What should be my place in the church’s pecking order?

My wife and I have spent the past week on a farm and one incident reminded me of the common saying, “Pecking order.” There were a bunch of eggs in the incubator waiting to be hatched and our arrival at the farm was the due date. One by one the little chicks pecked their way out of their shells and began the next phase of their lives. Which is when we noticed an interesting occurrence. Those chicks who hatched first began to peck at the chicks born later. This is the famous pecking order that determines who gets to peck whom?

It’s the most basic form of relationship and while I can’t begin to try to understand the way a chick’s mind works it does illustrate the way some relationships are oriented around power and domination.

Sometimes the same thing happens when people come to faith. Those who come to faith first set the rules for the next who come to faith. There are countless examples in the Bible, perhaps the most famous being the Pharisees and the prodigal son’s older brother.

Acts 15 is a great example of how the pecking order was challenged and a new way of relationship was hatched. Apparently some of the early Jesus followers decided that non-Jews also needed Jesus and so they began to proclaim Jesus to others. The first stage was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, who was a Jewish proselyte. Others, however, went further and began to talk about Jesus with people with an entirely different worldview. This of course created turmoil in the early church as people accused both Peter and these other Jesus followers — now called “Christians” — of violating God’s laws.

Peter’s rebuttal is simple: The same Holy Spirit that guides us also guides these new Jesus followers.

The result was the order issued by the early church leaders that is recorded in Acts 15 that outlines how these new Jesus followers could be folded into the church.

This was a reversal of the pecking order concept where the old timers get to set the rules. Now the newcomers could create their own rules. In fact, it was the very rules themselves that lost their ability to shape culture. Rather, the Holy Spirit would somehow intervene in the lives of these others and help them to reshape their own cultures for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Be the one who gets pecked. It’s ok to be pecked because I have been pecked, too.”

So what other pecking orders exist within the church? What does the Bible have to say about these pecking orders?

Intergenerational pecking orders. But Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Don’t stop children from coming to me!” and also a few verses earlier in Matthew 18, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.” What does this mean? Sometimes people whose faith is fresher have a better approach to faith.

Favourite Bible Translation pecking orders. It is interesting that most of these debates are about English translations of the Bible, even though English is not one of the original languages. It doesn’t make sense if we are happy accepting other language translations but are only happy with one English one. What is important is that God says in Isaiah 55, “My word … will not come back to me without results.” What does this mean? God’s word works.

Favourite preacher pecking orders. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 — “some of you say, ‘I follow Paul’ and others say, ‘I follow Apollos,'” — talks about the teamwork involved in church ministry. What does this mean? Be a team player when it comes to church. Listen to a variety of voices. Engage in conversations rather than monologues.

Theological pecking orders. People love to fight about theology. I can remember to this day some of the theological arguments that I had more than 30 years ago — and I loved debating because I knew that I was right! That is the problem with theological debates because the goal is to find out who is right and who is wrong. The bible advises us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). What does this mean? Be prepared for the reality that you may not always be right!

Hermeneutical pecking orders. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation and for many years one hermeneutical system has reigned supreme: the grammatical-historical method. The problem is that this isn’t necessarily the default hermeneutical system used either in the Bible (eg. take a look at how Peter interprets scripture in at the end of 1 Peter 3) nor in various parts of the world. What does this mean? Sometimes other people know how to make sense of things too. It’s best to dialogue with them rather than condemn them.

Where is your place in the pecking order? How can I embrace being pecked rather than pecking others?

Note: A few days later I happened to see all the chicks huddled together because it was cold. I guess a common problem is more important than pecking each other! Is that why persecution sometimes makes the church stronger?

Is it ok to call my Pastor “Pas”?

Have you seen the post making rounds on FB? It says,

“Don’t call your pastor “Pas.” 1. It’s Unbiblical and 2. It’s Unprofessional.”

Really?

Pastor is a socially and culturally constructed word that means something different today than it did in the Bible times. In no place in the Bible are we commanded to call someone a “pastor.” In no place in the Bible in the role of pastor a professional role. (And while we’re at it let’s get rid of the notion that “the pastor is the highest calling.”)

Grammatically, “Pas” is a diminutive that is a term of endearment. It is actually more meaningful than the term “Pastor” (when used as a title). It implies a close relationship between the person and the pastor, a relationship where a spiritual leader has the ability to speak into the life of the parishioner. 

Calling is much more complex than “some are pastors and the rest are not.” The Bible tells us that all walks of life, all activities, and all people are able to minister to the glory of God. 

So if you are a pastor and someone calls you “Pas” accept it as the sign of love that it is — and be sure to love that person back!

Nakita mo na ba ang nashare na FB post ng ganito?

