Friday, December 8, 2006

Should Christians Aspire to be Rich?

by Eric Walters

An article this week in the Baltimore Sun entitled, “Minister rich in spirit,” profiled the ministry of Reverend Jamaal Harrison-Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, MD. The article describes how Harrison-Bryant's message of financial and personal empowerment has catapulted him to celebrity status amongst a new generation of Christians. It has also afforded Bryant access to political, economic, and social/cultural clout, in addition to a lifestyle of unashamed opulence.

I received an email today from a colleague who read the article. Here’s some of what he wrote:

“…[The] ministry of Jesus, as described twice in the gospel of Matthew, was to serve the people through teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people. This was done because he had compassion for the people—or more strongly and accurately stated; he was suffering with, the people. Tell me in this article where there is [any] “suffering with” the people…..Until we [as ministers] “suffer with” the people, we will never get to true ministries that matter.”

The phenomenon of megachurch ministry, particularly in Black churches, raises numerous questions about the authenticity of contemporary ministry and its adherence to biblical accuracy.

Do megachurches today reflect a shift in values that have traditionally acculturated and sustained Black Americans? Is this a good thing?

How effective are ministries that pride themselves on a gospel of prosperity and personal empowerment that is oftentimes nourished by freewill individualism in preaching and teaching?

What are the consequences of “personal empowerment” ministry in the long run?

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

"An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind."

--Khalil Gibran

Ted Haggard’s Fall from Grace: A Lesson in Preventive Ministry

by Carolus Taylor

By now most of us are familiar with the plight of Ted Haggard, then Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs and head of the National Association of Evangelicals, who was exposed last month in a sex/drug scandal. An article in The Los Angeles Times entitled, “Haggard bares his soul in note to congregation” reported certain details of Haggard’s confession, and reaction to it by members of the New Life Church.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

…Haggard had been struggling for three years to balance his duties as pastor with his high-profile role as head of the evangelical association — a job that raised his political profile and got him invited to the Oval Office and in on conference calls with the White House…

…Haggard had tried to carve out time to reflect and to write his books by secluding himself now and then in a Denver hotel. That is apparently when he first contacted the prostitute, Mike Jones, who advertised as a masseur in gay magazines…

…Haggard alluded to this period in his letter, saying that his pride had prevented him from seeking counseling; he hadn't wanted to disappoint those who loved him. "When I stopped communicating about my problems," he wrote, "the darkness increased and finally dominated me."

I want to be clear I am not going to address how awful and scandalous the behavior. Instead, I want to address and have us think about from a ministerial perspective some of the comments identified in his letter to the church.

There are three factors that are of concern, and they are all interrelated: (1) his personal struggle with issues, (2) his time alone, and (3) his pride. As ministers, all of us have our areas of struggle. There are temptations before us that seek to destroy the call of God on our lives. We do not have an automatic exempt from temptation just because we have been called to the ministry. What better way to cast doubts on the gospel than to have the God-called preacher/pastor fall, and be exposed publicly. The issue is not that we have temptations, but how we are battling our temptations. Are we fighting alone, or are we asking other believers to assist us in the battle?

Haggard’s time alone and his pride, gave the enemy the opportunity and opening to turn up the heat. Apparently, Haggard struggled alone with his issues. Time alone made Haggard void of the company of his family, void of the company of other believers, void of prayer partners, void of individuals who would disciple him. We cannot defeat the enemy of our own accord, but need help from God who provides others in our lives. We need to surround ourselves with people who will hold us accountable.

I have thought much about the issue of pride. His pride prevented him from asking for help because he did not want to disappoint those he loved. The enemy clouds our judgment and prevents us from getting the help (the counsel, the accountability) we need because we are thinking of how others will think about us. It is our personal perception of what others will think about us. Thus we reject much needed help, and we do battle alone; a battle we are sure to lose.

There is also the fear of the reaction (and perhaps rejection) we will get if we open ourselves up to others. I am not suggesting we tell our struggles to everyone. We need to be careful and selective. But we do have a sense that if we reveal our deepest struggles and temptations, then people are going to say, “You should not be feeling like that.”

Does mature faith mean that we should come to the place where a minister should be able to reveal a struggle no matter how vile and vulgar?

As ministers, can we truly handle a pastor/minister who comes to us with the information they are struggling with about homosexuality, struggling with adultery, pornography, embezzlement, spousal abuse or some other immoral act?

Can someone reveal their deepest struggle with us, having confidence it will stay with us, and that we will hold each other accountable for doing the right thing?

Our members come to us with their most intimate struggles, but who do we go to with our struggles?

I pray that shame and pride will never prevent us from sharing our struggle with someone, and that we may find others who hold us accountable and help us through our most difficult times.
Just some thoughts, I would appreciate any reaction.

Carolus Taylor is Senior Pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What are the Real Threats to Christian Marriage?

by Eric Walters

Over the past year, much political and evangelical energy was expended over the push for a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. The ban would in effect, “protect traditional marriage” in the words of some high profile evangelical leaders and pastors.

Much of the debate surrounds statistics on rates of marriage, divorce, and children born out-of-wedlock in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden from 1990 to 2000 (following the establishment of registered partnerships in Denmark, 1990-1996). Evangelical proponents of the Amendment primarily cite the opinions of Stanley Kurtz who in many instances, misinterprets and
confusingly argues cause and effect relationships among data sets. Contrary to Kurtz’s claims, the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the (same) partner laws were passed, and in the 1990s, divorce rates in Scandinavia were relatively unchanged.
However one may feel on a civil or theological level about the Amendment Banning Gay Marriage, the misuse of Scandinavian data sets should be discouraged. One can bet that the debate has only just begun.

I would like to turn attention to what seems a more interesting and insightful set of statistics that describe recent divorce rates among Christians in America. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, an evangelical organization that studies Christian trends, born-again Christians were just as likely to divorce as those who are not born-again. Here are some major findings:

· Among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%.

· “Among born again adults, 80% have been married, compared to just 69% among the non-born again segment. If the non-born again population were to marry at the same rate as the born again group, it is likely that their divorce statistic would be roughly 38% - marginally higher than that among the born again group, but still surprisingly similar in magnitude.”

· “If we eliminate those who became Christians after their divorce, the divorce figure among born again adults drops to 34% - statistically identical to the figure among non-Christians.” The researcher also indicated that a surprising number of Christians experienced divorces both before and after their conversion.

· Multiple divorces are also unexpectedly common among born again Christians. Barna’s figures show that nearly one-quarter of the married born agains (23%) get divorced two or more times.

The 2004 Barna Report reinforces data from a previous study conducted in 1999; the data seem to emphasize that Christian marriage may succumb to similar pressures of divorce as those of non-religious marriages. Last month, the New York Times reported that recent Census Bureau figures show that married couples, as a proportion of American households, are now considered a minority.This sheds new light on social and theological dynamics of hot-button political topics that emphasize "family values" and the traditional two-parent household.

In light of these statistics, should Christian leaders claim moral authority on the subject of marriage?
Is the fact that two Christians are married, make their union more sacred than a marriage between two people who are not Christians?

Does the couple that prays together always stay together?

What does this say about the state of our Christian churches?

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.