Archive for the 'Understanding Context' Category

Change!?!, Community, Understanding Context

Guest Post — Ramblings of a Pastor

One of my pleasures, which I wish I had more time for, is reading the writings of pastors in their church newsletter. Sometimes, each pastor comes-up with a real gem that I think needs a larger audience than just their local church. The following comes from Pastor Don Shankster, of the Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Don is a bit closer to retirement than most of us. Yet, his life experiences can teach many of us things that we may not have had time to learn on our own. The following is one good lesson on dealing with “CHANGE”. Jeff

Ramblings of a Pastor

I have become a bit of a snob with my taste buds. After more than eight years of enjoying whole wheat breads, I am on alert in many restaurants that do not offer whole wheat (which is deemed healthier for you). I enjoy buckwheat pancakes on a regular basis, especially loaded with blueberries. Even Denny’s restaurants have upgraded to offering whole wheat pancakes with the extra “texture” that whole grains provide.

Recently I stopped at “The Place” in Flagstaff for breakfast. When I questioned the server on the availability of whole wheat in their menu she said, “Oh no, we don’t have anything ‘healthy’ on our menu here.” Denny’s has made the change, but The Place has not.

I do not like change. But my eating habits have changed as I learn what is better for me and as I begin to appreciate the healthier choices. My body is changing, not able to perform like it did ten years ago let alone twenty or thirty. I can throw all the tantrums I want to about going paperless in my banking, but the world is well on its way in that direction with or without me.

We serve a God we claim to be changeless, but one who looks for change in our hearts and actions. When God created the human body, it was made to go through changes. The earth is constantly changing with wind and water and pressure. Some natural landmarks like arches eventually fall down and change the landscape through freezing and thawing and erosion.

Faith that keeps us looking to God is also in flux. Our faith may be strengthening or weakening depending on our attention to it or the particular situation we find ourselves in. For our church to be relevant in this world, it, too, must change. Culture, media, social connections are all changing rapidly around us. A generation that has grown up with iPods and Facebook does not understand the vocabulary of the typewriter age. This new generation is more comfortable in public places with many options than in “sanctuaries” with limited offerings.

For a church these changes can be daunting. But underneath the façade of different music styles, seating arrangements, or media use are people still needing to belong, still looking for someone to care, still seeking to be loved. Our human form may change on the outside, but our needs remain constant on the inside. As God told Samuel when he went to anoint a new king, “Do not judge by his appearance or height (surface characteristics) … The Lord does not see as mortals see. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) And, remember, the apostle Paul went to marketplaces to share the Good News.

Yes, I need to change to stay connected in this world. In the midst of this change the core interest to God does not change. Trying to be more diligent in searching the hearts of those around me, while working with the changes around me, Pastor Don

Spiritual Formation, Understanding Context

Black Evangelicals, White Evangelicals, and Franklin Graham

I was deeply touched today by an article that was sent to by SOJOMail (3/2/12), a ministry of Sojourners. I think this is a very powerful commentary on cultural differences and perspectives of our Christian faith. Jeff

GUEST COMMENTARY by Lisa Sharon Harper

When Franklin Graham expressed doubts about President Obama’s Christian faith during an interview on Morning Joe last week, it reminded me of an uncomfortable dinner I had in the late ‘90s.

I sat down for a pleasant meal in the home of two great friends — one of them a white evangelical faith leader deeply committed to social justice. Well into the evening’s conversation — when we’d dropped all our pretenses and our exchanges moved well past mealtime niceties — one friend asked me something that caught me entirely off guard.

“Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian?” he said.

I was dumbstruck. I had never heard anyone actually ask that question before.

“Yes,” I replied. “What would make you doubt that?”

As he explained, it became clear: My friend wasn’t sure whether Dr. King was a Christian because King’s Christianity didn’t look like my friend’s Christianity.

Dr. King valued justice. My friend valued justice.

King professed personal faith in Jesus. My friend professed personal faith in Jesus.

And yet my friend still was hung up about King’s faith because, to his eye, King didn’t seem interested in “evangelism” as my friend defined it — i.e. the practice of calling sinners into personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross is payment for our sins.

