a bit monkish.
"Let my soul grow wings, Lord Jesus,
in the nest of your discipline."
-- Ælred of Rievaulx, Mirror of Charity (12th Century)
A few days ago, a dear friend sent me a picture of one of his socks. While that might sound unusual and just a bit creepy, I should tell you these are not ordinary socks. Knitted into the nylon and cotton fibers are these famous words by church reformer Martin Luther: "Here I stand. I can do no other." Luther proclaimed this statement at his trial for treason. Among the charges brought against him were preaching and writing against a church he believed to be misguided.
The picture of the sock was a spiritual event for me, especially during these seemingly tumultuous days in The United Methodist Church. The Holy Spirit moved me to ask myself that question: Where do I stand?
Obediently, like a trained puppy, The United Methodist Church seems to be falling in line with the moral demands of secular society. With a recent 26-10 vote (with one abstention), the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church made it clear where they want the denomination to go. The vote creates legislation to be brought before the 2016 General Conference that would remove language in the Book of Discipline that states homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. It allows clergy to perform same sex marriage ceremonies (removing it as a chargeable offense), and leaves it to annual conference Boards of Ordained Ministry to discern if "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" can be ordained.
While this vote may reflect the changing moral views of the loudest voices in modern America, it is not representative of either the narrative of Scripture or the tradition of the Global Church. For years, the media has tried to change the minds of American culture regarding the acceptability of homosexual marriage. It began quietly, with one-liners in sitcoms and feel-good stories on the news. The issue gained momentum over the years and has now become a political issue.
As Christians, we believe we are created in the image and likeness of God. This truth is revealed to us in the Bible. The Bible is consistent throughout that homosexuality is not God's plan for our lives. In order to explain this Biblical consistency yet affirm homosexuality as a lifestyle, we're forced to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which ones are not (United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton has endorsed this solution). This puts us in a precarious situation of placing ourselves in a position of authority over the Bible.
I refuse to bow to the clamorous pressures of secular society. The church should be influencing the culture around us, not the other way around. The long, rich tradition of the Christian church has been in harmony with the testimony of Scripture on this subject. Why should this generation know better than those who have gone before us? If the topic now is homosexuality, what will be the next secular issue to be legitimized by the church? I suppose the Connectional Table will wait to decide until they receive instructions from the media and political elite (Pardon the snarky comment. I couldn't resist).
I fear the implication of the Connectional Table’s vote is not a more “United” Methodist Church, but an “Untied” one. I wonder if the Connectional Table understands the implications of their vote. Depending on what General Conference does with this legislation next year, we may not see a split in the UMC, but a disintegration.
When it comes to siding with either the pop morality of our modern day or with the timeless understanding of the human condition as portrayed in the Bible, the choice for me is easy.
Here I stand. I can do no other.
Dr. Ben Witherington has provided a much more eloquent response to the Connectional Table's recent vote than my words here. I highly recommend his article.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
For those in ministry who find themselves using their iPads more as a notebook computer than as a tablet, the BridgeAir keyboard is one option to enhance that experience. Before we get started, take note: This beautiful keyboard isn't cheap. It will set you back $170. That's about a third of the price of an iPad Air 2. It's tough to justify such a purchase, especially when a pastor thinks of how this will appear to laypersons. However, the technology in this amazing keyboard is worth a look.
The first thing you'll notice when you take the keyboard out of the box is just how well made it appears to be. It has a solid aluminum construction that looks like something that could have come out of Cupertino. The keys themselves have a nice bounce and solid feel. The keyboard is noticeably narrower than the one on a 11" Macbook Air, but your fingers get used to it very quickly.
The BrydgeAir connects wirelessly via Bluetooth in two ways: First, with the keyboard. Second, with the keyboard's speakers (yes, speakers; but more on that later). Connecting my iPad Air 2 was a breeze. The iPad slips into two padded hinges with rubber grips. The fit is snug, but not overly tight. I have no fear of the keyboard slipping out of the grips when I lift the unit by the iPad. The keyboard has designated keys for Siri, keyboard backlight, and media controls. The company claims the rechargeable keyboard battery will last three months. Time will tell.
As I use the keyboard, it works so much like a laptop's keyboard I find myself looking for the trackpad from time to time. I keep forgetting that my iPad is a touchscreen, so a trackpad isn't needed. Using this keyboard/iPad combination to take notes in meetings, to work on sermons, or to compose emails has been effortless. I can't say enough about its effectiveness. When you close the top, the iPad goes into hibernation.
