Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I'm not 'singing alabama all day long'

Kid Rock (pictured) has released a new track titled All Summer Long.  I'll share a sample of the lyrics with you:
Splashing through the sand bar
Talking by the campfire
It's the simple things in life, like when and where
We didn't have no internet
But man I never will forget
The way the moonlight shined upon her hair

I'm impressed that Kid Rock will never forget 'her hair' even though he couldn't blog about it (I presume that's the scatological internet/forget couplet, as surely he wouldn't mock listeners with lazy rhyme for the sake of it....)

Anyway, if you're familiar with the arrangement, you'll know just how mercilessly derivative it is.  The piano riff is from Werewolves of London (and this really bugs me, because I experience a momentary frisson of anticipation when I hear it on the radio before grim despair sets in); guitar, chorus - who knows, maybe cover art and offset printing - from Sweet Home Alabama. If folks like sirloin steak and blueberry pie, try our blueberry steak pie!

Most of all, I get the sense that we - the listeners - are being taken for a ride.  This isn't appropriation or clever re-presentation.  There is something nasty in the sense that this pastiche is just thrown together to order, to fool and manipulate.  It makes a mockery of creativity.  In my book, Kid Rock is the Today Tonight of musical entertainment.

Why you can hire too many ministers

Who do you hire when you suddenly discover that God has grown your church large enough that the senior minister/church planter/pastor can no longer hold it all together?

In the Anglican model (the church as village centre), the senior minister is called a rector.  I'd like to think that this draws on the Latin for 'teacher', but the period between rectors is called an interregnum ('between reigns').  In a one-minister parish, the rector does it all - preaching, Sunday School, visitation, flower arranging....  However, the last 20 years has seen a decided move towards team ministries as some churches have grown to multiple congregations.

Here is how it usually works.  The morning congregation has grown and the children of the first families are now young adults.  The church decides to start a new evening congregation (the use of 'plant' in this context is a little disingenuous) for students and young workers.  However, the rector is already flat out like a lizard drinking.  So a new minister is hired to pastor the new congregation.  And this new minister is kind of a 'mini-rector', to repeat all of the behaviours of the 'maxi-rector' in the new context.

As a result, rather than a larger, unified organisation, we find many churches around Sydney with multiple congregations are effectively clusters of independent silos.  Each congregation gets its own sermons, its own small groups ministry and so on.  There are no economies of scale.  Because the mini-rector and maxi-rector are duplicating the full range of each other's efforts, too, they have no time to spend improving their teaching, ministry structures or leadership development.  And because of this, the upper size limits placed on these congregations are very strict.

Instead, churches should recognize that leaders lead best when they build on their strengths, not their weaknesses.  If a church is able to add a second full-time member of staff, the goal is to complement, not duplicate, the gifts of existing staff.  Each addition should free up existing staff to focus more and more on what they do best.  A church that begins with a pastor teacher should next appoint a gifted administrator (this is not the same as an admin assistant) to remove the administration burden from the pastor and allow them to focus more on the their teaching.  Alternatively, they might hire a small groups coordinator, music director or children's worker - but a second preaching pastor ought to be a long way down the list.

Ask the question

25 minutes. That was how long it took to ask me
"So, what does the Bible say about homosexuality?"

I regularly speak to university and high school groups and one of my favourite formats is the Open Question Time. No talk, no monologue, no holds barred; the speaker on a spit revolving slowly before his interlocutors. It's a great way to practice saying, 'I don't know.'

It is, of course, no surprise that sexual ethics has become the issue for our non-Christian friends. It is the issue on which we are most visibly distinct from our world.  That this is the case is something of a tragedy - there are many more issues on which we have much more to say (and many more on which we should be obviously different) - but that is another post.

Young Westerners have been taught to choose their ethics, and then find a worldview which fits.  Islam oppresses women (or so we are told), and so Muhammad must be wrong.  The Bible calls active homosexuality (and much more loudly, rampant hedonistic consumerism) a sin, so Christianity must be wrong.  This assumes that there is no truth that can be known which precedes and supercedes our personal preferences.

There is real merit in assessing a principle by its ethical implications.  Christianity does not produce suicide bombers; on the other hand, it does lead to charity.  However, what if we've got our ethics wrong?  What if, after all, our axiomatic affirmation of homosexuality is just a product of a culture at war with the truth?

So, when I was asked by a bright, confident young woman in year 12, 'what about homosexuality?', I should have pointed her to the God of Jesus Christ, the God whose ethics contradict our world.  This God hates sin enough to require (life)blood as its payment; and yet he is merciful enough to his enemies to shed the blood of his Son on their behalf (Mt 26.28; Jn 6:53-56; Eph 1:7; and many more besides).  These are not our ethics - they are utterly alien to the self-absorbed libertarianism which surrounds us.

In other words, if we are to move from the ethics of Jesus' teaching to Jesus himself, and in doing so meet the real Jesus, we ought to be suspicious if we like what we hear from the start.