Tuesday, March 22, 2016


"This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work."  (I Timothy 3:1)
(Many Bible scholars would say it's permissible to substitute the words "elder" or "overseer" or even "pastor" for "bishop" in I Timothy 3:1.  If you read it as "pastor" it's quite fitting with this piece.) 

Most of my close friends and relatives who are reading this are well aware of my life story over the past few decades, and also know about my present life circumstances.  For the sake of readers who don't know that information, I want to briefly state that I'm an Ordained Assemblies of God minister.  I pastored a small church in Framingham, Massachusetts from 1987 to 2010.  That small church was closed in 2010.  I began a secular job in March of 2010 that I was released from just a few weeks ago.  I'm now in the process of trying to find a new secular job at the jolly age of sixty-one!  I've been spending quite a bit of time in the past few weeks pouring over job postings on-line at some of the most popular job seeking sites. Although I'm looking for a secular position, just a few days ago, I thought it might be fun to check and see if there were any "pastor" positions that had been posted.

As you might guess, there were not many "pastor" or "clergy" positions that I found.  Sometimes there are "chaplain" positions available.  They usually require a minimum of an M.Div. degree and pretty extensive experience in a healthcare or educational setting, along with graduate credits in some very specific areas.  It's very rare to find a "pastor" or "associate pastor" job position posted on a major internet job seeking site, but (amazingly) I did find an associate pastor position posted, and it was at a church in one of Boston's suburbs.
I'm very familiar with the church.  It's what I'd call a "mainstream evangelical" church;  definitely "theologically conservative/Bible based" but not particularly "Pentecostal" or "charismatic".  I've got some good friends who attend this church, and I've attended some special events at their large and attractive church facility.  They're a very good church with a lot of good ministries offered, and some excellent and highly gifted people on their staff.  That church is specifically seeking an "Outreach Pastor".  The job description was quite long, quite detailed, and rather complicated.  As I read and tried to mentally digest the job description, bluntly speaking, what I was reading just about blew my mind!  What "freaked me out" about it is that the man (or woman) this church is planning to hire could not possibly exist!  I can't imagine (were he alive, healthy, and able to speak English) that even the Apostle Paul would have a remote shot at being hired!
The job's educational requirement is actually quite simple:  It requires only a Bachelor's degree.  That surprised me.  I'd say over half of pastors at Pentecostal and charismatic churches hold only Bachelor's degrees (I have only a Bachelor's); but usually an M.Div. is the minimum allowed at mainline evangelical congregations, with a preference for D.Min. holders.  Yes, the education required is not a big deal, but after that, we get into the "unlikely" and perhaps even "impossible" qualifications!  There's a list of twenty-one "Responsibilities" the Outreach Pastor will be expected to fulfill.  I won't list all of them, but the following is a list of less than half of them:
  • Determine the critical impact project(s) to engage the congregational for community transformation
  • Advocate, recruit, train and deploy ministry partners for service;
  • Evaluate the process and potential for continuing missional activity in the particular area;
  • Imbed missional activity and identity into the DNA of the congregation.
  • Church Growth
  • Oversee and have principle* responsibility for the process of developing guests into regular attendees who are involved in Faith Groups.
  • Leadership with Outreach Partners
  • Form an outreach team;
  • Connect church ministry partners with outreach partner ministries based on passion and gifts.
  • Work with the Executive Pastor toward creating missional multisite churches.
*I (Bob Baril) think they've spelled that word wrong and that they probably meant "principal".
The Outreach Pastor is also expected to:
"Serve as an active member of the Executive Ministry Council representing Outreach, giving direction to the strategic development of the church’s ministries, with an understanding of the interdependence of the represented ministries. Build a global outreach perspective in staff and church leaders; continually educate church leaders and the congregation regarding the biblical foundation and imperative for outreach."
Again, keep in mind I've exactly quoted well under half of their entire job description here!
We evangelicals are often (rightly) criticized for using our own jargon in such a way that ordinary people in our modern North American society (frankly) can't even understand what we're talking about.  We talk about "witnessing" and "testimonies" and "mass evangelism" and "V.B.S." and "contemporary Christian music".  Yet, you've got to admit those terms are "small potatoes" compared to the "state-of-the-art" and "cutting edge" elite Christian-ese presented in that church's job description!
I understood probably seventy percent of the job description.  The "multisite" thing, for instance, is a trend that's been going on during the past fifteen years or so, in which larger churches that draw from a broad geographic area establish new "sites" in their region.  This isn't really old-fashioned "church planting".  It does have elements of that, but it's a church establishing a "campus" on a new "site" that still maintains a very strong identity with the original church.  Sunday morning sermons may be simulcast on video from the main campus to four or five (or more) satellite locations; yet there's also interaction, prayer, Bible study, pot luck dinners and all sorts of other offerings at each satellite location.  There are pros and cons to the satellite location model, but the biggest pro is that it absolutely reaches more people for Christ and makes a far more powerful impact on a whole metropolitan area than any large and successful church in one location ever could hope to.  The term "missional" means more than "being a missionary".  The idea is that it's a whole "outreach/evangelism" mentality that has the potential to absolutely permeate a society with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I'm not sure that we really needed a new word for that.  The New Testament itself is "missional" and every Christian and church is supposed to be "missional" although the word "missional" is now the new and cool word and philosophy that's being bandied about in evangelical circles.
