Wednesday, May 18, 2016

HARVEY COX: THE FUTURE OF FAITH


I have an unusual hobby: I collect generalizations. The scholars who supply them have a magisterial grasp of their subject, and can offer outrageously simple ‘global statements’ without fear of contradiction. This book is full of them.

Harvey Cox retired from the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard University in October 2009 (he was the ninth person to hold this prestigious post which, established in 1727, is the oldest endowed professorship in American higher education.)

I remember as a theological student reading his The Secular City when it was first published in 1965: and I’m not surprised it’s sold one million copies.

An ordained Baptist minister, Cox’s main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography, theology and spirituality) with a special focus on Latin American liberation theology. In 1900 90% of Christians lived either in Europe or in the US but today 60 percent live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. Dr Cox writes: ‘Since the vast majority of people in this “new Christendom” are neither white nor well-off, their theological questions center less on the existence or nonexistence of God or the metaphysical nature of Christ than on why poverty and hunger still stalk God’s world. It is little wonder that liberation theology, the most creative theological movement of the twentieth century, did not originate in Marburg or Yale, but in the tar-paper shacks of Brazil and the slums of South Korea.’

This readable book is a cross between autobiography and polemics. Cox takes us on a journey through three phases of the evolution of Christianity: the Age of Faith (kiboshed – my word – by Constantine), the Age of Belief and the Age of the Spirit. His sympathies are categorically with the first and last of these, and his vitriol is mostly reserved for institutional and theological fundamentalisms of all kinds. The early churches were vibrant, enthusiastic communities dedicated to ‘following’ Jesus. But in ‘The Age of Belief’ from the fourth to the twentieth centuries, faith became entangled with rituals, liturgies and creeds, orthodox theology mostly replaced personal religion, and a stifling clericalism developed.

So the gist of  can be summarized thus: the church world-wide is in good shape when it jettisons at least three concomitants of ‘Constantinianism’ – institutionalism, hierarchicalism, and creedalism. These three destructive tendencies are not compatible with the church as a missional community; they destroy faith (as distinct from ‘beliefs’). Cox reckons the Pentecostals in Latin America (those influenced by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and liberation theology rather than Western notions of ‘prosperity theology’) point the way to a dynamic ‘Age of the Spirit’. One of the key secrets of these ecclesial communities’ social justice ministries? They make lists – lists of people in their neighbourhood who need help. And – importantly - they and the Catholic ‘base ecclesial communities’ are not imprisoned within a fundamentalism of ‘Jesus as personal savior whose mission [is] to rescue them from a sinful world…’

‘Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge as the twenty-first century hurtles forward, and this change is taking place along with similar reformations in other world religions’ (p.212). So the healthiest Christianity emphasizes faith as a way of life (rather than the fundamentalists’ doctrinal boxes we must tick), respectful inter-faith dialogue, and ‘deeds not creeds’ (his quote from conservative pastor Rick Warren).

‘Christianity came to birth in the midst of cultural change — it is a movement born to travel – it takes on life with each succeeding cultural transition. But for this to happen again, some old wine-skins must be discarded, and the incubus of a self serving and discredited picture of Christian origins must be set aside’ (p.184). ‘We stand on the beautiful threshold of a new chapter in the Christian story – Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of the second phase (the Age of Belief) and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined. I would like to call it the Age of the Spirit’ (p.8).

For Cox, faith starts with awe, not propositions. ‘It begins with a mixture of wonder and fear all human beings feel toward the mystery that envelops us. But awe becomes faith only as it ascribes some meaning to that mystery.’ (Interesting that. As I pondered where my Christian faith began, I have to say it wasn’t awe – though that came later – but a commitment to the person and teaching of Jesus…).

Harvey Cox would probably not categorize himself a ‘theological progressive’, but critiques that movement as he does all others. (You’ll be hard-pressed to find here any reference to Spong or Crossan: Borg, I think, is mentioned just once – or N T Wright or John Stott for that matter. And interestingly he doesn’t cite any websites in his references/ endnotes).

Here’s the best quote in the book:

‘I have often seen what damage both fundamentalist literalism and historical-critical skepticism can do to otherwise thoughtful and serious people. Take the critical specialists with a grain of salt: they are not experts in what the Bible means for today. And the fundamentalists? Their literalistic reading is a modern and questionable one.’ (p. 168)

This readable book is a real page-turner! You can get the paperback edition post-free from the Book Depository for AUD $14-78: excellent value.

