Monthly Archives: May 2006

Tent Caterpillars: The 11th Plague

Last summer we moved to Vermont after the descent of the tent caterpillar menace. Now we are right in the thick of it.

Tent caterpillars are brown caterpillars that eat up all of the leaves, weave webs everywhere, and litter the ground. They make a distinct munching sound while doing their awful work. Soon many of our leaves will be devoured. I HATE THEM. I STEP ON ONE EVERY TIME I HAVE A CHANCE.

We are in the third year of the cycle, the last and worst of them all. Then we have a 14 year reprieve. So we have heard that is. Hopefully they’ll be gone by July.

Taking a walk in the evening is a rather disgusting affair. Webs are always wrapping around your face and legs. We come out of the woods around here with little web bits streaming from our hair. Yuck! It’s disgusting.

One person I know hates the caterpillars so much that she tries to stomp down on one end of the bug so hard that it’s innards squirt out the other side. She has told me about this game three times.

Ah, so while Vermont is still a lovely place to be, we certainly do feel like we’re suffering under a Biblical plague.

PS By the way, with our torrential rains last night came a small army of frogs onto the roads as well. They were not as numerous as the caterpillars, but still made for an eerie drive home amidst the carnage of squished frog guts. Just imagine the wake behind Egyptian carts back in the day.

Ministry (part four)

After wrapping up this little series that has gone on for too long, I have decided that the maximum number of posts that I can handle in a series is 3. After 3 I become too scatter-brained and begin to look for ideas elsewhere. So here is the conclusion of my little series of thoughts on ministry. I’ll be wrapping up with the final two questions that I posted in my original list:

Are we neglecting the ministries of any parts of the body of Christ?
Does the church need to redefine “ministry” and who the experts on ministry are?

I may have already made my case sufficiently in the third post of this series, but for the sake of tying up some loose ends, here are a few more thoughts:

It is very easy for Christian leaders as well as lay Christians to become enamored with a desire to have an official, church sanctioned “ministry.” Whether it’s a children’s ministry, home group, or greeting ministry, all are connected with a church in some way and therefore seem to qualify as a ministry.

While these ministries have merit in their place and context, I have been wondering if the church has neglected the ministries of its lay people in their daily lives. Have we only prepared Christians to minister within the walls of the church and not in their daily contact with the world? Have we inadvertantly limited our potential for ministry?

In addition, do we only recognize professional church ministers when we speak of ministry? Though many churches are inclined to say that everyone is a minister, we certainly have created some kind of ministry hierarchy where the paid minister is above those who squeeze in ministry in their spare time.

If anything, I believe the church needs to build up people where they are at and push them to find out how God wants to use them. Instead of snatching Christians into the ministry during weekday evenings and weekends, I think it’s far more sensible to encourage them in their present context. Are they in a book club? Are they in a writing or sewing group? Do they have a home where the neighborhood kids gather? Let’s think about ways to be a redemptive influence in these contexts, living out the Kingdom of God. One need not preach to have a ministry.

The key word for me in all of this is “incarnation.” How can we incarnate the love and salvation of God into our context?

Three Days in New Jersey

Only Mac’s wedding was enough to drag us out of Vermont on Memorial Day weekend. We were sad to leave because Arlington had a book and plant sale, but alas friends must come first. So here are some highlights from our time in the state that will soon be formerly known as the Garden State.

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Dan and Holly Got Married: For once in my life I can say that I saw it coming for someone else. The first time we met Holly at a cell group gathering and saw how she interacted with Dan, we knew it was meant to be. It’s so nice to be right! The wedding was simple, elegant, and seemed to reflect the bride and groom very well. This picture clipping shows them riding off into the sunset (i.e. leaving the church) to the tune of Bonanza.

Though the music at the reception wasn’t our style, it was quite fun watching other people dance to it . . . or try to do all of the steps and collide. Besides, we were there to catch up with all of my New Jersey cronies. It’s great to see who’s married, who has a kid, and so on.

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Ministry (part three)

Continuing with some thoughts on ministry:

Who are the teachers and respected practioners telling the church how to do ministry? What is the effect of this on the church?

This is an area where I must tread softly, lest I am misunderstood.

Going back to my first question: “What is ministry?” I mentioned that ministry is often characterized as a professional, full-time minister in a church or parachurch organization. How do we know this? Because people often speak of going “into the ministry,” and this almost always means professional ministry. In addition, the vast majority of the books out there on Christian ministry are by pastors of large congregations. Publishers who are looking for people with “ministry experience” want to see a list of churches where a person has served. “Salt and light at a local business” does not count. In addition, if you attend a conference on ministry, who else speaks but pastors and other full-time ministry leaders?

OK, here’s where things get dicey. My theory is that the church is operating with some limitations or blind spots. Not to discredit the wonderful teachings of many full-time pastors and ministers of local churches . . . but. But our teachings on ministry are heavily weighted to one side, the pastoral side. I would never say that a pastor in full-time ministry has nothing to say to his congregation working in secular jobs and trying to be salt and light . . . but . . . we are missing something. They have much to teach us and they have an important role to fulfill, but we are limiting ourselves.

