Cairn University’s Church Leaders’ Conference.

Overview

Cairn University held its first annual Church Leaders’ Conference today and I attended along with three parishioners – John Broglin, Kevin Miller, and Augusto Fiallo. We left together from CCC at 8:30 am and arrived a few minutes later at Cairn University. The conference was being held in Chatlos Chapel, a few Biblical Learning Center classrooms, and the lobby outside of the chapel.

Synopsis

Morning

Photo of Dr. Kent Hughes from Preach The Word. IMHO, Kent doesn't look like this anymore, he is clean-shaven and his hair is completely grey.
Photo of Dr. Kent Hughes from Preach The Word. IMHO, Kent doesn’t look like this anymore, he is clean-shaven and his hair is completely grey.

It took only a moment or two to register – picking up lanyards with name tags, a Cairn bag with a few items within, and our first book for the day. Then it was over to the continental breakfast spread – donuts, mixed fruits, danishes, banana bread, and so on along with a number of hot and cold beverage options.

I was very satisfied with the breakfast – though I wish we’d been invited into Chatlos Chapel while eating so that we could have sat at the tables they had setup and which we would eat at for lunch.

At 9 am everyone filed into Chatlos Chapel and Benjamin Harding (with accompaniment) led us in musical worship. It was encouraging to stand amongst eighty or so other pastors and lift our voices in union to the Lord.

Jonathan Master briefly introduced our speaker, R. Kent Hughes, a well-known pastor and author, and the main selling point for me in deciding to attend the conference. Hughes gave an hour long sermon focusing on 2 Corinthians and discussing the nature of suffering and its value for exemplifying Christ in the midst of suffering.

We took a brief break from 10:30 am – 10:45 am and then chose to attend one of several parallel sessions. The options were “Given Over to Death for Jesus’ Sake: Ministry in the Midst of Physical Suffering” by Pastor Matt Ristuccia, “Christ’s Model for Handling Destructive Criticism” by Pastor John Stange, and “The Necessity of Godly Sincerity” by Dr. Jonathan Master. I attended Ristuccia’s session and was blessed to discuss how we can continue to exemplify Christ even in the midst of significant health problems – seeing I have my fair share. John attended Master’s session and reported back positively, Kevin and Augusto attended Stange’s session and also had positive things to say. So, all three sessions seemed to be of high quality.

Afternoon

Now it was time for lunch. This lasted from 12 pm till 12:50 pm. It consisted primarily of sandwiches (tuna fish, chicken), I think some salad (I didn’t have any), maybe some mixed fruits (I think I ate some…), and some dessert pieces (brownies, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal cookies). Once again, a satisfying meal and a good time for us to catch up with one another on how the sessions had progressed.

At 1 pm Hughes began the section half of his message which lasted until 2:30 pm and focused on his personal spiritual biography and some of the lessons he had learned in the midst of it. For some reason, throughout the day I was feeling particularly fatigued, so I may have missed some points, but here are a few highlights from Hughes’ second half that I found either insightful or humorous.

  • “She may be wrong but she is never in doubt.” (speaking of his wife, who had played a significant role in encouraging him to continue in the ministry at a difficult time, and with the assurance to us that his wife was “okay” with him saying this)
  • “God is a servant.” (urging us to contemplate how God’s decision to be a servant affects the way we think, live, and minister)
  • “Success is serving with a foot-washing heart.” (no commentary needed)
  • “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I know what the heart of a good man is like and its terrible.” (quoting, I think, Ivan Turgenev)
  • “You can do more after you pray, but you cannot do anything until you pray.” (quoting John Bunyan)
  • “At this moment God…loses all reality…  Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.” (quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
  • “There is no success apart from holiness.” (emphasizing that numbers and other achievements in a ministerial context are worthless apart from personal holiness)
  • “This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the power offices of the upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring. This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA, but by being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world. This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.” (quoting John Piper, explaining that the churches of the past with their CEO style and marketing techniques are bygone, but that the new / emerging church has its own professionalism to beware of…to not mistake for authenticity and truth and holiness)
  • Hughes suggested that this new type of church might be described as a mixture of “Bonhoeffer, Bono, and Mother Teresa.” Both of these statements were very thought provoking for me.
  • “Success is weakness.” (as we rely on Christ, as we live in Christ, we succeed – faithfulness is our call, not to determine the results)

I enjoyed the second session (above) better than the first session, and probably the highlight was at the end when Hughes opened it up for QA.

