A lot of the books I read on here are for my personal study, and my personal interests, hence the chess books, but this book was for a sermon series that I have developed on the Prodigal Son parable. I have planned a years worth of sermons, so before I start a new series of lessons, I begin to read about the topic. This was why I selected to book. I wanted to blend something that was popular level with some scholarly reading on this parable. This book was insightful, and practical, and easy to read. I have never read any of Keller's material before, and left this book impressed. He is a good author, and does his homework in the text. The book tells the story of the Prodigal Son, though he notes that this is perhaps not the best title for the parable. The book looks at the major characters of the parable, which was helpful because that was the way I developed the series of lessons. He does a good job of highlighting the point of the parable within the attitude of the older brother, and using some of Willimon's material, of preaching to the baptized, this created a lot of connection to the text. A lot of the people in church will agree with the sinner coming home, but demonstrating the attitude of the older brother is the common sin in numerous church pews. The book does a good job of bridging the ancient social context with the modern world. This book helped with the sermon series and it would be a good book just to read on its own. It is short, interesting, and good.
Sometimes people avoid me because of speaking on the Christian Scholar's conference. This is a conference that highlights scholarship within the churches of Christ. There is little doubt that this conference is on the left side of theology within the churches of Christ. Those on the right side consider speaking on this left focused conference to be questionable. In one way, it could be questionable, on the other hand, judging someone for speaking on this conference might be foolish without knowing all the details. There are two major scholar conferences within the churches of Christ. There is the left one and the one that is focused more on a conservative perspective. Shockingly to some, I have spoken on both. But I wanted to highlight the glamour of speaking on the left one since me doing so is worrisome to some individuals within the church. So I want to pull back the veil on speaking on this conference.
On this conference, I was invited to speak by my friend Dr. Dave Bland. He was the chair on my dissertation, and is a personal friend. He invited me to present my finished dissertation on assessing and developing a missional climate at the Castle Rock church of Christ. In his invitation, he stated that he could not pay anything, and I would have to pay my fees to the conference which was about 125 dollars, and I would have to pay to get there and to house myself. And he needed me to do this to help to promote his work at Harding School of Theology, because he is the director of the Doctorate program. So he was asking me for a favor. I presented my paper at the conference in front of perhaps 10 people, but 10 would be the high number, and five might be the true amount of people really there. Though, I did not expect a big crowd. And in the session that was an hour, there were three other guys presenting too. So in the end, I spent over 500 dollars, gave up three full days of being with my family and congregation, for perhaps 15 minutes of presenting information to about 5 to 10 people.
So you might wonder why do this. You are going to get judged by some of your conservative friends, you will be avoided by some others, and you will be questioned theologically for associating with people that are to the left of you, and trust me, there was plenty to the left of me at this conference. This was a big price to pay. It cost you some money, and valuable time too. So why do it?
Because Dr. Dave Bland is my friend. He was an excellent teacher, he mentored me, he invested in me, and he is a friend to me. He helped me be a better preacher, leader, and man. I am in his debt. So when he called to ask a favor, I said yes, and would say yes again, because friends are there for one another. Friends stand by one another. Friends help one another. Church politics will come and go. But if you are not loyal to your friends in the church, is that the kind of man you want to be? Character and loyalty should always be placed above politics and perceptions. At the end of the day, I would rather be judged for being loyal, than for being politically savvy.
The majority of ministers deal with a low grade anxiety. I was talking with a minister recently about some of the typical minister self soothing techniques that ministers use to manage anxiety. Members might be shocked about the depth of this issue within the minister ranks in the church. In fact, members can overlook this because ministers are trained and socially pressured to hide this anxiety. Members do not like a minister that whines publicly. So the minister goes into hiding, and develops unhealthy ways of dealing with this stress. And he never really seems to be able to overcome it. It is always there, slowly hurting his soul. So he deals with it in unhealthy ways. The world deals with low grade anxiety through drinking, sports, numbing through Television, and through affairs. Ministers can fall into these traps, but do everything possible to avoid these sins. So he finds ways to cope through "Christian self soothing." One of the most common methods is through overeating. A friend of my is struggling with energy drinks to help him face the day and grind. Ministers will watch pornography to self soothe. There are numerous unhealthy ways to deal with this low grade stress that is part of the work of preaching. What is interesting is that the minister has never been taught to overcome this stress, and often church systems are set up to keep you in this cycle. It is not intentional, but the way that ministry operates, it is hard to overcome it. So let me give three major stressors that produce level grade anxiety, and three healthy ways to deal with it.
