On this special episode, Scott speaks at Embrace Ministries at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and speaks on their they Cultivate by talking about Cultivating Life. Scott uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as a guide on how we can cultivate life in everything we do.
Reflections on Christianity Today’s Podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”
I have finished listening to all of the episodes to this point (including the bonus episode with Joshua Harris), and here are some of my takeaways.
1). Driscoll and the other leaders at Mars Hill were innovative and had a ton of great ideas they were able to implement to grow quickly as a church organization. However, with that rapid growth, came a lot of opportunities to abuse and spiritually manipulate people in the church. One of the comments that was constantly made was, “Look at the fruit.” There were a number of moments that showed a great bounty of spiritual fruit, but there was also a lot of rotten fruit that simply was ignored, because the “fruit” that was being looked at was numerical, then spiritual. It’s vitally important to not buy into the message that “Numerical growth = Spiritual growth.” The spirit may be growing, but it may not be holy.
2). Being a woman at Mars Hill was difficult. I understand that some religious groups/denominations have various views of women in ministry, gender roles, etc. When women are not allowed to work, because it would disqualify their spouse to be a leader in the church, that is toxic. When women have to stop what they are doing, because their spouses need to have their sexual needs taken care of, that is toxic. When a woman has to sit in a church service, and the minister talks about sex in a very pornographic way and proof-text the Bible to promote sex acts that a woman may be uncomfortable with, but has to perform because her husband request it of her and can now use the “Bible says/pastor says” card, that is toxic. Some notable quotes from former members was a woman, who praised this brash talk on gender roles and sex because it helped get her husband to “step up to the plate,” but then realized how toxic it because as the pendulum continued to swing too far. The other member (Jeff from 90lbs wuss), said that the teachings on sex in the church not only made his wife uncomfortable but that what was being communicated was “spiritual rape.”
3.) Transparency and accountability are vital to healthy church culture, and yet it is also the two things that continue to be thrown out the window in the guise of “protecting the integrity of the church.” Screw your false sense of integrity! It has nothing to do with integrity and everything to protect a brand. Out of all the times I have been a church member, consultant, and pastor, it is few and far between that I have seen leaders be humble and transparent with the church about sin, corruption, and other church issues. Transparency and accountability is a two-way street. In the case of Mars Hill, Driscoll needed to have accountability, and when there were by-law changes to give him more power and less accountability, it eventually lead to the fall of Mars Hill. On the same token, it is also important for governing boards and teams to be held accountable. I have witnessed and heard too many stories where a pastor was forced to resign, fired, or simply quit due to an overzealous, fruitless, fearful, power-hungry board who needed to protect their “assets” at the cost of destroying a minister and their family.
4.) The evangelical community needs to stop making celebrities out of ministers. The problem is two-fold. First, it puts an unrealistic amount of pressure on the pastor, regardless of the size of the church. They tend to focus more on performance than being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Second, it gives the leader a false sense of self and an overinflated ego, that gives him/her a “god-complex.” It leads to an abuse of power, and/or when there is a fallacy, it causes much damage across the church and community.
If you have not listened to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” I would highly recommend it if you are interested in church dynamics and culture.
I had just finished a Zoom meeting with some area ministers. The third Tuesday of every month is a time for us to gather over a meal and encourage each other in ministry. As we were discussing some of the challenges in this new way of doing ministry. As one pastor put so elegantly, “I’m finding out how much I am missing my congregation.”
Ministry is full of challenges. I had heard on the pastor say that when he was in seminary, the professor proclaimed, “Ministry would be fun if there were no people.” Before COVID-19, this statement would have gotten a few laughs and nods, but as the comment was said, there was no laughing, just a hollowness in our hearts and minds. We may not miss the negativity, the gossip, the hurtful anonymous letters, and the personality conflicts. But what we do miss, is the voice, eyes, touch, presence of an individual, even if that same individual has wronged you.
I have seen ministers who have defied government orders by still having services in their buildings. I have seen pastors who have had criticism from the community, by doing a drive-in service; some even had had the police called on them. Some pastors sit by the phone to receive updates from congregants who have been hospitalized while some preach a eulogy to a camera in an empty funeral home chapel, as no one has come out for services in fear of getting sick.
I get it.
I get that you love your church members
I get that you feel lost when you can not do a visitation, or go to the hospital, or preach a sermon in an empty sanctuary (or in your home)
I think of the parable of the lost sheep, except instead of one missing, its the whole flock that has been separated in separate areas while the shepherd is, for better or worst, trying to reach and feed the sheep under his/her care in new ways and, if we are being honest, you are completely lost.
So my suggestion to you, pastor, is to grieve. Go somewhere and grieve this loss. Go and grieve the simple handshakes, nudges, smiles, bump-ins, that most pastors take for granted. Also, remember that your flock is not missing, they are just confined and they mourn too. They miss you, and one day, they will be back and the church body will (hopefully) be stronger and united than ever, in the Name of Jesus Christ.
In this episode, Scott discusses the paradoxical relationship between Joy & Pain.
Finishing my second week of my fast, I was still blown away by how much energy I have and my heighten spiritual awareness. After Church, a few people who knew of my fasting asked me how it was going, and I told them that I have been very impressed with a physical and spiritual level of my journey.
Since I started my fast I have had a lot of interesting situations happen to me. First, I overworked my muscles during shoulder shrugs and because I was not getting a large amount of protein (from meat and shakes) I was sore for almost a full week. Second, during my prayer walks, I have had some interesting insights and moments that can’t be described on a conscious level. Finally, it had revealed a buried sin that needed to be repented of. It was one of those “ah-ha” moments that lead to a personal and spiritual transformation.
