God Told . . . Him

Before I dive into IF I BLOGGED THEN week, allow me to direct you towards this Wall Street Journal article on plagiarism in the pulpit. Found it interesting because of the local connections mentioned in the article. Steve Sjogren, founding pastor of the Vineyard in Tri-County stated that pastors he looks to for encouragement get 70% of their sermon content from someone else. They also noted the case of Liberty Heights Church in West Chester; the church was close to CCM and I knew a couple of guys on their staff. Apparently they fired the pastor who had grown their church over charges of plagiarism.

How do I feel about it? It's only a big deal because pastors don't do it right. There's nothing wrong with using someone else's work AS LONG AS you cite your source. Remember back in school that you could always use other people's research as long as you include it in your bibliography? It's the same thing in preaching. I don't use a lot of stuff from other people but if I do, I will make reference to it.

Both Sjogren and Rick Warren think it's unnecessary to attribute materials to other preachers and [listen closely] they're wrong. We're living in an age of authenticity, and it means even if you're a member of clergy; your integrity is everything. If I were to tell a story in first person that never happened to me, I'd be called out as a liar. Why should it be any different if people think I ripped the majority of my sermon from a guy in Texas and claim it as my own?

The real problem here is that ministers are forsaking their number one duty: the teaching of the Word of God. I know there's a lot of networking and pastoring that needs to happen in a given week but Sunday's message is the most important task I have each week. If I haven't fully invested myself in it, then I've failed. Coming up with 45 minutes of material each week ain't always easy, but that's my job. Try getting sympathy from someone who works 60 hours each week doing manual labor for your struggles in finding a text to preach on. If you don't like it, then perhaps you're in the wrong profession. I'm not complaining.

In Paul's challenge to Timothy, he tells him not only to preach the Word but to "be prepared in season and out of season." We pastors must always be in preparation for our next message.

Rant complete.

HT: Challies

Wanting What They Got

Although few will admit, pastors struggle with church envy. I'm not above it, so I constantly need to remind myself that God is at work in many ways, even those that I'm not involved in. I think the key to overcoming this envy is realizing that we're all human, all trying to advance the same agenda. And being able to personify churches so that you think of individuals instead of inanimate entities. So I had such an opportunity yesterday, as I attended an open house at Crossroads Community Church in Oakley yesterday. Crossroads is the biggest Protestant church in Cincinnati, a few miles up the street from us, averaging about 7,000 each weekend. The ten year-old church recently opened up a brand new 3,200 seat auditorium. Once a quarter they allow pastors to come in and take a sneak peak of how they operate.

I was joined by Adam, a CCU student who helps out at Echo. Besides us, there was only one other person there, so it was a good opportunity to get an intimate look at their church. We had the chance to eat lunch with Brian Tome, Crossroad's founding pastor and ask him questions; I was just interested in listening to their passions and goals for the future. They were very honest about they struggles as well as their successes and incredibly supportive of what we were trying to accomplish. As we later took a tour of their remodeled facility [which is rather cool] it was reassuring as I felt no jealousy, but excitement for what they had going on.

The one thing that blew my mind is that they do an entire run-through service before their Saturday night service. They do it exactly as if it was an actual service, as Brian preached his entire message, and then reviewed what they wanted to change. Considering they're running four services each weekend, I was shocked. Preaching multiple services is exhausting. Can't imagine putting yourself through it one more time for practice. I've encountered many megachurch rehearsals, and I can't say that I know of anyone who does it that way.

It was a great experience. The Crossroads staff was wonderful. If any other pastors/church leaders would be interested in doing this, they're going to run another one in February. Email me and I'll let you know who you need to talk to.


We're in a haze today at the news that two Cincinnati Christian University students were assaulted late last night on the Purple People Bridge. The woman was then kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and later dropped off at campus. This afternoon they have the suspect in custody. This is an incredibly unfortunate situation. I can't imagine what effect this will have on the students there, as well as what it will mean to the future of students being out in the community.

Just last week I talked to David Faust, President of CCU, about how encouraging it was that many students are now out and about in the city. Instead of sequestering themselves on campus, they are active in ministries throughout urban Cincinnati. Instead of being afraid of the city, they desired to be out in it.

And then this. When something as horrible as this happens, it can change everything.

I'm praying for this couple, the students at CCU, and the faculty and staff during this time and ask you to do the same. I pray that despite this tragedy, that the view of the mission won't be sacrificed.

