Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?

A study reveals why relational ministry can leave our inner circle empty.

My pastor recently asked me, “Why is it so hard for people to see pastors as friends and not just pastors?” In one respect, the question caught me by surprise. He is part of a large pastoral staff of a big and vibrant church with a reputation for being highly relational. How can someone whose life revolves around forming caring relationships have a lack of friendship?

It turns out my pastor is far from alone. In a recent study, my team discovered that most relational-style pastors and missionaries average fewer personal relationships than the typical adult, and an alarming number have too few close confidants to support them in their life and calling.

Though it may be tempting to simply encourage ministers to seek more relationships, many ministers are faced with a trade-off between quality and quantity. Those with a large number of very intimate relationships have a smaller overall social network, and those who form lots of relationships have impoverished inner circles. Failing to get the right balance corresponds with burnout and ministry ineffectiveness.

Quantifying an Inner Circle

Our research is rooted in the idea that humans naturally have a certain number of personal relationships to which they gravitate. Known as “Dunbar’s Number” because it was first discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the number of genuinely personal relationships that we can actively maintain averages around 150 people but varies broadly. Some people can handle more and some less, but 150 seems to be the human norm.

Interestingly, Dunbar and colleagues note that 150 people is both the approximate size of typical small-scale human villages and about the number of people who can live or work together …

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Kaepernick, Speech, and a Job: The Cleat May Soon be on the Other Foot

Free speech is important, but is it always helpful?

Free speech can be quite controversial.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. If we all agreed on everything, we wouldn’t need the First Amendment. Unpopular speech is why we have the First Amendment. And, let me be clear, Colin Kaepernick was exercising his First Amendment right when he kneeled during the national anthem.

Yesterday, President Trump exercised his right to speak out when he called on NFL owners to release players who took a knee during the anthem. And, when the president called on fans to boycott NFL football, that was still about citizens exercising a right.

So, none of these things are illegal. But, the question is, Are they helpful?

To be honest, I don’t know much about football. Google only recently told me that Kaepernick is a quarterback. He has been protesting what he sees as racial injustice in America by kneeling during the national anthem.

Now, let me say, I’m not a big fan of “totalizing” protests—the national anthem is a symbol of many things, and so much of that is good. Furthermore, the flag and the anthem represent the sacrifice of many who have fought and died for freedoms, including the freedom of speech we are discussing today. As such, I do find such protests disrespectful.

However, I do not have to be a fan of the protest to reflect on the president's comments and how Christians might react. So here are a few ways we might respond to what is now a national conversation surrounding Kaepernick and President Trump.

First, the response of many African Americans (including fellow Christians) should give us pause to reflect on their response.

Sure, I get it. Like me, many of you are offended by people who dishonor the flag and the anthem. Patriotism is important …

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Fake Apocalypse News Shouldn’t Eclipse Real Tragedy News

There are real issues that deserve full coverage, not another fake story about the end of the world.

The need for good journalism has never been more pressing. Time and time again I have written about fake news. And over and over we find more of it, and more people believing it.

Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Myanmar for their lives. Puerto Rico is picking up the pieces after a devastating hurricane. One of the most divisive pieces of legislation in American history is being debated. North Korea and the U.S. are dancing around rhetoric last heard in the Cold War. It appears that no journalist is facing a shortage of issues and controversies worthy of their time. Real issues that deserve full coverage and our undivided attention.

In light of all of these significant and worthy issues that should deserve coverage, my question to the media is, why instead have you chosen to dedicate significant time and resources to the ravings of a poorly-credentialed conspiracy theorist like David Meade?

The “expert” of a profession that has been called ‘Christian Numerology,’ Meade has been the subject of article after article, bolstering his claims and linking his views to mainstream Christian theology. While some may see the unfounded discoveries of men like Meade as urgent news, I feel compelled to point something out: there is a lot going on in the world right now.

Taking Our Eyes Off the Good

In giving people like Meade a platform, media outlets have unwittingly legitimized his illegitimate findings. They’ve given (yet another) ill-informed Christian a megaphone by which he (and others before him) can make Christians look foolish and distract us from the real issues.

In doing so, the meaningful, reputable work done by credible Christians worldwide is diminished or tainted. For example, we can look at the critical …

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‘Home Again’ Fails to Challenge Shallow Notions of ‘Home’

Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s directorial debut reveals just how dissatisfying good fortune can be.

As far as I’m concerned, the phenomenon of “hate-watching” was invented for women viewing romantic comedies. I dislike the trappings of romance and the pitiful reduction of characters to clichés that define most rom-coms—yet I still watch at least a few every year. I do so in part because a good one can feel like comfort food: It’s warm and soothes my secretly mushy heart.

