A Note to all my Facebook friends
April 30, 2008, 7:39 am
Filed under: blogging, culture, friends, technology

Several months ago, I jumped on the social networking bandwagon that is Twitter.  For those of you who don’t know, Twitter is sort of a cross between a blog and a Facebook status update.  Except, it’s more like a Facebook status update on crack, only more addictive.  Also, you only get 140 characters to express yourself.  Many Twitterers post updates (or “tweets”) more often than they blink.

In order to streamline my digital life a little, I turned on a widget in Facebook that goes out and finds my most recent Twitter update, and turns it into my latest Facebook status update.  In so doing, though, on Facebook, it adds the words “is twittering” to the front of all my updates.  So it looks like this: “Steve is twittering: Can’t seem to find socks that match my Hanna Montana t-shirt,” or: “Steve is twittering: People challenge my masculinity for spending time “tweeting” in the “Twittersphere (and also my Hanna Montana t-shirt).”

So if you see me on Facebook, and are wondering why I’m “twittering” all the time, now you know.  I’m sorry if I annoy you.  Since we’re Facebook friends, and obviously very close as a result, just let me know if you want me to unplug the widget.  Better yet, start a Facebook group – “1,000,000 Strong to Get Steve to Stop Twittering!”

Alternatively, if you want to follow me on Twitter, look me up – my Twitter handle is also spiritfarmer.

Thank you for your attention.  I apologize that I cannot give you back the 3 minutes you just wasted in reading this.  That is all.

Church, seminary, future
April 29, 2008, 6:55 am
Filed under: blogging, campus ministry, Christendom, friends, school, the purple door, theology

Following on the recently exploded series of posts from around the blogosphere, some of us at The Purple Door were having a conversation yesterday.  Should young people avoid going to seminary now, if their degrees will ultimately be unmarketable and unhelpful in the pseudo-real world? 

My answer: maybe, maybe not.

There are (and always have been) good reasons and bad reasons to go to seminary.  First some bad reasons.  Don’t go to seminary if all you’re doing is trying to get your credentials for a professional ministry job.  Don’t go to seminary because you lack self-confidence and feel the need to have earned your place in ministry.  Don’t go to seminary in order to fix yourself.  Don’t go to seminary so that you can nail down all of your theological and doctrinal positions, so you won’t have to worry about that stuff once you’re done.  That’ll do for a starter list.  Not all (but some) of those things are completely bad, but if any one of them could be described as your “primary” reason, then I’d suggest you pray some more – perhaps not to change your direction, but more to change your motives.

Better reasons to go to seminary?  To equip you for ministry – there’s a big difference between being “qualified” (in a professional credential sense) and being equipped . . . it changes how you learn things.  To learn some theological ways of thinking that help you understand your culture (and others) and God’s work within it.  To understand the nature of people and how the life and ways of Jesus brings true Hope to all of us.  To have your theological and doctrinal positions poked and prodded and torn apart so that you have great difficulty ever putting them back together in a neat and clean systematic box again. 

So, of course, after talking about this for a while yesterday, the inevitable question was raised, since I was trash talking all the bad reasons to go to seminary . . . “O.k., Steve, so why are you going to seminary?”  My answer (94% joking) was, “So I can teach at a seminary.”  The reason I returned to school was, in part, because I’m a junkie for learning.  The truth is, the number of books I read, and the kinds of books I read, hasn’t really changed much from before I got into my current program.  At some point, the realization came that I might as well be getting some academic credit for all the work I was doing anyway.  Another reason for me, is that it was right next step for me in terms of growth – I needed the discipline of focusing my thoughts at a deeper level in order to do the research and writing.  It’s challenged me in many good ways.  I do love to learn and teach, and if someday I get to do that professionally at a college or seminary, that’d be fine.

I think it’s just really really important to question your motives if you’re considering seminary.  Are those motives internally or externally focused?  Are they for building up your career path or for building up the Kingdom of God?  Are you trying to earn permission from someone to do ministry?  Well, quit it, and just go do stuff!  If God’s given you some passions in a certain area, go serve, learn, and love.  If this is something that you think some extra education could enhance, then go get the education.  And let me say this – let it be o.k. to fail and flounder a bit.  Maybe you go pursue some passions and discover that you’re not really well suited for that . . . fine, then, on to the next thing.  But if you get that seminary degree before you’ve experimented at least a little in some of those ways, you’re gonna be hurting.

Oi!  I’ve got more to say, but this has been too long already.  I may make another run at this from a different angle later.  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  Whatever.

