Martin W. Bender
The final perspective in understanding congregational life is practice. This is what the person does. It represents the existential category of Frame’s tri-perspectival epistemology and is likely what most people think about when discussing church membership.
“I go to the church on top of the hill.” That’s what many of us say when asked about church. We typically describe the location we meet to give the other person a sense of where we gather. It allows them to use their previous experiences with that congregation to form a little background for our faith and practice. It connects us with a particular group of people and ideas creating a sense of identity deeper than that which is established through conversation.
Practicing Christianity among a specific group of believers has been done since the church was established. The early Christians met together, learned together, prayed together, ate together… you get the idea. Christianity is practiced within community. This idea sounds like the situational perspective but has more to do with how one expresses their individual faith. I participate in the Christian life as an individual within a group.
Practice is an important part of congregational connectedness. Participation in the actions of a congregation places the individual at the heart of that congregation’s beliefs and community. One can self-identify with a group, but if they fail to engage that community their self-identification is irrational.
As I continue to consider what it means to be a member of a congregation I will be looking at the interaction between belief, belonging, and practice in order to further the development of all these areas both personally and within my congregation.
Martin W. Bender
Donald Miller’s best-selling book Blue Like Jazz isn’t the type of book I’m typically interested in. It’s a diary of sorts, telling of the author’s shift from generic American evangelicalism into what seems like an “emergent” expression of the faith. For some reason the book reminded me of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. It may be the underlying criticism of the church or the crunchy granola tone, but there is definitely a sense of subtle west coast superiority that makes this southeastern feller want to bless Don’s heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly better than mine with a smooth conversational pace. Reading it is a lot like how I imagine the talks in the book went since reading is just another form of listening. This is probably intentional. One of the themes in the book is that Christians need to listen, that Jesus himself was a listener, and in reading one is beginning the practice Don is encouraging us to do: listen to others.
Don has some good insights. American evangelicalism is certainly far too beholden to political conservatism. Hypocrisy does exist within the church. Pat answers to critics of Christianity abound and are frequently dispensed without the slightest concern for spiritual condition of the listener. His answers to these issues, however, seem to be to tune out rather than improve the situation (another indication of his friendliness to emergent thought). He assumes the problems within Christianity are insurmountable until he finds a church that happens to agree with his alternative practice of Christian spirituality.
The book also has some theological problems. Sin is not dealt with as a serious issue. Don comments that he did not perceive the community at the college he attended as immoral, although they engaged in continual immorality. He does, however, intone that conservative Christians are immoral because they do not embrace the same moral relativism he witnessed and seems to promote. This is problematic because Christianity is built upon the notion that a holy God will not leave sin unpunished. In a book on Christian spirituality the author ignores the very reason Christian spirituality exists.
I’m not saying to avoid the book. Remember, I enjoyed it. I am saying that theologically there is a fundamental problem with the author’s understanding of the human condition and the reasons for the incarnation. It would be a good idea to combine this book with John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin to ensure one remains balanced in their understanding of sin and Christian practice.
We admit it, this isn't the flashiest episode we've produced, but the conversation on administering pastoral care is an important part of what Justin and Martin do on a regular basis. They talk about leadership and how they help their congregations overcome challenges like long, unproductive meetings and communication issues within the leadership team. Riveting, we know. They also get distracted by the news of Kimbo Slice's death as well as their typical retelling of stories they both already know. You'll get a hint of a time when the Two Bearded Preachers were not getting along, but sadly, the fullness of that story isn't realized. Better luck next time.
Martin W. Bender
Recently, Leia and I watched Robert Egger’s “The Witch”, a period piece about a family exiled from their colony on the basis of a religious disagreement. It depicts the difficulty of life in the American wilderness as well as the challenges of isolation on the frontier. It also provides a window into the faith of a common Puritan family as they deal with the trials of the early settlers. Oh, yeah… there’s a witch too.
Spoilers follow, but not really bad ones.