Nancy Meyers’s rom-coms, including It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give, are good examples of the genre’s potential. Now, though, her daughter has also gotten into the rom-com business: Home Again, which came out September 8, is written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. It is her first feature film; Nancy Meyers also co-produced it.

Home Again is about how sometimes we have to re-find home. I love that idea. In my 30s, I’ve already spent some quality time searching for, clinging to, creating, and recreating “home.” Unfortunately, though, the movie implies that home is about the people with whom we make it—a concept often taken for fact in this genre about “soulmates” and finding “The One.”

Alice (Reese Witherspoon), the film’s protagonist, is a 40-year-old woman starting her life over after a divorce. She has two daughters, a floundering career, and a big house. She has recently relocated her family back to Los Angeles, so it’s natural that Alice would lack a community or a sense of home that is more than a place. Yet she happens to own a place that feels like a resort.

Because she’s floundering—but still has the room to “be a patron of the arts”—she allows three young men who are attempting to make …

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Iraqi Christians at Odds with World on Kurdish Independence Referendum

Kurds and Christians both want security and autonomy as minorities in Iraq. But one’s dream could dash the other’s.

A referendum that could lead to the establishment of an independent Kurdish nation is set for September 25.

Upwards of 35 million Kurds—a majority-Muslim community and the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—are on the verge of turning their century-old dream of a homeland into reality.

Victimized by the Ottomans during the Armenian (and Kurdish) genocide of the 1910s and regularly persecuted since, Kurds have long been a marginalized population. Ironically, the recent upheaval in the Middle East has presented them with an opportunity. Many are moving to take advantage of regional mayhem and political malfeasance, filling a void of security and governance with self-determination.

The idea of a free Kurdistan isn’t popular among non-Kurds. Turkey has openly fought with its Kurdish population in a decades-long conflict that has killed between 30,000 and 40,000 since 1984; the Syrian regime readily repressed Kurdish rights; and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq murdered tens of thousands of Kurds in the country’s north.

But as war has ravaged Syria and Iraq, and as the Islamic State swept from Raqqa to Mosul and nearly to Baghdad, Kurds are not throwing away their shot.

Kurds in Syria have declared autonomous enclaves collectively called Rojava. In neighboring Iraq, where Kurds have claimed a level of autonomy since 1970, the recent turmoil has given Iraqi Kurdistan new territory and greater autonomy. It has also given Iraqi Kurds momentum to push the referendum.

Christians in the Middle East share a special bond with Kurds: they’re both minorities. That doesn’t mean they’re always political bedfellows, but they often share common interests. …

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Art of Darkness: Angelina Jolie’s Latest Film Succeeds at Personalizing Genocide

What “First They Killed My Father” tells me about suffering and the imago Dei.

The other day I chatted with a friend who has lived in the US for a year or two—a refugee from Afghanistan who recently got an entry-level job in her field of engineering. She was ecstatic, eager to work her way back up the ladder. While drinking green tea, I casually asked her about her new job and what it was like to be an engineer in Afghanistan. Her two-year-old daughter was with us, eating red cherries as the juice spilled down the front of her second-hand party dress. “Oh,” my friend said, “there are no engineers there anymore.” I looked at her blankly. “What do you mean?” “All of the engineers were killed,” she told me. “The Taliban, they wanted the country to go backward. So they killed them all. Now there are villages waiting for buildings to be made, but there are no engineers to help anymore.”

She said it all so matter-of-factly while wiping her kid’s messy hands that I could barely understand her meaning. After the conversation, however, I thought a lot about how her story and others like it seem so unusual to me until they start to pile up and accumulate. As I hear more and more from my refugee and immigrant friends, as I read the news and try to pay attention to current events, suddenly I start to find that my safe and secure existence is the anomaly. My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different—the outlier in a world full of horror.

I thought about this conversation as I watched the new Netflix film First They Killed My Father (a Cambodian Daughter Remembers). I’m not sure anyone is strong enough to watch a genocide unfold through the eyes of a five-year-old. And yet, this is precisely who experiences these …

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Leadership Is Not About You

Leadership means hard work and service.

Leadership is not about you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that leadership is not for you—leadership is something you can learn and excel at. But no matter how many theories you study or how many clubs you led in high school, if your leadership is about you, you will not be an effective leader.

Leadership Means Hard Work

Taking the lead is not easy or glamorous. It’s not something we do for our own comfort. Author and former Overseas Missionary Fellowship director Oswald Sanders summed it up this way (and it applies to men and women):

The young man of leadership caliber will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream.

Are you prepared for this kind of work?

We see this in how the Bible talks about leadership. Look at Romans 12:6-8:

According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness. (emphasis added)

“Leading, with diligence.” This is the essential attitude that Paul assigns to leadership—it is as essential to leadership as generosity is to giving or faith is to prophecy.

