Friday, December 30, 2016

Praying Book Study at Redeemer - Jan - May 2017


Image result for johnpiippo praying


I will lead a five-month book study on my new book Praying. In this study, which will include practical application, we will cover many aspects of a praying life. I will take participants deep into a life of prayer. 

Everyone who attends will receive a copy of the Study Guide. 

First meeting - Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 10 AM, in the blue classroom. 

I will teach out of my book. 

You can attend without buying the book, or you can purchase it at amazon.com

This class will meet once a month, Jan - May. 

Our prayer focus will be the Psalms. 

A sign-up sheet is in the lobby. Or, send me an email - johnpiippo@msn.com.

God Desires Participants, not Admirers


Detroit

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)

Real Jesus-following is a following-after Jesus, a participation rather than spectating. It's not pew-sitting and being entertained, but "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center.

David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)

Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. As Richard Stearns has written, Jesus is looking for disciples, not "deciders."

Praying Book Study at Redeemer - Jan - May 2017


Image result for johnpiippo praying


I will lead a five-month book study on my new book Praying. In this study, which will include practical application, we will cover many aspects of a praying life. I will take participants deep into a life of prayer. 

Everyone who attends will receive a copy of the Study Guide. 

First meeting - Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 10 AM, in the blue classroom. 

I will teach out of my book. 

You can attend without buying the book, or you can purchase it at amazon.com

This class will meet once a month, Jan - May. 

Our prayer focus will be the Psalms. 

A sign-up sheet is in the lobby. Or, send me an email - johnpiippo@msn.com.

God Desires Participants, not Admirers

Detroit

Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)

Real Jesus-following is a following-after Jesus, a participation rather than spectating. It's not pew-sitting and being entertained, but "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center.

David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)

Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. As Richard Stearns has written, Jesus is looking for disciples, not "deciders."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Human Freedom Is Not Incompatible with God's Foreknowledge

Chicago Theological Seminary

Someone read my post on the compatibility of God's foreknowledge and human free will. They contacted me with a question, and then posted their question here, which reads:

"Recently I was reading about foreknowledge and free will, and looking at views that say that the two are incompatible and compatible.
In regards to the views that say the two are compatible, the people arguing for this view were bringing up the 'modal fallacy'. They formed their argument as such-
Given that A=God knows X will happen and B=X happens, there's a difference between the following two statements: 1) It is not possible for A to be true and B to be false, and 2) If A is true then it is not possible for B to be false.
The argument is that the first statement is true, but the second is false. However, I don't understand the difference between the two. The first statement is saying that A and B can't be true and false respectively (they both have to be true). So if God knows X will happen (A), then X will happen (B). Isn't the second statement saying the same thing but in a different way? It says that if A is true, then B cannot be false. This seems to be true as well, but somehow it's false (and different than the first statement?). Apparently, if A is true then B doesn't NECESSARILY have to be false, but that doesn't make sense, because the first statement literally said that it's impossible for A to be true and B to be false (and this statement is accepted to be true!). So, if A is true then doesn't B necessarily have to be false?
I don't seem to understand the difference between the two statements, and more importantly I don't get why the first statement is true but the second is false."

I emailed them my response to this, which is:

The two statements are not saying the same thing.

Statement 1 does not commit the modal fallacy.

Statement two does. Here’s how it does.
A conditional statement is made of two statements, an antecedent statement and a consequent statement.

E.g. – If God knows John will eat an orange, then John cannot not eat an orange. The consequent is equivalent to: It is necessary (logically) that John eat an orange.
But that statement (i.e., the consequent) ascribes logical necessity to a contingent event. In doing that, the modal fallacy is committed. Because: 1) it is possible for John to eat an orange; 2) It is probable (more or less) that John eat an orange; but 3) It is not logically necessary that John eat an orange. Thus, statement 2 commits the modal fallacy of ascribing logical necessity to a contingent event. (Because it is possible that John doesn't eat an orange.)

Therefore, God’s foreknowledge and human free will are not incompatible.
See esp. – The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Foreknowledge and Free Will" (scroll down to "The Modal Fallacy").