Being a fan of horror, I was interested in the film. Many of the reviews described it as well made with good acting, sound, and lighting (if you’re a horror fan, I don’t have to tell you this is not always the case). What surprised me though, was the very polarizing affect the film had in several Christian social media groups in which I participate. One camp heartily argued no Christian should watch this film as it glorifies participation in Satan worship. The other says it is a solid horror film that in no way glorifies the occult, but points out the emptiness of faith in anything but Christ.
I tend to lean toward the view that the film is not glorifying to the occult. No doubt, the story is a tragedy in the classical sense, where the main characters meet horrible ends, but even those who succumb to temptation are no better off than those who remained steadfast in their faith. Ultimately, the conversion from Christianity to witchcraft results in the girl leading a life similar to that of the witch tormenting the family. It isn’t depicted as delicious living in the least.
As a horror film it does well. It has that slow shift from the natural to the supernatural all good horror stories embrace. The story slips from frontier living and religious dogmatism to frenzied hysteria as subtle plot points steer the family from the known world, a world of relative safety, into the perils of the unknown. This is perhaps why the film worked well for me. It didn’t follow the typical series of jump scares followed by a nice resolution, but instead surprised the audience with the failure of each and every character. It is an exploration of the darkness innate in each and every one of us.
So, should a Christian watch it? Well, if they are fans of horror it will take them on a journey most other films lack the bravery to explore, but some might be upset by the nature of the content. It is, after all, a tragic tale about witchcraft. What I want to know is whether or not the girl was the witch the whole time. Dun dun dun!
Martin W. Bender
Initiating change in a congregation is a little nerve racking. This Sunday we are changing our order of worship a fair amount. Many of the elements in the service will remain, but they will occur at different times. The purpose of the change is to reduce the number of transitions taking place and to have a smoother progression from one activity to the next. Our hope is that by shifting the order of events we will be better able to keep the attention of our audience while reducing distractions from the service. We also hope to have greater flow from one activity to the next, emphasizing the theme of the service.
At the same time, we are exploring how our website can be better used as a supplement for our congregants. For each Sunday morning service, we are building a page designed for mobile use providing additional information to what is presented in the sermon. This will enable us to provide the congregation with resources that will enrich their worshiping experience.
Both of these changes are part of a deliberate effort to be more effective in communicating the gospel to a rapidly changing culture. Check out this Sunday’s site and let us know what you think.
Justin and Martin discuss just about everything in this episode. From murdered gorillas to celestial teapots there is nothing the two leave out. Martin talks about his trip to the water park where the actions of one person shut down four attractions simultaneously. Justin proclaims his love for wearing speedos in the summertime. Neither have any credibility in their hip hop game as Fay attempts to throw shade at the facially blessed brothers conversation. Most notable, however, is their discussion of Russell’s Teapot: an argument built to shift the burden of proof to those supporting the existence of God. This episode has it all, even a misquote by Martin. It was Calvin, not Spurgeon, he was referencing. Check it out, share it with your friends, talk about how awesome the show is on social media… you know, all that stuff every podcast asks you to do.
Enjoy the conversation.
Martin W. Bender
Justin and I have a standing disagreement as to which super hero ought to have our support in the Marvel Civil War. I have intelligently defended Captain America as being the obvious choice, while Justin, in his foolishness, has thrown in his hat toward Iron Man. Below you will find definitive photographic proof that every bearded man ought to choose Cap.
As you can see, Robert Downing Jr. is lacking a manly mane while Chis Evans has much beard. Discussion closed.
Martin W. Bender
Belonging is third in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He argues that all people require a sense of belonging in order to be healthy. This innate need often overshadows the need for safety or physical needs. Everyone desires a sense of belonging be it within a family, a group of friends, or the work place.
Religious groups also meet people’s need for belonging. When someone says, “that’s my church” they are making the point that not only do they worship at a particular location, but that they identify themselves with a specific worshiping community. This sense of belonging is almost tribal. Congregations develop unique cultures, languages, and worldviews they teach to their children and into which they submerge prospective members. Developing a strong sense of belonging in a congregation creates opportunity for improvements in fellowship, service, and evangelism.
Creating a sense of belonging cannot be done artificially. A new member class may be helpful in introducing a person to the beliefs of a congregation, but developing belonging is far more labor intensive. It takes time and shared experiences to create the feeling of belonging. Perhaps the best way to develop this feeling is by overcoming challenging situations.