Timely words
April 27, 2008, 11:07 am
Filed under: books, globalization, missiology, theology

We live in a society where debt, which used to be regarded as somewhat sordid and shameful, is glitzy and glamorous, with advertisements telling us that when you own a Mastercard ‘You’ve got the whole world in your hands,’ or alternatively that Visa ‘makes the world go round.’  Both of them make claims for Mammon which, at the theoretical level, conflict directly with the claims of Jesus, and which, in practice, are very obviously lies; and yet millions believe them, and live by them.  At the global level, the problem of debt is notorious and acute, creating misery for millions while it generations millions for a tiny minority . . . I fail to see why the churches as a whole could not, as a matter of preaching the gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus, join together in naming the idol Mammon for what he is, and celebrating the love of God in Christ in his place.

– NT Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 155 (1997)

Church, Money, Future . . . still going
April 26, 2008, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Christendom, culture, friends, globalization, social action, theology

In case you’ve missed the last two posts, there’s a good conversation going, and it’s snowballing.  More voices have been added, and I have it on good authority that there’s more coming.

For now, check out the contributions by:


Daniel So

Kevin Rains

It seems to me that these conversations are both new and old.  They’re new in the sense that those of us that have come out of mainstream evangelicalism never had to ask these questions, because the structures of Christendom were still working well enough to ensure some job security, but now they’re not.  They’re old in the sense that there have always been churches and pastors serving on the margins and outside the boundaries of the empire, and have never had the luxury of job security in the first place.

Keep pushing, prodding and thinking creatively about all this.  There is reason for Hope, and our hope does not disappoint us.  But it’s hope of a different nature than we’ve seen before.

The Conversation Rolls and Grows
April 24, 2008, 10:37 pm
Filed under: culture, globalization, missiology, money, social action, theology

Oh my, things have gotten all viral up in here. After my last post on Church, Money, Future in the empire, which links to some others starting conversations about the impending recession and whatevertheheck the church and pastors are supposed to do with all of that, some others have joined the fray.

Man, there are some wise words being written . . . it’s actually a little bit overwhelming at this point. I feel like I need to go hide out and meditate on some of this for a while, just to let it sink in. A couple folks have added some thoughts off-line as well, but for now, you can check out the following for their two cents:

Aaron Klinefelter

Mark Van Steenwyk

Kimberly Knoll (Hooray for a female voice! Other ladies should feel free to join in.)

Alan Creech

Glenn Johnson

Church, Money, Future in the empire
April 24, 2008, 7:08 am
Filed under: Christendom, culture, globalization, missiology, money, theology

Well now, we’ve got us a good conversation going . . .

Chris Marshall connects some of the dots between the financial crisis that seems to be hitting the U.S. and the degree to which that reality will affect pastors and the church. 

How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can’t be fed? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can’t help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term comittments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language.

Jason adds to Chris’ thoughts with some of his own. 

It’s true. We’ve got to start thinking long term about some of this. The trends do not seem to say that we can fend this off by building bigger, regional churches. Though there is limited success there, I don’t see it being a long term fix to a growing problem. I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think the experts have many answers for us. They have too much invested in the Christendom machine. So, it’s going to be up to the rank and file folks to come up with the solutions.

Read the post AND some excellent comments. 

Mike Bishop joins the fray:

One of the questions that I think needs to be raised in our church culture is not “Are we being successful?” but rather, “Is what we are doing sustainable?”

Read what Mike writes about what sustainability looks like.

Marshall strikes again, while the iron is hot:

I encourage students (high school or college) to get degrees in fields that can support them regardless of their ministry aspirations. Get your theological training from the church community and not to see ministry as a professional, but as a missional servant. From there let God lead you and provide for you in the context. I would suspect that within 10 years due to these emerging church trends and economic realities in America that the number of vocational pastors may decrease by as much as 50%.


Good conversations, for certain.

As I work with college students, I really resonate with Marshall’s advice to students.  It’s challenging to work with a young adult who is eager to pursue Kingdom living in her or his life, and wants to give her/himself fully to that in vocation – I want to encourage that, and stimulate it even more . . . but I have this gnawing in the back of my brain that says, “And what are you going to do ten years from now when the seminary degree you have your hopes set on isn’t worth anything in the job market, and you’ve got bills to pay?”  I don’t want to crush them, but I’ve known way too many pastors who have struggled to support their families financially because an MDiv doesn’t cut it in the business world. 

Some seminaries out there, including my own, have done a decent job of reshaping their academic curricula to be more responsive to what’s going on in the emerging culture.  I think they need to go another step or two farther – eliminate a church administration or preaching or Hebrew class requirement, and build in a sort of double major, so that they graduate with an MDiv AND an IT certification, or an accounting degree, or whatever.  Something that hints at marketability when they end up being bi-vocational anyway.