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Core Relational Values to Live By


Monroe - path along the River Raisin

Here is a re-edited list of core relational values I posted many years ago.
  • Be motivated by the love of God, not by the need for acceptance. 
  • Impart God’s love in everything you say and do. 
  • Be moved with compassion for the lost and wounded. 
  • Err on the side of grace rather than judgment. 
  • Live life in such a way that your highest priority is to have intimacy and communion with God, then with your spouse, then your children, and after that others. 
  • Commit to a lifestyle of never ending change, seeking to be conformed to the image of Christ. 
  • Take personal responsibility for your life, actions, and emotions, rather than blame others for things that go wrong in your life. 
  • Surround yourself with spiritual fathers and mothers who hold you to a lifestyle of personal accountability in all areas of your life and ministry.
  • Seek to increase in wisdom and knowledge through continued study of sound biblical truths. 
  • Let your words be seasoned with grace, to lift up others, and never to bring down, devalue, or defame one of God’s creations.
  • Seek to live a transparent life that is totally open with God, others, and yourself.
  • Let your confidence and self-esteem not be found in your talents or accomplishments or possessions, but in your identity and faith in Christ. 
  • Practice the presence of the Lord 24/7. 
  • View your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and seek to live in purity and moderation. 
  • Receive God’s love and give and minister out of the overflow of love in your life.
  • Bear the faults and weaknesses of others in your life ,and do not seek to please yourself or to get your own way in life.
  • Be a servant-leader who leads by modeling a servant’s heart. 
  • Be a good listener who judges not by what your eyes see or ears hear, but by discerning the root issues of the heart. 
  • Rejoice more in your name being written in the book of life than in any success and praise that ministry can bring to you.
  • Walk in the Spirit of Christ who is meek and lowly of heart. 
  • Daily experience the Father’s love and give it away to the people you meet. 
  • Live a lifestyle of thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God and others have provided for you. 
  • Walk in loyalty in all your relationships. One way to determine loyalty is by what you say about a person when they are not present.

Christmas - I'm Still Celebrating

I put this slide show together and showed it on Christmas Eve at Redeemer. I used some of my winter photos taken in Monroe, and added quotes on the birth of Christ.

Merry Christmas! (I'm still celebrating...)































Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Primordiality of Listening in the Presence-Driven Church

Image result for johnpiippo listen
Trees, in my back yard

Listening is the first thing. Before acting, listen. Listen, before you speak.

Josh, Dan, and Allie came yesterday and stayed the night. We celebrated our family Christmas last evening. Today I've got a turkey in the oven, and we're preparing for dinner. Yesterday I went to the store to get all the ingredients. Linda wrote a list.

I looked at the list before I put things in the cart. The list comes before the purchase. This is how it is with the Presence-Driven Church. God speaks. We listen. We obey.

First, hear from God. Then, respond as indicated. In the Presence-Driven Church this counsel is for all the people, not just the pastor. Pastors must do this, and show their people how to do this. In the Presence-Driven Church all the people are listening for the voice of God in counsel and direction.

This is not an add-on, something that is OK but peripheral. This is the core. To learn to listen for God's voice is to strike the mother lode. Without this. we're just holding fool's gold. Adam McHugh writes:

"Throughout the Bible listening is the central act of the people of God. They are those who are gathered and formed by his voice and held together by his word. They hear his promises and judgments, instructions and warnings, reassurances and exhortations." (McHugh, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, Kindle Locations 38- 40)

McHugh reminds us that the Hebrew word shema means "listen." This is the first word in the core wisdom of Judaism: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Hear, before you do. This ancient wisdom, when lived and applied in the church, slows things down. The Presence-Driven Church is a slow-cooking, simmering stew of auditory acuteness. In this mixture, disciples are formed, followers are fashioned. "Make disciples," said Jesus. To do that, Slow Church is required.

Pastors - get into God's presence and listen. Teach your people to do the same. Listen to what God is saying to your people, through your people. 

***

I'm teaching a five-month class on prayer, beginning Sat., Jan. 7, at Redeemer.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Uncovering Jesus at Christmas


We had ten inches of snow in Southeast Michigan a few weekends ago. This prevented a number of our people from coming to the church building on Sunday morning.

On Monday Linda and I were driving on Elm Street in Monroe. The snowfall had stopped. Everything was coated white. Even the nativity scene in front of one of our funeral homes was feeling the effects.