“Don’t call your pastor “Pas.” 1. It’s Unbiblical and 2. It’s Unprofessional.”

Talaga ba? 

1. Wala kang makitang talata sa Bible kung saan may utos na dapat tawagan nating mga pastor na “pastor.”

2. Wala ka ring makitang talata sa Bible kung saan may sinabi na ang mga pastor ay “professional.” 

Saan kaya galing ang mga ideya nito? Sa tingin ko ito’y nagmula sa kasabihang “The pastor is the highest calling.” Ang problema ay wala din ito sa Bibliya. Sa totoo lang, malalim ang konsepto ng pag-tawag o “calling” sa Bibliya. Ayon sa Bibliya, mahalaga sa paniningin ng Diyos ang lahat ng uri ng trabaho, lahat ng bahagi ng buhay, at lahat ng tao. Lahat ito’y pwedeng gamitin sa papupuri sa Panginoon. 

Bukod dito, ang paggamit ng salitang “Pas” ay isang term ng pagmamahal na ginagamit ito upang ipakita na may pagmamamahal ang isang tao sa kanyang espiritwal na lider. 

Kaya’t kung ikaw ay pastor at may tumawag sa iyo na “Pas” tanggapin mo na lang ito bilang tanda ng pag-ibig nila sa yo – at siguraduhing mong mahalin ang taong iyon!

Image by Ben White on Unsplash.

The buck stops with me

I remember the day it all happened.

I was the foreman of a treeplanting crew in Northwestern Ontario. My boss, Ernie, was a hands-on guy who always took care of everything. We were camped at Lake of the Woods Houseboats just north of Sioux Lookout, ON, but were working in the bush about 30 minutes away. Ernie had just driven off in his truck. I climbed in the van to take the crew out to the bush but when I turned the key, nothing! I got on the radio to call Ernie back but for some reason couldn’t connect with him.

It was at that moment that I knew it for the first time: If I didn’t act then we wouldn’t be able to work today. It was a novel experience for me. Up until then I had relied upon others to get me through difficult times.

The key was that I had to make a decision to act. If I hadn’t done anything I am sure that Ernie would have figured things out, come back, and solved the problem.

The thing keeping me from acting was the unknown. What is wrong with the van? Will I be able to fix it? How long will this take? If I mess up will I get fired?

Once I moved beyond that into action I discovered that the problem was fairly easy to solve. The battery was dead (because I had left the lights on) and the owner of the place we were staying had a truck and booster cables. We had everything running in no time!

All in all it was a lot of worry over a very small problem. But it was still a problem that required me to act!

What problem are you facing? What fears are you overcoming? What action do you need to take in order to move forward?

Who knows? This might be your “the buck stops here” moment!

Photo in the Public Domain.

5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic Webinar – A Reaction

I had the privilege to share the stage with Dr. Anthony dela Fuente, who blogs over at Upgazer/The Dawn Treader, the other day. He had been invited by the Theological Commission of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches to present a paper at their TheoExpo 2021. His paper was entitled 5 Shifts To Make: The Philippine Church Gearing Towards Life and Ministry Post-Pandemic. I was asked to be the reactor to the paper. The session was livestreamed on Facebook and can be viewed in its entirety here. Please take a look and tell me what you think. 

Do I pastor a church or a community?

Photo by Mauro Mora on Unsplash.

Several diverse ideas helped shape the approach I take to pastoring.

A key Bible story for me is the story of the Father and his two sons (often called the Prodigal son) that is found in Luke 15:11-32. One of the key parts of the story for me is the fact that there are only three characters, which for me means that in God’s perspective all people are a part of his family. Some — like the prodigal — leave the family and then return, while others — like the older brother — appear to initially have everything together but then end up outside at the end of the story. Note that the father extends every effort to welcome both sons back home. This has shaped how I feel God views everyone in the world — they are all his children who he wants to return home.

Dwayne Harms was a friend I had growing up who ended up being a pastor at Midale Baptist Church in Saskatchewan, Canada. I had a chance to visit him after he had been there for a few years and he said something that has stuck with me since then. He talked about how being the Baptist pastor in a small town meant that he was more than just the Baptist pastor, he was the town’s pastor. This has also helped shape my philosophy of the church and it’s connection with the community.

David Fitch a few years ago said, “There is no dividing line between the church and the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission and renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among and for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

All of this helped me when my wife and I moved to Pingkian (a small community in Metro Manila). I must admit that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t simply a pastor with Metro Manila Bible Community or Pingkian Family Worship but that I was in fact the pastor of Pingkian! It has certainly shaped the way that I interact with the people who live around me.

If it’s true that we pastor communities like we pastor churches, what does that look like?