At 3 pm the conference was over and we headed out. I was well-satisfied. It had cost me $25, but I’d received two good meals, heard several hours of encouraging teaching, been amongst ministry peers, and received a nifty number of items to boot, the most important being Preach the Word (edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson), Preaching the Word: 2 Corinthians Power in Weakness by R. Kent Hughes (a commentary), and Kent and Barbara Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. All look like fascinating reads and probably are worth more than the cost of the conference. Smaller items included the Cairn bag and a Cairn coffee mug.

Overall

This was a good conference, especially for a first conference. I plan on returning next year and applaud Cairn’s endeavors to reach out to pastors. I also appreciated the gentle way in which Cairn promoted itself. Literature was available on the table, information about the graduate degree program (including auditing free courses) was included in the goody bag, and Todd Williams made a very brief appearance to discuss the University and its desire to interact with pastors. This was all good – it felt like Cairn genuinely was interested in us as pastors and not simply in using us to garner additional students.

Recommendations for Improvement

Still, everything can get better, so I will make a few small suggestions regarding what I’d personally like to see regarding future instances of the conference:

  1. While the title of the conference was “Church Leaders’ Conference” I felt a bit like it was really a “Pastor’s Conference.” I think anyone could benefit from the material and the presentations, but that it was focused particularly on pastors. That is fine, but I’d encourage more specific naming if that is the direction Cairn is heading, or more diversified material if it wants to attract other church leaders (e.g. elders and various other volunteer leaders).
    1. I’d also like to see a much larger representation from the female gender if it remains a “Church Leaders’ Conference” – I believe only two women were in attendance. This is another area where clarification of the desired constituency of the conference would be desirable – for example, if it is a “church leaders” conference I’d want to bring my nursery directory, children’s ministry director, secretarial volunteers, and so on – all of which are staffed by women.
  2. I’d like to see breakfast moved into Chatlos Chapel just like lunch was, giving us the opportunity to sit while eating.
  3. I’d love to see some vendors there and have some time to walk through displays, etc. from various vendors that have products and services that would help the church – whether this be a bookseller, custom printer, counseling outsourcing, church management software, or so on. Of course, most likely, the biggest section would be books…and from my personal experience, most pastors LOVE books.
  4. I’d love to see some activities or other methods for encouraging the pastors to interact with one another more and to learn more about one another’s ministries. Understanding the challenges and successes of other ministers can be a great encouragement. Perhaps a “forum” of sorts in which individuals could share very briefly (5 mins.) their experiences to provide a very “quick-fire” approach to allowing a number of folks to share.
    1. The topics which are most common or which attract the most interest might make for good sessions for the next year’s conference.
  5. I’d recommend not having one speaker for 2.5 hours, but instead have another breakout session with various options – perhaps including a session by the main speaker. The main speaker could then close up the entire day with perhaps a 30 min. conclusion. I wouldn’t want to be speaking for 2.5 hrs!

Be Jealous!

I’m exceptionally excited about two of the books I received. First there is Preach the Word which contains essays by Paul House, Leland Ryken, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Duane Litfin, J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, and Philip Ryken – to name just those I am familiar with.

The second is Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome – something which I think is so important for every minister of the gospel and for the entire church congregation to understand and apply.

Criminal Background Checks.

Update: See the end of this article for some important updates.