~~

Rowland Croucher

http://jmm.aaa.net.au

July 2011

~~~~

More notes from an earlier version:I have an unusual hobby: I collect generalizations. Those who supply them usually have a magisterial grasp of their subject, and can offer outrageously simple 'global statements' without fear of contradiction. Harvey Cox is one of those people, and this book is full of them. Harvey Cox retired from the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard University in October 2009 (he was the ninth person to hold this prestigious post which, established in 1727, is the oldest endowed professorship in American higher education.)I remember as a theological student reading his The Secular City when it was first published in 1965: and I'm not surprised it's sold one million copies.

An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.

An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.An ordained Baptist minister, his main area of interest has been trends in global Christianity (its history, geography and spirituality) with a special focus on liberation theology in Latin America.Dr Cox has been interested in religion, culture and politics throughout his career. His 1965 book, The Secular City sold a million copies. That book painted the church as a people of faith and action, not an institution. The Future of Faith, a 256 page essay, builds on the concept of church as a people. The church as entering a totally new era now, Dr Cox proclaims, which is the Age of the Spirit. In this exciting new time, different cultural backgrounds will add new life to the church; a prophetic vision of social justice will challenge structures of power and oppression.Christian people of faith and action are once again on the verge of something new. Like the early church, where different languages, cultures and backgrounds co-existed in radical groups that lived Jesus' good news in different ways and under different kinds of structure, this new era will encompass many different Christian paths: liberation theology, Pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, and the cultures of the East and the sub-European South. Dr Cox reminds us that in 1900 90% of Christians lived either in Europe of in The USA but today 60 percent live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.As Dr Cox puts it"Since the vast majority of people in this "new Christendom" are neither white nor well-off, their theological questions center less on the existence or nonexistence of God or the metaphysical nature of Christ than on why poverty and hunger still stalk God's world. It is little wonder that liberation theology, the most creative theological movement of the twentieth century, did not originate in Marburg or Yale, but in the tar-paper shacks of Brazil and the slums of South Korea."Dr Cox's newest book, like his others,When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices TodayThe feast of fools: A theological essay on festivity and fantasy (Perennial library,) is no dry history with glances toward the future. While Dr Cox does describe past eras of Christian experience, his call is to help us see the rapidly approaching future and the moving Spirit. This new era will move us toward the fullest potential of our Earth, and, as St Paul says, we won't see this "as in a dark mirror ... but face to face." If you are interested in the synthesis of politics and history, of culture and religion, this is a book worth reading. If you are discouraged at where we human beings seem to be right now, this book is, like a good sermon, something that will lift you up.****The Future of Faith (Hardcover)Dr Cox is imminently qualified to take the reader from the beginnings of the history of Christianity up to the present day and he convincingly makes the case for the future of faith which will not and cannot be controlled by religious institutions. He clearly indicates that it will never be "creeds" alone which will determine the future forms of Christianity, but rather the "deeds" which Jesus exemplified as the prime elements of the kingdom. I might suggest that there is also another dimension in this equation which I would include along with this illiteration and that is "needs". The needs of the people play an important role in the changing expression of the church and it could easily be placed alongside of "creeds" and "deeds". The needs of the people who do believe, and many of them thirst for the mysteries and power of the kingdom to manifest in their personal lives. Jesus did say that "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled". There are those who have thirsted not only for righteousness but for spiritual gifts and powers, whose prayers God has heard. Dr Cox does state this fact in other lines of thought when he refers to the "age of the spirit" and the rise of "Pentecostalism". He makes it very clear that "we need not assume that creedal Christianity is the only option" p78. Here is the crux of the matter, there are other options in the experience and expressions of the Chritian faith that have continued to break out of the molds and constraints of both hierarchical and creedal Christianity.In chapter three, Dr Cox uses the metaphor, "we find ourselves on a ship that has already been launched" pg 37. We are passengers among many others who are sailing in the midst of spiritual mystery,"but how we live with it differs". He deals with this fact throughout the book and tries to impress upon the reader that Christianity has never been monolithic and never will be. As long as people can think, question, and interpret for themselves truth and meaning, there will be differences in perception and changes in the expression of the gospel of the kingdom.Dr Cox indicates that changes in the interpretation and expression of the gospel will contiune to come as Christianity moves forward into the future. He says on pg 196, "Christianity understood as a system of beliefs guarded and transmitted through a privileged religious institution by a clerical class is dying. Instead, today Christianity as a way of life, shared in a vast variety of ways by a diverse global network of fellowships is arising". The book is scholarly written and yet the author expresses a spiritual sensitivity toward the church at large. There are no overtones of harshness in the pages as he presents the things he is seeking to share. There are no attacks, simply an earnest attempt to present the facts as he sees them. After all, he is on board the same ship of Chrisitanity that many others are sailing on. Thurman L Faison, Author "To The Spiritually Inclined"****Harvey Cox has played a significant role in relation to ecumenism, inter-faith dialogue and the history of ideas. In many ways, this book reflects his breadth of experience and celebrates his life-long contribution. It is beautifully written and easy to read, and so it will appeal to a wide audience. It offers a timely challenge to the institutional Church, as well as a word of hope for those who are searching for meaning. His main concern is the two-fold shift from faith to belief and from dynamic Christian communities to static hierarchical structures. In this light, his reflections on the Emperor Constantine's corporate takeover of the Church in the 4th century are illuminating. Moreover, we all benefit greatly from his broad experience of world religions as well as the Church in the Global south. In short, Harvey Cox's experience is not only interesting, but it also lends weight to his heart-felt plea for faith and freedom.****Harvey Cox' book is a page turner! It is destined to rival Augustine's Confessions as classic religious autobiography. In this readable account, Harvey Cox speaks vulnerably about the beginnings of his faith as a fundamentalist Baptist with a complete description of his baptism by immersion. He repeatedly speaks openly about his liberation from belief to a person of faith. "The Spirit cannot be restricted by doctrinal or ecclesial boundaries." He talks of his liberation from fundamentalism as a university student at Penn where during a religious retreat in southern New Jersey he discovered his belief in liberal mainline Protestant theology disagreed with the bibliolatry of more fundamentalist-evangelical students aligned with the Inter-Varisty Christian Fellowship student movement. Dr. Cox' often nostalgic personal spiritual catharsis continues by speaking of his freedom from belief to become a person of faith. Possibly many, with him, can relate to the bane of creedal formulations of historic Christianity, from which one may find freedom. I was especially struck with his account of his liberation from Gnosticism where through the use of neo-Platonic dualism he continually pitted faith against belief, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Clearly, his personal spirituality counters the both-and resolution of un-necessarily rivaling motifs. Can a person of belief simul be a person of faith? According to this autobiography, apparently not. I wondered often out loud about the church leaders who took 500 years to write the poetry of the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed and how the earliest Christians might have learned "to read symbolic language symbolically" while reciting the Creed in Mass or later in other liturgical Christian forms of worship. As I continued to read this book, I was challenged by Cox' ongoing war with fundamentalism, as if this were any different from his own "fundamentalistic" critique of historic Christianity which might be stated in the following Five Fundamentals. 1. There is no such thing as Early Christianity.2. All Christian Creeds are flawed. 3. Belief and Faith are mutually exclusive 4. Anything Western about Christian Faith is in error. 