Transformation-in-text-webpage-711x200.jpgA few months ago, I met with a counselor as part of a ministry assessment for a spiritual formation class. He noticed that I had some unresolved issues that were affecting my behavior and recommended that I meet with a therapist. My initial thought was, “Thanks for the concern, but no thanks.” I had grown up with the impression that, since my sin had been forgiven, I simply needed to pray and have more faith when I felt into habitual sin.

Upon reflecting, though, I felt a deep sense responsibility to deal with my pain and sin. I knew I was headed for pastoral ministry, and I felt that I needed to do everything in my power to receive healing for the sake of my future congregation. I started meeting with a counselor and have begun to deal with deep-seated anxiety.

In the church where I grew up, my pastors did not place much emphasis on the their self-care; their priority was caring for the congregants. The congregants’ spiritual growth took precedence over their own.

It seems to me that my pastors’ mindset is a common one in the church. But is it the most biblical? After reading James’ W. Thompson book Pastoral Ministry According to Paul, I don’t think so.

Thompson explains that one of the primary roles of the Christian minister is to be a model of transformation. Drawing from the letter to the Philippians, Thompson explains that Christians live in anticipation of the complete transformation into the likeness of Christ at his return. In the meantime, they are transformed into his likeness as they identify increasingly with the cross, learning to love each other more (Thompson 2006, 50-53). This present transformation (sanctification) has begun in their baptism—their “death to sin and new existence in Christ,” as Romans 6—8 explains. Thus, to be sanctified, the church community must live in this new reality of baptism. The goal of ministers is “to guide the community toward this transformation” (101-105), and one of the primary ways they do that is by modeling it themselves (51, 161). The pastor, then, must be the Christian par excellence.

This picture of the pastor differs from many contemporary models. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of pastors’ failings. In recent months, Mark Driscoll’s intimidation tactics made headlines across the evangelical world. Even more recently, we heard about Heather Cook, an Episcopal bishop, killing a bicyclist while texting and driving intoxicated. We generally denounce such shortcomings, but often the root of them is not sought out.

A more socially acceptable trend is the pastor as the epitome of brokenness. Some churches, it seems, place more importance on the pastor’s transparency about his weaknesses—being a “sinner redeemed by grace”—than on his sanctification—being transformed more and more into Christ’s image. To be sure, sin does not disqualify a pastor, and it is commendable for her to be open about it (with discernment, of course), but she must also constantly seek to grow out of sinful habits—to mortify the flesh (Rom 8:13).

Both the high-profile sins and the romanticized brokenness of pastors are symptoms of the same problem: we as a church have often forgotten that ministers are to be models of the cross-shaped life. In some cases, we have valued the growth and administration of the church over the pastor’s personal needs, resulting in his burnout-fueled transgression. The self-care of the pastor has taken a back seat to the needs of the congregation, so there is little emphasis on his accountability and discipleship. In other cases, the doctrine of grace has been distorted to the point that the pastor who is struggling with habitual sin continues to lead, in spite of the hurt caused to herself and those around her.

I think that Thompson’s application of Paul reminds us that the best thing a pastor can do for her congregation is care for herself. Having died to sin and been raised to life in Christ, she should be an example to her parishioners in her present transformation, as she looks forward to her ultimate transformation at his return.

This blog was written by Phil Landin, a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his class on Pastoral Theology.

paul-preachingOk, I’ll admit it. I love seminary. I love the academics, the intellectual challenge, the camaraderie, the diversity…everything. That’s probably a good thing because I have at least three-and-a-half years to go! I don’t even mind playing the role of “oldest guy in the class,” something that happens with increasing frequency.

When I tell people that I started seminary when I was 55 and am now 57, and that I’ll be 61 or 62 when I finish, inevitably I get one of two reactions followed almost always by the same question. The reactions are either: “Really?” which is usually accompanied by a raised eyebrow, or “Wow, that’s cool.” And then the question: “So, what will you do when you’re done?”

I have to say that I almost always dodge that question with something like: “We’ll see what God has in mind,” or “You know, it’s a ways off and I’m just taking it one step at a time,” or even an occasionally honest “I really don’t know.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt my call to ministry, nor do I doubt that the God-directed events in my life have led me to this point. It’s just that I have never really been able to articulate what it means to be a pastor in the 21st century. In other words, being a pastor means different things to different people, and every time I get asked the question “What will you do when you’re done?” I have to determine what it means to me. And I have never been able to give myself a good answer. At least not until now.