What don't I like? For starters, the speakers. They produce a tinny sound that is, in fact, of less quality than the iPad's internal speakers. I disabled the bluetooth connection and doubt I'll ever use them. Another gripe (if you can actually call it a gripe), is the weight of the keyboard. I haven't weighed it, but when attached, it more than doubles the weight of the iPad. It definitely adds some heft to my very thin iPad Air 2. On the other hand, that weight does add some stability to the iPad.
Can it replace a notebook computer? I've been using my iPad with the BrydgeAir for about a week and I haven't missed my notebook. It's amazing what a tablet like an iPad can do. With a keyboard, it only enhances the experience even more. I can't imagine needing my notebook after using it.
Is it worth the price? This is an amazing keyboard for your iPad. It has style, quality, and function that sets it apart from other iPad keyboards on the market. Plus, it's amazingly thin. However, less expensive iPad keyboards are everywhere. That's where I have an issue for those of us in pastoral ministry. We model stewardship of resources to those in the congregations we serve, and I'm not sure this sets a good example.*
Should pastors drive a Mercedes when a Honda can get us where we need to go?
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
* Disclosure: I was sent this keyboard to review. I didn't purchase it myself.
Now it's the laity's turn...
1. There’s only one savior of the church, and it’s not your pastor.
Hoping the pastor will “fix” the problems in a church is not only unfair, it is also unreasonable. I’ve often heard church leaders say, “If we could ever get the right pastor here, this church would really grow.” Waiting for a Pastoral Messiah to come save your church is forgetting that Jesus the Messiah has already come - and the power of His Spirit already lives in the believers of the congregation.
From time to time pastors can, unfortunately, take the place of God in people’s lives. Either they’re angry at God and take it out on the pastor, or else they give credit to the pastor instead of God for the deepening of their spiritual lives. We shouldn’t be in either place. Pastors don’t have all the answers, and we’re certainly not saviors of local churches. We’re just there to coach and direct the work of the laity, guided by the Holy Spirit.
2. The local church exists not for the local church, but for the community.
The longer I’m in ministry the more I realize that local churches that exist for themselves rarely have significant ministries. It’s not “what” churches do that really matters, but “why.” When churches exist to support their own ministries, they become like the factory that produces oil because it needs oil to run the factory. Jesus calls us to live beyond ourselves. Christ in us should lead to Christ through us. As Dan Dick shares in his insightful book Vital Signs, the healthiest churches don’t care as much about how many people attend worship as they do about how many people will be affected by the people who attend worship.
3. Pastors need feedback, but not glowing praise or ridiculous criticism.
Sometimes a new pastor arrives, the church grows, and the congregation gives the pastor credit for revitalizing the congregation (and unfortunately, many pastors gladly receive that credit). Taking recognition for what God has done is stealing glory from God. Other times, pastors receive unfair criticism when churches are struggling. In one church I served, a church leader shook my hand and said, “See all these new people? Just look what you’ve done!” In another church, I was just as uncomfortable when someone said, “If you put water in the baptismal font one more time, I’m calling the bishop’s office.”
I don’t think pastors should receive unfair praise or unfair criticism. Thank us when you appreciate something we’ve done, and give us tips for how we can be more effective in the future.
4. The most stable local churches have the most committed members.
Churches that take membership vows seriously are the churches that are making the most significant differences in their communities. In The United Methodist Church, members vow to uphold the church by praying for the church, showing up more just than a couple of times a month, making regular, financial gifts, serving in ministries and in leadership positions, and sharing their faith with others. I’ve actually talked people out of joining a church because they were not ready to commit to all five of these membership vows. I didn’t want them to misrepresent themselves before God and the congregation. When people are excited about what God is doing in a local church, these membership vows become not burdens, but blessings.
5. Even though members may not always get along or agree, you're still a family.
What frustrates me the most about pastoral ministry is when a family has one disagreement with something the church is doing and they leave to find another congregation. There’s only one perfect church, and if you’re reading this, you haven’t arrived there yet. We have disagreements with members of our family from time to time, but we don’t leave our family. Why, then, do people leave churches so readily? We’re the family of God. We’re the Body of Christ. The only way for one part of our human body to leave the rest of the body is through extreme (and many times unnatural) measures. I wish it were that way in local churches. We’re stuck together, and that’s a great thing, even if we don’t always get along.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.