Leadership Means Service

Ministry leadership is servant leadership. The Bible tells us this again and again. God demonstrates it in His own love for us—in Jesus Christ entering this messy world, washing his disciples’ feet, and dying for unrepentant sinners.

This attitude of powerful love and painful sacrifice is the attitude we are to adopt, according to Philippians 2:5. And look at the verses that set the stage of that …

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What Ravi Zacharias Said at Nabeel Qureshi’s Funeral

Eulogy at Houston memorial service honors “abnormally born” 34-year-old apologist.

At his memorial service Thursday, Nabeel Qureshi was remembered for his unusual passion for Christ and the significant evangelistic impact he made before he died last Saturday at 34.

Hundreds gathered at Houston’s First Baptist Church and thousands more online to honor Qureshi, whose life and ministry was cut short by aggressive stomach cancer.

The young speaker and author was eulogized by his mentor, Ravi Zacharias, who compared him to the apostle Paul as well as to other noteworthy Christians who died young. (Zacharias also wrote a tribute to him that ran this week on the CT site.)

“He was a man of incredible, undying energy, and it was a priviledge to cover the globe with Nabeel Qureshi,” said Zacharias, who recalled stories from their final ministry trip together, to Malaysia, earlier this spring.

When Qureshi would preach from a favorite text—1 Corinthians 15 (where Jesus appears to Paul, one “abnormally born”—Zacharias said he’d think, “You’re just like that Nabeel. You’re a very abnormal person.”

The global evangelist shared with the crowd the unusual distinctives of Qureshi’s deep understanding of sin; his devotion to his family, who were heartbroken when he left Islam to claim to claim Christ; and his confidence in his evangelism.

“This abnormally born, abnormally torn, abnormally scorned man is now abnormally gone. Gone at such an early age in life,” Zacharias said.

“So what I say to you is this: He’s not the only one who’s died young,” going on to list fellow Christian men who died in their 20s and 30s like singer Keith Green, Scottish minister Robert Murray M'Cheyne, and theologian Blaise Pascal.

Rice …

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Southern Baptists Back Confederate Monument Removal in Memphis

Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee’s former church votes to change its name.

After Charlottesville, more Christians are aligning with efforts to remove Confederate names and landmarks. In the past week, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and about a dozen of its pastors called for the removal of a Confederate statue in Memphis, Tennessee, while members of a historic Episcopal church in Lexington, Virginia, voted to remove Robert E. Lee from its name.

The SBC’s Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, joined more than 150 Memphis-area clergy in a letter requesting the state historical commission relocate a statue of Memphis native Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader is buried in a city park that bore his name until 2013.

Gaines also spoke out in favor of removing Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s statue from another downtown location, formerly called Confederate Park.

Both “are a source of offense to many citizens of Memphis due to Forrest’s and Davis’ support of the enslavement of African Americans,” he told Baptist Press. Two Civil War battles took place in the city, including a failed raid led by Forrest.

Confederate general Lee’s former parish, which was named R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church more than 110 years ago, voted on Monday to change its name to Grace Episcopal Church. The church’s leaders were split 7–5 in favor. Their decision followed a contentious attempt to revert back to the earlier name in 2015, after the Charleston church shootings.

“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” rector Tom Crittenden toldThe Roanoke Times. “But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee …

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Q+A: Jonathan Falwell’s Caribbean Vacation Turned into Hurricane Relief Ministry

After Irma disrupted his 25th wedding anniversary, Baptist pastor shares how he got Samaritan’s Purse to come to the rescue of St. Martin and why he went right back.

When Jonathan Falwell saw the first signs of what would become Hurricane Irma swirling on the weather map, he moved up the dates of his Caribbean vacation—a surprise trip to St. Martin with his wife for their 25th anniversary—just in case.

He never imagined they’d be sleeping on pool loungers in a makeshift hotel shelter, coming face-to-face with the destruction of a category-5 storm, or flying home on a Samaritan’s Purse plane.

Falwell—son of the late Jerry Falwell and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—helped coordinate early relief efforts while stranded for days on the island, one of the hardest-hit by Irma.

“In a situation like this, I had the opportunity—and I do believe it was an opportunity—to be right smack dab in the middle of it,” he said. “I think it’s just a great reminder of how truly urgent that it is that we get the gospel out to let people see that yes, we live in a broken world, but yes, there is an answer and that answer is Jesus.”

In an interview with CT, Falwell shared his prayers, stories, and theological lessons from his time stranded on St. Martin and his involvement in the recovery since then.

What went through your mind when you realized Irma was going to hit the island?

We got down there, and we were watching the storm. The storm was picking up speed and certainly picking up power. On Monday night, we got a notification that the flights were canceled, the airport was closed, and we weren’t going to get out of St. Martin on the flight that we had intended. It wasn’t until Monday that we knew we were going to have to hunker down and make it through.

I just assumed it would be a bad storm—some …

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