Twentieth-century white evangelical understanding of the Gospel guided (and in many ways defined) my friend’s Christian walk. Therein lies the disconnect between his Christian faith and Dr. King’s.

According to sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (authors of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America), only one thing separates white and black evangelicals, but it makes all the difference in the world: Vastly different experiences of structural and systemic oppression.

Black evangelicals have a long history of interaction with oppressive systems and structures. When African Americans read the Bible, they see the more than 2,000 passages of scripture about God’s hatred for poverty and oppression. They see God’s desire for systems and structures to be blessings to all of humanity — not a curse to some and a blessing for others.

And they see Jesus’ own declaration that he had come to preach good news to the poor, which, by the way, is decidedly not a reference to the “spiritually impoverished.” Jesus meant that he had come to preach good news (of liberation, freedom, and new life) to people trapped in material poverty.

White evangelicals generally do not experience such systemic oppression. According to Emerson and Smith, most white evangelicals don’t prioritize or even see the thousands of references in the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament about structural and systemic injustice.

Accordingly, the Gospel — and by extension their evangelism — is about only one thing: Personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for their sins, and a personal relationship with him.

Black evangelicals also have personal faith that Jesus’ death paid for their sins, but their Gospel doesn’t end with personal (and individual) salvation. For Dr. King and Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. John Perkins and Nelson Mandela and for hundreds of thousands of Black Christians around the world and for me, the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were for the redemption of both individual souls and the redemption of whole societies.

Franklin Graham’s father, Dr. Billy Graham, didn’t always understand this, either. The elder Graham’s revivals began as segregated affairs, but the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) agitated his conscience and he quickly course corrected. From that point on, Billy Graham never again held a segregated revival.
What’s more, in 1957 Dr. Graham invited Dr. King, to share his pulpit for a 16-week revival in New York City.

For Billy Graham, Martin King was a Christian.

In the last decade or so, a new generation of white evangelicals — such as my friends Shane Claiborne, Kelly Moltzen, Josh Harper, and others — have intentionally displaced themselves, moving into impoverished communities of color in order to gain the experience their parents and grandparents lacked. As a result, their white evangelical eyes are open.

They see those 2,000 scriptures about poverty and injustice. And this new generation of white evangelicals is committed to fight systemic and structural justice because of the Gospel.

So, it grieved me to hear Franklin Graham’s doubt-filled commentary on President Obama’s faith.

Obama has described in his own words (and quite publicly) how he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, how as a young community organizer in Chicago in the late ‘80s he walked down the aisle of a church during an altar call to make a public profession of that faith — a practice developed by one of the greatest American evangelists of all time, Charles Finney.

The president has clearly professed his belief that Jesus died on the cross as payment for his sins. And Obama repeatedly invokes the words of Jesus that guide his world view: “Just as you did to the least of these, you did to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

For a moment, Franklin Graham’s cynicism tested my own faith. I wondered if he had any idea that, when he questioned the president’s faith, it felt as if he were questioning my faith.

I wanted to know if the transformational power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is powerful enough to save our souls also could open Franklin’s eyes and soften his heart to the world and experience of his black brothers and sisters.
Repentance is sweet, not only for the sinner, but also for the world. It reminds us all of what is right; what is good; what is true. Franklin Graham apologized for his comments and repented this week.

This public discussion is now a lesson for us all. I have an abiding hope that, just maybe, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is powerful enough even to save the church.

Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat.

Ministry Formation, Third Places, Understanding Context

Changing World, Future Church, Ancient Paths

The Church of the Brethren and Urban Express North American are co-sponsoring a webcast with Stuart Murray and Juliet Kilpin in collaboration with Pacific Conference Brethren in Christ, Pacific Southwest District Church of the Brethren and Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference USA. It will be held March 10, 2012, from 10 am to 4 pm PST.

Stuart Murray Williams and Juliet Kilpin will be presenting on what does it mean to follow Jesus in a changing culture, in which the Christian story is no longer familiar and the church is on the margins? Post-Christendom is well advanced in most western societies and this is the emerging reality in the US too. How do we respond to the challenges and seize the opportunities? What role does church planting play as we search for relevant ways of being church in this emerging culture? And what can the Anabaptist tradition offer –- a tradition with centuries of experience on the margins in which many are finding inspiration and fresh perspectives?

