Why community gardens and co-working spaces are cop outs

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Last week I approvingly quoted Andrew Forrest from an interview on Duke’s Faith & Leadership blog:

“Every dying church in America has a community garden. Every dying church in America has a co-working space. What do I mean by that? I have no problem with community gardens; a garden is a beautiful thing. And I don’t have any problem with co-working spaces. But Jesus didn’t tell us to start a community garden, and he didn’t tell us to start co-working spaces; he told us to make disciples. That’s literally the mission of the church.

The problem is not the gardens. I’m being provocative to make a point. The problem is that we often want to substitute secondary and tertiary concerns for the primary concern of discipleship.”

I quoted him because I agree with this “provocative” assessment. And it’s provocative nature proved to be true in conversations I’ve had since posting the quote.

Community gardens and co-working spaces are frequently (although not always) symptoms of a church’s inability to confront organizational reality. A church that has no unifying, God-centered vision for gospel ministry in its context will always turn to the easiest and most concrete ways of justifying its existence. Vision-less churches are always infatuated with their buildings and grounds. So they turn to those assets and look to them to provide a way forward.

In a case I’m familiar with, a presbytery is proposing that a group of less than 100 people be given a church property that can accommodate close to eight hundred in worship. There is no way that such a minuscule group of people could ever fund the operation of such a large physical plant. [Google: “hail Mary pass”]. Yet what is the reason given to justify such an inequitable decision: “we can rent out office space.”

Sure. There are legitimate businesses that are just lining up to pay commercial real estate market rates for leases on office space in your nursery. 

In reality, this is a form of magical thinking that is driven by the need to survive rather than by any affirmative vision of missional presence in a community. It’s the ministry equivalent of the widow who takes in boarders to try and keep her house.

Even if it does work, the results are underwhelming.

I understand most of the reactions to the interview. One response I don’t get is the almost perennial vehemence against large churches. Especially in the mainline, there is a near-religious loathing of large churches–an almost pathological anger towards them.

It’s crazy.

Now, let me be clear, I have served large congregations and I am under no illusion that large churches are perfect churches. In fact, I’m not even sure that a 2,600 member church is the ideal size–it’s certainly not my ideal size. Yes, large churches can be pushy and sometimes frightfully ignorant of the struggles of normal churches. I get that. There are a lot of things of which large church leaders need to repent. The desire for numerical growth, however, isn’t necessarily one of those things.

In the instant case what you have is a large church giving its resources to a small church. Not all instances need look like the one in the article. One of the models I personally find the most attractive is practiced by the Piedmont Triad Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem (NC) has planted churches that have begun as campuses, sharing the resources of the larger congregation. Eventually, those sites become particularized churches with their own sessions, but they continue to use the resources (now they are able to pay for them) of the larger church as a way to create an economy of scale for administrative services.

Here’s what it comes down to, at least in my mind. We’re all in this together. As long as we are united around a common confessional expression (in my mind subscription to the Westminster Standards) then large or small, we’re all working toward the glory of God and the salvation of men and women. Big or small is not as important as healthy and strong.

 

 

 

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Jesus is the blueprint for a new humanity

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As Christians living in a sin-tainted world, we’re engaged in a struggle–a resistance if you will–against powers that are rebellious and estranged from their true King, Jesus. In Jesus we participate in his project of regaining mastery of the created order and moving it towards re-creation, a new creation that mirrors the values of God’s kingdom.

Jesus is doing this by the creation of a new humanity—the church.

When I refer to the church, I’m thinking of –in the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”—“elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth, her charter of salvation one faith, one life, one birth…”[1] In other words: the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood ties of ethnicity and nationality:

With Jesus’ resurrection, the new age has dawned. The new man has emerged from among the old humanity, whose life he had shared, whose pain and sin he had borne. For Paul, as throughout the Bible, sin and death were inextricably linked, so that Christ’s victory over the latter signaled his defeat over the former.[2] – N T Wright

[See also: Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:12-28]

Here is where we fit into the story.

As Christians, as part of this new humanity, we are God’s agents working to subvert the rule of sin and death in the empires of the present age. This vocation is an active one, especially if we consider Paul’s description of his apostolic mission in 2 Corinthians 10:4ff. as a paradigm for engagement in the world:

Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Notice again the comprehensiveness of this vision: between Colossians 1 and 2 Corinthians 10 we see the interplay of spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, dominions and opinions; and through both, powers that are at work.

The hope of Colossians 1—our hope—is that Jesus is not one power amongst a pantheon of competing powers. Instead, he is above, beyond, before, and over these powers—they have no existence independent of him.

This Jesus has given himself to the world in love in order to make reconciliation possible—a returning of prodigal creation to its father that results in a new humanity, the church.

This passage demands our acknowledgement that there is no sphere of existence over which Jesus is not sovereign.[3] God’s rules, God’s values, aren’t legitimate in some places and illegitimate in other places—no, they are over all. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”[4]

 

 

[1] “The Church’s One Foundation” available online at: https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/833? Accessed February 18, 2017.

[2] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 74.

[3] Ibid., 79.

