“Perry Hath Murdered Sleep”

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I’m not good at resting.

I’ve just finished a school year where I was up every night until after 11, read from my iPad every night until midnight-ish, and woke up five days a week at 5.30.

I was teaching 8 am classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the traffic on I-35 is hellish, so I wanted to leave the apartment before 6.15; I was going to Starbucks and working from there until traffic cleared up on the days that I wasn’t teaching; etc.

These are all horrible habits.  Staying up too late, being glued to my screen (with its sleep-disrupting blue light frequencies) until I passed out, getting less than 5 hours of quality sleep most nights, crashing on weekends.  I was planning my life around being sleep-deprived.

I found that I could be active on 5 hours of sleep a night, but I couldn’t be creative.  I could be productive, but not in any quality way.  To be productive and maintain quality, I really need to be creative.  I really need to be plugged in to tasks and conversations, and to have more of my mind engaged with what’s at hand.

(It’s also impossible for me to write consistently when I’m sleep-deprived.)

I just went through an entire school year where I saw and responded to everything through a fog, a low-level sleep hangover, because my brain wasn’t getting the time to recover that it needed.

It was like living and working with my brain wrapped in gauze.

With sleep, I can be consistently closer to full capacity.  And I think that, if I can be closer to full capacity (80%?) for seven or nine hours per day, I’ll get more accomplished, and do it better, than if I’m at 50% for ten or eleven hours per day.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Gen 2.2)

I need sabbath, and I need rest.  I can’t do the things I think God has given me to do when I’m hungover from a lack of sleep.

So:

  • I’m turning off the TV earlier.  (Late night stuff is all Trump and Clinton, which in and of itself is enough to “murder sleep.”)
  • I’m stopping work earlier.  I’m a chronic “I’ve got my laptop I’ll write lectures and emails late into the evening” person.  Working into the evening makes it harder to wind down.
    • (Just last night, I stayed up until 11 working on an email; it was harder to get to sleep, and I woke up at 5 and couldn’t go back to sleep.  I NEED routine.)
  • I’m putting away the iPhone and iPad, and not reading from them in bed.
    • (Yes, I appreciate the new “Night Shift” feature, that filters the blue frequencies out of the displays at set times.  But having a smartphone or tablet in bed disrupts sleep in other ways, due to impulsive use: check your email! see if X responded to your witty comment on Facebook! etc.)
  • I’m reading real books–paper and ink!–every night, and only using the iPhone for listening to relaxing music while winding down to sleep.  (Use the timer to shut off the music after 30 – 45 minutes.)
  • I’m going to bed at the same time (10 pm) every night.
  • I’m not teaching any 8 am classes next year, so I won’t be setting the alarm before 7 am very often.

Is Your Church Successful?

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How can church leaders determine if an activity or event is worth the effort & resources it takes?

How do you choose what to repeat & what to discard?

Is there a tool that can guide you as you try to improve programming?

One word: assessment.

A group of ministers are sitting around a table at Applebee’s, talking about their churches.

Chad asks, “How is your church doing, Steve?”

Steve responds, “We’re doing great!  Our average attendance is up 15% over last year.”

A few minutes later, Jeff works into the conversation: “We’ve had ten more baptisms this year than we had this time last year! God is truly blessing us!”

And a few minutes later, Tony notes, “Our giving is over budget for the third consecutive year!  God is so good!”

After the meal, as they drive away, Chad thinks: Steve’s church has experienced attendance growth because the other churches in town are going through splits.  If the other churches were healthy, …  And Tony’s church is in a small, stagnant town, with a declining population.  How can anyone expect his church to grow in attendance?  And half the people in Jeff’s church lost their jobs when the auto factory shut down.  Is it fair to expect …”

 

Is your church succeeding?  How do you know?  Is your church succeeding at the right things?  (It’s possible to succeed at the wrong things, which is its own kind of failure.)  Again: how do you know?

Churches traditionally define success in terms of baptisms, Sunday school attendance, attendance growth in worship services, consistent giving against budget, etc.  These things may or may not be important (hint: they ARE important), but they measure only a fraction of what makes churches healthy and “successful.”  They’re least common denominator definitions, that don’t go deeper than the surface of what it means for a church to succeed.  These are the things we measure because they’re easy to measure.  But not all success is so easily quantified.  In fact, the most important things are often harder to count.

