Friday, May 28, 2010


What is it about church that is so damn sexy? The question has bugged me for a long time. An erotic current runs just below the displays of rectitude and purity, despite the hard pews and organ repertory. I suspect it has to do with the congregants' concerted effort to suppress carnality in favor of distant heavenly reward. Denying the flesh only makes it throb harder.

Julia Scheeres, in her review of the novel, Jesus Boy. New York Times Book Review, May 16, 2010.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I've heard of churches in the South that oblige people to make a public confession of their graver sins to the whole congregation. I think sometimes there might be an advantage in making people aware of how worn and stale these old transgressions are. It might take some of the shine off them, for those who are tempted. But I have no evidence to suggest it has that effect.

Marilynne Robinson, from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ministry today?

A recent profile of pastors suggests that the three most stressful areas of a pastor's life are church politics, financial shortfalls, and difficult relationships with staff and other church officials. In each of these factors, there appears to be little connection with what the core of ministry is supposed to be about in the first place - bringing the presence of God to people who yearn for it.

We must surely be in the throes of a crisis of ministry when the very context of ministry itself is heavily overlaid with countervailing circumstances and debilitating human forces.

Kortright Davis, Serving with Power: Reviving the Spirit of Christian Ministry

Monday, May 24, 2010

Close but not quite...

Readers may recall the story about Mark Twain's hero, Tom Sawyer, and Sunday school. The kid who memorized the most Bible verses each week received a red ribbon. Whoever had the most red ribbons at the end of the year would get special recognition from the Bishop.

Of course, Tom memorized no verses but cheated his classmates out of their ribbons, so he had the most when the Bishop arrived. Tom could answer none of the Bishop's questions. Finally, in exasperation, the Bishop asked, "Can you name any two of apostles?" To which Tom blurted out, "David and Goliath!"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Church of Heavenly Lite...

Churchgoers no longer have to put up with components of religious life they find difficult or less than gratifying. Consumer-driven churches, often with their "no questions asked" standards for baptism and the sacraments, are the spiritual equivalent of spending all day on the couch, and eating cupcakes for dinner.

A strong correlation has emerged between the consumer-driven religious marketplace and the decay of Christian moral character.

Jeffrey MacDonald, UCC minster and author of Thieves in the Temple

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Macho men...

We shoot unashamedly for the male, and that's somewhat controversial. But our feeling is that it's tougher to reach men
than it is women. Men seekers are real tough to find.

So if we set our standards at reaching unchurched males, in doing so we'll probably reach larger numbers of females.

Bill Hybels, founder of the mega-church, Willow Creek

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't wait too long...

One possibility for congregational renewal is to call an expert to help with the diagnosis, prognosis, prescription, and definition of alternate courses of reality. This is not a particularly attractive possibility, because most congregations have an earned skepticism about the potential contribution of any outside, third-party consultant.

All too often, congregations are reluctant to turn to outside expertise until the passage of time has greatly reduced the number of attractive courses of action.

Lyle Schaller, Activating the Passive Church

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Camping on the plateau...

Perhaps the most difficult assignment, for either a minister or volunteer leader in the church, is to design or implement a strategy that will move the long-established congregation off a plateau in size.

This is mainly because it is exceedingly difficult to devise a plan or a course of action that will please everyone.

Lyle Schaller, 44 Steps Up Off the Plateau

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Clergy leadership?

I read many popular books on ministry. The three-minute pastor! Thirty-five successful building blocks of successful congregations! Forty days of purpose! I read about visioning, discipling, and fellowshipping.

So week after week I exhorted the congregation to embrace risk and change. As one proposal after another hit the wall of their vast and impenetrable indifference, I found myself caught in a soul-crushing loop. I learned the inexorable law of Leadership 101; you can't lead if no one's following. I blamed myself; and yes, I blamed them.

Barbara Melosh, The Christian Century, May 4, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What does a minister do?

A minister may drive 25 miles to the hospital in order to recite a thirty-second prayer over a comatose patient. Who sees this act and judges it to be good? The pastor may devote years of conversation and behind-the-scenes maneuvering to promote reconciliation among factions in the community.

The preacher may invest fifteen hours of biblical study and reflection on a fifteen-minute sermon for no other purpose than to make God a little more believable to the congregation.

Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I visited a church today, but left after 15 minutes of Joys and Concerns, with three people still holding up their hands to be recognized. There were the usual travelogues, along with thrilling children's accomplishments. To add to the fun, the minister repeated each J and C, so we all heard them twice.

I'm with theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who once wrote, "I am mad as hell at Christians, myself included, who make the practice of Christianity so uninteresting."