Stuart Murray has spoken at previous Church of the Brethren events and has written The Naked Anabaptist and Post-Christendom.

The cost is $35 for the webcast and this includes CEU credit.

For more information or registration go to this link.

Books / Readings, Change!?!, Community, Leadership, Missional, Understanding Context

Happy New Year or Happy Crisis Year?

I’m reading a book for my Doctor of Ministry program called, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Howe (Broadway Press, 1997). The authors of this book predict that we’re about to enter a time of extreme crisis, like the world last experienced in World War II. It does this by introducing us to the idea that history is cyclical, with four seasons of life within every 100 years or so. They trace this back to Roman times and call it the Roman Saeculum. Within each of the four seasons, a generation of people are born who experience through the same lenses, attitudes, or points of view.

The first season, or period of time is called the “High”. The major world crisis is over and the future is bright. This has been achieved by a united group of people working against the crisis. “Prophets” are born during the “High”. For our time, this is the Boomer generation.

This season last existed between 1946 and 1960. During this period, our nation rose to become a global super power and the middle class grew tremendously. Society was united, didn’t question authority and was very modernist.

The second season of the saeculum is a time of “Awakening”, or spiritual introspection. Here, it is more important to explore the inner world than the outer world. People start to defy institutions, leaders or culture which helped win victory during the Crisis. Nomads are born during this season and our represented by the Gen X.

The last “Awakening” occurred from 1964 to 1984. It began with campus riots, Viet Nam war protests and a rebellious counter-culture. (Remember the ‘hippies’?) It gave way to more violent crime, family break-ups, and many ‘movements’ which eroded the unity of our nation.

The next season is called a time of “Unraveling”. People have lost their unity. Personal satisfaction is high because, “it’s all about me.” There is great personal expression and personal fulfillment. All the flaws of institutions are exposed and not much gets accomplished by society as a whole. Hero’s are born during this season are are the Millennials in our life time.

The authors date the latest Unraveling from 1985 to perhaps 2005. Society continued to fracture and individualism grew. Mistrust of institutions continued to grow and leaders are constantly questioned and criticized rather than being respected.

The last season of the saeculum is call “Crisis”. This is often a time of world war or other type of major conflagration – everything is a mess. The generation born in this season are called “Artists”.

This book was written in 1997. But in the mid to latter part of this past decade the authors predict that the world will fall back into some type of major crisis. Though no major world war appears to be on the horizon, the world is definitely struggling through financial crises.

So, if we are entering a “Fourth Turning”, or time of “Crisis”, what are some of the implications for the church? How might this impact local congregations, denominations in this country, as well as the church globally?

One way is financial. Few churches have been holding their own financially or growing in resources over they last three years. They often mirror the financial conditions of the community. However, there are upsides to financial problems. They can cause a congregation to rethink its purpose and mission. Congregations who are more vision-driven may pause to seek and discern from God what it should be about during this financially-challenging time. This refocusing effort, if it is based upon the values of the members, can strengthen their commitment and faithfulness to achieve what their vision of God’s calling is.

One result of the “Unraveling” might be the reason why people lost their sense of unity in and responsibility to the denomination and instead see the flaws of the institution. Many congregations now prefer to give to local mission endeavors vs. sending their money away to the denominational headquarters.

For the established church to survive the Fourth Turning (or season of Crisis), locally, denominationally or globally, it will need to refocus its vision and be focused on how to meet the needs of those around it. Over the past thirty years, there has been a big shift from congregations existing to meet the needs members and supporting the denomination, to churches who are equipping members for ministry and sending them out locally to meet community needs. Today, people want to be a part of an organization that’s making a difference they can see. They desire to support change that helps the lives of others or improves their community. Thus larger bodies, denominations, or communions need to help the local congregation with resources which will help them achieve greater success in their local ministry efforts.

Has anyone else read or heard of this book? What are your thoughts for the season or time period we’re entering? How do you think it affects the church?

