Selecting Church Leaders – Egyptian Style

From Scot McKnight

Last month, the Coptic Church’s leader, Pope Shenouda III died. The process that the Coptic Church is now initiating, after observing a 40-day mourning period to find a replacement, the 118th successor to the Gospel author Mark, who it is claimed founded the church, is one that might seem bizarre to Western evangelical Christians. 74 bishops and 12 respected lay people will constitute the synod that selects three candidates who are over 40, have never been married and who have been monks for at least 15 years. That process may take months but when it is finalised, the church meets for mass, shares communion and then they will select a child from their midst. The child will be blindfolded. They will put their hand into a silver urn carrying three pieces of paper bearing the names of the candidates. The name that the child selects will become the next Coptic Pope.

So no one votes?…

Interesting to consider why different groups employ different methodologies and what we can learn.

Scot asks:

As against simply enjoying the exotic peculiarities of other cultures, I think the Coptics raise two questions for how we live as Christians here in the West. The first is how does the Coptic selection process affect our theological understanding of leadership? The second is what kind of practices would local churches have to foster to be able to trust such momentous decisions to a blindfolded 7 year old?

Suburban Context – Residual Christendom and Hard Secularism

Ok so back a question of mission and theology in the west…

One of my observations over the last few years is that when it comes to mission and evangelism in the west we aren’t just facing a tough secularism, but we are also contending with a form of residual Christendom.

I’m not sure which is the bigger challenge.

While there are those who are a long way from the gospel and completely unfamiliar with the Christian story, there are also those who have an inkling of what we are on about and who would come back to church if they ever wanted to find answers to their questions about ‘religion’. What’s interesting is that those who have the residual Christendom thing going on want to be able to return to a church that sings songs and listens to sermons (a ‘real church’ I have heard it called) while those who are more secular have less hang ups about how church gets expressed and are just as likely to be content in a different environment.

Our challenge is that both of these groups exist in our local community and we have to consider them both in our mission and evangelism. I say we need to consider them because a significant part of mission is helping people connect with a faith community and different expressions suit different people.

How do we reach both groups of people and how do we express church in a way that makes sense to both?

You could say that for the ‘residual Christendom’ folks we don’t really need to do anything. They will turn up as they want to and generally their comments are ‘it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be…’ There are a number of these folks around, especially when half your suburb are South African. But simply holding a church service isn’t a form of mission to them. The church service is a form that they will feel at ease in if they choose the path of faith, but they are often quite content outside of faith.

Perhaps the question is ‘how do we connect with these folks rather than waiting from them to come to us?’

My guess is that for some of our church community these are the folks they will feel most comfortable engaging in mission with. They know the story, have some level of familiarity with church and just need some convincing to ‘come back’.

To use an Acts analogy (from ch 17) they are ‘The Jews’. They know Yahweh and are familiar with the Torah, but they haven’t discovered Jesus. On one level they are an easier mission field, because they have some sympathy for the worldview, yet on another they are much tougher because it can be much harder to change distorted preconceived ideas than to help someone new form fresh ideas.

If residual Christendom parallels the Jews then the hard secularists may parallel the Greeks. These are folks with no exposure to the story who are going to start from scratch. Lately I’ve been involved in some discipleship with an Iranian guy who is a new Christian and in some ways it much easier to help him ‘get’ faith than it is to help someone with some wacky fundo-bizarro ideas from their teen years.

But I think most churches find the hard secularists a really difficult gig. They are generally content with life as it is – unless there is a crisis – and then there is a small window of curiosity, before the shutters go up again. And when I say ‘hard secular’ I don’t say it pejoratively, it’s just an apt description for people who find their hope and meaning in life in the physical and tangible rather than in a God.

Paul described himself as the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ – the one who sought out and even went after the ones with no history in the story of Israel. I feel some affinity with that framing, but there are days when I’m weary and I find myself just wanting to catch the fish that jump over the side of the boat… a bit lame…

I’m a bit lost for inspiration when it comes to ‘hard secularists’ as it seems that very little has had significant impact. Maybe that’s just how it is? Or maybe – as I consider Paul and his approach – we have trod too gently and need to be somewhat more confronting in our conversations?

If you read Acts you don’t see much of a slow relational approach from Paul – more of a short and intense blast… hmmm… food for thought…

Trade Offs

One of the beauties of being only paid part time to lead a church is that you are forced to deal with many of the same pressures other people have in their lives. When there isn’t a full week to give to ministry then you need to find a way to prioritise the essentials and come to grips with stuff you just can’t do.

I have been pondering what we will teach about in the second half of the year and I thought it would be interesting to work through Genesis from the beginning. Then I began to consider the challenge that would present in terms of research and preparation and realised I just don’t have the time to do it justice. Any time you open Genesis you open a can of worms, and while I’d enjoy the journey I simply know I’d be winging it with the content. So maybe it will be a safer option…

A shame because I think it would be valuable to grapple with the Genesis content in an intelligent way and to have some good debate around the different ideas that are out there.

