Category Archives: Church

One by one: Tony Campolo comes out for gay marriage

Tony Campolo, author, theologian and outspoken evangelical leader, has today announced that after much prayer and study, he has changed his position on gay marriage and now believes that the church should be in favour of it. One by one, evangelical thinkers and theologians are changing their positions. Tony is a significant figure, as he has long stood against affirming gay marriage (while being in favour of churches improving their affirmation of celibate gays). This is an important milestone in the church’s journey of change on this issue.

Tony made the announcement a few hours ago via his blog.

He says, in part:

… Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.

As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

One by one, until the ripple becomes a wave, and the wave becomes a flood. That is how it has always been, with any major shift in society.

Thank you, Tony, for having the courage to make this stand. May many more pastors and Christian leaders be encouraged now to follow your lead, and help us change this dreadful error in our interpretation of the Bible.

UPDATE ON 10 JUNE 2015: Brian D. McLaren, long time friend and collaborator with Tony (who also opposed him on the gay marriage issue for many years, while still remaining friends), has commented on Tony’s statement as well as the Christianity Today editorial. It’s well worth reading here.

Sermon: How to be a church entering a new land

I have not posted much on the blog recently due to work pressures. But a few weeks ago, I was able to preach at Heronbridge Christian Church, and the sermon was recorded.

I preached on the need for us to adopt the same mindset Moses and Joshua had to when they were leading the people of Israel into a new land. It requires a change in mindset and a future-focused attitude, not one that clings to the past or is frightened of change. I took the opportunity to overview an understanding of generational theory, and talk about some of the major disruptive forces shaping our world right now as well.

The sound file is available on their website here.

You can download my slides and follow along if you’d like to.

Let me know what you think.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

On his Formerly Fundie blog, Benjamin L. Corey, recently posted this blog entry. It’s a provocative read for some conservative American Christians, but it’s well worth it. Thought provoking and challenging. And, in my opinion, right.

Read it in full at his site, or an extract below.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

By Benjamin L. Corey

If you could meet one of the first Christians would you like them?

I’m convinced that many American Christians would not. In the course of 2000 years, Christianity- while maintaining the basic tenets, has morphed and shifted from the way it was originally designed and lived out. Since we tend to live in a culture that is rather self-centered, we have a tendency to assume we “have it right” while completely overlooking the fact that our version of Christianity might appear quite foreign– even hopelessly corrupted– if viewed through the eyes of one of the first Christians.

If those entrenched in American Christianity could transport back in time to experience Christianity as it originally was, they’d be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, would probably have declined the invitation to join Christianity at all.
Here’s 5 of the major reasons why I think many American Christians probably would not have liked the first ones:

1. The first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth.

Americanized Christians often fight to make sure our taxes are lower, fight to repeal healthcare for poor people, and throw a fit over a small portion of our income going to provide foodstamps. While touting “voluntary” and “private” charity as the way to go, we give on average 2-3% of our income to the church or charities– not nearly enough to actually address the needy in any meaningful way. But what about the early Christians?

Well, the first Christians were quite different. In the book of Acts (the book that tells the story of original Christianity) tells us that “all the believers were together and held everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). We’re further told that there were no poor among them, because those who had land or property sold it so that this wealth could be “redistributed” to the needy (Acts 4:35). While on one hand communal property and redistribution of wealth was voluntary, scripture tells us that “all” of the believers in the church did this– meaning that it wasn’t exactly voluntary but a condition of being accepted into the group.
If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel.

Continue reading 5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

Just for fun (but also serious): 10 Things That Drive Us Crazy at Church… That Probably Shouldn’t

I found this on the ChurchLeaders.com website. It’s really very good. Read the original here, with all the attached multimedia and clips that add to the humour.

10. Loud Music
9. People Using iPads Instead of “Real” Bibles
8. Coffee in the Sanctuary
7. Youth Group Attire
6. Long Sermons
5. Church Parking Lots
4. Pastors Asking for Money
3. Women in Leadership
2. Overly Happy Greeters
1. The Much-Feared Meet-n-Greet

Source: ChurchLeaders.com

Churches in 2024: How Technology Will Enhance Mission, by Captera

Last week, I spoke on the impact that smartphones will have on churches. You can listen to my session and download my slides here.

One of the resources I discovered while doing my preparation was the Captera church management blog. Captera provides software for a number of different markets, including churches. Their blog includes some excellent insights into how technology will enhance churches and mission in the future. One of the entries I enjoyed most was “Churches in 2024: How Technology Will Enhance Mission”. You can read this here, or an extended extract below:

Continue reading Churches in 2024: How Technology Will Enhance Mission, by Captera

Smartphones and the church of the future

Yesterday I spoke at the Gracepoint Fast Forward leaders conference. My topic was “Succeeding in a Changing World”, and I focused my attention on the impact of mobile smartphone technology on the way we might do church in the future.