Enter the book Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision by James W. Thompson. The author addresses the issue of what it means to be a pastor from the apostle Paul’s perspective. He starts with the premise that Paul’s pastoral mission is relevant today and then dissects his letters to determine Paul’s pastoral theology, that is, the foundation and purpose for Paul’s ministry and, by extension, ours (and mine!). His answer is this: “ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is ‘blameless’ at the coming of Christ” (p. 20). Quite the mouthful…and quite the task.

The thing that strikes me here is that pastoral ministry is fundamentally communal in nature. Certainly pastors work with individuals and should cherish personal identity and God-given dignity, but Paul’s emphasis, as noted by Thompson, is on the “community’s role in transformation“(p. 46). While individuality may be an underpinning, Paul nonetheless admonishes believers to “strive together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

Does this mean that pastors are some sort of coach, pushing their team to victory? Well, I don’t think so.

I’m old enough to remember that a scrappy tight end named Mike Dyczko (Ditka) transformed the Chicago Bears from mediocrity to Super Bowl champs in three short years. He’d be the first to tell you that he did it by the sheer force of his will.

Similarly, I remember Phil Jackson being plucked from the Continental Basketball Association by the Chicago Bulls and ultimately winning six championships over nine years. He transformed the team, if not basketball itself, with his “Zen” approach

So if our focus is on the transformation of the community of faith, are we called to be pastoral Mike Ditkas or Phil Jacksons? Well, I don’t think so. Because for me (and Thompson), pastors working to transform the community of faith can rely not on the force of their will or on Zen philosophy, but on the privilege that comes by being a “participant” with God in His holy work.

So, the next time someone asks me “What do you plan to do when you’re done with seminary?”, I hope I am bold enough to say “I plan to participate with God in His transforming work among the community of believers.”

This blog was written by Lou Bury, a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his class on Pastoral Theology.

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shepherd1Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, American Protestants identified four primary functions for their pastors: preaching (homiletics), planning and leading the Sunday service (liturgics), teaching the basics of the Christian faith to the young in age and the new born in Christ (catechesis), and pastoral care.

In the 1960’s, that consensus about the roles and functions of the pastor began to change. American Protestants created the “Youth Pastor,” or some derivative of it, to handle catechesis. The pastor, who traditionally prioritized ministry to youth, would no longer be responsible for their spiritual formation or pastoral care. That responsibility would be given to a younger, hipper person who presumably connected better with youth than the pastor. Back in the 70s, I was once of those guys.

More recently, American Protestants created the “Worship Pastor,” or some derivative of it, to handle liturgics. Pastors, who traditionally prioritized planning and lead Sunday services, would now be assisted or, in some cases, guided in the development of their weekly liturgies. They would even share responsibility for leading services with non-ordained individuals, a hitherto unheard of practice. One may observe that, in many cases, American Protestant congregations have given this responsibility to individuals with more training and experience in music than in liturgics or theology.

So what is now left for the typical pastor? What do American Protestants expect of their pastors? Two of the four traditional functions remain: preaching and pastoral care. If a person holds the title “Pastor” that person is expected to be able to preach and provide pastoral care when called upon to do so. Clearly, some preach more than others and some provide more pastoral care than others, but all pastors are expected to be able to fulfill those two roles.

To the traditional functions of preaching a pastoral care, a third has been added: leadership. The entrepreneurial pastor John Maxwell may not have been the first but he was one of the earlier voices encouraging pastors to develop their skills in the area of organizational leadership. His message has been heard by many. These days the words “pastor” and “leader” are used synonymously, a practice that few challenge.

Clearly, then, the role of the pastor has evolved over the past fifty to seventy-five years. Perhaps, evolved is not the right word since it conveys the idea of development and improvement. I am not sure I want to assert that the role of pastor today surpasses that of 100 years ago. Who am I to challenge the likes of Richard Baxter, James Hoppin, and Washington Gladden?

Perhaps a better word is “adapted”? The pastoral ministry has adapted to the exigencies of the ministry context and to the influences of culture. If such is the case, shall we not expect more change in the future? And what might that change look like?