I would never qualify for that "Outreach Pastor" position!  I have many, many minister friends.  They're mostly men but several are women.  Many are Assemblies of God ministers, and many are Baptist, some Nazarene, some Congregational, some Lutheran, and some with the Evangelical Free Church.   I would guess that about a fourth of my minister friends could perhaps qualify for about half of what that large Boston-area church is looking for in an "Outreach Pastor" but no one could possibly meet all the requirements nor fulfill all the expectations!
I must admit, I shared the list of requirements for that "Outreach Pastor" position with a couple of friends of mine who are laypeople.  In fact, one of those laypeople attends that very church!  The first person's reaction was, "That church is expecting the moon when it comes to hiring an outreach pastor!"  The other (the one who actually attends that church) said, "I don't have the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues so I can't understand what the job posting is even saying."  That person then added with obvious concern, "God help us."
I stated previously that this church is really quite a good one.  Most of the pastors that I'm acquainted with would be thoroughly delighted if the churches they pastored were drawing one-third the number of people that this church is drawing and if their churches were offering one-third the number of ministries this church is running.  Most of my pastor friends would be thrilled to have the use of a church building and property such as that congregation owns, along with the resources they have.  I almost wonder if this church even needs an "Outreach pastor".  It's possible that the present pastoral staff could connect with churches around the country which have successfully grown and established multisite ministries and "pick the brains" of the leadership of those churches.  If the present church is finding itself in a rut or lacking vision (and that certainly can happen), perhaps certain key ministry people could be brought in to address that issue and to motivate the congregation on certain Sundays of the year.  Perhaps each staff person and key lay leader could take just a piece of that "perfect and ideal" job description and "own" it.  With faith and trust in God, and obedience to God's Word and to the Holy Spirit, it's possible they would accomplish much more in that way as a group than the church's present leaders are hoping to accomplish by hiring an individual Outreach Pastor.  Back in the early 1980s, when I was in my beginning days of ministry, the senior pastor I served under taught a series of classes on "Making Disciples" to the lay leaders of the church.  He stressed many key points, but one that stands out in my momory is, "Learning to walk in the truth that we already know".  He pointed out that we really do study and learn and know so much about discipleship, outreach, and evangelism, but the key thing is, we just have to start living it and doing it!  In addition, I think there's no substitute for that church's present pastoral staff and key lay leaders to each develop mentoring relationships with people in the church and "pour themselves" into those people.  When a "good sized chunk" of the laity get "plugged in" it's truly miraculous what can be accomplished!  And, I know this is going to sound very "Pentecostal" of me, but along with all that, how about some "old-fashioned altar services" and some "old-fashioned prayer meetings"?!  I know mainstream evangelical people can get very uncomfortable with those practices, and sometimes Pentecostals and charismatics have gone "overboard" with hype and emotionalism.  But, to my mainstream evangelical brothers and sisters, I say, "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater!  You may not need to hire a person who doesn't exist, after all!  (Listen, no matter who you hypothetically would hire as an Outreach Pastor, that person will never really fulfill what you're asking them to in your job description, no matter what he or she may promise you!)   You may just need to focus as never before on loving God, loving people, and changing your way of thinking!" 

This piece is not meant to offend anyone; it's a word from my heart, but to quote from the Apostle Paul, in writing it, "I think also that I have the Spirit of God".

Friday, March 11, 2016


"...they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."  (from Acts 17:11)

Last night I was privileged to attend a special showing of the new film, The Young Messiah, at AMC Theater 10 in Framingham, MA.  The film's official release date is today, March 11, 2016.  I enjoyed the film, but can only recommend it with great reservations and cautions.  I cannot stress enough that The Young Messiah is a work of fiction.  Much of its contents really do not "line up" with the teaching of the New Testament.

The Young Messiah is heavily based upon the novel, Christ the Lord:  out of Egypt, which was written by Anne Rice.  Anne Rice is described on the internet as "an author of gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotica".  She's especially known for her series of novels entitled, The Vampire Chronicles .  In a Christianity Today artice I found on-line, Anne Rice states that she drew heavily on the "Apocrypha and Apocrypha gospel" in writing her Christ the Lord: out of Egypt story.  I'm sure Anne Rice meant well, but I think she took far too many liberties in imagining the childhood of Jesus Christ.