[4] See C. S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture” in Christian Reflections, ed. W. Hooper (1967): 33.

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Five suggestions about plagiarism

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Celebrity preacher Mark Driscoll is in the news again. Surprise! Jonathan Merritt of the Religious News Service reports that more instances of plagiarism are alleged against the popular preacher and writer.

Driscoll

The first allegations came to light during an interview conducted by Janet Mefferds. You can read coverage of the initial interview here or you can listen to the interview embedded below.

Here’s a summary of the allegation from Merrit’s account:

Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd accused Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism on her Nov. 21 broadcast. Mefferd claimed that Driscoll quoted extensively from the work of Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, A Call to Resurgence, without direct or proper citation.

“In this book,” Driscoll responded, “I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications but I wasn’t working specifically from his text.”

Tyndale House, Driscoll’s publisher, is standing by him:

Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.

This story is likely not over. We’ll see what strange by-ways it takes in the coming weeks.

Plagiarism is a sticky business. Judging by the interactions I have with friends in higher education, the appropriation of someone else’s written work and intentionally passing it off as your own is quite common among college students. It has never been easier to lift text and insert it into you own document. I the quotes above were cut and pasted into wordpress. Simple. Ease, anonymity, and urgency create big incentives to take short cuts in research and to omit any or proper attribution. 

Where this gets interesting is in the case of oral documents like sermons. Good preachers do a lot of research in preparation for delivering a sermon. Giving attribution in a sermon can become cumbersome and turn a lively sermon into an AAR/SBL paper if it has too many phrases like “as Rowan Williams has noted,” or “to quote C. S. Lewis,” “Thomas Aquinas argued.” The same is true for a blog post, which is a more casual piece of writing than a published book.

How then can you avoid plagiarism in your writing, whether that content is received aurally or visually:

  1. Footnote. Footnote. Footnote. If you’re blogging do your best to link to the original source if you’re quoting it. If you can’t find it, say so. If you’re writing a paper or book chapter, make sure you footnote. My rule of thumb here is: if in doubt, footnote. In my academic writing, which I haven’t done much of lately, my rule of thumb was that the number of citations should be roughly twice to three times the number of pages (excluding introduction and conclusion) in the document.
  2. If you’re delivering a sermon and you directly quote someone, you must state that you’re doing so. For this reason, I suggest not having more than one to two direct quotes in a sermon. Use them sparingly because the value of the quote has to far exceed the cost of stating “Charles Williams states….”
  3. Always have down time between reading/research and writing. Some of you won’t struggle with this, but I find that if I read a chapter of a book or an article on a topic I’m researching, and then immediately try to incorporate that into my article I will disproportionately be influenced by that research. When you’re really concentrating on understanding the depths of another’s argument and even interacting with in a mental conversation or sparring match, I find it takes some time before I’m ready to integrate these new insights into my writing with the appropriate degree of differentiation.
  4. Don’t outsource research. Period. My advice is try to avoid outsourcing research, especially if you’re a pastor. If you’re a writer or academic then it’s more justifiable. Remember, if you outsource research then you’re also outsourcing your integrity and your reputation so be sure you trust your assistant and do your due diligence (i.e., double check).
  5. Remember, you only get one chance. Somehow I doubt that Driscoll will do what he’s told others to do and quite his ministry over this. However, his reputation has taken a hit and for a lot of people what he’s alleged to have done will be seen as one more reason to deride the Christian faith.

What do you think?

 

 

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The unlived life

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Everyone has dreams. Some abandon them. Others embrace them. Some try and fail. Others fail to try. Many find a new success in their failures. It wasn’t the success they thought they’d experience. It was a peculiar success whose genesis lay in the failure of their first dream.

Entrepreneurs know this. They try ten things, eight of them fail. They re-invest in the two that don’t.

Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art is a must-read for anyone seriously committed to taking any sort of risk in life, not just for the creatives for whom the book was written. He writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”

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It’s resistance that makes us put down the book proposal we’ve almost completed. It’s resistance that smacks us in the face when we sit at the computer to write our sermon. It’s resistance that gently whispers that we could never do what we’ve always dreamed of doing and what others say they can see us doing.

Our society is ordered around distraction: “we live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of [our] unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it. By selling us a product, a drug, a distraction” (War of Art, 31). What’s easier: two hundred words or two hours on Facebook? What’s more important?

Spend some time today thinking about what you really want to do with your life. 

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The Dawkins Pedophilia Brouhaha

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It’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity. Richard Dawkins is in the news for his recent comments on pedophilia. In an interview the famous evolutionary biologist noted that the “mild pedophilia” he experienced as a child did him no “lasting harm.” You can read the full story at Salon.

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

As a general rule, it is true that it is futile to judge our ancestors by our current standards, however I’m not sure I’d say that Dawkins childhood was really in another “era.” And while the sort of pedophilia he describes may have happened in that era, it was not acceptable then as it is not now. The difference is that then, just as Dawkins is now doing, society would have hushed it it up and minimized it, telling the child to “get over it.”

It’s hard to be angry at Dawkins. He is, in many respects, a victim who is still living in the narrative of the 1940s and 1950s during which this event took place.

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