The greatest sense of belonging I have ever felt was in the military. My experiences in the Army, particularly on deployments, created a sense of belonging that continues years after I have seen any of my old buddies. The sense of belonging was created by the following factors: a clear objective to accomplish, time spent together, shared experiences, and crises overcome. All of these can be applied to the congregational setting.
Can you think of ways to develop a sense of belonging within the church? What pitfalls can come from creating too strong a sense of belonging? How strong a sense of belonging do you have with your congregation and how has it developed through the years? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts.
Is the world ready for a female 007? Justin and Martin both think so. They discuss who made the best James Bond, argue about video games, and wonder if Jason Bourne could beat James Bond in a fight. This episode rambles a little as the fellers have difficulty staying on topic, frequently running down rabbit trails and forgetting what they were talking about. They also wonder when their ministries will become more like Jesse Custer's from Preacher and when his beard will become more like theirs, thick and full like the mane of a lion. It's an episode you don't want to miss.
Martin W. Bender
In a few previous posts I’ve written about triperspectival ministry. The idea is that ministry ought to be considered in terms of normative, situational, and existential categories in order to best understand an individual’s relationship to their congregation. Instead of using those big seminary words I’ll simplify by referring to belief, belonging, and practice.
Belief is doctrine. The ideas and values communicated by the teachers in the congregation. It takes form in sermons, lessons, and statements of faith. Belief is also defined by the practice of the congregation and is rooted in the congregation’s traditions and habits. The way the Bible is interpreted, explained, and understood all fall under the category of belief.
People define themselves by their beliefs. The statement, “I’m a Baptist” provides a lot of information. It greatly reduces the amount of effort in figuring out where a person likely stands on a number of issues. When a couple recently joined my congregation I was able to rightly assume much of their theology based on the type of church they left. At the same time, it’s important to be able to distinguish the differences people may have with their congregations.
Communicating the beliefs of the congregation is profoundly important. The deliberate, creative, repetitive articulation of a congregation’s core beliefs will create greater levels of agreement of those listening resulting in members becoming increasingly attached to the group. As agreement increases, so does cooperation and the level of investment the member is willing to put into the congregation.
For this reason, the elders and I spent an entire year developing a statement of faith that better articulates the informal beliefs of the congregation. This statement will be used in the creation of lessons and sermons delivered in order to deliberately increase the degree to which the congregation agrees on important theological and practical issues.
In my next blog post I’ll describe how an individual’s sense of belonging has an effect on their relationship to the congregation. Until then, think about your beliefs and those of your congregation. Do they line up? Are there significant differences? What can you do to be in line with your congregation’s most important beliefs?
Martin W. Bender
Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is an ancient minister’s manual that reflects much of what continues to be taught to those seeking pastoral positions in local congregations. Augustine essentially takes the basics of pastoral ministry and communicates to his readers methods for interpreting scripture, composing sermons, and delivering messages. He extols the use of the original languages whenever possible and emphasizes the importance of effective communication while preaching the gospel.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Augustine’s work is its similarity to modern ministerial training. He explains the great importance of rightly interpreting the text, bringing out the technique of allowing the simpler passages of scripture to explain the more difficult. This, of course, remains one the primary building blocks of biblical exegesis.
In the construction of sermons or lessons, Augustine argues in favor of the use of logical argumentation. He posits that logic is essentially an observable characteristic of God’s nature and as such should be embraced and fully utilized in the presentation of the gospel. For those familiar with Augustine’s other writings this should come as no surprise as he builds clear arguments in his sermons following a logical progression of thought.
Despite this reliance on the use of logic in developing messages, Augustine also recognizes the necessity to vary the style of delivery based on the audience, the message, and the text from which the message is derived. He sees that there is a place for different types of sermons as well as the use of another’s sermon in order to best communicate the gospel to a particular audience. In this area he takes on a very pragmatic attitude encouraging his readers to use the method that is most likely to produce the desired results. Funny how a man writing in the fifth century can be so very contemporary.