Can a Church be Functional without a Building?

It shouldn’t surprise you that I have a Google Alert set up for the term ‘Functional Church.’ I just like to see how the term is used in general on the web & try to gain some insights on how to improve on the concept.

All sorts of results come in. Some of them are expected and relate to the ministry & mission of the church. Others are less expected such as the job offers from Falls Church, VA that include the word ‘functional’ somewhere in the text. The most telling, however, was the one that referred to the smallest ”functional church’ in the world (which I have also written about here) somewhere in the American Midwest that has room for the preacher & 2 guests. For them functionality is defined by the usability of the structure for a typical Sunday-morning service.

It got me to thinking: Is it possible to be a functional church without a building to meet in or is the meeting place an essential part of a functional church?

I have been involved in all kinds of churches. The first church I pastored had no facility of our own. Rather we rented from a local school. We always perceived that something was missing because of that. We tried to develop programs to bring people into that facility each Sunday. The church I’m presently involved with is 2000m2 sitting on prime real estate on one of the most strategic corners in one of the largest cities in the world. We are presently trying to develop cell groups to bring the church into the community. It seems like we always want what we don’t have. Go figure.

My friend David Drake expressed this tension in his struggles on how to balance the two. I can’t find the exact quote now but in essence he said that while he loved small groups he found that people were more interested in the Sunday event. This he attributed to the fact that we are all anticipating the time when every nation under heaven will worship God together in heaven. What he is saying is that we naturally crave the corporate meeting & that’s a good thing.

So how do I wrap this all up. Part of me wants to say that the meeting place is secondary and that as long as we do ministry/mission right we are ok. But then Dave’s idea creeps in & says, ‘But we naturally crave the corporate thing. Go for it!’ Seems to me he has a point.

So now we come to you. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Truthtelling: The Ethics of Negotiation

“Is it ethical for a police hostage negotiator to promise to the hostage taker whatever his demands are, even if there is no intent to meet those demands?” I was shocked to hear this question from a Senator investigating the Manila Hostage Crisis. “What if,” the senator went on, “the hostage taker appears to have some mental issues and we need to save the hostages. Shouldn’t we just lie to him so that he lets the hostages go? Then we can arrest him and say, ‘Sorry, we did it for your own good’” (paraphrased).

It reminds me of a story I heard about comparative religion during my University days in Saskatoon. Two boys are in a house playing. The father, who is outside, sees that the house is on fire. He yells to his boys to get out of the house so they will be saved. One boy runs out immediately. The other, however, is enjoying playing so much that he ignores his father’s call. Finally, in desperation, the Father, appealing to his son’s love for fun calls out, “Come outside! There is a parade passing by!” Of course the boy runs out and is saved from the fire. What disturbs me about the story is the lie.

A lie is the opposite of trust. Why did the boy trust the father enough to come out when he said there was a parade? Because of trust. I can assure you, however, that once the boy realized his father had lied to him, a little bit of that trust was gone. Next time, the father wouldn’t be so lucky.

It goes the same for hostage negotiations. In reality, you are not just negotiating for the current crisis, you are also building trust for the next crises that come along. Otherwise, why will any subsequent hostage-taker even bother talking to negotiators?

The Media’s Role in the Manila Hostage Crisis – Updated 25 Feb 2011

For many years in the Philippines there was no freedom of the press. In fact, even nowadays, there are a disproportionate number of killings of media-related people here. Needless to say, this has created a culture, especially among the media themselves, of protecting at all costs the freedom of the press. These freedoms are now being called into question.

If you have been anywhere near media lately you will be aware of a recent tragic event in the Philippines. A few days ago, a former police officer took a bus full of Chinese, Canadian, and British tourists hostage. The story does not have a happy ending: 10 people are now dead, including the hostage taker. Not only did the hostage taker lose his life but another 9 hostages lost their lives as well. (I won’t get into the fact that trying to prove your innocence in one criminal activity by engaging in another criminal activity just doesn’t work.)

One group that has been blamed is the police. And of course, watching the events unfold it is hard to see how they were really unable to deal adequately with the situation. Of course, my comments are of the typical armchair variety (meaning that it is far easier for an inexperienced, not practitioner like me to “know” how it could have been done better even if my knowledge has no basis in fact!) At the present time the police have taken responsibility for their share of the debacle and are taking steps to ensure they learn from their mistakes for next time. But this post is not about the police.

Another group that has been blamed for the tragedy is the media. The media was very eager to show the events as they unfolded. In fact, I didn’t know what was happening until I began to review my twitter and facebook feeds. I was able to read the play-by-play of the events. Finally I turned on the TV to see what was really going on (albeit after the fact) and was able to take my pick of any channel showing live footage of the event. In addition to that, members of the media were in direct cellphone contact with the hostage taker at different stages of the crisis.