Linda pointed to the scene and said, "Look, something is wrong." Yes. The manger had so much snow on it that you couldn't see the point of it all. I looked and saw Mary, Joseph, animals, but no Jesus.

This bothered me.

I returned to the manger scene later in the day and took a photo, as evidence that a white Christmas covers up Jesus. It's not something we should be dreaming of.



As lo, the days of the week hastened on, the image of the snow-covered Jesus stayed with me. On Saturday it was still on my mind. I was at the state park on Lake Erie, working on my sermon. Snow-covered Jesus was getting to me. I thought, "This is a symbol of how the holidays have overrun Christmas and layered over the real Christmas." The "holidays" are a cover-up, drawing attention from the actual event.

Then it hit me. I am to go back to the manger, clear the snow off baby Jesus, and uncover him for the world to see.

I drove to the funeral home and parked. I put on my gloves, and grabbed my camera. There were two men shoveling the sidewalks. Because I'm still not perfectly secure in my missional activity, I wondered what these men might think of me. And, it's a fairly busy street corner. People might see me. They might recognize me as Redeemer's pastor. Some already think we're a crazy church, since we believe in demons, angels, healing, miracles, signs, and wonders. And in Jesus, who believed all those things, too.

I walked through the snow, stood before the manger, and bent low over it. Is there a baby beneath the snow? Yes - to my delight and joy - there he is! Jesus, uncovered. Jesus, revealed. Revelatione Jesu. O holy night! Joy to the world!

Merry Christmas, everyone.






Saturday, December 24, 2016

Violent Night (An Alternative Christmas Story)


Monroe

In Revelation 12:1-7 we have an alternative nativity story. Eugene Peterson writes:  “This is not the nativity story we grew up with, but it is the nativity story all the same.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 121)

This is why C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as an act of war. Christmas, said Lewis, is about "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity he writes:

"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...  


Christianity agrees that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." 


Christmas Eve was the night before the Great Invasion. The creatures were stirring, even the mouse. We see this upheaval in the non-holiday telling of Christmas found in Revelation 12:1-7. It reads:

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 

And there was war in heaven.

Robert Mounce says that: 

  1. The "woman" here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the "ideal Israel"
  2. Out of the messianic community is born a "child," a Messiah; 
  3. The seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); and
  4. Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ. 

Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things. In Luke 2 we read that...

...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Violent night

Holy night

All's not calm

All's not bright

Christmas Eve - that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness..
.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas - What the Animals Knew


Five Problems with Top-Down Vision-Casting in Churches

Image result for john piippo leadership
Snow-covered trees in Monroe

At Redeemer Fellowship Church we have a team of Elders who function in non-task-oriented ways. As Elders our focus is twofold: loving and serving our church family, and discerning what God is saying to us.

One thing we as Elders do not do, is brainstorm about programs we could implement in our church. What a relief this is to me! I've been there, done that, and don't want to do that every again.


"Some of my worst disasters in ministry have come from trying to implement a vision, only to find out that no one else was buying into it.
They might have even agreed that it was a good idea. For me. But it wasn’t theirs.
So they didn’t get behind it."

The top-down "vision-casting" strategy looks like this.



  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, Bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
  • The pastor preaches about the vision
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
  • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly

  • Vaters says there are five problems with this strategy.

    Problem #1 - It's more Old Testament than New Testament.

    In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit descends on the entire church. Peter than speaks for what the entire church experienced.

    "The church gets the vision from prayer-soaked time in God's Word."

    This is an example of what I call The Presence-Driven Church.

    Problem #2 - It relies on obscure and/or questionably interpreted Bible passages.

    How many times has Proverbs 29:18 been cited in defense of top-down vision-casting - Where there is no vision, the people perish. But the entire verse, in context, is really about keeping God's laws, not casting visions. It reads: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law is happy.

    Problem #3 - It puts all the weight on the pastor.

    In Acts 2 Peter did not shoulder the weight of the vision. He and the Eleven shared the vision, as Acts 2:14 says.

    Here is the heart of pastoral burnout, the carrying of a vision, alone, and striving to recruit people to have a heart for it.

    Problem #4 - It doesn't include the dreams and visions of church members.

