The Foolishness of Sciencism

There seems to be a new term out there, which is being used in all sorts of settings, which apparently is believed by some to be the worst thing that one person can call another.  The term that I am thinking of is ‘science denier’.  It is used in politics, culture and, of course, science – as weapon of peculiar power.

If you want to get a feel for the scope of its use do a quick internet search for the term science denier.  You will see Trump, Pence and William Happer all called science deniers.  You will see at least two articles from Scientific American on how to argue against science deniers.  Dig a little deeper and you can even find articles where scientists within a particular discipline are using the term against one another.  I glanced through one in regard to grizzly bear populations.

Examining the way the term is used is interesting.  It is not being utilized scientifically at all.  In fact, it is used a bit more like a religious doctrine.  And if this is the case, the religious viewpoint that it is a doctrine of would have to be atheism.  Or perhaps some offshoot or denomination of atheism, sciencism.  After checking that term out, I discover I am not the first to use it.  The urban dictionary defines sciencism as the worldview that accepts conventional science as dogma.

I am writing this article to stave off an irritation I feel with the term ‘science denier’, but also to warn the reader off of sciencism.  Now before you fall into the most probable misunderstanding of this article, let me say that I am not asking you to disbelieve and disregard science.  The true scientist will know and appreciate peer review, opposing opinions, and open discussion.  The true scientist knows that science is always a collection of theories, and the vast majority of these are proven false, or at least replaced with more robust theories.  Think about this – Newtonian physics explained everything until Einstein came along.  And now quantum physics is overshadowing Einsteinian physics.

If sciencism is understood as a false religion it already has the hallmarks of religious thought.  It has its preachers, evangelists and institutions.  Like false religion all over the world, sciencism also has its minions. People who will wait for the next sermon or ritual for them to enthusiastically embrace.  These folks are waiting breathlessly for the next thing to come along that is scientifically proven.

Earlier I suggested that you do a quick internet search for the term ‘science denier’, let me also suggest you do a similar search for ‘science proves.’ Part of what set off this tirade was seeing a surprising number of articles in my feed beginning with the words ‘science proves.’ Here are some of the articles:

  • Science proves that gratitude is the key to well-being. (I like this one.)
  • Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them. (NBC news!)
  • Science proves greed is good. (This was Time.com.)
  • Science proves unicorns are real. (That is Good Housekeeping?)
  • Science proves pop music has gotten worse.

I’ll stop there, just to prove sometimes science does get it right.

Let be begin to wrap up with a few thoughts.  Humanity should avoid beating each other up, and part of that is not using terms which are meaningless in the big picture and only serve to silence opponents in the small picture.  We should also recognize when we are following something religiously, especially when it is unintentional, silly and not reflecting who we wish to be.

Finally we should recognize that the search for truth is important.  It’s important to all of us.  I personally believe the highest truth is beyond this physical world.  There are spiritual realities which are deeper, eternal and can never be discovered by science.  These things will be revealed to us by God Himself, and have been already both in His Word and in His Son.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NASB)

“but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”

Podcasts for Pastoral Studies

For the last couple of years, I have had a new strategy for ongoing learning.  It has been a new “secret sauce” for staying up to date and being aware of hot topics of the day.

In the course of my duties, it is not uncommon to have an hour or two of driving just to get to the location I am concerned with that day.

On these drives, I listen to podcasts.  I started with some classic books recorded as audio books which were free in that format.  From that humble start, I launched deeper into podcasts.  It became multifaceted though when I found educational, leadership and ministry podcasts.

Podcasts are a great tool, but they also have a learning curve.  So let me fast track you, as to how podcasts can be a great resource. The three points I am about to cover are: how to get the audio files delivered to you, what to listen to, and listening strategies for maximum impact.

Getting the podcast delivered to you can be done on a phone, computer, or tablet.  I used my phone so that I could listen to it in my car. This simply required downloading a free app sometimes called a pod catcher.  On my Iphone the obvious choice was Apple Podcasts.  For other phones or computers you have a multitude of options.  Remember it should be free and the podcasts should also be free, if that is not the case, keep looking.