Just yesterday I wrote a profile about Echo that is supposed to be featured in a future CCU publication. I made sure to emphasize that we desperately need to focus some church planting efforts toward the city. If anything, this confirms how desperately our city needs Jesus. Incidents like this can make people fearful of the city and drive us further towards suburbia or rural areas to feel safe.

But we're never going to truly be safe, are we? It's a daily reality I face with bringing my family here. I will admit that each night I pray that God watches over my wife and my child. But we can't let the fear of what could happen keep us doing God's work here. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:14,

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"

Hear This

Bear with me as I self-promote. We have a couple of new offerings up at First, there's the Fall 2006 newsletter. It can be found in the "News" area.

And there's also the mp3 from this past week's message from Matthew 10:1-20. It's called "The Viral Gospel," a concept the I'm really starting to groove with. I'm most proud that I was able to mention both Kirk Cameron and Jay-Z in the same message. Allow me to drop the latter reference on you here.

From Matthew 10:14:

"So while Jay-Z, also known as Hova, would say 'You got to get that dirt off your shoulder,' JC, also known as Jehovah, said 'You got to shake that dust of your feet.'"

I'm so gangsta'.

Am I A Poser?

Yesterday I did something I'm ashamed of: I led patriotic songs in a worship service.

I've been helping out my home church during the past few weeks. They're currently without an associate minister so I agreed to lend a hand. It's a good gig for a few extra bucks per week. I'm not leading with a guitar, but singing hymns and choruses while a band plays instruments. I'll admit that it's been kinda fun to scan the hymnal for songs I haven't sung in 10+ years. Not quite my style overall, but it's gone rather smoothly. Except that . . .

Yesterday's focus of the service was preparing for the election and they wanted patriotic songs. If you know my philosophical leanings concerning American Christianity, you know I'm not a fan of pro-America songs during worship services so I was faced with a dilemma: take a stand or fold. Well, you know what they say, "God Bless America."

I know some people pride themselves on being "real." They wouldn't dream of going against their personal principles, no matter what the venue. Me: not so much.

We all sell out a different points in our life. Otherwise we end up in jail, unemployed, or alone. We just insist on deceiving ourselves that we're James Dean on a motorcycle. But I'm not going to pretend I'm a maverick. I did something I didn't want to do yesterday. But there are worse things in life.

I love the life we have now as we're starting Echo. I'll do whatever it takes to keep it going. People have sacrificed much more in order to make their dreams a reality. If that means a blaring out a couple of verses of America The Beautiful, then strike up the band.

Selling out definitely beats some other jobs.


I took the night to think about the news that broke yesterday about Ted Haggard. He's a megachurch pastor in Colorado and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard has been accused of carrying on a three year relationship with a male escort. I thought about throwing out some thoughts here last night, but wanted to be patient to see if today brought forth any additional information. You had to figure something happened since he stepped down from both these positions; even if you're innocent, immediately resigning never looks good. Apparently there is more.

Whereas last night Haggard denied ever being unfaithful, this morning we read that he's admitted to "some indiscretion." I'm sure that, by the weekend, there will be a much clearer picture of all went on. This will allow for this story to blow up by next week, right before the election. This becomes an issue as Haggard was involved in Colorado's fight to ban gay marriage, so expect to see much more about it.

Much will be written about this incident on the web in days to come, but allow me to make a few observations:

1) I wasn't surprised. It's not like I go around betting which guys will cheat on their spouse, however, it's become a fact of life: ministers are human and still sin. If allegations prove to be true, this could be the highest profile fall in American evangelicalism in twenty years. I guess we should be surprised it lasted this long without an incident.

2) Mega-problems. Even though the majority of evangelicals seem to prefer the megachurch, it becomes a beast. They're usually born out of the personality of one individual who is followed as an ultimate spiritual guide. But when all eyes are focused on one man, the pressure can become suffocating. I'm not excusing what Haggard did, but does the same thing happen if he's pastoring a church of 150 instead of 15,000? Perhaps, but I think the odds become much less if his face isn't constantly in Time Magazine. I'll be curious to see what happens at New Life, the church Haggard pastors. How will they move on after all this?

There's nothing wrong with us having megachurches but I don't think we take seriously enough the awesome responsibility surrounding pastors of such large flocks. It puts a lot on one guy. Again, it makes you really appreciate the life of Billy Graham, how he was able to reach so many people and avoid all the controversy. That in of itself might be the most amazing thing about his ministry.