I went on my very first prayer walk around the downtown section of the City of Staunton. At first, I debate on doing it, because of the temperature being in the low to mid-teens. Since the purpose of my fast is spiritual, I decided to brave the temperature and do the walk. I parked my car at the library and began to walk towards downtown. At first, it was cold but after a few minutes I warmed up. The walk was amazing as I would continue to pray to the Lord for his wisdom and insight to what he wanted me and my congregation to do to make a Kingdom impact on the community.
As I walked I only made three stops. My first stop was on the steps of the courthouse to pray for God’s justice, mercy, and grace through the judicial system. My second stop was on top of the Stonewall Jackson parking garage. It was a great site to pray as it was quiet, windy, and I can overlook a good part of the city. It seemed like a long time I was up there, by myself, praying over the city. The final stop was at an abandoned restaurant. Since 2015, I have felt an impulse to investigate the property. I have a prayer for the building every time I walked by it, but this time there was purpose on the possibilities on what this site could be.
I then made my journey back to my vehicle. It was on that journey that I ran into a homeless person. The guy’s clothes were in tatters, he was very timid, and when he asked for money, he just simply asked if I had any change to spare. I went and gave him a few bucks, which his reply was very shocked. He kept trying to give me back the amount, but I told him, no, to take it and maybe get something warm to drink at the few shops around. When I made it back to my vehicle, I checked the time and was out for almost an hour and a half. I believe that the more consistent I am in my prayer walk, the more clarity from the Lord, I will receive.
The third Tuesday of every month, I have a minister’s meeting where all the ministers in the area get together for some fellowship. As I was getting in my car to go to this meeting, it occurred to me that there is always a meal provided. Would there be anything that I can eat? I get to the meeting and they have a lot of great looking food. Broccoli and Cheddar Soup (Can’t eat), Salad (can eat, but with caution), garlic bread (can’t eat), cookies (Can’t eat) Cheesecake (can’t eat), and cheesecake toppings (can eat the strawberries and blueberries as they are not in a sugary syrup like the cherries).
So I get a salad and a side of fruit. During the salad, I had to combat the chunks of chicken, cheese shavings, and croutons, while I ate the lettuce, cucumbers, onions, and olives. After the meal, the topic to discuss was, “what spiritual disciplines are you participating in?” The hosting pastor knew about my fast and asked me to share my experiences. I talked about everything that I mentioned on Day 8 of my fast. Other pastors talked about vision planning, prayer journaling, and even sitting in silence. As I listen to each pastor share what discipline they are practicing I thought, “Can these other disciplines be heightened during a fast? My goal for this second week is to try a spiritual discipline and see how it goes.
My daily meals were getting low so I needed to make a trip to the grocery store. My wife made an attempt to get food for meals for me as I began my fast but when I would look at the label, I would see words like yeast extract, egg, or the big perpetrator; sugar.
My trip to the grocery store was hell. Not because it was crowded or anything bad happened. It was hell because of two things cost and trying to find items I can eat. Every item I would find that would be in the health food section or anything labeled “vegetarian” would have items that I can’t eat. I would find myself being frustrated trying to find something to eat throughout the week. By the time I got ready to check out, it was floored by the cost of everything that would barely last me a week.
I understand why so many people get frustrated when they try to eat healthy because even when something is labeled health it has “sugar” in it. The cost to eat healthy is also ridiculous. I remember an episode on the Biggest Loser where a contestant told Bob Harper that to eat health was difficult for her family when you can get a whole pizza for $5. Bob said during his aside that he cannot compete with a $5 pizza but what he can do is show the results of a healthy lifestyle. With tax reform, health care reform being hot political topics, I think we need to have food reform to make sure people can eat healthy and make it affordable.
I’m an extrovert. I thrive when I am around other people whether I am sitting in a crowded room reading a book, or having conversations with new and familiar faces. When my son has preschool, sometimes I will go to a coffee house and do work having a nice cup of coffee and soaking in the atmosphere. So when I dropped him off at school, I drove to the local Starbucks, ordered a drink, and sat down and began working. The problem? I’m not supposed to have coffee during my fast. But the troubling thing was I didn’t realize it until I had to figure out what I was going to eat when I had to take my son to the doctor. Luckily Panara had some items I can eat, so we stopped there, ate, and took my son to the doctor’s office.
I have had difficulty with fasting, due to my unhealthy relationship with food. Throughout my family history, we have been a family of emotional eaters. An emotional eater (EE) is someone who uses food as a way to comfort from any emotional distress or pain they endure. Going through a break-up? an EE will eat a tub of ice cream. Bad grade? a trip to McDonald’s is in order. I didn’t realize I was an EE until my Junior year in college where I went through a battle of depressions and ate out taco bell every night. So when I do a fast, I tend to subconsciously grab some food and eat it and it takes me a few moments to realize, “oh crap, what am I doing?” The same thing happened at Starbucks. Dropping of the kid, drive to the coffee shop, get some coffee, write up reports, read my devotional, leave the coffee shop, go to the office, leave the office, pick up kid, etc. It’s in those moments of failure, where I decide, “should I give up? I broke the fast!”
Routines are evil. I am convinced of this due to how repetition can lead to bad habits. When that bad habit has been established, it then becomes part of the routine. For those who smoke, we may assume that it is the nicotine that causes people to light up. But for some, it is part of the routine. stressed out? smoke a cigarette. 9:45? time for a smoke break. Even when one tries to quit a habit, more times than not the difficulty is not only the “good feelings” that habit gives him/her, but a routine is also a big cycle to break.
Even though I messed up with the coffee, I continued on track with the fasting for lunch and dinner. Giving up has been part of my routine, but not any longer.