Showing posts with label survey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label survey. Show all posts
Monday, November 16, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Help Yourself

I love self-help stuff more than you do. I realized today that I listen to Dave Ramsey talk about his "Total Money Makeover" concept between five and ten hours a week (usually whilst on my bike or out walking the dog), and I appreciate several other self-help based radio programs, Dr. Laura (don't you wish someone would pay you to be mean to people?), Clark Howard (consumer advocate), and Kim Komando (tech help) among them. On top of that, I'm addicted to websites and books about time management and productivity (see this old post for more on that). And, despite this pastorly gut I'm nursing over here (or because of it), I've also recently added books, blogs, and audio about healthy eating and weight loss to the pool of self-improvement information into which I daily immerse myself.

But as much as I love the concept of self-improvement, I will never (yeah, I do say never) use my pulpit to teach self-help tips and techniques to my congregation. Not even if I could slap some Scripture snippets on top to make it seem like I was truly preaching God's Word. You won't hear "Five Tips for a Better Marriage" or "Dealing With Debt God's Way" from my pulpit, although I'd be more than happy to recommend a good book or even a class or support group (meeting in a church or not) that deals with a particular area of self-improvement.

What's my problem with sermons based in "practical application," you ask? Well, setting aside for a moment that the term "practical application" is a red herring here (after all, true biblical application can only be done when and if the Scriptures have been observed, studied, and interpreted correctly), my problem is two-fold:

1. Although self-help information and programs (in any number of fields) are of interest to me, and although I acknowledge that equipping people to make their lives better, healthier, happier, and more productive is a noble pursuit. . . neither of those are criteria for biblical preaching. Heck, I'm also into biking, NBC's The Office, '90s punk music, and amateur carpentry; yet I don't spend my precious sermon time each week recapping what Jim and Pam are up to or rating local bike paths. And, while I think everyone ought to know how to change his or her own oil, I'm not about to make that the subject of next week's homily either (although I'm sure that someone, somewhere has). Simply because a topic is beneficial or of general interest does not mean that we should preach on it. Too often, the personal interests of a preacher—whether Right Wing (or Left Wing) politics, a hobby horse social issue, or love of professional sports—dictate the content of preaching, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. The preacher's main task is to proclaim the Gospel: God saw that we were like sheep without a shepherd headed for eternal separation from him, so he came down and, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself by dying on a cross. The Gospel is about what God has done, not what we should do. Thus, this is the one area of human life where you cannot do anything to help yourself. In fact, for a sinner to try and improve his condition will only serve to further harden his heart against the Good News. If I preach self-improvement or self-help mixed in with the Gospel (or instead of it), I will be feeding the sense, native to fallen man, that he can and must become a saint by his own will and effort in order to please God. Lending false confidence to the flesh of unregenerate men and women is not what I'm called to do, and if I ignore my calling in order to get better feedback and more butts in the seats, I set myself up for a scathing rebuke from my Lord, who told the Pharisees, "You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. "

But, wait... Once you're saved, shouldn't you move "beyond the Gospel" to the good stuff? The real practical stuff? In a word, no. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just for unbelievers; it's what draws Christians together every Lord's Day—the Gospel publicly read in God's Word (Christ and his cross being found in all Scripture), preached from the pulpit, and tasted in bread and wine. What happens when churches assume the Gospel and instead preach tips for better living? This does: WHI Survey of Faith and Practice. Peruse those results for a minute. That's right, 90% of respondents attend church every week. And 96% agree that "God is a helpful coach who's there to help us when we need him." 96 percent! Why? Because their pastors are preaching self-help, self-improvement, and tips for living your best life now instead of preaching the Gospel.

We are in desperate need of a generation that returns to the proclamation of the Gospel as the center of life, especially church life. Sure, as I preach my way through books of the Bible, there will come blocks of instruction about family life, business ethics, and a million other topics, but for a Gospel preacher, those are the side dish, the garnish. The main course of our Holy meal is always Christ and him crucified.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

What's More Riveting Than Clergy Surveys?

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been getting plenty hairy around here.

Actually, let me clarify: 1. It hasn't been hairy at all, and 2. If you caught the pop culture reference in the above paragraph, first award yourself thirty points, then feel mildly guilty for how worldly you are. Not me, man. I just read The Onion so I can "engage culture."
Or something.

But it has been a while and for that I apologize. My Google Analytics for the last period pretty much looks like a chart of the stock market over the past--oh, let's say seventy--days. So why the absence? Well, I had been working on my new website, but I kind of dropped the ball on that too. In fact, if you're reading this, you've got nothing overly pressing going at the moment; so do me a favor and register for the message boards over on Calvinati. Help a reverend out.

