What Is Normal?

What Is Normal?

(I came across this post while looking for something else. I wrote this in 2007, and I was probably giving “The Word” a fresh listen while getting ready to teach on Ezekiel. Although a lot has changed about me since the days when I wrote it, this still resonated with me.)

Reluctant ride in the middle of the belly of a whale
A wheel on fire in the middle of the sky
Abandoned baby kicking on the side of the road
And a wife has died but you’re denied the right to cry.

[“The Prophet”, The Word, Michael Card]

There is something attractive about the concept of being “normal.” There is a certain security that comes from fitting in and being a part of the accepted. When we find ourselves as “normal,” there is a certain reassurance that it is okay to be who you are, to do what you do.

And then we encounter the prophets. Here were a group of people who operated according to an entirely different set of rules. They lived their lives to the beat of different drummers. At every turn of their lives, people told them that they had no right to say what they said. They were criticized and often tortured for being unusual, being abnormal.

Once I heard someone preach in a chapel service about “the normal Christian life” and one of my students came up to me and asked, “What is normal?” That moment stuck in my head. Is normal really normal? And who decides what normal is anyway?

The Bible is filled with abnormal people. In fact there seems to be a disproportionate number of weirdos in there. Whether it is Elijah wandering around the desert being fed by ravens or Simon Peter seeing visions of sails with animals on it and hearing God talk to him or John the Beloved seeing angels with candlesticks and women clothed in the sun, there are some freaks who contributed to the inspired Word of God.

They were not normal. In fact, they would not be welcomed in most churches – even the wacko, progressive, emerging ones. These guys were cracked.

All of this is for a reason – and not just to prove that acting insane is Biblical. The reality is that God uses diverse people and methods. There is no such thing as a normal Christian or a normal church because God makes us all unique. Our wonderful mishmash of gifts and abilities was God’s idea.

Embracing diversity is a way of embracing a God who is big – REALLY BIG. He is SO big that he transcends our stereotypes, and I mean our stereotypes of each other and of him. We’re really all abnormal, because God is the biggest weirdo of us all. We are diverse because God himself created diversity so we could experience the full spectrum of everything he created for us.

Don’t Give In, part 5

Don’t Give In, part 5

Just Be Cool.

Nothing is less cool than making people conform to something they did not think of themselves. They’re going to respond much better to a form of pastoring that starts with what they want and then builds around them. What is really cool is that we focus more on appearances and feelings. That is cool. Cool is determined by what the people want – what the majority of people expect.

What’s not cool?

  • The Bible, except as something quotable
  • Reverent language
  • Expecting people to think for themselves

What’s cool?

  • Light shows
  • faux hawks and soul patches
  • Feel-good, predictable sermons

It is much cooler to appeal to the lowest common denominator and treat it as exceptional than it is to call people to standards that would clearly require discipline and involvement. It’s simply not possible to be too cool, right? I mean, you don’t wind up looking like an idiot when your objective is coolness, right?

Yep. That sounds good.

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

 

Don’t Give In, part 4

Don’t Give In, part 4

Can we really know anything anyway?

If you listen to what many mainstream scholars are saying, everything about Jesus’ life and ministry is kinda up for grabs. We don’t know that he did stuff or said stuff, and most of Paul’s letters are either misunderstood or not written by him anyway. So, the gospel should really about felt needs and the wants of people.

If that’s the case, then what is really important in ministry is that you make people feel as if they have accomplished something by being “in church”. Ministry is all about adding value and purpose to people’s lives.

Feel People’s Desire for Importance

Stop requiring righteousness or expecting Biblical literacy – redefine what it means to be a follower of Christ in “practical” terms and you will give people a goal that they can not only shoot for, but can accomplish with minimal investment from them

That couldn’t possibly backfire on you, could it? It’s not like people will constantly want more affirmation or expect compromising more and more of my deeply held convictions. They won’t become the all-consuming me-monsters of your universe, will they?

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

Don’t Give In, part 3

Don’t Give In, part 3

There’s no money in real ministry

Sure, you might have the assurance that you are striving to understand the ancient text of the Scriptures and present it to folks so the Spirit of God can use it to transform their lives – but is that skill that will pay the bill?

I mean, do you really want to go through life with just enough to meet your needs? Don’t you want to see the green?

