How N.T. Wright changed my faith

Greg Mamula is an ordained minister and the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska.

“Despite what many people think, within the Christian family and outside it, the point of Christianity isn’t ‘to go to heaven when you die.’”

–Simply Christian,  N.T. Wright

I did not grow up going to church on a regular basis, but went often enough to catch the same glimpses of faith many people see with only a cursory glance at Christianity.  Like many people I was taught that Jesus was my personal helper in time of need and the gate keeper into heaven. So when I prayed for something like my dad not to leave for months on end for work or to not have to move over and over again and God didn’t deliver I questioned his power and existence.

I believed that the Christian faith was ultimately about going to some ethereal heaven someday.  I believed I had to intellectually assent to the reality that Jesus died only for my individual sins, and simply admit that I was a worthless sinner and ask for forgiveness. I struggled with the purpose of Christianity even as I felt a call into vocational ministry. What is the point of belief in God if he seems to be a failed helper?  Is the only purpose of Christ to get us into heaven so I don’t burn in hell?  That seemed like a very unfulfilling and vindictive God.

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How often and when should I post to Facebook?

For many who want to plunge into the world of Facebook with their brand, product, organization or business, posting frequency on Facebook can be a conundrum. People often ask:

How often and when should I post to Facebook?

Blue Truck What, a company that builds websites for small businesses, churches, and non-profits, offers the following 4 points of guidance.

5:1 Rule of Thumb – post five pieces of content of interest to your followers for every one piece of content specifically promoting your business.

9:00 a.m. & 9:00 p.m. – most business Facebook pages see traffic spikes on the 9′s. Some sites vary depending on the nature of your business and your followers. Follow your stats and then make your posts at key times when your followers are more likely to engage your content.

Post 4-7 days per week. A day you’re not visible is a day you lose ground. Consistency is the name of the game.

No more than 4 – Post no more than 4 times per day.  Over sharing can create disinterest in your audience. It really does drive your reach down.

Blue Truck What offers social media marketing packages starting at $38.99 a month for business and $18 for churches. Don’t hesitate to call to ask questions or learn about how Blue Truck can benefit your business.  828-508-1586 or email info@bluetruckpublishing.com

Real Preachers of L.A. – Yes, for real

As if we didn’t need another “Real (fill in the blank) of (fill in the blank)” reality show, the Oxygen Network premiered “Real Preachers of L.A.“. I suppose it was only a matter of time that preachers/ministers would get their own reality show since everyone from gold miners to Kevin Hart has one.

What shall I say about this show and it’s premise? Well, for one it is entertainment. No producer would bring a reality show to TV if it wasn’t controversial. I can’t imagine a show with a bunch of preachers in middle America going to air – unless they were zombie preachers!

Kate Bower at the CNN Belief blog describes it as:

a chaotic mix of prayer, “house porn,” and neatly orchestrated dust-ups between senior pastors and their “first ladies.” In some ways, the combination of the prosperity gospel with the “Real Housewives” format is a match made in Oprah-produced heaven. Men of the cloth cruise Southern California in lavish cars weighed down by their gold watches and tiny dogs.

The show centers around a group of mega church well to do hipster preachers with family, cars, parties, and other celebrities. The display of semi-lavish living is opening flaunted on the show. Ron Gibson, one of the show’s preachers, explains the lavish living as:

“P. Diddy, Jay Z. They’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses.”

Much of the show’s under current is a popular and controversial Christian movement known as Prosperity Gospel or Prosperity Theology. The Jimmy Swaggers and Jim Bakers of the world brought this movement to television. Basically, the thinking goes, if you are faithful and give abundantly to a church or ministry, God will bless you with wealth and happiness. In turn, preachers get to live in multiple houses and live a lifestyle fit for King Solomon.

Unfortunately, shows like this reinforce a stereotype of preachers who are greedy and profit from their ministry. These ministers exist but the vast majority of ministers don’t make anywhere need the type of money the “Real Preachers of L.A.” are making. Many pastors small churches and are bivocational.

So, there you have it. You judge if these Real Preachers of L.A. are the real deal or just all show.

New York Times gets Senate prayer wrong

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Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, our government is at a budget impasse and everyone is mad as hell. Senate Chaplain Rev. Barry Black, a retired Navy rear admiral, gave a Senate prayer that the  New York Times reported as “scolding”:

The disapproval comes from angry constituents, baffled party elders and colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. But nowhere have senators found criticism more personal or immediate than right inside their own chamber every morning when the chaplain delivers the opening prayer.

