Monday, May 16, 2011

This Summer Pastor John Shall Read

Turns out the books on ministry were right: it does take between 3 and 5 years to establish your ministry as a pastor in an established church. In my case, I think it took the entire five years. Now, contemplating the end of my sixth year at Zion, and the beginning of my sixth summer here, I look back and wonder where all the time went. I simply don’t recall having time to read during the summer before. It seems the first summer we were having a baby and after that we were always completely redoing all the programming or running at a frantic pace to try and get the right people to the right places or raise the necessary revenue to continue the ministry. But this year is different. This summer, Pastor John shall read.

I’m looking forward to reading again. It seems like it’s been ages since I had time to read. It doesn’t help that I’m a slow reader, a fact complicated by my need to stop and take notes and think things through.

So I have a big pile of books on my desk in my study at home. They’ve been accumulating throughout the year. I’d like to share my reading list with you in part to invite you to read along with me, but also so that you will know what I’m thinking about and mulling over this summer.

1, The Bible. Yes, it’s true. I’ll be reading the Bible. I’ve decided to try a radically different translation, however. I’ll be reading Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It claims to be the Bible in today’s English so I’ll be interested to see how reading the old, old story with updated words will affect me. I look forward to new insights.

2. Building A Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz. I’ve quoted DeYmaz in my blog from a recent podcast he did. He referenced his own book and I bought it right away. I’ve started it already and I think the insights are extremely helpful for where we are as a church that is being integrated by God and for what I think He has in store for us in the not so distant future. Last Wednesday night I referenced DeYmaz’s list of seven things we must do to integrate the church during my sermon. This is very thought provoking stuff and I’m particularly grateful for his astonishing exegesis of John 17. I’m grateful to have recently joined DeYmaz’s Mosaix network of churches who are intentionally integrating different races.

3. Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. The subtitle is: “The Alternative Gospel of the American Church.” Been on my desk for a year, I think. Recently re-recommended by a reader of this blog. I’ve seen it referenced elsewhere and I look forward to delving in. I assume, (which is always dangerous!) that it will tell me the church has left behind the teachings of Jesus for either customer service, entertainment, or cultural accommodation. I think that might be true in many cases. My fear is always that we tend to paint with too broad a brush and wind up cursing what God is blessing. I’ve seen so many people come to faith in Christ because they were attracted by the “parlor tricks” we sometimes play at church in order to make it interesting. At the end of the day, however, what got them in the door wasn’t what saved them. They met Jesus. So I’m interested to see this book’s take on the relationship between throwing a good party (Jesus was always going to parties) and straight forward, no nonsense biblical preaching.

4. Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind, given to me by one of the great teachers in our school district. The subtitle is: “What Being Poor Does to Kid’s Brains and What Schools Can Do About It.” I’m intrigued. I wouldn’t have chosen this book off the shelf, but since it comes from a respected colleague in the fight to teach kids about Jesus, I will devour it this summer. I want to make sure that our attitude to teaching the kids in poverty who come to our church is godly. I suppose I fear that maybe my presuppositions about education are incorrect. So I look forward to the challenge this book might present.

5. The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. One of the associations we belong too sent it to me for free and I was intrigued. I’d heard about it from a good friend before. The subtitle declares: “A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives.” I hope it does. I’m tired of wasting time watching the same folks live out the same scenarios over and over again. Sometimes I think our congregations are only interested in what the church will give them, i.e., a good youth program. They don’t seem to be affected by what we preach at all. If they comment at all it’s because we taught them some new fact about 1st century Judaism they didn’t know before. They don’t say, “Wow. That teaching from the Bible changed my life.” I simply don’t know how to preach to people who think they know it all but whose lives appear to be joyless and devoid of sacrifice, cross carrying, struggle, or peace. So, needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s inside this one.

6. George Barna’s Revolutionary Parenting. Turns out, the problem with kids these days might well be their parents. We believe putting our kids in the right situations will make them the right kinds of people. But there is so much more to raising a “spiritual champion.” Lately, I’ve been shocked by the parents who seem so out of touch with what their kids are actually doing. “My child would never do that!” But it seems as if the kids are teaching each other and the parents are completely out of the mix. Kids in our church are having oral sex and saying it isn’t real sex; they are soliciting sex on FaceBook; they are “sexting;” they are bullying each other and figuring out how to guilt their peers into doing what they want. We need some heart to heart talks with parents and I have to have some information to share. So this is a start. Wish me luck. :) I want my own kids to be spiritual champions. Don’t you?

7. Swedish novels by such authors as Kjell Erickson and Henning Mankell. You could say that it’s good to read something besides church stuff. But what fascinates me about these novels (and I have three on the docket), is how they are filled with anxiety and hopelessness, especially when it comes to death. Here are a couple of quotes to show what I mean:

“He said silent, agitated prayers - not really to any god, but more to himself, urging himself to resist, to not allow himself to be dragged down into eternal silence.”

“I can feel death tugging me at me. The earth is pulling me down. Sometimes, when I wake up during the night, just before the agony gets so bad that I need to scream, I have time to ask myself if I’m scared of what lies in store. I am.”

In these novels there is no relationship with God. No Jesus. No hope. No salvation. After living in Europe, I can tell you they are accurate indicators where many, many people are in terms of their understanding about what death is. It is silence. It is non-being. It is over. Wow. How tragic.

I feel I must be continually reminded about how Europeans just 10-20 years old than I feel about death. Hopeless. I feel this is important because I believe as a culture we shall soon be there. In my brief life of ministry, spanning some 20 plus years now, I have met so many people older than I who attend church regularly but who seem to have no peace when it comes to their mortality. I cannot comment harshly, as I am younger and, people argue, less likely to die soon. But I also remember the day I made peace with death through Jesus Christ. I remember Jesus assuring me it wasn’t something to worry about. And that, in fact, is what Scripture tells us. So I read these kind of novels so as not to loose touch with the audience we need to reach with the hope and peace and love and joy of Jesus Christ.

8. The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America, by Gabe Lyons. I bought this book in the winter and took it on our vacation to Florida but never got to read much of it. The idea behind the book is that the emphasis of churches is changing. Many churches will die out because they are self centered. But there are many churches who are finding Jesus is leading them into a glorious future full of hope. These are churches that are both deep in their teaching and effective in their local outreaches. They make a spiritual difference in the lives of their members and make a real impact in their city. I plan to finish the book this summer.

9. Here’s a real classic. My wife recently read it in one of her group studies. The Christian’s Secret of A Happy Life.” Written by Hannah Whitall Smith in 1952, it’s a classic. But good books are timeless. So I look forward to her advice. If Christian’s need anything in 2011, it’s joy.

10. The last book is all about me and for me. So I may very well read it first. But I doubt it. For years I’ve been trying to find a way to have a healthy lifestyle as a preacher. Food, it appears, is my downfall. Growing up, food was a reward. It was the thing you got when the work was done, when you’d done a good job. I put on a 100 pounds at my last church because I didn’t eat dinner until late at night - when the work was done. For almost a decade I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to take it off. It’s hard to believe that I was once tall, tan, thin and blond. But I have pictures! So I’m reading Eat Your Way to a Healthy Life, by Ed and Elisa McClure. The McClure’s are from Texas and I wish I was there now. He ate bbq (without sauce) for the first 100 pounds. Being a preacher presents a time challenge as far as food prep is concerned (we have early morning, lunch, and evening meetings). Also, as far as money is concerned, fresh food costs more and let’s face it, it’s far, far more convenient to the schedule to eat out. So I have a lot to learn and am looking forward to it.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to suggest books I should read or share what you will be reading this summer. God bless. PJ

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