Reflections from Seminary Students

Character and Competence

April 25th, 2011 § 0 Comments

In the first week of September, I engaged in a weeklong intensive course titled “Church Planting in a Multi-Cultural Context” with Bishop Matthew Thomas from the Free Methodist Church. During this week, one theme that stuck with me was the importance of finding church-planting co-leaders with spotless character.

Pauline Qualifications for Bishops

It is a fact that out of the 14 qualifications for bishops in 1 Timothy 3, 13 of them have to do with character, while only one (be “an apt teacher”) deals with competence.[1] Culturally, the west tends to favor competencies that are flashy and measurable by the number of bodies their talent puts in the pews (or fold-up chairs) on Sunday morning.

Photo by Tim Samoff

Yet, if Paul in 1 Timothy 3 heavily favors character over competence, then we must go about the task of reassessing what lenses we put on when choosing core leadership. I think we do this by assessing the strengths of the leaders in four categories, in order of importance, and character comes first.

The Case for Character

Character is the most important test of a leader’s overall ability to lead, not only because Paul leans that way, but because character shapes the quality and genuineness of one’s work in ministry.

Without true depth of character, without genuineness of one’s work with parishioners and those who are potential disciples of Christ a leader will likely turn to treating people as commodities; those inside being positioned to meet the personal goals of that leader and those outside simply becoming a number as they come into the ministry.

Genuineness can be faked, fooling many. Sooner or later, though, conflicting attitudes and interests will bring that person (and possibly the ministry) down in flames. As for the quality of work, people of shallow character will cut as many corners as they can to get a job done so as to look close to the desired results. But they are really just getting it out of the way in order to get to things they want to do. A person of shallow character will always miss the spirit in the work, which allows for opportunities of mercy and grace to the ends of releasing the power of God on and in others.

A person with great character will go heavy on acts of mercy and grace, and still have the wherewithal to complete the task they have been assigned. Competence can be taught; character cannot. When hiring co-leaders, therefore, be sure they are of great character, to ensure (as much as it is up to you) that your ministry prospers.

- Raoul Perez


[1] Class notes from Bishop Matthew Thomas’ class, “Church-Planting in a Multi-Cultural Context,” Sept. 7-9, 2010.

The Missional Church

February 23rd, 2011 § 0 Comments

In the first chapter of his book Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), Darrel Guder states that there is a crisis in the North American church today resulting from the exiting of modernity into a pluralistic, privatized, and individualistic religion that seems to be leading to lower church attendance, loss of genuine spirituality, and widespread confusion about the message of Jesus Christ — as well as, I would say, growing biblical and theological illiteracy among believers (please check out www.spu.edu/cbte).

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbutterfly/3261190647/

Taking Guder’s premise to be true, we can’t ignore his conclusion that the solution to this crisis will not be found in method or problem solving. Since the problems are spiritual and theological in nature, a hard look into the nature of the Church’s being will need to take place.

One of those looks into the Church is whether the Church is a place or a people. Guder says that we typically think of the Church as a “place where certain things happen.” This is illustrated when we speak of “going to church,” or “attending church,” or “belonging to a church.”

These statements all make the building in which we worship the central place for “church” to take place. What Guder argues is that we should move away from the Church as place and redefine the Church as community, a gathered people, a sent people, brought together by a common calling.

Missional People

If we who make up the Church understand ourselves as a sent people, as a missional people, a missional Church, we will challenge today’s norm that promotes an individual-centered church experience.

Being a missional people requires that we be on mission together, with God at the center of who we are as a people. This is how we understand how we fit in with the Missio Dei, or sent of God.

In a broad stroke, if God’s mission is to redeem all people, all places, all creation, then, as a missional Church, our mission is to engage and participate with that mission at all costs. At all costs!

What Gifts Will We Bring?

The way we understand what it means to engage the mission of God as a missional Church is found for us back in Psalm 72:10:

“May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.”

