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Being “Non Essential” is our Place in the World.

The World’s Posture towards us Should Not Surprise Us.

One of the great lessons that we learn in this world is that evil is inherently self-destructive. Passages like Romans 1:18-32 are examples of Biblical Teaching to this effect, so why are Modern Christians so surprised when the World acts like the World?  

Jonathan David Faulkner

On Friday I saw an article from The Gospel Coalition bemoaning the fact that churches are not essential. Usually I avoid the comment sections on these articles like the plague. But when I first saw the article I also saw one of the comment previews where the commenter asked: “The world has never seen the church as essential, why are we surprised?” Which got me thinking about how so many in the secular world had claimed that pastors should not be considered essential because we do not work warehouse jobs or in hospitals or have degrees in mental healthcare (though more and more of us do). But as I saw the reactions both to the Gospel Coalition article and to me and thought about them collectively, I concluded. 1. The Commenter is right, the world has never considered the church essential because the world is fundamentally opposed to the church, just as Jesus promised it would be. 2. Because the Church is not considered essential by the world, I should not be expected to be considered essential to the world, even if Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Timothy 3-4 and so on mean that I am essential to the Church as one who was “given” by Christ for the growth of the Church. This is not a paradox or diminishing of my position, it was never intended that the pastor be essential to anyone but the church since the world tended to persecute first and foremost the pastors and teachers of the church starting with the Apostles themselves.

What baffle me, since this was also the day the President of the United States urged governors to allow for the reopening of churches, why so many Christians are surprised that the world treates us as nonessential. Please do not get me wrong, I do not disagree that Churches are important “third places,”[i] to use Timothy P. Carney’s term, of our society and that they can and do offer refuges from the mental health issues that come with a global pandemic. The question is, as the Librarian at Gordon Conwell asked: “Does the Church need to be declared essential to carry out her work and mission?” The answer of course is no, the church was not considered essential in the ancient world, in fact, the opposite was true, it was considered anathema to the ancient world. Why should we then be surprised when the world does not consider us essential? Or acts as Jesus promised us they would act towards us.

The other argument at play here is the idea that churches can close or that a government order can close the church and cease it from doing its ministry. First of all our brothers and sisters in the Underground Church in some Asian countries would laugh at that notion. Their governments has been “closing” churches for decades and it is still one of the most vibrant and active churches most faithful to the word of God. Even while facing the possibility of extreme persecution and martyrdom if they are found out. The western Church however is seen as an institution, which is where I disagree with Carney’s idea above that is it is a “third place” because the church is actually not a place, but a people. A kingdom within kingdoms. Our buildings are just that, buildings, they are not the church itself. The idea that the government can “shut down” churches is Ludacris if the idea of Organic Unity is true. When this all started I saw memes proclaiming that the church isn’t closed, it’s deployed and I like that until the thought occurred to me that we should always be deployed in such a manner. That if Ephesians 4:11-16 is to be believed, we gather to be equipped to go out into the world by our pastors, teachers and evangelist. We also gather in our buildings to worship God the Father because He has called us to Worship.

Consider this though, none of that has been on hold for most churches during this time. Even my Father-in-Laws Church which did not have the means to do livestreams or prerecorded services made sure their people got fed during this pandemic. If we were under persecution, if the Government really wanted us to not be able to worship or preach the Word, it would have been easy to shut us down, just have facebook and youtube delete our videos and profiles. This may happen someday, but for now we still enjoy incredible freedom to worship and distribute content from the Word of God. I’ve had a sermon played through over 3,000 (13K views of at least 1 Minutes times during this pandemic. If the Government wanted me silenced, it would be easy to do it. But they have not, it doesn’t matter if the church is non-essential to the world or if we cannot worship in our buildings. God is still God, we are not being told we cannot distribute content, we can still worship, the church is not closed.

We also have to take into consideration the fact there are a well-documented number of churches that have been epicenters of virus outbreaks. One denomination has even lost 30 pastors during this crisis because their churches continued to meet despite the warnings against it. I have written before on the responsibility of shepherds who have knowingly let the wolf into the sheep pen. I will not rehash that discussion here, just know that it is frustrating to see a wanton disregard for life among my fellow shepherds.

But why are we surprised the world acts this way towards us? IF the world is opposed to Christ and His message, should we not expect all of this? If the world really hates Christ, should we not be surprised. Has Christ not promised us that we would be persecuted for His name sake? That the comfort and ease the Church has experienced in the West is actually an anomaly, not to be the expected norm? For that matter, why are we surprised when the world acts like the world? The early Christians certainly were not, why should we be? The world is drowning in its own destruction, our job is to demonstrate the blessings of life in Christ and save as many as we can. Not join them or urge them on into their destruction, as so many do. Or act surprised when the world hates us or threatens to persecute us. We must be wary of thinking these things are abnormal when Christ promises just the opposite in Matthew 24:3-38 and many other places.

Pastors, at least, are essential to the flock because we are called to teach you how to live and interact in this evil and desolate world that is opposed to our very existence and would like nothing more than to see us disappear. Yet we persist, we continue even in places where meeting in our buildings are outlawed, where we are not only non-essential, but illegal. The Church continues not because of man, but because of God, the church persists against every attack of Satan and the World not because of anything presidents or kings say, but because of what God says. To treat or reduced the church to a mere institution of society is to give it a calling and position much lower than the one which it holds simply by being the continuation of Christ’s presence on this Earth. Quite frankly, it is insulting.

The Church and her mission are essential, but the world will never see us that way, we will always be labeled as non-essential by the worlds governments and even if we are labeled otherwise, we will still be treated that way. The only “special treatment” promised the church by the world was momentary suffering that ended in God’s ultimate and eternal blessing. The end result of the church is never in question, neither is the worlds. The Church is elevated, exalted, the world is destroyed, both by its own reckless sinfulness and the wrath of God. Let us stop marveling at the ways of this world, at the destructiveness of this world and let’s also stop participating in it, which we do when we engage in outrage culture. Instead, let’s live a life worthy of the calling to which we are called. So that the world may see and know Christ.

Actually, if you think about it, we are to work against the inclinations of empire, fight against the world’s tendency to self-destruction. If we become essential to the world, and to the empire, we may need to rethink whether we are really part of the church.

We are never closed, we are always alive.

[i] Timothy P Carney, Alienated America: Why some places thrive, while others collapse, 2019, Harper Collins Ebooks

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

It Is Time to Throw Out the Conflict Thesis

It is Time to Throw Out the Conflict Thesis:

The problem with some forms of revisionist history is that it revises the truth instead of correcting error. The Conflict Thesis of Christianity and Science is one such example.