The problem is this. There was a TV on the bus. Yes, it is true. The hostage taker was completely and totally aware of every move the police were making towards him! If he needed another angle, just change the channel and see what is happening there. It’s like he had his own personal security system watching from every angle, keeping him safe. Conceivably, the SWAT team’s assault would have gone better if the hostage taker was not so well informed about their actions.

When asked, President Aquino said that he didn’t order a news blackout for two reasons: 1. The people would complain that the government was trying to hide something. He promised transparency in all issues and this is one of the results. 2. The law prohibits him from declaring a news blackout.

So what do we do? An incredibly newsworthy event is unfolding in front of us. The media is tasked with giving us the news. We all watched the events unfold on TV, Facebook, and Twitter. The police need to do their job and save the hostages and hostage takers.

Living in a society is not an issue of rights. Does the press have the right to freedom? Yes. Do the hostages have the right to be saved? Of course. Does the hostage taker have the right to be heard? Yes. So rights are not the issue.

Living in society is an issue of responsibility. The media has a clear role in the building of any nation. This role sometimes means not availing of a right so that some other right can be used. For example, in a hostage situation, the media need to recognise that the hostages’ right to live supersedes the media’s right to immediately broadcast. The people of nation also need to recognise that the hostages’ right to live supersedes their right to be immediately informed.

The issue here is really the use of “Live” coverage and it this issue that needs to be addressed by the taskforce President Aquino has set up to discuss the parameters on the coverage of crisis situations. What are the options?

1. Allow the media to record all events as they unfold for playback later on. Periodic statements and updates could be broadcast on a timely basis, ensuring that the integrity of the negotiations is maintained.

2. Have a delay in the “Live” feed of several minutes or hours. This would allow on the scene events to unfold without the news getting out to the hostage taker.

3. Have one feed that all news outlets share, similar to what happens at the Olympic Games. That way camera angles and scenes broadcast could be live edited to prevent information from flowing too freely at times when they should be less free.

What are your thoughts on this issue? What suggestions would you have for the media in crisis situations?

UPDATE (25 Feb 2011):

The Hong Kong government is currently conducting its own inquiry into the event. Here is what was reported today by the bus driver:

In a statement read out during the inquest proceedings of the Hong Kong court, driver Antonio Lubang said the tour guide was shot when Mendoza became enraged after seeing on live television his brother’s arrest.

Earlier testimonies at the HK court inquest indicated Mendoza was initially friendly toward the hostages.

However, he became enraged when he saw on a television set inside the bus the arrest of his policeman brother.

What else can I say? The media cannot remain blameless in this tragedy.

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials (Part 2)

A few months ago I wrote about the concept of Essentials vs Non-Essentials. At the end I expressed frustration about not having enough time in class for closure on the issues raised. Yesterday we had that closure in class.

The issues related to Essentials and Non-Essentials are quite often fought out in the issues on the periphery of our belief. That is, the battles waged in this area in our churches are primarily fought over non-essential practices as opposed to essential beliefs. The class did  an assignment  that called on them to list their core beliefs as disciples of Christ — that is the things that are absolutely essential to their life as Christians, the kinds of things that if they were not there would cause them to walk away from the group. I was mildly amused to see that the issues they considered to be core were almost exclusively theological in nature: Who is Jesus? What is the Church? Ordinances. etc. There was very little practice listed.

Which led us to the discussion of core beliefs and core practices. Of course, we all need to have core beliefs. But I just can’t survive on core beliefs. At some point those core beliefs need to come out — I need to show them in my actions.

For example, I remember watching a show called Venture on Canadian TV about 20 years ago. One episode hightlighted a new company that had developed a machine for turning garbage into potable water. The scene has stuck in my mind forever of the inventor of the machine holding a glass of water that had come from his machine. He proudly declared the water to be safe to drink. However, when asked by those present to prove his beliefs with action — in other words to drink the water — he refused saying, “I prefer wine.” Guess what? I have never heard of that machine again. Why? Because even though the inventor’s core belief was that the water was pure, his core practices did not include actually drinking the water himself!

Of course, I am not saying that everybody’s practices needs to be the same but that we find unity in the beliefs we share together. One issue that has come up in our faith community lately is how the practices that older Christians have relate to the practices that young Christians have. If we focus on the practices themselves, we will be divided. But if we focus on the core beliefs we can be unified and support a variety of legitimate core practices.

As a Theology teacher this truth strikes home for me. I must reexamine not my beliefs, but my practices so that my beliefs will be proved true in the things that I do.

How about you? Do your practices align with your beliefs?