Once you have the app, then search for the podcasts you want to listen to.  There will be millions of options so just browsing is not your best option.  You will need to search by criteria to narrow it down.  I will suggest a list later on, but when you find one, subscribe to it.  From that point out, every time they release a new podcast it will automatically show up on your phone. For my purposes I downloaded the podcasts so they were stored on my phone until I was done listening to it.  If you are going to listen where there is a great data signal, this may not be necessary.

The new podcasts will appear automatically, and after you listen to them, they will be deleted automatically.  You can either set the podcaster to download them automatically or, as I do to save space, you can pick and choose which ones to download.  Since my phone is not loud enough to always overcome road noise, and since my car doesn’t have blue tooth, I bought a simple blue tooth speaker that can sit beside me in the car.

Let me also give you some advice on which podcasts to subscribe to.  Right now I have 13 different podcasts I am subscribed to.  Five of them are now, or have been in the past, a part of the Lifeway Leadership Podcast Network.  These are pretty good and are directly related to my denomination.  My favorite ministry leadership podcast though is Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.  He only puts out new material once a month, but his quality of content eclipses all the others.

I also have 5 fiction short story podcasts.  Just like you read for both education and fun, I listen to both.  Then I have two serial fiction podcasts, which tell longer stories a little at a time, one of which – The Classic Tales Podcast  – focusses on classic literature.   The other is just a quirky fun group of serials called Decoder Ring Theatre.

Finally let me give you some advice on how and when to listen to these podcasts.  The ultimate answer is whenever it works for you, but here are some tips.  For some podcasts, it is better to look at the list of previous episodes and download an entire series at a time and then ‘binge’ listen all at once.  This is especially true of the classic literature.

Be careful of listening in heavy traffic because you will miss important stuff, either in your driving or your listening.  But I find that listening in light traffic is fine.  Podcasts keep me awake far better than music, so I will make sure that I have enough material to keep me covered for longer trips.   I will avoid listening to content that I will disagree with so strongly as to agitate my driving.  For this reason, there is not a single political podcast in my library.

There you have it.  Podcasts are a tool I use for staying up to date in ministry and more.

If this has been helpful or if you have other recommendations for a podcast worth hearing I would enjoy hearing from you.

Semantic Shaming

Those of us who lead churches are generally on the lookout for ways to reach more people.  This might mean a change of strategy as culture shifts around us.  The gospel itself is unchanging, but the ways we present it, may become ineffective and need to be adjusted to fit the times.

For example, 30 years ago every evangelism method started with some variation of ‘all have sinned’.  But today they often start with ‘God made the world’.  This change is not a change to the gospel, but it includes a detail that thirty years ago everyone assumed and therefore didn’t need to be mentioned.

Along the route of perfecting our methods, there are going to be some missteps.  One particular pattern has begun to bother me.

A few years ago, I started hearing people use the term missional.  I don’t actually mind the new word, but I am more prone to use the term mission-minded.  As of yet I have not been convinced the two are not synonymous.  However, I have been accosted by enforcers who believe that by using the older term I am proving that I am antiquated, and ineffective in kingdom work. My church gives generously to missions, prays for missionaries, sends missionaries supplies and encouraging notes, and has often gone on mission trips. Don’t tell me these things will become more empowered by describing them with a new word, or that they become ineffective simply by the use of an older term.

Not long back there was a trend to stop referring to ourselves as Christians, but rather we should describe ourselves as Christ-followers.  I have no problem with this term either. But when I introduce a person who has made a recent decision as a new Christian, please don’t act as if I am somehow perpetuating the corruption of true Christianity.

The only argument in favor of the new term that makes sense to me is that it better defines the responsibility of the Christian life.  Many people use the term Christian without any intention of obeying Christ.

Still I don’t mind the older term because I know full well that the title Christian, meaning little Christs also started off as a term noting our allegiance to the Lord.  Being totally honest, it won’t be long till people call themselves Christ-followers without any intention of obeying Christ.