This book was difficult to get through. For all those who lament the difficulties of John Owen I’d suggest reading a little Augustine and getting over it. I’d happily read On the Mortification of Sin again before On Christian Doctrine. That being said, Augustine’s Confessions ought to be read by every Christian and will probably make it onto my reading shelf this year, but OCD was somehow brutal to me and made me hate reading for three months. I’d avoid this one unless you’re planning on going into vocational ministry. Read some of his sermons instead and you’ll be much better served.
Having read a little of “Mr. Orthodox” (that’s what one of my seminary professors called Augustine) I’m moving now to the charred remains of the emergent movement to see if there is anything left to salvage in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.
Martin W. Bender
Nothing is as it seems in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the previous books there was a clear sense of whimsy pervading the story, but entering into Harry’s fourth year there are far darker forces at play than we have seen thus far in the wizarding world. This is probably a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the happy antics of Harry and his friends in the first three novels, but coming into the Goblet of Fire I was definitely hoping for higher stakes. I didn’t really care if Gryffindor won at quidditch and I’m not concerned if Harry and Malfoy have another brouhaha over some nonsense. In this book, though, there is a much more malevolent force working behind the scenes.
My biggest gripe about the first half of the series is the lack of peril. With an enemy so terrible people refrain from even speaking his name one would think there’d be greater danger than oversized snakes and bad versions of He-Man villains. Finally, in the fourth book, we see Voldemort as his intimidating, murderous self. It’s the slow burn reveal of Harry’s enemies that make the series work for me.
This may be why J. K. Rowling’s books have been so appealing. Harry’s innocence is slowly stripped away as he becomes increasingly aware of the world around him. As children, we believe the world to be safe provided there’s enough light in the room and our parents are around. As we grow older and experience more and more of the evil in the world we recognize there are far worse things on earth than the monsters we image lurk under our beds. This is precisely what happens to Harry as he is rushed into the wizarding world with all its wonders, but then is shown the dangers that so often come along with greater power. It reminds me of Vision’s assessment of the inevitable increase in supervillains with the rise superheroes in Captain America: Civil War.
I’m a little nervous about book five. My daughter Anna has been very clear that The Order of the Phoenix is the worst of all the books, but that it is a necessary step in understanding The Deathly Hallows (her favorite). I’m trying to keep her opinion from affecting me, but it took me months to get through book four which is supposed to be one of the very best. Hopefully I’ll get through book five fast and get back into the habit of reading regularly.
Martin W. Bender
How should a Christian congregation respond to trends within the religious world? As the preacher of a congregation in transition, I carefully look at church trends to help guide the ministry process where I serve. In doing so, I have noticed three stereotypical responses to church trends: ignoring them, bucking them, or following them.
Ignoring trends in the church is perhaps best illustrated by the Mennonites. These are people who hold to a very specific manner of both congregational life and interaction with secular society. As such, they have had very little influence on the societies in which they live and, with the possible exception of pacifism, have added little to modern expressions of Christianity (of course this is part of their point).
For congregations that choose to ignore societal trends and changes in culture one has to wonder if their particular expression of the Christian faith is worth maintaining. Today, we look at the lifestyle of the Mennonite and find it ever so quaint, but generally choose to lead lives that embrace the wonders of our age. Congregations ignoring contemporary religious trends do so at the risk of becoming like the Mennonites: faithful to their particular theological paradigm, but little more than a footnote in history.
Bucking trends within the religious world is equally dangerous. The Westboro Baptist Church has made a name for themselves by actively bucking just about every popular trend in American Evangelicalism. As they have done this, they have become a caricature of the church in the US bringing shame not only upon themselves, but on all Christians. This congregation is an extreme example, but there are numerous fellowships bucking any new trend with the discernment of a teenager, never even considering how a new approach might further the gospel.
Some trends need to be bucked. There is a trend among Christians to redefine marriage, ignore biblical gender roles, and deny the existence of Hell. All of these are clearly counter to scripture and need to be rejected on individual and congregational levels, but cultural questions like the use of information technology, various musical styles (remember that nonsense?), and communication techniques are not inherently counter to revelation and should be carefully considered prior to rejection.