    Vaters writes:

    "When I go to a church leadership conference, it’s not to find out what the leader’s vision is and how I can help them fulfill it. I go to get tools to help me fulfill the vision God has given me for my life and ministry. I think a lot of people would come to our churches if they could get that help from us."

    On Sunday morning, January 1, I will be sharing this concept with our Redeemer people and, hopefully, empowering them to: 1) abide in Christ; 2) listen for God's voice; 3) and answer the call to missional activity.

    Problem #5 - It requires constant selling.

    Anyone who knows me know I would be a failure as a salesperson. Thank God I don't have to do that as a pastor!

    Vaters writes:

    "The three most-taught principles of vision-casting are "repeat, repeat, repeat." I've been told constantly that if I don't remind people at a minimum of once a month about the vision, they'll forget it.
    That's a problem.
    Any vision that needs to be sold to me that constantly...   I don't know... maybe it's not God's vision for me."

    The reality is that, if a person has a vision from God burning inside of them, "they couldn't stop thinking about it if they tried."

    The role of a pastor is to equip the people for works of ministry, not to have people sit in chairs and watch the pastor work. Vaters is correct when he writes, "Leaders don't ask people to support their vision. They ask, "How can I help you reach your vision?""



    Enter the small church. Vaters says that "much of the emphasis on top-down vision-casting has been the result of our big church leadership obsession." It's hard to release a few thousand Christians into visionary missional activity that comes from God, to them.

    But small churches could do this. Like the 120 worshipers who gathered on the Day of Pentecost. Vaters concludes:

    "A community of believers, worshiping, dreaming and working together as guided by the Holy Spirit speaking to and through everyone. Not that's a vision worth writing down and running with."






    Thursday, December 22, 2016

    Preaching the Unrecognizable Jesus

    Downtown Monroe

    Pastors - stop trying to be "relevant." In the sense of being culturally cool, or socially awesome and acceptable. If it happens, you will swiftly become passé, swept aside by the nothing-new-under-the-sun, question-begging waves of culture.

    Just be clear.

    Be clear about the gospel.

    The gospel, not you, has eternal relevance to the core, ontological struggle of humanity. 

    Speak and teach and preach the gospel in words your culture understands. That will be enough for you to do. You won't need the blue jeans. Real prophets would never have worn them. (John the Baptist, concerned about "fitting in?")

    Jesus was, and remains, shockingly a-cultural. Therefore be free of obsessing about your hair;. Remember Einstein, whose hair-care issues indicated neglect, but whose ideas started a scientific revolution.

    The presentation of the gospel will sound strange and irrelevant to the indoctrinated cultural masses. That is good. It should sound this way. Think, perhaps, of the philosophical prophet Kierkegaard, and his historical precursor Tertullian, who both said, Credo quia absurdum, "I believe because it is absurd." 

    A clear presentation of the gospel must be understandable, and part of its clarity is that it will be unrecognizable. It must sound silly, from the viewpoint of secular culture. The more you try to make the gospel relevant to culture, the more the gospel loses its unrecognizability. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

    Of course. Had the this-worldly masses recognized him, it would not have been him. They didn't. Not even his disciples.

    Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. Not two thousand years ago, not today. The great danger is that people would begin to see the two conflicting kingdoms as the same kingdom (like the mindless conflating of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas.")

    People today need to come face to face with the unrecognizable Jesus, the one New Testament scholar Michael McClymond named the "Familiar Stranger." So pastors - preach, with as much clarity as you can bring to the moment, the unrecognizable kingdom.

    Then, let it go.

    Trust God's Spirit, who will hover over the irrelevance and the cognitive dissonance, and touch a nerve in dead flesh, ignite a spark on a cold night, send a drop to a desert, and speak hope to a nihilistic soul. Then behold as another insane mind, stuck in the meaningless eternal recurrence of the same, awakens, by the power of the Spirit, and hears the voice of redemption calling from another world.

    ***
    Note: When the absurdity of the gospel reaches the low levels it had in first-century Rome, then I expect the gospel's intrinsic power to be unleashed in another global outpouring. In those days the world will have long-tired of the world-system and the futile way of life handed down from generation to generation, and the absurdity of the gospel will be clearly seen as the answer to systemic world-weariness.