Its not often I find myself wishing I had more time to work in a church, but there it was this morning…

The Swing

Anyone in church circles would have recognised that in the last 10-20 years there has been a growing emphasis on the importance of social justice in its various forms within the church. Where it was once the domain of the so called ‘liberal’ denominations, it is now standard fare for Baptists, Pentecostals and others who previously were much more concerned almost exclusively for ‘personal evangelism’.

I’m wondering how much of the shift has been because we have genuinely become enlightened and convinced of the truth and how much is a in fact a response to a culture that has become increasingly secular and hence difficult to penetrate with standard fare ‘personal evangelism’ methods.

If our context hadn’t become so secularised and our attempts at evangelism so poor would we have given ‘social justice’ the time of day?

You know… I’m not convinced we would have. For sure, there would always be those who carry the torch for the poor and the oppressed, but I’m not sure most of evangelicalism would have made the shift if the old strategies had still been working. If people had still been coming to church I’m not sure we would have seen any need to re-think what we were doing.

Perhaps our evangelistic dark period has been a blessing in disguise as it has actually allowed us to see and experience some truth we may never have seen otherwise.

Just a thought that rumbled through my mind today as I joined some pipes and laid some lawn…

In The Backyard

I could tell you where it is but I’d have to kill you… Suffice to say its a short walk from the front door and its been pretty awesome lately.

Yesterday and Friday were particularly nice and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know someone out there who enjoys taking a few snaps in the water as well as surfing himself.

Perfect conditions for me and ‘big mal’ to have some fun

When Prophets Get Weary

Its hard for our prophets.

They don’t come in packs. They come as ‘singles’. Criticism is inevitable and they get tired.

Its tough to stay the course. Its easier to shut up and blend in, but prophets aren’t made to fade to grey. If you’re a prophet then do your thing.

We need you!

How to Vote in The Next Election

At the last federal election I voted for the Greens. I don’t think that makes me a ‘Green’. It does mean that I felt – on the whole – their position best depicted the stuff of the kingdom.

What disturbed me was the way some folks concluded that I obviously wasn’t a Christian because I held this point of view.

Next time we have an election and we need to decide how to vote I’ll be using some of the content from this book to help people think through their approach to such a complex question.

Its an easy read, but I recommend it to any pastors who know there isn’t a ‘Christian’ position and are looking to equip their people to make intelligent decisions. I thought that given it is American in origin it might be a bit lacking in relevance, but not at all.

I don’t know who I will vote for in the next election, but I do know what will be shaping my thinking on the issue – and it will be the same principles as last time. Perhaps if we can develop a framework for making decisions and appreciate that no choice is without its problems then we can avoid this nonsense of declaring people ‘out’ because they don’t tow the party line we have ignorantly decreed as ‘Christian’.

What Do You See?

Today was a cold, wet, grey day in Perth, one of the first signs we have had in a long while that winter is on the way. I actually find these days can be pretty depressing and my inner pessimist starts to bare his teeth.

I was working at home but had to duck out for half an hour and as I left home I noticed the ocean was like glass. There was barely a breath of wind, and just a steady drizzle, but I found myself thinking ‘perfect day for a surf…’

My favourite local wasn’t breaking. It was an outside chance that The Spot would be happening, but still worth a drive. So I threw ‘big mal’ in the back of the 4bie and shot off up the road. It was cold, grey, drizzly, small… but breaking… glassy… and there was no one out… There is never ‘no one out’ at The Spot.

I guess most folks may have looked out the window and saw a cold, grey, drizzly, ugly day… Not a day to go to the beach…

I certainly wasn’t thinking ‘surfing’ when I got up this morning, but it turned out that way. In my haste I forgot to pack the wetsuit so it was a pretty chilly hour in the water, sitting alone as shark bait, but nevertheless it was worth it.

I find life is often like this.

What you ‘see’ often determines how you behave. And sometimes we just can’t the hope in our situations because the gloominess is overwhelming. Maybe its just that we are ‘wired’ that way, but if we intentionally step back or look from a different perspective we can often see stuff that we didn’t realise was there.

The last couple of years have been a time for us to do that in our own lives. When we came back from our round Oz trip we had to pick up the pieces after being taken for 250K. That was pretty ‘grey’… Then we found ourselves in a very difficult church situation and life just wasn’t coming together as we had hoped.

But we have been blessed with some great learning in both of these situations and can now look back and see much of the good that has come from the last few years. I think some of it has come from being able to see the glimmers of hope in the sometimes overwhelming grey. I think part of it is knowing that God never abandons us and walks with us. Ok, part of it is down to being an optimist…

But chances are no matter how dark life looks for you, there will be something to get hope and joy from.

You might just need to change perspective…

What is a Bastard?

Quite often we ask ourselves hard to answer questions, like, “What is a bastard?”

And we wax philosophic with metaphysical postulations, incomplete aphorisms, and inconsistent sophisms that make one more and more sure that the only true thing is that a picture is worth a thousand words.

In the photo below, the guy on the right is a member of a bomb squad in the middle of a deactivation.

The guy behind him, well, he’s a bastard.