Reverend Milton Wells Talks Poverty

Americorps PACC*VISTA
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An AmeriCorps*VISTA colleague of mine interviewed a pastor who is local to his community about poverty, its effects on their community,  and why poverty shouldn’t be a possibility. You can subscribe to his (my colleague, that is) YouTube channel and follow him on his Twitter feed. Great work, my friend!

Open Door Ministries and PRI Vice Chair Reverend Milton Wells talks about Poverty in Kalamazoo, goals he would like to see for the Eastside Neighboorhood, and the impact of the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative.

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Is “Calling” too Confusing?

As an adolescent, I remember agonizing over what I was ‘supposed’ to do with my life. Early in life I knew that  I wanted to be in the people-serving business, and I sincerely believed it was my ‘calling’ to do so. I still do, for the record. But as an adolescent, that general commitment to helping and serving others was just to generic – I thought that there was one and only path with one and only job with one and only purpose for me. Was I to be a senior pastor who got up and preached every week? Should I open a homeless shelter that fed and trained homeless people? Or maybe I should join an international relief organization to demonstrate the love of Christ that I’ve experienced to others?

What is my calling?

That was the essential question, the one that demanded an answer. Or, to put it another way, “What if I don’t figure out what my calling is? What if I ‘miss it’?” I definitely did not want to discover the answer to that.

To make a long story short — Fast forward a handful of years to college, where we had a wonderful chaplain who loved helping students grapple with questions just like that. He helped me think of these important questions in the context of the Apostle Paul’s missional lifestyle. To put it briefly: from what we know about Paul, Paul didn’t spend time agonizing over the question, “What is the one job I must do in order to live into my calling?” Instead, we see Paul living out his calling – to say and do the love of Jesus – wherever life took him. In other words, the Christian calling, that is, the life every Christian is asked to live by Jesus, is generic. And that’s not a bad thing. Love God and love your neighbor in whatever situation life throws your way.

As The Resurgence puts it:  

Our Call Has Already Been Issued

Christians don’t need to be specially "called" to live language-of-calling-1missionally; it is inherent in being a disciple. To become a disciple of Jesus means that you evaluate your passions and talents in terms of how they can best be used to spread God’s kingdom. The call has already been issued: "Glorify me in all that you do. Love and serve your neighbor. Go into the world and preach the gospel to every person." That’s it.

Each person must evaluate how they have best been suited to fulfill that call, but the call is clear. If you are a businessman, you are to do excellent work to the glory of God, to the benefit of humanity, and to the testimony of Christ in your community. You don’t have to wait on a special call to begin to do so—you’ve already received that call as a Christian. We talk about finding God’s will; it’s not lost.

In my view, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific times, places, or activities to which we are called; I think that does happen. But, it does mean that we don’t need to agonize about what we should or must do; that part’s already been settled, and there’s no need to distress over it. Instead, simply get up and do it.

A responsible company in a capitalist culture?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of capitalism over the past few months. Mind you, I’m not by any means convinced that there’s a better alternative out there, but that’s just an aside.

From the beginning of the banking crisis several months ago to the executive bonuses at AIG, I’ve become more and more convinced that our economy is being driven by greed — greed that is legally justified by “contractual obligations.” Ironic, isn’t it, that the same companies who are culpable for the financial crisis are handing out bonuses with taxpayer money. I guess it’s no secret where I stand on that one.

However, last week I read about a Michigan-based company who is handing bonuses quite differently. Here’s an expert from the blog of Michigan’s First Gentleman:

Al Schultz, CEO of Valassis, a Livonia, Michigan-based company that provides value to consumers through coupons, mailers, and online incentives. For nine straight years Valassis was on the Fortune magazine list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.”* So, what did Al Schultz do?

He did not throw up his hands, powerless in facing these contractual obligations. Instead, he asked – in light of tough times that had included employee layoffs – that the executives offer their bonuses to the board to use in the best interests of the company. Every single executive – through what we can assume were varying mixes of moral duty, corporate commitment, peer pressure, and boss-pleasing behavior – passed on his or her contractually entitled bonus. Many thanked Al for asking them to do what they thought was the right thing. (When Al told this story at our CEO-to-CEO forum at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, I had to ask the crowd to cheer. I couldn’t help but note how quick we all are to wax and wail at the repulsive behavior of AIG executives; yet we’re so slow to laud exemplary behavior.)

So, in the midst of (justified) public outrage, maybe it’s important to recognize those companies who are doing things differently.

First Gentleman – Valassis and a New Capitalism.

Preaching Tips from N.T. Wright

The name may or may not be familiar to you, but N.T. Wright is becoming one of the most well-known and well-respected New Testament scholars of the day. As if his initials weren’t enough to tell you that 😛

I ran into a neat article in which Wright talks us through some of his own sermon preparation techniques. There is some good stuff here, and I think it’s worth any preacher’s time.

You can find the article here.

Christians aren’t the only churches who are struggling…

My brother told me about a very interesting piece that ran in the BBC recently entitled, Hard Times for Japan’s Temples. In short, it describes the slow and painful decline of the temple in Japan and how modern society has opted out of that religious institution.

Perhaps more interestingly is what steps have been taken as attempted remedies. The specifics are perhaps not as important as this quote from the monk who oversees the temple. He says,

“Look,” he said, “in my grandfather’s day those [mats for prayer] would never have been allowed, but I’m innovating. People here are getting older, too old to kneel, but now I’ve put these in so some can sit while they pray.”

Innovation being employed by the leader of a religious institution for the purpose of attracting new people and making them feel comfortable… does that sound familiar to anyone?

As secular society continues to opt out of religious obligations and institutions, what is the diagnosis? Is revolutionary innovation going to win the day? Or, is a Return to Tradition just what the doctor ordered? Thoughts?

Great is Thy…Effectiveness?

Christianity Today is hosting an article written by Skye Jethani, which reveals some interesting information as to how we are evaluating our “success” in the church.

He quotes from a popular Christian leadership book, from a chapter entitled, “Bigger is Better.” The authors say, “A church should always be bigger than it was. It should be constantly growing.” Given this mindsetl, Jethani argues, church leaders are placed under an inordinate amount of pressure. If the church grows, the leader is praised. If the church doesn’t grow, the leader is blamed and probably terminated.

Now on the one hand, part of the above rationale makes sense. Chruch leaders should want the church to grow. We believe that that the gospel is inherently contagious. It is truth for the world. However, as Jethani cleverly argues, our ‘success’ can not adequately be determined by growth.

He cites the example of Moses from Numbers 20. I found his insights to be dead-on, so I’ll quote him.

Or consider one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament. In Numbers 20, Moses performs a miracle by drawing water from a rock to nourish the Israelites. By any human measure Moses’ ministry was a success. It was God-empowered (he performed a miracle), and it was relevant (the people were thirsty). If Moses lived today, we’d all be reading his ministry book titled, “How to Draw Water from Rocks: Effective Strategies to Refresh Arid Churches.” There was just one problem—Moses’ effective ministry was rejected by God. Moses had disobeyed the Lord’s command by striking the rock rather than speaking to it. For this sin he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land. It turns out God performed a miracle in spite of Moses, not because of him.

(full article here)

The irony of the story is that the people were satisfied, but satisfaction was achieved at the cost of disobedience. Thus, we are forced to ask the question, are some churches growing in spite of some leaders rather than because of them? Is God working miracles in the lives of people in spite of our creative programs, revamped worship styles, and modern light shows?

What do you think? What criteria do we use to measure success in the church?