It has been a little quiet here on the Futon Reformer Blog for quite some time. Part of that is the business of ministry. The other reason I haven’t written much here lately is that I have been writing for the blog Vintage ’73. Vintage ’73 is collaborative blog that focuses on life the Presbyterian Church in America. I have been privledged to write for the site and I would encourage you to go check out their articles. I wrote the most recent article on the site about what we can learn from James K.A. Smith.
No shock, no surprise here; I am a huge Tampa Bay Rays fan. I have been to a game in every season of their existence, beside 2. And as a Rays fan who lives outside of the Bay Area, I get asked a certain question over and over again.
“Why is the stadium always empty?”
Any time I try to go into all of the details about the situation, people's eyes glaze over. They don't want to hear about the fact that the staduim is in another city, 45 minutes from Tampa. They could care less about the psychology of “crossing the bridge” for Tampa residents. They don't want to hear about camera angles and the price of the seats behind the bullpen. Most of my explanations fall on deaf ears. But since moving to Myrtle Beach, I have found a question that usually makes sense to people. When they ask me about the Rays, I reply with a question of who their NFL team is. They will always reply with the Eagles, Steelers, or Browns. This makes me wonder, “why not the Panthers”. They are quick to explain that they have always been Steelers fans and always will be. Not the local Panthers.
It makes sense. I won't give up the Bucs or Rays. They are my team. In Florida, this isn't just a sports thing, it's a community thing. Check out this article on the “Cincinnati Factor”. The term refers to people who have moved to Florida from Detroit or Toledo or Cincinnati and still maintain their identity as residents of those other cities. I am incredibly proud of my heritage as a 6 generation Tampa native. But I have only met a handful of other people, in my life, who have longterm roots in the Sunshine State. Most folks go back no farther than the '50's.
And so it is no surprise that they are all still Yankee, Tiger, and Reds fans.
I feel the Rays pain as they attempt to create a community of fans from the crowds of people. Because, by and large, the crowds aren't interested in community. They want to be left alone to watch their team on MLB.tv.
The same is true of ministry in tourist towns. As I have been in Myrtle Beach for over 5 years now, I have been amazed at the routine lack of involvement of people in the community and life of the church. This is South Carolina; we are the buckle of the Bible belt. And yet people are more interested in soccer or a good tee-time or going home to see the folks every other weekend. No one is from here and their lack of commitment to this place and to a church has created stunted, immature Christians.
Even the best are more interested in whats going on back in West Virginia or back home in the little town they are from than what is going on here.
The Rays have been smart though. They have been aggressive in pursuing younger fans. They have killer social media programs and great giveaways for kids. It has worked in my case. My boys are being raised Rays fans. The past few years, the crowds at the Rays games have been younger than any other stadium I have been to. But it is going to take time.
The same is true of ministry at the beach. The one thing that I have seen consistently draw people to the church is solid children and youth ministry.
What about you? Does your church have the same problem? How do you overcome people's lack of interest in community and commitment?
At this year’s General Assembly of the PCA, I received a preview copy of New Growth Press’s small group materials. I was excited because I am a big fan of New Growth Press and their partnering organization, World Harvest Missions. As a pastor, finding small group material is often the rough equivalent of getting a root canal. Trust me, I hate the dentist; this is the most horrifying analogy I can come up with. You are constantly being torn between material. You have to make a choice between material that is Christ centered and material that is easy enough for lay-leaders to use. You have to choose between material that is well packaged and material that is banal. Rarely can you find something firing on all cylinders.
When I received the copy of Gospel Identity, I immediately tore into it. It is an excellent booklet for small groups. I want to point out some of it’s strengths and caution you about a minor weaknesses. First and foremost, what I loved about Gospel Identity was the way it pushed groups into the scripture. This was not like some other small group studies that focused on how you felt, with broad discussion questions. Instead the lessons drove you straight to the heart of scripture. As it directed you to read and study passages together, it asked penetrating, helpful questions that were easy to understand. Sometimes other small group resources ask questions that leave you wondering what they are getting at. Gospel Identity avoids those pitfalls.