5. Ecclesiology should be banned from Christian theology. I was furthered enamored by Dr. Cox' diatribe and spiritual concern with literalism, as I read his own book written by him using words, all of which I took literally, without a "tone-deafness to literalism." Cox' autobiography informs the reader of his inter-faith conversations with world religious leaders. I was saddened that the Pope failed to offer him lunch. I was surprised that fundamentalist pastor Rick Warren even made it into his autobiography, but then, Warren's quote "deeds, not creeds" supported his thesis. Possibly the new word Harvey Cox coins----"hascent, on page 77" is the symbolism which most appropriately assesses this book. I failed to locate this descriptor in any dictionary he identifies with the "first two and a half centuries of the Christian movement"--you see, I was reading his book literally. I took great interest in Cox' appraisal of base communities as the answer to all that's wrong with the organized church; but then, where are the base communities today while all those Pentecostal churches from the West abound and flourish, as he states? I was intrigued that whenbase communities did exist, they were not spoiled by the fundamentalism of a "Jesus as personal savior whose mission was to rescue them from a sinful world..."In sum, Harvey's intellectually-challenged and poorly-researched book is more the author's nostalgic spiritual journey than it is a scholarly history of Christianity. It is, however, prophetic; for it forecasts the conclusion to historic Christian faith. If this book represents academic research [one footnote for every 3 pages], Christian faith may have no future in America, or anywhere, even in the global South. An author with integrity would have marketed it as his own personal spiritual journey. This book is an insult and an affront to any thinking theologian who still cares about scholarship and who calls herself Christian.****Awe becomes faith only as it ascribes meaning to the mystery, September 21, 2009By John Philoponus "Ortho Arbiter" (Nitria, Virtual Ortho America) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: The Future of Faith (Hardcover)"Faith starts with awe. It begins with a mixture of wonder and fear all human beings feel toward the mystery that envelops us. But awe becomes faith only as it ascribes some meaning to that mystery." Harvey CoxWhat shape faith is taking in the 21st century?Recently I listened attentively to Professor Harvey Cox as he discussed The Future of the Christian Faith, while he examines the status of other world beliefs, on the PBR. Parallel to his fine book, he traced the evolutionary development of the faith through two phases, 'The Age of Faith' and 'The Age of Belief.' In his book, Cox argues that Christianity is entering an age of more experience applicable mode. One basic focus is on social justice, led by South American theologians. World's great religions are undergoing reformative evolution, which he discussed in the last chapter of his book, where he tabulates few examples in Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. Cox comments on the 'emerging church movement' and its influence on mainstream churches in America, simply as, "religious people are becoming less dogmatic and more practicing more aware of ethical issues and spiritual guidelines than in religious Dogma." He looks more optimistic than his early time of 'The secular City,' wishful that the future of faith is forward expansive, transparent, and hopeful.The Age of the Spirit:The faith of the early Christians was knitted around the hope for the new kingdom of peace that Jesus preached and practiced. As their Jewish ancestors, early Christians emphasized community rather than creeds or rituals. The pre Constantine Christianity demonstrated a religious faith variety, with charity and fellowship, against an imperial Roman pagan character. "The Age of Belief," as Cox calls it, from the fourth to the twentieth century, faith became entangled with rituals, liturgies and creeds, orthodox theology replaced personal religion, which resulted in the glorification of clergy and a history of mundane Church corruption. According to Cox, following WW II, "The Age of the Spirit," began, half a century ago, and continues to shake the foundations of patriarchal corporate religion. The prophetic author, gives examples of the last gasps of the old model. He has little sympathy for this outdated conservatism, even he wrote against the remaining part of it, clinging to petrified beliefs. In the midst of fast paced globalization and facing an apparent revival of fundamentalism, Cox ponders the de-Hellenization of Christianity, the growth of the interfaith movement, the surge of Pentecostalism, and the just cause of liberation theology.Harvey G. Cox:This eminent Harvard theologian sees Christian faith as focused by Christ on the new order which he called "the kingdom of God." Cox says that it was "the heartbeat of his life, his constant concern and preoccupation," well presented by many books including The Secular City, 1965, an international bestseller. His most recent work "The Future of Faith" is released to coincide with Cox's retirement. Harvey Cox [...] is the recently retired Professor of Divinity emeritus at Harvard whose last book is entitled, "The Future of Faith." My good friend, Jack LaMar, who still labors in God's pastoral vineyards in Elcho, Wisconsin, was kind enough to send me Cox's latest work as a birthday present. Since you ask-you did, didn't you?-what I thought of the book, here are my thoughts.It's a moderate investment of one's time, covering 224 pages and written in quite understandable layman's language. It would be helpful if the reader has a little background in Christian theology and the history of the church, but even without that background it does not appreciably limit Cox's ability to communicate his message.That core message, as I understand it, is that Christianity began in a "faith" mode, but, then, beginning most notably in the 4th century, deteriorated into a "belief" mode and its future lies with trying to get into a "spirit" mode.Perhaps a subtitle to the book, obviously greatly overdrawn, would be the thesis, "deeds, not creeds." That's what Christianity should be about, says Cox.When the Church began it overcame and burst out of the Jewish trappings in which it originated. Through the Apostle Paul, the good news of Jesus went out into the gentile world, the Greek speaking world. Cox sees the early church as a vibrant, enthusiastic group of communities dedicated to "following" Jesus. Not following "about" Jesus, but trying to devote themselves to what Jesus meant to his own community and "doing" that in the context of others. So, he talks about the early church's mission to help others, serve the poor, etc., although I think that kind of mission was mostly intended for members of the fellowship, instead of some wider community enterprise. In other words, members of the early church made sure their own people were taken care of and tended to, and probably less concerned about the needs of the rest of the city.It seems that Dr. Cox would see in the Letters of Paul, and other writings, both that made our Protestant accepted 27 books in the New Testament, and those that did not, e.g., the Gospel of Thomas, the letters of Clement, as less theological proposals and more pastoral. In other words "faith" was being promoted, and, where wranglings and disputes took place in the church, as they will in any community of people, the accent was on common sense resolution instead of proposed theological dogma.Unfortunately, says Cox, the church began to lose its way when it moved from a "faith" accented community to a "belief" driven community. In other words, the church decided to codify faith by issuing statements of faith, another word for "creeds." He does not seem to think that the development of the "apostle's creed," or the Nicene Creed, or any other exclusionary statement of faith helped the church to be the church, as he sees it.Essentially, says Cox, the church moved from a faith based organization, where it was for at best several hundred years, to a structured belief based organism. That movement got pretty well solidified in the 4th century when Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity as the official religion of the empire. Then you see the structure really develop, people jockeying for importance and power in the church, the development of the apostolic succession of bishops, read, papacy, etc.The church has been in this latter mode for a long, long time. It has become stale, stultified, and stuffy. It has got to change. Not that Cox sees returning to some golden age of the church, but kind of. The church has to get to the mode of the "spirit." Faith was a thing of the past. Good, but in the past. Belief, with all of the creeds and individual theologies that insisted that its members had to believe a certain thing or a certain way, whether that source of authority was the pope or the bible, it was still creedal. It was still bogged down in a belief system. We have to look for our models for a spirit community for Christians both within and without.Dr, Cox sees examples and models in the Christian liberation theology that has come out of Latin and South America, where the church "does," where it is involved with the poor and the downtrodden, where it enacts the message of Jesus, as Dr. Cox sees it.He looks to other religions, including the Hindus and Buddhists who do more doing and less believing, as further examples. And, he lifts up the Muslims who, as part of their faith, have a very involved commitment to be very charitable and supportive, especially monetarily, to those of their own ilk.As somewhat of a sidebar, Dr. Cox tells about his early religious experience as a Baptist and how he moved from faith to the belief mode. He speaks of his time and work with some Christian fundamentalist groups early on in life and of how he left them behind, but not unkindly. He understands "fundamentalism" and that it is not limited to Christianity, as Karen Armstrong has so ably pointed out in her writings. Notably, there are Christian fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists and Jewish fundamentalists. These groups have some common characteristics. Circle the wagons. Encourage people to come in, but protect those from within. Keep them in. Don't let them be corrupted by those outside the circle.I found it interesting that Cox does not fear the take over of Christian fundamentalism in America. Despite the fact that main line churches seem to be receding in membership and attendance, and we are seeing an increase in the bible churches, etc., Cox is so bold as to propose that fundamentalism is dying! No matter how much we try to fence ourselves off, the barriers and demarcations are less and less. Can't keep anything in and can't keep anything out. Things just seem to be melding.While Cox sees fundamentalism dying, he seems to extol the virtues of Pentecostalism, especially as it is represented in the Latin and South American countries where he sees it as a faith movement, a movement of the spirit where everything ostensibly is geared to the Kingdom of God, an overarching theme to Cox's understanding of the spirit community. We are working in and for the Kingdom of God, as proposed by Jesus and called by Jesus to belong to and commit to.Anyhow, I think the book is interesting and challenging. Cox does not want to say that church, the Christian community, should be founded on "feeling," but when he talks about the Pentecostals, and how they worship and how they see mission, which he thinks is worthy of emulation, I don't know how you just give up all reason, all attempts at formulating theology. Is theology not longer an enterprise of the church, even though it has not always served the church well over the centuries, read the Inquisition and the dealing with heretics?I guess what I am saying is that Dr. Cox seems to want to eschew creedal theology for what he calls the spiritual nature of people and the church. It just seems to me that as I read the letters of Paul, especially his letter to the Romans, that Paul sees it necessary for the church to understand where it came from, where it is and where it is going, and, consequently, the plan that God has not just for the church, but also the synagogue and that much larger community of the world outside those two institutions.But, if you have a chance, read Cox's book. He truly is a readable, presentable and understandable theologian.****I have always wondered what the dialogue would sound like if the religious right (fundamentalists) took the time to study the history and origin of their beliefs. This is a great book and offers sanity and REALITY to the Christian faith. (Quite a refreshing change from the tired, mythological beliefs that define the fundamental Christian religion.) The Future of Faith is an excellent read on many levels. It is well written, interesting and not a boring theological thesis.****About forty years ago, Harvard Professor Harvey Cox wrote THE SECULAR CITY.In autumn 2009, he retired as Hollis Professor of Divinity, first exercisinghis right to bring a cow to graze in Harvard Yard.THE FUTURE OF FAITH is his latest book. In the opening of the final chapter, Cox quotes the fictional islanders of Aldous Huxley's ISLAND. They pray, "GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY FAITH, BUT DELIVER US FROM BELIEFS." Cox comments, "Huxley got this one right. In the preceding chapters I have shown how Christianity, which began as a movement of Spirit guided by faith, soon clotted into a catalog of beliefs administered by a clerical class. But now ... the process is being reversed. Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying."From Einstein & Jerry Falwell to Thomas Jefferson and Huxley, in THE FUTURE OF FAITH, Cox carries us through the transformation from creeds to spiritual practice. The book has many marvelous vignettes: McGill Professor Arvind Sharma is asked if he was a "believing" or "practicing" Hindu. Sharma smiled and responded, "Well, if you live in a haunted house, does that mean you believe in ghosts?"Cox comments, "To some extent we all live in haunted houses. But although the houses may be in one shrinking global village, they remain separate houses."Cox predicts that opposition to the ordination of women and gays is a reactionary effort. "... yearning for the realization of God's reign of SHALOM, is finding its soul again. ... The future will be a future of faith." ****So far in my 66 years of life I have avoided reading any books by Harvey Cox, such as the Secular City. I did hear him lecture once in 1965, but I wasn't listening then. For different reasons - such as my interest in the Progressive Church movement - I decided to pick up this book. This author is so clear, fairly easy to read, yet so brilliant. I am so amazed and so grateful. Harvey would probably not list himself as a progressive, but would critique that movement as he does all others. He stands alone by the sheer stature of his breth and depth of years of study and teaching. Yet he stands among us all as a friend of faith - not of "the faith", but of faith itself. Whatever that is, he will help you decide. Yes, do read this book.****"Harvey Cox was therefore concerned not so much with 'eternal' truths as with truth for today, truth for action, and he suspected that a faith which responded primarily to ideas was more likely to be idolatrous and less likely to be redemptive than one that responded to events and experience." [...]Logic and discovery of faith:Harvey Cox, a young Harvard professor became the best-selling voice of secularism in America with his 1965 book, The Secular City. Throughout four decades since, he pursued a radical innovative interpretation of working faith. He sees the old thinking in the 'new atheism' of thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Chris. Hitchens. Henri PoincarĂ©, one of France's greatest mathematicians and theoretical physicists once wrote, "It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover." The debates between faith and atheism, he says, obscure the interplay between faith and forms of knowledge that is unfolding today.The Future of faith:The study of the future of faith is therefore the pursuit of the ideal, the search for God's highest and ultimate truth. It is the quest, by God's grace, to improve all things, including faith itself. Jesus did not endorse any "Faith future scenario" before him, but presented the case by asking, [And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:8] On this verse and Jesus following parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Harvey Cox supported his view on the recent NPR interview, mentioned by Cosmas in his precedent fine review. Jesus told this parable to those who trusted themselves, their rituals, and their dogmatic belief, positioning themselves on the extreme Pelagian position of non assisted intellectual personal salvation. Jesus prophetically saw the future of such legalistic belief, leading to the collapse of the Israeli religion instituted on the Jewish Temple of his generation. To save Israel from the coming catastrophic path he kept advocating the way of faith, that God would raise the dead nation. that is why, Jesus resurrection became for his disciples the sign that God was raising up a New House, a total restoration of Israel and humanity would follow his teaching. So, Jesus saw a renewed future, in Jeremiah 31:31 where humans could fulfill their potential of living abundantly when they were restored to God's New covenant.Book Review:The renowned Harvard Divinity School Professor and author of The Secular City, The Feast of Fools, The Seduction of the Spirit, ... talks about his faith, and the religious resurgence taking place in America and abroad in his new book, The Future of Faith. He offers a new interpretation of the history and manages to extrapolate the future of religion. Rev. Cox, a Baptist Minister, ordained in 1957, has a unique take on Christianity, and while questioning the meaning of Resurrection, he celebrates Jesus life and teaching, urging us to practice an imitation of Christ, and takes his teachings to the secular world representing them to our flawed society. Today, religious people are more interested in a living faith guidelines and related spiritual practices than in Church Dogmas, leading a universal trend away from a patriarchal, hierarchical, corporate religion. As these changes gain momentum, they evoke a spontaneous graphic fundamentalist reaction, that he argues, is dying slowly out all around the globe. ****Harvey Cox is Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard University. He retired from the faculty in 2009, where he has taught since 1965.I am fascinated by this book. It is truly the epic summary of the life's work of one of the most profound theological thinkers and teachers in the past 50+ years --- an American one at that.The book begins with a question: "What does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular?" Cox proceeds by guiding the reader through three phases of the evolution of Christianity: The Age of Faith, The Age of Belief and the Age of the Spirit. Throughout each phase Cox provides an incredibly rich context for the points he is illuminating. This approach gives the texture of the book one that is logically presented, easy to follow --- and maintains the reader's hunger for more. I found I was unable to put it down and when I did, came back hungry for another helping.Where does Cox end up at the conclusion? Listen to these excerpts: All signs suggest we are poised to enter a new Age of the Spirit and that the future will be a future of faith" (p.224). "Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge as the twenty-first century hurtles forward, and this change is taking place along with similar reformations in other world religions" (p.212).Yet, it would be inappropriate to simply leave you with the bottom-line conclusions of this epic contribution. It is the richness of the writing, the masterful, insightful weaving of history, and the sharing of attention grabbing