My other take on all this is that while many of us have woken up to the nightmare aftermath of Christendom, far fewer of us have woken up to the nightmare present of the empire we live under.  I’m not talking about the good ‘ol USA, either.  I’m talking about the global capitalistic machine – the one that transcends borders and languages, and law in a lot of cases.  The one that demands development, the creation of wealth, consumerism, and ultimately our souls.  The tricky part is that unless we just pick up and move outta Dodge to some farm in Nebraska where we can be completely “off the grid” (which, by the way, isn’t exactly missional), we are forced into participating in the machine.  There are tons of things to do to improve this scenario, but we need to start by helping more and more people realize what’s at stake.

The empire is cracking right now, and there may be dark days ahead.  But I don’t think that will last for long.  I think there are a ton of smart (and greedy) people who will figure stuff out eventually.  While we do struggle in the here and now, though, let’s remember that this represents a unique opportunity to live out a counter-cultural Kingdom reality.  Right now, when our wallets (and gas tanks) are empty, we have much less convincing to do when we talk about the lack of real hope that money and power provide.  We have the opportunity to live a joyful, free lifestyle, which shows where our dependence lies, where our true Hope lies.  And that’s where we live out our faith – the kind of faith that is

“being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Even while we may have bills to pay in this empire, we can think of it in terms of “rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  But if our allegiance is to a government of a different order, and the King of that domain, then we live a life of freedom, indeed.

Idealism and Shame
April 23, 2008, 8:04 am
Filed under: blogging, culture, friends, globalization, India, social action, theology

There have been some quite lively discussions going on in various blogs I track  lately.  Mostly over gender issues in the church.  I have my own set of opinions about the role of women in ministry/church/world, and my own set of opinions about what masculinity and femininity looks like.  Everybody does.  But one of the sentences I’ve heard a few times in the conversations is, “This isn’t an issue of interpretation, this is an issue of justice.”  I agree with that statement, and frankly, I think we’re only beginning to even understand how to frame our conversations and our responses about this . . . but . . .

Unfortunately, that statement isn’t the only one I agree with.  You see, I’ve also been reading some headlines, articles, and blogs on the growing food crisis around the  world.  This, too, is a hugely important issue, and one that is about justice more than farming or economics.  At other times, I’ve seen and participated in conversations about health care for poor children in the U.S. –  yep, you guessed it – it’s a justice issue.  The environmental crisis that a lot of folks were thinking about yesterday (Earth Day)?  Conflicts in the Middle East?  The persecuted monks in Myanmar?  The caste system in India that we are campaigning against?  All justice issues.  You might see where I’m going with this – there are issues of justice (and the lack thereof) everywhere we turn.  And like it or not, none of us has the capacity to learn about, much less care about, much less rally for all the issues of justice that are going on in our world.

We are finite creatures – ’nuff said.  Right?  Well, no, actually, we don’t get off that easy.  Apparently finitude is not an excuse.  Because when most people raise the rally call for whatever issue of justice they’re campaigning for, the tactic we frequently use is shame.  “How can you just sit there, while xyz is happening in the world?”  “How can you be so apathetic to this tragedy?”  Sound familiar?

Shame is effective.  It gets some people off their butts and active in important issues.  It can bring about repentance in areas of willful ignorance.  But shame is also a pretty lousy friend.  It’s a crappy way to live your life.

It can be really overwhelming to read the headlines and want to do something to help in so many different ways.  But can I offer some humble advice?  Give yourself a little bit of a break.  Ease off on the shame game – remember that feeling that shame is a choice.  Let me be very very clear – I’m not saying to quit caring.  Humble advice again?  Pick a small handful of causes that strike a chord in your heart – whether it’s sex-trafficking, AIDS, extreme poverty – and dive in on those.  Study, discuss, spread the word, protest, sacrifice, and above all, pray.  Let your passion for these projects run wild.  And then, the next time someone tries to shame you into activism for their cause, kindly listen, offer a prayer for them and their work, and walk on.  It’s hard.  You’re always going to want to do more.

St. Paul talks about this in what is perhaps his most famous chapter of writing – 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.”  You can work yourself to the bone, give yourself away to others, do all the right things in life, but if love isn’t at the root of it all, it’s worthless.  Love, in some ways, must be limited, though.  There are choices to be made.  You can only love a few things really deeply.  But if it’s love, and not shame that’s driving you, everyone will be better for it.

With all that said, I could be wrong here.  If you disagree, or want to nuance this a bit, please comment away.  I’m open to critique on this.