Saturday, September 29, 2012

" Door Set Open" by Peter Steinke: A Review

Having heard Dr. Steinke at a recent meeting of church officials, I was intrigued to read more of his work.  His knowledge and perspectives caught my attention and he seemed worth the time for more study.  A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope (The Alban Institute, 2010) is a relatively short book (141 pages) and easy to read, but offers some engaging ideas.  Dr. Steinke is a well-known congregational systems consultant and has worked with many conflicted organizations (churches and denominations).  Although he leans heavily upon the psychological work of his mentor Edwin Friedman, he also engages the biblical text for additional insight.  As a Lutheran he predictably quotes Luther at selective intervals, but appears to prefer non-Lutheran theologians for their perspective, especially the work of N.T.Wright.  Contrary to my expectations, he did not go down the predictable path of more church growth rhetoric, and was even critical of some of the dependance on this model for the renewal of the church, especially as it encouraged the church to find solutions through easy and quick efforts.  Real change takes time.  His emphasis throughout the book held true to the subtitle:  Grounding change in mission and hope.

While one could argue that certain aspects of Steinke's book do not go deep enough (theologically, in particular), and that he may be too dependent on psychological theory, the primary purpose of his book was obviously to challenge the church to change its perspective, not to develop an exhaustive treatment of the subject.  Personally I gained from reading this book, especially as one who not only pastors a congregation, but also as a church official charged with working with conflicted congregations and those going through times of transition and change.  Several points at the end of the book serve well to summarize his theme:
  • The challenge of the change for leaders is to keep one's eye on the ball (stay focused), take the heart (remain calm), stay connected (talk and listen), and get a good night's sleep. 
  • The purpose of the local church is to invite people to be part of the true mission of the church. 
  • The church is a school for developing agents of the new creation from among those who are beneficiaries of God's grace. 
For anyone who pastors a church that is stuck in conflict, Steinke's book would be worth the read.  And even for the many traditional Lutheran churches that too often turn inward and lose sight of the bigger mission to which we are all called.  In many ways his call to be in mission seemed to echo President Harrison's work on mercy.  Mission is lived out in concrete ways.  Love for people should have real connection with the community.  Steinke shows that for the church to be renewed and vital in the world it has to live out the Gospel entrusted to it.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Powerpoints and Children's Sermons: An Evaluation

Over the years we have been told that visual images are the most effective way to communicate in church.  Admittedly, during my time at the seminary (1983-1987) this was not the message, although I'm sure that it was already being practiced, to one degree or another, at the parish level.  With the advent of Powerpoint and big screens, the presence of visual images during worship and sermons has increased several fold.  Personally, I have not been sold on this, but did not have any real research to support my views.

A recent article at the Steadfast Lutherans site offers that support.  Two studies are referenced, one a D.Min project and the other an Ed.D dissertation.  The first studied the effectiveness of projected images during the sermon, the other (included in the comments section) studied the effectiveness of children's sermons.  I would highly recommend the article for your own review: "Why We Should Rethink the Use of 'Visual PowerPoints' in Sermon Messages." 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Greatest Minds Did Not All Possess the Highest Academic Degrees

In a recent journal article by Dr. Paul J. Grime from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, the professor notes that the great musical master Johann Sebastian Bach "never had the benefit of a university education" (CTQ, January/April 2012, 4-5).  This sent me searching elsewhere for more information on Bach's formal education.  At the Bach Cantatas Website I further learned that his "formal education ended at what we would consider High-School level."  Now I note all this not in any way to disparage the great composer.  My point here concerns a personal issue with the value and necessity of advanced degrees with regard to the mastery of skills and knowledge in a given field.  Last year I posted an article entitled "Theologians Without Doctorates."  In it I noted some great minds that never achieved the terminal degree for which so many strive, and yet their achievements outweigh those with far higher credentials.  Again, I do not wish to disparage any who have worked to achieve such academic accomplishments.  They are to be lauded.  However, it is easy, as well, to become so enamored by these credentials that we can conclude that nothing worth studying or reading comes from any without these degrees.  Admittedly I have taken issue with many televangelists in our time who amass great flocks and write numerous best-sellers and yet have no real formal theological education (like Joel Osteen) or a meager one at best.  While the degree itself is never a guarantee of mastery, one can also tell if a person has attempted mastery without it.  Bach demonstrates an amazing brilliance, one that was fed at the feet of other masters.  So the degree is not the critical issue here, but rather the drive to learn, to achieve, to master.