Secondly, the book has a brief small group leader briefing that helps leaders get their “sea-legs” leading a group. At the end of the book, there is a leaders section with suggested answers to the questions in the lessons. The authors are careful to teach leaders not to use these answers as a crutch but rather as a “push” to get the group past a place where they may be stuck.
Third, the book is focused on pushing us deeper into our relationship with Jesus. This is not an intelectual exercise, meant to make us smarter; the studies are well-designed to push us, as C.S. Lewis said, “farther up, farther in”. This really comes out in 4 great statements from the introduction:
- Cheer up! The gospel is far greater than you can imagine.
- Cheer up! You are worse than you think.
- Cheep up! God’s Spirit works in your weakness
- Cheer up! God’s Kingdom is far more wonderful than you can imagine.
These statements clearly set the tone of the studies that follow.
Finally, I loved this material because it pushed people not just to the cross of Christ but also towards one another. The small groups, if run as suggested in the book, move back and forth between interaction in the group at large and discussion in smaller “micro-groups” of 2-3 people. This allows for more introverted members of the groups to still interact. It also creates a greater sense of intimacy, allowing members to open up in a deeper way to an even smaller group. These “micro-groups” are then encouraged to pray for one another and call one another during the week. This whole concept is so much better than the typical discussion-video-discussion format used by small groups. Instead of focusing on videos, groups focus on knowing each other.
The only drawback to the curriculum is its dependance on the leaders of each group. While it is set up well for leaders, if the leader is uncomfortable with the message of grace and sanctification by faith, they could accidentally derail the materail. If a church were to implement the materail, I would suggest that leaders meet together to go through the material in their own small group to familiarize themselves with the study and to be shephered through it themselves.
Overall, I would highly reccommend this material. You can see the publishers page where you can download a free chapter or purchase the book by clicking here. It is also part of a 3 book series, so in all there is 30 lessons available at this high caliber!
New Growth Press is a publisher that I support whole-heartedly. Over the next few months, I will be partnering with New Growth to give away some of their newest rescources for you and your family, so stay tuned!
Your favorite theologian has a favorite theologian. I don't care who you look up to or love to read, if they were born in the 20th century, they stand in the shadow of one man.
Bavinck was a Dutch theologian in the late 1800's and early 1900's. His works have only been translated into English and been made available in recent years. His 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics may be the best systematic theology ever written.
I was looking for something the other day in the fourth volume and came across this passage on the nature, extent, and purpose of Church Discipline. Bavinck's 6 pages on the subject are clearer and more precise than many large books on the topic. You can read the excerpt by clicking here.
A few weeks ago, at the General Assembly an overture was passed that if validated by 2/3 of the presbyteries will outlaw the practice of communion by intinction. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, intinction is when you dip the bread into the wine. I was strongly opposed to this overture. I personally support intinction and if I was planting a church it is highly likely this would be the mode of communion used. While on the floor for debate and since then on “the internets” debate has gone on over the merits (or demerits) of intinction.
For the most part the debate has been civil. There has been little name-calling and motive-judging. There has even been a minimum of “strange fire” references, though Uzzah has come up pretty frequently. Some of the strongest frustration with the intinction crowd have been voiced over at a blog called Green Baggins. Some of the best debate has taken place in the comments section of Vintage '73. I never really knew about V73 until this debate came up.
The debate seems to be shaping up along these lines. Those against the practice are careful to point out that Jesus command was to “eat” and to “drink”. Wanting to be careful observers of Christ words, they insist that dipping fails to meet the test of “drinking”. Those opposed to intinction will often then point to not only Jesus actions recorded in the gospels, but also to the repeated use of the phrase “eating and drinking” in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. This is, I will admit a strong argument. If you want a fuller picture of the argument, I recommend the Ohio Presbytery study committee's report and the response to it.