You can listen to the 55 minute session on SoundCloud here or below, and follow along with the slides by downloading a PDF here.

For more information about our church, click here, and to get information about our Fast Forward conferences follow the Facebook page here.

The best of 2013: Stuff Fundies Like

This past year a good friend introduced me to the website, Stuff Fundies Like (Fundies, as in American Christian Fundamentalists). The site gives an almost daily insight into the lives, habits and foibles of this group of Christians. It’s a great resource for people like me who were brought up inside of that bubble – I recognise many of the things that are highlighted.

It borders on something dangerous for me, as it could easily lead me to feelings of superiority as I laugh at how fundamentalist Christians go about trying to prop up their faith. But mainly it invokes a combination of sadness, relief (that I am no longer blinded by worldview of ‘certainty seeking faith’) and resolve (to find ways to help these people see how liberating and freeing true Christianity actually is).

Anyway, their final post of the year was a round up of their best posts from the past twelve months. Make yourself a coffee, clear an hour or so in your diary, and check this out.

Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

I used to think that women should not lead in the church. My (faulty) understanding of Scripture was to take Paul’s restrictions literally, without understanding cultural context, interpretation or the adaptations of our theological positions that the Holy Spirit leads us to over time. We should make these adaptations slowly and with due consultation and attention. The danger is that we can stray from God’s will, and that would be a tragedy.

But over the past century, more and more people have come to understand the Bible in different ways from our historical interpretations about the role of women. I now completely and fully support the role of women in church, across all levels of leadership and involvement, with no restrictions (at least, none related to their gender).

It breaks my heart to watch women who are called by God to lead and serve, having to spend most of their energy fighting for their right/privilege to do this, rather than just doing their ministry calling.

Earlier this month, I came across this letter, clearly written out of this space of concern and pain. It was written by Esther Emery, a freelance blogger. It is beautifully written, heartfelt, and rings of truth. Please pass it onto all women you know who are feeling called by God to ministry.

Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

by Esther Emery, 14 Nov 2013

I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.

But I know something. I know this. You are called.

You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.

Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.
Too greedy.
Too masculine.
Too angry.
Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.

That place is yours.

Continue reading Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

Sermon on The Parable of the Lost Son (and the Extravangant Love of the Father)

A few weeks ago, I preached at my home church, Gracepoint. The sermon was entitled “Extravagant Love” and was about the parable of the ‘prodigal son’. In fact, the parable is about the older brother, and how he refuses to accept the return of his younger brother. Jesus told the parable in response to the interactions he had with the religious leaders of the day who were wondering why he was fraternising with sinners and unclean people.

The point for us today is that we should actively welcome into our churches those who could potentially bring disgrace on our family name, those we consider disgusting and sinful, and those who have been far away from us. This is a tough message for us, but one Jesus was clear on: he was a ‘friend of sinners’. Are we?

When we look at the story through Middle Eastern eyes, we see a story of extravagant love and a strong call to change how we think about church today.

You can download the sermon now from Gracepoint’s website.

Women in the church: the vital importance of understanding household codes

I spent the first 25 years of my life at a church where women were not allowed to be pastors, elders or leaders in any way. I spent nearly a decade of that time passionately defending this position, and even left the church of my childhood in protest when they changed their constitution to remove all gender references in leadership appointments. I felt strongly about it. I acted on my beliefs and convictions.

But I was wrong.

During the course of nearly nine years of formal theological training, including a degree and two post graduate qualifications, I came to realise that my interpretation and application of Scripture did not stack up. I changed my position completely.

I therefore have deep connection to both sides of this issue, and have spent many years considering it. One of the people who has most recently made an impact is someone I quote quite a bit on this blog (only because I think she’s (1) right, (2) smart and (3) articulate) is Rachel Held Evans. Rachel spent a year living “Biblically” as a woman as part of a grand experiment to see if the Bible’s instructions to and about women can be taken literally (as many insist they should be). Her wonderful book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” traces her monthly focus areas, and both humorous and poignant attempts to understand the Bible. It’s well worth a read.

Women in churchRachel’s blog continually returns to this topic, as it remains a key area of division and confusion in many churches today. In the past few weeks she has focused her attention (again) on the so-called “household codes” as a key to interpreting what the New Testament has to say about women and their role in spiritual communities. I think she is spot on about this – once you see the context in which Paul and others were writing, and understand how their instructions match up against what was being said in society at the time, I think there is only one answer, and that is to let women lead – as equals with men. Of course, this also has implications for how Christian homes are structured and the relationship between husband and wife as man and woman.

But why don’t you read what she’s written and make up your own mind:

If you have the time, check out the additional resources she has suggested this past week – see her list here.

And then also look at the archives on her blog on the issue of mutuality.

These are amazing resources and deserve serious attention.