One change I would love to see, especially in congregations served by one pastor, is the embrace of catechesis of high school students. Granted I write as one who enjoys hanging out with teens. Furthermore, I couldn’t have imagined hanging out with my pastor when I was in high school. Yet, all the talk about making disciples in a post-Christian context leads me to suggest that the most fertile field may be the teens in the congregation.

I would also like to see us question the assumption that pastors are necessarily the leaders of their organizations (congregations). Surely, some congregations require a pastor-leader, but might others be better served by a pastor without the gift of organizational leadership? Plus, doesn’t Scripture allow us to conclude that the gift of leadership may be granted by the Holy Spirit to some in the congregation other than the pastor?

While unsure of the future shape of the pastoral ministry, if past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, then we best assume that, during the twenty-first century, we will witness further development in the pastoral ministry. Let’s pray that those changes find roots in biblical pastoral theologies.

hero1Who is our model for pastoral ministry? Who are our pastoral heroes?

I haven’t wrestled with those questions until recently – and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to such an important exercise. Pastors tend to emulate those they lift up as ideal. Consequently, our models or heroes shape the ministries of every pastor.

I came to those questions while reading the 1884 Pastoral Theology by Dr. James Mason Hoppin who taught his Yale seminarians to “look through and beyond every other model up to Christ.” For Hoppin, the Incarnate Word was the ideal pastor. Not Paul or Peter, Timothy or Titus! Not Calvin or Luther, Edwards or Baxter. Just Jesus, the great shepherd and bishop of our souls (I Peter 2:25).

On that premise, Hoppin encouraged seminarians to fix their attention on four specific points of contact between Jesus Christ and the pastor: the mental, moral, affectional, and spiritual. He clarified those points of contact by encouraging his student to imitate Jesus Christ as a teacher, as a person of moral blamelessness, as one who had sympathy with people, and as one who had the spirit of self-sacrifice.

Hoppin’s argument is convincing, encouraging, and challenging. Here are four quotes that arrested my attention. Perhaps they will do the same for you – or encourage you to make pick up a copy this classic and work your way through it.

As a teacher: “As to the manner of our Lord’s teaching, it was, generally speaking, to drop the word of life in the soul as a seed, rather than as a fully-developed truth; and then the soul itself, in its own life and growth, might take up this truth, and bring it to its perfect maturity by its own through and voluntary act, while it was watered and help from on high.”

As a person of moral blamelessness: “The minister of the pure gospel should pray and strive to approximate more nearly to the blamelessness of Christ, and to appropriate more of his moral purity, knowing that every gain in goodness is a gain in power.”

As one who has sympathy for people: “Here is often the most profound failure. It is too rate that the tone of true sympathy, of that real pathos which is unmistakable and which comes from the heart and goes to the heart; is heard in the pulpit or the pastoral ministration; there is oftentimes a strained imitation of it, but is in a false key soon detected.”

The spirit of self-sacrifice: I think the strictness of self-examination for ministerial fitness is contained in that solemn, searching question of our Lord, thrice repeated, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”

bridgeOnce every three months, the Rush University Medical Center offers a memorial service for the patients who died in the previous three months. The Memorial Service is sponsored by the Women’s Board and by the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values. The most recent service, on Sunday, October 26, was facilitated by Chaplain Gary Wilson of the Department of Religion, Health & Human Values. Chaplain Krista Messam, a Northern Seminary student, was asked to offer the meditation for this service. It is entitled “A Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Here it is.

We come here today carrying a variety of emotions.

Some hearts are heavy
because your loved one was taken away from you.
Some hearts are comforted
knowing that your loved one no longer suffers.
There are those of you
who feel you are on the brink of tears,
While others of you
feel you have no more tears left.

Some of you may relate to the song sung by Mary Coultman today,
“Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he, his eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me.”

And others of you may relate more to the passage we heard earlier from the book of Lamentations,
“You have moved my soul far from peace; my strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.”

In the book of Psalms we also encounter a variety of emotions.

You may relate to the Psalmist when he says,
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.”

Or you may relate more to the psalmist when he says,
“When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.”

Some of you may relate to each of those emotions in the same week
or even on the same day.
Some of you may not relate to any emotion I just mentioned.

Grief over the loss of life looks different for each of us.
But there is one thing that we here this day have in common-
the loss of an important relationship.
We all notice that there is
a missing voice in the conversation,
an empty chair at the table.

• How Are We Comforted when we experience the loss of relationship?
What is our bridge over troubled water?