Trend followers are those that follow the methodologies of other congregation perceived to be successful. Conferences, books, blogs, and programs are created to market to trend following organizations. After the success of Saddleback Church congregations copying their methods were everywhere attempting to achieve the same results. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does present some challenges in maintaining a congregation’s distinct identity.
Each congregation is different. This is a simple truth, but is often overlooked. Not all of the strategies that are successful with one group will work in another. It would be unreasonable to assume a program that worked well in California would be equally successful in rural Georgia. So when following trends, a congregation must be very intentional in applying ideas that are culturally appropriate to have the best opportunity for success.
There is of course one last option for congregations: establish trends. The establishment of trends is predicated on success. As a congregation is successful in developing an area of ministry they can then share how they achieved that success.
A local example of this is Savannah Christian Church. SCC has been very successful in both growing their congregation and in developing a very specific culture. They share how they are accomplishing this through a conference as well as being intentional in mentoring leaders of other congregations. In doing this, they have been able to have greater influence than would have been possible otherwise.
The likelihood of a small rural congregation establishing a large scale trend in congregational ministry is low, but there has never been a time in history where it was more feasible. As communications technologies continue to improve and become less expensive the possibilities for small congregations has never been greater. Those who are able to leverage the tools of the age to communicate the gospel will be the next generation’s trend setters. It could come from anywhere, why not here?
There's a slippery slope with everything. From butlers to public nudity, there's no telling how one decision will impact the future. This fact is no more evident than in the latest episode of Two Bearded Preachers. These furry mammals talk about their favorite WWE celebrities, the problems with Batman V Superman, and stroll down memory lane with a troubling tale from Greek class. Is Justin cursed? Will Martin ever get a massage? What happens when Superman farts? Find out by listening to the 33rd installment of the Two Bearded Preachers super show!
When one considers the current cultural landscape the issues of bathrooms, presidential candidates, and superheroes will inevitably arise. Can someone make sense of a world where Starbuck's customers are forced to wait on a member of the opposite sex to finish using the restroom? Justin and Martin discuss all this and the pastoral implications in this episode of the Two Bearded Preachers. We have no doubt the listener will be delighted and challenged by the facially blessed dynamic duo of the podcasting universe. You're my boy, Blue.
Martin W. Bender
One of the challenges of congregational leadership is maintaining and developing a sense of connectedness among the membership. At a recent workshop I was giving as a part of our congregational development plan I was asked how we can ensure new attendees are integrated into the life of the congregation. It’s a great question all church leaders have to answer. This is the beginning of my answer.
Congregational Connectedness is the degree to which an individual is aligned with a congregation in terms of belief, belonging, and practice. My previous post begins the process of explaining these criteria and can be read here, but the short version is that belief equates to doctrine, belonging equates to self-identification, and practice equates to participation in congregational activities. Too easy, right?
In the diagram below we see the intersection of three circles. The orange circle represents belief, the pink circle belonging, and the blue circle practice. As people begin to be affiliated with a congregation they often will be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. Greater congregational connectedness occurs when an individual moves from the outer edge toward the ABC area where the categories of belief, belonging, and practice intersect. This is where we as leaders endeavor to move all of our congregants.
(ABC – members, A – nominals, AB – Lapsed, B – Acquaintances, BC – friends, C – Traditionalists, AC – mystics)
Once individuals associated with the congregation are categorized within this system they can then be ministered to in their greatest area of need in order to move them toward membership where they have the greatest degree of congregational connectedness. This, of course, does not answer the question of how a congregation goes about moving people toward membership, but it does provide a framework from which ministries can be developed. Ministries that are explicitly created for the purpose of increasing congregational connectedness, thus improving the overall health of the congregation.
In my quest to develop a thorough theology of ministry this is where I currently am. Am I way off base or does this make sense? Hit me up in the comments with questions and criticisms.
Why do we learn how to read? Honestly I have never thought to ask that question. I have always loved reading. It has always been a major part of my life. I think that’s the reason I’ve never thought to ask that, because it’s is so essential to life.
