Archive for Ministry

Embodied Education and Online/Distance Learning — Some Preliminary Questions

James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation sets forth an argument for embodied, wholistic Christian education. He argues that the dominant modern understanding of the human person is the human as primarily a “thinking person.” Christian worldview scholars, particularly from within the Reformed tradition, have cast humans as primarily “believing persons.” And while this is an improvement on “thinking person” it still casts the human as a primarily cognitive being. Smith suggests that the more wholistic approach is to adopt an Augustinian anthropology, wherein people are primarily “desiring people.”

In setting forth his case for the “desiring person” understanding of humanity, Smith explores the impact and power of liturgy or practices, be it secular or sacred, and how it impacts not only what we think (or believe), but also what we do and how we do it. Thus, humans are “liturgical animals” oriented by what they love (or desire). Our “thick” practices shape us, often in ways that we don’t consciously realize or acknowledge.

In light of this, Smith argues that Christian education should be primarily about formation, but in actuality, the majority of Christian education is instead merely about information. The result is that graduates from Christian and non-Christian institutions don’t really look all that different from each other. The college grad in North America gets a job, buys a house, gets married and lives their lives, becoming productive cogs in the wheels of the economy. And Christian grads don’t really look any different from their secular counterparts. Smith goes so far as to say that education that is baptized as “Christian” but is the same as secular education could in fact be “a way of domesticating the radicality of the gospel.” (218)

What does it mean to be Christian? Smith’s answer is to point us to the wise words of Stanley Hauerwas:

We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices. (220)

Smith then offers some examples of what embodied learning could look like in a Christian college that adopted “a liturgically informed pedagogy.” Each of the examples are based on the traditional classroom model, but my question, after reading his examples, is this:

Can a “liturgically informed pedagogy” be used in an online learning environment? How could an online class foster formation of the whole student rather than just being a means of transmitting information?

I’ve taken quite a few online/distance education courses over the years. Some have been fairly low tech: read the required textbooks, do the assignments. Some have been “mid” tech: listen to podcast lectures or watch video lectures, read the books, do the assignments. Others have been highly interactive: required online discussions in a forum setting that promotes dialogue not only between the student and the professor, but also between the student and the rest of the class. But, no matter which format was used, the desired outcome of the course was always, “do you know and understand the course material?”

I can’t really say that any of the online classes I have taken have formed me, or have had an embodied component. If anything, online classes are inherently disembodied. Being in a physical class, on the other hand, has definitely formed not only my thoughts (beliefs) but also my desires and my educational posture.

And yet, there are other areas in which online discussion has had an embodied element. As I continue to blog and to tweet, community is being formed, and the liturgy of the online world shapes my practices. That leads me to think that it is indeed possible for online education to be an embodied practice. I think the key is to not come at online education from the perspective of “technology is the wave of the future, let’s be innovative”, but instead the key is for the educators and developers of online Christian education to keep the question of embodied liturgical pedagogy front and centre. That may mean that each online class will look just a bit different from other online classes. It may mean that a cohort model is employed, like IWU’s online M.Div program, or it may mean that there is an emphasis on collaborative group work (like contributing to a blog or creating an online encyclopedia on the course material). Either way, online Christian education should not simply be an adoption of generic, secular online education models which are then just “baptized” as Christian.


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Review: With by Skye Jethani

What’s it About: In With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God, Skye Jethani outlines the four main postures or ways that most Christians relate to God.

Life Under God — moralism
Life Over God — Christian Deism
Life From God — consumerism
Life For God — ‘mission-ism’

Each of these four postures, according to Skye Jethani, end up being ultimately about our attempt to control God, and to control our lives. In these postures,

God is seen as a means to an end. For example, LIFE FROM GOD uses him to supply our material desires. LIFE OVER GOD uses him as the source of principles or laws. LIFE UNDER GOD tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity. And LIFE FOR GOD uses him and his mission to gain a sense of direction. (102)

The alternative posture that Jethani proposes is a Life With God. This, he suggests, is the more biblical, and more healthy way of relating to God. Life with God includes three things: treasuring, uniting and experiencing, and all three of these emphasize that a life with God is a life that doesn’t view God as an object to be possessed, but rather, it is a life that seeks to dwell with God. Jethani then further explores this ‘with’ posture by looking at a Life with Faith; a Life with Hope; and a Life with Love.