wisdom that accompanies the reader throughout this entire book, that makes it apparent that you are in the midst of a story being shared by a very wise and leaned friend. Allow me to share a few more excerpts to illustrate this important point:"People turn to religion more for support in their efforts to live in this world and make it better, and less to prepare for the next" (pp.2-3) Cox makes an important distinction between faith and beliefs throughout the book while weaving the weight of history into support his positions. According to Cox, Faith is about deep-seated confidence - vital for the way we live - it is primordial - hope and assurance that translates into the way we live our lives --- each and every day (pp.3-5). Belief, according to Cox, is more like opinion - We can believe something to be true without it making much difference to us. Creeds are clusters of beliefs. Christianity is the story of a people of faith who sometimes cobbled together creeds out of beliefs. It is also the history of equally faithful people who questioned, altered and discarded those same creeds"(pp.3-5).For the author, "To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun" (p.5). So, where are we today? "We stand on the beautiful threshold of a new chapter in the Christian story - Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of the second phase (the Age of Belief) and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined. I would like to call it the Age of the Spirit" (p.8).As we "transition" into this new Age of The Spirit that Cox clearly observes (and provides ample evidence to support said observations), he provides some insights, challenges and suggestions:"How the new can grow out of the old without wasting time trying to dismantle it" (p.173).Faith is returning to become "a primary life orientation" (p. 179) --- not intellectual assent to a box of beliefs, creeds, doctrine and dogma."Christianity came to birth in the midst of a cultural change --- it is a movement born to travel - it takes on life with each succeeding cultural transition - But for this to happen again, some old wineskins must be discarded, and the incubus of a self serving and discredited picture of Christian origins must be set aside" (p.184)"The fact that the most fruitful and exciting movements in Christianity today are taking place on the margins of existing ecclesial structures should not surprise anyone. Historically speaking, "schism" and "heresy" have often heralded the deepening and extension of the faith. Sometimes they are condemned, sometimes honored, and sometimes both, starting with the first and only later ending up with the second" (p.197)."One clear Christian example of the both the renaissance of spirituality and the transmutation in the nature of religiousness is what is being called the emerging church" (p.218)....emphasis is mine.Where does Cox conclude? "A religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable" (221). "The wind of the Spirit is blowing. One indication is the upheaval that is shaking and renewing Christianity. Faith, rather than beliefs, is once again becoming its defining quality" (p.223).

I can live with that. Can you? Trust me --- This is a PHENOMENAL BOOK! --Shalom!/Salaam!/Pax!Rowland Croucher 




THE ABC'S OF EFFECTIVE PASTORAL LEADERSHIP

The Australian weekly, The Bulletin, regularly searchedfor the ‘young executive of the year’. The winners will have displayed‘success and flair in the broad range of skills required in businesstoday. These include initiative, commitment, skills in managingpeople, planning and financial ability, grasp of opportunity andjudgment. They will be men or women who have been exceptionallysuccessful in their field, achieved measurable business goalsand demonstrated outstanding performance…’


In his best-selling autobiography, Lee Iacocca asks
legendary football coach Vince Lombardi his formula for success.
‘First, teach the fundamentals; a player’s got to know the basics
of the game’, he said. ‘Next, you’ve got to keep him in line;
that’s discipline. The men have to play as a team. There’s no
room for prima donnas. And third: they’ve got to care for – to
love – each other. Each guy says to himself: ‘If I don’t block
that man, Paul’s going to get his legs broken. I have to do my
job well so he can do his’. ‘The difference between mediocrity
and greatness’, Lombardi said, ‘is the feeling these guys have
for each other. When you’ve got that sort of team spirit, you’ve
got a winning team.’

If we found the ‘complete’ pastor what would he or
she be like? How does a pastoral leader put together a winning
team?

Some pastors seem to attract large congregations
effortlessly, but for most it’s uphill all the way. Some have
got it all together in their parishes; others – no less godly,
gifted or hard-working – live lives of quiet desperation. Why?
The tough reality: pastors know that, under God, their leadership
is the single most vital factor in the health and growth of a
church. ‘The difference between a growing church and a stagnant
one is pastoral leadership. Gifted men build great churches and
average men build average churches’ (Elmer Towns). ‘The pastor
heads the list of factors common to growing churches in America.
Show me a rapidly growing church, and I will show you a dynamic
leader whom God is using to make it happen’ (Peter Wagner).

(A caution, however: not all healthy churches are
large, and not all large churches are healthy… It is better
to talk about church health than church growth, effective rather
than ‘successful’ leadership).

My ministry is with pastors, and I’d suggest the
following composite of traits and ideas I’ve noted in the most
effective of them. (Composite, because the perfect pastor doesn’t
exist!).

ACCOUNTABILITY – to God and to others – is the hallmark
of any Christian leader. We are servants of the church (although
the church is not our master – Christ is). Since Watergate, leaders
– politicians, managers, teachers, doctors, and pastors – are
expected to be accountable to their ‘clients’. Authentic pastors
welcome this trend. ‘Six days invisible, the seventh incomprehensible’
won’t do anymore. Pastors have an even more awesome stewardship:
accountability to God. In the timeless words of Richard Baxter
in The Reformed Pastor:

‘See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly
wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves lest you be
void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others…
lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing.
Believe it, fellow-pastors, God never saved anyone for being a
preacher, nor because that one was an able preacher; but because
that preacher was justified, and sanctified, and consequently
faithful in the Master’s work’.

Be AMBITIOUS but remember ambition’s a slippery idea:
Paul was ambitious (2 Corinthians 5:9; Romans 15:20; 1 Thessalonians
4:11-12), but so was Satan. Saints have a sublime indifference
to temporal success or failure. In this competitive world, our
business is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves.
‘Wanting the church to grow’ is OK, but our fallen natures warn
us that can be a short step from ‘wanting to build an empire’.
One model is redemptive – humble, serving, costly; the other is
violent – competitive and alienating.

Some pastors are Type A people – goal-oriented, busy,
extroverted, church-builders. Others are Type B – quiet, supportive.
If both exist on a team, be clear about leadership roles, spiritual
gifts and ministry expectations, or there’ll be trouble.

Effective pastors are BIG persons. They take genuine
joy in the ministry-successes of others; so they won’t be threatened
by the giftedness of talented colleagues. They welcome feedback,
instituting formal and informal channels to get it. They aren’t
conformists; they’re prepared to take risks, even to fail occasionally.
They’re teachable – attending conferences, traveling to learn
from others, getting ideas through reading. Although they know
their ministry-priorities will not satisfy the expectations of
all in their congregation, everyone is loved anyhow. Their egos
don’t have to be fed by parading success stories. They relate
caringly to old and young, to the up-and-out and the down-and-out,
to leaders and to the broken. They have cool heads and warm hearts,
and don’t develop ‘messiah complexes’. And they are bigger than
their own denomination; they’re loyal, but don’t have a ‘my-group-right-or-wrong’
attitude. They believe God gives insights and skills, by his Spirit,
to Christians and mission groups who also acknowledge Jesus as
‘Saviour, Lord, and God according to the Scriptures’.

‘Left-handed dictionaries’ poke fun at COMMITTEES.
(A committee is a group that takes minutes and wastes hours …
the unfit selected by the unwilling to do the unnecessary… where
the loneliness of thought is replaced by the togetherness of nothingness…).
Most church committees are too large, too numerous, poorly structured
and/or poorly managed. They constipate the church-as-organization
and become sluggish, cumbersome, tedious, and indecisive. Who
wants to serve on a committee whose work is alien, distasteful,
time-consuming, irrelevant or incomprehensible – or if one doubts
that all the work will change anything? One management expert
says: ‘Most people clearly prefer the pursuit of happiness to
the happiness of pursuit. Only about a third of committee-members
perform with little prodding, another third are moderately effective
with some needling, the other third are no good at all and not
worth the time to chase them up… Remember causes don’t need
workers so much as they need informed and dedicated advocates’.

If church-leaders spend more time in committees than
in spiritual growth groups, that’s a sign of the church’s ill-health.
I meet Baptist deacons who never pray with anyone, Anglican church-wardens
who never study the Bible, Uniting Church elders who don’t know
how to lead someone to personal faith in Christ. That’s just not
