Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some Things Money Can’t Buy

Even in economically difficult times, most of us in the West know little of the pain of poverty. Do not misunderstand, I am not saying that poverty is absent in our communities. In my own state statistics indicate that one of every ten children will experience hunger. Globally poverty is multiplied exponentially compared to that experienced in North America. One out of five people on earth exists on less than one dollar per day, and nearly half of the world’s population exists on less than two dollars per day. Ninety-five percent of the “poorest of the poor” live outside the North American context.

The fundamental cause of hunger is poverty. God is very clear; hunger cannot be attributed to inadequate supply, but to lack of compassionate justice in distribution. Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor; but it is swept away by injustice (Proverbs 13:23).

Consider the following thoughts on poverty from The Needs: Hunger in the World: “Virtually every country in the world has the potential of growing sufficient food for the indigenous population on a sustainable basis. This basic capability is too often undermined by a variety of factors, some related to technology and material resources (soil degradation, water shortages and pollution, inappropriate or destructive agricultural practices) and others related to human frailty (war, ethnic rivalry, corruption, greed, political oppression).

More than 16,000 children die every day in the developing world from preventable and treatable diseases. Worldwide, one-half of deaths for children under five years of age are caused by malnutrition. Seventy percent of all childhood deaths are associated with malnutrition and preventable diseases.”

These facts are a dart that should pierce the heart of the American church. Too often we have become creatures of comfort rather than compassionate Christians. I recently drove past a number of large ranches, each of which had intricate gated entrances identifying the owners with their proudly emblazoned surnames. Driving past I was reminded of these words from Psalm 49:

Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me, Even those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the abundance of their riches?

Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; They have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.

Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him.

Though while he lives he congratulates himself – And though men praise you when you do well for yourself – He shall go to the generation of his fathers.

It is not my intent to demean or judge those ranchers, they may in fact be caring and compassionate sharers of the resources they possess. I do not know. But I do know that too often Christians in the West fall victim to an abusive “wealth and prosperity” Gospel that focuses on our own consumption rather than on sharing resources as agents of Godly compassion among those living in poverty.

The feature article of a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine was titled, Did Christianity Cause the Crash? The article investigates links between churches proclaiming a wealth and prosperity gospel and the church’s role in guiding parishioners toward assuming high risk sub-prime loans. These together with other factors are identified as primary contributors to the economic crash.

The article merits our attention. As the missional people of God, we must seek answers to poverty and injustice. Where our consumption contributes to these conditions, then repentance is mandated. We must remember that repentance is not just expressing sorrow for that which we have done wrong, but actively pursuing that which is right.

When I read the Atlantic article I immediately thought of the ongoing question of the appropriate engagement of Christians in and with culture. What is our appropriate role? That question has been the ongoing topic of reflection by gifted writers such as Richard Niebhur in his book Christ and Culture or contemporary theologian James Westgate, professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California in Spiritual Edgewalkers. Missional thinker Alan Roxburgh responded to The Atlantic article with his typically adept reasoning and insight.

All of us who follow Christ bear responsibility for confronting ideologies and systems that perpetuate poverty and hunger. We must adhere to the Good News that resonates with the ancient voice of our Master; the message of a Kingdom whose foundations are righteousness and justice (Psalm 97:2). We reject all false gospels. As those who have the mind of Christ, we must find a different way to complete the familiar commercial: There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Learn from the Ants

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Bill Tinsley is a colleague in ministry, a gifted author, as well as a passionate disciple of Christ who possesses the mind of a missiologist. I like the guy and love spending time with him. We meet regularly to encourage one another, stimulate one another in mission ministry, to drink coffee and lavish praise on his remarkable dog, Buddy. Bill is my friend. In fact, Buddy is too.

Most recently Tinsley served as the designer of WorldconneX, a new paradigm mission entity that sought to ensure the local church as the primary equipping and sending entity in God’s mission. Among other leadership roles, he formerly served as Associate Executive Director of Baptist General Convention of Texas and Executive Director of Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention

Upon dissolution of WorldconneX by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Tinsley founded the Tinsley Center which is partnering with Missional Church Center to assist congregations in finding their way forward in God’s mission. The following article is one of a series of reflection columns that Tinsley write weekly for distribution through local newspapers. In this article he addresses a subject that none can ignore if they are Shaped by God’s Heart.


We have ants. We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter. A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use.

How do they do this? Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones? When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops. We have food!” Who organizes the operation? Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the route, usually the shortest and least obstructed line to the treasure?