Those who want to defend intinction have put forth a few arguments thus far, a few of which are good, but probably aren't going to change anyones mind. Often, defenders of intinction will jump to the atomistic reading of the Lord's Supper texts and point out that no one else's practices are perfect either. They point out the substitution of grape juice for wine and the various types of bread used. This is true, but pointing out others inconsistencies isn't, ultimately, going to get anywhere in the long run. The argument's about the “common cup” largely fall into this same category. Some argue the practical nature of intinction, which is nice, but quickly is dismissed as practicality trumping Standards. Some other folks oppose the overture, citing the fact that this should fall under the category of things that the Bible is indifferent to (also called adiaphora). This is often met with loud cries of “are you saying the sacraments don't matter?!?” This often sidetracks the argument.
I would like to suggest a different argument in favor of intinction. I am not suggesting that it is adiaphora or practically beneficial. I would like to suggest that intinction is, in fact, biblically and confessionally a good form of the Lord's Supper. (Just a side note, I am working off of the paradigm the PCA currently uses allowing both pouring and sprinkling as normative means of baptism [BOCO 56]. Each of these different sacramental actions pictures a different nuance of baptism, and yet both are normative) A lot of attention has been paid to the “eat the bread and drink the cup” portions of the words of institution. I would like to suggest that more emphasis needs to be paid to the “Do this in remembrance of Me” part of the sacrament. Whenever we take communion we are proclaiming the Lord's death until His return. A separate bread and cup do a fine job calling to mind the last supper and the future marriage supper of the Lamb. However, when it comes to remembering the death of our Lord, intinction is a superior sign. A bloody sop of bread is a vivid and nearly gruesome reminder of the broken body and poured out blood of our Savior. Remember WLC 163 says that part of the sacrament is a “sensible sign”. See-Smell-Taste-Touch-Hear. Intinction is a strong, if not stronger than traditional “passing plate” communion, sensible sign. Ultimately Jesus was not commanding us to particularly remember the last supper when we take of the Lord's Table, He was commanding us to remember his death, which stands as short hand for his entire ministry on our behalf.
Last week, I wrote about the apps that I use on a regular basis on my iOS devices, my iPad and iPhone. This week I would like to tell you how I present using these same devices. When I tell people that I have ditched my laptop and gone to just an iPad, they often ask what I do about presentations. For around $50 you can turn your iPhone/iPad combo into a very solid presentation setup.
First, you need to purchase a few things. You’ll need a VGA adapter (or HDMI, depending on your projector/TV). Apple makes just such an adapter here and you can pick them up at Best Buy as well. Additionally, you will need Keynote for iOS and Keynote Remote. Using this cord and these apps you can not only create, but also affectively present multimedia shows.
I typically begin on my iPad where I create my presentation. The iPad’s screen is a bit bigger so it is a better choice for creating the Keynote. I also utilize the “4-finger swipe” function to jump between places I am to copy and paste.
I then use Apple’s built in iCloud functionality to sync the presentation to my phone. I plug my phone in to the TV or projector using the adapter. Then I open Keynote Presenter on my iPad. This setup has a couple of advantages. First, the processor on my iPhone 4S is far superior to my iPad 1. Second and more importantly, I often make notes to keep me on track on my presentations. Using the phone renders these notes way to small and unusable. The application is note optimized for iPad, but even as a “double size” iPhone app, it is much better than the lilliputian iPhone screen. [Incidentally, Apple I am sure I am not the only guy who uses this setup, where are you on this, Cupertino!] So here is a diagram of my setup.
The only real limitation I have found is in imbedding media. But imbedded multimedia is so 2008.