It is true that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt when Jesus was very, very young, due to the fact that Jesus' life was in danger from the wrath of King Herod the Great.  If you check out the second chapter of Matthew's gospel, you'll learn that an angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt.  Sometime later, after Herod the Great's death, Joseph was instructed in a dream to bring Jesus and Mary back home, and Joseph takes them to settle in Nazareth in Galilee.  

In the film, Jesus is a seven-year-old.  I'm not sure how long Jesus, Mary and Joseph stayed in Egypt, but I doubt it was that long.  I don't know the religious background of Anne Rice, but I'm guessing she is either a Roman Catholic or has been heavily influenced by Catholic teaching.  Protestants and Catholics strongly disagree on whether Jesus had brothers and sisters and (frankly) on whether Joseph and Mary ever had normal intimate marital relations or not.  In Catholic tradition and belief, they did not.  

In Matthew 1:25, it tells us that Joseph and Mary were not physically intimate until after Jesus had been born.  It does not state that Mary was a "perpetual virgin" as the Catholic Church believes.  Matthew 1:25 is particularly clear in the New International Version, and here's what it says:

"But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."

The Bible also states that Jesus, in fact, had brothers and sisters.  Mark 6:3 says:

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him."

In Roman Catholic tradition, it's generally believed that these brothers and sisters of Jesus were actually cousins of Jesus.  There's also the possibility that one of more of them could have been adopted by Mary and Joseph, but that they would not have been the biological parents.  I bring out all of this information because in the film, The Young Messiah, James is actually Jesus' older brother who is his biological cousin.  He's with Jesus, Mary and Joseph for the entire time they're in Egypt.  And, in the film's story, Joseph and Mary adopt a slave girl who had been severely abused.  She becomes a big sister to Jesus.

Jesus also works several miracles as a child in the film.  It makes for great drama.  In fact, John's gospel teaches that the first miracle Jesus worked was the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  That story is found in the Gospel of John chapter two.  In several "gospels" that never made it into the Bible [as the early church fathers deemed them mythological and not credible] Jesus as a child does work miracles.  I think the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not function in the role of miracle-working Teacher and Messiah until after His baptism by John the Baptist at about the age of thirty.  At that time, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, and the voice of God announced that He was the Son of God in which His Father was well pleased.  (Check out all four gospels to confirm that information.)

I know it may sound as though I'm ready to simply throw The Young Messiah story into a dumpster, but there were aspects of it that I liked.  We do know from the final ten verses or so of chapter two in Luke's gospel, that Jesus did separate from Mary and Joseph on a trip to Jerusalem during Passover and that He went into the Temple and astonished the teachers there with what He had to say.  There's a scene a bit like that in the movie, although Jesus is seven and not twelve.  The boy Jesus in the movie is struggling to figure out why he is different from other children [and from all other humans, for that matter].  In some ways, he's very human, and a kid just like all the other kids.  But in some ways, he's nothing like anyone else.  I must admit, I wonder what it must have been like for Jesus growing up, and I do think the whole dynamic of the child Jesus trying to come to grips with countless questions about his identity may well be very close to how things really were for Jesus.  And, have you ever wondered what it would have been like to parent the Son of God?!  One time when I was teaching those verses from the last part of Luke chapter two [about twelve-year-old Jesus in the Tempoe] in an Adult Sunday School class,  a woman protested that Jesus was wrong, had disobeyed his parents and should have been taken aside and given a spanking!  I replied to her, "Well, if you want to take Jesus into another room and give Jesus a spanking, that's up to you, but I'm going to pass on that one!"

Something else I liked about the movie is that it presented what life must have been like for Jews in Egypt and Palestine at the time of Christ, and that is, horrific and terrible!  There are some bloody scenes in the film and the brutality and anti-semeticism of the Romans is brought out live and in living color.  It was a very hostile world into which Jesus was born.  I think modern Christians often romanticize what Palestine in the time of Christ must have been like.  We think of cheery Christmas pagents and even of inspirational Easter plays which briefly feature the crucifixion but highlight Christ's Resurrection.  We often don't get the real picture of what the times were like!

The Young Messiah was filmed in Italy.  Jesus is played by Adam Greaves-Neal who does a pretty good job with that role.  It was directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh.  I'm concerned that many who see it will think that's exactly how it was for the child Jesus; that the child Jesus worked miracles, raised the dead, and so forth, long before his adulthood.  Bluntly, that's false teaching and to me it's at best sacrilegious and at worst blasphemous.  But, if it can be seen and understood strictly as a work of fiction, and if it causes people to seek for the real Jesus Christ and to study the New Testament, then that will be a good thing!