good enough.

COMMUNITY. You won’t survive as a pastor on your
own. Find a prayer-partner, soul friend, sharing group, or, better,
spiritual director. Research says pastors are lonely: they are
the least likely to have a close friend.

In our preaching, should we be CULTURE-affirming
or -denying or -confronting? Yes, yes and yes: it depends. Will
Herberg (Protestant, Catholic, Jew) says Americans look mainly
for one thing in their religion – security: social acceptance
(mainline churches), or eternal security (the fundamentalists).
Both produce ‘civic religion’, a ‘cult of culture’ validating
culture and society without bringing them under judgement. ‘Love
your neighbour’ sermons make love voluntary, having little to
do with justice. Most churches espouse political neutrality, which
is opting for the status quo.

Good managers DELEGATE ruthlessly. Pastor-teachers,
says Paul, equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:12). So if the
pastor isn’t training, training, training, he or she is likely
to be doing things other could do, and thus denying them a ministry.
Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself! Run ‘How to Help Your Friend’
counseling courses. Coach elders and lay visitors ‘on the job’,
taking them to hospitals and home visits. Leading worship services
and preaching should be shared by those with competence (and only
those). Delegation and training are the keys to breaking through
the 200/300 barrier. Peter Wagner talks about insecure pastors
who need to know everybody, including kids’ (and even pets’) names.
They don’t have a growth/delegation mentality. Being a ‘rancher’
isn’t opting out of pastoral care, it’s equipping under-shepherds.
The church’s small groups should be the main focus of pastoral
support, with elders/small group leaders as the first ‘port-of-call’.

But delegation isn’t abdication. John Claypool says
‘What often happens in life (is that) persons are given a difficult
job and then, instead of struggling with them and helping them
find their way, the group sits back and lets them struggle alone
until at last they ‘hang themselves’.

An opposite – and common – complaint is that pastors
give jobs then meddle themselves (delegation minus training).

Delegation + training + mentoring = DISCIPLING. ‘Go
and make disciples’ is still Jesus’ mandate to his followers.
How? The way he did it. Every pastor should be encouraged to find
his ‘three, twelve and seventy’. The pastors’ task is to spend
half their time with God, half with people and the rest in administration!
And half the people-time should be invested in leaders. This is
hard work, and tests a pastor’s authentic spirituality, so it’s
easier to opt out and succumb to the less rigorous task of oiling
church machinery.

We are models: we can’t escape that. Pastors who
model a thankful spirit generally see it reproduced in the congregation.
So we mustn’t complain too much: after 3 or 4 years we have imprinted
our example onto those people. Indeed Bonhoefer (Life Together)
says pastors should never complain about their people – not even
to God!

ENCOURAGEMENT. Good pastors have a certain naivete
about them. They see the best in others (‘all his geese are swans’
it was said of one great pastor). They take time to congratulate
those who have helped, and build on people’s strengths rather
than reacting to their ‘rough edges’. Praise is not flattery:
sincere encouragement builds confidence; insincere flattery inflates
one’s ego. Praise never hurt anyone; silence or destructive criticism
are killers! Encouragement draws the best out of people. Like
Jesus, always be gentle with the wounded, and – only if you have
earned the right – occasionally be tough with the lazy or those
whose potential may be realized more by rebuke than a soft word.
Helpful criticism should always – or nearly always – leave the
person feeling he/she has been helped. Goethe said ‘If you treat
someone as they are they will stay as they are. If you treat them
as if they were what they ought to be, and could be, they will
become a bigger and better people’. (Aren’t you glad the prodigal
met his father before his elder brother?). James Stewart quotes
this legend: God decided to reduce the weapons in the devil’s
armoury to one. Satan could choose which ‘fiery dart’ he would
keep. He chose the power of discouragement. ‘If only I can persuade
Christians to be thoroughly discouraged’, he reasoned, ‘they will
make no further effort and I shall be enthroned in their lives’.

An 80-year-old saint in Canada wrote me a note:

If he earns your praise bestow it; If you like him
let him know it; Let words of true encouragement be said. Do not
wait till life is over and he’s underneath the clover; For he
cannot read his tomb-stone when he’s dead.

Suspect theology but wise psychology.

The most explicit New Testament reference to EXCELLENCE
(‘choose what is best’, Philippians 1:9-11) suggests that it issues
from a loving heart rather than an optimistic ego. This cuts across
a lot of modern self-improvement/positive thinking ideas. ‘Pastor,
you can be a winner’ presumes there’ll be some losers, and that
can be a pagan idea.

Life is a leaf of paper white Whereon each one of
us may write His word or two, and then comes night. Greatly begin!
though thou hast time But for a line, be that sublime… Not failure,
but low aim is crime.

James Lowell

The books In Search of Excellence (Peters & Waterman)
and A Passion for Excellence (Peters & Austin) point out that
it was ‘pretty difficult for management to mess up an American
corporation in the 25 years following World War II’. Now that’s
all changed (as it has in the church). A passion for excellence
‘means thinking big and starting small: excellence happens when
high purpose and intense pragmatism meet’. It involves three dynamics:
superior service to customers, constant innovation, and the consistent
rewarding of creativity of everyone in the organisation. There
are many constraints in churches encouraging mediocrity: let’s
resist them all, for God’s sake.

Pastors of growing congregations are FACILITATORS.
There are three ways of looking at church-people – scenery (‘good
number out this morning’), machinery (the way they relate functionally)
and as complex, unique individuals. Good pastors are gifted ‘networkers’,
devising dozens of ways for people (particularly newcomers) to
relate to each other. Here’s one idea: invite four or five families
(mix them sensitively) to the manse/rectory for Sunday lunch once
a month. Get each one to bring a casserole or dessert (enough
to feed two families), and, if you need most of Sunday afternoon
to prepare for evening preaching, they won’t mind your suggesting
a cut-off time. Another idea: get every family to fill in a care-card
each Sunday, with feedback/prayer requests on the back. This is
more than an attendance slip: it helps us keep in touch with each
other responsibly.

GROWTH means many things: people coming to faith
in Christ, growing in Christian maturity, being incorporated into
the church, involvement in ministry in the church and in the world.
All this is ‘church growth’. (Have you heard of ‘Little Bo Peep’
churches? They lost their sheep and don’t know where to find them!)
But remember,

All growth is trouble! If comfort is your need better
to sleep, curled around yourself forever shelled with indifference,
like an unsown seed, like a smooth stone that cannot bleed or
put forth leaves or know what the great have known!

(R.H. Grenville)

GOAL-SETTING is crucial. Goals should always be specific,
attainable, measurable. Many Western churches balk at setting
numerical membership-goals. That’s OK: find others (50% in cell
groups by 19??; contact every home in the neighborhood in the
next two years; research unmet community needs before December).
Set goals for health and growth should result.

A church leader’s HOME LIFE is an important example
to others (Titus 1:6,7). ‘Workaholics’ are not good models for
new Christians. It is possible for a busy pastor to spend 3-4
nights a week at home in quality time with his or her family (you
have to learn to work smarter rather than harder). After all,
ministry begins inside our front door. And how do you answer this
complaint, from a 14-year-old pastor’s son: ‘The church-people
can interrupt our family time or meal-times whenever they want,
but we’re not allowed to interrupt you when you’re with a church-person.
So church must be more important to you than our family!’

Living in HOPE isn’t the same as being an optimist.
Optimism can actually be shallow and faithless, whereas hope is
humble and trustful, whatever the circumstances. Hope in God assures
us that he will be with us, in our agonies and ecstasies, as he
was with his people in the past. So we major on our resources
in Christ not the difficulties.

INNOVATION. Effective pastors are creative initiators.
Earlier in my ministry I’d complain about the paucity of ideas/programs/ministries
emanating from others. There was a good and bad side to that.
I genuinely tried to encourage others to dream dreams and actualize
visions. But sometimes it was a rationalization for my ‘opting
out’. As a leader I had to learn that if I didn’t ‘make it happen’
I couldn’t expect anyone else to. The pastor, David Watson used
to say, is the ‘cork in the bottle’: that’s where the problem
usually lies. In business they talk about ‘in-basket time management’
– ‘let’s take each week/year as it comes’. That’s not good enough.
Effective pastors believe there’s a better way. There’s a holy
restlessness about them. They don’t throw out certain traditions
because they’re old, but because they’re irrelevant. They get
excited in brainstorming sessions, encouraging ideas – even the
craziest ones – to flow freely.

We pastors must never forget that JESUS CHRIST is
the head of the church, not us. The church isn’t a social club
with the pastor as president. Sometimes clergy talk about ‘my’
church, ‘my’ people, ‘my’ leaders: such language may be patronizing,
however well-intentioned.