Jonathan Faulkner

One of my favorite parts of Studying History is seeing how certain veins of thought developed and how the various narratives have developed over the decades and centuries. There is a useful area of History which can either help or hinder this task, Revisionist History is the practice of either correcting the historical narrative based on new facts that were previously unknown or rejected (this is when it is helpful) or rejecting historical realities in order to create its own narrative that supports whatever agenda the thinker has. This requires the thinker to come up with intentional misinformation to change the readers understanding of History.

One of the best examples of Revisionist History is the idea that Peter is the first Pope, it requires one to believe that the Roman System developed early, instead of 7-900 years after Jesus ascension. Another is the idea that there were no women in any leadership or high positions in the early Church, something scholarship and even the bible itself proves to be false. Modern Conspiracy Theories are another form of Revisionist History, these are particularly pernicious because they are often not rooted in any fact whatsoever and just make up a narrative claiming to be the truth. Something like the youtube documentary Plandemic which has been thoroughly proven false and thankfully been taken down. But one that has likely done the most damage, and the one which we will discuss today, is the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion. It is from this 19th century invention that you get tales of Galileo being kicked out the church for proposing a heliocentric model of the solar system, all because he challenged the notion that the earth was the center of the universe. This is actually not true.

As Historian William R. Shea notes: “Galileo’s condemnation was the result of complex interplay of untoward political circumstances, political ambitions and wounded prides.” [i] Actually, as Dr. Jay Richards points out in his interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case for a Creator” of Galileo’s case: “His…can’t be reduced to a simple conflict between scientific truth and religious superstition. He insisted the church immediately endorse his views rather than allow them to gradually gain acceptance, he mocked the Pope and so forth. Yes, he was censured, but the church kept giving him his pension for the rest of his life.”[ii] Richards also explains that if Galileo did anything, he elevated the Earth from its long held place in the church as the “cosmic sump” where, as the Gnostics put it, we were trapped in flesh. It was not until the enlightenment that the idea that the Earth was at the center of the universe even makes an appearance. The enlightenment, which is the very thing which gives us the conflict thesis.

For 1800 years the church believed and encouraged the development of scientific discovery. It did not shy away from what was discovered about the world and the universe, it actually encouraged it and until the 19th century every single major discovery of science took place under the watchful and caring eye of the Church. Even the idea that the Earth was round predated the conflict thesis revisionist argument that the church told Columbus that the Earth was flat. As David Lindburg, a professor of history of science at the university of Wisconsin said:

“One obvious myth is that before Columbus, Europeans believed nearly unanimously believed in a flat earth – a belief allegedly drawn from certain biblical statements and enforced by the medieval church. This myth seems to have had an eighteenth century originated, elaborated and popularized by Washington Irving, who flagrantly fabricated evidence (revisionist history) for it in his four volume work on Columbus….The truth is that it’s almost impossible to find an educated person after Aristotle who doubts that the Earth is a sphere. In the Middle Ages, you couldn’t emerge from any kind of education, cathedral school or university, without being perfectly clear about the Earths’ Sphericity and even its approximate circumference.”[iii]

In fact, it is getting harder and harder to find scientists who agree with the conflict thesis to the point that the only place it still exists is in the popular imagination. Henry Schaefer, also of Berkley fame traces the history of scientific development and finds that the only time he finds sustained scientific advancement is where Christianity was a dominate influence. He quotes Johannes Kepler, who also has a fabricated myth surrounding his relationship with the church, when asked “Why do you love science?” would answer: “To obtain a sample test of the delight of the divine creator in his work and to partake in His joy.”[iv] The idea that Science and Christianity have always been in conflict is an easily disproved myth that persists, not in the scientific community, but in the popular mind, including the popular mind of the church.

Now, what I have listed here is not exhaustive, I would encourage my reading readers, or those with an audible subscription to get Lee Strobal’s book mentioned above and even look into Zondervan’s “Perspectives” series for their “Christianity and Science, four views.” To read a much fuller survey. Strobel is about as thorough as you are going to get while still being written for a less intellectual audience.

Since I have no grandiose ideas of godhood I am not going to suggest we excise the notion from the secular world. That would take an act of God, something He is already doing within the field of science and the clergy themselves. However, it is within my duties as a pastor and as a public theologian to suggest that the Church excise this disproved revisionism called “The conflict thesis” from its collective memory and language and start to once again cultivate scientific minds who, as Ron Baxter told our “Christianity and Science” class in college: “Play in the beautiful how of God’s creating work.”

Because here is the thing, the conflict thesis is, in part, why we are in the mess we are today as a Christian culture. Why we have not thought thoroughly enough about science and scientific research to understand what is happening in our world, both related to and unrelated to our present crisis. It is Christians inability to think and speak about science, our anti-intellectualism, that has led to us being susceptible to anti-vaxx untruths (even before coronavirus) and a multitude of other conspiracy theories and false or intentionally misleading information. It is this same anti-intellectualism that has fed to erroneous and flat out unsupportable biblical interpretations that either are disproven by biblical theology or by a basic survey of biblical orthodoxy. This is a feedback loop, one builds up and fuels the other. This then leads to clickbate headlines like: “Here is why the new Coronavirus Vaccine is the Mark of the Beast.” Followed by an article that is easily and quickly negated by both a basic understanding of the science of vaccines and just a surface level reading of Revelation 13-14. These headlines are also designed to spark and inspire your fear so that you share them, thus spreading the fear with the misinformation. Christians should not now or ever have been a people who spread fear or misinformation. That is neither loving God or loving to people. It is also exhausting and I am not sure why anyone would want to participate in it knowing the eternal joy that comes from knowing and having deep knowledge of Christ which is in stark contrast to the fear of everything that has been cultivated by our culture and indirectly by the conflict theory that has bred ignorance.

Science tells us about the world God has made for us and it is increasingly pointing to back to His existence and necessity to keep it all together. It also tells us how to care for that creation which He has given us so that we as human beings can flourish within the creation which we were given the task of caring for back in Genesis 2. We also have brothers and sisters at the forefront of many of these areas of science, including climate science, who are helping us learn to care for our world. We should be in prayer for them as they combat secular agendas and evil ideologies about the uses of science that inherently arise from living in a sinful world.

Maybe we can get back to what we once did, expand our knowledge of God’s creation and our ability to care for it, just as the church did for hundreds of years, and by the way, actually continues to do today. It is time to excise the “Conflict Thesis” from the popular imagination.

[i] William R. Shea, Galileo and the Church” in David C. Lindber and Ronald L. Numbers, editors, God and Nature, 2986, Berkley University of California Press 132,

[ii] Lee Strobal “The Case for a Creator” 2004, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI. pg 162.

[iii] Natural Adversaries? “Christian History, Volume XXL. No. 4. 44.

