From the Mental Vine


I’ve got several topics in me that I may never get out in full, so I’m going to post some abbreviated versions today rather than let them rot on the mental vine.

Christian Ghettos

In the wake of the International Christian Retail Show (which, by the name alone, sounds like something Jesus would’ve driven out of the Temple with a whip of His own making), several bloggers have given their impressions of the event.

What amazes me in the aftermath is the ghetto mentality on display in those recaps. The charismatics ooh and aah over the charismatic books and authors, the Reformed over their camp’s books and authors, the Baptists over theirs—and on and on.

When I was at Wheaton College, I tried with all my might to convince some of those young whippersnappers to bust out of their denominational ghettos and see how the rest of Christianity lives. It won’t kill the Episcopalian to attend an Assemblies of God service. The Free Will Baptist won’t spontaneously combust by checking out what the high-church Presbyterians are doing. The Covenant Church fellow might see how his counterpart in the Ukranian Orthodox Church worships and come away renewed.

But no, such a request bordered on heresy. Or crossed it, depending on how much starch one had in one’s undies. And back in the early ’90s when I attended, Wheaton could’ve passed for a starch factory.

To see that same paranoia from adults at the ICRS just drives me nuts. Folks, break out of the ghetto! Pick up a book favored by some other denomination and—before you start with the criticism—see if God speaks at all from within the pages. Because I believe that people who dwell in a ghetto never experience the beauty of all God has laid out for us. You can still love your particular denomination, but bring in something precious from elsewhere and watch how God will breathe life back into your ghetto. It’ll change your life and the lives of those around you, I promise.

Power Pop

Being a musician, I deeply appreciate a well-turned song. I’m an extreme sucker for power pop done well. Think huge hooks, anthemic themes, and suitability for cruising the carefree highway with the top down and the volume cranked up.

I don’t follow any contemporary Christian music groups anymore. Most of my faves are relics from the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve bought one freshly-released Christian music CD in the last five years.

But I’ve got to say this: Newsboys possess this remarkable ability to totally nail power pop. Repeatedly. In a variety of styles. Like clockwork. That’s a rare skill.

The other day while running errands, I turned on the radio and heard this techno instrumental break that reminded me immediately of New Order (not the kind of music one hears on Christian radio) and I said right there, “Newsboys. Must be a new single.” And it was: “Something Beautiful.”

The synth part on the chorus? Simple to the point of stupidity, but absolutely pure genius. (Reminds me a bit of the lead guitar line in The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”) I also love the abbreviated-bridge lyric construction in the verses. That’s the kind of chance too few artists take in Christian music today. As a drummer, I’m repeatedly bored to tears by the same beat used in song after song on Christian radio, but to hear a disco drum machine beat—ah, refreshing in a way some may never understand.

I dare you not to get up and dance to “Something Beautiful.” I just love a song filled with life, don’t you? What are your favorites?

And Now For Something Completely Different—And Heartbreakingly Sad

I don’t know why, but I have a total fascination with vanishings. Individuals, planes, boats, villages, and troops that go missing capture my attention. I read about a classic vanishing like the crew of the Mary Celeste and I’m riveted. I’ve always been a “What If?” kind of person, and vanishings afford tons of what ifs. When I see missing person posters, I can’t help myself, I have to read them. These are people’s husbands, wives, daughters and sons. They’re neighbors, friends. And they’re gone. Just gone.

Most end in tragedy. You read enough outcomes and you understand why women out alone cast that furtive, over-the-shoulder glance, eyes wide and frightened. I see too many of those stories anymore. And the number of blogs dedicated to someone gone missing keeps growing.

Mary Byrne Smith, pastor’s wife, kindergarten teacher, and mother of two, vanished from a Beth Moore conference back in March. A few days ago, they found her.

But hers isn’t the story of a shallow grave in a remote forest. No, her story is far more tragic. Though I’m not a sensationalist, I heartily encourage you to read it.

I’m not here to judge Mary Smith. What I’m here to judge is the system we Americans uphold that creates people like her. I see her smiling face in that FoxNews update and I wonder how it all went wrong.

Six weeks ago, I posted some sobering stats concerning ministers and their wives. Our inability to accept them as fellow laborers for Christ creates pressures few of us outside the ministry understand.

I remember last year when I first heard of the Winkler case in Tennessee. Minister’s wife shoots him dead and flees with her daughters. It’s terrible, but I thought what many thought: molestation. Turns out the reason was check kiting and money scams. And not by the minister.