At any rate, I'm back on the blog with a vengaence! Bringing those blow-your-skirt-up, knock-your-socks-off, break-your-shin-bones items of intense interest that get the masses fired up (this parenthetical is just here to keep the sentence from ending with a preposition). And what is more riveting than clergy surveys? And I'm not talking just any clergy surveys, but clergy surveys....waaaaait for the University of Akron?! The answer, to quote Nigel Tufnel, is none.

Last year, I was asked to take part in a study called Clergy Voices: Mainline Protestant Clergy Survey. The enclosed absract explained that the study was centered around how mainline clergy view a variety of social, religious, and political issues. I get such requests in the mail somewhat frequently and generally just recycle the heck out them, because I haven't the time. But when something says "mainline," I can't resist. As a theologically conservative pastor, smitten with the doctrines of grace and disgusted by the market-driven antics of Evangelicaldom, I'm a rare specimen to find pastoring a church in a mainline denomination (the Amercian Baptist Churches-USA, or ABC-USA). Yet here I am. And it feels good to throw my sense/two cents in to affect the outcome in my own little way.

Last week, the results of the survey were released. I wrote "BLOG" on the outside of the envelope in Sharpie and threw it in my inbox. When I opened it up this morning, I expected to find bullet after bullet of depressing information about apostate clergy, adding to my already moderate-to-heavy apostasy funk. I was planning on blogging about why I remain in this denomination. [BTW, the answer is that I love the American Baptist Churches-USA. Like a mother. I also love the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church of America, and all the rest. And I'd rather stay here and shine my light than pull out with so many others, leaving the landscape that much darker. I often draw a parallel to the Netherlands, a country that was once marked by a vibrant and orthodox church that spoke volumes to a culture that actually listened (can you say Abraham Kuyper?). Then many (most?) of the pillars of the Dutch church--some of them my ancestors--left the Netherlands for West Michigan. Look at the ol' Netherlands now. I think you can legally marry your Christmas turkey while smoking your Christmas weed and shooting up your Christmas herion (only I'm sure they don't call it Christmas anymore) and I understand that it's smart to have "Please don't euthenize me!" tattooed on your forehead in case you skin your knee and an over-zealous Dutch EMT decides to "help you out."]

The findings, though, weren't nearly what I feared. There was one horribly-depressing chart which reported that only 44% of ABC-USA pastors would describe themselves as "born again" (what does that mean about the other 56% in light of John 3:3?) The really sad thing was that, of the eight denominations covered, the ABC was the highest with 44%. The ELCA was lowest with 6%! What's more, only 35% of the same pastors would call themselves "evangelical..." despite all being pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Hey, the last shred of consistency vis–à–vis your religious identity called; bad news--it wants out.

Most of the findings, though, were about as unremarkable as Carrot Top using props. The "highlights:"

  • There was the normal stuff about how the mainlines are shrinking (especially the PC-USA) and the none-too-shocking news that mainline clergy are overwhelmingly white, old, and male (despite all the noise about inclusiveness and diversity).
  • Mainline clergy are far more likely to identify as liberal (48%)and Democrat (56%) than conservative (34%) and Republican (34%). I was admittedly surprised that only 32% of ABC clergy identify themselves as liberal--the lowest of the eight denominations.
  • A vast majority of mainline clergy believe that government should be fixing the problems of unemployment, poor housing, poverty, health care, and the environment. As far as I'm concerend, how pastors view the role of government is completely unrelated to their sacred calling as ministers, but I fear that most in that majority thought they were answering "out of" that sacred call. In other words, if man's problem is evil systems, not the evil and sin in his own heart, then the solution is, of course, fixing systems.
  • Two thirds of those surveyed believe in some legal recognition for same-sex couples and employment non-discrimination for gays. It may surprise you that I am part of the two thirds. (It's called the doctrine of two kingdoms; learn it, live it).
  • Speaking of which, only 65% of mainline clergy respondants think the U.S. should maintain a strict separation of church and state. Let me just say that, after what our Baptist forebears went through, any Baptist who was part of the minority on that issue should be defrocked. And by defrocked, I mean have an actual frock placed on them and then beaten with lengths of rubber hose until said frock comes off.

It doesn't really get much more interesting than that. It's my experience that surveys usually wind up unfulfilling a la those "100 Random Things About Me" e-mail forewards. If you have any thoughts on mainline denominations and remaining in them, then hit "Comment" below.

In a couple days, I'll have a sermon twofer for ya. And a picture of a rooster. A rooster. Yeah--I'm back.