Pastors of dynamic churches KEEP AT IT. Longer pastorates
are needed to build churches. But not every pastor is suited to
the longer haul: some may have a healing or inspirational shorter-term
ministry. However, in general, I believe pastors ought to begin
every ministry with the idea ‘I’m going to serve here for life’,
and not view each pastorate as a stepping-stone to a ‘nicer’ one.
As husband and wife, so pastor and parish take each other ‘for
better or worse’.

LEADERSHIP is ‘getting things done with and through
others who want to do them!’ The pastor is a ‘leader of leaders’.
The buck ends with us. The feckless Jim Hacker, MP, of ‘Yes, Minister’
put it succinctly: ‘The people have spoken. I am their leader.
I must follow them’. Leadership is God’s gift to the church –
every church – but is expressed variously. In tribal societies
the consensus of the people is embodied in the decrees of the
chief. Monarchical episcopates arise in times of persecution,
but sometimes stifle lay-people’s initiatives in democratic societies.
Christian Brethren may have no formal ‘pastoral leaders’, but
there’ll always be an informal system. Congregational models maximize
lay ownership of the church’s goals, but increase potential for
‘little despots’ and schisms.

Autocratic leaders assume people won’t do anything
unless told to, discourage innovation, believe they know best,
are often inflexible and insensitive, tend to use the group for
their already-decided ends. Bureaucratic leaders believe the right
parliamentary procedures will produce organizational rules and
regulations to order behaviour without working too hard at enhancing
human relationships. Paternalistic leaders identify almost completely
with the group; there’s the danger of hero-worship or the development
of a personality cult; when the leader goes the group is helpless.
Laissez-faire leadership leaves things alone: minimum direction,
maximum individual freedom, non-directive maintenance of existing
structures are the hallmarks here.

Effective leaders understand themselves, their co-leaders,
their group, and the social milieu. They accurately assesses the
climate and readiness for growth, know the gifts, limitations
and responsibilities of their co-leaders, and act appropriately
in the light of all these perceptions. They allows subordinates
to take initiatives, or facilitate group-freedom as appropriate.

MOTIVATION is getting people to do what you want
them to do because they want to do it! The leader/motivator must
understand the group’s needs (eg. for dependence or independence,
love and ‘belongingness’, self-esteem and self-actualization),
abilities (eg. knowledge, experience and skill, readiness to assume
responsibility, tolerance of ambiguity), and perceptions (eg.
interest in the idea, understanding of goals, expectations etc.).
McGregor’s well-known ‘theory X’ leaders assume people don’t want
to work, they dislike responsibility, and must be coerced into
effort; theory Y suggests that people will work hard, accept responsibility,
and be loyal to the organization’s goals if they are ‘handled
right’. So when a pastor complains ‘the blighters won’t work’
that pastor is making a judgment about his or her own leadership.

MISSION. In his seminal book Christianity Rediscovered
Vincent Donovan talks about the ‘choke law’: once a church is
established, pastoral and administrative work tends to choke out
continuing evangelization. The ‘static and paralyzing idea’ of
the mission compound replaces real mission. He quotes Hoekendijk:
‘The idea of church without mission is an absurdity’. A church
vestry minuted its solution to a declining membership: appoint
two committees, to organise fetes and socials. ‘Remember Jack?
He used to run the hamburger stall. What’s happened to him? A
fete would bring him back to church…’ Can you pick the fallacy
here? There’s another choke law operative in some churches: the
legitimate desire to evangelize chokes out other aspects of mission,
such as deeds of compassion and works of justice.

In every dynamic, healthy church the MUSIC is done
well, and the musicians are clearly under the authority of the
pastors. Anglican Canon Michael Green says, ‘As soon as renewal
hits your church, sack your organist!’ There’s an old saying:
‘When the devil wants to enter a church he usually comes through
the choir vestry!’ Why? Music is the easiest church activity enjoyed
for its own sake. A bad choir views the congregation as audience.
A spirit-led choir worships, and leads the people of God into
the presence of God.

NAMES. In a brotherhood – and sisterhood – let us
be known by Christian names, rather than titles or offices. So,
pastors, take ‘Rev’. off the front and degrees off the back of
your name: you don’t need status that way (unless it’s helpful
in civic contexts). Here’s a good word from the diary of Brother
Roger of Taize: ‘In the life of the church the shepherd, the one
who is at the heart of the living cell which a community is, has
only one charge, to be the servant of communion. [The shepherd]
is there to keep alive what otherwise would dislocate and scatter…
I have never wanted to be called ‘prior’ of our community. I am
their brother. For the same reason, I refused the Legion of Honour.
Why? Because today it is impossible for those holding positions
of responsibility in the church to add honorific titles to their
service of God’.

Pastors are NURTURERS, not primarily performing tasks
but growing people. We nurture by example and by exhortation (in
that order, I Peter 5:3; I Timothy 4:11,12; Titus 2:7).

ORGANIZING, says Norman Blaikie (The Plight of the
Australian Clergy) ranks ‘seventh in importance, third in terms
of time spent, seventh in satisfaction, and fifth in terms of
effectiveness’ of eight key pastoral roles. (Eighth in both importance
and time: social reformer!). Organizing, he says, is the role
that causes clergy the greatest frustration. Astute pastors are
constantly looking for administrators: is someone about to retire
who could help – even without cost to the church?

PRAYER, preaching and planning are three key clergy
roles. When Moses’ father-in-law told him he was killing himself,
he suggested three priorities: teaching the Lord’s statutes, intercession,
and appointing co-judges. Jesus, too, was a teacher, a person
of prayer, and delegated ministry very early to his disciples.
After a social welfare foulup, the apostles appointed special
helpers so they could be devoted to prayer and the ministry of
the Word. These remain the top three priorities for spiritual
leaders. In Spirituality for Ministry, Urban T. Holmes says prayer
is to spirituality as eating is to hunger. Prayer, he says, is
more than a ‘wish-list’. The deepest prayer involves contemplation
(‘knowing ourselves in order that we might know God so that we
might know ourselves’) and ‘coinherence’ (bearing in God’s presence
the pain of those we serve). Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out wrote,
‘Without the Bible, without silent time and without someone to
direct us, finding our way to God is very hard and practically
impossible’. Most clergy confess to reading the Bible for sermon-ideas
or clarification of dogma rather than ‘praying the Bible’.

Good PREACHING – by itself – will not grow a church
anymore, but bad preaching will certainly empty it! The era of
preaching is by no means over – I believe it never will be. In
a better-educated church a declamatory style ought to give way
to what John Claypool (The Preaching Event) calls ‘confessional’
preaching. Good preaching is evangelical (people won’t follow
an uncertain sound) and the best method, I believe, is expository.
However, as Alfred North Whitehead perceptively stated, ‘religions
commit suicide when they find their inspiration in their dogmas’.
Christianity is essentially relational, so preaching must ‘relate’
too. Some clergy seem to believe they ‘supply religion’ to people
in their homilies. A once-a-week sermon is a very thin diet for
a growing Christian: many people ‘attend Church’ regularly but
can’t say what God is doing in their lives. There ought to be
bookstalls, audio- book- and video-libraries, printed sermon outlines,
study-guides, etc., to supplement the spoken word. And you can
pick a preacher who isn’t doing careful study and reflection in
the first three minutes. Our people deserve better. An hour in
the study for each minute in the pulpit was Fosdick’s suggestion!

Good leaders are good PLANNERS. If we fail to plan
we plan to fail: to make no plans is a plan in itself. Planning
‘clothes our dreams’. Good planners know their goal, think backwards
by writing down the steps needed to accomplish that goal, working
out the time, money, and effort needed to complete each step,
scheduling dates when each step takes place.

Pastors ought to be well QUALIFIED for their calling.
What does this mean? Academic qualifications are important (Moses
and Paul were both highly educated), particularly if our church-people
are getting a better education these days. However, spiritual
and moral attributes dominate the lists in the pastoral epistles
(I Timothy 3:1-3, Titus 1:5-9, 2:1-15). Truly great pastors are
stretching themselves theologically; they do short courses in
the social and management sciences; they’re reading widely in
many secular fields. But above all they are striving for righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, running their
best in the race of faith (1 Timothy 6:11,12).

RELAX! All the great leaders in Scripture spent a
disproportionate amount of their lives in deserts. ‘Stress’ (in
physics) is the impacting of outside forces on a body distorting
it. Psychologically, it results from trying to do too much, living
in the fast lane. ‘Burnout’ results from a combination of idealism
+ helping others sacrifically + vulnerability to excessive demands
– fatigue and frustration. It’s ‘compassion fatigue’. You’re not
meant to work harder than your Creator: take a day off each week
religiously. Develop hobbies. I met a pastor who goes skydiving