The New York Times entitled the article, “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding” – written by Jeremy W. Peters – highlighted Rev. Black’s prayer as some sort of religious finger shaking.  When you read and watch the prayer, one immediately can connect to the honesty of the situation:

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I gave up fantasy football for my family

Way back in 2003, I was an unmarried rabid fantasy football and baseball fan. I spent anywhere between 10-20 hours a week tracking, reading, and researching statistics to build the ultimate fantasy football team. Sometimes, I would manage 3 or 4 teams at once. I’d read and research on my smartphone, computer, and read the newspaper for all the inside tips.

The more time I put into fantasy football, the more my teams won.

The pursuit of fantasy football success and points for my players was almost an addiction.  It was exciting going head to head with other fantasy teams each week. Trash talking friends and strangers about how good my team was and how much their team sucked was fun. I almost never played fantasy leagues that charged money. It was about the winning and bragging rights. Managing a fantasy football team was a 7 day a week job and it was enjoyable.

But, was it?

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Don’t forget about associate pastors

 

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Last week I spoke to a group of associate pastors at a continuing education program with the  American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. This group of associates was very diverse demographically, but they all shared the same challenges.

I started on the topics of identity, calling, and roll of the associate pastor. Then, several folks brought up other associates books, “Leading from the Second Chair” or “Second Chair, Not Second Best”. Though I’m pretty enamored with “The Work of the Associate Pastor“,  I spoke about how those other books fail to see one thing: the power dynamic in the analogy of “second chair” is fundamentally flawed.

As I shared with this group of associate pastors that the power dynamics of #1 verse #2 pastor is not helpful. Ordering pastors with numbers frustrates associates into seeing themselves as lesser instead of seeing themselves into a different calling than their senior pastors. The relationship between the senior and associate pastor should be one of mutuality. Obviously, there is a supervisory role that the senior pastor must take, but that doesn’t mean that pastors cannot treat one another as equals.

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It’s official: the term ‘Mainline’ Christian sucks

It is well established that mainline Christian denominations are shrinking. According to several prominent Christian practitioners and thinkers, the term “Mainline Christian” officially… well, sucks. That is my interpretation.

The indelible Carol Howard Merritt  is one of the growing movement of folks who want to drop the  “mainline” term. She writes in her Christian Century column that she refuses to use the term “mainline”.  The term “mainline” truly reflect a society with specific racial, class, and cultural marks. Carol explains why would should ditch “mainline”:

It was not a term that denominational leaders came up with, but we have embraced it for many years. Now, it’s a good time to discard it. Why? It white-washes our influences… Even though we often look to the male European Reformers for much of our theology, even though a quick browse through the theology departments of most seminaries will reveal an overwhelming number of older, white men, we also know our thought for more than hundred years has been challenged by those working in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, with the civil rights movement, from subjugated women, and in the midst of immigrants’ struggles.

Perhaps what is the striking is that most new growth in established mainline denominations comes not from hipster churches, but from ethnically diverse immigrant communities. Carol rightly points out that continuing the mainline label ultimately hinders the future of churches:

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Social media atonement and confession?

Would you ever tweet, blog, or Facebook your sins? Is social media the place for confession and atonement?

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, occurred last week. Yom Kippur is the day of repentance for past sins, to seek forgiveness, and to make amends. NPR featured a fascinating twist on this holy day. A synagogue in Miramar, Florida invited congregants to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to share their wrongs. Cantor Debbi Ballard explains how social media can connect her congregation to confession and restoration:

…let’s use the technology and have it enhance our atonement today by tweeting or texting our sins away, and looking at those sins on a big movie screen. And then letting them roll past us so that we can let them go, so that we can live a more powerful life this year. I think that’s what Yom Kippur and atonement is about.

It may seem odd for some to share their “sins” on social media. Who wants to leave their confession in a world that caches and stores your information for the world to see? Ballard explains the value of interactive and communal confession: [Read more...]

Our New Religious Pantheon

The ancient Greek stories of the pantheon of gods were full of lust, envy, jealousy, and revenge.  Though gods, they acted just like humans. They could be tricked, lied to, and make deals.  They are fickle at best and even in their most glorious moments act in ways that are selfishly motivated. They really serve better as cautionary tales rather than models to follow. (For a great summary of ancient Greek pantheon read “Mythology” edited by Edith Hamilton.)