This is perhaps one of the greatest reasons why blogs are so good for the church. Now I can read about the struggles, encouragement, and thoughts of Christians who are following Jesus amidst the rigors of daily life outside the confines of church. The church desperately needs to hear from its lay members who are working in secular environments, not just the professionals in ministry.

Where I’m Coming From
For three years I worked in a church. Before that I was very involved in a church as a volunteer, helping out with a bunch of ministries. I have spent a lot of time in church. Lots.

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Christians Who Don’t Fight Nice

I have been working on a future series of blog posts that deals with some of my concerns about the evangelical church today. Perhaps more than anything, I am worried about how we debate and confront one another. Discussions about disagreements turn into arguments and then it’s just a competition to see who can excommunicate the other one first.

This is what happens when your identity as a church becomes wrapped up in doctrine.

I have been quite rude and offensive at times when engaged in a theological debate/argument, and I know of numerous occasions where friends of mine grew equally unruly.

But I was looking for an example from Christian blogs of how poorly some Christians carry on debates, or should I say, try to preemptively win debates by bamboozling everyone with their exhorbitantly long statements and then acting like the issue is settled, demanding that all bow down to their view or be damned.

And then Ed Enoch stopped by tallskinnykiwi. It’s guys like Ed that make me wonder why we don’t have a written exam for people on blog-protocal before allowing them online. In a series of comments, Ed embodies many of the things I dislike about Christian debate. He’s the Chairman of the Evangelical Debate Society by the way.

I’m not saying that I’ve never employed some of his rude and combative tactics, I have. But I’ve been trying to get away from this kind of debate for some time now. I know there will always be Christians who fight with their gloves off, but they should not be pictured as the ideal. I think we can disagree in a gracious manner without burning our bridges . . .

or pasting lengthy theological papers in the comment section of someone else’s blog.

The Trials of a Small Town in Vermont

After living in the Philly burbs for most of my life, I am nearing the completion of my first year in Vermont. One of the best parts about living in Vermont is the small town atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else (unless you’re in Burlington I suppose). I can hardly go into Manchester and not see someone I know. The same is generally true for my wife in Arlington. Yesterday I had my first taste of how a small town confronts tragedy.

It’s not a full-blown tragedy yet, but it’s bad enough. A well-respected person in town who has done a lot of good for so many people has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I have worked with this person on some projects and hold her in a high regard as do so many others. She passed the news along to me yesterday and I was dumb struck, shared my sympathy, and offered to pray for her. What else could I do?

Barely forcing down the rest of my lemonade afterwards, I thought of how heavy her burden must be at this point. Many in town know, and she had to go through the same sequence of events with others as she did with me. She may still have to repeat the same scene with many others in town. And as more people in town find out, she’ll have more people who are shocked and awkwardly stumble around for the right words to say. She may cringe at the well-intentioned, but inappropriate words that are shared.

And there is one of the trials of living in a small town. It’s not exactly a draw back, as much as it is a trial. Anonymity is hard to come by. Depending on how well-known you are, your pain will be exposed for many to see, and you will have share and reshare it with almost everyone at one point or another. You cannot just leave it alone and hide. It will be right there before you and everyone else in town.

My heart goes out to this person who shared her bad news with me yesterday. The prayer God gave to me was for her to finish her course well. I pray that by God’s grace it she will find new life even while she watches her time on earth come to its conclusion.

Ministry (part two)

Continuing the series on ministry, the next question is:

Does the whole church take ownership for ministry?

Answering this question requires my first question: What is ministry? If my broad definition, the work of the Lord, is accepted, then the conversation will take a very different turn from the possibilities that accompany a narrow defintion: ministry is limited to the work of the organized church and clergy. Many Christians probably live somewhere in between the two. They do not consider their jobs, hobbies, or relationships to be worthy of the categorizing of ministry. Though some surely do think of these things as ministry, the bloated collection of “ministries” at many churches suggests otherwise.

Unless enlisted in a church-sponsored activity, I did not consider myself to be in ministry. Of course moving a few times and struggling to find a church causes a quick reevaluation of unquestioned assumptions.

Joe Meyers, author of The Search to Belong, talks about the need for churches to start “counting” activities outside of church as viable connection points. The church does not need to create new connection points if they are happening elsewhere. The best thing a church can do in this case is to nurture these natural events and do all that it can to make these moments meaningful. I believe the same holds true for ministry.

The church does not need to start minitries as much as it needs to encourage and network its people in their ministries. There certainly are times when the church should come together to initiate a ministry, but if churches are good at anything, it’s reinventing the wheel.

What if churches encouraged and resourced young people to blog and use media in order to provide a Christian voice online? Not to proselytize, but to be salt and light, sharing our love for Jesus in our blogs, web sites, and media so that others can have a taste of Him and take a step closer to the God who has been reaching out to them all along. What if book groups, knitting groups, or any other group already happening, were given some informal help from someone in the church who understands group dynamics and helps that meeting become a success? What if churches really took the time to learn about the work places of their people and helped them live out the Gospel in that context.

There’s no need to create more ministries in most cases. A little research into a community, the people in the congregation, and a revisioning of how to support one another could go a long way. There will always be certain ministries that only a church can provide, and so it’s always good to proceed with caution. Yet, a good first step is to affirm the vital importance of each Christian who is in ministry, and we all are.