I have never been in your shoes, nor have I known the unique pain of your particular loss.
But as a chaplain, I have had the privilege of walking alongside  those who have experienced loss
and I’ve observed four bridges or sources of comfort:

• The first bridge I’ve observed is the precious gift of memories.

You may be familiar with the song, “I’ll Be Seeing You” which we will have a chance to hear later in the service. A portion of the lyrics read,
“I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places
that this heart of mine embraces, all day and through.
In that small café, the park across the way,
the children carrousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well.”

As the song suggests, memories are often sparked by what we see, touch, hear or smell.
Memories are tied to special places.
Sometimes memories are tied to a personal possession or scent.

Holding on to memories shows up in different ways:
a widow is hesitant to move out of the house, or take her wedding ring off,
a mother won’t change the room of her child who passed away or
a father won’t get rid of his child’s clothes

We’re not so quick to move on because the memories of our loved one comfort us.
Where do you see your loved one?
What places or objects hold memories for you?

• The second bridge is a shared experience.

Isn’t that why many of us are here today?

We are comforted by others who share and understand our loss,
who empathize,
who’ve been there-
they get it.
Sometimes their mere presence comforts us
and we find we don’t need words.

• Thirdly, I’ve observed that some of us draw comfort from the promises of God.

We draw comfort from God’s promise in Psalm 46
“to be our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble.”

We draw comfort knowing that
“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

We draw comfort from God’s promise in Hebrews 13
“to never to leave us nor forsake us. “

Finally, we find comfort in our belief in the promise of new life, that this is not the end.

We place our hope in the promise that someday,
“God will wipe away every tear from our eyes;
there shall be no more death,
nor sorrow,
nor crying.
There shall be no more pain,
the former things will have passed away. “

• The last bridge I’ve noted is simply the presence of God.

David writes these familiar words in the 23rd Psalm,
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

A baby will cry and cry and cry until he is in the presence of his mother.
There’s something about the presence of his mother that brings comfort and security.

A five year old is lost and she panics.
But when all of the sudden she sees her father,
a wave of relief comes over her.
There’s something about her father’s presence that brings her peace.

The comfort of God’s presence is almost inexplicable.

God’s presence communicates to us,
“I’m on your side, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down”

• Conclusion

Henri Nouwen wrote to his grieving father that real grief may never be healed by time,
But reality can be “faced and entered in the sincere belief that consolation and comfort are to be found where our wounds hurt most.”
As you continue to cross the troubled water of grief, remember the bridges or the sources of comfort that will carry you over.
Hold on to some of those visible reminders and memories.
Seek out those who share your experience, and who can relate to your loss.
As it is meaningful to you, hold on the promises of God and the hope that death does not have the final word.
And finally, draw comfort from the simple presence of God, knowing that He is with you.

As you receive comfort, you become equipped to BE a bridge, a source of comfort to someone else.

In 2 Corinthians we read,
“The Father of mercies, the God of all comfort: Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

My prayer for you today is that your hearts may be comforted,
and that in receiving comfort,
you yourselves will become comforters.

As you leave this place as both comforted and comforters,
those who cross a bridge over troubled water
and those who become a bridge for others,
May the Lord “bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”

Canon_Logo_350_tcm13-959888“Pastor, in your message this past week, you mentioned the word canon pertaining to the Scriptures.  I have heard the term but really don’t know what it means…in fact, I really don’t know how the Bible came about.  Can you bring some clarity?  Thanks.”  –Joe Church Member

Dear Joe—Great question!  Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes forget to clarify our terms and often assume we all know what we are talking about—especially with Bible terms. Your question about Canon is perfect for this issue of The Source (our church E-news Letter).

We know our current Bible consists of 66 books—39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament.  By the time of Jesus the Old Testament (the Torah) was pretty much intact and accepted as a whole. The addition of the New Testament to the Christian Bible is a little more complicated and took the next few centuries to solidify. Here is what happened.

First, the word canon means measuring stick or standard of straightness. In the first few centuries after Jesus there were many writings circulating and many cults and heretical groups beginning to organize themselves and promote their teaching (i.e. Gnostics and Marcion). Some intermingled with Christianity, others were an affront to the faith. Several of these rival groups were collecting their own “canon” of sort and some were using a shorter version of Christian writings than our current New Testament. Thus, there was a need for the church to discern the canon for the Christian Church to preserve the teaching of the church and protect itself from false teaching (and teachers).