It’s like we’ve defined success in terms of one phrase from Matthew 28.19-20 (“go and … baptize”) while ignoring the rest of the verse (“make disciples, … teaching them to obey.”)

Or it’s like we’ve defined success in terms of one phrase from Hebrews 10.25 (“let us not forsake meeting together”) while ignoring the rest of the verse (“so that we can encourage one another.”)

 

Years ago, I heard Lloyd John Ogilvie say, “Whatever we care about, we measure.”  If we care about things beyond baptisms and giving against budget and worship attendance, then we need to find ways to measure them.  And we can: there’s a set of tools from the world of higher education that can help.  In the college world, we refer to these tools as “assessment” or “institutional effectiveness.”  The entire process is about deciding what outcomes your students should meet, establishing programming designed to enable them to reach those goals, and then measuring how well they succeed.

Say you are in the business department at a college.  Periodically, you and the other business faculty ask yourselves the question, “What do we want our graduates to be able to do when they graduate?”  One possible answer would be: we want our graduates to be able to make an accurate interpretation of a corporation’s annual financial statement.  That’s your desired outcome.

Then you strategize about programming.  What skills and knowledge are involved in being able to read an annual financial statement accurately?  In what classes will we teach these skills that build our students toward the desired outcome?  And then: how will we determine if they’re actually able to read a corporation’s annual financial statement accurately?

After considerable discussion over coffee, you and your colleagues decide:

1.     We will teach skill X in class A.  We will teach skill Y in class B.  And we will teach the basic vocabulary for reading annual financial statements in class C.

2.     We will then measure students’ abilities to read annual financial statements in a capstone management class.

3.     In that class, we measure their achievement of this designed outcome by giving students the actual annual financial statements from three corporations and asking them to rank the corporations in terms of financial health.

(Do you see the process?  Determining desired outcomes è implementing programs that build toward those outcomes è measuring the degree to which the outcome is met.)

THIS PROCESS CAN BE TRANSFERRED TO YOUR CHURCH.  Beyond baptisms and average worship attendance and giving against budget: what do you want to see your people doing?  Greater involvement in missions?  Getting out of debt?  Participation in marriage enrichment retreats?  Participation in marriage enrichment retreats leading to an increase in reported marital satisfaction?  ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE OUTCOMES.  ALL OF THOSE OUTCOMES CAN BE MEASURED.  And your church can design and implement programs that build toward those outcomes.

Mission generates outcomes.  Where do outcomes come from? They come from your church’s mission.  You probably have a mission statement; it should be specific enough to guide you as you think about outcomes.  But even if you don’t have a published mission statement, your team can brainstorm periodically about the improvements, the growth, that you want to see in your congregation.  What do you care about?  How can you measure it?

Inputs and outputs.  One of the traps that people fall into when doing assessment is that they confuse inputs with outputs.  An INPUT is the programming that a church offers to achieve a goal or outcome.  “We will offer high quality marriage retreats at the local resort twice a year, with scholarships for the couples who cannot afford to take part.”  That’s an INPUT, what YOU do.  It’s not an outcome.  Outcomes are outputs, what you want to have happen as a result of your action.  Measure THAT.

An OUTPUT would be: “The number of couples participating in the marriage retreats will increase every year.”  That’s an outcome: a change in the behavior of your people.  It’s not a perfect outcome, however, because you want more than participation, don’t you?  A hundred couples could participate and not one of them change their patterns of handling marital stress because of what they learn at the retreat.

Don’t you want your people to go beyond participation and actually learn and put into practice things that will affect their marriages?  If so, then a better output would be: “Couples that attend our marriage retreats will report greater satisfaction with their marriages and greater ability to support one another through stressful situations than couples in our church that do not attend marriage retreats.”  It’s still not perfect, but it’s better.  It’s focused on the result, and on a specific desired result that moves close to guaranteeing that lives are changed through this particular ministry of your church.

How would you measure that outcome?  You’d probably use anonymous surveys for couples in your church.  In the survey, you would determine if the couple had or hadn’t participated in the marriage retreat.  You would then ask questions designed to ascertain how satisfied the couples were with their marriages and how well they supported one another through stressful situations.

Or even better: survey the couples who take part in the marriage retreats before the retreat and then survey them again six months later, and compare the results with surveys of couples who didn’t take part in the retreats.