Why Do Preachers Struggle with This?
1. Always on Call. Ministers do not have days off. Ministers might have time off during the week, but he is never really off. People in business struggle with this reality too, and you see them dealing with the same elements, and the consequences of it. It is never healthy to never have a Sabbath. And when you do have time for yourself, there is a constant guilt. I see this in ministers often. You will notice that preachers are always feeling the need to prove their worth to a congregation. You see this through Facebook posts about how busy they are. It is all an attempt to prove worth. There are numerous weeks that a minister will not have a day off, so he will take some time to engage in a hobby that he enjoys, but if he does, there will be someone calling, and you will be feeling guilty about having fun on a Friday afternoon, when you feel that all the members are working. Though, the members might be off on Saturday, and not feeling bad at all, while you are attending a church event.
2. General Level of Discontent. No matter how well the congregation is going, there will be discontent, and it will be shared with you. There will always be conflict, upset feelings, disappointment with the church, that the minister is aware of. This weights on your heart. 3. Never Good Enough. We feel this. Because it is true. We are earthen vessels, and we will never fulfill people in the ways that some expect. We are not God, and people sometimes expect preachers to be perfect. You will always have a great sermon, always make the visit, and it should go perfect, you will always check on me, you will always say the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and so we feel it. We feel the discontentment with our service, because often people reflect discontentment in God on preachers.
So we act out. We self soothe. We seek to cope with this low grade anxiety, and struggle with dealing with it. Ask ministers that have stepped away from preaching, and this is maybe the number one thing they do not miss.
So What to Do?
1. Examine Your Heart. We need friends. I remember having someone treat me poorly, and being super judgmental concerning me, and a friend called to check on me. He asked me how I was doing, and I said "fantastic", because I always say this. And he stopped me, and said, "Matthew you do not have to fake being happy with me, it is ok to express your pain." These moments are powerful because friends help us heal and be whole. We need friends in preaching to speak the truth, and help us deal with the pain, through healthy conversation, instead of through some unhealthy practice. You need to see where you are self soothing in unhealthy ways. We need to help one another in this area.
2. Elders and Ministers Must Know. You will not get everyone on board with understanding your stress. But elders must know, and be kind about it. Elders that make ministers feel guilty about having time away are mostly asking for some serious problem. Trust me, it is much easier to deal with the minister who hunts than the minister who has an affair in the congregation. Leaders do not realize this. If you make your minister feel stressed, he will act out, and it will hurt your church that you are commanded to shepherd. And sometimes ministers place expectations on themselves that elders do not have.
3. Discover Your Thing. I have a friend named Sam, he hunts all the time. Sometimes I wonder how he hunts so much. Than I watch him, and I realize, he is a healthy minister. A minister must, and I mean must, and if he does not, he does have something, and if you do not know about it, there is a good chance, it is not a positive thing! Trust me, it is much better to whine and complain about that preacher who is always...hunting, fishing, golfing, hiking, biking, running, whatever, than the one that is secretly...yea, because trust me, he has something that he is using to deal with the low grade stress that he experiences.
This is a really good book. This book will cause you to think through the ideas of shame and vulnerability in a way that you never experienced. The book is inspiring, and motivational. It is a good book to cause you to think self reflectively. It will help you to think through how you conduct yourself, especially about the role of shaming in preaching and in speech. The book will amaze you at the level of shame within our culture. There are major shame paradigms in this world, and these focal points influence much of what people do. You will also learn about how to manage shame within your own life too. Shame can influence you deeply, and can have influence over you. People process life through a view of shame. This can cause you to hold back in your leadership and in your marriage, etc. This is where vulnerability comes in too. People who have a deep sense of happiness, take the risk of being vulnerable, but with that risk, there is the possibility of being shamed for sharing. So far this year, this was probably the best book I read, and would be up there at the top of my list. It caused me to really think through life and through interacting with people.
Here are a few quotes. "Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering." "If you roughly divide the men and women I’ve interviewed into two groups— those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it—there’s only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don’t have better or easier lives." This quote is especially powerful for churches. "Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare ourselves and our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed: “Remember when…? Those were the days…”
Read this book, it is great, insightful, and fun to read. I highly recommend it.
At Christmas, all of the presents would sit around the Morine Christmas tree for a week. This was the culture. I never thought about it being any different way. After being married for a few years, I noticed that each year the presents would be put up after a day or two. This saddened me. Why, because it was not the tradition that I grew up with. But for years, I never even thought about it. It was that way, because it was that way. Church culture is similar to that statement. It is that way, because it is that way. Often church culture functions in a way that we rarely notice unless it changes.