Why should you waste your time on all that stuff that will require you to conform to the Scriptures when you could be making money by giving people what they want? You could have staff people to do all the work for you.

Doesn’t that sound better than all that work studying and being honest will require?

In the end, what is important is you. You work hard. You deserve to get paid. Star athletes get paid. CEO’s get paid. You’re the pastor. You’re like a Heisman winner and a baron of business all wrapped into one. Get the payday you deserve, you superstar of a minister, you!

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

Don’t Give In , part 2

Don’t Give In , part 2

Might as well give people what they want.

Sure.

Most people are bored in most churches.

But if they are going to a traditional, predictable church then at least they know they can depend on the pastor to show up at their house routinely and any time they want to just talk and talk, they can always set up an appointment and he has to listen with a concerned face.

And if they don’t want that kind of church, they can always go find a rock show with a little message at the end that passes for a worship service in some of the newer churches. They can move through life anonymously without any genuine spiritual growth but still tell people that they got a lot out of the worship service.

Who wants someone to challenge them at every turn? And think of all the time you will have on my hands if you don’t have to do all that studying the Scriptures and working in ancient languages?

In fact, you can get plenty of ready-made sermons online. After all, if it is good enough to be preached by some pastor somewhere else, it should be effective in my congregation as well, right?

So, find out what people want from you and just give it to them. It will make everyone a whole lot happier. And in the end, isn’t that what ministry is all about?

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

Don’t Give In, part 1

Don’t Give In, part 1

For years, I have tried to challenge the status quo and call people to do the difficult work of truly living according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I have decided there is really no point to it. I have faced too many challenges and resistance, so I have decided to just put my pastoring gig into autopilot. Why?

Well, it works on airplanes, doesn’t it? 

I mean once the pilot gets the plane in the air, he slaps on autopilot and just hangs out with his copilot, right? I have heard that on most flights over about four or five hours, the pilot is generally sleeping anyway. On an average day, air traffic controllers handle over 28,000 flights every day. How many of them crash? That’s right – NONE. Since 2001, there have been five crashes involving commercial planes. FIVE. See, autopilot works great.

Why shouldn’t it work with pastoring? Leading a church isn’t nearly as complicated as flying a commercial plane, right? And the average commercial airliner has more people on it than will hear the average sermon.

So if an autopilot can handle an airliner, why can’t we put the church in autopilot as well?

[This post, and all in this series, are satirical hyperbole. That means I am making a point by exaggerating the opposite point.]

My Advice to Future Pastors

My Advice to Future Pastors

I am in my tenth year as a solo pastor. In that time, I have led our congregation through a lot of changes. Our first Sunday together, I candidated for a down and out congregation that had just moved into a newly renovated space. They had already offered the pastorate to someone else, who had decided God wanted him on the mission field instead. I was their second choice. That was August, 2004. In November of that year, the congregation called me to be their pastor.

Five years later, with our lease expiring and our funds dwindling, God led us to another congregation and I was privileged to help lead the two congregations in a merger that resulted in Bedford Road Baptist Church. That process took over 18 months from beginning to end.

Now, after nearly ten years, I finally feel like I have something to give to the next generation of pastors – in the form of a single piece of advice.

If you can live without doing this job, do something else.

I say this in all seriousness and without the slightest reservation.

If you can do something else, do it. The pastorate is not something you do because you think it will be neat or a challenge. It is something you do because there is a fire burning deep inside your gut and God won’t let you do anything else.

Look, I am a pastor’s kid. I know just how much being married to a pastor or having a pastor as a dad sucks.

As a pastor, you will put your family through more garbage than you would ever wish on anyone else. You will have bouts of depression and frustration. You will have days of complete exhaustion. Sometimes, you will cry for no reason other than the disparity between the way you thought your life would go and the way it has.

Make no mistake about it.

You have to be called into this gig.

If you can do anything else, do it. If you can be anywhere else, be there. If there is someone else, then let them do it.

Being a pastor is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is tiring. It is frustrating. It is painful. It is trying. It is brutal. It is emotional.

And I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because God dragged me kicking and screaming into this gig – so I know it is His work, not mine.

Casual pastor-wannabe? Get out while you can, before this thing consumes you. It isn’t for those who aren’t called, because it isn’t about you.