 

So again, here are the steps.

  1. Determine what you want the program to achieve.  This is your outcome.  It’s best if you can state the outcome in specific, measurable language.  “The number of couples who took part in the marriage retreat that report using healthy strategies to deal with marital stress will be fifteen percent higher than the number of couples who did NOT take part in the retreat who report using healthy strategies to deal with marital stress.”
  2. Determine what you’ll do to achieve the outcome.  How will you program for this?  Sermons?  Retreats and special events?  Sunday school or small group curriculum?  Devotional materials?
  3. Determine how you’ll determine if your program is meeting the outcome, and to what degree.

Here are some examples of possible church outcomes:

  • The number of families (or number of hours) involved in local outreach / service projects;
  • The number of local service / outreach projects that are generated by the members of your congregation (instead of being generated top-down, from the leaders or staff);
  • The number of people rearranging their lives (e.g., using family vacation time) to participate in mission trips;
  • The number of households participating in planned, automatic giving, and how that number is affected when you preach on giving;
  • The number of young couples participating in premarital counseling;
  • The number of young married couples who, having participated in premarital counseling, can describe ways the counseling benefitted them when asked after 24 months of marriage;
  • The number of members (i.e., not leadership team members) volunteering to organize and host home outreach groups.

THINK ABOUT IT:

How do you want your people to grow in discipleship, learning and applying God’s word to their lives, attitudes, and actions?  How can you measure this growth?

How do you want your people to grow in outreach, taking their relationship with God outside the boundaries of your church into your community and indeed into all the world?  How can you measure this growth?

How do you want your people to grow in ministry, in serving each other and the church and the community around them with their gifts and resources?  How can you measure this growth?

How do you want your people to grow in fellowship, their commitment to spending time together, serving together, being together, becoming more and more part of one another?  How can you measure this growth?

Thoughtcrime, the San Bernardino Terror Attacks, and @LindaStasi

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It didn’t take long.  The victims’ blood on the ground in San Bernardino hadn’t even dried when the NY Daily News writer Linda Stasi’s pretzel logic twisted reality further beyond recognition.

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If you haven’t read Orwell’s 1984–you really should–this is a species of what Orwell referred to as “thoughtcrime.”

This set of thought patterns is based on the conviction that it’s not behavior that makes people virtuous; it’s their adherence to politically correct policies.  To wit: what you think about Syrian refugees makes you virtuous, regardless of how you behave.

So:

  • When President Obama says, “The arc of history is bending toward …”
  • When the mainstream media eagerly searches for reasons to blame the victims rather than blame the aspects of Islam that make such violence more problematic in Islam than in any other major religion …
  • When your Facebook friend says, “If you don’t agree with me about Syrian refugees/marriage equality/amnesty and citizenship for immigrants who just happen to be here illegally/gun control, JUST UNFRIEND ME,”…

They’re saying that the way they think about that particular issue is the only way to think about that issue.  Heterodoxy is stupid, or wrong-headed, or even dangerous, or even damaging to the thinker and the people around him/her, … and even potentially criminal.

Thoughtcrime, in other words.

Here’s the thing.  Heterodoxy is not stupid.  In a free society, it’s required; if there’s no heterodoxy, there’s no freedom, by definition your society is not free.  That’s why the attacks on the first amendment are so pernicious, so dangerous.

WOMEN IN MINISTRY SYLLABUS, PT 2: Assignments

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The assignments for this course are:

Participation (10% of final grade): every week, students will collaborate on preparing questions for ministry practitioners.  These will be discussed during the first and subsequent class sessions.  Students who are taking the class asynchronously will email questions to Dr Stepp (pstepp@dallas.edu) each week in time for the class to discuss them prior to hosting the next guest minister.

Discussion Forums (20%) (addresses outcome 1): explain the features, implications, underlying rationales of various views on women’s roles in the church.