It has been nearly 2 years since I ditched my laptop in favor of an Apple iPad. The transition has been great and I haven’t looked back once. I get questions from other guys in ministry on how I am able to get everything done that I use to. So I thought I might walk you through what apps I use and how I get most things done. I use my iPad where ever I am and I have a Mac Mini in my office. Here is my “Starbucks Desk”
The first thing I would recommend is the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. It is super-durable and the batteries last forever. In fact, I haven’t changed the batteries since Christmas of 2010! I also use a SF Bags keyboard sleeve to keep it safe in my bag.
But enough about the hardware, here is a list of Apps that I frequently use and how I use them.
First off, I use Apple’s Pages word processor all the time. It’s interface on the iPad is simple and quick. You can write letters, type notes, and even edit Microsoft Word Documents. You can do anything you will need to do right from Pages. It even has an excellent export function which allows you to simply choose whether you want to export your document as a PDF, .doc, or Pages document. Just one click. I have yet to have any problems with people reading things I type on my iPad. Pages cost $9.99 and is completely worth it.
Next up, if you blog, I suggest to use Blogsy. Blogsy is a great writing program which directly interfaces with your Blogger, Blogspot, WordPress.com, or WordPress.org site. I am sure it does others as well. There are two feature which set Blogsy apart. First, it uses a “two-sided” interface. On the one “side” you get to visually edit your blog. Very WYSIWYG. The other side allows you to fiddle with the html of the post. The second great thing about Blogsy is the tool bar on the right side. You can access the web, email, Youtube, Picassa, and a host of other services directly from the sidebar. This makes inserting media into your posts a snap. If you like to blog, it’s worth the $2.99. (I used Blogsy to create the entirity of this post)
For reading and annotating PDF and other documents, I use Good Reader. GoodReader will set you back $3 and will become your default program in meetings. Our session and Presbytery have gone paperless and Good Reader makes this a synch! You can inport the files directly from your Google Docs, Dropbox, Sugarsync, and even Gmail accounts. Once you set these up, it will automatically search them for documents and you just tell it where to file them. You can create a filing system within your Good Reader so things are easy to find. I also have my administrative assistant scan in commentaries when I preach, import them through Good Reader, and annotate them as I study.
The last reading/writting tool I want to highlight is Circus Ponies Notebook. If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with Circus Ponies. Notebook is their all in 1 productivity suite for the iPad. It comes with a heavy price tag ($29.99) but has some great features. You can create notebooks that include a mixture of imported PDF and .docs, your text, and drawings. I have found the more document heavy a notebook is, the glitchier it becomes. The real jewel of Notebook is its heirachical outlining system, where you can simply indent items underneath others, then colapse them into their parent. In addition to this helpful feature, when your iPad is in landscape view, you can view and edit 2 pages at the same time. I use this as I develop sermons to go from a long-form study notes to an extensive outline/manuscript, then to a preaching outline. I typically preach from a Notebook.
First up, the ESV bible App. This App is the simplest and cleanest way to read scripture. The font is perfect size and you can navigate from book to book quickly. Not bad for a free app.
If I am doing a more in depth study of a passage, I am a big fan of Accordance. Since I am a Mac user in the office, I have a pretty decent amount of Accordance modules. Any module or rescource you purchase on your mac is available on yout iPad and vice-versa. Accordance’s languages interface is a great on the go rescource if you want to dig into the Greek and Hebrew of a passage where ever you are at. The Accordance app is free, but the modules and resources can get pricey. I have other friends who have Logos and rave about it’s iOS app too. Pick your pleasure.
PrayerNotes is a simple interface you can use to keep track of prayer request and answers. I like to use it to divide my prayer time up over a week. It has categories for requests and an export function that allows you to send others portions of your prayer list as a text or email. Kind of handy. The app is free, but has advertisements. These distracting ads can be removed for $.99. Worth the buck for sure.
Speaking of prayer, I like to use the Book of Common Prayer for my daily Bible reading. Mission St. Clare has an excellent, free app which allows you to read the daily office without the page turning and book switching. Quite handy. Mission St. Clare also links to the Episcopal Church in Garret County, Maryland who post an audio podcast of the daily office each morning. Another sweet way to spend time with Christ.