    ***

    My recent book of prayer is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.


    Currently in process of writing - Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

    Why People Try to Control Others


    I meet a lot of control freaks and controlees. Many marriages are the coming together of these two anti-types. Every control freak needs a controlee, and vice versa. I call these "master/slave" marriages.

    Most, if not all, struggle with control issues. The Control vs. Trust polarity is ontological reality; i.e., it lies at the base of human personhood. 

    "Control" is the antithesis of "trust." Trust is huge in the Jesus-life, and life in general, since we control so very, very little.

    Keith Miller writes: "control is the major factor in destroying intimate relationships." (Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships., p. 7) Why do we do this? Why try to control others when we can't control our own selves, and are often out of control? Miller writes:

    "The fear of being revealed as a failure, as not being "enough" somehow, is a primary feeling that leads to the compulsion to control other people. When we were children, the fear of being inadequate and shameful was tied to our terror of being deserted or rejected and we had little control over getting what we needed. To counteract that basic terror, we have evidently been trying all our lives in various ways to "get control" of life. This includes controlling other people." (14)

    A controlling person is an un-free person. Insecurity is the banner of control. I like the way Richard Foster once put this: God wants to free us from the terrible burden of always having to get our own way. "Walking in freedom" and "controlling other people" ("always getting our own way") are oppositional. 

    The control freak crushes the spirit of the other person, who wears a sign saying, 'Crush me." "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" - "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" -  this is the cycle that destroys marriages and relationships. The antidote is, of course, trust. Because where trust is, control is not. 

    Begin breaking free by learning trust in God. Pray to be less controlling than you now are; pray to be less controlled by others than you now are. Trust God even when you don't trust other people. 

    Go basic, repeating and praying Proverbs 3:5-6:

    Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
        don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
    Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
        he’s the one who will keep you on track.
    Don’t assume that you know it all.
        Run to God! Run from evil! (The Message)


    To trust God when around distrustful people is an experiential act of freedom. God can use you to be the catalyst that heals others of their fear of not measuring up.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2016

    Pastors Among the Unthinking Herd

    Downtown Monroe

    The warning Paul issues in Romans 12:1-2 concerns the shape of our hearts; viz., that we not be world-conformed. This is relevant in every age, and especially so in today's America, where the invasion of secularity has captured and shaped the hearts of the masses. Many Christians, and many pastors, have joined the ranks of the unthinking Kierkegaardian herd.

    In the midst of this nihilistic wasteland God raises up prophetic voices, even speaking from the grave. One such prophetic voice is that of Henri Nouwen. In The Way of the Heart Nouwen writes:

    "Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives."
    (Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Kindle Locations 893-896)

    Nouwen sees the manifestations of pastoral captivity. They include:

    • Pastors are too busy with meetings, visits, many services to lead. Pastors move through life in a distracted way, rarely stopping to ask if any of this busyness is worth thinking, saying, or doing.
    • Pastors have become advertisers who must motivate people to come to church, who must make sure the youth are entertained, who must raise money to keep the infrastructure going, and above all, pastors need to see that everyone is happy.
    • Pastors have become "busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people." (Ib., K899)
    • Pastors have lost their real identity in Christ, and have morphed into affirmation addicts: "Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised." (Ib., K906)
    • What matters to many pastors today is not what God thinks of them, but how they are perceived by the world.
    Nouwen saw a lot of anger in pastoral leaders, coming from a culture-shaped hearts that have taken on the consumer values of the world. He writes:

    "Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ. (Ib., K919-923)

    Are things really that bad in the ministry? I think so. I've taught my spiritual formation materials to three to four thousand pastors, and Nouwen's insights resonate with me. And, I have discovered the seeds of secularity in my own heart.

    The warning the apostle Paul gives against world-conformity is real, and the entrapment is subtle. It doesn't happen overnight. But one morning a pastor can wake up and sense that something has gone very wrong in his or her heart. They realize, following Nouwen, that they are passengers on a ship that is sinking.

    Nouwen's counsel, and mine as well, is: Jump ship! Swim for your life! Run to the place of your salvation, which is the place of solitude. Reside there, and be transformed into Christlikeness by the renewing of your mind. (This is why the Desert Fathers went to the desert in the first place.)