  • Week 1, professors will assign a specific people / sources who have discussed our question (e.g., John Piper, Junia Project, Scot McKnight, Christians for Biblical Equality, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, etc.) to students.
  • With professor’s guidance, students will find a concise statement of their source’s views, read, summarize, and critique. DO NOT POST THIS IN THE DISCUSSION FORUMS; this is preliminary work for writing your posts.
  • Before class begins week 3, students will post the following in the Discussion Forum:
    • Where they found their source’s views (web address, book or article reference.)
    • A neutral (non-critical) summary of the source’s views (150 words)
    • What was good, or what they liked; or what they agreed with and why.
    • What was bad, what they didn’t like; what they disagreed with and why.
    • What surprised them, and / or what they learned that they didn’t know before.
  • In addition to their original set of posts, students will interact substantively with three other students’ posts.  Substantive interaction = more than “Me too” or “That’s dumb” or “That’s brilliant”.  Students must interact with at least ONE other student before class begins on week 4. Students must interact with two more students before the end of the class.  Students must make a total of six substantive comments, not counting their initial posts.

Summary of biblical teaching paper (20%) (see outcome 2): the ideal paper will summarize women’s leadership activity in the Old Testament (Deborah, Hulda, others) and the New Testament (Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s ministry, Acts, Paul’s letters.)  Can be an outline—just use consistent format, correct spelling, neat appearance.  Five pages +, single spaced.  THIS IS NOT A RESEARCH PAPER.  All references, including biblical, must be cited parenthetically.  Due by the beginning of class, week 4.

Exegetical presentation (30%) (see outcome 3): Students will be assigned specific New Testament passages and use Fee & Stuart’s model to explain and apply their assigned text.  Factors that will be assessed include:

  • How well students explain the cultural backgrounds and possible situations in the life of the early church pertinent to the passage.
  • How well the application balances the teaching of the assigned passage against other pertinent passages.
  • How well students relate the text in context to parallel situations in today’s church.

Students who do not attend live (either face-to-face or via Zoom webconference) will need to record their presentations to YouTube and post a link for their presentation to a dedicated thread in the Discussion Forums on Moodle.

In an online poll on Moodle after the first week of the class, students will indicate how they plan to make their presentations: live face-to-face, live via webconference, or by recording uploaded to Youtube.

Students who do not make a live presentation must interact with each other in the Discussion Forum (in addition to the interaction under assignment #2.)  Students in this forum must interact with three other students in this forum before the end of the class.  Students must make a total of six substantive comments, not counting their initial posts.

Personal statement project (20%) (see outcome 4): before 11.59 p.m. CST, Monday, 2 November, students will turn in a project meeting outcome #4 (page 2, above).  This is a project that the students create themselves, not something found from another source.

Research or reflection papers will be acceptable, but creativity = at least 10% of the grade. The less text, the better; BE CREATIVE.  If students turn in a statement using visual arts—a sculpture, painting, website, etc., they can add a brief explanation.

Death, Be Not Proud

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Several recent deaths in and around my circle; I always remember John Donne’s famous poem at times like this.

I LOVE how Donne depicts death’s temporariness against the vastness of eternity, the childhood bully aspect of death’s power and terror, someday to be outgrown when even death shall die.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

WOMEN IN MINISTRY SYLLABUS, PT 1: Student Learning Outcomes

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What follows is part of the syllabus for the class I’m teaching in Dallas Christian College’s FLEXCampus™ starting this week.


Catalog description of the class:

A study of women’s roles in Christian leadership from a theological, historical, and practical perspective.

Student Learning Outcomes:

This class focuses on a single complex question, “What limitations (if any) should churches today place on the leadership roles taken by women?” Students will:

EXPLAIN the features, implications, and underlying rationales of the two major views (egalitarian and complementarian) and variations thereof on the issue of women’s ministry / leadership roles in the church.

  1. SUMMARIZE the biblical teaching on the question.
  2. INTERPRET one of the major NT passages (as assigned) addressing the question by applying the model from Fee & Stuart (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, chapters 3-4) and formulating recommendations for churches today.
  3. CREATE a mature project explaining the student’s own views on the issue, their reasons for holding this position, and how this class has affected (either affirming or changing) their position.  The project can be a research or reflection paper, but creativity (e.g., visual arts, mixed media, etc.) will be rewarded.

Required texts:

James Beck and others, Two Views on Women in Ministry, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).  ISBN: 978-0310254379.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). ISBN: 978-0310246046.

Weekly Recap

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In Theology for Normal People, I wrote four new posts this week about reading the Bible theologically; the first is at https://theophiluspunk.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/1-07-how-i-approach-theology/

I won’t be making any new Theology for Normal People posts next week. I’m writing a new class on Women in Ministry, and need to get it ready for Thursday night, 24 September. I will post a couple of things from that class next week; not sure what days yet.