(‘you don’t think about anything else doing that!’), another makes
stained glass objects, another joined the Country Fire Authority
(‘putting out other kinds of fires!’), another restores old furniture.
Others read a novel, play golf, go to a movie. Take a sabbatical
after six or seven years, and insist your leaders ‘rest’ after
six years in office (write that into your constitution). Every
day ‘waste time with God’ as Sheila Cassidy suggests (Prayer for
Pilgrims). You spend time helping clients, parishioners; you give
time to those whom you love. Someone said: ‘We tend to worship
our work, to work at our play, and to play at our worship…’

Church STRUCTURE should reflect priorities. If worship
(all we do, gathered and scattered, to the praise of our God)
community (enhancing, Christianly, the lives of others), formation
(the process by which the Spirit of God applies the Word of God
to the heart and mind of the child of God so that he/she might
become like the Son of God) and mission (everything we do in the
world – evangelism, acts of mercy and justice) are the only purposes
of the church (and they are), then most of our time should be
devoted to these. Finance, administration, music, buildings, special
interest groups, and constitutions are means to those ends. The
degree to which church organizations devote time and energy to
means rather than ends is the degree to which that church is dying!
That is, most committee-time should be spent discovering ways
to enhance worship, fellowship, formation and mission, not merely
turning the wheels of the church-as-organization.

SINCERITY, n., freedom from pretence or deceit; honesty;
genuineness. When leading worship, the pastor, too, genuinely
worships (doesn’t shuffle papers, peer over the hymn book to check
who’s not there etc.). Prayers are from the heart, whether read
or extempore. Pastors love evangelism, and don’t merely issue
exhortations about it. (Recent surveys among evangelical pastors
tell us they believe evangelism is very important, but they don’t
see themselves as taking primary responsibility for it!). Every
letter, phone call, visit, committee meeting is an opportunity
for the sincere pastor to move people a little further into the
Kingdom.

THEOLOGY. Ordination for ministry (for every Christian)
is a gift from God: given, I believe at baptism. The whole church
is pastoral, priestly, prophetic. Ordination for pastoral/priestly/prophetic
leadership, is a special gift to the church. Theologies of ministry
and ordination vary, but * it’s a ministry of the Word, so pastor-teachers
will daily soak their minds and hearts in Scripture; * the preached
Word is Christ’s Word, more than mere human words.

Managing TIME and volunteers are clergy’s two key
hassles. James Stewart (Heralds of God) writes: ‘Beware the professional
busy-ness which is slackness in disguise. The trouble is we may
even succeed in deceiving ourselves. Our diary is crowded. Meetings,
discussions, interviews, committees, throng the hectic page. We
are driven here, there, everywhere by the whirling machinery of
good works. We become all things to all people. Laziness? The
word, we protest, is not in our vocabulary. In all this unending
tyranny of routine the central things are sacrificed or carried
through inadequately…’

UNDERSTANDING people and groups (psychology and social
psychology) can be learned, to some extent. More and more pastors
are buying cheap ‘remainders’ to keep abreast of insights into
these fields. One example: in any group committed to an ideology
(eg. every church), people will range across a spectrum from radicals,
through progressives, conservatives, to traditionalists. Radicals
want to change everything, progressives many things, conservatives
some things, traditionalists nothing. Radicals are angry (concerned
for justice as impersonal structures rip off the poor); traditionalists
are fearful (with a great emotional investment in the status quo,
so ‘law and order’ is their catchcry). Prophets (eg. Jesus with
the pharisees) are always radical, priests are traditionalist,
passing on a tradition (cf. Jesus’ teaching about the law). Incidentally,
if pastors are perceived to be too prophetic or traditionalist,
they’re in for trouble with people at the other end! Pastors as
change-agents will note that change cannot be commended by people
two removes away. For example, conservatives don’t listen to radicals,
but may be persuaded by a progressive.

Pastors of dynamic churches are VISIONARY: they ‘envision’
a certain shape for their church. I heard an effective leader
tell a pastors’ conference: ‘Figure out what the big idea is and
give your life to it!’ Expect great things from God; attempt great
things for God (Carey). These pastors are dreaming dreams about
all sorts of outreach ministries. Knowing that ‘80% is full’,
they’re weighing options: shall we extend (both buildings and
parking), relocate, multiply Sunday services, plant a daughter-church?
(They have an option to buy all the properties surrounding the
church’s). They’re constantly inventing theoretical structures
for their church’s government: how can we operate with more people-ownership
of our goals, but with fewer people-hours in administration?

Pastors differ as to whether VISITATION is a bane
or blessing. We can all learn to visit from love of sheep rather
than from the tyranny of obligation (I visit you, so you come
to my church). Tom Allen (The Face of My Parish) says: ‘Unless
our visitation is truly pastoral it is irrelevant. There is little
virtue in seeing every member of our congregation once a year
if our visit is spent in amiable conversation. It may raise us
in the esteem of our people. But assuredly it is distracting us
from the work of God’.

The management of VOLUNTEERS is the subject of burgeoning
literature. Volunteers serve without financial remuneration. They
are committed to a cause, desire to meet a challenge, wish to
contribute to the well-being of others, have some spare time,
and enjoy the gratification of a job well done. The theory that
if you give someone a job so they’ll become active in the church
generally isn’t true. The best way to select volunteers is not
‘from the floor’, but through the careful work of a nominating
committee. One expert says ‘You don’t elect the best people, you
pick them’. And you don’t put people on committees simply to fill
a quota or membership requirement. Volunteers need to feel they’re
both doing something useful, and participating in an opportunity
for self-growth. They need recognition and appreciation, training,
involvement in the planning and setting of goals, development
of team-spirit, delegation of responsibilities, and evaluative
procedures.

We pastors need special WISDOM (Ephesians 1:17, James
1:5) for living a good and humble life (James 3:13), and for counseling
and instructing others (Colossians 3:16). More conflicts would
see ‘win-win resolutions’ if we were wiser. Pastors, don’t move
too far or fast until you’ve developed trust. Don’t share your
dreams, visions and goals too early: those attracted to the church
by a previous pastor’s aspirations will misinterpret your enthusiasm.
Public anger or rebuke by a pastor is usually counter-productive.
Even secular psychologies are now counseling self-control rather
than ‘letting it all hang out’. Listen to feeling-tones, hidden
agendas, and past hurts when people react irrationally: as an
authority-figure, you’ll sometimes be ‘dumped on’ (counselors
call it ‘transference’).

WORSHIP – the individual and the gathered community
serving the Lord – is the essence of all we do. To what extent
would you describe your ‘worship services’ as celebration? Sometimes
they’re more like funerals than wedding-feasts! How often are
we ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’ before our God?

Healthy pastors and churches promote XENOPHILIA (love
of other or unlike persons) and don’t suffer from XANTHISM (a
disease which yellows the skin)! You draw the implications!

YOURSELF. Pastoral ministry sometimes attracts maladjusted
persons – the narcissist (others’ admiration and dependence feeds
their self-image); the ‘over-generous’ (kind and reassuring, but
whose chronic anxiety is alleviated by being oversympathetic,
overprotective, too willing to give to others – particularly ‘clinging
vine’ types); the autocratic (power-oriented, needing docile followers
giving obedience, respect and maybe flattery). Pastors are the
last professionals to visit members of the opposite sex alone
in their homes, so these three groups are ripe for seduction.

Pastor, you’re not perfect, you’re not always a hero
or a mature sophisticate! Watch your self (Acts 20:28, I Timothy
4:16). ‘Gold, glory, girls’ are three of the ‘fiery darts’ the
devil aims at under- (or over-) developed egos.

Do you and your spouse plan regular communication-times?
One method: Set aside an hour; pray, then write feelings down
for 10 minutes; exchange papers, and go off alone to read each
other’s; after 15 minutes, discuss. Four rules: (1) don’t defend
behaviour the other finds objectionable; (2) don’t attack verbally;
(3) don’t argue about the factuality of what the other has said;
(4) if there are heated statements, don’t react heatedly: repeat
back the essence of what the other has said to try to understand
it.

It’s fine to be ZEALOUS says Paul (Galatians 4:18)
‘so long as the purpose is good’. Spending the one short life
you’re given caring for people in churches is a good purpose,
it’s hard, glorious work, and the rewards are out of this world!

Therefore to thee it was given 
Many to save with thyself; 
And at the end of thy day, 
O faithful shepherd! to come
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.

– Matthew Arnold, Rugby Chapel.

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Rowland Croucher

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Husband, father, grandfather, pastor, teacher, writer, used-to-be-academic... See here for more: http://jmm.org.au