Like everyone else in church leadership I want the church to be more effective.  I want the kingdom to grow and God to be glorified.  I want us to continue to search for better ways to do these things. But real ministry is going to take more than a change of vocabulary.  And the energy expended in correcting people who have not adopted the change of vocabulary would be better used in witnessing, and instruction in Biblical lifestyle and Biblical growth.

Delegation

Delegation is far more complicated than people realize.  It is often painted as the easy solution to accomplishing more and building teamwork.  But this is a very incomplete picture.

Delegation almost never removes burdens from the project leader.  Delegation often results in more time lost in instruction and oversight than doing it yourself.  And this only takes place after you have already spent time searching for the right person to delegate to. Even then you may well start over more than once after realizing you have the wrong person.

Delegation requires some degree of oversight, but too much and too little both create different problems. The two areas of problem—too much oversight and too little oversight—may overlap meaning there is no workable amount of oversight, indicating you delegated to the wrong person,.

Too much oversight means that the person who is doing the work feels oppressed, untrusted, and superfluous.  Too little oversight means that they will feel unprepared, worthless, and overburdened. A project leader may want to ignore feelings in favor of accomplishing task, but this also works contrary to God’s purposes for leadership.

Delegating a task often results in it being done differently or incompletely, so that it doesn’t accomplish its portion of the bigger project. If that part of the project is not something that can be repaired last minute, then the entire project may be compromised.

Delegating multiplies the points of necessary communication and therefore amplifies any and all communication problems.  These problems will frustrate and test the delegator more than it tests the delegatees. The delegatees will also judge the project leader to be at fault even if they themselves simply were not listening. In these ways, miscommunications will bruise the entire organization.

But don’t think that I am saying you should not delegate.  Instead I am stating that delegation should not be painted as an easy solution.  Here are some reasons you should delegate.

Delegation will eventually increase the capability of a group.  Just don’t expect this to happen too quickly.

Delegation is the primary way in which you build leaders, it is a form of mentoring. Taking people from participants, to workers, to leaders, is an important part of growing a church.

Delegation spreads out capability and therefore stabilizes a group.  If only one person knows how to do something, what happens when that person moves on?  Having others who understand the tasks being performed means the work doesn’t grind to a halt when change occurs.

Delegation improves communication.  But like weightlifting the gains are only made if you can tolerate some soreness along the way.

When delegation is working right it will create strong teams.  When delegation is working right it will greatly increase productivity.

And finally, when delegation is working smoothly, and a strong, capable team has been created, it is probably time to change things up and return to the chaos.  (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)  You simply cannot stand still in an ever-changing world. Stagnation will cause you to fall behind.  Furthermore, since God is more interested in people than in tasks, He will likely move your capable team members on to greater challenges.

10 Easy Ways to Help Your Church

Every now and then I have a conversation with a member or attender of the church that essentially is saying, ‘I wish I could do more.’ Often people feel their contributions are hindered by some circumstance which prevents them from spending time or money benefiting the church. Responding to this need, let me give you a list of 10 ways you can do more for your church on a very limited budget of time and absolutely no money.

  • Boost your church on social media. Most specifically, like your church’s Facebook page. The more likes the page has the more credibility a prospect will feel when they check out the church on Facebook.  Similarly, talk about your church on Facebook, and tag it when you do by using the name of the church’s Facebook page.
  • Rate your church positively on Facebook. Again you give your church credibility by doing this. Online ratings are getting more important every day.
  • Every time you attend any event at the church, do a Facebook check in. Not only do you give the church more credibility, but check in’s also help with the extremely important Facebook algorithms which shape what pages show up when people search for churches.  The likes, tags, and ratings mentioned above will also help.
  • Find your church on Google maps and rate the church there as well. Google’s algorithms are even more important than Facebook’s.  You can also help by searching for your church on Google and linking to their site from Google.  Never go straight to your church’s web page, but search for it on Google and then follow that link to the church website.
  • Join Yelp and comparable sites that rate local businesses. Then rate your church positively on these sites.
  • Not just when you are at church, but also when you are at church.  A smiling congregation is obviously preferred over one that has any other facial expression.
  • Sing during the congregational singing. Learn to sing with gusto and allow yourself to enjoy it. Nothing expresses the sincerity of a church’s worship more than the enthusiasm of its singing.
  • Speak to people whom you do not yet know. Some of these will be members you just haven’t met yet.  Others will be prospects who will be relieved that someone at the church noticed them and acknowledged them.
  • Be respectful and clean up after yourself. Wipe down the sinks after you use them. Don’t leave bulletins and fliers on the pew.  Put your empty coffee cups in the trash. Do all these things because a messy church can never leave a positive impression, but also do these things because not doing them shows that you don’t care about the church.
  • Attend more events at church. The more people that are at an event, the more likely visitors will perceive it positively. If you are only involved in Sunday worship, perhaps add a Bible study, or a monthly fellowship. As people attend events the church is better able to offer them.