But I’ll be back to Theology for Normal People on the 28th, with new posts addressing the question, “Who / What is God?”

1.10. How I Approach the Bible, pt 2

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As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

When I approach the Bible, Old or New Testament, I try to read it two ways. First, I try to read it historically; that’s the post preceding this one.

Second, I try to read it as part of the biblical story. The Bible consists of 66 books, written by dozens of authors over a period of 1,600 years, but it has been arranged to tell a single story. There are echoes and internal threads within those 66 books, allusions and cross-references, conversations between the different authors, all of which connect the separate books into a single entity, a single story.

An alliterative shorthand description of the plot of the story goes like this:

  1. CREATION: God creates the world, and the creatures of the world. And as the crown of creation, God creates man and woman. Everything God created is good. Everything has a purpose and fulfills its purpose.
  2. CORRUPTION: the humanity God created rebels against him. Their rebellion doesn’t just affect them, it effects all of creation. The parts of creation begin to forget their purpose, and don’t do exactly what they were created to do. All of creation is cursed because of human rebellion.
  3. COVENANT: in order to deal with the corruption, God seeks out a family of people (Abraham’s family, the Jews) who will be more or less (frequently less) faithful to him. He promises to be their God, and to keep them as his people, even when they aren’t faithful. He promises to bless them so that he can bless the whole world through them.
  4. CHRIST: the ultimate fulfillment of this promise to Abraham is Jesus of Nazareth. In him, God the creator became a human being. He lived a life of perfect love and service, was executed for his trouble, and rose from the dead. His resurrection seals God’s redemption of creation; it undoes the curse from #2. To save his creation, the creator had to bear the curse himself.
  5. CHURCH: in order to spread the news of his victory over the curse, God worked through the followers of Jesus, those who were more or less (frequently less) faithful to him. He is their God, and they are his people, even when they aren’t perfectly faithful. He promises to bless them so that he can bless the world through them.
  6. COMPLETION: God’s redemption of creation is not yet complete. For a time, he allows people to hear about what he has done and decide if they want to be involved in it or not. But the time of deciding is not infinite; when individuals die, God judges them based on what they did with the knowledge of his plan that they had. And the day is coming when God will replace the present creation with a new, uncorrupted creation.

1.09. How I Approach the Bible, pt 1

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As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

When I approach the Bible, Old or New Testament, I try to read it two ways.

First, I try to read it historically. That means asking the question, “What did the writers mean to say when they wrote this?” What was going on in their churches, in the nation of Israel, in their lives, when they wrote the words of the Bible passage I’m studying?

What did the writers want their readers to get from this text? I’m assuming they wrote their parts of the Bible to be understood. It’s not just a pastiche or scam, or something that was written to make the writers sound wise but incomprehensible.

I’m assuming that the writers wanted the things they wrote to have effect; the readers were supposed to DO SOMETHING with what they wrote: believe something different, do something different (or keep on doing something difficult the same way, refusing to give up.)

These are HISTORICAL questions. What did the writers mean when they wrote this? What did the readers understand when they read this?

1.08.  Me and the Bible

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As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

My graduate degrees (MA, PhD) are in New Testament Studies. That means that I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the background of the New Testament. I can read Greek, the language that the New Testament was written in. I have a fairly broad knowledge of the history, culture, and literature, from the time of Alexander the Great (330’s BC) to the end of the 2nd century AD, about the time of Marcus Aurelius. I know a little bit about a lot of things from this period.

I know a lot about the documents of the New Testament: the arguments about who wrote what and when, the arguments about the content of the different documents and what the writers did and didn’t mean when they wrote.

Does that mean I’m an expert on the New Testament? Kind of, I guess.

When I teach the New Testament, I try to think of myself as a tour guide. I’m leading a group of people through terrain that I’ve looked at long enough to have some ideas, some opinions about what’s there. I’ve seen a lot of what’s there, and thought about a lot of what’s there.

But have I seen everything? Of course not.

Is it possible that one of the people in my tour group will ask me a question I haven’t thought through adequately? Is it possible that one of them will see something I haven’t seen, or made connections I haven’t made? OF COURSE! That’s what makes it fun to be a tour guide.

I’m a student before I’m an expert. I’m an expert because I’ve been a student for such a long time, and will continue to be a student until I die.