Change!?!, Understanding Context, Worship


Veritas is planning on having our first “Love Feast” (I really don’t like the name….seems like a throwback to the Sixties, or honestly the name of a 70’s Porn Movie) on Sunday October 11. As I began to plan the gathering I sent out a preliminary gathering plan to our Core Group for feedback and their thoughts. This has turned into an e-mail conversation focusing around the feetwashing part of the gathering. I thought I would post some of the thoughts of the Core Group, and get your feedback. What do you do with Feetwashing? Do you do it, do you offer another way of serving each other (handwashing), do you find a modern equivalent, do you forgo the feetwashing altogether? Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Here are the comments from my Core Group:

Do we have to wash feet/get our feet washed? I get the whole Jesus got dirty in connecting with us and we need to be ready and willing to get dirty too- and I def think I do that with people (in the mental/emotional/spiritual sense); but is there any alternative for people who don’t want to do that?

am I just being weird over nothing? Totally not trying to be a party pooper….

To all,

Carmella brought up the same concerns I struggled with about this tradition. Below is my experience

I have been involved in the brethren faith for 5 years and until about a year ago never even considered going the twice annual service where foot washing is performed.

A) I was grossed out
B) I was embarrassed
C) I was cool with washing someone elses feet but didn’t want anyone to do mine.

A. It wasn’t anything gross. A basin is filled with a very mild bleach water solution. The washee placed his feet into or on the edge of the basin and you cupped your hands and poured water over the feet. you then took a towel and dried them.
B. While I was nervous my feet would somehow ruin the entire event my foot washing went just like everyone else. No one singled my tootsies out for ridicule 🙂
C. Willingness to humble myself but refuse to let someone humble themselves before me defeats to whole point of the tradition.

It’s funny I remember the last hour or two before the service being really freaked out and now I’m just meh.

The service was moving and I understand why it is a tradition is some denominations. It will never be my “favorite” service but I hope everyone will try it once and then we as a community can discuss it further. I do believe that in experiencing it you will find something of significant worth.



I grew up in a church that regularly did feetwashing and i still don’t like it. Frankly, I have trouble seeing the point. Jesus showed hospitality by caring for his guests who had traveled to be with him. It was especially shocking that a rabbi would do something normally done by a servant. So do we do exactly as Jesus did even though we live in a different culture? Or do we show hospitality in a way that people would be shocked at our humility?
And regarding hospitality, I think we need to turn around our definition to truly understand the concept. In many cultures, hospitality means that you recognize your visitor as someone sent from God with a message or gift for you and you are blessed to have that person visit you. How would we treat people that God sends to us? Would you tell them to take off their shoes so you can wash their feet if that is uncomfortable for them?
I do love the Love Feast idea and if we do the feetwashing thing I’ll do it while gritting my teeth.


Just to throw out a different point of view… For me, the footwashing service has always been the most meaningful service. I don’t think it’s as much about hospitality as service. It’s about humbling myself to someone else in the same way that Christ did, as well as allowing someone else to serve me, which in our culture I think is the harder part. I’m not sure there is a modern day equivalent. It certainly isn’t about forcing someone to do something that is uncomfortable for them, and I would assume that anyone that wouldn’t want to do it could just “pass”.


I grew up with this practice and so I can understand how some people would find it meaningful. I might even find it meaningful if I were with others from my same church tradition and who I knew were comfortable with the practice.

But when I think about some of my neighbors or friends coming and being confronted with this practice, I can almost imagine their aversion to it.
And this makes me uncomfortable. If we do foot washing together but fail to communicate the message of servanthood/hospitality what is the point?
Are we then just serving ourselves? Would those who find this a new
practice really understand what we are trying to do? If we really want
to show service and hosipitality to others and one another, how do we best
communicate that to our current culture? Foot washing was as common and
normal to those of Jesus’ day as going out for coffee is for us. We don’t have servants so much these days so it makes it hard for us to understand and feel the impact of what Jesus really did. I think it’s important for us to find a way in our current culture to show each other love and service in a way that’s completely understood and impacts people.



So as you can see we have a very thoughtful team and one that is concerned about the “other” and those who aren’t yet Christ followers. They are aware of contextualization and understanding culture. They have great insight. I don’t want to do something just because that is what we do, or because we are Brethren. What are your suggestions regarding Feetwashing? Any and all thoughts would be helpful.

Ryan Braught

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