One of the changes in culture is time. Years ago people would state that we are on Castle Rock time. What was Castle Rock time? You had to be part of the congregation long enough to understand this reference which shows that it was a cultural element. For those who were part of the congregation for a while understood this message. For those who were new, it meant nothing. Castle Rock time meant that events, worship, meetings, were delayed by about 10 minutes or more. You could come at 10am for worship services, and it would not start until 10:10am. This created a culture of being late. There was no need to focus on being on time because the worship would not start on time anyway.
Sadly though, culture can trump truth. The bulletin would declare that worship started at 10am. This was a published truth that was given to people. It was a commitment that was made to those who desired to worship. But culture trumped this truth. We might have told people that we started at 10am, but the culture dictated that we really did not care about starting on time. Even though we made a commitment to truth, we allowed culture to supersede it.
Even more sadly though, sometimes we allow culture to supersede the commands of God. This was a criticism of Jesus towards the Pharisees. And this can happen in the church today. Congregations will state that all are welcomed to worship but we see racism in a congregation still. We state that we should be evangelistic but congregations are still internally focused. We state that we should be missional but the majority of energy is used in sustaining works that benefit the insiders. We are in serious error if we allow culture to transcend truth.
This past weekend, I had the honor of speaking for the Reconnect Conference. It was hosted by the Peachtree church of Christ, in which Aubrey Johnson is the pulpit minister. It was a conference to inspire men to live in the fullness of the restoration vision of the church. This vision is a positive and compelling one. There were two main speakers, and numerous panel discussions. It was all geared towards a practical focus of applying the Bible to one's life. It was the first year that the conference took place, and was a great success. Having the conference in this area, means that you can fly in and out of Atlanta easily. It is accessible to the majority of people with a quick flight.
It was an honor to be there, and I very much enjoyed the kindness of the congregation, and had a blast hanging out with Aubrey and Gregory Alan Tidwell. The model that Aubrey is using is to invite an older and younger speaker, who are friends to come and speak. This provides a nice mix of energy, wisdom, and perspective. There were people from various states, and some traveled pretty long distances to be there. Numerous preachers from the area attended too.
These type of events are beneficial because of the connections that are made. You are able to network, talk about congregational issues, discover insights, and make friends.
I hope people make plans to be there next year. It was highly attended this year, but the congregation is hoping to grow the ministry and service to the church.
This book was almost never finished. I started reading it for a class I was auditing at Harding School of Theology. And I must admit, auditing a class is great, all of the resources and teaching, no tests or assignments that must be completed. So I started this book, and during the first part of it, it seemed to be tedious, well it was tedious, There was much detail on the style of the writing within the gospel accounts. Every now and then, there would be a nugget of wisdom like this "This distance between us and the compositional setting of Scripture can be overdone and abused, and it is in fact eliminated in some crucial ways by the canonization of the Gospels." But then there would be long sections that would just numb the mind. But throughout the pages, you will have some fantastic insights like this. "But movements over time always get dehydrated and reduced down to a bouillon-cube state so that they can be easily transferred and promulgated. The first thing to go is always nuance and balance. Thus, in much of evangelicalism, which at times is quite polemical and which prides itself on being the heir of the Reformation, the Gospels’ narrative ambiguity is less than preferred, and the result has been their neglect." But after a while, it just seemed boring, but than I went to class, and there were numerous students that raved about the book, so I picked it up again, and waded through the rest of the beginning, and what I discovered was theological gold. It is not for the light at heart, but for those who love a deep reading concerning the process of discerning the word of God. It will go into the methodology of studying the gospel accounts, and at the end of the book, will provide insights into the preaching art. If you are wanting a strong book full of wisdom and insight, can read weighty prose, this is a great book to pick up. This is a good quote from the book that highlights this process in the book and is concerning the gospels. "“The surface meaning lies open before us and charms beginners. Yet the depth is amazing, my God, the depth is amazing. To concentrate on it is to experience awe.”
Matthew is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. He has a beautiful wife named Charity and two precious children named Gabrielle and Noah. He has graduated from the Brown Trail School of Preaching, Heritage Christian University with his Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies, Lipscomb University with his Master’s of Arts in Biblical Studies, and Freed-Hardeman University with his Master’s of Divinity degree, and Harding School of Theology with his Doctorate of Ministry degree. His articles have appeared in the World Evangelist, the Highway to Holiness, The West Virginia Christian, The Christian Echo, The Firm Foundation, Church Growth, the Gospel Advocate; and the Rocky Mountain Christian.