3) Check myself. I'm madly in love with my wife, but I can't ever get too cocky to think it could never happen to me. As a minister, you deal with some of the most private, intimate moments in people's lives. You're supposed to empathize and reach out to vulnerable people. That creates awkward situations that can quickly morph into improper relationships.

I do my best to guard myself of even having such situations present themselves. At all cost, I will avoid being in the same room/automobile alone with someone of the opposite sex. I love my wife and my ministry and would like to keep both.

4) Disappointed in Dobson. Despite all the pieces of this scandal, I find it most embarrassing that James Dobson felt the need to immediately come out and defend Haggard. It's not that he supported him, but went as far to say it was all made up. Dobson said,

"It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation . . . it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election."

How does Dobson know this is a conspiracy? What if the accusations are entirely true? He's willing to bet Focus on The Family on it? And is it truly all about the election? I think Dobson will regret his quick response to this one. And I believe this will be a catalyst towards . . .

5) The Transformation of American Evangelicalism. I could be wrong on this one, but I've really sense it coming. The past twenty years of Evangelicalism have been dominated by the Christian Right. Believers were sure that if we could control the American political landscape that God would bless our nation. Within the past ten years, that wish was granted as all three branches of our government became conservative. And yet we discover that we're really not better off than we were before the movement began.

The emerging generations of Christians aren't as interested in transforming US politics as they are changing their world. They're more interested in AIDS in Africa than they are Red State vs. Blue State. I'm not saying it will be perfect, but new leaders will rise to set the course as voices like Dobson and Falwell are totally ignored. For the shift to begin to take place, the foundation of present American Evangelicalism needs to be rocked. This could be that event.

All in all, it's incredibly sad incident. Thankfully, our allegiance is to a perfect God rather than to imperfect men.


Ben Witherington made some excellent observations about the Haggard situation, most of which I agree with. Definitely worth checking into.

Gotta' Serve Somebody

I recently read about a church that canceled its regular Sunday worship gathering to go out in the community and do an Extreme Makeover Home Edition type thing throughout their community. They thoroughly marketed the event in their community and helped do repairs on 60+ homes as part of their Big Event Outreach. On the website describing this church event, I read many voices that chimed in stating that this was an excellent idea. The only criticism was that the Event took place in an affluent area of their town. That's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned, for I'd like to go deeper to the root of the situation:

Should we cancel a regular worship service to do service projects?

I'm not wanting to dump on and question the motives of the church who tried this; I think they were totally sincere in this decision. That being said, I'm not sure this event is something that would've been imagined just five years ago.

I'm only thirty but I've been around long enough to figure out that the American church is suseptable to trends. From flannel-graph and church buses, to Purpose-Driven Lives and worship bands and, most recently, marketing and social justice. We have to be honest that service-oriented outreach is becoming trendy. Some might say that it found its resurgence here in Cincinnati. Will it end up being more than a trend? Difficult to say. Serving is great, but we have to decide what role it should take on in our churches.

Now I wouldn't argue against a church that wants to be out in the community showing God's love through service. However, I'm not sure that replacing a normal worship gathering to do sends the proper message. Why cancel "regular worship" for this? Is it because that time provides the best numbers? If that's the case, that the only way we can get a good response from our people to do good works is to do it when you usually celebrate God corporately, then maybe our church needs a reality check.

Is it to make a good impression on outsiders? Then we truly need to reevaluate our motives. Is it because we believe this is what God is calling us to do? That's a tough reason to argue against, but I would attempt to hold it up against Scripture and history to determine if we're respecting those who've gone before us.

Why do we worship every Sunday? Scripture indicates that it was to gather together to give God praise. Most notably, it's so we believers can celebrate the risen Jesus through communion [Acts 20:7]. This 1st century tradition carried on. In the Didache, written sometime in the 1st or 2nd century, we get a glimpse into how the early church worshiped:

"But on the Lord's day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure." [14:1]

Again, we see Christ and communion as center of the gathering. While specifics of worship have changed/evolved throughout the years, the focal point has stayed consistent for almost 2,000 years. So is canceling service for service project right? Not sure; it's difficult to develop an airtight case against it so it's probably a gray issue.

But I would just advise that, if we're going to cancel/transform our weekly worship time, we should make sure to do some soul-searching and see if our theology matches our ecclesiology.