Notable Quotable:

The reason a great many churches and Christian ministries fail to see people obey Jesus’ instructions is because the people are not living in the LIFE WITH GOD posture. The teachings and commands of the Bible may be communicated powerfully, clearly, and repeatedly, but until people have their vision of the world changed by living in communion with the Good Shepherd, until they experientially know they are safe, they will be incapable of following Christ’s counterintuitive commands. (pg. 127)

Readability: With is written in a very conversational style, with plenty of stories and metaphors. The analogies used are contemporary, and there are quotes not only from spiritual classics (like Henri Nouwen and Brother Lawrence), but also from current blogs (e.g., Kevin DeYoung). Re-tellings of parables like the Prodigal Son are fresh and easy to read.

Who Would Benefit: This book would be great for new Christians, young Christians, or those Christians who have had little introduction to spiritual formation and discipleship. Included in this book are discussion questions for each chapter which would help guide discussion if this book were to be used for a small group.

Who Wouldn’t Benefit: For those who are familiar with spiritual formation books and immersed in strong Christian discipleship, this book may not be particularly helpful, as it covers ideas and concepts found in other works of the same genre.

Rating: 3.5/5

The review copy of this book was provided by Booksneeze. All opinions are my own.

Pastoral Advice: Helping a Young Family

“We’ve been going to this church for a year, and we really like it,” said the husband. “The service is great, the people are great.”

“There’s just one small problem,” said the wife, “and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“This church has a small Sunday school for kids 3 and older. For kids under three there is no nursery (it’s not just that they don’t have a staffed nursery, they don’t have a physical nursery space at all). There is a cry room at the back of the church, that is 8-by-8 and doubles as a staging and storing area for all the Sunday morning supplies for the service (communion elements, candle sticks etc). It’s a tiny makeshift space that is designed for short visits. For the last year, one of us has been in the cry room every Sunday with our oldest child who is too young for Sunday school, and too active to sit through the service.” The husband explained.

“And usually that someone was me,” smiled the wife. “What makes it worse is that part of the staging area has a sink, and the cupboard under the sink has cleaning supplies; the cupboard doesn’t have a lock on it, so guess where the little kids like to go get into mischief?”

“Our oldest child is just turned two, so it’s one more year in the cry room. And we’ve just had our second child, so by the time the oldest is ready for Sunday School, the younger will be no longer at the ‘sleep through the service stage’ and will need to be in the cry room.”

“So we’re looking at three more years of one of us being in the cry room for the majority of the service; and longer if we decide to have more kids!” Said the wife.

“And as soon as there is more than one or two kids in the cry room, it gets awfully crowded. It’s such a tiny space. Yes, they do pipe the service in over a speaker in the cry room, but over the noise of the toddlers it’s really hard to hear and follow along.”

The wife’s smile faded, “You know, by the time we get ourselves to church, and one of us settles into the cry room, it feels like it would have been easier to just stay home. Pull up a video of a sermon on the internet, throw in a worship CD and do church at home. What’s the point of going to church if I just end up sitting in the cry room every week?”

“We don’t want to have a consumer, church-shopping mentality, really we don’t,” said the husband, “but is it time to start looking for another church, one that has more child-friendly options?


Okay Cheese-Wearers, what advice would you give this young family?

To Worship in the Village or in the City

We’ve been living in Caronport for nine months now. When we lived in Hamilton, we were very much about worshiping, living and working in the same community. I had assumed that that would be the same here in Caronport, but now I’m not so sure.

There are two churches in Caronport, and both are basically evangelical, non-denominational churches. Theologically, there is not much difference between them. Most of the differences come down to style and, I hate to say it, “hipness” (one church is the hip, young, cool church; the other is not).

Caronport is a unique place. 99.9% of the population is committed, born-again, evangelical Christian. With Caronport being built around a Bible college and seminary, the majority of the Christians here are well-educated and well-grounded in spiritual practices.

Living here means we are immersed in Christian culture 24/7. The struggles concerning faith and life are different (not better or worse) here than what Christians experience living and working in predominantly secular communities.

So if we are living in a Christian community Monday-Saturday, I can’t help but wonder if it would be better to worship at a church in Moose Jaw (the closest city, about 20 minutes away) on Sunday? It might be a way to connect to the larger Christian community, and to come alongside those Christians who don’t have the luxury (or curse) of living in Caronport, and have to struggle everyday to find balance between the secular and the sacred.

As well, there is a plethora of different Christian voices in Moose Jaw. There is a Pentecostal church, Lutheran church, Orthodox, Apostolic, Baptist, Methodist, CMA, Anglican, Catholic, etc.

Of course, it can be difficult to plug into the community of a church in Moose Jaw, as it does require travel back and forth, and in many ways, coming in from Caronport means that there is a sense of being on the “outside.”