Why do we learn how to read? Where do I begin? Lets just say it, reading is fundamental to function in today’s society. Reading develops the mind. Reading develops the imagination. Reading is the key to education. It is difficult to grow intellectually, psychologically, and spiritual without reading. It is the gateway skill that opens doors in life. It is the key to success in life.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that God has chosen the written word to communicate to us. By reading the Bible we can receive instructions to life. By reading the Bible we learn how to obey. By reading the Bible we get encouragement. By reading the Bible we can hear our Lord and Savior speak to us.
In ancient Israel, kings were instructed to copy down his own scroll of the law and to keep it with him to “read it all the days of his life so he may learn to revere the Lord his God.” This helped the kings stay humble, prevented them from turning from God, and ensured their reign for many generations. The kings who did this faithfully were proven to have ruled well. (King David and eight other kings of Judah) In other words, they had some measure of success.
Success doesn’t happen sitting in front of a TV. Maybe give your brain a little exercise tonight and pick up a book.
Martin W. Bender
I was reading an article by a Mennonite about participation in government (insert nerd joke here). The article explained voting as a means of conflict resolution. If you are at all familiar with the Mennonites, you likely know the article concluded that voting is inappropriate for Christians as the government inevitably uses violence as its primary tool. Pretty much extreme pacifism.
I am by no means a pacifist, but I did like how the article brought to mind how Christians should interact with the state. The challenge American Christians face is the morality of voting for individuals who hold views counter to Christian teaching. As Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders vie for the presidency, the thoughtful Christian must ask, “Which of these candidates best reflects Christ’s thought, action, and character?”
Perhaps I’m being a bit too idealistic, or maybe I’m a little irritated that after having switched favorites twice in the primaries I now have even fewer options, but there simply doesn’t seem to be a candidate even remotely tolerable in terms of applying biblical morality to the most powerful office on earth. I don’t suppose I have much cause for complaining though, as elected officials generally try to reflect the positions of the people in order to maintain power. I find myself leaning closer to the position of the Mennonites and early Baptists regarding the separation of church and state as a result.
The question I am left with is whether voting remains a valid form of conflict resolution for me in terms of national politics. The article listed negotiation, voting, and violence as the typical means of conflict resolution, but at the end suggests all of these result in the compromising of Christian thought and that the best means of changing society is not through political action, but through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The church would be better served by focusing its attention on the Gospel rather than attempting to change the world through worldly means. At the same time, Christians bear a civic responsibility to use the power they have to promote the Christian message. This means there needs to be an element of Christian participation in government, but that participation ought not replace the continual declaration of Jesus Christ and his work.
I've not yet decided how I'm going to participate in this year's presidential election. I do have a sense of peace, however, knowing God is sovereign over all that happens and it is through him any come to political power.
Have you been called to vocational pastoral ministry? If so, the Two Bearded Preachers have some advice for you: do something else. Justin and Martin question the reality of divine calling to the pastorate, but ultimately decide they are both ideally suited for the task. They don't get into whether or not the draw to the pulpit is ordained by God, but they do joke around about why anyone would even want to get involved in church work. It's a fun little conversation that may or may not encourage you to seek out ordination. In all honesty it probably isn't any help at all.
If you are a fan of satire and fads in Christianity head over to The Bald Prophet and read some of Shawn Smith’s articles. He deftly mixes pop culture, contemporary Christianity, and theology into delightfully funny articles. I’m pretty sure it’s all in good fun, but you can never be too sure. Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica.
Martin W. Bender
With all the hype surrounding Captain America: Civil War and the exceptionally polarizing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice I thought I’d join the fray and voice my partially informed position on Marvel and DC movies.
People seem to either love or hate this movie. There isn’t a whole lot in between. It’s a lot of fun, but like most Batman films, it is darker in tone than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t mind the darker film, but it does mean my elementary aged son will not be seeing his favorite superheroes on the big screen any time soon. Batman is extra murdery and Superman is all angsty making the movie very different than previous films. It is Superman’s doubt that brought the movie down.