[iv] Henry F. Schaefer, Christianity and Science, Conflict or Cohesion, 2008, The Apollo Trust, 16.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Seven Guiding Values Series Part 1: “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession” 1 Tim. 2:1-5

 

#ICYMI: We began a new series yesterday at FCCBC entitled: “The Seven Guiding Values of the CCCC” with value 1: “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession.” from 1st Timothy 2:1-5.

We talked about how Christians should seek to live a “Peaceful and Quiet Life, Godly and Dignified in every way” Marked by prayers of praise, entreaty, intercessions and thankfulness to God on behalf of all people including our leaders and “all in high places.” Praying that they might come to saving faith in Jesus Christ so that the desire of God may be fulfilled by the Decree of God.

Hear the application and tune in Wednesday for the Disciples Download as we look at Matthew 6:5-14 as we look at Jesus instruction on prayer.

Memento Mori: In Loving Memory of Chris Valdenar

“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:34

Jonathan David Faulkner

This post is in memory of Chris D. Valdenar, 1990-2020 who passed away on Thursday May 14th due to complications from diabetes.

Where do I start to compose this piece? Just like my original Facebook Post on Friday afternoon after we found out that my long-time friend, 11 years and counting, had died due to complications from Diabetes. How do I even begin to honor a friend who had become a brother, and who became a brother so quickly. But not just to me, to so many, how do I sum up what his life meant, to mark it has left and the legacy it left behind.

Chris and I’s bond was something uniquely formed. I only have one other friend who I know understands the ins and outs of life as a disable adult. These are rare who understand the ins and outs of daily life with a disability. We met when he sat down at dinner one night, our college group was the eclectic group of friends that was basically our campuses island of misfit toys. Some of us fit in everywhere, some of us only fit in our own little group. Some had been dragged from their isolation, from sitting alone, to become not just a group of friends, but a family. Some of us were broken, all of us were broken, and most of us wondered how we had made it where we were. Chris marks the third loss from our group, Tim who we barely got to know before he lost his own fight with diabetes. Jennifer Shannon died on a spring Sunday Morning after a long fight with cystic fibrosis. I was in the middle of the sermon when I got that news. Yesterday I was writing tomorrow’s sermon. It is times like these I am thankful for that group. I think I talked to just about all of them and most of our wider circle of friends, it is good to know we are not mourning our friend alone.

Still, I miss my friend.

I am not entirely sure this has completely set in yet. It seems like yesterday we were driving to Applebee’s for Half-Price apps with two or three carloads. Or he and the group were picking me up from the Hutchinson Train Station at 2AM, or we were driving back from Formal watching the lightning to make sure there were no Tornados coming towards us. I could sit here and list memories for hours on end list memory after memory, story after story and bring in friend after friend to tell you story after story. He was a good friend to so many and many of us are broken-hearted.

Chris was always fun to see whipping around campus in his electric wheelchair or a joy to see come working his way towards you on his crutches. It seems weird to say it that way, but those are the emotions that came to mind. He was one of the many people who made sure I made it to Sunday services when I would do pulpit supply at Salem or Stafford (before I pastored there) and he would always sit in the front row. I believe it was at Hudson when someone asked if Chris, who was two years older than me, was my son. He was rough around the edges, but I never doubted his faith.

So on Sunday, in honor of my brother, I am going to turn on one of his favorite sports and mine and think of all the times we debated over Junior or Senior or Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Then at some point I am going to Applebee’s for a meal in his honor and I will never, ever forget my friend and brother.

 

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Faith, Fear and Reopening Our Churches

Some have said we need to step out on faith that God will protect us from the Virus. And we do, the problem is we should not expose the sheep to the wolves and hope and pray God shuts the mouths of the Wolves.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

The image of a shepherd is one that scripture uses over and over again to describe God’s relationship to us, Jesus relationship to us and the Pastors relationship to their flock. In the Old Testament it was a shepherd boy who God raised up to be the second King of Israel and whose line God established, I do not think this was a coincidence. A shepherd understands what is required, the responsibility that comes with caring for large groups. By being a shepherd, David had developed the wisdom and skill to guide and protect a flock of people and so God elevated him to not shepherd sheep, but His people and though David did not always do a good job at this, he seemed to be better qualified than Saul. In the New Testament Matthew writes that: “when (Jesus) saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Sheep without a shepherd roam from place to place, aimlessly and are easy prey for the bear or wolf or lion that finds them. In Jesus day the Religious Elite had abandoned the people to fend for themselves by creating laws and religious rules that the people could not possibly keep. Instead of shepherding the people, making them lie down in green pastures or lay beside still waters (ps 23), they had left them to see to their own eternity, failing to realize that their eternity was partly dependent on the welfare of the sheep they were called to shepherd. Jesus then is the Good Shepherd (John 10) who lays down his life for the sheep. He also demonstrates to us as pastors how to be shepherds, or under shepherds, ourselves as 1 Peter 4 reminds us.

When a wolf comes around the flock, when a bear or a lion, it is the Shepherds job to lead the flock away from the danger and even confront the danger on the flocks behalf, to give his or her life for the flock if need be to keep the flock from the danger. The pastor should never take their flock back towards the danger and just pray God will keep the danger from attacking the flock. Can God protect the flock with the danger right there? Of course he can, but it would be irresponsible to test God and say: “I am going to let the lion roam free and pray he does not attack the flock, you have this right God?” Or, I do see the thief coming to steal, kill and destroy the flock (John 10:10) and just let him do his damage or quickly send up a prayer saying: “Lord, there’s a thief there, just do not let him get into the sheep pen to steal, kill and destroy.” No, I raise the alarm, I fight the beast come to devour, I get the other shepherds and we confront the thief before he can get into the pen to do the damage he intends to do.

As a pastor I know this reality, I have to stand before God one day as one who was given the responsibility of serving as an under shepherd and give account for how I carried out that task. That is why those who seek to lead will be judged more harshly than others both on Earth and in heaven (James 3:1). We are being entrusted with the care of the flock under the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. That thought terrifies me far more than this virus or this world but that fear is offset by the fact that I know I am covered by the blood of the lamb, that the true shepherd whom I serve is a lamb like me and that His blood was shed on the cross and that because I have confessed that He is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). I know my eternity is secure, I have a personal relationship with God the Father through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and even though I will fail multiple times at this task I am not in danger of losing that salvation He has given me. Still, I am not to squander what God has given me, in fact, one of the ways others know that Christ has transformed me is by watching how I live in this world and how I live out what Scripture teaches me to live.