In Luke 2, we see that shepherds brought gifts to the Savior, the King of kings, in their rightful service to him. It may seem insignificant that these were only shepherds, but wasn’t David only a shepherd when the prophet Samuel came to anoint him as king?

Therefore, the significance of the shepherds has been elevated, understanding that the lowest among us have become the greatest — kings even — and the greatest have come to bring gifts to the King. The shepherds are like the kings of Sheba who bring gifts to the king of Psalm 72.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taylorhood/57145661/

So the question is this: what gift will we, as shepherds of the Mission of God, bring the King? What gift will we bring to Jesus Christ that will honor him both as the Lord who gives us remission of sins and as the Lord who has anointed us as partners in his mission?

I submit to you that it is this: that we present ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) — sacrifices of broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17) that pour out before him any impediments that prevent us from committing ourselves to the Mission of God, that prevent us from becoming the Missional Church. This sacrifice Jesus will not despise — Jesus will in fact rejoice in creating in us a clean heart and renewing in us a right spirit that will align with his will for a Missional Church in this world.

- Raoul Perez

Poem for Practicum – “Victus”

November 8th, 2010 § 0 Comments

“Practicum” is one component of the graduate theological program here at SPU. Basically, the practicum locates the meeting point between what you are learning in the classroom and what you discuss with your mentor. Hopefully, it is taking theory and context and putting your own ideas into practice.

For my practicum, I decided to write poetry. The content is informed by what I learned at the time. Contextually, I envisioned this poem posted on the wall of the worship hall of a church in which I would pastor. The composition itself is a response to William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” which, to me, speaks of the human soul as a deity unto itself neither created by God nor will succumb to any other authority but itself. I somehow came upon the poem during my studies and found it problematic. In fact, I felt that I just needed to write a response to it.

                       Victus

Out from the Light that pierces all,
Word of creation, breath of life;
I exhale thanks for my conquered soul,
To the Living God of Abraham’s knife.

In Crucibles clutch, I cry aloud,
To God, my faith and fear will sing;
My head is bludgeoned, bloodied, bowed
Mirroring the strength of my King.

A child of dust, I shall return
To the One alone who welcomes me;
Love Alive is my hope to earn
“victus”, the victor’s identity.

It matters to sheep to enter by gate,
And to goats, if name is not on the scroll;
Blessed are those who share Steven’s fate,
Woe to the unconquerable soul.

-Raoul Perez

GCHI: Beginnings and Ends of Humanity

October 27th, 2010 § 0 Comments

Below is an excerpt of a paper that recently I wrote for my Global Christian Heritage I class. The excerpt is actually the portion of the paper that is answering the question: “How is Maximus the Confessor’s chapter on “The Beginning and the Ends of Rational Beings” applicable to the Church?” By “beginnings” Maximus is referring to humanities’ ontological beginnings (i.e. from where does humanity come and for what were they created?). By “ends”, Maximus is referring to humanities’ eschatological ends (i.e. what future hope can humanity have for the end and, again, for what were they created?). If you are interested in reading the chapter after reading this blog, click here.

“After giving the text a thorough read, I realize that Maximus the Confessor’s argument has a very pertinent application for ontological and eschatological theologies in the church today. Speaking plainly, western Protestantism endorses a faith that persuades people to simply be kind to one another, encouraging convenient niceties to each other in order to feel good about themselves. The costly commandment to “love your neighbor” has been replaced with a new one: “be nice to one another when it is expedient for you.” This fickle kind of Christian faith is not just due to a skewed understanding of humanities’ beginnings and ends; it has more to do with the fact that our culture does not care to know and/or acknowledge who we are as a creation and what exactly is the ultimate fulfillment in this life.
        
We live in a world that expects us to “die and live in the now” repeatedly every single day; forgetting our past and forsaking the future for the sake of the present moment. “The moment” is so sacred, that if you are not facebooking, you are anti-community; if you are not tweeting, you are un-celebratory; if you are not blogging, you are irrelevant; if you are not branded, you are unknown. The world fights fiercely regarding the protection of the modes that provide moments of instantaneous gratification, that there is no interest left in attempting to recover who we are, from where we came, and to where we are ultimately returning. There is no curiosity left for these things because they are seemingly irrelevant and not as pleasing as getting instant reward for one’s momentary efforts.
          