In Caronport, there are weekly Bible studies, AWANA, youth programs, Moms and Tots, etc., which would mean that technically all that one would need of the church in Moose Jaw is the church service on Sunday morning. Is that really how to go about being a part of the community?

My family and I attended an Anglican church in Moose Jaw this weekend, at the invitation of some friends. We’re in the process of weighing our reaction to attending, and are probably going to continue going for a few weeks at least. Of course, part of our discussion will be around theology and doctrine and spiritual practices (e.g. we love that the Anglican church celebrates Communion weekly), and that will be a post for another time.

But for now, the questions that I’m wrestling with are:
What is community? How does it manifest itself? How can those of us living in Caronport connect to the larger Christian community in Saskatchewan and beyond? What are the dangers of living, worshipping, and working in this peculiar little town built around a Bible college?

Balancing Act

There has been quite a bit of blog activity lately about “gospel” groups: The Gospel Coalition and T4G. Scot Mcknight posed this question to the TGC this week: How close to the gospel is complementarianism? And I think it turns around too: How close is the gospel to egalitarianism?

Will Lee over at Anwoth is looking at whether T4G is really “together for the gospel” given that their doctrinal statement starts with Scripture rather than Jesus, and includes a whole bunch of non-essentials as being foundational to their mission.

Brian LePort picks up this thread, and looks at both TGC/T4G and Big Tent Christianity, and suggests that both are just rebrands: TGC/T4G as rebranded fundamentalism, and BTC as rebranded emergent church.

It’s all a fascinating discussion, and I find myself in an interesting position because I have linked to material from TGC and have participated in the Big Tent synchroblog.

Now I don’t agree with everything in either of these camps. If I only read things that I agreed with I’d be a pretty cloistered person. And I will admit that I struggle with some of what both these groups hold dear.

For example, TGC is running a “Ordinary Pastors” series on the main page. People can contribute to it, and the brat in me wonders what would happen if someone were to submit a “yay for my pastor” that happened to be about a female pastor. Would they accept it? Publish it?

On the other hand, while there were many great things coming out of the Big Tent Christianity conference earlier this month, I struggle with people like Brian McLaren and his understanding of the Christian faith. But the whole point of the “Big Tent” is that there is room enough for Christians from all stripes. (Whether they can/did actually accomplish this is a matter for another time).

And here I am straddling two worlds. I’m not complementarian/reformed/conservative enough for the TGC crowd.

But I’m definitely not progressive/liberal/egalitarian enough for the Big Tent crowd.

I’ve had TGC type people tell me that being a female pastor means I’m being disobedient to God, and one well-respected scholar suggested a few years back that being “willfully” disobedient called into question a female pastor’s salvation.

I’ve had Big Tent type people tell me that if I’m a female pastor I should understand and sympathize and fight for equality of rights for all people wanting to be in ministry.

So I have people telling me what I can’t do, and people telling me what I should do. It can be tiring.

So what’s a wesleyan-leaning, reformed-inspired, big tent-participating gal to do?

As I concluded in my contribution to the Big Tent Christianity synchroblog, I conclude the same in this post now. This is where I’m at:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

More Canadian Christian Blogs

In August I posted a list of Candian Christian Blogs. (You can also get to it by following the tab at the top of the homepage).

Here are a few more additions:

Apologia by Stephen Bedard. Stephen went to MacDiv (yay Hamilton!) and is currently pastoring in Meaford, Ontario. Check out: The Bible and Pagan Holidays.

Scotteriology by Scott Bailey. From Alberta, Scott is currently out in BC at Trinity Western. Check out: Biblical Authors and Theologians Answer Age Old Question.

Open Hands by Mark Petersen. Mark is in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Check out: A Response to the Armageddon Factor.

New Epistles by Kevin Sam. Kevin works with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, serving in rural Canada. Check out: the Leaving Church series.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Come join the conversation over at Scatterings, as Eric ponders “Artistic Participation in the Death of Christ”:

…But I can’t help wondering if there’s more. Without denying the “cease from sin” interpretation or drawing false dichotomies, the death of Christ, while centrally concerned with substitutionary punitive expiation and atonement for my sins, surely isn’t limited to that, right? God the Son is taking the whole human predicament on himself and redeeming it. The curse of the covenants – which itself echoes the curse on the man, woman, and all creation in Genesis 3 – is being realized to the fullest possible extent on Christ’s head. And his resurrection is as the “firstfruits” from the dead – which has various connotations (both as head of a group and as the first of a new harvest). So perhaps our participation in the death of Christ means that all these various dimensions of the meaning of his death touch our lives as we are baptized into it? That, in some infinitesimally smaller way, we are drowned in the abyss, under that creation-wide curse, too? Luther said that when someone first comes into Christ, God damns him: God makes the person feel the full weight of their condemnation before the law. Then grace hits them.