My experience of Superman is that he is the idealized man. Superman was supposed to be about truth, justice, and the American way, but in DoJ he is lacking conviction. It seems that Superman is a much less mature hero here, taunting Batman, allowing Lex to easily manipulate him, and seemingly flaunting his power. Christopher Reeves would never do it. It is Clark’s lack of experience that makes Batman’s successes possible, something that seems terribly ridiculous as Superman can simply throw him into the sun.
Superman in both DoJ and Man of Steel is not a super man, but a powerful alien trying to understand how he can live in a society of people lacking his remarkable power. Doubt is his most distinguishing characteristic, which makes him the flawed hero our culture currently loves. Captain America, on the other hand, does fill the role of the idealized man.
Ok, Cap isn’t the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. Far from it, in fact. But while he lacks the brute power of the Hulk and the technical knowledge of Tony Stark, he does have a very clear sense of morality which makes him the ideal leader of the Avengers. Captain America does a better job of maintaining a sense of right and wrong over the course of his character arc that seems to come to a head in his next upcoming film.
Cap, like Superman, is trying to figure out how he fits in the modern world. He also wonders whether or not he should maintain his position as a government agent when he sees the corruption innate within the government he serves. When Superman gets bogged down by the plans of evil men, Cap continually focuses on his moral stance of promoting freedom over security. This will be the basis of his war with Ironman, whose lack of a moral compass leads to his repeated tragic decisions.
Because Captain America has a solid understanding of who he is as a moral agent he is able to identify evil more clearly. Having a hero like Cap is becoming increasingly rare as Western society continually degrades into moral relativism. A relativistic culture has no need of heroes as there is no clear understanding of right and wrong. Captain America is one of those few characters that bucks moral ambiguity and works to promote his ideals in the world.
Cap today is what Superman was when I was growing up. He is the hero who understands ethics and applies them consistently. He has taken the place of Superman as the idealized man and I look forward to the upcoming story.
Martin W. Bender
I enjoy a good system. One of the reasons I liked working at UPS and remained there so long was the very systematic manner in which the work was done. There’s just something comforting about stone cold efficiency.
Now that I am in vocational ministry I find it’s fuzzy nature less enjoyable. My congregation having left its denomination for the vague theological world of congregational independence has me feeling like I’m floating. Not floating in a good way, like when you’re on a raft in the pool. Floating like you have just fallen off the 31 boat and are watching it slowly slip from view (this was a reoccurring dream I would have when on missions). To combat this lack of clarity I’m currently working on a theology of ministry.
My last blog post about belief, belonging, and practice is the jump off point for me. I am trying to merge the normative, situational, and existential perspectives from Frame’s thinking with Natural Church Development’s rather pragmatic barrel analogy. The end result should be a system by which we can assess congregational and individual member’s connectedness to the congregation and develop a plan for addressing most help needed areas.
Presently, the most help needed area seems to be belief. Not belief in terms of saving faith, but belief in terms of congregational identity. This is being addressed with a more robust faith, vision, and mission statements than were held to previously. Over time, as the area of belief becomes more unified practice and belonging will also be addressed as deemed necessary by the congregation’s leadership.
It is my hope that thinking of ministry in terms of the normative, situational, and existential perspectives will help to move away from event based programing toward connectedness based ministry.
Upcoming blog posts:
Defining congregational connectedness
The perspectives explained in terms of congregational ministry (likely three separate posts)
The barrel analogy
Episode 30 is where Justin and Martin discuss how to rebuild trust after it has been lost. They talk about forgiveness and reconciliation while telling stories about county politics and puppies with bladder control issues. Martin spreads some sunshine and Justin exploits some glitches in this action packed episode.
Martin W. Bender
This began with me researching about the Christian understanding of luck and grew into a triperspectival understanding of church membership. In retrospect, maybe I should have stuck with the luck idea.
In 1990 Grace Davie began publishing articles and books exploring the impact of Christianity in post-Christian Europe. Her work looked at how those who lack belief in the Christian faith often maintain a feelings of belonging to the church. Those who identified as such frequently held positions on political and social issues that were in line with their believing counterparts demonstrating a lingering sense of Christian morality grounded upon traditional association with the church while lacking formal acceptance of Christian doctrine.