That carries a certain amount of responsibility, that my actions will either draw people to the gospel or away from it. As a pastor, I am watched more closely by the world and one of the things that the world is watching right now is how I go about reopening my congregation. Do we fling open the doors (something I argued against last week) and abandon caution and discernment which require wisdom? Or do we take the time to make sure that we are not putting our congregations at risk for a disease that many of them could contract and die from? Again, if I know the wolf is lurking, I keep my flock away from the wolf, I even fight the wolf if necessary. If the thief is outside the pen, I do not open the pen and let him walk in. This virus is both a wolf, or a lion, and a thief. It comes into congregations and infects and kills, not just through the virus itself but all the false or misleading information available on the internet that has been intentionally manufactured to deceive and which many Christians are falling for (1 Timothy 3:1-17). The world has taken note of both approaches and mocked those who either ignored warnings altogether or blatantly refused to follow government orders. Many of these churches and pastors have already paid a high price by becoming epicenters for outbreaks. Over 30 Pastors have contracted and died from COVID-19 because they refused to listen to warnings. This is not brave, nor does it show your faith, it is irresponsible to put others at risk, not wise.

But what about the faith verse fear debate? Obviously we should not fear this virus as Christians just as we should not fear anything that is happening in this world. But to juxtapose faith and fear is to make a false dichotomy, fear is not and never has been the opposite of fear, doubt is. Fear can actually be healthy; I have a fear of God and I do fear this virus getting into my congregation because it could do irreversible harm to those whom God has made me responsible for. What I do not have is doubt, I do not doubt that God can protect us from this virus or that, if he wants to, can just remove it from the Earth altogether. I also believe that part of having faith requires me to pray for those two outcomes while at the same time addressing the very real circumstances that surround us here. I have faith God can protect my flock, but I am not going to put that faith willingly or recklessly to the test. That would be unloving and show a lack of care by the shepherd for the Sheep. If I love the sheep, I care for their needs, I feed them, I love them, I guide them to green pastures, I bolster their faith and lovingly address their doubts. But I also teach them that there are things in this life that are not to be trifled with and actively seek to defend them from those things that can harm them.

I urge my fellow pastors and church leaders to heed this warning. To love your flocks you have to guard and defend them from the evils of this world. We have largely failed at that task but now have a chance to step up and do what we should have been doing all along. Jesus is once again saying: “Pastor, do you love me?” “Shepherd my Sheep.”

Why We Do Not Just Fling the Doors Open

Even if the rest of the world wants to throw the doors open and abandon caution, we as Christians have a long history of applying wisdom to situations just like this, one we need to lean upon if we want to avoid becoming centers of catastrophe.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

It happened again yesterday, another person asked me if we were going to reopen our little church on the corner of 2nd street and 2nd Ave NW. The question is an innocent one, it is also a reasonable one, our Governor has relaxed restrictions for Churches and some around us are doing “soft” reopening’s over the next few weeks, so it is not one area pastors should expect not to hear. We have, in a way, never been closed, our building has, but we as a church have not. We have continued ministry and worship providing something that many of our members would not have otherwise but doing more with less personnel then we normally do. The activities of the Church are still going on, just in a different form and outside of our building. We will also be using our building again to record our worship services an hold Friday Prayer so long as social distancing guidelines are met.

Still, there is more to consider than just reopening. Christians have a long history of appling wisdom to these scenarios and we must continue that tradition because we have the ultimate wisdom-giver incarnate among us. For some congregations it may be safe to fling open the doors and return to some semblance of normal, for others, it may not, and prudence and wisdom are required to know which case is which. In the case of my congregation it may not be wise to go back to in person services even with the practicing of social distancing measures. The reason is that a vast majority of my congregation falls into the “highly vulnerable” category, not simply because they are 65 or older but because they have a multitude of underlying conditions that could greatly increase their risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. As their pastor, the under shepherd whom God has entrusted them too, that means in part I am responsible for protecting their health during this time. I take that responsibility very seriously and I have no plan to shrug it off or treat it lightly. I have to stand before God one day and give account for what I did with the resources He gave me and if they all die from COVID-19, that is pretty poor management. If I feed my flock to the wolves, I am no under shepherd but a thief.

I also do not buy the argument that we need to reopen for mental health reasons, or economic reasons. The fact is, if I throw open the doors, they come back and someone brings the virus with them and they contract it and die, it will not matter what their mental or financial health is. That is not something scripture allows me to do nor is it something I want on my conscious. I hate the fact that we are even having a conversation like this, especially since if the Church were living out its calling as it should we would not have to worry about the mental or emotional well-being of our members because we would all be taking care of one another through whatever means they have at their disposal, I know many of my congregation have, a blessing for a younger pastor.

Factor in the reality that churches have been hotspots for the virus and that over 30 pastors have died from the virus, we should not be so quick to fling the doors open. Even if the Government had no guidelines, even if we were totally free to make our own decisions, it would not be wise to meet with a fast spreading, deadly virus that could kill most of our people. This was true of Martin Luther during the plague of 1522 when there was no such thing as the CDC or Iowa Department of Health. We have all seen the quote because it has been all over social media in the previous weeks, but I share it here for emphasis:

“Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.”[i]

Luther understood that during the Plague his responsibility before God was to be responsible and to not “cause their death as a result of my negligence.” He understood what I said above, If God should take him during the plague he would be able to stand before him and God would find that he has not caused the death of others or himself by being negligent in His pastoral duties. One could say that the modern idea of Social Distancing finds roots here in Luther’s sermon. That for the pastor, the responsible and wise thing to do is ensure that we do not lose one member of our flock because we ourselves were negligent.

Which brings me to the present crisis.

It is part of my responsibility to do three things, help my people Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. That means that I have to follow and be a disciple of Jesus and set an example for my congregation on how to Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. So, I study and read God’s Word and spend time in prayer and learn the commandments of Jesus which I am to pass down to others who are Disciples of Jesus. One of the realities that I am confronted with in Scripture is how valuable life is to God and how seriously he takes the destruction and undervaluing of that life. Even outside of the Pentateuch we find copious passages like Isaiah 1 which point to disobedience by Judah of God involving the devaluation of human life through murder and corruption. As Peter Enns writes in his commentary on Exodus: “”Life is something that the God of Israel does not treat likely, and it is thus incumbent on His people to behave likewise.”[ii] In the New Testament Jesus brings God’s moral law forward and with it the implicit value human life has because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 2, Matthew 5). Christianity is inherently whole life; we value life from the time it is conceived to the time we return to the dust simply because God created life and made human beings in His own image. Part of loving God is loving people and part of loving people is guarding their lives at all cost against even a deadly virus. Life does not become an idol, we are not to make images of man, that is also part of loving God, but we are to value life because God values Life.

The last few weeks have been tough because with every number added to the death toll, another family is grieving and mourning the loss of a human being and I mourn along with them. Now, I do not personally know anyone who has died from COVID-19, think of how magnified the grief would be were it one of the many men and women I love and have been entrusted as under shepherd. I have told my congregation that I do not want to bury any of them from this, I want them all back when this is over because I love them. It would be foolish to play chicken with their lives for the sake of an ego trip or because the Governor has lifted restrictions.

These are not easy decisions, please be patient and gracious with us as we work through this with you and find the best way to keep you healthy.

In Love

An Under shepherd of Christ, called and confirmed by Him.

[i] Lull, Timothy F.. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (p. 483). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Enns, Peter, The NIV Application Commentary: Exodus, 2000, Zondervan, pg 422

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Christianity Requires Recreation

“God is not in the business of making good men better, but old men new.” – C.S. Lewis

Jonathan Faulkner

Long before I had ever preached a sermon on Colossians 3:1-17, perhaps before I had even read it (I was not a habitual bible reader, or reader in general in High School) I read Book IV, chapter 10 of C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity which is titled “Nice People or New Men.” It was there, an in the work as a whole, that I first came upon the idea that God did not send Christ to die so we could live more moral lives than we already did, which is what the Christianity of my youth had taught me, but that Christ died so that we could become completely new creations by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Lewis’s image of the Horse being completely destroyed so that we no longer called it a horse, but something completely different, a winged creature, has stuck with me all these years and it is the best metaphor for what Paul describes in Colossians 3:1-17. Hence the reason the sermon I preach wherever I go as a guest preacher uses this very analogy to describe taking off the old self and putting on the new self. Lewis calls this transformation, we are not merely better, but we are recreated, reformed, we return to our preformed state. Now we are “Born of Water and Spirit” (John 3:5) as a new creature.

This was a hard teaching for Nicodemus to understand, as Dallas Jenkins so brilliantly displays in his work “The Chosen” (which again I recommend). It is just as hard for us to understand today. It has not made its way into American Christianity because it does not agree with the basis of “Common Sense Realism” that pervaded the halls of Princeton and dictated the theology of Scottish Presbyterianism. Christianity was like any other religion, a way for us to become better humans. Yet, even in the Nineteenth Century it was not totally lost on us. My own theological, historical mentor J.W Nevin commented extensively on the New Creation, even writing an entire Treatise on it called ‘The New Creation.” Nevin writes:

“It goes to the very foundation of Christianity. Is it a doctrine only or a fact? Is it a new creation in Christ, or is it a divinely wrought image of that only out of Christ? The question is worthy of something more than a magisterial wave of the hand, after the summary fashion of the criticism here in view.”[i]

The whole point of the New Covenant is that we are reformed, something new is being created, our fundamental constitution changes (Jeremiah 31:31-34). We are not the same being we were before, now we, through the Holy Spirit, put on the New Self that comes from being born of Water and Spirit. Paul then tells us in the book of Titus to “Insist on these things” (3:7) and to avoid the weeds of foolish controversies and the sin of the old life which we were formerly enslaved to but are now free from and indeed, changed by rebirth so that we have the ability to not do those things we formerly could only do.

Modern Christianity, however, does not act in this manner. Instead, it gives us a list of expected behaviors and if you do not meet the standard criterion then you are lost. The Woe’s to the Pharisees, Jesus instructions to the people, ring in our ears, do as they say, but not as they do. We are very good at cleaning the outside of the pot, but inside the pot we are rotten to the core (Matthew 23:1-36). So much so that our rot and pharisaic tendencies have become normalized and even encouraged. We are not to “Lord it over” others, but that is precisely what we have chosen to do in almost every area of life. We are to build others up because we have been built up, but all we know how to do is infantilize and tear down one another, slander and gossip against one another. If you do not believe me, go look at the Facebook Comments on almost any post that is uncensored, or the YouTube comment section for that matter. We fight hard against becoming the new creation because recreation requires us to give up our long held hostilities and even the pain that becomes a comfort blanket for a people who have never really grown up to maturity (Eph 4:7-11).

This is what Billy Graham was referring to when he said that: “Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.” We believe that all that is required of us is to pray a prayer and accept Jesus into our hearts, but that is not what Scripture instructs us to do. We are to “believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with our mouths that Christ raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:13). That is what is required for us to be saved, then we receive the Holy Spirit and the work of recreation or reformation begins. The old self is burned away, and the new self is brought forth. We become a new creation in Christ and we are to put the old vein rivalries and former definitions of Love away, far away, as we embrace the new life.

Now, let me make a point about the Love of God. God does love His creation unconditionally, but when we come in contact with the love of God we should be transformed by it. It should awaken us to the reality of how terribly sinful we are, and if it doesn’t, we need to question whether it was God’s love we encountered or the devil’s false abstraction. Or we need to question why our hearts are so hard towards God that we are not changed by an encounter with Him. God’s love should make us listen to one another, especially when they come to us with a grievance against us, God’s love should make us treat one another with deep respect and dignity, God’s love should make us desire reconciliation above continuing to harm our friends and family members.

Christianity in scripture, in Jesus own words, should be an inch wide and a mile deep. Jesus is clear about the fact that the wide road leads to death, and a truncated and diminished gospel that does not include recreation or reformation by the Holy Spirit, that just makes us more “moral” is wide and thin. We have fed a lot of people sugar coated death which sounds scriptural but is based on human wisdom and definition. God’s love is unconditional, and it accepts us as we are, but scripture is clear that it never leaves us the way it found us. Jesus did not tell Nicodemus that you must become more moral, He told him to be reborn, of Water, the baptism of repentance which signs and seals on us the covenant and spirit, the reconciliation and new life, new creation, in Christ.  It is foolish to think we will be saved because we become better humans without a deep personal relationship with Christ, because we went to Church on Sunday and Tithed 10 Percent every week. Those are good things, but even the Pharisee’s did them while placing unbearable burdens on the people and Jesus tells them they have a place reserved for them in Hell because of their religion devoid of relationship and transformation (Matthew 23:1-36 again).

Brothers and Sisters, we are to be transformed, not merely made better, but something completely new, unrecognizable from the old self. The Image of Christ is not a mere outward image only, it is also an inward one, one that requires us to be remade and reformed at the hands of the Potter who is our God.

Solo Dei Gloria, Amen.

 

[i] Nevin, John Williamson. The Incarnate Word: Selected Writings on Christology (Mercersburg Theology Study Series Book 4) (p. 34). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

The Malicious Mind Control Tactics You See Online

Cult Science is still in its infancy as a psychological practice, but it has given us some ways to identify the troubling ways we are being manipulated by actors in today’s world.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Let me be clear on something here, right off the bat, I almost left the Church because of totalitarian leadership. One of the desires I have as a pastor is to make sure no one goes through that kind of destruction like I did. I believe one can be a strong leader, but that strength has to come from the Holy Spirit and from Holy Scripture, not from my own need or lust for power. I saw up close and was a victim of one who was in the pulpit who should not have been. I was the teenager told to “shut up” by a red-faced totalitarian leader. Because of those experiences I have taken the time to educate myself about the tactics used by spiritual abusers and totalitarian leaders. I am not ignorant of these things but am speaking from an informed position.

When Lawrence Pile, Author of “Free At Last” first told me he could convince me, a sophomore in High School at the time, a quarter was worth a dollar and then explained to me the process used to warp my reality, I didn’t believe it could happen to me. Two years later, I was kicked out of the church I had attended from childhood by a totalitarian leader who had duped me until a conversation with a friend of College shook me out of my complacency. If you have read anything, I have written on this you know my story and my journey has been one of God’s love and healing and deconstruction and reconstruction. There is a reason it is a miracle I am a pastor right now.

But I am also not a victim, I am able to rise above it and make sure no one under my leadership has to experience what I experienced. By God’s grace I have been carried over to the other side. My objectivity, once stripped from 16-year-old me has been restored, have there been hiccups, the brain injury in 2015 being one such instance. God though has shown His faithfulness to me and I hope to share that faithfulness with others.

But part of going through something is learning to recognize it, those who do not are doomed to repeat it. Watching Social Media is like watching a behind the scenes documentary of how cults are formed. Those who study cults and mind control tactics tell us that there are eight specific tactics which Cult leaders and Totalitarian Leaders use to maintain control of their people. They also tell us that if any 3 of these tactics are employed at any given time in a group then the group qualifies as a minor cult. Less than 3 is still abusive and people should avoid those groups.

What concerns me, and why I am writing this piece, is that these eight tactics are being employed in the mainstream. That is, in many cases we are seeing six or more present in religious and political groups on both the right and the left. This Alt-Right and Alt-Left (Yes, there is an Alt-Left) Employ these tactics to control and manipulate you and your emotions in order to get you to participate in their outrage. This is commonly called “The Outrage Machine” and it is predicated on the use of emotional manipulation as Ed Stetzer pointed out in his book “Christians in the age of Outrage.” It is not “Both-sidism” to say that both sides employ these tactics, though it is true and historically documented that the right has a long history of using tactics like this. Most cults for the last 200 years have been right leaning including Nazi Germany, the Health and Wealth Prosperity Cults, Westboro, The Prophets of Kansas City, the New Apostolic Reformation and Reconstructionism. The Center for Cult Research tracks these groups and gives us updates about their activities. On the left the best examples I can think of right now are Jonestown and The Bernie Bros but these are not the only two, radical environmentalism (of the style that teaches that humans should go extinct) would also count.

Now though, what was once used by fringe groups has been adopted by the mainstream because fear is a powerful tool to get your point across. If you can create a boogeyman you can get people to do what you want them too. Monday in The Washington Post front page was a piece on how these far-right actors are engineering the “Anti-Restrictions” protests through employing these tactics. Now, I agree with Charlie Sykes of the Bulwark who said that there are legitimate reasons to think some of these government restrictions are overreaching, some of them in some states certainly are, but objectively there is a good reason for many of them and we should be able to peacefully protest those that are overreaching while adhering to those who are not. However, these groups gain their power from stripping you of your ability to think objectively, your ability to weigh evidence and consider arguments for and against. That is why they actively campaign against people like myself who sit in the political, emotional, socio-center who are able to present arguments and think critically about these issues.

These eight tactics, as employed in our current society can be found in Steve Martin’s book “The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership.” They are as follows:

  1. Thinking Inside the Box: Milieu Control
  2. Illusion to Disillusion: Mystical Manipulation
  3. Getting No Where Fast: The Demand for Purity
  4. Vocal Self-Degradation: The Cult of Confession
  5. Though Shalt Not Question: The Sacred Science
  6. The Language of Nonthought: Loading the Language
  7. Fitting the Right Mold: Doctrine over Person
  8. The Elitist: The Dispensing of Existence

What has been observed is that all 8 of these tactics have been employed both in the mainstream media and in both Alt-Right and Alt-Leftist groups through the internet. Sites like Reddit, 4Chan, Twitter and even Facebook are ripe with these things and when they get taken down, they pop up in other places. There are entire groups devoted to pushing false narratives or news that employ these tactics. To the trained observer they are very easy to recognize, but to the average person who has had their objectivity slowly stripped away they are candy. To the person who can no longer think for themselves and does not realize they have lost that ability, they are cocaine. They reinforce a pre-existing narrative that has played into the cult of self. That cult says that you are the paragon of all truth and everything you read should reinforce your narrative. You are part of a tribe, and purity is expected within that tribe and do not question or let anyone question the paragon of your truth. Nothing else exists but your framework and all language must confirm your basic foundational beliefs. In those above sentences are 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8.

Let me stop here to make a distinction between a strong group (like the one modeled by the early Church) and modern Tribalism. Tribalism employs mind control practices to maintain tribal purity (3) and the dissonant are forced to confess (5) their impurity or be punished severely. In a Strong Group system everyone is working together to take care of one another (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-38). Tribalism depends upon the dispensing of any individual existence (8) (something permitted in strong groups) and complete devotion to the doctrine (7) over and against the personhood of the person involved. Tribalism has its own language and with it, their own way of identifying a boogeyman (6) usually using the word or words outside of their historical context. The point is to make you afraid of a person, place or thing so that you will become dependent upon the leader for safety and thought (1) and the leader or doctrine is divinely inspired, sometimes claiming to speak for God himself (2, 7). In the a strong group model, the leader tends and cares for their flock and encourages them to care for one another. They do not abuse their power because they recognize that they actually do not have any, their authority is not their own, it is Christ’s and the Bibles.

As Christians, we are given a way to objectively evaluate and discern systems of thoughts and the actions and thoughts of leaders. That is the Person of the Holy Spirit who Jesus tells us in John 14-16 will “Lead us into all truth.” And who Paul tells the Corinthians will help them discern between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 2:6-18) because the Spirit knows the mind and heart of God. Because we have had almost two generations of pastors whose word is “Absolute” and who have leaned into authoritarian control and discouraged discernment and preached anti-intellectualism instead of the Gospel we now have two generations of Christians who have no ability to discern what is of God and what is of the World. Because we have been fed a steady diet of fear and whataboutism we are unable to think objectively and those who do are punished. What we claim is “Free speech” is actually pre-programing so deeply engrained we all need thought-reform therapy to see how we have been trained to think in these ways, someone to show us how we have been emotionally manipulated into acting as the leader and operator of the outrage machine expects us to behave.

Christians, I ask you to read this Facebook Post from a few days back. I ask that you consider what you are reading and listening to on the internet, evaluate how it is affecting you, what is it designed to stir up in you? Does it make logical sense or is it manipulating you?

I love you and pray for you.

Church, Your Pastors Need You!

With only 10% of pastors who start the ministry, finish the ministry, 78% of pastors feel they have no close friends, we have a crisis and it is only going to get worse.

Jonathan Faulkner

Author’s Note: This was written and scheduled before the shutdowns, God’s Heart recognizes that we are all now in the same boat and feeling the isolation. We love you and miss you all! 

Ministry is not meant to be done alone and yet, 70% of pastors in America today struggle with depression and with it, 78% severe loneliness causes by a lack of close friends. This is according to Lifeway Research conducted by Thom Rainer. Every other week, it seems, we are hearing story after story about pastors burning out, pastors committing suicide, pastors getting into extra marital affairs, pastors leaving the faith altogether. The number of pastors I know who are either unhealthy, no longer pastors (some are no longer Christians) or in need of extended respite has gone up exponentially over the years. Along with that, it seems more and more Christian College and Ministry Preparation organizations like them (including seminaries) are having a harder time finding pastoral candidates and my own conference is recruiting simply because we do not have the pastors in the “pipeline” to fill our pulpits. Take my Alma Mater where, the year after I graduated boasted the largest ministry and biblical studies prep enrollment in the modern era. Just six years later they had no new recruits in this year’s incoming class. Pastoral Ministry, they are realizing, is either unpopular or downright dangerous, given the above statistics, it is likely the latter.

Now, before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer, this is not a cry for help, this is not me trying to get attention. I am writing this for my brothers who cannot> I am writing this because up until now I am relatively unscathed. I have been a pastor a total of 2 years (1.5 at my first ministry and 9.5 months at this one). I do not have 30 years of heartache, criticism and loneliness that many of my brothers do. It is something I want to find a way to avoid, as much as possible, including protecting my family from the pains and hurts that often come from Pastoral Ministry. Paul Borthwick once told our Missiology class in Seminary that missionaries experience up to a 600 on the psychological pressure scale, the average persons stress level is around 100. When asked about Pastors he said it was about 500-600 as well. Sustaining 500-600 for a long period of time is supposed to kill a person and yet, our pastors and missionaries operate on these levels from week to week. So, I am writing this as a youngling, maybe I can be dismissed as naïve. However, keep in mind, I grew up in a pastor’s household (I am a PK) and I married a PK. For that reason I have now lived on both sides of the pastoral health coin and between my wife and I we have 50+ years of pastoral family experience between us (wow, we’re not even 30 yet).

One of the ideas they are teaching us in our seminary pastoral ministry classes, at least at Gordon-Conwell was that we should teach our people what our job consists of. The old joke about pastors only working one hour or day a week comes to mind as a common misconception about what pastors do. Though most of our congregations do not actually think this is true, whenever we do talk about the pressures related to our jobs. I recently listened to a sermon from Good News Community Church in Ogunboji IA. From a pastor who was stepping down entitled: “The Sermon most pastors should not preach.” Talking about pastoral health is considered Taboo in some church circles and we are facing a reckoning because of that. It is a topic that needs to be discussed in greater detail and at greater lengths and not just in our own little pastoral huddles but in front of our congregations. The reason is both complicated and simple, the health of the pastors will help determine the health of the Church. When a Pastor feels unsupported and isolated, the congregation will suffer because of it. When the pastor feels attacked by His flock, he will attack back. An unhealthy pastor almost always leads to an unhealthy church. Churches should not only want healthy pastors, they should be going to the same lengths the pastor goes to for them, to keep him healthy.

Do you see what is being said here? Churches, your pastor needs you! In fact, scripture gives us a corrective towards the role of our shepherds. First, it is the pastor or teaching elder who carries on the teachings of the Apostles. He or she is responsible for apostolic succession defined as the passing down of the teachings to future generations. The pastor preaches the word of God, it is their primary focus and should take up most of their time. In small settings the pastor is also responsible for the care of the flock, but they cannot and should never be the sole person expected to care for the flock. In Acts 6 when the Hellenist Widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution the Apostles, who understood their primary concern was to tend to the preaching of the Word, selected a Deaconate, a word which literally means servant or minister. Now, in congregations of 20-40 it is common for the pastor to do both works and usually they are able, however once you get above 40 it becomes more difficult to care for everyone and every need. But I want you to notice that the Deacons were not called to bring matters to the Apostles so they could take care of it, they were empowered by the Apostles to Minister. The Deaconate served the Apostles by freeing them up to do the work of the Word and Sacrament while they took care of the on the ground needs. That does not mean that the Apostles were not involved in the care of souls, on the contrary, the Apostles still made visits and showed Pastoral concerns (read any of Paul’s letters) for the physical and spiritual well-being of their flocks, but they also had deacons who served them by serving their flock so they could be devoted to the word of God. Since scripture knows nothing of a non-spiritual leader in the Body of Christ we must continue in the care for our shut-ins and sick and in prison, however, we also must remember that our pastors cannot and should not be expected to do the full work of the church alone and if they are, something has gone wrong.

One of the claims of the ancient Roman Church is that Peter and Paul had two different styles of leadership, Paul believed in a plurality of leaders and Peter believed in one sole leader. I do not think scripture supports such a split, Peter’s letters and indeed his own life seem to revolve around a plurality of leaders and he acknowledges that churches have multiple under shepherds (1 Peter 5:1) it just is not the primary concern of his letter and so does not get the treatment it does within Pauline letters that deal with specific corrections to churches in specific situations. In Acts we see Peter and Paul operating within a plurality leadership structure, Elders, Overseers, Presbyters, Deacons. Again, Pastors are not excused from the care aspect of the ministry, but they should not be the only ones doing it and members should not expect pastors to do all of the visitations and all of the care.

We also have a problem in how we talk to and about pastors. That is, we would say something to a pastor that we would never say to someone else, we will make criticisms of spiritual leaders that we would not make to someone else. We hold pastors to an impossible standard of perfection and when they do not meet it, they are met with criticism and a disrespect normally only reserved for our political opponents on Facebook. If this seems like an overstatement, I have seen it and heard it firsthand in my own father’s life and have even experienced a little bit of it myself in my short ministry. I got called a “Disrespectful stupid kid” by an older member of my first church because we had a contemporary Sunday and all the Deacons and myself wore jeans and a Polo. We had even informed the church the previous two weeks and the man had plenty of time to prepare for the Sunday. Halfway through the second song the man grabbed his wife by the hand and stormed out. This kind of behavior is something we should expect to see at a pre-school, among kids who have never known any better or been taught any better. Not the behavior we should expect to see from men and women who have been Christians for 40+ years. Thom Rainer recalls the story of a young pastor who came across a woman praying in the sanctuary “against the new young pastor (him) who had brought Satan’s music into the church.” Pastors are regularly triangulated, that is, when someone says: “Someone told me” or “People are mad” when they do something that someone does not like. We get to be roast preacher by person who just shook our hands and thanked us for the sermon. This is although many of our church by-laws ban clandestine parking lot meetings and gossip. As a Pastor we have to forgive the people that hurt us, but we also need to pray for and exhort those who hurt us to be better, to grow to maturity in Christ so that they are producing the fruit of the Spirit, which, by the way, we need to produce too.