Mark Roberts is doing a series on Church conflict. Check out: How NOT To Solve Conflicts Part 1 and Part 2.

J.R. Daniel Kirk summarizes the latest Christian war that is brewing, this time between Albert Mohler and Biologos. He concludes by asking: Is it possible that diversity is inherently good? Can we, should we not, celebrate that there are people to both our left and our right in any circumstance, and that these will be able to truly draw people to the true God even though they (like ourselves) do not have the truth completely worked out.

Chaplain Mike has a helpful reminder of what the Ancient-Future Faith IS and IS Not:

But I’m afraid people may have the wrong conception of what I’m talking about when I refer to the Ancient-Future path. I understand some of the confusion, because those who talk about it (including me) make regular reference to such things as historic churches, liturgical worship, and other traditional practices. It’s important, however, to realize that there is no single uniform way of walking the Ancient-Future path…

Great video: Is the Bible about you and what you must do? Or is it about what Jesus has done. (HT: Evangel)

On the geek front, Joss Whedon talks about the new Avengers movie; and rumour has it that Marvel is gearing up to make an Iron Fist movie.

Training Up Pastors — Issues for Female Pastors

When I took Pastoral Theology in college, the professor really didn’t understand why there were so many women in the class. Of about 15 students there were four women. We weren’t there to debate egalitarianism vs. complementarianism (and that is not what this post is about either), we were there to learn how to be pastors. As I wrote earlier:

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

Whatever one’s views on women in ministry, the reality is that there are female pastors. Some are full-time senior pastors. Others are associate pastors. Some are filling the exact same function as a pastor, but to preserve the prescription that only men be elders, their titles are “director of such and such ministry”, “ministry coordinator” or some other clever rebranding.

Does being a female pastor require different training? Are there different expectations? Are there different tools that we need that male pastors do not?

Consider the following scenarios:

1. At Hip & Cool church, it is normal for several of the pastors on staff to stay until late in the evening working on various ministry projects. Very often the only people in the church past 8pm are two associate pastors, one male and one female. Both have spouses and families who have no problem with this arrangement, but several parishioners have seen the two them leave the building together, and the gossips in the church have begun to talk. If both pastors were the same gender this would never make the gossip mill. The pastors are oblivious to the gossip but it is beginning to affect the life of the church. Should there be boundaries for the sake of perception? (or even to prevent something inappropriate from developing?)

2. First Bapti-costal Church of Hello Town has just hired their first female pastor. In the past, it was always assumed that though the church was hiring the pastor, his wife would give the church much of her time by leading the ladies’ bible studies, playing the piano, and chairing the Sunday School committee. The church is not quite sure how Pastor Kate’s husband will feel about leading the ladies’ bible study and it turns out he’s never played an instrument in his life. What are the expectations of a pastor’s husband?

3. Secular research has suggested that women leaders are more negatively perceived even when they engage in the exact same leadership behaviour as their male counterparts (Eagly & Karau, 2002), especially when they engage in the more stereotypically-male leadership tasks such as the enforcement of discipline (Atwater, Carey, & Waldman, 2001). Perceptions of effectiveness as a leader are influenced not only by leadership style (task- versus people-oriented) but also by the gender of the leader who uses one particular style or the other, as well as the group members’ attitudes towards women in leadership (Forsyth, Heiney & Wright, 1997). What tools are there to help female pastors be aware of the perception of the congregation of how they lead, how they pastor and how they preach?

4. While the women at Community Church of Cowabunga are loving having a female pastor to talk to, the men in the congregation are feeling uncomfortable about approaching the pastor to talk about issues and struggles in their life. What can the female pastor do to serve the men in her congregation?

Feel free to answer any or all of the questions above. Or post your own questions that you have struggled with.

This is part of a series on Training Up Pastors. Previous Entries include:

Training Up Pastors
Training Up Pastors — Continuing the Conversation
Training Up Pastors — Or Not
Training Up Pastors — Going to Seminary

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Jesus Creed points to an article over on Patheos on the Future of CCM. If the song I pointed to earlier this week is any indication, then CCM is going in the wrong direction.

James Grant over at Evangel asks if pastors are supposed to be Masters of Theology or Managers of Organization?

Darryl Dash reviews one of my favourite books: Introverts in the Church.