Calendar: As far as I can tell, there is no better calendar app for the iPad then the one that comes pre-loaded on it already. The best thing to do with this app is to hook it up to your Google calendar and let Google do the juggling. I haven’t had any trouble with this and it adds a key function: I can give other people access to my schedule. This means the administrative assistants at the church can see my schedule and even add apointments to it directly from their computers. Google syncs it all using their potent internet magics. Viola! I am well scheduled.
In addition I have recently started using 2Do: Tasks done in style. This app typically costs $9.99, but I found it on sale for just a buck! For me, it has replaced Apple’s native Reminders program. It does everything Reminders does (including interfacing with Siri and iCloud) but in a much richer environment. You can choose from 5 different themes, which are far better than Apples spartan black and white look. Additionally, you have far more options in creating and customizing reminders.
Finally, Evernote. Evernote is a sort of Swiss Army Knife application. In it’s simplest form, it is a note keeping program. However, It has so many functions, I have not even scratched the surface of it’s power. It syncs with a free desktop application for Mac or PC. You can create check lists, notes to share via a live link, cooperative multimedia documents, and a bunch of other stuff. Best I can tell, there is not limit to what you can do with Evernote, and the more you use it the more you love it!
These are the programs that I use on a weekly basis in ministry, what would you add to the list? Let me know if you have any questions!
Next week, I will show you how I create, project, and control Keynote presentations using just my iOS devices.
Last time I talked about my yard, I spoke of the struggle I have seeing the big picture as I stare at the details. That’s not the only thing running through my head as I mow.
I also absolutely love to mow the yard. It is one of the only things in my life that is measurable and achievable. One of the great difficulties of a minister is struggling with the fact that there is very little, if any, objective measuring stick to my work.
When I was in management with Starbucks, they had a very strong system of objective accountability. If you had good labor to cash ratios, if you generated a proper number of transactions per half hour, if your secret shoppers worked out well, you were doing a good job. Even when I was telemarketing, you could measure my strength – more like weakness – by the number of leads I was turning into sales. All of us, my self included (maybe foremost), love to know we are doing a good job. We love to exceed expectations.
As a minister, there is simply no objective measurement of ministry. Jeremiah was called to a people who wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t convert. Jesus didn’t have great numeric success. Furthermore, Jesus own disciples didn’t understand his mission and scattered at his arrest. If we measured the breadth or depth of Christ ministry…he was not a huge success.
So there must be something else.
But even me searching for something else betrays a certain idolatry. I worship success. That’s why I love to mow so much. When I am done, I sit on my porch with a beverage and take it all in. I have mowed this yard. Those blades of grass have to submit to me, Lord Justin of the Push-mower! I can see what I have done, and I take comfort in it.
In Luke chapter 10, the disciples return from their mission that Jesus sent them out on. They are excited that they have accomplished so much in Jesus name; they even boast to Christ that the demons obey them. When they mentioned Christ…of course.
Instead of responding with a round of “attaboys” Jesus subtly chides them and me. He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The disciples wanted to measure their ministry by what they had done. I want to measure my ministry by the things I have done, what I have accomplished. But Jesus roundly refuses to allow for this.
Do not rejoice that your ministry is effective, or not. Do not rejoice that your preaching is good, or not. Do not rejoice that people say really nice things to you around noon on Sunday, or not.
Rejoice that I love you. Rejoice that I love you whether or not your church is growing. Whether or not you are the greatest preacher. Whether or not you are asked to speak at big conferences.
Ministry, true/gospel ministry, must grow out of our acceptance of the Gospel. My ministry is pleasing to God, so long as it is born out of my understanding of the greatness of my sin and the even greater-ness of my redemption. If ministry flows from this in my life, my ministry won’t need any sort of objective goals or measurements.
Now if I could just get this through my thick skull.