It is not a coincidence that the first five suggestions have to do with technology and more than half of those involve Facebook.  It is quite understandable that people look for a church via technology, most specifically social media.

It is also not a coincidence that the last five suggestions are all about how your individual behavior affects others.  Colossians 4:5 (NASB) says “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.”

Balancing Simplicity and Empowerment

Leading a church requires delicate balance.  One often must work a fine line in between two equally worthy ideas, which are oppositional to one another.  I suspect you need an example, because you are already wondering how two oppositional ideas can both be worthy ideas.  The topic of this article is one such example.

One of the principles I choose to emphasize in my church is empowerment.  I believe any church member might be led by God to start a new ministry.  If they are committed to this ministry they can approach the church with a workable plan and gain approval to form this ministry with the blessing and support of our church.

On the other side of the coin is the simple church principle.  This is the idea that if the church is too busy doing a diverse collection of ministries they will soon not be doing any of them well.  Instead of all the different ministries making disciples they will be competing for the limited resources, money and workers, the church has to offer.  Instead a simple church will have one path of discipleship, one process of disciple making, one plan for turning out disciples.

I believe in empowerment. If God did not want to put every member of the church to work, why gift every member with different abilities and passions?

I also believe that if the devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy.  The church that is exhausted will not be nurturing maturity.  Burnout is a poor substitute for discipleship.

Somewhere in between these two poles is the path that God want’s the individual church to take.

Net Neutrality

One of the more obtuse political footballs this winter has been “net neutrality.”  Whatever that is.

The general idea intrigued me, so I attempted to do a little bit of research about it.  First thing I note is that it’s hard to find arguments in favor of removing net neutrality.  The second thing I note is that the arguments in opposition to removing net neutrality made no real sense.

Here are some examples.

A man says he came to America from a country in South America, and when he lived there he had to pay before he was allowed to tweet and he was protesting to avoid that happening here. 

Does he not pay for his internet access here in America?  I pay for a cellular data plan on my phone, I pay again to have internet at home and again at my office. The only way I tweet for free is if I find a public wifi, in which case someone else is paying for the connection, but that is not the same thing as it being free.

A common illustration is that net neutrality prevented people, and corporations from creating fast lanes which get all the service while everyone else is crowded into slow lanes.

I pay extra for fast internet at my house.  I used to pay a little less and eventually decided to upgrade hoping the speed would make life easier.  Companies pay according to the amount of bandwidth and speed they want.  I started this plan long before net neutrality was repealed, and it has always the case that better service costs more.

Another argument is that large corporations will be able to force out smaller businesses by controlling how others access them on the net. 

I have a friend who had a profitable small business.  He was proud of the fact that in the narrow market that he served he would show up on the first page of most search engines. Then suddenly, he stopped showing up at all, and he stopped getting new orders.  He learned that google had caused this calamity by changing their ranking algorithm.  There was nothing he could do about it quick enough to save his business. This also happened before net neutrality was repealed.

 

I think the people who were against repealing net neutrality would probably call me an ignoramus and say that I just don’t get it. I would ask if they are sure they get it.  If they do get it, why have they not found a way to express the problem in something other than the above non-sensical arguments.

I think the real problem is that we have become a nation of near sighted sheep who are too easily led. The right spin can rally people to a cause and they don’t have to understand the issue.  These citizens will act as instructed, simply because of their blind allegiance to political parties, news outlets, and social media.