Ryan Dueck has participated in the Big Tent Christianity synchroblog and writes about being part of the small tent of the Mennonite Brethren tradition.

The director of an inner-city mission laments the lack of support from suburban churches and says that the best advice he got when trying to figure out how to fundraise was, “don’t waste your time on the church.”

Training Up Pastors — Going to Seminary

There has been much discussion over the move to offer M.Div degrees in such a way that the person in ministry does not have to remove themselves from their current ministry position. This has an advantage because going to seminary often means the uprooting of a family and taking a significant paycut while attending school fulltime.

Christianity Today had a cover story on the rise of online offerings and the shift to seminary education that allows the student to remain in their ministry context while getting a degree.

Some schools have moved to a modular format, where classes are week-long intensives. This allows the student to come for a week, participate in class and then when back home, to work on the papers, exams and other assignments. (This is the model at Briercrest, though there also are semester-long courses occasionally offered).

While it can be a sacrifice to go away to seminary, I would like to suggest some reasons why going to seminary can be advantageous.

1. A New Perspective.
Sometimes we become so embedded in our current ministry context that we cannot see anything other than how “we do it.” To go away to seminary, to join with a different community allows us to see the forest rather than just the individual tree that we have lived and worked in. This can lead to a humbling realization that how we do church is not the only way to do church. As well, it can give us a new perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation that we serve.

2. A Time of Refreshing & Healing.
With the threat of pastoral burnout an ever constant danger, going away to seminary can be a time of refreshment. It can be a time to be ministered to, to learn, to grow and to be filled up so that we can remain effective in ministry.

3. A Time of Exploration.
A pastor starts reading RJS’ blogposts on Bible and Science and explores the Biologos website, and begins to question the nature of Genesis 1-3. The pastor begins to wonder about how to read Genesis 1-3 and wants to wrestle and ponder and deconstruct his theological presuppositions. To do this while in a ministry setting can be dangerous. The congregation could begin to wonder if the pastor has “lost it” or is destined to become an apostate, or worse, a heretic. Going away to seminary can provide the pastor the time, space, privacy, and community to question and explore. This can be especially true if a seminary is chosen that is non-denominational, inter-denominational or at least open to academic and theological inquiry (as opposed to some seminaries that focus on training pastors to have the “right” answers).

4. A Time to Discover New Gifts.
A pastor has spent 10 years in congregational care and chaplaincy. In going to seminary she discovers that she loves wrestling through Hebrew and text-critical issues. A new passion emerges, and the pastor respecializes, going on to doctoral studies with the goal of becoming a professor of Old Testament.

Likewise, a preaching pastor goes to seminary and discovers a gift of listening, and chooses to pursue a degree in biblical counseling. By having the experience of being a preaching pastor, and now learning how to provide pastoral counseling, the pastor feels equipped to provide wholistic ministry to a small congregation that cannot afford to have a multi-staff configuration.

5. A Time to Network and Develop New Friendships.
It is said that 80% of ministry postings are never advertised, but are filled through the search committee having a list of “recommended” candidates. Particularly for churches that are non-denominational, the invitation to candidate at a church comes because of “who you know”.
The same can be said for invitations to speak at conferences or retreats. It is often based on friendships and relationships at seminary where fellow pastors and professors have opportunity to see a person’s giftings, ministry, and calling.

6. A Time to Focus.
One of the downsides to taking classes while still in full-time ministry is that our attention can be divided. The night before a paper is due, a congregant has a family crisis, and the pastor is forced to put aside the paper to deal with the congregant. This can result in a) the pastor choosing to hand the paper in late and thus taking a penalty, or b) not giving the paper the care and attention that it requires. Very often a congregation does not understand the amount of time and study that is required in coursework, and thus when they hear that the pastor is “only” working on a paper, they think that it is okay to interrupt them with more “practical” concerns. (Of course, this can be remedied by having a board of elders who can take on some of these distractions which then allows the pastor the time to focus on the classwork).


On a personal note, while my coming to Briercrest was precipitated by Chuck getting a job out here, I am very grateful for this chance to “go” to Seminary. I had been taking classes while in ministry in Hamilton, but it was a different experience. Being at seminary has given me a chance to refocus and rest. It wasn’t until we moved out here that I realized how burnt out I was from being in ministry. I have a new perspective. I have a new passion and I have a renewed desire to help people get excited about God’s word.

As we gather and learn and worship and explore we may not all agree or come to the same conclusions. But we all press on with the same goal: to proclaim Christ crucified and Christ glorified.

For previous entries on “Training Up Pastors” see here, here and here.