I hate this trend. And I do think it’s a trend. I fully understand that people sin, and pastor’s wives are people, too. But something’s wrong and we in the Church need to wake up and find a way to fix what appears to be an increasingly dire situation in the homes of many families in the ministry.

Please pray for your pastor and his family. They need our covering.

Have a blessed weekend.

22 thoughts on “From the Mental Vine

  1. Great post. And I just have to chime in on the last part … having been a pastor’s wife I agree wholeheartedly with you. Most outside the ministry (and I will venture to say that many inside the ministry as well) have no idea of the pressure …


    • Heather,

      People’s expectations alone can drive a person nuts. Our pastor’s wife, to her credit, is a very forceful personality but uses that not to overwhelm others but maintain a healthy perspective on things. She’s her own woman and others instantly recognize that. She doesn’t get lost in the ministry.

      Others aren’t so fortunate, and “the ministry” runs roughshod over their lives. I think it’s particularly hard if a pastor and his wife have young children at home. My pastor and his wife are empty nesters, had their kids young, and don’t have that added pressure. He came out of the business world, so pastoring has not been a full-time job for him in the past. He established himself elsewhere, in other words. The pastor comes from a huge family, and that provides greater stability, too.

  2. I’ve been reviewing a lot of music lately and have gotten into a couple of groups new to me in CCM circles.

    Breathe Into Me by RED
    Incredible by Building 429
    I’m Not Who I Was by Brandon Heath
    I’m Taking You With Me by RelientK
    Family by Brandon Heath

    • Scott,

      I don’t know RED or Heath. My in-laws go Reliant K’s home church.

      Got to admit, though, all those artists skew a little young for a geezer like me. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate their music, but it doesn’t hit me like some of the older guys do. Can’t explain that, but it’s true.

  3. Why not read some books by Len Sweet, William Willimon, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Brian McClaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Donald Miller, just to name a few?

    • Pastor M,

      Books are about ideas. Not all ideas have equal validity, but that’s what discernment is about, isn’t it?

      I’ve long appreciated books by Watchman Nee because Nee comes at Christianity from a very distinctly Asian mindset, a way of thinking we almost never see in books in America. Too many Westerners dismiss Nee because they don’t get what he’s saying, but that’s because they’re thinking like Westerners. They need to “think different.”

      I read Blue Like Jazz and just could not get into it. But you know what? That’s okay. I wish it were okay for more people to read something different and glean something out of it. I thank God that I’ve had a diverse Christian upbringing. If I didn’t stretch outside my comfort zone from time to time, I’d miss out on so many good ideas out there, ideas that come from unconventional people inhabiting the bleeding-edge of faith and life.

  4. M.E. Huffmaster

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting piece I must say! As an aspiring writer, I subscribe to a Christian fiction writer’s blog and a couple of the members described the Christian Retail Show in terms that made me shake my head in sadness. I really have to wonder why we need “Christian teapots” when so many of the classics by the Christian authors of the past are almost impossible to find anymore. I am almost loathe to share the Catherine Marshall books I have because Amazon seems to be the only large bookseller who has them available. “Christy” is about the only book of C.M.’s you can find anywhere locally and most likely only in connection to the recent movie.

    As for the Christian Ghetto, it’s soberingly true. I grew up in the Methodist/Baptist churches and the idea of visiting another denomination’s services was scary. Supposedly if you weren’t careful you’d come home with “spiritual cooties” or at least hereretical ideas that would mean being quarantined until you were deemed “cured”.

    It’s strange that this Christian Ghetto phenomenon can exist within a single parish/congregation as well. In certain large congregations, there seems to be a high church/low church mentality I can’t quite understand. Sometimes even the pastors of these congregations are at odds with each other over it. Crimony, we’re supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ! Why can’t we simply make an effort to get along and be kind to each other?

    • M.E.,

      When I was in catechism in the Lutheran Church, their teaching material was called “Our Neighbor’s Faith, and it meant attending other churches to see how they did church. That was a revelation for me. Our catechism class went to all sorts of different churches and analyzed their services and doctrine.

      Now that may have backfired in the long run since I eventually left the Lutheran Church (or should I say instead that they left me?), but it let me see that most denominations have a laser-like focus on a few aspects of the Gospel, but not all of it, no matter how much they scream that they practice the whole Gospel. I guess that made me unafraid to explore the full dimension of faith, but always with the understanding that discernment is critical. I have a very “Prove It! way of thinking. I think that’s helped me navigate the waters of numerous denominations.