On a personal level, Paul instructs Timothy, his emissary to Ephesus, to make sure that he was taking care of himself (1 Tim 4). This is because Timothy is filling the role of an Apostle, setting back in order what the false teachers had torn asunder (1 Tim 1:5). Paul understood that unhealthy and immature leaders were the reason that the church at Ephesus was a mess and so he wanted his emissary to be healthy himself as a model of the life found in Christ. Timothy is to: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers and example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (4:12). Further, Timothy was to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16). Admittedly, when I taught Master Classes on 1st Timothy in 2013 and 2018 these were the hardest passages to teach on, they seem self-serving, but if pastors are going to teach the full council of scripture, we must teach our congregations to honor the full council, and that includes the passages about our health and responsibility. Our congregations do not need to just know how to relate to the world as Christians, they need to know how to relate to one another and we are included in that “one another.” Perhaps we need more sermons on Pastoral Health, not less, more sermons on 1st Timothy 4:11-16, not less. Timothy’s example was meant to bring a broken and unfaithful church back to saving faith in Christ, how can we do that if our congregations are allowed to treat us like we are sub human?

Now, not every church falls into this trap, there are pastor loving churches out there. One of the goals Rachel and I have in our current ministry is to turn the generosity shown to us back towards our town. We have also been blessed to have formed a friendship with two families our age and our older Church Family praises God for that. They are not perfect, we have had some bumps in the road as I learn how to communicate with a church again (interesting how seminary numbs those senses) and learn to slow down and smell the roses of small town church life. The biblical standard for all church leaders is high, overseers, elders and deacons, but the standard of Christianity (Jesus Christ himself) is so high the only way we can attain that standard is through Him. That is how it is supposed to be, how God meant it since He put Abraham to sleep on that mountainside and took the full weight of the covenant upon His own shoulders. We as pastors need to expect more from our congregational leaders and from our congregations and they need to similarly expect more from us. We have failed in our discipleship if we have a lot of Christians in our pews with a faith so fragile and conscious so weak they cannot do the work God has put before them and they disappear when things get tough.

But Church members, we need you as well. We need you to come and talk to us when you have a concern, that is one of the reasons we keep office hours. But also need you to pray through your words and handle the conversation in a manner that is healthy and mature, and which builds up and does not tear down. We need you to stop saying: “Someone said” or “People are talking” because those phrases are unhelpful and pull us into a relational triangle that is extremely unhealthy. We need you to step up and serve when asked, to be a part of the body of Christ and care for one another. Churches should not consist of one man or woman doing all the work, that is not the church, instead we are members one of another (1 Cor 14:12-26) and should be “devoted to one another in family love, honoring one another as better than ourselves” (Rom 12:10). We should also: “have the same mind as Christ who…humbled himself to death.” (Phil 2:5-11). We should be a community “Devoted to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread and the prayers…having everything in common” (Acts 2:42-47). That includes Pastors, lay people and everyone else in between.

Finally, we need you to stand up for us among yourselves and stand up for our wives and kids. My wife has been shocked at how many pastors’ wives no longer believe because of either 1. the way their husbands have been treated and 2. Because their husband has neglected to “manage his own household well” (1 Tim 3:1-11) and the busyness of ministry (some pastors report working 80-90 hours a week). I know too many Pastors kids who have left the faith altogether because of how their parents were treated by church members. Their response is: “If the people in the pews are not going to live out scripture, then I want nothing to do with Christianity.” We are servants of you, but we are also servants of Christ. Servant, however, cannot mean dehumanized slave who bows to members every whim and gets yelled out for every misstep. We need to stop infantilizing each other, pastors to their congregations and congregations to pastors. To claim the grace of God all day while we treat others gracelessly is to not actually know the grace of God.

So, what do we do? First of all, when your pastor sets a life-flow schedule like the one I have, do not mock it, do everything you can to make sure he can make it work. Pastors set a life-flow schedule and make sure your church is aware of it. When I arrived here in Buffalo Center I set out what a normal week would look like. A typical week would start with visitations on Monday (do this, it helps you deal with the usual Monday depression) and then I am in the office Tuesday and Wednesday with a text study with area pastors on Tuesday mornings. I am off on Thursday, then I hold office hours Friday and Saturday morning. Then I get up early to pray on Sunday Mornings and open up the church and prepare for the service. During those office hours I am usually preparing my sermon. General wisdom says that if you preach a 25-minute sermon you should spent about 25 hours preparing for it. Tuesday morning is devoted to preparing the text in the Greek or Hebrew, the afternoon is devoted to further study, commentary work or extra biblical reading. Wednesday is more of the same, finishing any textual work that needs done. The afternoon is for preparing for a church meeting, if we have one that night and more sermon study. I am in the office from 8-5 and after 5, unless I have a meeting, I shut it all down and go spend time with my wife and daughter. This pattern and rhythm of life will give you about 45-50 hours a week worth of work that includes the time you spend praying for your congregation (an important part of your ministry). On weeks when you have funerals you will work a lot more hours and you may not get your day off and weeks you have meetings and hospitality expectations (my wife and I try to invite visitors over for coffee/tea and dessert or a meal when they attend church) add to this, but can be seen as times when your ministry and family intersect.

The bottom line, ministry should not be a death sentence. We should not be burning out pastors if we are living as the body of Christ, no one should be burned out, we should all have all our needs, physical, spiritual and emotional, met through Christ and through the Body of Christ. We are interdependent and need to live in this manner because it is the example scripture has given us. We should not have 10% retention rate for pastors, and we should not have 70% of our pastors fighting depression and 78% of our pastors battling severe loneliness. Nobody should have to suffer these things within the body of Christ, if they are, pastor or lay person, the body is suffering from it.

Pastors then, take care of yourselves, and congregations, take care of your pastors. You may find that by allowing them to care for themselves and by caring for them. They are in a much better position to care for and love each of you as the shepherd God has placed before you to lead you further into Christ.

I write this because we love you in Christ.