Recently I’ve been looking into what options are available for folks who need to run criminal background checks. This field has been changing rapidly over the past several years with technological advances and if you have been using a provider for a long period of time it may be worth your time to consider whether that provider is still the best and most cost effective for your needs.

In this article I’m going to focus specifically on criminal background checks with a focus on the needs of non-profit organizations such as churches. I’ll be discarding without note the various providers who while providing background checks (including criminal) are not meant to be used officially to perform such checks and which may not include all the information that a provider giving official checks might provide.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. in the comments section to this article.

  • IntegraScan – Offers background checks starting at $18.95 for a state-based check (only checks for criminal background in one state) and then progresses to $28.95 for a nationwide check (for criminal background in all states) with the final option with even more information clocking in at $49.95. They do offer bulk pricing, but you have to contact them for further information.
  • SentryLink – Offers criminal background checks for $19.95. Has a bulk pricing program one can contact them about. Also offers other reports – such as SSN traces and motor vehicle records.
  • BackgroundChecks – Clocks in at a stunning $49.95 for a nationwide criminal background check!
  • USSearch – Starts at $14.95 for their basic search, which includes state criminal background check and peaks out at $59.95 for their most comprehensive. They do offer bulk pricing, but again, must contact for quote.
  • Intelius – A nationwide background check clocks in at $29.95.
  • IntelliCorp InTouchPricing starts at $16.15 for a state criminal background check, then $17.95 for a nationwide check, and their most comprehensive is $58.45. But this is a consumer oriented product.
  • IntelliCorp – The corporate arm of IntelliCorp InTouch. No pricing is available, one must request an account and await a call to find out about pricing.
  • CrimCheck – No public pricing available, must contact.
  • BackGroundPI – $15.95 for Criminal Background search. The site lacks enough detail and references, but the pricing is good. Would require further research to see if legitimate/worthwhile.
  • eFindOutTheTruth – Site design is confusing and overwhelming, but pricing is very good and one can build custom background checks with only the desired features.

Based on my brief review of the sites, pricing, and etc. I would probably lean towards Intelius or IntelliCorp. They both offer a professional image and reasonable prices. But in the end, the best deal (for churches/non-profits) appears to be Group Publishing’s Church Volunteer Central (CVC). CVC costs $100/year and includes a wide variety of resources for running a church/non-profit and training/leading volunteers. It also includes a partnership with Lexus Nexus to perform criminal background checks.

Their basic background check is $9 and includes a national criminal search. For $23 one can add criminal records at a local county court. They also have a number of other packages available.

Update (9/24/11):

As I mentioned above, the CVC package seemed to be the best deal…but the process is quite painful, so I’ve gone with another alternative. Group (which owns CVC) partners with Lexus Nexus to provide the inexpensive background checks mentioned above, unfortunately Lexus Nexus has a frustratingly manual process before one can begin utilizing the background check service. This includes filling out detailed paperwork and faxing or emailing it to them (around fourteen pages worth) along with providing several forms of business identification (not all of which are always readily available) and several vendor verification forms (businesses which will verify that they do business with you and that you are who you say you are).

This in and of itself is a bit of a nuisance, but what really frustrated me was the technological aspect. On the form it asked questions about the IP address that would be used to access their system. Granted, I have a semi-static IP since it is a FiOS connection – but that isn’t truly static and I wasn’t looking forward to what I assume is a manual process to update the external IP records with Lexus Nexus when it changes.

I did some more searching and found that LifeWay, another major Christian company, had partnered with BackgroundChecks to offer affordable checks as well – and that their process was basically digital and simple. I went with them even though the price is perhaps $2-$3 more per check b/c of the ease. I setup my account and launched a background check on myself (as a test) without any problems. So far I’m pretty impressed.

Now, I think Lexis Nexus requires all the extra hoop jumping b/c they are providing information related to one’s financial state – and I can understand the need to maintain the confidentiality of this information, but in the case of churches and other non-profits, we don’t want to perform financial background checks – just make sure that criminal background checks are clear (e.g. no convictions for pedophilia).