The Gift of Leadership

Leadership is important in every situation.

When the general yells, “Charge!” the soldiers had better run forward ready for battle.

When the CEO says, “We need a software update.” the engineers will begin brainstorming ideas for the next version.

When the Pastor says, “We need to add more Bible study classes.” the church can expect to discuss and may or may not decide what to do about a deficiency in the Bible study hour.

All three of these are leadership, but did you notice how different they are?  One is dictatorial, barking orders that will be followed instantly and without question. Another recognizes a need but unleashes others to work out all the details only maintaining loose oversight. The last one points out a problem, allows others to discuss and decide what do even if the decision is not what he was hoping for.

The point of this exercise is to help remind us that different styles of leadership are appropriate in different situations. If a surgeon ever wants to operate on you and promises to handle the surgical staff democratically, find a new doctor.  Why? Because if a vein is nicked you don’t want him calling for discussion or forming a committee to study it. You want him to fix it. Immediately, before you bleed to death.  You want your surgeon to be dictator.

On the other side of the coin if you are in a volunteer position and someone in the group, leader or one of the other volunteers, is ordering everyone around and refuses to discuss anything, you can expect the volunteers to thin out.  Quickly.  Volunteers almost always want to have a voice in their work, and not just have orders barked at them.  In other words, volunteers want their leaders to be teambuilders.

When it comes to the church, you are working with volunteers.  In a Baptist church it probably has a member empowering, congregational method of carrying out decision making.  Leadership in a situation like that requires learning a different skill set than leadership in business, in the military, or in academia.

In church leadership, the goal should not be getting the church to do what you want.  Instead in some cases it will be, helping the church see what the Lord wants and enabling them to follow Him.  In other cases, it isn’t obvious what best serves the Lord.  For example, maintenance and upgrade issues of the buildings, equipment and even the programs will likely not be addressed by Scripture. In these cases, the church leader should help the church see what it wants and enable them to accomplish it.

It is more important to have unity in the group than to have things done any certain way.  In fact, it more important to have unity in the group than to have things done the best way.  It is better to be unified with problems than to be broken apart and ‘perfect’.  It is better to be thriving and chaotic than to be well oiled machine that is losing membership left and right.

This makes church leadership frustrating for people who have lead in other arenas successfully.  Nevertheless, if they can adjust their style of leadership sufficiently, a person with the gift of leadership can be one of the greatest assets a church has.

Bridge Building in the Church

I often feel a stress about how infrequently I am blogging right now.  However, a couple of years ago I began to feel called to administrate a men’s retreat for affiliated churches in my area.  This has been where all my extra energy has been going. 

Today I have something on my mind in relation to church politics.  So, I am preparing to discuss it under my ‘Politics Monday’ category. 

One of the strongest choices a church can make is to find ways to build bridges to the community.

But what exactly does that mean? Simply put, it is finding ways to connect with people who do not have a church, and possibly would not normally consider setting foot on church grounds. If a congregation’s only chance to evangelize is to witness to those folks who happen to visit, they will be missing the entire point of the great commission.

When people talk about bridge building they will often center on whether an outreach event is on the grounds of the church or not.  And this does have a point to it. A lot of the people we should most want to reach would never attend an event on the church grounds.  Not in the fellowship hall, not in the parking lot and absolutely not in the sanctuary. But some will.

Those who would be willing to visit an outreach on the church grounds might well be the low hanging fruit of the great commission, but low hanging fruit needs to be picked too. For this reason, I am not in agreement with those who assert genuine outreach and evangelism cannot take place on church grounds.

However, doing events off the church grounds has tremendous value. Not only will you have a chance to meet people who you will not meet on the grounds, but you will also see the church’s faith stretched and the community’s hearts opened. The church that is seen by community involved people as also being community involved will be their most likely place to land. Furthermore, If you are always standing on the safe ground, were exactly is the faith in that?

But before you dismiss me as being a Pollyanna let me explain that both claims have another side.  When you see into the hearts of the community you might well have that tattooed biker chick who wears her pierced earrings everywhere except her ears dropping in on the senior ladies sewing circle.  It might mean having a perfectly normal looking teen boy bring his boyfriend on his first visit.