In America, we have created our new religion pantheon of gods and goddesses with their own special powers and temples.   Our pantheon of gods are usually built around real people who did impressive things.   Their temples are movie sets, concert venues, and celebrated theaters.  Their feast days occur nearly daily with award banquets, premier days, and contests where viewers get to elect the next god into the pantheon. Our pantheon of warriors are not in fact warriors at all but athletes who conquer their foes on the playing field rather than the battle field.

With the recent biogenesis clinic problems that MLB is facing in suspending twelve players for 50 games and one of their most notable warriors Alex Rodriguez through 2014, we are reminded much like the Greek pantheon, our gods are all too human.  Celebrities, politicians, athletes, entertainers, and others we hold up as our heroes fall from grace on a regular basis, some even end up as convicted criminals.  We watch their larger than life dramatic stories much like the Greeks listened to the pantheon of old. We scrutinize their actions and celebrate the consequences to their actions as though they are fictional people without real feelings, damaged hearts, and wounded families. It serves as our entertainment and as our worship.

 The one big difference between the Greeks and us is that the average Greek probably didn’t believe they could become a god. True enough some humans married gods or had half-god half human children.  But for the most part this was not the norm.  But these humans never became gods or were ever worshiped themselves.

We have moved from the worshiper to the worshiped.  We can become a god.

We are training our children that through hard work and focus they can become gods in professional athletes, musicians, or the next governor. The biggest church in many states is their state university football stadium (it certainly is in my state) or pro baseball teams cathedral.  We drive our kids from soccer, to band, to baseball, to dance, to whatever else because we may not admit it, but we really believe these kids will go pro and become a god.

We can have a difficult time  seeing the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it in the midst of this pantheon of athletes, entertainers, and other gods. Our worship of anything other than God is an idol.  But to believe we are not worshiping these things is to lie to ourselves. We may not have mythical heroes of ancient tradition, but we certainly have a growing new religious pantheon full of temples and gods all across this country. None of them are Christ.

Greg Mamula is an ordained minister and the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska.

Blogging… I quit

It’s that time of the year where I usually say, “I’m done. I’m done blogging. I quit.” It’s summer and my focus on blogging usually takes a dive. My children are out of school and the lake calls to me to swim. Then, I question if I want to continue to write blogs. I’ve been doing it for over 4 years now.

After 414 blog posts, I ask, “Is it time to end it? To quit?”

It is time to end it, for now…

One thing I learned writing my Judson Press book, “The Work of the Associate Pastor” (My mom thinks it is a great book and you should buy it) is that you cannot blog and write a manuscript at the same time. You just can’t…well, you can but it is really difficult. Blogging requires regular rest and sabbath.

I’m working on my second book this summer. My goal is to have the introduction and two chapters written. What’s the topic? Well, I can’t give everything away. I will tell you that it is on Baptist life. So far, the introduction is written and I keep telling myself that I’m going to have fun writing this book. Writing a book is a labor. If you don’t have fun with writing it becomes an obligation. Obligations are no fun.

So there it is. I quit.

I’m done writing blog posts this summer. Other quest contributors may post on my website, but I’m taking off July and August.

See you in September!

 

Baptists and BBQ in Kansas City

I’m here in Kansas City for the American Baptist Church USA Mission Summit Biennial. That’s a mouthful. American Baptists get together every two years for meetings, worship, share resources, and attend to the needs of the denomination (elections, motions, etc…).  You can read about the last biennial info here and here.

I’m also here for the famous Kansas City BBQ… well, that’s just a bonus. I’m also here for meetings as a Board of General Ministry director. For the last few days we met to attend to the business of the denomination and also met collectively with the boards of Home Mission, International Ministries, and Ministers and Mission Benefit Board.

We spent some time getting out of the meeting room and visited several American Baptist supported ministries.  Our breakout group went to Bethel Neighborhood City in the Kansas City Area. This 100-year-old ministry is a vibrant American Baptist ministry that has helped thousands of people find community, learn job skills, and find meaning in life. As a Board, it was very helpful to see our efforts and historic support working for the Kingdom of God. We met folks who started in the program as children and then went on to become staff and board members.

On Thursday the second American Baptist Theologians conference at Central Seminary. Break out sessions and papers were presented. My friend and fellow board member Jonathan Malone present a paper on denominational life. It was exciting to see so many American Baptists talking about the future of the church, theology, and ABC life.

Check back for more updates on Baptists and BBQ!

Also, please follow me on Twitter for updates @alanrud and use the hash tag #missionsummit2013