For those who are interested, here is a link to the LifeWay co-brand page for background checks.

Patriotism and the Church.

Memorial Day Poster
Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

[This article is currently in process, but I wanted to share what I’ve gathered thus far…]

Each year we have three holidays which are oftentimes celebrated within the church and which focus on national pride (patriotism) – Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. For some these holidays mesh together, so lets break out the idea behind each holiday:

  • Memorial Day – A day to remember and honor those who have died in combat.
  • Independence Day – Celebration of the American Colonies declaration of independence from Britain.
  • Veterans Day – A day to honor those who have served in the armed forces.

One contentious issue within the church is patriotism. What role should patriotism play within the church, if any? The answer usually depends on the demographics. If we are talking to folks under thirty, patriotism has no place within the church service, but if we are talking to folks over sixty the idea of separating patriotism from our church services may be akin to heresy!

At Calvary (where I attend and am an elder) we traditionally celebrate each of these holidays in our service. One can scrape away the vestiges of patriotism from Memorial Day and Veterans Day – but there is no way to get around the patriotism associated with Independence Day. So, what should we do?

As I write this I don’t have an answer, nor am I convinced in my heart one way or the other…but as is my habit, when I am studying a topic and believe that my research could be of interest and user to others who may desire to ponder this topic I create a post providing the resources and thoughts I have, so here it is…

Articles About Patriotism and the Church

We’ll start with a survey of some of the better materials I’ve found delineating positions within the church on patriotism. Each of these is a thought provoking read and I have curated out the worthless articles so this should be a best-of-breed list. Please let me know if I’ve missed any important discussions on this matter and I’ll add them as appropriate.

  • Colson, Charles W. “On Waving Flags and Washing Feet.” Jubilee, June 1986. – Colson provides a thoughtful and balanced consideration of the role of patriotism in a Christian’s life admitting his own struggles with the seeming tension and the decisions he personally arrived at.
  • Reed, Frank L. (article) and Harold S. Martin (editorial). “Patriotism: An Anabaptist Perspective.BRF Witness, May/June 2003, Vol. 38, No. 3. – Martin comes from a strong traditional Anabaptist position on the topic of patriotism – in other words, Christians should have no part in it. The article provides several good Scriptural references though the arguments are not detailed enough to be convincing, it is a good jumping off place for further research. Most helpfully, Martin notes that this controversy has been the topic of debate between James Dobson and D. James Kennedy (pro-patriotism) and Cal Thomas and Jerry Falwell – all of whom are well respected within the evangelical community.
  • DeYoung, Kevin. “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day.The Gospel Coalition. May 26, 2011. – DeYoung attempts to provide a moderate position on the patriotism debate, suggesting that patriotism is not evil but should not be part of worship services. Randy Alcorn agrees with DeYoung’s stance.
  • Gushee, David P. “What’s Right About Patriotism.” Christianity Today. 7/01/06. – Gushee provides a philosophical argument for Christians to participate in patriotism.
  • Is Patriotism in the USA Dead?Christianity Today. Originally 1969, reposted 6/29/10. – An old article reposted on the CT website, argues strongly for American patriotism but on an emotional level.
  • Tennant, Christy. “Patriotism and the House of Worship.Conversant Life. 4/4/10. – Tennant offers a heart-felt moderate conversation about patriotism in worship. She reflects on personal qualms about patriotism in the church but at the same time stops short of calling it wrong.
  • Jeter, Jill. “Church and Patriotism.Jill’s Blog. 4/5/10. – Jeter comes from a much more conservative background and is shocked when her Presbyterian church quavers at the thought of singing God Bless America within the service. Provides a good feel for how those who believe patriotism should be part of the service feel when it is not included.

Secondary Articles:

These articles are either on secondary topics or of secondary value in the discussion of patriotism in the church, yet they deserve mentioning.