with adulterers.
19 You have loosed your lips for evil, and harnessed your tongue to a lie.
20 You are always speaking evil of your brother and slandering your own mother's son.
21 These things you have done, and I kept still, and you thought that I am like you."
22 I have made my accusation; I have put my case in order before your eyes.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God."

Psalm 118 Confitemini Domino
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
3 Let the house of Aaron now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
4 Let those who fear the LORD now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
5 I called to the LORD in my distress; the LORD answered by setting me free.
6 The LORD is at my side, therefore I will not fear; what can anyone do to me?
7 The LORD is at my side to help me; I will triumph over those who hate me.
8 It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in flesh.
9 It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in rulers.
10 All the ungodly encompass me; in the Name of the LORD I will repel them.
11 They hem me in, they hem me in on every side; in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
12 They swarm about me like bees; they blaze like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
13 I was pressed so hard that I almost fell, but the LORD came to my help.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous:
16 The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! the right hand of the LORD is exalted! the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!
17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me sorely, but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; he who is righteous may enter.
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD'S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Hosanna, LORD, hosanna! LORD, send us now success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.

Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian

Today the church remembers Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274.

Perhaps the greatest of the many medieval theologians, Thomas was the son of a prominent Italian count. He joined the Dominican Order against the will of his family. He studied at Monte Cassino and at the Universities of Naples, Cologne, and Paris, earning a Master's degree. Virtually his entire life was spent in teaching and writing.

His greatest work was the Summa Theologica, a masterful systematic statement of doctrine. It was by no means an immediate success, but time has proven it to be one of the finest intellectual expositions of the Christian faith ever composed. Some three centuries after his death he was declared "Universal Teacher"� to the church. He was particularly concerned about the relationship of faith and reason. He successfully reconciled the philosophy of Aristotle with Christian doctrine.

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Meditation for January 28, 2016

Hebrews 10:1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.

We’ve all woken up in the middle of the night and found ourselves unable to go back to sleep. During these wakeful times, I often think about my regrets: the friend I neglected when he was hurting, the kid I was mean to in the fourth grade, the people I could have treated better if I hadn’t been so absorbed in my own life. If there were some sacrifice I could make to erase my mistakes in the middle of the night, I’d do it.

In reality, forgiveness is not so easy. Sacrifices are not enough. Words are not enough. We cannot save ourselves from our own sin. It’s only in relationship that reconciliation and healing come. In the morning, with the sun up, I remember that I’ve reconciled with those people I’ve hurt, that I’ve received forgiveness for my sins. Ultimately, there is only so much we can do or say to make things right, and we must remember that we are loved, despite the inadequacy of our penance.

Lord Jesus, you have made our hearts burn within us, and have sent us back upon the road towards our brothers and sisters, with the Gospel message on our lips. Help us to see that hope and obedience to your commands always lead to the greater unity of your people. Amen.