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants. They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve. And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions. “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures? Every year a billion people on the earth die of starvation. Every day 25,000 children, world wide, whose stomachs are bloated and empty draw their last breath. They die in remote villages far from public scrutiny. Over half the world’s population, three billion people, live on less than $2.50 per day.

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me. I need to be more like the little critters who invade my patio. I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, martial others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it. But how do we do this? How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed? There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy.

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities. When a beggar approached me on a parking lot in downtown Dallas, I took him across the street to Subway and bought him a sandwich. Unfortunately, as I listened to him, his story seemed to unravel and I am not sure it was the best thing to do. But it was something. When one of our church members returned from Kenya and made an appeal for people she knows who are starving, I sent a check. When I visited Tillie Bergin at Mission Arlington and saw the difference she was making among the poor in the inner city, I sent a gift. It’s not much. But, for me it is a start. If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8). John, describing true repentance and faith, said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Bill Tinsley has served as pastor and mission leader in Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He has international experience in South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. He can be reached at His books are available at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Depression: Pastors in Pain

David Treadway, pastor of Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina committed suicide in September. His tragic death is the fourth pastor suicide in the Carolinas during the past four years. Pastor Treadway was undergoing treatment for depression. In a USA Today article published October 29, 2009, Greg Warner addressed depression among pastors. He wrote, “Most depression does not lead to suicide, but almost all suicides begin with depression.”

The article identified impossible role expectations often placed upon pastors, together with their innate resistance to seek help when they become depressed. They fear, too often appropriately, that congregational leaders would understand their depression to be a failure of faith rather than an illness to be treated. So, pastors suffer alone while trying to care for others.

Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas said “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed." Further, “Anxiety and depression in the pulpit are "markedly higher" in the last five years...The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression."

The author clearly cited the economic environment as a primary cause. Then he added, “Besides the recession's strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations' resistance to cultural change. When I read those words, a passing comment on a secondary cause of depression in the article, my heart leaped. For that is precisely what I repeatedly hear from pastors across North America.

“My congregation wants to return to the way things used to be. They are unwilling to accept the reality of cultural changes in our world. Further, they perceive culture, “the way we do things” as sacred. Even when those things are no longer working, they say we should just try to do them better. And when those old methods are not successful, the failure is perceived as being the fault of the pastoral staff. They are unwilling to allow our congregational culture to change so that we can be more relevant among a changing population.” This resistance to change is sometimes public. At other times it skims just beneath the surface like a private torpedo locked on target, ready to do massive destruction.

As pastors understand the marginalization of Christianity in contemporary culture, consequently perceiving the requisite adaptation of the church toward an incarnational missionary posture, their passion to lead toward such culture shifts is often met with resistance. Leading a conventional congregation to perceive the need for change is a massive undertaking, a challenge that will often result in things getting worse before they get better. Those who cannot accept the need for internal congregational change will voice opposition. Those who support internal change will then find themselves defending the need for change. Repeatedly I have seen the dialogue move from the issue of “changing the way we do things” to challenges of personal loyalty within the congregation. Instead of conflict about process, the conflict becomes personal.

In those moments, pastors are caught in the untenable position of loving, serving, and leading a flock that has become divided. I can recall the deep pain of having a man whom I loved dearly, but who did not agree with new directions in ministry, unleash a barrage of vindictive verbal assaults. He was mad. Plain and simple. And his words were not filled with grace in that instance. His words were fiery darts. I felt the darts tear through my heart, a heart that had given eight years of pastoral care to our flock. In my own immaturity I tried to reason with him while he was still angry. I so wanted to please. To make it all right. And when I could not, I walked away wounded. When I was alone, I wept bitterly. Over the next weeks, I was too bruised and weak to continue to lead toward the kind of changes that needed to be made in order for effective ministry to continue. And I walked into a dark night that lasted for months.

Ultimately I found solace through the counsel of Ken Sharp, the tallest Christian counselor I have ever known, who became a dear friend in ministry. Further, I warmed to my own condition as I read Don Baker and Emery Nester’s, Depression: Finding Hope and Meaning in Life’s Darkest Shadow, a wonderful treatment published by Multnomah Press. Not nearly every pastor is blessed with an understanding friend and counselor. Many do not find voices to accompany them through their pain.

As North American churches struggle in a changed and changing culture, the role of pastoral leadership is challenging. We constantly encounter brothers and sisters in ministry who are walking a tightrope as they lead. It is highly improbable that they will be able to walk the tightrope, lead toward a new way of being church in a changing culture, and keep everybody happy in the process. I pray that we can be fellow pilgrims on their journey offering support and encouragement where we can. And sometimes, our greatest help may be simply to walk with them through the darkness.

One thing I know. We must not let those who are suffering walk the path alone.