How then where early church leaders to select which Bible books were in and which were out? Not an easy task for the church. The early church was not surprised that there were many variations and writings circulating through the churches. Every church location had a unique context and needs which impacted the writings (and writers) they emphasized. Secondly, the church did not rush into canon development. In the second century they began collecting Christian writings and narrowing them as they discovered which books met the following criteria (the tests for canonicity):

  • Consistency with the “message” of Jesus sticking with the tenor and style (not fables and outlandish stories).
  • Apostolicity—Was it written by the Apostles? If an Apostle wrote it, it was almost certainly “in.”
  • Catholicity—is the letter found throughout the Christian church in its various places. In other words, an isolated letter in one church was weighted different than a letter read by many churches in multiple locations.

In 367 AD, the final collection of New Testament books were agreed upon and make up (with the Old Testament) the Bible we have now. It is interesting that the New Testament books were written in the mid-late first century, but the process for discovering the canon took about 200 years.  Communication was slower and the church allowed the discovery process to unfold rather than rush and react to the culture around it. I use the term discover as that very much was the goal. Using the above criteria, writings were carefully considered in light of the whole of Scripture and the testimony and teachings of the original Apostles (whom Jesus commissioned to build the church). All this to say is that we have confidence in the Bible we read.

There you have it…the canon.  Hopefully this brief summary will not only answer your own questions, but enable you to share your insights with others who may ask you about the Bible.

(This blog was written by Northern Seminary student Eric Camfield for Church History 301.)

churchbulliesAs one training for the pastoral ministry, perhaps it is best you know now, rather than later, that the congregation you serve will most-likely include a bully or two – person, even Christ-follower, who insists that he or she approve, even initiate most every change in the church. When the church moves in a direction against this person’s will, they turn into a bully.

A church bully is just as likely to be a man as a woman, to be young as old, to be a pastor or a lay person. The common thread to every person who bullies is the conviction that nothing take place in the church without his or her approval. Why? Because, as Eddie Hammett notes, “its all about them, their values, their preferences, and their comfort.” (See “Bullying in the Church” at www.thecolumbiapartnership.org)

Church Bullies practice both active and passive bullying. As active bullies, they gossip, slander, and sow discord (II Corinthians 12:20). They repeatedly make threats and verbally attack individuals – usually the pastor. As passive bullies, they reduce their involvement in the church. Their favorite passive aggressive behavior action is to stop giving money to the ministry of the local church. When bullying the pastor, they may even choose to attend services but read the church newsletter or a book (such as the Bible) during the pastor’s sermon.

Church bullies are “growing across the country as churches struggle with decline in numbers—attendance, membership, participation, impact, finances and loyalty issues. So often church bullies surface and target the pastor and staff, blaming and often falsely accusing their leaders for the decline in their church’s metrics or status.” Eddie Hammett, “Bullying in the Church”

How should you respond to bullies?

First, acknowledge their presence. Very few congregations are without bullies and, furthermore, there is a bully inside nearly every person.

Second, discern the Spirit. When pushed back by individuals ask, “Is this behavior motivated by the Holy Spirit or by something else?” Or, “Is this person contributing to our decision making process (perhaps even prophetic) or trying to bully us?”

Third, hold bullies accountable for their actions and attitudes. With those in spiritual leadership, practice church discipline – real hands-on discipleship. This will most likely involve partnering with Christian therapists who may help individuals understand the motives behind their behaviors.

Fourth, resist the temptation to demonize bullies. My hunch is that some bullies may not be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, but that is not for me to judge. I would like to hope that most church bullies are devoted Christ-followers who, like all Christ-followers, have a blind spot or two in their walk with the Lord. Their particular blind spot influences how they respond to change in the church.

Fifth, don’t be a bully. Mammett writes, “I acknowledge too there are clergy bullies out there who are driven by personal preferences, comfort zones, and often seek to force the church into molds or styles they are professionally more comfortable with rather than contextualizing ministry and facing their own learning curves and challenges.” I concur for I have been a church bully. For that I ask forgiveness from the Lord and His bride.

imagesThere may come a time in the life of your congregation when you ask “Shall we continue running the race or shall we finish the race?” Shall we search new ways or give up (Ecclesiastes 3:6)? Or, as Kenny Rodgers would ask, “Shall we hold ‘em or fold ‘em?”