This outlook is not a pagan view either; it is the cultural view of churchgoing twenty-somethings and younger generations who are natives to the internet. Instilled with a lack of conviction about what the Christian faith really demands of and offers them, a lack of consideration exists among these young people about why should live for anything other than what their culture says they should live for: the moment.
           
The purchase power of Maximus’ argument is easily understood laid-out as a four-point sermon. First, God has no beginning or end, but all that is (creation) has its beginnings in God (Creator). Second, since humanity had holy beginnings in God, only holy ends in God will fulfill humanity’s desires to be known. Third, by acting in accordance with the will and word of God, humanity becomes an instrument in God’s hand here on earth, correspondingly making them more God-like. Fourth and finally, God became human so that humanity could become God.
          
I can practically see the congregation mobbing the pulpit screaming “Heresy!” for the assertions that we are made in the image of God and that through Christ those that fully give themselves to the word and will of God, are being made God by God. By Maximus’ argument, it is seen that our ends are our beginnings and that the image that we are created in infinitely determines who we are being made to become at the final consummation with God.

In this way, truthfully, the moment is not done away with; The Church must realize that the world consists of image-bearers with ends as valuable as God, and that every moment has the potential for the Church to be, see, or become-more-like God. The key difference here is that the Church cannot forget those moments just like the fickle culture overlooks those moments. The Church cannot forsake the future hope of Godly-ends for instantaneous gratification. The Church must grip tightly to every moment of communal interaction believing that when it remembers its neighbor both in their needs and in their joys, it embraces the moment humanity was created in God’s image and every moment thereafter that God is making them Godlike.”

 -Raoul Perez

Mentor Meetings

April 20th, 2010 § 1 Comment

An interesting aspect of the SOT graduate program is its mentor programs. Students are split into groups of two and assigned to a mentor who meets with them once a month during the school year. My particular mentor is Mike Neelley who works in pastoral support and discipleship at Tierra Nueva in the Skagit Valley. Labeled ‘The People’s Seminary’, Tierra Nueva shares the liberating news of Jesus Christ with farmworkers and immigrants in the Skagit Valley.

As my mentor, Mike tells me experiences that he has had in ministry; we carry a dialogue concerning the complex theological issues presented in class with the hope of finding their practical applications in ministry. In addition, my fellow student (who also share the same mentor) and I have the opportunity to experience Mike’s ministry first-hand. I have been particularly moved by our times of prayer as we seek God and hope to find direction as we all continue down our paths of ministry.

It has also been a blessing to meet some of Mike’s friends at Tierra Nueva. The last time we visited, we met a young man who has struggled with drug use throughout his life. While in prison, he met Jesus and has been forever changed by the encounter. Even though trials and temptations litter this man’s path, his deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ is something that I wish to someday have. I considered it an honor to share the room and worship with him. From soaking prayer at New Earth Refuge – the faculty retreat facility – to participating in worship with Tierra Nueva, I am able to understand how theology is applied within a particular context.

-Donovan Richards

The mentor with which I was connected through the graduate program was Reverend James Kearny who is the lead pastor at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church. I, honestly, was skeptical that I would be able to connect with an “assigned” mentor, being that the meeting was more required than organic. But, the truth is, that James is exactly who I have needed to help me contextualize my education in light of the church, as well as drawing out the particular spiritual gifts that the Spirit is exemplifying through me. It has been such a gift to meet with James once a month, be able to voice theological and spiritual struggles that I am having, have him convey wisdom and even some of his own hardships of his own for my and Josh’s (another student who James mentors) benefit. It has truly been a blessing to me to have a mentor assigned to me based on my desire to pursue pastoral ministry after SPU; the program really did intentionally strive to make this partnership what it has now become: a benefit and a blessing to both mentor and mentee.

- Raoul Perez

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