      I’m not trying to pump myself up here, but I wish more Christians got out of their ghettos and witnessed what others are doing. We’re far too judgmental of anyone or anything that doesn’t look exactly like us. But here’s the truth: very few people look just you or just like me. If we don’t break out of that ghetto thinking, we’ll miss so much the Lord wishes to teach us.

  5. David Riggins

    Our church recently recieved a report on the ways other churches in our area have dealt with the changes in worship, especially music. At the end of the report was a response from one of the worship leaders of a nearby church, expressing how fortunate we were to have the our pastor’s wife leading worship, as she was considered by many to be an excellent musician, a gifted worship leader, and a blessing from God.

    At the end of the meeting the elders read our pastors resignation letter, brought about in large part on the rejection of his wife by our congregation.

    What we do not recieve with joy, God will take away. I am thankful that our pastor realized that is was better to leave that to subject his family to the slings and arrows of an ungrateful body.

    • David,

      Good grief! That’s awful!

      Were things really that bad? You’ve always been a solid commenter here, so I thought you to be a good reflection of your church. I hate to think you’re the exception, but I guess you must be.

      • David Riggins

        It would be great, wouldn’t it, if we could look at one part of the body and judge the health or illness of the rest? I don’t think of myself as a particularly healthy member of the body, but at least I am seeking health. I weep for those who, whether by disillusion, disembling, or simple lethargy, have stopped living. This little body is a torn family, whose members have expectations, desires, habits…that fall between the blossom of health and intensive care. Most bodies are like that, I think. What happens when the majority are sick, some unto death?

        Some of the members of our church did not want the pastor and his wife. To me, it’s like seeking to change the faucet because one doesn’t like the taste of the water. They made enough noise that God could no longer be heard.

        So I wonder, and have for some time, whether to stay and encourage change in those few, or to shake the dust from my shoes, and seek out the fellowship of believers?

    • BD,

      The lack of discernment in the Church leads to nonsense like that. We are told to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, but I think at times we have those reversed.

      • M.E. Huffmaster


        Your comment may be far more astute than you realize. The stories I hear about pastors and associate pastors doing everything possible to undermine each other are absolutely atrocious. One pastoral family I know of was the subject of such abuse by the senior pastor and his wife to the point that they even made false claims of child abuse against the associate pastor and his wife……and that, Dan, is only the tip of the iceberg. The senior pastor’s wife was even heard to make threats against the associate pastor that could easily have come directly from the mouth of Queen Jezebel when she threatened Elijah. You don’t hear much about the Jezebel spirit, but that demon is still around and taking victims whenever it can, particularly amongst those in the pastorate. I was well back in the battlelines and simply praying for the persecuted family a state away and what I experienced by daring to intrude on “its territory” was not pleasant.

        Discernment is one of those spiritual gifts that has been largely ignored in the church, Charismatic, Evangelical, Orthodox, or whatever branch of the Christian faith, to our lasting shame. Its lack is a leading cause for so many Christian marriages crashing and burning and why the wolves among us are not detected until they’ve already done horrific damage to the sheep. The lack of discernment leads us into confrontations with evil completely unprepared for the spiritual battles ahead.

  6. Suzanne

    Speaking as a seasoned pastor’s wife, I’d say that often pastors don’t encourage their people to get out of the Christian Ghetto because they fear the people will find another church more to their liking and never return or that they will return full of questions and ideas for which the pastor has no answer or no way to implement.
    I think this also carries over into your clergy family stress theme. Our world is full of celebrity pastors, musicians, authors, and the like and people want their lives and their churches to look like the ones they see on tv and in bookstores. A church service that is perceived as boring is often seen as the worst sin imaginable and church hopping is becoming the norm. People look to the church to fulfill their needs, not necessarily to become a part of a community that worships God and uplifts each other, and look to the pastor to be all things to all people. The idea of submitting to the body of Christ is going by the wayside.

    • Suzanne,

      The Bible warns us against constantly comparing ourselves (in a superior way) to others. That’s what drives so much of what you noted. Jealousy drains the life out of people and their churches.

      I don’t understand our lack of commitment. You go to an Evangelical church anywhere else than the West and you find people staying with that church their whole lives. I wish I could’ve done the same, but moving around the state and nation hurts that badly (but that’s a whole ‘nother issue).

  7. Dire Dan: “I hate this trend.”

    Dan, there are so many trends going on that I’ve lost track of them all. And I don’t like any of them.

    But I think they could all be summarized as follows: The Archfiend is out to extirpate xtny in this country, by hook or by crook, by any means necessary.

    The outcome will be where America resembles Europe: where xtians are a very tiny and utterly inconsequential minority, a mere curiosity to their neighbors.

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