Those are not easy questions to answer. On one hand, we worship a Triune God who can do more than we could ever ask or imagine. If God so desires, he can even place new life in the womb of an aging bride and make dry bones breath. Hence, we are never without hope for all that matters in our lives. On the other hand, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). There is a time to run the race and finish the race – for both individuals and congregations.

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“Although the word discernment is widely in use today, spiritual discernment remains obscure, mysterious, and even unknown to many people, despite the fact that it is an essential and historic practice of the Christian life. In a nutshell, authentic spiritual discernment is both an individual and a collective habit and practice of prayerfully coming to spiritual insight…. People engage in spiritual discernment not to argue for a desire outcome, nor to debate a matter in order to win. We engage in spiritual discernment to prayerfully seek God’s yearning in an important matter.”

Ellen Morseth, “Discerning God’s Calling,” in Ending With Hope: A Resource for Closing Congregations, edited by Beth Ann Gaede (Alban, 2002).

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Yet, how do we know if the Lord would have us “hold ‘em or fold ‘em”? How do we discern the will of God for the future of a congregation? In short, we need but ask the Lord for direction, then wait for his response. We may do so confident that the Lord, in his time, will reveal his will to us, his people. After all, it is God’s responsibility to guide us, to clarify our path, to lead us. We need not pry that information out of the mind of God. We need but be ready to receive it, to trust and obey.

The first step in the process of discernment, however, is the most difficult. It takes place even before we ask the Lord for direction. The discernment process begins when we lay down our preferences for the future. It begins when we pray, “Not my will, but yours, O Lord, be done.” There is no reason to begin a discernment process about any important matter in life until we take that first step. We must die to ourselves if we hope to follow the Lord.

When we translate that principle into practice, we discover that a local congregation may begin – and should only begin – the discernment process when willing to go wherever the Lord leads: to run the race or finish the race, to open the doors or close the doors, “to hold ‘em or fold ‘em”. When that step is taken, we may confidently approach the throne of grace in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the church, asking Him to lead and guide us.

sittserA good word for us from Gerald Sittser and friends:

We have much to learn but only if we are humble and teachable. Augustine once wrote that the only way to understand something is to love it first, that is to study it with sympathy, patience and appreciation. True understanding requires the courage to surrender ourselves to the subject and let it have its way with us. In his wonderful essay “Meditations in a Toolshed,” C.S. Lewis observed that there are essentially two ways to learn something. We can look at the subject from another – and usually alien – point of view, which gives us ultimate authority over the subject; or we can look along with it, allowing the subject itself to illumine the world for us. Obviously both are legitimate methods of study. Still, I prefer the latter (Water from a Deep Well; Christian Spirituality From Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries, 20).

It was Holy Week 2014 and my “Biblical Theology of Worship” class was scheduled to meet on Maundy Thursday evening. Embarrassed by my lack of foresight and failure to cancel class that evening, I planned a short liturgy for my class, one that included the Lord’s Supper.

The liturgy included five movements: God’s Call to Worship, Our Praise, God’s Grace (The Lord’s Supper), Our Response, and God’s Commission. The liturgy included formed prayers, a season of open prayer, three contemporary songs (one hymn and two songs from the Black Gospel tradition), and a fifty year old ritual for the Lord’s Supper borrowed from the Reformed Church in America.  The students shared in the leadership of the liturgy while I led the singing from a piano.

Word got out about the service and the students from two other classes joined us. It was an incredible experience. We were blessed by the Lord’s Supper. We were blessed by the prayers. We were blessed to gather as a community.

But another blessing came days later. One member of the class was Bishop John Senter (pictured above), founder and senior pastor of Faith Walkers Assembly International (FWAI) in Rockford, IL.  He took the liturgy to his church where, in his estimation, the Lord used it to bless his congregation.

That’s what I call cross-fertilization – the interchange or interaction of different ideas and cultures of a broadening and productive nature. What we see here is the interaction between:

  • The seminary classroom and the sanctuary,
  • My predominantly Euro-American context and Bishop John Senter’s predominantly African American context,
  • The past and the present,
  • Those who prefer formed worship and those who prefer free worship, and
  • The traditional and the contemporary.

Furthermore, our interaction as a class was broadening and productive. It affirmed the sevenfold unity of the church articulated by the apostle Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-5). For that reason alone it was beautiful.

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