Challenges to Davie’s work stated such indications should include not only the categories of belief and belonging, but must also include practice. Davie used ‘belonging’ to indicate participation in the life of the church and ‘belief’ as holding to its doctrinal positions. Francis and Robbins argue for an additional category to be added in order to allow practicing habits to also be included in future study. They demonstrate that there are many who identify as belonging to the church without holding to the beliefs of the church. Such are likely to actively engage in elements of church life while remaining doctrinally separate. Their contention is that “the religious climate within Britain today is one of ‘belonging without believing’, and of ‘believing without practising’.” When the category of practice is included with belief and belonging as ways in which people interact with the church they then fit neatly into Frame’s triperspectivalism.
Triperspectivalism (How’s that for a seminary word?) is John Frame’s attempt to develop a distinctly Christian epistemology. It divides the whole of human understanding into three categories: normative, situational, and existential. The normative perspective is that which is reveled to man by God in the Scriptures. The situational perspective is that which is known through community. The existential perspective is self-knowledge. When these perspectives are applied to Francis and Robbins’ categories belief corresponds to the normative perspective, practice to the situational, and belonging to the existential.
At this point you may be like my wife and wondering who cares about nonsense like this? I admit, it’s a nerdy way to think about the relationship people have with the church, but understanding this complex relationship will be helpful in ministering to and sharing the gospel with different types of people. Based upon these categories there are eight different types of relationship with the church.
First are members. These are those who engage in the church’s beliefs, practice their faith with the church, and identify themselves as belonging to the faith community.
Second are friends. Friends do not share the church’s beliefs, but do actively engage in the community and identify themselves with the church.
Third are traditionalists. Traditionalists actively participate in the church, but feel neither a sense of belonging nor hold to the theological positions of the church.
Fourth are mystics. Mystics maintain the beliefs and practices of the church, but do not have a sense of belonging.
Fifth are nominals. Nominals believe the doctrine, but have neither a relationship with the church nor identify themselves with it.
Sixth are the lapsed. The lapsed believe in the church’s teaching and identify with the church, but do not participate in the corporate aspects of Christianity.
Seventh are acquaintances. Acquaintances are those who identify as belonging to the church, but share neither its beliefs nor engage in the worshiping community.
Eighth are the non-churched. The non-churched are those who have no belief, sense of belonging, or practice within the church.
Identifying individuals in terms of these categories can be helpful in ministry. Knowing areas where people are detached provides the opportunity to overcome those disparities. On a larger scale, if a congregation has a disproportionate number of a particular category steps can be taken to overcome the corresponding area of weakness.
What do you think? Could such a system of categorization be helpful in planning ministry activities in both individual and group settings? Hit me up in the comments below.
 See Grace Davie, “Believing without belonging: is this the future of religion in Britain?” Social Compass 37 (1990): 455-69; Religion in Britain since 1945: believing without belonging (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Religion in Modern Europe: a memory mutates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and “From obligation to consumption: a framework for reflection in northern Europe,” Political Theology 6, no. 3 (July 2005): 281-301.
 Davie, “From obligation to consumption,” 282.
 Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, “Belonging without believing: a study in the social significance of Anglican identity and implicit religion among 13-15 year-old males,” Implicit Religion 7, no. 1 (April 2004): 38.
 Todd Murphy, “Tri-Perspectivalism: An Introduction to John Frame’s Reformed Epistemology (Part I),” The Aquila Report, http://theaquilareport.com/tri-perspectivalism-an-introduction-to-john-frames-reformed-epistemology-part-i/ (accessed April 19, 2016).
The Two Bearded Preachers have a little bit of trouble adapting to an afternoon recording session. Once they finally get on track with the conversation they discuss finding the Beautiful/Anonymous Podcast and a possible side project for Justin. Martin claims that this isn't a gaming podcast as he recruits people to join the mobile game he currently plays. Neither know when the other's birthday is, but Justin is obviously older than Martin as evidenced by his larger beard. The bulk of the conversation is about whether or not luck exists. They decide it doesn't and listen to a little Frank Sinatra.
Check this stuff out: