Not Everyone is an Abraham

After dealing with the death of Abraham and a short view of the descendants of Ishmael, one would expect that we would then turn to the life of Isaac and begin to follow his life. While Genesis 25:19-26 starts by saying “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac,” it becomes clear rather quickly that the focus will not be on Isaac, but rather on his family line. Isaac’s sons, particularly Jacob, becomes the focus of the story.

Recently this has intrigued me. Isaac was the promised one. So much of Abraham’s story was spent in great tension. Would the promised son be born to Abraham and Sarah? Yes, he would be. Yet, the promised son has very little story of his own. His life seems rather overshadowed by his father’s life and the life of his sons. Even the chosen son of the promise does not seem to have the same kind of significant narrative of Abraham.

What we are told here is that like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah are facing barrenness as well. However, unlike the case with Abraham and Sarah, the barrenness is resolved simply by Isaac praying to God and with God answering the prayer. It is all put so simply. God is still relied on for life, but everything is resolved in a much neater fashion than with Abraham.

After this though the story moves away from Isaac and begins to focus on the twins that are now wrestling around within Rebekah. Already Isaac is moved from the center. It is even Rebekah who inquires of the Lord here. The rest of the chapter then focuses on the sons of Isaac, which I’ll look into more next week. While Isaac does take center stage again in the next chapter, it is really the only story that is really his.

It just seems so anticlimactic to me. We have all this anticipation for Isaac, but hear very little of his life directly. While still a bearer of the promise of God, he is not a trailblazer like Abraham, and doesn’t run into a life of conflict like either Jacob or Joseph after him. His life appears successful as we’ll see in Genesis 36, but rather subdued in comparison.

This strikes me so much, because I’ve heard so many people who want to be like Abraham, Moses, or some other major Biblical figure. Not only do they want to be them, some also think that everyone should be. While I think there is truth to that, as we are all called to be like Christ, the focus often seems a bit different.

Maybe I’m completely off here, but when I hear talk about being like Christ it seems more focused on our character and our ability to love others. When I hear people talk about being like Abraham or Moses, it seems that the focus is on accomplishment. Not to say that Abraham, Moses, or other significant figures didn’t have character, but what we focus on is the accomplishment. We invoke Moses because we want authority over a group of people like Moses did, often forgetting how much of a struggle it was for Moses). We invoke Abraham because we feel like we are setting sail in uncharted waters and want God’s promise to guide us, again ignoring that Abraham had doubts and wrestled with the implications of what God presented.

There can be times where we feel that our lives have some commonality with these figures, and that is okay. The thing is not everyone is going to be an Abraham, a Moses, or a Paul. I’m also pretty sure that’s okay too. Are lives that are somewhat uneventful somehow less appealing to God? I don’t think that’s the case. Isaac seems to live a rather uneventful life in comparison to some of the other figures in Genesis, yet Isaac appears to trust in God and God appears to bless him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, we might be pressured into feeling like we need to live up to some expectation placed on us to be just like someone else. I guess I don’t feel like that’s the case. In fact I’ve grown suspicious of people who try to compare themselves too closely to figures from the Bible. It seems like a power play to connect yourself to a authority figure. That’s not to say that we won’t see reflections of these stories play out in our own lives, but that we shouldn’t be trying to convince others we’re just like them.

We’re allowed to be who we are. That’s not to say we don’t have sin or flaws that need taken care of. It’s also not an excuse to just do whatever we please. It is just that we will be placed in unique positions and have unique strengths and weaknesses. We don’t have to be like Moses, Abraham, or whoever else in those circumstances, it is about being ourselves faithfully following after Jesus.

This may lead us to do amazing things that will be remembered for years to come, or it could lead us to a quieter, but faithful life that isn’t remembered except by those closest to us. Both are valid expressions of the faith we have.

Of Roses and Church Structures

Yard work has become a reality we’ve had to get adjusted to now that we’ve bought a house. We’ve had to figure out what was planted around the yard, and what survived the rather harsh winter. Once we discovered what kind of plants we had growing around the yard, we had to figure out how to take care of what we had and buy the tools necessary to do what we needed to do.

One of the plants that we have in our yard is a rose bush. We weren’t sure how much of it was healthy for awhile. A lot of it seemed dead, but we didn’t want to just start cutting too soon, and well we couldn’t anyway since we didn’t have trimmers that would work for a rose bush very well at that time. Earlier this week though my wife was able to get to trimming the rose bush and a fairly significant amount of the bush was dead.

Now before the rose bush was trimmed some of the vines that were healthy looked to be pretty strong and upright. After the bush was trimmed and the dead was cut away some of the vines that were alive slumped to the ground. They may have been alive, but they weren’t very strong. They had been relying on the support of the dead vines.

For some reason as I was mowing around the rose bush over the weekend this led me to thinking about the church. I wonder how often this is the case with our church structures. Part of it just dies and never gets cut off. It doesn’t kill the whole church, but when parts spring to life they are unable to become as strong because they’re stuck on all the parts that are dead or “just the way they’ve done things.”

If you don’t cut away all of the dead parts then the stuff that actually has life may never get as strong as it needs to be. What needs to be cut off may vary depending on the church and the situation, but checking to see what needs pruned on a regular basis is a necessary thing to do. What I’m talking about isn’t just to make sure your church is doing the newest thing or filling your activities with all kinds of programs. I just think that we routinely need to examine the church to make sure we’re nurturing and putting time and effort in the parts that are alive and vital.

If this is mistaken for just adding lots of stuff like programs or ideas that are currently cool or faddish, it may look like another situation in our yard. The previous owners also had a herb garden planted. As it grew this year we saw that only two herbs remained. Most of it was overtaken by mint, but there were a few chives that grew as well.

The mint was so thick though, that when we removed the ones growing around the chives all the chives just fell to the ground. Because of how crowded the herb garden was the chives weren’t able to gain any strength on their own either. You could have looked at our herb garden and seen a lot of life. It was green and healthy looking for the most part, but it wasn’t really a healthy situation either.

So a church that is so crowded with activities and maybe even focused on attracting one particular demographic of people may crowd out other parts of the church that are also healthy and growing. Having a lot of options doesn’t always mean health. Sometimes it can mean that the life is just being choked out of other avenues of the church’s ministry or that maybe certain people groups are feeling like they’re being chocked out.

I guess all this just makes me wonder that sometimes we fail to prune and weed out the structures of our churches. That our lack of health may be because we’re trying to cling to what is dead, or maybe trying to fill the church with programs and aspects to attract a certain demographic alone. I’m not always sure I know what needs pruned, but a willingness to honestly look at the structure of the church on a regular basis seems like it would be a helpful and even a healthy thing to do. That could just be me though, what do you think?

Final Thoughts on Liberating The Laity

Who is to be ministering in the church? Is it the “job” of one person who is hired by the church? Is it accomplished by a team of professionals? Or is it the responsibility of everyone who calls themselves a Christian and part of the body of Christ?

Liberating the LaityR. Paul Stevens presents an answer to these type of questions in his book Liberating the Laity. Considering his title, one can probably guess what type of answer he is presenting. Stevens gives his foundational concepts early on in the book and they’re as follows.

He says, “The two principles that undergird this entire book are these: First, church leadership is called primarily to an equipping ministry. This is not a sideline to preaching or counseling, but the raison d’être of the pastor-teacher. Second, equipping the saints does not mean harnessing the laity for the felt needs or institutional tasks of the church nor harnessing the laity to assist the pastor with certain delegated ministries. The saints are to be equipped for their own ministry…. (p.38)”

Now these are not bad principles to build a book around. I felt that when he was focused on his two main principles that he had a good case to make. A case that says ministry is not just for the pastor, it is for the whole congregation. That the laity aren’t second class citizens of God’s kingdom behind the clergy. That ministry isn’t just centered on what we do at the church but it needs to be connected to our everyday lives.

Another issue made its way into his book enough that it tended to interfere with his two main principles. That issue was tent making or the idea as he puts it in one of his chapter titles, the idea of voluntary clergy. What he means by this is that the leaders of the church are not paid by the church, but rather earn a wage by working a job outside of the church.

I can see how this concept flows naturally out of the discussion of equipping the laity. For some reason though I just didn’t feel that Stevens treatment of it was very fluid. Maybe it was the fact that he was often making a case for it, but made the point that it wasn’t necessarily how everyone should do it? Maybe it was that one of the chapters about it was done in an odd format that involved an imaginary interview?

I’m not sure, but I felt when he focused on the idea of tent making the waters got muddy and it wasn’t as focused as the idea of equipping people for their own ministries. In fact it may have even distracted from the principle of equipping people. It felt like the book had become a Trojan horse to house an idea that was related, but not absolutely necessary to the discussion.

So what’s my overall impression of Liberating the Laity? It’s a bit mixed.  When he’s focused on equipping, the book is at its strongest. I think he raises valid concerns about how we view and act out leadership in the church. With my education being in theology with the goal of being a pastor, these concerns are somewhat close to home, even if I’m not a pastor yet, at least in a “professional” sense.

I found the book useful for raising a number of questions about leadership in church, church models, and the importance of equipping all believers. However, his focus on tent making, which I don’t have any problem with, just seemed uneven. In my opinion, it even distracted a bit too much from his principles that I quoted earlier.

With all this, I’d say that Liberating the Laity is an uneven book. It brings up valid points about equipping the laity, but also feels like you’re getting an advertisement for becoming a tent maker in the process. Add in some chapters that just fall a bit flat, like the chapter that was an imaginary interview and it just makes for an uneven experience. Not enough of one that I’d recommend to steer clear of the book, but also not enough that I’d thoroughly recommend it either.