This is about the time when you begin to find that a congregation’s faith can crack or break when it is stretched too far too fast.

I suspect to many people it sounds a little bit like compromising with the world.  To others it sounds like polluting the purity of the church with the effluence of unregenerate souls.

So, bridge building is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, no part of faithful Christianity is. Real people have real problems and sometimes we get too accustomed to our view of the church as a trouble-free zone.  But it was real people for whom Christ died.  People with fears; people with flaws.  People like you and me.

The Pastor I Want to Be

This morning I came across Philippians 2:19-30, and came to see it as an example of the type of pastor I wish I was and should strive to be.

In these verses, Paul speaks of Timothy and Epaphroditus and the encouragement they have been to him. Before looking at what he said about these two men let’s remember the situation Paul was in as he wrote these things.

They encouraged him in ministry. Only those who are well outside the loop believe ministry is an easy course. These men encouraged him in his imprisonment. Paul had been imprisoned for the gospel, in a world where prisons were especially brutal. They encouraged him as he faced the likelihood of execution. Paul speaks of his survival as a fifty-fifty shot.

This is the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul wanted the Philippians to experience the encouragement of these men so much that he was willing to send them, rather than to keep them close, serving himself.

So what does Paul say about these men?

First thing I notice is that Timothy is described of having the interest of others, from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

The opposite of this is to seek your own interests.  This is a constant challenge for a pastor or minister of any type. Just yesterday I sat with a missionary who spoke of the difficulty of speaking on God’s behalf without allowing the message to decompose into personal tirades at the people we love, because of our private, and often frustrating, knowledge of their sins.

Another challenge of seeking the interests of your congregation is that they don’t really know what is in their own best interest.  They too have a way of making their self-interests selfish instead of Christ-centered. So, in order to avoid telling people what they want to hear, you have to temper your message constantly with a deep connection to Christ.  This is the only way that you will know His best interests for your hearers.

The last thing I want to mention about this maintaining the interests of those you serve, is that it helps to have a support system outside of the circle of your own congregation.  Often others can see things in us we have carefully hidden from ourselves.  An honest friend will tell you what you need to hear to allow you the opportunity to improve. Every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Second, Paul speaks of Timothy as a person of proven character.

Proving anything takes time. Proving character takes a lifetime. Timothy was not spoken of as someone whom Paul just met and had a good feeling about, but instead as someone that had served alongside Paul for an extended time.

Proving leadership has a trait in it that many people miss.  One of the ways that you become a good leader is by being a good follower. Paul’s leadership over Timothy helped bring out Timothy’s abilities in that area. Leaders who cannot follow, at least in my opinion, also cannot lead. Remember job one for any leader is to follow Christ.

Character is not weighed on scales, so that as long as more half their characteristics are good, they are a good men. Character is not a litmus test, meaning that when a strong majority of their characteristics are pure they are a good person.  Character is on the gold standard.  If it is not 100% pure then it is still in need of refinement. All of us are still in the process, but don’t use that as an excuse to change out to any other standard than Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a man who was willing to sacrifice all.

The first sacrifice was being willing to live broken-hearted for the people he served.  The passage describes it as longing for the Philippians, and indeed, leaving behind those you love is one sacrifice most face in ministry.  But the sacrifice of a broken heart comes in many other ways too. Everything from watching people drown in their sin to burying your beloved members break your heart.

He also was willing to walk the line of public scrutiny and shame.  I say this because prisons in that time and place were difficult to survive. Paul most likely would not have made it through if Epaphroditus was not bringing him food, water, medicines and encouragement.  But bringing these things to Paul meant he was willingly associating himself with the crimes the Roman overlords assumed Paul was guilty of.

Finally, Epaphroditus almost died from illness while performing these ministries. This was the context in which Paul said we should hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem. Are we as willing to risk everything for the gospel?  We live in such comfort today that it is hard to tell. But if you are not willing to make the many smaller sacrifices included in ministry, you are not training yourself to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if, or maybe when, the time comes.